Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ayn Rand's Originality

One of the things I find most interesting in Professor Kobylka's Cycles of American Political Thought is his discussion of Social Darwinism in the late 19th century. Much of Ayn Rand's philosophy seems to come right out of William Graham Sumner's writings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ayn Rand's Imagination

I am currently reading Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns. In an interesting juxtaposition, I am also currently listening to Cycles of American Political Thought from the GREAT COURSES series taught by Professor Joseph F. Kobylka of Southern Methodist University. It is my opinion that the misanthropic Rand was clueless about American history.

Al Franken Spanks Hudson Institute on Medical Bankruptcies

I understand that Minnesotans were reluctant to elect another entertainer after their experience with Jesse Ventura, but I think they can be happy with their junior senator.

New Blog Title

I have never been particularly happy with my blog's title. It was inspired by a conservative Christian blog that I used to follow called "Culture Campaign" that disabled its comment function because the bloggers got tired of responding to me, however I have always wanted something different.

My new title is based on an exchange found in the play Inherit the Wind which is in fact taken from the transcript of the original Scopes Monkey Trial where Clarence Darrow was questioning William Jennings Bryan.

Matthew Harrison Brady: I do not think about things I do not think about.
Henry Drummond: Do you ever think about things that you do think about?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Don't Get the Religious Right's Take on Free Markets

My evangelical Christian sparring partner ChrisB tells me his one of his reasons for preferring free markets to regulation: is “the belief that the people in government are no less wicked than those in business and usually not as bright.”

As an aside, I find it ironic that anyone who would vote for George Bush and Sarah Palin would be criticizing the lack of bright people in government. When you vote for people who are convinced that government cannot do anything right, you shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t.

As far as comparative morality goes, I agree that people in government and people in business have an equal capacity for wickedness. I just have a very difficult time seeing how that fact provides any justification for arbitrarily choosing to allow the latter group to pursue its interests unchecked. The Constitution was designed to provide checks and balances so that man’s propensity to pursue self-aggrandizement at the expense of the common good could be curbed and channeled. However, the only check on the wickedness of businessmen is the government.

I couldn’t help reflecting on ChrisB’s comment as I was reading a post on Barry Ridholtz’s blog titled Why Financial Reform Died: “Banks Run Congress.” Despite the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, it is looking increasingly less likely that there will be any meaningful reform legislation. This is due entirely to the fact that the free market ideology that has held sway over the last thirty years has allowed the wicked business people that the religious right so willingly accommodates to acquire complete control of the wicked government people of whom the religious right is so terrified.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I Love the Kindle

The best thing about the Kindle is the ability to download book samples. Usually you get the introduction and part of the first chapter.

Before I went away for the weekend, I downloaded samples of everything that looked interesting from Amazon's recommendations as well as from recent book reviews I have read. Unfortunately I wound up with a number of books that I want to read and it was very difficult deciding between Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew J. Bacevich, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back by Frank Schaeffer, or After the Fall: The Inexcusable Failure of American Finance by Kevin Phillips.

I finally went with Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party by
Max Blumenthal

More on My First Tea Party

The other signs I found interesting were the ones that read "Take back America" because that statement raises an interesting question.

From whom does America need to be taken back? I think it needs to be taken back from the big corporations like the banks, the insurance companies, and the oil companies. The only way to do that, however, is through regulation and taxation.

My First Tea Party

My wife and I went to southwestern Michigan this weekend to check out the fall colors and we happened to be in South Haven while a Tea Party was taking place. I don't know how these people deal with the cognitive dissonance. There is something very odd about senior citizens waving signs reading "Say no to national healthcare" and "Stop the spending now."

As we walked by, my wife opined in a loud voice "Say yes to health care reform." An older gentleman said to her "Then you pay for it." I asked him "Are you on Medicare?" He responded, "Yes and I'm scared."

It seems to me that if I were worried about my Medicare coverage, I wouldn't be urging people to say no to national health care and I wouldn't be urging the government to stop spending.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bob Dole Favors Health Care Reform

Bob Dole, former Senator and candidate for President, and former Senator Tom Daschle issued a statement urging Republicans to get on board with health care reform legislation:
...Congress could be close to passing comprehensive health reform. The American people have waited decades and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity. The current approaches suggested by the Congress are far from perfect, but they do provide some basis on which Congress can move forward and we urge the joint leadership to get together for America’s sake.
No doubt the teabaggers and wingnuts will view this as some sort of betrayal, but they shouldn't. Once upon a time, support for universal health care was a perfectly acceptable within the Republican party and its supporters included Nixon and Eisenhower.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tale of the Tape: Part 2

I noted last month how the health insurance companies rallied on the day after President Obama's big health care speech to congress. At the time, I thought that this pointed towards the fact that these companies had the Blue Dog democrats so firmly in their pockets that any health care reform legislation would leave their profits untouched.

I found it interesting that these same companies reacted negatively to the news that the Congressional Budget Office had scored the Baucus bill much more favorably than reform opponents might have hoped, which should make the insurers happy because it does not contain a public option. In fact, they have been under performing the market for the last month.

HUM 35.91 -1.99 (5.25%)
WLP 44.72 -2.94 (6.17%)
UNH 24.16 - .89 (3.55%)

Perhaps this means that the insurers are no longer sure that the final bill is going to be the windfall that they had hoped for. With momentum on the side of the progressives, maybe Blue Dogs are going to have to accept a meaningful public option.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The American Dream

For anyone who thought like the Wall Street Journal that the financial downturn might do something to lessen the income inequality gap in the United States, guess again. The uber-wealthy may have taken a hit, but it has been more than offset by the hit taken by the poor and the middle class. So the concentration of American wealth that has been going on since the dawn of the Reagan era proceeds unabated.

Of course this is the land of the American dream where anyone can become wealthy and success. Only it turns out that is not so true either. In fact, social mobility in the United States lags behind many other comparable nations. In fact, it seems to have been getting worse throughout the Reagan era as well.

Government bad--Free markets good! That's been the conservative mantra for thirty years and what has it gotten us? The rich have gotten richer and the middle class has fallen behind. Actually that probably isn't correct either. The very rich have gotten a lot richer and everyone else has lagged behind. The world's leading manufacturer has turned into the world's biggest debtor.

I saw Ron Paul on the Daily Show the other night preaching the libertarian gospel. I was happy that Jon Stewart asked the question that I always want to see asked, "Has there ever been a society that met your libertarian ideals?" Many libertarians following the logic of Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged point to America before the New Deal as the best exemplar, but I was glad to see Paul admit that there were plenty of industrialists sucking at the government tit in those days. Paul had to go back to the Founding Fathers for the closest approximation of his libertarian dream.

I don't think that the Founding Fathers had the kind of blind faith in free markets that today's libertarians have though. They understood avarice and the lust for power to which man is always prey. They sought to set up a system of checks and balances in which the energy of man's desires could be harnessed to produce desirable ends. However, they did not labor under any illusion that these desires if unfettered would naturally tend to produce justice or the common good.

I am always fascinated by conservative Christians who embrace the free market ideology. Of the seven deadly sins, they would never claim that pride, sloth, gluttony, lust, or anger are forces for good. Yet they willingly accept the notion that unfettered greed and envy will lead to economic prosperity in which all will benefit.

I don't think I agree with the thesis of Michael Moore's new movie that capitalism is immoral, but I tend to think that it is amoral.

The Olympics

Although I have lived in or around the area for most of my life, I was indifferent to whether Chicago was awarded the Olympic Games. I think I started losing interest in them them when we started sending professional basketball players to represent our country. Nevertheless, the glee with which conservatives are greeting the rejection of Chicago's bid strikes me as amazingly juvenile and petty.