A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

And The Evening's Smorgasboard

In my state there is a wonderful, waistline bulging, restaurant chain called Der Dutchman. The theme, and the cooking is Amish, of which we have a considerable number in Ohio. So park your buggy, tuck your knapkin in your shirt like a bib, and sit down to Chicken and Egg Noodles, Ham with sweetened apples, slow simmered green beans, fluffy mashed potatoes, and pecan pie:

[On Conservative Tribalism]

Define yourself as the tribe of “us”, and, of logical necessity, everybody else must be THEM. There is no need for “me” to regard everybody else as anything but everybody else, in all their bewildering diversity and variety.

The problem with “us” is that there is no reasonable way to argue that you, Anchoress, me, Gerard Vanderleun, and John Kerry are part of the same “us”.

“Us” has some very distinct limits and they are hardly congruent with the entire American population of responsible citizenry. Of course, I do notice that “us” is inclined to argue that they, in fact, do constitute an overwhelming majority of the American population, or the adult and responsible population, or the loyal and patriotic population.

And this despite all evidence from popular vote totals in Presidential elections, repeated polls by responsible polling organizations, and so forth.

THEM, of course, make their numbers appear to be so many by controlling all but a handful of the dozens of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and electronic media outlets. These amplifiers are very efficient at making the 500,000 or so of THEM look like millions more.

Speaking personally, I have belonged to no man’s tribe since the day I was born. Three-quarters of my mind and heart was locked away even from my family, who now have left for good, and all my various sets of friends have dissolved away like last January’s snow.

I will leave the world as I entered it–naked and alone. And, I might add, with no regrets about that fact.

For everybody else, in all their diversity and complexity, is a far greater gift from life than membership in any communal meeting of minds and views. And constant warfare on the boundaries of the tribal territory is a bore.

[On The Immigration Fracas]

There is absolutely nothing that is “un-American” about permitting massive immigration into this country. There is also nothing that is “un-American” about shutting such immigration down.

In the first three decades of the last century we did both.

What is actually going on is the gradual return of both the same conditions for the poor as were present on the Lower East Side of New York between 1900-1930 and the same conditions for the rich that were present on the Upper East Side during the same decades.

What is required for this is a massive surplus labor pool making the labor market solely a buyer’s market and allowing wages to be hammered down to the lowest level possible, even if it is truly impossible to live solely on those wages alone.

Whether this is done through “illegal immigration” or “guest workers” is really of no importance.

The only important question to be asked is cui bono?

Guess who.

I would add to this that the fracas is the largely result of incredibly deep hostility toward the Mexican immigrant population by the stalwarts of the Evangelical Republican Base, who generally represent the nativist strain in America dating back to the Alien and Sedition acts [sound familiar, fellow Patriots?].

The smooth puppet manipulators of the Noise Machine would be salivating over this as a "wedge issue" if it didn't cut across the interests of the corporate financial backers, and if the hostility were more widespread. Hence Bush and his Guest Workers. If I read the sentiments among ordinary people correctly, the immigrants themselves, legal or illegal, have a fair amount of sympathy personally, however worried most people are about them for other reasons.

So I'm glad to finally see the wedge stuffed vertically in the location where it really belongs.

[On an utterly unbelievable (!) two posts by the Anchoress about Global Warming, Bill Clinton, and Lucifer the Son of the Morning]

The Anchoress: And note, the press never refers to him as “former” President Clinton. Never. Illusions upons illusions. Misdirection upon misdirection. It’s how they work, these days. The Clintonian method.

Watch him closely - he is all over the place, in a new country, a new town, everyday - flown everywhere on private jets - he is the Prince of the Air, looking down upon the earth, surveying it all and laying claim, now India, now New Zealand, now Indonesia, now London, now Greenland. Moves are being made. A game is afoot.

Joe Claus: Oh, for crying out loud! I’m a literary bloke myself and I know what “Prince Of The Air” means. Do you seriously think that about Bill Clinton? Or that Tony Blair has no mind of his own and is under Clinton’s magic and evil control?

By the way, I’m completely bewildered by your “this deal” link. I couldn’t find anything about Clinton owning a newspaper anywhere in it. Did I miss something? Or is that just some more Clinton misdirection? Apparently the "revolution" is world-wide, also, and his evil power extends over dozens of sovereign nations.

Ah, me!

Hey, you live on Long Island. Will it take the water lapping up on your front porch to convince you?

Of course, an obvious liberal rag, under control of the DLC and the Clintonistas like Scientific American, is probably not the best of evidence, nor is the professional journal Science, since the people who publish in it work in those hotbeds of revolution, the Universities.

Be that as it may, I know what it took to convince me. I have watched first and last frost dates in my town for forty years. My parents had extensive spring gardens, always under threat of frost, and grew fall chrysanthemums for show, also a major frost risk.

I have seen the expansion of the growing season here by 3-5 weeks on the average, I have seen the change in bird migration times and patterns, and I have watched the increase in the number of midwinter thaws from one, at best, to now, commonly, three. But, then, I’m just an unsophisticated and rustic sort of fellow, and not the best judge of matters like this.

I’ll repeat my question without the witty trimmings: What would it take to convince you? This is worth thinking about. There are so many things we take on trust from science because we cannot check them ourselves. I mean what I say about applying my own observation to the problem.

The impeachment of science, any science, for what are clear political points of view has profound implications for how we are going to run this country and whether we run it off of a cliff.

I once heard Bill O’Reilly cut a guest off because what he was presenting was “liberal facts”. Are their really liberal facts and conservative facts? Is there really a liberal science to be contrasted with a conservative one?

One of the real errors we make is to think of ourselves as beyond nature. We aren’t. We are just as much part of nature’s process as anything else. So, yes, this global climate change is “natural”.

But, "natural" or not, in certain governmental quarters the change itself, simply doesn’t exist, Greenland's ice isn't actually melting, and we do not have to do anything to respond to it. So I presume that from the government’s point of view there really is “liberal science” to which it need not pay attention.

[On America, Poverty, and Economics]

The Anchoress: Five million jobs in 30 months, and it’s still a “Rodney Dangerfield Economy” that can’t get no respect. No one wants to be its friend. Half the country denies it exists, even as they drive their shiny new cars to the restaurant to drink $8.00 cocktails after drinking the $4.00 coffees all day at work. After buying the latest CD, after seeing the latest play, after picking out their spring wardrobe, after planning this year’s vacation(s).

According to the left, we’re in the worst economy ever, much worse than the Carter economy, with double digit inflation and unemployment. We’re all out of work, we’re shoeless and homeless, we’re on bread lines. We’re selling apples on the streetcorner…and yet somehow, all of these poor people have computers and iPods and blackberries with which to complain about it, kvetch and organize “protests.”

Joe Claus: Let me be blunt. This is a bunch of horsefeathers if you are talking about anywhere outside of the New York, Boston, or Washington metro areas.

Out here in the hinterlands we have quite accurate, fast, and reliable feedback about how are local economies are doing, much of it from our local newspapers. We have it because a plant closing or a steep rise in mortgage forclosures [both very prominent features of the Ohio economy at the moment–many of them from exactly the same re-financing boom which you are celebrating] has a real and profound effect on metro areas of 1-2 million people while it’s equivalent simply vanishes without a trace in the massive economies, largely propped up by stock speculation, of the BosWash corridor.

And every drop of “good news” in the broader economic picture is featured on the Business pages for anyone who cares to read. Most do. We read our local newspapers thoroughly and religiously.

What of the hinterlands, then? The economy is anemic at best, dreadful at worst. Why? Because our measures are the following: real take-home pay; gasoline prices and their corresponding effects on goods prices–particularly food; rents and house prices; consumer debt levels; and health insurance costs. We are also extremely tuned in to the flat out disappearance of things like long term pension funds and the gradual squeezing away of all work-related benefits.

They are sensible measures, which directly impact the majority of ordinary people out here, who are already employed and remained so throughout the early 2000’s. Unemployment figures mean little or nothing to them. And they are measures which have placed ordinary people outside of BosWash under steadily increasing economic stress since the year 2000–particularly gasoline prices, rents, and health insurance.

Virtually every one of these quite sensible measures have shown absolutely no responsiveness to the “boom” which you are describing. Wages have stayed flat, gasoline costs and rents have steadily climbed as more and more of us have been priced out of the housing market and automobile commuter times and distances have gradually increased, pensions have been regularly imploding as part of the “greater productivity” of the American workforce [it used to be called “sweating”], and consumer debt levels have ballooned as most of us rely more and more on credit [both plastic and home equity loans] to maintain a non-contracting lifestyle under these circumstances.

And, by the way, a contracting lifestyle in the hinterlands generally means a significant decrease in your employability as well as your standard of living. So advice to “be more frugal and borrow less” is not greeted with much enthusiasm. The New York Times, or the Democratic Party have nothing new to tell us about our own situation. Neither does the Bush Adminstration. But you can bet that in November 2006 we will have a considerable amount to tell them. The “right track”--”wrong track” questions measure quite well-informed opinion outside of the circle of local readership of the major papers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington.

And it was largely not the people in that fine BosWash corridor who put Bill Clinton in office, either.

The Anchoress: The fact is, I grew up outside of the BosWash corridor and have friends of every stripe - in every sort of profession or “job” - all over the country. Not all of them are educated. Very few in fact are “professional” people. And they all think the economy is doing pretty well. Their lives are good. They’ve got slices of the American dream and don’t think everything is crap. And yes, some of them are even Democrats. Moderate dems…but still dems!

Joe Claus: Of course it is perfectly possible to be satisfied about the situation here in Columbus, if your paycheck is stable, you have enough discretionary income to handle rising fuel costs, your job is secure and still covers part of your health insurance, and you are not near forclosure!

It was perfectly possible to be equally satisfied with it at the worst point of the economic cycle in 2001-2002, since the bad things about it didn’t personally touch you.

Many people who are not “rich” have these even in the worst of times. The key to the matter is “discretionary income”. You do not have to be rich to have this, but below a certain income level you simply do not have it. The inelastic demands for food, shelter, energy, transportation, and health care rob you of it.

You may indulge in a cup of fancy coffee now and then, but you certainly don’t buy Blackberrys.

If you are virtual at all, you are running Windows 98 on a computer you scored for a song at University surplus and a keyboard and monitor you scored the following Tuesday at the same place.

Trust me. I know this from personal experience.

I said this a little down the roll, but I’ll repeat it. We are becoming two Americas–one with discretionary income and insulated from economic downturns, and the other without discretionary income bounced from truly flush times sustained by working so much overtime that you hardly do anything else [even sleep] to truly bad times in the unemployment line, flipping burgers, or working at Wal-Mart, and in all three cases on Food Stamps, Home Heating Assistance, and [if you’re lucky] Medicaid.

That is the real American underbelly and not “selling apples on the street”.

And the real outrage and tragedy is that, by and large, the wall between these two Americas has steadily gotten higher and thicker. It is still possible to climb over it. But it is becoming slightly less possible to do it with every passing year. And even “slightly less” accumulates into something significant given enough time.

Don't forget to put some of that good, Amish, clotted cream in your coffee!


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