Thursday, September 27, 2007

SCHIP: Get Healthcare or Die Tryin'

Kelvin Martin was a notorious stick-up artist from the projects in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Despite his small stature, he was only 5’3”, he was able to make a nice living for himself robbing drug dealers and rappers throughout the 1980s. Not surprisingly, he died an early and violent death. Kelvin Martin was known as 50 Cent, and his moniker lives on today as the adopted name of rapper Curtis Jackson.

Jackson took the name, “because it says everything I want it to say. I'm the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.” Prior to his multi-million selling major label debut, 50 cent, the rapper, scored an underground hit with the track “How to Rob”. That song details 50’s plans to rob a litany of successful artists, and personifies the “by any means” attitude that has pervaded much of hip-hop culture:

Aiyyo the bottom line is I'ma crook with a deal
If my record don't sell I'ma rob and steal
You better recognize nigga I'm straight from the street
These industry niggaz startin to look like somethin to eat

Despite the rather ugly subject matter, the song actually seems crafted for comic effect and the backing track makes “How to Rob” seem less menacing than tongue-in-cheek:

Did you ever think that I'd flash the nine?
And walk off with your shit like it's mine?
I'ma keep stickin niggas until I'm livid
I'll rob Boys II Men like I'm Michael Bivins

Is it that our federal legislature has been listening to old 50 Cent mix tapes, or is just that street culture displays the inevitable trickle down effects of governing by redistribution? I tend to think the latter. So, while I should react with no great surprise, I cannot help but be slightly disturbed by SCHIP. I am fairly ambivalent about the program itself. I do not know enough to pass judgment. It is the idea of taxing smokers to pay for it that bothers me. If this is such a wonderful program, then why don’t we all pay more taxes to pay for it? I can leave the answer to that question to be answered by another question; the one posed by either 50 Cent.

Why pay for something myself, when somebody else already has it?

As David Broder writes it in The Washington Post:

The bill would be financed by a 61-cents-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes. If ever there was a crowd-pleaser of a bill, this is it.

I suppose I am sad because so many people see this as a good, and just, and moral thing to do. It is an interesting brand of morality that we are peddling these days. One can only imagine the following scene in which ‘little Jimmy’ comes home from school crying:

‘Little Jimmy’: Mommy I want x, and I don’t have x. I have to have it. I need x.
Mom: Well, ‘little Jimmy’, that’s easy. Just get together with a bunch of your friends at school; find someone who has x and isn’t very popular and take it from him.

In that context, it sounds rather perverse, but pass it in Congress and give it stamp of “democratic action”, call it the “will of the people”; then theft becomes appropriation; vice becomes virtue; and the vulgar predatory behavior that would seem to typify prison life becomes “social justice”.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Three Cheers to the Death of Times Select

The New York Times is arguably the best newspaper in America. So, this piece by Bob Herbert may say something about the state of journalism in this country. Mr. Herbert has taken some very complicated and convoluted concepts (i.e. race, politics, the history of political parties, elections, etc...) and managed to boil them down to one simple and elegant idea: Republicans hate black people!

There it is. The plethora of opinions and the varying degrees to which individual politicians and constituents hold those ideas can all be easily condensed to that one simple and elegant idea: Republicans hate black people!

The other sublime aspect to Mr. Herbert’s remarks is illustrated when he refers to Clarence Thomas. As he states it, “In 1991, the first President Bush poked a finger in the eye of black America by selecting the egregious Clarence Thomas for the seat on the Supreme Court that had been held by the revered Thurgood Marshall.” Mr. Herbert’s use of personification is quite telling. The reference to “the eye of black America” demonstrates quite well his belief that all black Americans see things, or at least ought to see things, the same way; that is to say, his way. Here we derive another simple and elegant maxim: Black Republicans hate themselves!

It is hard to express the degree of gratitude I feel towards Mr. Herbert for taking such complicated and obtuse issues and distilling out these simple and, if I may say, quite beautiful truths. I should also point out that he has not bothered to muck up his argument by dealing with Copperheads (who depicted Lincoln as Abraham Africanus 1), The Solid South (which instituted Jim Crow), The New Deal (and its support for labor unions that excluded black workers), Great Society (and its lingering affects on the economic and moral landscape of this nation’s black communities), or any of a number of other questionable aspects to the Democratic Party’s policies as they pertain to black Americans. It is just not polite to question the generally held perception that: Democrats love black people!

I suppose that when Mr. Herbert writes, “The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans”, he is referring to things like reforming the welfare system, getting tougher on crime and opposing affirmative action. If that is the case, then he is absolutely correct that these things oppose the interests of black Americans... if the interests of black Americans consist of remaining stuck on the government dole, pursuing lives of criminal activity and being held to generally lower standards of achievement and accountability. If a white person expressed that sentiment, I might go so far as to wonder aloud if he were not, in fact, sounding blatantly racist.

I wish that I were shocked by the level of vitriol and astonishingly ill thought-out logic that characterizes this piece; but, honestly, I am not. It is typical; and that is sad.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Obama Goes to 1-0

Barack Obama must have an interesting definition to the word “fair”:

"We shouldn't be distorting our tax code to benefit a few powerful interests," Obama said in remarks to several dozen tax experts at the Tax Policy Center, a research center in Washington run by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. "We should be insisting that everyone pays their fair share, and when I'm president, they will."

Or perhaps he has a very wide definition of what constitutes the middle class. At least that is what I am led to believe when I compare his remarks on tax policy with a bit of empirical data:

If you can read, you can see the contradiction for yourself. If the top ten percent of Americans earn forty-two percent of income while paying sixty-six percent of Federal Income Taxes, I would tend to characterize that as paying “their fair share”.

There are those people in this world who honestly feel that it is the government’s job to play Robin Hood. There is a perfectly rational argument to be made for taxes as a means of redistributing income. It is not an argument I agree with, but nonetheless it does pass the minimum standards to actually be considered an argument. What Obama is saying, however, does not even make it over that bar. He is obfuscating plain facts and pandering to class anxiety; in short, he is doing what politicians have done since time immemorial. So much for an end to “Small Politics”.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

If These Are Our "Prospect"s, Then We May Be In Trouble

There are a number of obvious ways that editorial choices can tilt media coverage: the writers hired, the stories chosen, the perspective taken; however, I think it’s rarely noted the degree to which style makes a difference. When I refer to style, I don’t mean it in the fully technical

Take, for instance, the following sentence from this article in The American Prospect:

America builds ever-more-innovative products, but ever-fewer Americans share in that bounty.

See a problem with this sentence? I mean the sentence itself, not the idea behind it. Ultimately, the two are related, but first things first. The sentence attempts to construct a parallelism contrasting increasing production with decreasing bounty. My argument is simple: this statement fails rhetorically before it even gets to the underlying idea. It fails because of the categorical differences in the two things the author is trying to compare.

The first phrase talks about America, but what does Meyerson mean when writes, “America”: the geographical place, the political entity, the numerous ideological constructs that tie together a people who call themselves countrymen? Whatever he means, he surely is not referring to the same thing, or group of things, that he refers to in the next sentence as “Americans”.

I would hope that my point is becoming clear. While it is correct to say that plenty of things are produced “in America”, or “by Americans”, or even “by the American government”; as far as I know, no tangible good or service has ever been spontaneously created out of the American ether. Individuals or firms produce goods, and that ought to be a simple and uncontroversial empirical fact.

A much more rational argument could be made that since individuals and firms benefit from being situated in a politically stable country with an educated workforce and affluent customer base that a significant portion of their productivity is due to being in America. And a rational response would point out that is why we pay taxes; in fact, the highest corporate taxes around.