Terrific piece on the Gates kerfuffle

By E.J. Dionne.

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People I’m Sick Of

The “Blue Dog” Democrats, of which Sean has a typically insightful post on the main blog.  His analysis is essentially right, that there are some principled populists who find their way into the group but its really just a bunch of very typical bought-and-paid-whore congresspeople.  What Sean failed to do justice to, therefore, was how much the group is an invention of the media, and since Obama was inagurated are specifically being given the megaphone of the the historically “liberal” outfits that are becoming the new center-right such as Brookings and The Politico.

For better or worse I’ve kept myself aloof from the health care debate, but my understanding is the Blue Dogs actually did more good than ill in this case.  But to speak to Sean’s larger point, no, there isn’t a place for the old Jeffersonian Democracy in the party, if it ever really existed in the first place, but the genuine populists who drive the liberal bloggers crazy and the Blue Dogs ever-so-duplicitously claim as their own, are there, and represent a real and tangible part of American political history.

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Old and Poor

I agree with most of the doomsayers who fail to find comfort in the blather about “green shoots” and predict that the economy will shortly get much worse, perhaps leading to conditions not seen in the United States since the Great Depression. Obviously we may find ourselves in a situation worse than in the 1930s, given that we are now a nation of consumers and debtors rather than producers and lenders. I think another important element of our economic troubles is receiving insufficient attention. Specifically, the consequences likely to result from the interaction of our economic crisis with our quickly-approaching demographic crisis are seemingly being ignored by most commentators.

In 1929, the median age in the United States was just above 26 years. It is now over 36 and rising fast. Thanks to fertility transition in the West, only spectacular economic growth could have staved off the economic difficulties associated with a small number of young workers supporting a large number of retirees. Now the effects of our demographic crisis will likely be much more serious. Not only will Social Security and Medicare be drained sooner than expected, but the Baby Boomers are rapidly seeing their investments wither away, causing future hardship for even those who did not foolishly expect the government to take care of them throughout their retirement.

I therefore have a question for any demographers or economists who may have some insights into this issue: what happens to a society that is both geriatric and destitute? I know we can gain some insights from Japan, which is several years ahead of us in terms of fertility decline and has experienced a long-term economic downturn, but the Japanese at least had substantial savings to help them sputter along. Most Americans were not so prudent. And, as I just noted, many of those who were carefully investing through the years are likely to see their portfolios asymptotically approach zero. If hyperinflation destroys the dollar, the situation is even more dire.

Even in worst years of the Depression it was possible for an able-bodied man to scratch out a living for himself and his family. My grandparents got along pretty well by farming — which at least kept any of them from going hungry. What does an urbanized nation of old people do in a depression? They surely can’t all be greeters at Wal-Mart. Most of them, furthermore, do not have a large number of children to whom they can turn for assistance. Fertility transition is a relatively recent phenomenon, so I do not expect we have many historical precedents from which we can gain insights.

Some economists will undoubtedly claim immigration can solve all demographic problems, but I am skeptical. Most citizens in countries with excess population (i.e. those that have not begun fertility transition or are not very far along that path) possess little human capital. Even when the economy appeared to be booming I considered it unlikely that we could solve our demographic problems by importing semi-literate peasants from under-developed countries. Now that the industries that previously employed these immigrants (construction, for example) are in the doldrums, this idea seems patently absurd.

So if our economic troubles worsen (and I suspect they will), what’s going to happen to all of those childless Americans too old to engage in any sort of meaningful labor?

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Shameless Self-Promotion

After something of a hiatus to finish my book and the site’s long-overdue reformatting, I’ve just posted my first regular column at Mondoweiss, in what I hope will become a regular paying gig.

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I wear my sunglasses at night…

MINT-AND-CORN COUNTRY, INDIANA — … because the sun never sets on the American Imperium. Just a friendly Saturday reminder of where your tax dollars* end up:

Map of United States military bases worldwide.

(Apologies: Actually uploading the map would have created a better effect, but I had no such luck.)

*Holy moly, in 2004 our “defense” budget totaled more than the budgets of the next thirty or so nations. With conservatives like the modern GOP, who needs spendthrift liberals?

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My Sense of Place

So I’ve been vacationing for the last week, and will be for another several days, at my mother’s home in Northfield, Vermont – home of Norwich University whose Online Masters Program ads dominate the landscape of the TAC family of blogs.  Just ten miles south of Montpelier, this is truly the heart of the once and future Green Mountain Republic, situated in Washington County, the larger of the state’s only two totally interior counties.

Just over the mountain is the SVR stronghold of Warren, home to the spectacular Warren Falls swimming hole that easily rivals any such formation in the Caribbean.  Within a 20-mile radius are the two pillars of the Vermont Dairy Industry, the Cabot Creamery and, of course, the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury.  And least we forget Montpelier, the smallest state capital in America and as such so beautiful on so many levels, and its twin city of Barre, granite capital of the world and one time Wobbly stronghold, home for nine years to the Italian anarchist icon Luigi Galleani.

I hadn’t been here since January (actually watched the coronation of He Who Completes Us at the Montpelier City Hall gathering, knowing in advance it would be the healthiest distance and environment),  so I was starting to think that my love for this place was waning.  I drove up with my mom from Maryland, driving through a trip down memory lane in Pennsylvania and the Catskills in New York, both of which bordered on depressing – and so once again I’ve happily reaffirmed my love for these Green Mountains, the one place in my life where I’ve truly not wanted to leave as I’ve left.

When my mom first moved up here three years ago, I got my first taste of the intriguing possibility that anarcho-capitalism just might work – not only driving for the first time on that notorious shibboleth of privately maintained roads, but also learning about the New England town meeting: the property owners of a given community gathering to set their own tax rates to purchase the services that they themselves decide upon, and yes, Rothbardian purists, to establish commons.

But even this pales in comparison to what I’ve only fully appreciated for the first time on this stay – the rise and triumph of the economy of scale based in organic agriculture.  In these tiny towns, the weekly farmers’ market is the major social event, and the organic movement has taken over the mainstream.  And how delightful its been to see my mother having gotten over the sticker shock of buying local and establishing solid personal relationships with the local growers.

Two nights ago we had a delectable pork shoulder roast over our open pit barbecue raised by a lovely lesbian couple who just came up a year ago from Capitol Hill to the other side of town, and with local potatoes and zucchini to boot.  Today we passed through Hardwick, about forty miles north, where we were lucky enough to pass by their farmers’ market and got a titilating brisket, and in a few days I’ll make my old family recipe pot roast in a dutch oven in the aforementioned open pit.

As Peter Hitchens said of his travels to Bhutan, even conservatives have their utopia.  So in that spirit, may I declare, I have seen the future and it works!

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Hunter S Thompson and TAC

A new book of interviews with Hunter S Thompson dropped on my desk yesterday. It’s a good read. HST may not suit conservative tastes. His popular image is irritatingly contrived — manipulated to sell books and posters and films to silly adolescents who think drugs are cool. But the man was fascinating: a libertarian, a patriot — of a strange, selfish sort — and a bold writer who followed H L Mencken’s dictum that “The only way a journalist should look at a politician is down.”

As such, he knew a decent magazine when he saw one:

Interviewer: Are you still in touch with Patrick Buchanan?
HST: Occasionally. We’re still friends. Patrick is a libertarian, or at least in that direction. I think of politics as a circle, not a spectrum of just right and left. Patrick and I are often pretty close. Patrick’s an honest person. He’s a straight guy and very smart guy. His magazine, the American Conservative, is really interesting. It’s all anti-Bush, basically. I’m pleased with that.

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Ron Paul Singles

The Ron Paul Singles website really is something to behold. Lovers of liberty unite! Or as Dr Paul himself puts it (toward the end of this clip) “make love not war.” Hear, hear.

The site’s man-woman ratio is probably not quite what its designers had hoped. There are already 298 male members, and only 71 females. That’s only to be expected: there can only be so many libertarian-paleo-Austrian-antiwar lady fish in the sea. And it’s no problem for one man-seeking-man user who asks: “There has to be SOME fiscally conservative, peaceniks out there with a penchant for sodomy, right?”

The fusionist dream continues.

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The Conscience Is Irrelevant, OR Welcome to Barack’s America

MINT-AND-CORN COUNTRY, INDIANA — One’s freedom to choose is limited by the moral obligation to kill:

NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Mount Sinai Hospital on behalf of a Catholic nurse who was forced to participate in a late-term abortion under the threat of disciplinary action, including possible termination and loss of her license. The hospital has known of her religious objections to abortion since 2004.

Hospital administrators told the nurse that the scheduled abortion was an “emergency,” though evidence shows otherwise, and insisted moments before the procedure that she assist doctors despite her repeated objections to the procedure, which dismembered a preborn child in the 22nd week of gestation. By federal law, hospitals that receive federal funds cannot force employees to participate in abortion procedures under any circumstances.

(Yes, I realize that the article notes that federal law prohibits this sort of outrageous violation of ethics; the Constitution assigns the power to declare war to Congress and grants the power only to coin money, too. This is Barack Obama’s America.)

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Architecture and the Shortcomings of the Left-Right divide

Mint-and-Corn Country, Indiana — I’m not entirely sure why, but while I was driving my grandfather to an appointment today, I started to think of an essay that I first encountered long ago, and to which I occasionally return, written by Peter Kreeft (I’m a fan of Kreeft, so I’ll forgive his being at BC and his enjoying — at least in the past; maybe he has mended his ways since then — Rush Limbaugh’s show.), about finding common ground with an avowed leftist and agnotheistic pagan regarding something of unquestionable import: architecture and place.

We were driving through a part of Cambridge that had been a slum a few decades ago. Then it had been torn down and replaced with big, clean, new, red- brick office buildings and apartments, with plenty of space, lighting, greenery, and walkways: a planned city within a city. I had always classified the architecture as “colonial Nazi”: intimidating, inhuman, Bauhaus lines, but in red-brick softness. Everything was either square or scalene and off-center. There were no arches, whether pointed or rounded; no palladium windows, no fancy doors-in fact the only thing fancier than it needed to be was a modernistic outdoor sculpture. What shocked me was Newton’s comment: “That’s my new apartment, there. Isn’t it great?”

I looked at the abomination of desolation he pointed to, and gasped, “You’re kidding.” “It’s absolutely perfect,” he argued. “It’s got everything: location, roominess, parking, workout room, low condo fees. And it’s a real community. Look.” He directed my sight to the variety of people walking through the commodious walkways: businessmen, teenagers, a family with a baby carriage. “What don’t you like about it? It’s designed for people.”

“People, that’s good,” I said. “But designed, that’s bad. It’s artificial. It’s not a real neighborhood. It’s the Liberal concept of a neighborhood. I can see how Dwight would like this place, but not you.”

“Well,” Newton said, irritably, “It’s not something we should be arguing about. It’s not important. Let’s get back to politics, if we want an argument.”

Dwight started to do just that, when Dick interrupted, “Not important? Of course it’s important! It’s your world. It’s your image of the real that you see every day. How can you say it’s not important what you see every day?”

“You artsy-fartsy types,” Newton snorted, “you think beauty is the most important thing in the world and ugliness is the worst, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I do think that,” Dick replied. “Why don’t you?”

“I think I have higher ideals than just sensory beauty. Aristotle said . . .”

“No, don’t give me Aristotle. Give me Newton. What’s more important to you than beauty?”

I was hoping he’d say “God,” or “being a saint,” or “going to Heaven,” but instead he mumbled something so vague I don’t remember what it was- something about the good society, or the good life. I found myself suddenly spiritually far from Newton and close to Dick. Then we turned into an older section of Cambridge, where the houses were crowded, tiny, old, and poor. Newton sensed that Dick and I were together now, against him and Dwight. Gesturing at the rundown and ramshackle houses we were now passing, he challenged us, “I suppose you two would rather live in one of those?” I surprised myself with the vehemence of my answer. “Damn right we would! This is at least a real neighborhood, with real people.” “Small is beautiful,” Dick explained. “It’s not plastic,” I added. But nothing we said could move the other two to more than patronizing little smiles.

In the ensuing ten minutes Dick and I discovered that we both loved bluegrass, madrigals, the Bea-tles, Peter, Paul, and Mary, fires, storms, caves, waves, mountains, Victorian houses, Martha’s Vineyard, England, Provincetown, San Francisco, and Seattle. (Why, by the way, do those with the worst moral tastes so often have the best aesthetic tastes? Why is Sodom such a pretty city? Why do the nicest people live in Iowa?)

It became obvious to all four of us that there was some sort of a serious spiritual division between “us” and “them”: with the radical and the traditionalist on the one side, and the liberal and the conservative on the other. It was more than a set of aesthetic preferences. It soon became clear that it unexpectedly flowed over into social and political issues. Dick and I discovered that we shared a preference for “small is beautiful” populism, a suspicion of bigness whether in government or business, a lack of interest in economics, a dislike of suburbs, a love of nature, and a concern for conserving the environment. (I’ve never understood why “conservatives” aren’t in the front rank of conservationism.) We didn’t get into moral and religious issues, but I suspect that even there we would have found a psychological kinship beneath our philosophical differences.

I’d imagine that, with “a suspicion of bigness” and “a lack of interest in economics”, not to mention “a concern for conserving the environment”, Kreeft fails as a conservative. To hell with that word, then: Sign me up for his traditionalist camp; I can make friends with radicals. (Hell, the word comes from the Latin radix, “root”, and I’m all about roots, something that most conservatives rarely seem to care about conserving.) But this, I think, is a strikingly beautiful essay, and echoes a lot of what Professor Deneen argues in his two-part essay on “liberalism” and “conservatism” and the Alternative Tradition.

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