.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

The Thrasymachus Institute

"Assume Impositions"

Friday, July 30, 2010

Now Pondering . . .

On the subway today, I jotted down the following ideas as possible questions to explore in my next few blog posts:

1. Are young Americans more culturally liberal and more open to social-democratic policies than their Boomer and Gen-Xer parents were at the same age? If so, to what extent and why? Social democracies have historically tended to flourish only in ethnically homogeneous nation-states (like Iceland, Germany, and Japan) whose people feel culturally and historically connected to each other as a "tribe". America's racial, ethnic, and religious differences were once considered the major reason social democracy could never work here. Have Americans gotten beyond that? Do millenials now understand and sympathize with each other, thanks to the Internet, to the point of spanning their generation's unprecedented ethnic and religious diversity?

2. Handicapping the 2010 election. Do the Republicans need a message beyond "fear the evil Democrats"? Do the Democrats need a message beyond "Fear the crazy Republicans"?

3. The "Race Card": Infinite Regression Do liberals cynically play the race card more or less than conservatives cynically allege that they do? What kinds of liberals and conservatives are involved in this, and is there any difference? Are we at risk of infinite regression?

4. Resources and Reality. The world's declining oil supply will have an increasingly profound accelerating effect, in the coming years, on a huge range of scarcity-motivated crises that already exist around the world. People tend to think of oil only as an energy source, but it is also (and, I think,even more importantly) the one critical input which -alone- sustains the world's unprecedented levels of agricultural and manufacturing output. Oil is just *one* source of energy (albeit an important one); but it's the *only* source of the hydrocarbons necessary to produce synthetic fertilizers and plastics. Isn't that what our politicians and scientists should really be worrying about?

5. Beyond Apatheism. Religion was once about providing a set of definitive *answers* to the deepest questions of human existence. People of faith tend to view the rise of atheism and agnosticism as a form of denial that such questions exist or indifference to the answers; but is that what's really going on? I get the impression that people are increasingly willing to accept and embrace the existence of profound spiritual questions, while denying both the existence and even the need for definitive answers to them. This has been called "apatheism," but is it really a form of apathy, or is it something more? Something new? Traditional religion was born of humanity's bottomless, instinctual fear of the unknown; but this new phenomenon seems to thrive on humanity's emerging love of the unknown. How common are such views, and with whom? And why? [Once again, I'm tempted to credit the Internet]

6. Small Government Originalism: The Hot Girl Who Sucks in Bed of American Politics. The Tea Party, Constitutional originalists, and most other conservatives these days have taken to advocating for a vision (ostensibly shared by the Constitution's Framers) of a Jeffersonian Republic based on religiously-inspired moral virtues and a sharply restricted role for government in American society, and for the Federal government in particular. This view is philosophically solid, and it lends itself to simple, cogent explanation (the "hot" part); but in practice this "conservative originalist" model has never worked. . . and historically almost all of America's triumphs as a nation have come as a direct result of ignoring it.

7. The Progressive Balanced Federal Budget. Conservatives have suggested balancing the budget without raising taxes or cutting the military, essentially by slashing discretionary spending and phasing out/privatizing Social Security and Medicare. I'd like to explore the numbers to see what it would take to balance the budget the opposite way, i.e.: by raising taxes on the rich and cutting military spending, while keeping Social Security and Medicare intact (or even expanding them).

Any thoughts, gentle reader?

Monday, January 21, 2008


Looking for last minute shopping deals?
Find them fast with Yahoo! Search.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

No News Is Good News On The Frontier

The driving force behind American society is the continuing American frontier, the effort on the part of Americans to come to grips with untamed elements of nature and, by taming them, to reorganize their society. The continuing frontier is the source of renewal which sustains the United States as a 'new society.'"-Daniel J. Elezar, The American Mosaic

"We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. . .We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body."-John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity

America, from its founding, has been a nation of strong ideals. The importance of those ideals cannot be overstated, because they take the place of blood, common history, and shared religion in binding our disparate peoples together. The single quality that binds all Americans together and makes our country different from all others (it is often announced) is the distinctly virtuous nature of what America stands for. Aside from those ideals, the only thing about America that's "fixed" is its geographical address. America's ideals are more than just rhetoric. They shape domestic and foreign policy, up to and beyond the point of war.

Which makes it both tragic and mysterious, when you consider it, that we are unable to ever reach an agreement on even the broad outlines of what those "shared national ideals" might actually be. I think that's because we really have two "national ideals," which spring from two different mountains, flow down two divergent courses, and unite, if they ever do at all, only at the instant of joining the sea.

Call them the Frontier and Palladian visions of America, and you'll see them in our history. Call them the Red and Blue visions, respectively, and you'll see them working in the present.

The Red ideal is all about the simple, plain ethos of open spaces, open sky, and limitless possibilities. It's about independence and freedom. But it's also about the Frontier, and more particularly about the darkness and ignorance and dangers that lie on the other side of it, mixed in with the boundless opportunities. To live on a frontier is to live under threat. To live on a frontier is to accept the deep significance of its division, of the difference it imposes and enforces between the we on this side of it, and the unknown, scary them who live beyond it.

The scary-as-hell "them" is a vital necessity. Without "them," there's no frontier. You can't be a Cowboy if there aren't any Indians. So when we ran out of real, actual Indians, we went looking for more. The Hun; the Red Menace; and now the Arab Terrorist, alien and angry, upset at the supposed theft of his natural resources, willing to compensate for his enemies' asymetrical strength by attacking civilians.

The irony is rich. The hopeful side of the frontier mentality was what drew America to exploit the resources of the Middle East in the first place, while treating the aborigines squatting on top of it as a temporary and inconsequential nuisance. Small wonder, then, that identical arrogance should reap the identical result.

If the Frontier ideal elevates the value of independence, the Palladian ideal is all about interdependence, and about collective action and results. The Palladians came to serve a different God than the God of the mountains and the forests and the open skies.

The Paladians served a God who shared their soaring dream, borne across an ocean, of a shining city on a hill, where salvation and survival were both community endeavors, and where the joys and sorrows of the individual were the sorrows and joys of the whole.

That collective impulse is typically dormant. It shapes our actions (especially in the Blue states) but not our conscious view of ourselves. But every few generations, it's been known to wake up. It last awoke in the privation of the Great Depression, and stayed awake through the struggle and early aftermath of the Second World War. It was last sighted on the moon, standing next to an American flag planted in the desolate lunar soil, proudly saluting as the last Apollo lander lifted off.

This brings me to today's news, and President Bush.

If the tracking polls are anything to go by President Bush hasn't gotten much of a "bounce" from the killing of the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq. Nor has he gotten much joy from the ongoing stream of
non-depressing economic statistics, no matter how loudly or persistently those statistics are hyped. Or from the slow but somewhat encouraging progress being made by Iraq's elected government in bringing order to whatever is left of their country.

The reason Bush's poll numbers are so stubbornly low, viewed through this paradigm, is hard to miss. Bush lost the liberals (i.e. the palladians) a long time ago. He lost the moderates as well. His supporters now are almost all folks he's been able to manipulate by playing on the chronic xenophobia that's inherent in the psychology of the frontier.

And that's a fear that the Republican Party has been zealously stoking for years, in its efforts to cling to power. There's political advantage in painting an imaginary threat and pretending to deal with it; but there's an obvious disadvantage, too. People can be manipulated, through fear, into supporting a candidate or a party; but that's not to say that people enjoy being afraid, or the sense that they are under constant threat.

Which is why Bush's poll numbers are stuck in the 30s, despite the killing of Zarqawi. His political supporters are incapable of being reassured on the subject of terrorism or Iraq, thanks to long conditioning; and his political opponents are incapable, thanks to long and bitter experience, of being reassured on the subject of him.

The Democrats are thus far incapable of getting their message straight, or of announcing a coherent ideology. "Together, America can do better" is a clumsy attempt, but it's an attempt in the right direction.

It's only a matter of time before some brave Democrat comes to the "revolutionary" realization that the American people share a vast set of problems in common (health insurance, retirement, income volatility, debt), for which they are increasingly willing to consider common solutions. "National Health," for instance, has gone from a mocking political expletive to a serious policy option. Retirement, likewise, is a problem that can only be solved in a spirit of concern for the collective welfare, and in the presence of a sense of public trust.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Constitution: Great While It Lasted

In politics, when you catch a whiff of brimstone, you might be well-advised to look for the devil. Thus it is with the heretofore (mostly) secret NSA program to keep track of all telephone calls in the United States. The International Herald Tribune sets the table as follows:

"WASHINGTON In the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser argued that the National Security Agency should intercept purely domestic telephone calls and e- mail messages without warrants in the hunt for terrorists, according to two senior intelligence officials. . .

As in other areas of intelligence collection, including interrogation methods for suspected terrorists, Cheney and Addington [Cheney's legal adviser] took an aggressive view of what was permissible under the Constitution, said the two senior intelligence officials."

Credit is due to the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), which has been reporting on this subject for quite some time, now; but since they're a civil liberties watchdog organization, it goes without saying that nobody heeded their warnings. Still, in light of recent developments, the EFF's full allegations might bear repeating. The EFF's claim is that:

In the largest "fishing expedition" ever devised, the NSA uses powerful computers to "data-mine" the contents of these Internet and telephone communications for suspicious names, numbers, and words, and to analyze traffic data indicating who is calling and emailing whom in order to identify persons who may be "linked" to "suspicious activities," suspected terrorists or other investigatory targets, whether directly or indirectly.[emphasis added]

These allegations are the subject of a pending lawsuit, which lawsuit is in turn the subject of a pending motion to dismiss which has been filed by the Attorney General's office. The AG's main argument, in essence, is that the case must be dismissed because all evidence connected with the alleged program falls under the "national security privilege," and that therefore even allowing the lawsuit itself to proceed would be a dangerous breach of national security.

A Washington Post/ABC poll published on Friday, May 12, 2006 found that 63 per cent of Americans thought the NSA programm was an "acceptable" means of gathering data.

I have two problems with the NSA program of collecting records of all telephone calls, and I don't think either one of them has occurred to the majority of Americans who seem to be telling pollsters they have no problem with it.

First, I think there's no logical reason, if the President's argument is accepted, why he *couldn't* randomly tap into domestic telephone conversations (or have computers tap into all of them), if he believed it was in the national interest. I find that troubling.

Second, there's absolutely no guarantee that the information the NSA gathers will be used *only* to hunt down terrorists. Until now, the very secrecy of the program acted as a sort of rough guarantee aganst its abuse. But if it's acknowledged that the program exists, and the public signals that it's O.K. with that, then the government can use the information it gathers for any purpose at all.

I predict it won't be long at all before the database's use is expanded to broader and broader classes of criminal investigations. Eventually, it could end up being used for *all* of them. Or even just to get them started. The Administration could even end up using unrestricted surveillance as a tool for tripping up its political opponents.

And THAT, I have a huge problem problem with. I could almost tolerate this program if I could be absolutely certain that the information gathered would only ever be used to investigate terrorists, and that it would never be expanded to include other types of information. But the Administration is claiming that the President has unlimited authority and can do whatever he likes.

That's an argument we can't afford to let them win.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Make Immigration A State Issue

I was pretty much indifferent to the idea of a Spanish national anthem until I read this:
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced a resolution yesterday calling for“'The Star-Spangled Banner' and other traditional patriotic compositions to be recited or sung solely in English. The resolution states that the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and other 'statements or songs that symbolize the unity of the nation . .should be recited or sung in English, the common
language of the United States.'

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) co-sponsored the bill, as did Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

The legislation is a response to a Spanish-language version of the national anthem, 'Nuestro Himno,' which was released Friday.

Alexander said on the chamber floor, 'I worry, Mr. President, that
translating our national anthem will actually have the effect of dividing us. It adds to the celebration of multiculturalism in our society, which has eroded our understanding of our common American culture.'"

After reading that piece, I tumbled off the fence. Bill Frist is the most divisive figure in the Senate, with the possible exception of Mitch MCConnell. I've never heard of Johnny Isakson or Pat Roberts before today; but Jim Bunning is known to the heavens as a crazy motherfucker, and Ted Stevens is the most rappacious consumer of national tax revenues in the whole of the United States Congress.

So I read that article, and weighed those Republican Senators against the sweet Korean lady who dry-cleans my business suits. Against the wry Puerto Rican kid who serves me coffee. Against the Chinese family that keeps my local deli open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Against the aristocratic Indian girl from Bangalore who helped me write a postgraduate graduate paper on the relationship between Indian sacred texts and English common law. . . and I realized something.

If I had to, I mean if I had to choose a half-dozen people to kick out of the country, and I had to make my decision on the basis of who I thought best embodied American values. . . I'd keep the bright-eyed, diligent immigrants from my section of Brooklyn, and load Jim Bunning on the next Greyhound bus to Guatemala.

And, yes, I recognize that he'd do just the same for me. And that's my point. Jim Bunning and I have entirely different notions of who is and isn't a "real American", and the divide is most likely a reflection of the one between the culture of Kentucky and New York.

So be it. Why not make immigration a state matter, instead of a national one? Give national citizens and the bearers of green cards the run of the country, but let the states chart their own course within their own borders? New York might welcome those who Texas turns away; and the gain would be New York's. My great-great-great grandfather (Isadore Viner, of Austria, if it matters) disembarked from steerage not 5 miles from where I sit right now. It was the 1840s, and he was lugging a battered silver samovar on his back. That samovar, and some pots, and who knows what other portable tin and iron junk, were his only possessions.

I don't think I'm alone, among New Yorkers, in being grateful that the likes of Jim Bunning weren't waiting for him on the shore; or in wondering, with more than a touch of resentment, just who sent for him. My guess is: nobody. And that "nobody" had exactly the right idea.

These Republican assholes have a lot of nerve decrying "divisiveness" and "parasitism" by newcomers to this country. To a man, they all come from states that get more than $1.25 for every dollar of Federal taxes they pay. Let Ted Stevens take his sticky fingers out of my wallet, before he presumes to lecture me on how much illegal immigration is costing him. I'd rather pay for illegal immigrants' emergency room visits than his "bridges to nowhere"; and I'd rather hit myself in the head with a hammer than listen to these Republican blowhards spout off about how "divisive" they consider a song sung in Spanish.

Screw these people. They're trying to be nationalists, and they have no understanding of the nation they pretend they're representing.

Friday, April 28, 2006

This Is Our America

To quote a fellow blogger,

"To quote Adlai Stevenson, who was quoting G.B. Shaw, who probably was quoting
Thomas Jefferson, who was quoting Joseph de Maistre, people get the government
they deserve."

God help us, then, if this is the government we deserve. In 2004, an article in The Economist framed the Presidential election as a choice between incoherence (i.e.: Kerry and the Democrats) and incompetence in the form of Bush and the Congressional Republicans, before coming down very reluctantly on the side of incoherence and Senator Kerry. About a week ago, the magazine noted that, since then, the Democrats have become even more incoherent than they were in 2004; while the Republicans have displayed incompetence beyond their worst imaginings. "America deserves better" was the article's closing note.

We cannot help but agree. It is no longer possible to ignore the dismal reality of Democratic incoherence; of Republican incompetence; or of the dire risks that these defects in our leadership are imposing, with ever increasing stakes, on both ourselves and the rest of the world.

Over the last 30 years, the political culture of America has grown increasingly divided, increasingly irrational, and increasingly preoccupied with zero-sum battles over "social issues" defined by conflicting norms, values, spiritual beliefs, and collective aspirations. The cultural framework in which these battles are fought is growing increasingly tribal, and ever more venomous,to the detriment of the Republic and everyone in it.

On the subject of Democratic incoherence, few examples are needed. . . and few are available, since it's in the nature of incoherence to be elusive when subjected to research. The best commentary on the state of the Democratic platform was a quip by Senator Barrack Obama (D-IL), who jokingly protested that, "They say Democrats don't stand for anything. That's patently untrue. We do stand for anything."

But if the Democrats dither on their principles and values, the Republicans dither on their actions. There is no need, I think, to cite the litany of governmental failures that have marred the past 5 years; and most of the significant ones have been branded into the public's consciousness in the form of the "signature" images of this era in American politics, which betoken a kind of tragic incompetence, the kind that always costs dignity, and often costs lives.

This is our America. A nation that once launched a dozen men at the moon and brought them all home in one piece is now incapable of reaching low earth orbit without fearing catastrophe's blade. A nation that conquered and rebuilt half of Europe and the Pacific Rim simultaneously is now incapable of restoring the power grid in Baghdad. A nation that built the national highway system, the national rail system, the national telecommunications system, and the hoover dam. . . . has become so awash in corruption and patronage that even the approval of prescription drugs has become politicized, has become so immersed in myopic relativism that the conclusions of religion are being substituted for the conclusions of science. . . by the political appointees who oversee our science agencies.

All that, and much more, is the price we pay for dismissing the potential of collective solutions, distrusting technological progress, and disparaging the legitimacy of objective observation and logical reasoning. We work harder, we save less, we own less land than our parents did. We delay having our children, and even so, when we do, we have less time for them than our own parents were able to give us. We carry vastly heavier burdens of debt than our parents did, and our children will most probably carrier heaver burdens still. Even more ominously, it seems increasingly possible that our lives will be shorter and less healthy than those of our parents. . . and the implications for our children are starker yet.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Looking To Scare The Hell Out Of The GOP?

Then it's high time for. . . . [drum roll]The Thrasymachus Institute For Policy And Analysis!!

The Democratic Party's losing streak is at least partly due to its lack of fresh ideas. For lack of fresh ideas, we've conceded the entire Midwest and the South, and are now spending our time squabbling over how many tiny steps right or left we have to take in order to make a play for those last 100,000 votes in Ohio.

For lack of fresh ideas, we've reduced ourselves to the role of National Anchor, playing a timid Ed Norton to the GOP's jubilant Ralph Cramden. The Republicans have a whole multimillion-dollar industry churning out their policy initiatives (I know; they actually pay for ideas that bad!), and the Democrats have. . . well, nobody. Except, perhaps, for us.

With new ideas, I think the Democrats could menace the Republicans in places where they presently think themselves secure. We could force them to spend time and resources and political capital on countering our moves instead of the reverse.

With new ideas, we can make the entire country competitive again, and have at least a fighting chance of sweeping them from power in 2006, as they so richly deserve.So- what have you all got??? Contributions are more than welcome!I'm going to keep my own thoughts here brief, and just present a few possibilities in an abbreviated outline form.

These are not, fully researched, fully vetted, or even fully baked. But they are, to the best of my knowledge, new. Or, at least, I've never heard them from anyone else. If the GOP wants to "up the ante" on tax reform and privatizing social security and social issues, and throw fiscal responsibility to the wind, then we should be delighted to meet them on that ground.

They think that the Democrats will plant their heels and dig in for an unsuccessful defense of the status quo. . .But I think it'll be more fun to take their issues, steal their constituencies, slash them, burn them, tumble them from power and high-five each other, laughing, as the entire corrupt edifice of their political dominance comes crashing down around their ears.

I can't promise that any of the following initiatives will actually do all that, but I think they at least indicate the sort of thinking that could, with proper honing and polishing, point us in the right direction. Without further ado, then-


If you look at your electoral map, you'll see a long vertical line of Red states, running unbroken from North Dakota to Texas. On the county level, the very reddest of the red counties in those very red states are exactly identical to the map of "nonmetro farming-dependent counties" identified in the 2000 U.S. Census.

Those red counties, in those red States, represent the heart of the Republican base in the Midwest, and also the geographical area known as the Great Plains. Those counties also form a vertical, almost identical, blue stripe in the map of farm program payments as a percentage of county household income, rising as high as 20% or more. These farm counties suffer from heavy "outmigration" of existing residents.

Did I mention that the GOP is now looking seriously into using their brand new 54-seat Senate majority to cut farm subsidies in the name of "free trade?" No? I'll come back to that. http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/2004/11/a_tough_road_ah.html

Cutting farm subsidies is also seen among Republicans as a necessary belt-tightening in light of the Federal budget deficit. . . . which, the GOP, no doubt, would like the electorate to believe was imposed on us from Mars. It's likely to be worth reminding folks in those hard-pressed counties just where the deficit actually came from. http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/2004/11/farm_policy_ele.html

I'll come back to that too. Existing farm programs have their origin in the 1930s, a period when the well-being of U.S. farm households and rural communities were tightly linked. In 1930, there were 30.4 million people living and working on 6.3 million farms. In 2000, there were only 3 million people living and working on 1.8 million active farms. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Adjustments/overview.htm

As America's farms have gotten bigger, the families owning them have gotten wealthier; and many farms and a majority of America's farming land) aren't owned by farmers at all, but by large agricultural corporations. The result is a skewed balance of payments that makes a few families wealthy (and a few corporations obscenely wealthy), and leaves surrounding communities (and employed farm-workers) poor and economically depressed. http://www.onrc.org/programs/klamath/latimes6.10.02.html

Moreover, the basis of the economy in these rural areas is no longer agriculture, but industry. Rural industry is a development strategy; under pressure from foreign competition. . . but . . . quality of local labor and inability to attract professionals is always cited as the major problems by rural manufacturers. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AIB736/Aib73603.pdf

So here's my policy prescription. Stop pretending that the farm subsidy is just a subsidy for farmers, and remember what it actually is, and what it was originally intended to be: a subsidy for the economy of the rural, non-metro heartland. The Great Plains are a part of the country that's always had a hard time competing.

The land is flat, the summers are hot, and the winters are wet. That makes for great farmland, but a lousy place to live, and the communities out there are dying. They need the central government's help now, as much as ever, to slow the "outmigration" that's bleeding them dry. Back when farming was the basis of America's rural economy, helping rural communities by farm subsidies alone made sense.

Now, though, the rural economy is all about manufacturing and consumer service jobs. And we should be subsidizing those. And not by making payments to business owners, but by making them directly to rural workers themselves. A redistribution of the farm subsidy money will benefit the local economy and make jobs there more attractive to people born there. It will also make recruitment from other areas of the country a lot easier.

And did I mention that manufacturing and service workers in those red states outnumber farm owners 16:1?

If the GOP wants to have a fight about farm subsidies, they deserve one; and when they find themselves bereft of everything from North Dakota to Oklahoma, with Texas as a swing State, they'll have only themselves to blame. . . . IF the Democrats have the balls to call them on it.


Another brilliant Republican idea being floated is tax reform. Bush has said he wants to propose something "bold." The last time he used that dread word, he invaded Iraq. This time, rumors suggest, he's thinking of a flat income tax, or even replacing income taxes with a national sales tax.

The Democrats are presently moaning that these taxes are regressive and transfer more of the burden of taxation to the poor and middle class, to the benefit of the enormously rich; and so they do! But that's no reason for the Democrats not to play ball. In fact, I think tax reform is a wonderful opportunity for the Democrats to seriously start fucking the Republican cheese.

A national sales tax, for example, sounds great. Only. . . . let's make it a sales tax on everything, and not just the consumer purchases that poor people use all their money for. Let's also tax transfers of capital investments, of the kind that rich people make. It's only fair. Buying stock? Pay the tax! Buying a house? Pay the tax! Buying a business? Pay the tax! Again and again and again. An economist might tell you that this would make investments more "sticky," and disincentivise investors from moving their money around too fast. I'd respond that broker commissions don't seem to have that effect (much), and to the extent that they do it's probably beneficial.

Ah! And here's another "bold" tax reform idea! Let's have a flat tax, but let's just tax wealth. Why penalize income, when accounting has gotten so easy? Every year, everyone gets to tally up their total net worth and write the government a check for 10%. That means that if you're the median American who has a total net worth of $47,000 (i.e.: the average American), then your total yearly tax bite will be $4,700. Which (if you're the average American) is less than you're paying now. Of course, the top 1% of this country owns 200 times the wealth of the bottom 40%, so they might pay a bit more. O.K., they might pay cataclysmically more. Actually, this method of assessment would yield almost twice the amount of money that the Federal Government actually requires. Go figure.


If the Republicans want to come up with a "bold" (but alas, unfounded) initiative to channel Social Security money into private accounts, where will the money be coming from to pay today's beneficiaries? And where will the investment money be going? Will there really be no security?Well, here's another bold plan. Channel the money to investments in strategic American industries. Help Boeing the way the Europeans help Airbus; help American auto manufacturers the way the Japanese government banks help theirs. Focus on the broader effect of creating jobs with the money, and not creating an artificial windfall for those already in the market.

In exchange, offer workers a measure of security.And, incidentally, WHY are we committing huge funds of Iraqi reconstruction money to companies like Halliburton, which show aptitude for shuffling funds around until they disappear, but to no other discernable result as far as the Iraqi people are concerned? The Iraqis need an industrial infrastructure, and America's industrial infrastructure has the means to build it for them. Use American manufacturing to build the generators, tools, cars, machines and other products that Iraqis need to rebuild their country, and just drop them off. Save jobs here, and save lives over there. Not rocket science; and THAT would have gotten Kerry his 100,000 votes in Ohio.


Thanks to the fine Slate poster Lem for this idea, which I think is bloody brilliant; I'm reposting it here:

"The problem with health care is what we buy. The economic incentive is to keep the sick sick because we pay for "cures" not for "health".What is wrong with buying health? We could contract for health, instead of insure for sickness.Japan, England and other socialized medicine countries let the health care provicers reach into the pocket of the taxpayer. They have some system of rationing, a point system in Japan, that lets the care provider reach into the system for the max for any particular illness or condition.My email to Peter Diamond at MIT'My material is in storage in CA and I am in Japan. The basic idea is to change the market dynamics so that we pay for health instead of sickness. We do that by dividing the states into grouped zip code areas. We then contract the health care for the areas by bid setting the standards for each area. (Because the needs of each area would be different the standards must be adapted)Bonuses would be paid for meeting different levels morbidity. For example, "live birth rate", "lost time illness", "number of influenza cases". etc.This would place a premium on preventive medicine--the better medicine and reverse the economic incentive. Health care providers currently make more money from the sickly than the healthy so there is a contra economic incentive to health.The Bonus system should be designed so that a contract bidder would expect to meet a provider target morbidity report for his contract area to get his profit. And the better the provider does for the contract community the lower his costs would become spiraling health care costs down instead of up.Payment for the Plan is based on the theory that "health care" is a tax on the rest of the economy. (Hitler's guns and butter) Health care is and will be paid for by the rich more than the poor because no matter how you look at it goods and services, economic benefit bears the tax of poor health of the working class. This will probably be amply demonstrated this influenza season because of the insufficient number of vaccinations. The economy will suffer.There are many enhancement ideas to make the system more palatable to the provider and the consumer. The main thing is that the negatives of the other single payer health plans would be eliminated. Promoting research would still be a goal of the providers."


This is probably one of the loopier ideas I've come up with, but maybe -just maybe- it's possible to outflank the Republicans with the evangelical Right.In this country, we don't pay nearly enough attention to adult education, and it's a shame. People who make an effort, late in life, to fill in the gaps in their education and learn skills are seriously motivated, and deserve all the help that society can give them.

At the other end of the age spectrum, we have the homeschooled. There are all sorts of reasons why parents want to keep their kids out of the public school system, but for Christian evangelicals, it's mostly it's fear that their children will be indoctrinated by the "pernicious liberal values" of the NEA.

The courts have said that parents have the right to do this; but the costs to the children are clear. Lack of socialization opportunities; lack of facilities like libraries, computers, sports, and gymnasiums; and a lack of teachers capable of providing instruction on subjects (like, for instance, foreign languages, sciences, and higher math) that homeschooling parents tend to lack the equipment or training to teach their kids.

So my humble and possibly loopy solution is simply this: why not create "community education resource centers" that parents can take their kids to? The parents can sit in and make sure that their kids aren't learning pernicious liberal values, use classrooms to instruct their kids en masse, socialize, compare notes, and (perhaps) learn a thing or two on various subjects themselves. Parents can go or not go, as they prefer and on any schedule they like, and sit in all the classes with their kids.

As a notion, it's likely to appeal to a group of people that, truly, Democrats have no other possible shot at getting votes from.