Replacing race conflict with class conflict is not an improvement.

Update: After thinking over Sen. Obama’s speech again, I’ve changed my mind. I focused too much on what Sen. Obama wanted us to think he was doing and not enough on what he was doing. One particular line stuck out and I can’t get beyond it.

This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

That line is a specific repudiation of the message of unity – based on individual liberty – that Sen. Obama tried to sell. He’s not transcending Us versus Them. He’s merely changing the players. He’s only interested in closing divides if doing so can be used for short-term political advantage, even if it means opening a new divide. Without that potential personal benefit, he doesn’t seem to find the principle worth respecting.

I modified my original entry to reflect my revised opinion.

Original entry:

I’ve been paying attention to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright story as nothing more than background noise to my interests. But I know Sen. Obama spoke today on the subject. Having read it, it’s decent enough insufficient in its attention to race and politics and the question of his implicit endorsement of Wright’s ridiculous opinions. There were some off-notes for me, but it’s a step (or four) forward and I think those overwhelm whatever good he could’ve had in the speech.

However, I can’t get past the unnecessary stuck inside his attempt at the necessary. Such as:

… Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. …

… distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. …

And politicians exploit fears of economic outcomes for their own electoral ends. Sen. Obama’s (and Sen. Clinton’s) strategy leading to March 4th, full of anti-NAFTA rhetoric and boiler-plate economic stupidity that he certainly understood as stupidity, exploited the fears of voters in Ohio. It was expedient political crap then. It’s expedient political crap here.

If Sen. Obama means inside corporate dealing between private parties, so what? If he means to include public parties, then say so explicitly. Leave out the anti-corporation idiocy, which he could’ve done by hitting solely on the problem of (readily-embraced) rent-seeking in Washington. But that would mean accepting that all parties have a legitimate claim to their own interests, demanding that Washington stay out of picking any winners and losers. Sen. Obama isn’t saying that. He like economic policies that favor the few over the many, as long as the groups are selected to his preference.

I see nothing new or noble here.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

Why quote the Preamble to the Constitution if you’re going to call on religious impulses for the way forward? Not everyone shares the same faith, or any faith. I’d rather focus on an idea like the Fourteenth Amendment and its requirement that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The context of this speech required the classical liberal (i.e. libertarian) approach to public interactions in America, not the liberal (i.e. Progressive) approach. Less “do unto others (with government)” and more “We hold these Truths to be self-evident”.

If one bad capitalist indicts capitalism, one bad pundit indicts punditry.

I (obviously) haven’t read everything written on the Fed’s Bear Stearns intervention. No need. Today’s column from E.J. Dionne is the most intellectually dishonest piece possible, relying on a skewed, limited set of the facts. There’s too much to excerpt and comment on to fully highlight its idiocy, but this is close to a summation:

But in the enthusiasm for deregulation that took root in the late 1970s, flowered in the Reagan era and reached its apogee in the second Bush years, we forgot the lesson that government needs to keep a careful watch on what capitalists do. Of course, some deregulation can be salutary, and the market system is, on balance, a wondrous instrument — when it works. But the free market is just that: an instrument, not a principle.

Dionne mistakenly assumes that the American economy is a free market. It is among the freest on Earth, but it is not free. The free market is a principle. The American economy is an instrument.

It is an instrument for Wall Street tycoons who like corporate welfare. It is also an instrument for people like Dionne:

So now the bailouts [ed. note: this isn’t a “bailout”] begin, and Wall Street usefully might feel a bit of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I’m waiting.

If the “wealthy” who will be “asked” to foot some of the bill had no financial interest in (i.e. shares) or transactions with Bear Stearns, why is it her responsibility to pay more for the Fed’s actions? As a response to corporate welfare not benefiting her? And what if she already acknowledges that a lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance? Not that acknowledging that matters to anything; why does it matter?

Believing welfare is a dangerous policy for government is a principled stance. Believing that corporate welfare is a dangerous policy for government is a stance that serves as an ideological instrument for further regulating the American economy away from the free market.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t pretend that doing isn’t doing.

Bob Costas switched from enjoyable to insufferable a long time ago. He’s risen to rank one notch below Joe Buck, who qualifies as so self-righteous that I mute my television during his broadcasts, whatever the sport, teams, or scenario. Costas demonstrates this further with these comments:

”Today, I saw on ESPN a poll about which Western Conference teams would not make the playoffs,” Costas said. “Well, 46 percent said the Denver Nuggets, which has zero percent influence on anything. No reasonable person who cares about the NBA should care about that. Who has the time or the inclination to do this, even if you’re sitting on your computer? Why would you weigh in on it?”

”I understand with newspapers struggling and hoping to hold on to, or possibly expand their audiences, I understand why they do what they do,” Costas said. ‘But it’s one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they’re a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard’s column or Bernie Miklasz’ column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.”

What bothers Costas — and he’s not alone — is Internet and talk radio commentary that “confuses simple mean-spiritedness and stupidity with edginess. Just because I can call someone a name doesn’t mean I’m insightful or tough and edgy. It means I’m an idiot.

“It’s just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school yard bullies, or on men’s room walls in gas stations. That doesn’t mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.”

I don’t find his view of bloggers and blog readers/commenters particularly insulting. This is primarily because I do not care what his position is. He’s engaging in the denial behavior all dinosaurs engage in. Pretend that “they” aren’t as qualified because some majority of their numbers are casual and less-informed. Ignore those among “them” who are qualified and ignore those among your own who are not qualified. It’s too common to cause any indigestion.

What I do find insulting is the implicit idea that only media’s gatekeepers are competent enough to figure out which comments on teh Internets are worth absorbing and which are garbage.

The Internet is a large experiment in merit. Popularity doesn’t mean quality and quality doesn’t mean popularity. Big deal. The opportunity to learn and grow and develop is there for those who wish to try. But only the fool imagines that it’s a revelation that there’s wheat and there’s chaff. Any glance through the hallowed halls of mass sports media shows this.

Link via Baseball Think Factory via Baseball Musings.

Can we frame the debate objectively?

In response to this Will Wilkinson entry and this Kerry Howley entry on the liberty arguments for (economics) and against (morality) legalized prostitution, Ross Douthat goes off the rails with a strange question of how prostitution as sex work differs from molestation and incest. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Read Mr. Wilkinson’s response, with all the obvious goodness such a question demands.

Instead, I want to focus on this one sentence from Mr. Douthat’s entry:

If you think that sex, by virtue of being bound up not only culturally but biologically with emotional attachment on the one hand and reproduction on the other, is a unique kind of physical act, one that’s intimate by its very nature in a way that, say, preparing dinner isn’t, then it makes sense to assign a hierarchy of moral value (and moral stigma) to different kinds of sexual activity – most likely with monogamy at the top, serial monogamy somewhat lower, promiscuity lower still, and activities that treat sex as a commodity to be bought and sold somewhere near the bottom.

Of course it makes sense to assign that hierarchy if that’s what you think. But not everyone thinks that. Perpetuating individual liberty demands more than caving to a squishy notion of universal disdain for an activity. Even, and perhaps especially, when one finds activities at the bottom of that hierarchy morally repugnant.

The validity of arguing for the legalization of prostitution does not hinge on the moral argument with regard to selling sex. It is acceptable to believe that an activity is morally unacceptable, yet to acknowledge that two consenting adults may engage in that activity because they are not harming others. Or more precisely, if they are harming anyone, it is only themselves, voluntarily. That question of liberty is at the core of this debate, not the moral defensibility of prostitution.

Free to engage and should engage are different concepts. Ms. Howley and Mr. Wilkinson argue only the former. This (implicitly) injects into the debate the truth that all tastes and preferences are subjective. It sets such subjectivity aside and leaves the legal question only to evidence of objective harm.

For fairness, Mr. Douthat posits in an earlier entry that sex work is by definition self-abuse, justifying a legal prohibition. The posts he responds to in the above links address that argument.


Of course, since it’s apparently okay to ask questions unrelated to the topic, let me ask a question: Why is it automatically self-harm worthy of prohibition for an individual to sell sex, even when it’s voluntarily sold, yet it’s reasonable to permit parents to surgically alter the genitals of their healthy sons – who may or may not approve of such permanent, physical alteration – as Mr. Douthat suggested last year in defense of infant circumcision?

The answer to how one person can hold two incongruent opinions rather obviously rests in a willingness to use personal, subjective tastes and preferences to inform the legal code of a diverse, secular, civil society. It’s the same central planner impulse that resides in every individual who seeks to dictate which freedoms are abhorrent.

Since I’m off on the tangent, in that entry, Mr. Douthat states:

Proponents, like myself, point out that even saying the word smegma is really disgusting. Again, I think we pretty much win the debate right there, without even getting into the whole HIV question.

I get the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comment, whether he meant it or not. I think he did because I think he views circumcision as inconsequential. (Remember subjective tastes and preferences?) But any understanding of human biology demonstrates the stupidity of such an argument. Female genitals produce smegma, as well. We do not cut female minors for that reason. Or, more to the point, we do not permit parents to cut their daughters just because they, the parents, are disgusted by the mere mention of the word. We manage to find the correct reasoning to prohibit that. But for males, parents can use only the mere mention of smegma as an excuse to cut. Or they can reject even that reason and order it because it’s fun to check “yes” on the consent form. The law is based on our conditioned beliefs rather than facts.

Just as it is with prostitution.

Triumph of the Big Government Advocates

Writing about OPEC’s rise to actual cartel power, Robert Samuelson writes this sentence about one of America’s short-comings.

We have steadfastly rejected higher gasoline taxes to curb unnecessary driving and strengthen demand for fuel-efficient vehicles (better to tax ourselves than let foreigners tax us through higher prices).

First, higher prices are not a “tax”, they are the result of supply and demand. As Mr. Samuelson points out throughout his essay, world demand is growing. OPEC has control of a large segment of supply. But OPEC does not have the ability to make us pay its prices. Why didn’t he just alter the sentence and write “better to tax ourselves than let foreigners gouge us through higher prices”? It would’ve been as economically (in)correct.

More importantly, the purpose of a tax on gasoline should never be to limit “unnecessary” driving. Unnecessary to whom? If I go to the store to browse for merchandise I have no intention of buying today, is that unnecessary? If a parent drives his child around to help the child fall asleep, is that unnecessary? If a teenager drives his date around aimlessly for an extra half hour so they can talk longer, is that unnecessary?

Taxes to achieve subjective ideals is ideology, not valid public policy. The only purpose for a tax – a user fee – is to rectify the negative externalities from the taxed activity. Carbon emission is an externality. Fifteen cents more for a gallon of gasoline from higher demand is not an externality.

The price of a gallon of gasoline should be the result of market forces. Either people value driving or they value money. But each consumer is the only legitimate decision-maker on that choice.

Legislators are politicians, not statesmen.

On Saturday I attended a town hall meeting given by my Congressman, Rep. Tom Davis. I’ve written in the past about how much I despise his service in Congress. On every political issue, he’s been wrong, choosing party over country. Throw in a dose of moral posturing on steroids in baseball and there’s little to redeem years of wasted opportunities to stand for what is right rather than what is right-wing. It’s been a frustrating mess living in Virginia’s 11th district.

That said, I would consider voting for not despising the man I encountered Saturday. He was honest, explaining the politics of different situations facing the nation. Some of them I already knew, like the stimulus package. Some of them I hadn’t thought about in as much depth, such as whether or not anyone running for president will pull troops out of Iraq. (I’d assumed no, given the current inaction from Democrats. Rep. Davis said as much.) He had smart comments on the false hope of the economic stimulus package, as well as an honest assessment of the (non-)viability of our entitlements regime. He was thoughtful on immigration, if ultimately misguided, in my opinion. But he had an intellectual depth that I respect.

I just wish he’d shown this when it mattered, not after he had nothing to lose because he’s retiring. The time to act occurs before deepening the problem you wish to address, not after.

Parents as middle-man is an interesting twist on proxy.

This article demonstrates the view many people have when they make their child’s decision to circumcise him (or her) absent any medical need.

According to a press release from the Ministry of Health, the sessions for children who wish to be circumcised will be held during the first-term school break from March 18 to March 30, 2008.

Parents or guardians who wish to acquire these services for their children can directly contact…

Parents aren’t imposing their preferences, they’re merely acting as agents for their children’s wishes. That may make people feel better, but it doesn’t change the action from wrong to right.

XY is not a good starting point for judgment.

Remember what I wrote yesterday:

The only thing I know for sure is that when I see the patriarchy in a debate, I stop to question the receptivity of all participants to the complete, objective set of facts informing the debate.

I left the idea of accepting principles implicit in that. At Hit & Run, Kerry Howley nails the problem with respect to prostitution and claims of patriarchy. There is too much goodness to quote any one specific point. Read the whole piece. But I like this:

None of the slut-shaming makes sense unless you assume women live to give themselves to men in their purest possible form.

Some of the comments at the Feministing entry that Ms. Howell discusses are instructive. First, the comment she references in her entry:

Exactly what is “enough” for a woman’s body? I’m politically liberal, openly feminist, and opposed to sex work precisely because of the “patriarchy, heterosexuality, legalization of sex work and the ethical treatment of sex worker” issues. Oh, yeah, and also the issue of pricing the body as a commodity to be sold in the capitalist market (“if we pay them more, then we must really value them” doesn’t make exploitation any more attractive).

To be fair, the commenter’s second paragraph states that sex work should be legal. But the point is clear, even if a woman sells the temporary sexual use of her body to another, it is exploitation. Can a person be exploited in agreement with her expressed will? This is a fancy way of arriving at the same conclusion as slut-shaming. She may do what she wants, but capitalism will ruin her because she’s not strong enough to overcome it. It’s the same circular, illogical journey to “patriarchy”.

Next, this comment:

Selling sex objectifies women and supports the patriarchal view that women are meant to service men. How do we as human beings expect to better ourselves if we can’t move beyond our violent, self serving instincts?

Women can’t sell sex to women. Men can’t sell sex to women. Men can’t sell sex to men. Got it? Only patriarchal men – never feminists – can adhere to a heteronormative, degrading worldview. Got it?

Taking it further, this comment:

But on another level, this story really sickens me, as someone who voted for Spitzer, and begs a bit of a personal question: When can we ever trust the men in our lives? Whether they are elected, or our friends, our lovers, our brothers or brother’s friends…When do we trust them to not rape us, use us, objectify our bodies, patronize our minds or otherwise disrespect us? I struggle with this story, as an example of not just an act of “indiscretion” but as Samhita points out, the larger issue of patriarchy, heterosexism in politics, abuse of power and ultimately a complete disregard for women has human beings.

That’s grotesque.

Like I said, the appearance of patriarchy suggests a narrow approach to whatever topic is being discussed. This is why I’m not a feminist. I’m a libertarian, instead¹, because I believe in equality. I believe that all people are capable of making their own decisions free from, and with understanding of, competing interests for and against their actions. Where there is oppression against free will, root it out. Where there is a poor outcome from free will, let it be². It’s not complicated.

¹ I know feminists who believe in equality of opportunity (i.e. liberty) rather than “equality” of outcome, so I do not seek to disparage feminism or imply that all feminists believe in the latter. But the feminists who do not believe in any equality that produces results different from their preferred outcomes are too off-putting. I’ll stick with my broader philosophy of libertarianism, which is based on principles rather than my subjective tastes and preferences.

² Contrary to what some people believe about libertarians, this does not mean I advocating leaving people who make bad choices to rot in the gutter. It does not meant hat I believe women who choose between selling sex and starving should be left to sell sex. Charity/assistance is not anathema to libertarianism.

Liberty is the center.

In what will probably be my only post on Eliot Spitzer’s sex scandal, I’m not going to talk much about his sex scandal. I just don’t care about the sleaze. His hypocritical moral thuggery speaks for itself, although I’m perfectly happy to witness every libertarian rip him. I’m just not willing to pretend that this will in any way assist the return of individual liberty to the legislative process surrounding consensual, victim-less transactions of subjectively-questionable morality¹. At best, I’m willing to consider that it might discourage politicians from private misbehavior. Upon reflection, and before completing the previous sentence, I accepted that Spitzer’s fall will discourage nothing. The hubris of politicians to preen in public crusades while mucking around in the filth in private is going nowhere. In other words, this is just another sex scandal that will, at most, ruin Spitzer’s political career.

Instead, I want to examine Kip’s response to Glenn Greenwald’s question on the matter. First, Greenwald’s question:

[A]re there actually many people left who care if an adult who isn’t their spouse hires prostitutes? Are there really people left who think that doing so should be a crime, that adults who hire other consenting adults for sex should be convicted and go to prison?

To which Kip replied:

Actually, the “need” to criminalize prostitution is one of those rare worldviews that unites radical conservatives (“morals,” “social fabric,” etc.) with radical liberals (“oppression of women,” “the powerful exploiting the powerless,” etc.).

While the Vast Center-Wing Conspiracy just shrugs it off.

I think that’s spot-on. Our society’s puritan response to sex is not exclusively a trait of social conservatives. That belief may be more prevalent on the right, and I think it’s more explicit there, but it appears in various forms on the left. As Kip highlights, only the reasoning is different. The revulsion is identical.

There’s no reason for me to comment on that with an entry of my own rather than a comment on Kip’s original entry, so allow me to expand where I think his logic applies. Since I’m writing it, my thought process applies to genital mutilation. There is a comparison to be made in the mistaken logic applied based on gender. As it applies to female genital mutilation, I’d write the comment like this:

Actually, the need to criminalize female genital mutilation is one of those rare worldviews that unites radical conservatives (“anti-Islam,” “nationalism,” etc.) with radical liberals (“oppression of women,” “the patriarchy²,” etc.).

While the Vast Center-Wing Conspiracy just understands that the individual’s right to be free from unnecessary harm is all that’s necessary to denounce and prohibit female genital mutilation.

Although the conclusion is the same, the approach matters. The Vast Center-Wing Conspiracy relies on the principle rather than its own subjective interpretation of what is right and wrong. It leaves open the idea that the individual could choose something different, but leaves open only the idea that the individual should choose.

With male genital mutilation, I’d write the comment like this, with the obvious reversal of the original prostitution argument on criminalization versus legalization:

Actually, the “need” to legalize male genital mutilation is one of those rare worldviews that unites radical conservatives (“parental rights,” “conformity,” “religion,” etc.) with radical liberals (“parental rights,” “women’s sexual preferences,” “women’s sexual health,” etc.).

While the Vast Center-Wing Conspiracy just understands that the individual’s right to be free from unnecessary harm is all that’s necessary to denounce and prohibit male genital mutilation.

I am not making the claim to the prevalence of these world views or that they approach a tipping point close to a majority. But I have encountered every one of them in person and on the Internet. And politicians (and courts) accept every one of them.

Still, the central point remains. Those who rely on principles of individual liberty arrive at the same conclusion, which is equal treatment (i.e. protection) for all people, regardless of gender. There is a foundation that isn’t open to political whims and/or faulty personal character. This Center-Wing Conspiracy grasps the point of a civil society and acts to make it reality.

Everyone else just pretends that his or her personal, subjective tastes and preferences for a traditional practice should apply to everyone. There is no concern that the other individual might not choose the same³. There is no recognition that, if he or she chooses differently, he or she is not automatically wrong. There need not be any delusion or coercion.

The difference between principle and ideology is important.

¹ Paying for sex? Not immoral. Paying for sex with someone other than one’s spouse? Not necessarily immoral. Paying for sex with someone other than one’s spouse when that spouse has not/would not agree to such marital terms? Immoral. Each person is entitled to his or her own private shades of gray.

² As if males can’t be the victim of the patriarchy. As if women can’t be the instigator in “the patriarchy”. (Any look at the scope of FGM advocates demonstrates the fallacy in that belief.) The only thing I know for sure is that when I see the patriarchy in a debate, I stop to question the receptivity of all participants to the complete, objective set of facts informing the debate. With the FGM debate, this receptivity is generally very low.

³ A common argument in favor of permitting genital mutilation of male infants is “if you don’t like it, don’t do it to your kids.” These people miss the point because they don’t rely on any principle.

An apology speaks a thousand words.

I haven’t paid too much attention to the minutiae of the campaign, so minor flare-ups like Samantha Power calling Senator Clinton a “monster” don’t appear on my radar until others discuss it in more depth. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but I understand the political aspects. Truth is irrelevant in politics. As ridiculous as that is, it’s undeniable. Spin matters exclusively.

Remembering that helps, especially in the context of Ms. Power’s apology. Consider:

The key moment is at 1:30 in, I think. It speaks to what I’ve mentioned before in relating the opinion of others. Forget policy and think only of a libertarian’s preference in our present reality. Gridlock is key because neither party is much-interested in reducing the size or scope of government. There’s too much power to be bought from Americans with our own money.

Where Senators Clinton and McCain have experience in gaming the system to their advantage, Senator Obama appears to be the least experienced. It’s to some not-easily-identifiable percentage an act, because he couldn’t get as far as he’s gotten if he doesn’t know the rules, but knowledge of the rules alone does not make him effective at the game. To the extent that he relies on political rookies, he will have these setbacks. He will not get his agenda through the Congress. And with each successive loss for him, Congress will take its victory and play harder. This is ideal. If we’re lucky, it will create divided government in 2010.

Video link via Andrew Sullivan.