Tag Archives: libertarian

Heinlein and Beyond This Horizon

Robert A. Heinlein was a question-asker.

heinlein-beyond-horizonI consider Robert Heinlein’s most fascinating novel to be his prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (A prescriptive utopia is where an author “prescribes” what he or she believes a better civilization would look like.) While Heinlein did opine, extensively, about society in many books, from Starship Troopers to Glory Road, it is in Beyond This Horizon that you’ll find him clearly stating This Is The Way Things Ought To Be.

And it turns out to be a fascinating, surprisingly nuanced view of our potential future.

Like most Heinlein novels, Beyond This Horizon divides pretty evenly into two parts and it is only the second half that I hold in high regard. Heinlein wrote the first half at behest of the famed editor of Astounding Magazine, John W. Campbell, who was then holding forth on one of his favorite themes . . . that “an armed society is a polite society.”

anecdotes-historyIn pushing this strange notion, Campbell was behaving very much like his arch-nemesis, Karl Marx. A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples. But no matter. Heinlein did as good a job of conveying Campbell’s idea in fiction as anybody could. So much so that the first half of Beyond This Horizon has been cited by state legislators in both Texas and Florida, proposing that all citizens go around armed! Naturally, this leads (paradoxically) to a wild shoot-em-up, in the first half of Beyond This Horizon… which RAH suddenly veers away from at the midway point.

heinlein-star-beastThis division between halves is typical of Heinlein novels and it makes reading them an interesting, multi-phase experience. Generally, RAH was a master at starting his tales–in fact, I recommend that all neo writers study carefully the first few pages of any Heinlein tale, for his spectacularly effective scene-setting and establishment of point-of-view. (The opening scene of The Star Beast is the best example of show-don’t-tell that anyone can find.) Alas, most of his novels reach a vigorous climax, concluding part one… and then peter out disappointingly in the last half, amid a morass of garrulous talk.

But this is where Beyond This Horizon reverses all expectations. Sure, part one is action and part two is talk, as usual… only in this case, the action is silly and the talk is terrific! In fact, this is where Robert Heinlein displays how broad his intellectual reach can take us.

heinlein-libertarianHere we see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither “fascist” nor anywhere near as conservative as some simple-minded critics might have us think.

Indeed, his famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill.

heinlein-solutionI was amazed by many other aspects of this wonderful book-within-a-book, especially by Heinlein’s startlingly simple suggestion for how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — to allow couples to select which sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but to forbid actually altering the natural human genome.

Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. It is a proposal so insightful that biologists 40 years later are only now starting to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.

heinlein-biographyhWhen it comes to politics, his future society is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated. But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic. One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: “Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?”

None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate… and more interesting.

But here’s the crux. For the most part, with Robert Heinlein, you felt he wasn’t so much lecturing or preaching as offering to argue with you! His books let you fume and mutter and debate with this bright, cantankerous, truly American soul, long after his body expired.

writer-science-fictionAnd this joy in argument – in posing and chewing over thought experiments – is the very soul of what it means to be a writer or reader of science fiction.

Finally, for more about Heinlein, see the extensive new two-volume biography by William H. Patterson, Jr.:

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 1 (1907 – 1948): Learning Curve., followed by volume two:

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948 to 1988.

–David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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Liberals, you must reclaim Adam Smith!

the-theory-of-moral-sentimentsI’ve said it before and must (alas) repeat it ad nauseam. Many of our modern struggles — in the U.S. and across advanced societies — could be altered if both sides actually (for the first time) read Adam Smith.  The left would learn that he  was not the  viciously cruel exploiter of the masses that dopey campus ranters portray him, but rather, the first modern thinker to propose a generally flat and fair (if highly competitive) society, one moderated with many kindnesses that he defended in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Though yes, he maintained that society could better afford kindness if it maintained a vibrantly creative -competitive marketplace for great new products and services. A forecast of stunning accuracy.

Conservatives would realize that Smith praised competition as the greatest creative force… but that competition’s top enemy is not always a government civil servant!  There is another, older enemy of enterprise and freedom, that crushed opportunity and competition in 99% of societies across 6000 years. The principal enemy of freedom and markets denounced by Smith was monopolistic or conspiratorial oligarchy, of exactly the kind tat the American Founders rebelled-against.

WealthNationsHere’s a summary I found recently:  “Ironically, Smith’s epic work The Wealth of Nations, which was first published in 1776, presents a radical condemnation of business monopolies sustained and protected by the state, in service of a lordly owner-caste. Adam Smith’s ideal was a market comprised of small buyers and sellers. He showed how the workings of such a market would tend toward a price that provides a fair return to land, labor, and capital, produce a satisfactory outcome for both buyers and sellers, and result in an optimal outcome for society in terms of the allocation of its resources.

“He made clear, however, that this outcome can result only when no buyer or seller is sufficiently large to influence the market price—a point many who invoke his name prefer not to mention. Such a market implicitly assumes a significant degree of equality in the distribution of economic power—another widely neglected point.” (excerpted from David C. Korten’s book, When Corporations Rule the World.)

WhenCorporationsRuleIt is an argument made forcefully later by Friedrich Hayek, another genius whom the right idolizes in abstract, while betraying almost everything that Hayek stood for, such as maximizing the number of skilled, empowered and knowledgable competitors and thwarting conspiracies among monopolists and oligarchs, whether those were rooted in government bureaucracy or in narrow owner elites.

This was the point of the Progressive Movement 100 years ago, creating anti-trust laws that shattered the then-looming Gilded Age oligarchy and restored competition to American markets.  It had to be done again in the 1930s and 1940s, resulting in the flattest and most vibrantly entrepreneurial society and fastest-rising middle class the world had ever seen (and shocking the hell out of Marxists, who thought their teleological forecasts could never be reformed away.)

That flattish society (I call it “diamond-shaped) was the product of reforms instituted by the “Greatest Generation” that is much admired on the American Right, for overcoming a depression and Hitler and containing communism.  Alas, for their narrative, the Greatest Generation also adored Franklin… Delano… Roosevelt. Their innovations so reduced class disparities and class friction in America that the Boomer generation grew up assuming that such things were behind us forever.

== But human nature had not been abolished.  ==

ClassWarLessonsHistoryAlas, “class struggle” is a sure theme of our present times. As Smith would tell you, cheaters always find a way to come back, as the flat social order is once again being crushed by skyrocketing (French Revolution-level)  wealth disparities, monopoly and oligarchy.  Raising the question… can Americans do it again?  React not with radicalism or excesses like socialism, but with steel-eyed moderate reforms that restore flat and open competition for another generation? History shows far more instances of the former, than the latter.

“In the real world of unregulated markets, successful players get larger and in many instances use the resulting economic power to drive or buy out weaker players to gain control of ever larger shares of the market. In other instances “competitors” collude through cartels or strategic alliances to increase profits by setting market prices above the level of optimal efficiency. The larger individual and more collusive market players become, the more difficult it is for newcomers and small independent firms to survive, the more monopolistic and less competitive the market becomes, and the more political power the biggest firms wield behind demands for concessions from governments that allow them to externalize ever more of their costs to the community,” writes David C. Korten.

AdamSmithREgulationAdam Smith again said it best, defying the stereotypes and cliched images of him.

“When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.”

He saw a tacit conspiracy on the part of employers “always and everywhere” to keep wages as low as possible.

Does that sound like the guy who you were taught believed only in dog-eat-dog?  Or that only billionaires are “job-creators”?

No wonder today’s “libertarians” — all-too caught up in the hallucinatory web spun by Rand and Rothbard and by Koch-financed “think tanks” like Heritage and Cato — never refer anymore to the “Fist Liberal” and the founder of true libertarianism.  Because Adam Smith would remind them that the real foe of enterprise has — for 6000 years — been owner-oligarchy and monopoly.  The very forces that are rigging our elections and subsidizing propaganda that has driven a third of our neighbors crazy, re-igniting the American Civil War.  So crazy, they proclaim that only government bureaucrats can harm capitalism, enterprise or freedom.

Competition(A side note: I dare anyone to attribute my assertions here to a scintilla of leftism! Competition is the great, creative driver of our positive sum markets, science, democracy… It is in defense of those creatively competitive arenas that we must, today, face down a bizarre madness that has taken over the American Right.)

(But hang on till the end of this posting, to when I cite a very high authority on this!)

== Smith… the judo master ==

The crux is this. If liberals (and not their crazy leftist allies) really want to do a real jiu jitsu move on the mad right, instead of engaging in futile sumo… then liberals should with agility reclaim the “First Liberal” — Adam Smith — and hammer their opponents with him! It is the one move that would take them utterly by surprise, winning over millions of moderates and small businessmen.

“We like competition and open-flat and fair markets!  They are the wealth generators that then enabled us to take on great projects like education and helping the poor. The real destroyers of that healthy version of capitalism were denounced by Smith, and by the American founders. So stop listening to paid shills pushing a return to feudalism! Come negotiate with us over how to keep it all open and healthy and so productive that we can take on the countless challenges ahead.”

== The Cult of the Anti-Smiths ==

Want to see how blatant and hateful the apologists for oligarchy have become?  The latest monstrous rationalization (from Forbes): “Give Back? Yes, It’s Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%.”

GivingPledgeYes, it is randianism/murdochianism in full, shameless fury.  Please… please go read the rant, then come back here.  I’ll wait.

Alas, as usual, this screed makes no distinction between the wealthy who actually built companies that coalesced the efforts of thousands of skilled engineers to deliver win-win goods and services — e.g. Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Steve Jobs —  versus the other clade that became billionaires either via state-subsidized resource extraction or financial connivance among a cheater-cartel of 5000 CEO-caste golf-buddies.

The former group certainly deserve to be rich!  Though note, that most of the creative-goods-and-services billionaires are also … democrats! Who have signed the Buffett Giving Pledge and who express loyalty to the Smithian mixed society.  So much so that they support higher taxes on the rich! (See Larry Page’s most recent effort to use his wealth to help us all in a win-win fight to halt aging.)

Alas, the wealthy lords whom Randians admire most as “job creators” do nothing of the kind. They are those whom Rand herself called “looters” while the tech moguls who are most like Ayn’s beloved characters — creatively brilliant and great managers of other peoples’ brilliance — are the very ones who hold no truck at all with randianism!  Huh.

WealthDisparitiesAbove all, it is in their betrayal of the true libertarian forefather (and also called the “first liberal”) — Adam Smith — that today’s ‘libertarians’ demonstrate the ultimate hypocrisy.  Which matters not a whit to those whose incantations march them (shouting hosannahs) back into chains of feudalism.

 == They hate what works ==

Getting closer to the news…. Hey. If it is so awful, why not let Obamacare run its course?

Economist Paul Krugman at his most cogent: “In a way, you can see why the food stamp program — or, to use its proper name, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — has become a target.  Conservatives are deeply committed to the view that the size of government has exploded under President Obama but face the awkward fact that public employment is down sharply, while overall spending has been falling fast as a share of G.D.P. 

(News flash, the latest figures show that the US federal deficit has plunged below 680 billion or 4.2% of GDP, well below the 5% threshold that most economists call “safe.”  Look at the Second Derivative of deficits. The second derivative is ALWAYS positive during Republican administrations and almost always negative in democratic ones.  That single fact should make any deficit hawk or person obsessed with fiscal responsibility a democrat. Period.  Flat and absolute.  But let’s get back to Krugman.)

“SNAP, however, really has grown a lot, with enrollment rising from 26 million Americans in 2007 to almost 48 million now.  Conservatives look at this and see what, to their great disappointment, they can’t find elsewhere in the data: runaway, explosive growth in a government program. The rest of us, however, see a safety-net program doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: help more people in a time of widespread economic distress.

“The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak….”

Read the rest. But above all recall that the core GOP narrative — that there has been expanding overall federal government under Obama — is a lie that is diametrically opposite to true, as the cutting of food assistance is diametrically opposite to moral.

That whirring sound?  Barry Goldwater wailing and spinning over what has happened to conservatism.

==  Political Ammo! ==

Okay, my periodic political rant is nearly over.  But let’s begin our coda with someone who doesn’t deserve a lot of respect, but who in this case makes a lot of sense:

BenefitAndTheBurdenBruce Bartlett, author of  The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take, held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and also served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul.  So his conservative credentials are complete. And yet, in this article in the New York Times, Bartlett assays the lunatic fringe of the GOP that is now spreading the toxic meme that we should default on the debt as a GOOD thing !

What would drive a right winger like Bartlett to say such things? Michael Goldfarb in SALON appraises the roots of the Tea Party’s radicalism in events of 1973… that a four-decade-long war on the press’s legitimacy began with conservative anger over the “lynching” of Richard M. Nixon from the presidency. The idea that it was a biased liberal press that made the molehill of Watergate into a mountain of Constitutional crisis took root:

“Under Reagan, Republican appointees on the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine, the  obligation for broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues. This led to an explosion of opinionated propagandists on the airwaves relentlessly attacking “liberal” media. It continues to this day, degrading American public discourse.

“A Nixon media operative, Roger Ailes, discussed starting a Republican-slanted news program with the president pre-Watergate. Later, Ailes invented Fox News for Rupert Murdoch. Fox is one of the prime shapers of the hyper-partisan political culture that has made the U.S. practically ungovernable.”

I found Goldfarb’s insights interesting.  Though ultimately, he is wrong.  The roots lie in the Antebellum or pre-Civil War South.  In the romanticism of Sir Walter Scott that Mark Twain denounced in his own people. In a resentment that simmers like hot, kudzu-scented evenings.  We are still mired in a Civil War that is once more coming to a boil. Do not take it personally. We are not the true target of that rage.  It is the Future.

== Rabbis Explain Why Both Left and Right are wrong. But Smith was right! ==

And finally, a little talmudic study from Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK…

“The rabbis favored markets and competition because they generate wealth, lower prices, increase choice, reduced absolute levels of poverty, and extend humanity’s control over the environment, narrowing the extent to which we are the passive victims of circumstance and fate. Competition releases energy and creativity and serves the general good.

“… However as the critics of capitalism pointed out, the market does not create a stable equilibrium. It engages in creative destruction, or as Daniel Bell put it, capitalism contains cultural contradictions. It tends to erode the moral foundations on which it was built. Specifically, as is manifest clear in contemporary Europe, it erodes the Judeo- Christian ethic that gave birth to it in the first place.

JonathanSacks“Instead of seeing the system as Adam Smith did, as a means of directing self- interest to the common good, it can become a means of empowering self-interest to the detriment of the common good. Instead of the market being framed by moral principles, it comes to substitute for moral principle. If you can buy it, negotiate it, earn it and afford it, then you are entitled to it – as the advertisers say – because you’re worth it. The market ceases to be merely a system and becomes an ideology in its own right.

“Fourth, no one who reads the Bible with its provisions for the remission of debts every seventh year could fail to understand how morally concerned it is to prevent the build up of indebtedness, of mortgaging freedom tomorrow for the sake of liberty today. The unprecedented levels of private and public debt in the West should have sent warning signals long ago that such a state of affairs was unsustainable in the long run. The Victorians knew what we have forgotten, that spending beyond your means is morally hazardous, however attractive it may be, and the system should not encourage it.”

Heh.  I honestly wrote all of that stuff at the top of this column before reading this rabbinical teaching… which conveys almost the identical message, but with more eloquent persuasiveness.  Maybe I should have studied for another profession.

And now… the political lamp is OUT!

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Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. – Mark Twain

There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster — so we rented ATLAS SHRUGGED.

Well, after all,  I often talk about Ayn Rand and her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement, influencing much of the rhetoric we hear from the American Right… though none of the policies have ever been actually enacted during Republican rule. I’ve published both scholarly papers and popular articles about Rand’s fiction and philosophy.

So, I thought, why not give her acolytes one more shot at selling me on her biggest, most-central tale? An honest person does that. Whereupon, with a sigh, but opening my ears and mind, I slid the disk into the player….

== For the record ==

First a couple of honest disclaimers:  1) It may seem that I am aiming most of my critical attention, lately, at “right-wing authors.” (Last time I dissected Frank Miller’s travesty “300,” showing how it tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme. ) But I do notice foibles of the left!  For example, I promise soon to offer up that long-awaited piece about James Cameron’s beautiful but misguided film, AVATAR.

2) As one of the few sci fi authors who delivered a keynote at a political party convention – indeed it was the Libertarian Party – I may seem somewhat of a “heretic” to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP. But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism.

Like Smith, I believe in fair and open competition – the greatest creative force in the universe and the process that made us.  Encouraging vibrant, open rivalry – in markets, democracy, science, etc – is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society ), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge. That positive aim – also preached by Friedrich Hayek – should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement… instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.

(Smith also favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)

For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism — and other oversimplifying dogmas — have a look at this essay: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

Only now, with due diligence done, let’s get back to ATLAS SHRUGGED: THE MOTION PICTURE.

== Rand’s Books… and the Movie ==

Despite my low esteem of Ayn Rand’s simplistic dogma, I do rate THE FOUNTAINHEAD as by far her best book. In its smaller and more personal scope, that novel offered a pretty effective (if melodramatic) portrayal of  uncompromising genius having to overcome the boneheaded doorkeepers of art and architecture — two realms that are always beset by bullies and villainy.  In that tale, the hero’s adversaries came across as multi-dimensional and even somewhat plausible, if also a bit cartoonish. Indeed, the 1950s Gary Cooper movie was pretty good, for a Rand story.

Alas, in contrast, ATLAS SHRUGGED takes on civilization as a whole — all of its institutions and enlightenment processes, top to bottom — calling every last one of them corrupt, devoid of hope, intelligence or honor. Moreover it proclaims that the vast majority of our fellow citizens are braying, silly sheep.

(Consider this irony; a movement propounding that all people can and should think for themselves also teaches its adherents to openly despise their neighbors as thinking beings. A party that proclaims fealty to market forces also holds that the number of deciders and allocators can and should be very small. In other words, you can have Hayek or Rand. Not both.)

But pause a moment. How does the book hold up, strictly from the perspective of writing and art? Well… I won’t mince words. ATLAS SHRUGGED royally sucks as a novel, with cardboard characters, rivers of contrived coincidence and dialogue made of macaroni. (Can you dig a 70 page SPEECH?) Of course, none of those things matter if your taste runs to an endless smorgasbord of resentment. In which case the speechifying is mother’s milk!

Heck, the left produces plenty of polemics just as turgidly tendentious. In fact, I just pretty much described The Handmaid’s Tale.

Given such source material — and universal boos from both critics and the viewing public — was I surprised to find that the movie version of Atlas Shrugged bites, at the level of basic film 101 storytelling?  For example, it is only in the last five minutes that the director deigns to clarify a core villain! As for the “heroes”… well, their famously emotionless “I don’t give a crap” mien may work for campus geeks. But not in cinema, where passion propels.

(A deeply ironic and smirk-worthy “oops” appeared on the cover of the DVD version, blurbing ATLAS SHRUGGED as a saga of “courage and self-sacrifice” — which would be the ultimate Randian sin!)

== A High Point ==

One sequence of this film does stand out.  I’m a sucker for lyrical cinematography, especially when it involves beautiful scenery, or else a love-ode to fine technology.  And there’s about ten minutes in ATLAS SHRUGGED when we get both, as the male and female leads ride their new super-train along shimmering rails made of miraculous metal, speeding across gorgeous Rockies and over a gasp-worthy bridge.

The emotional payoff — two innovators triumphing over troglodyte naysayers by delivering an awesome product — portrayed Rand’s polemical point in its best conceivable light.  (I am all for that aspect of the libertarian dream! Indeed, it is the core theme that makes THE FOUNTAINHEAD somewhat sympathetic and persuasive.)  So, for ten minutes, we actually liked the characters and rooted for them.  Significantly, it is the portion when nobody speaks.

Alas, though. The film then resumed a level of simplistic lapel-grabbing that many of us recall from our Rand-obsessed college friends — underachievers who kept grumbling from their sheltered, coddled lives, utterly convinced that they’d do much better in a world of dog-eat-dog.  (Using my sf’nal powers, I have checked-out all the nearby parallel worlds where that happened; in those realms, every Randian I know was quickly turned into a slave or dog food. Sorry fellows.)

Ah well. Let’s  set aside the pathetic storytelling, crappy direction and limp drama to appraise the film on its own, intended merits. On what it tried to be. A work of polemical persuasion.

== The Core Polemical Purpose ==

rand-societyATLAS SHRUGGED is, after all, an indictment of modernist, enlightenment, Smithian-liberal civilization. To Rand, this “great experiment” has all been one big mistake, doomed to expire from its own internal contradictions.

(I use that Marxian expression deliberately. For, in significant dialectical ways, Ayn Rand was deeply influenced by Karl Marx–virtually an acolyte, in fact. Thematically, she simply changes the list of villains, but keeps the nearly identical scenario of bourgeoise decadence, guild protection and teleological decay.)

ayn-rand-societyHence we witness society making one dismal choice after another — an endless chain of socialist or meddlesome-statist outrages against individual initiative. Laws that punish or seize companies who “compete too well.” Or civil servants trying to force faux-equality on everybody, crushing the truly creative wealth producers.

Indeed, if I ever witnessed our nation passing the kind of insane bills that are reported in this film (piled one-after-another, every five minutes), heck, I’d be looking for John Galt myself!

Yet, I’m enough of a libertarian to know that foolish things do happen! Witness Europe, mired in nanny-state entitlements, eight week vacations and a “right to retire” as young as 55.  Self-defeating regulations prevent companies from firing workers, with the consequence that they seldom hire new ones! As for the movie’s heroine, Ayn Rand chose a railroad heiress for good reasons. The old Interstate Commerce Commission (dissolved by the democrats in the late 1970s, but still a horror when she wrote) was the classic exemplar of a government bureaucracy “captured” by lordly oligarchs and used as a tool to squelch competition.

In other words, the endless litany of “leveling” crimes against creative enterprise that roll across the page/screen in ATLAS SHRUGGED aren’t entirely without real-world analogues! Her fictional crimes against creative enterprise are based on a genuine complaint… that Rand-ites regularly exaggerate more than 100-fold, alas, into caricatures and absurd over-generalizations.

To see this danger expressed far better – and more succinctly – than Rand ever managed, read the terrific Kurt Vonnegut story: Harrison Bergeron. Other expressions of legitimate libertarian worries can be seen in the fiction of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. They have a point.

Okay, the core worry is a valid one and somebody in society should keep warning us! Though ideally, someone with common sense and proportion, alas.

I mean, gee whiz. Ayn Rand railed against the ICC… and it was eliminated! Canceled, rubbed out, utterly erased by the very same democratic processes that she and her followers despised. Competition among railroads was restored and it was done by a mix of pressure from a savvy public and resolution by genuinely reform-minded politicians. If Ayn Rand were writing the book today, a railroad would not have been her chosen archetype.

I wonder: did anyone making the film ever ponder this? Did any Randians notice at all?

== A Remarkable Chain of Ironies ==

I guess I sound pretty harsh. Only now, let me do one of my famous contrary swerves and openly avow something that Ayn Rand gets right. Despite gross exaggeration, she pretty much nails the basic problem!

Almost every time the book or film depict some betrayal of human competitive ingenuity, it happens like this:

A conspiracy of “old money” oligarchs gathers in conniving secrecy, exerts undue political influence and misuses government power for their own, in-group self-aggrandizement. Except for a few, pathetic union stewards, the ruination of market forces is stage managed from the top. The squelching of entrepreneurial enterprise and the corruption of trade is always executed by villainous old-guard capitalists! Moguls who don’t want any rivalry from rambunctious newcomers.

Now think about that. Socialists do come under derision from Rand, but mostly as ninnie, do-gooder tools of the scrooge-oligarchs!  In fact, this is where her followers get things right!  Anyone who considers the long, lamentable epic of human history will recognize this as the ancient pattern, pervasive across 99% of cultures — with the most prevalent sub-version being feudalism.

randianWhat Randians never explain is how getting rid of constitutional-enlightenment government will prevent this ancient curse from recurring. (Were the oligarchs stymied in ancient China, Babylon or Rome, where liberal constitutions were absent?) Indeed, enlightenment governments are the only force that ever kept the feudal sickness partially in check! Exactly as prescribed by Adam Smith.

(Name another society that ever made more libertarians, hm?)

In other words, by her very own premise, the answer isn’t for creative people to “go on strike.” It is to fix the tool (government) by yanking it out of the hands of conspiratorial criminals who have improperly seized it.  You do that with transparency, with light. Not by blaming the tool and throwing it away.

== You Are Getting Very Sleeeeepy… ==

Oh, but more ironies abound! Here you have a polemic about individualism, that portrays one accomplished CEO after another “gone missing”… dropping out of sight after each one listens to a solitary pitchman from a utopian community, who croons “Come. Follow me and joiiiin usssss.”.

Um, let’s see. When have we heard that before? Drop everything. All your past loyalties and the companies you’ve built. Stop fighting for your family or country. Listen to this incantation and follow our charismatic leader to the special society he has built, just for the exclusive elect, like you!

Good lord, does she have to make the hypnotism-cult thing quite so explicit? So very much like Jim Jones and David Koresh? Did you know that Rand-followers who recite her catechisms light up exactly the same parts of the brain as other true-believers pronouncing passages from the Bible or Koran or Hindu Sutras? And these are not the corners of cortex used by scientists while performing analytical or “objective” reasoning.

But you don’t need any of that to conclude we’re dealing with a cult. Just follow the recruitment process used by John Galt. (Who surreptitiously sabotages successful companies in order to drive their owners into his arms! Oh, criminy.)

UnknownYes, I’ll admit that Ayn Rand at least portrays technology as good. That gives her points over the dismal Tea Partiers, or Fox, or the equally dismal (though far less-numerous) science haters of a ditzy-fringe far left.  Alas, she treats technology like something magical. Lone inventors weave a spell and suddenly there’s a new metal or new motor. The vast intricacy of collaboration, development, supplier networks, and infrastructure is both a topic to Rand and an excuse for incantatory over-simplification.

But it is science that truly gets short shrift. Ayn Rand’s lack of any reference to scientific research that might support or falsify her assertions about human nature should send alarm bells clanging. Her ignorance of Darwin, for example, is almost identical to Marx, but much less excusable, given when she lived.

The analog to Rand is not the scientist Darwin, but the rhetorician Plato. Sure, she claims to prefer Aristotle. But in both verbal process and reasoning style, she is Plato’s truest heir.

==Ayn Rand on Privacy==

All right, veering briefly aside from Atlas Shrugged, let’s see what Rand says about privacy, a topic I happen to know a lot about:

“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” 

Of course, there is a level at which Rand is simply stating the obvious. That autonomy and long lives arose as our technology and civilized complexity improved. When food surpluses were meager, only a tiny aristocracy could be subsidized and unchained from the land. But a mixture of science and continental peace mixed with our ability to trade goods and services till even science fiction authors can now pretend we are producers of a primary product, worthy of being fed by farmers.

As for the quote itself: as usual, Ayn Rand mixes some core truths of the Enlightenment with mystical teleology.  The rise of the individual – never steady or even – has been a core theme of the West, ever since the Renaissance, and especially the Enlightenment. But this progression isn’t fated, ordained or even natural.

Rand looks at a couple of hundred years and one quarter of the planet, and assumes the trend is unstoppable. But Huxley and Orwell – backed up by Malthus and Darwin – showed us what’s “natural.”  The diamond-shaped social structure that we take for granted can all-too easily slump back into the oligarch-dominated pyramid.

Only Enlightenment methods ever offered an alternative hope. Rand followers take it for granted. Indeed, they assume that we can dismantle the processes and structures that Adam Smith prescribed, that made the Enlightenment work in the first place.

They bear a burden of proof that we would not just slump back into the condition that prevailed, for thousands of years, before Smith and his colleagues came along.  In America, that slump is already well underway.

== The Posterity Problem ==

rand-anthemBut the best is saved for last.  I hope at least a few libertarians – those most-favored with our greatest human trait, curiosity – have hung with us to this point.

Elsewhere, I’ve revealed the biggest and most telling red flag about Ayn Rand – one that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere. It is that none of her characters, at any level or in any way, ever indulge in the most basic human project, bearing and raising and loving children.

There is a reason that Rand absolutely and consistently avoided any mention of procreation — because writing in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her “fresh” tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga.

Look, we all know this about aristocracy — that it seldom breeds true. In the past, royal or aristocratic houses would grow fat, lazy and decadent. England’s Plantagenets managed to stay virile for 400 years but most lines devolved much quicker. Oligarchs had to make inheritance-of-privilege state policy! They gave top priority to quashing open markets, science, democracy or equal justice! Because any of these liberal processes might engender new competitors to rise, afresh, from below, exposing the spoiled great-grandkids to dangerous rivals.

Yet, even so, there was some churn! A violent form of social mobility.  Inevitably those decadent houses got toppled by new, fresh blood. By vibrant competitors who grew lean and tough in exile. Who trained and gathered their forces in the woods, then swooped in to storm the castle!  And thereupon established a new lordly line.

This ancient cycle is the very essence of what Ayn Rand stands for.  Her characters are the brash, virile, sturdy, innovative barbarians, born free and ready to seize destiny in their own two hands, ripping fortune out of the clutches of pathetic old-fart lords who are spent and bereft of might. It’s the oldest story, writ-new and draped with modernist garments. Even in her portrayals of sex, the closest parallel is a godlike Viking lord who kicks down the door and takes what he desires. Because he is the grandest thing in all directions. And because he can.

It is an ancient mythos that resonates deeply in our bones and especially within pasty-skinned, pencil-necked nerds, who picture themselves as Achilles, as John Wayne, as Ender Wiggin, as Harry Potter or some other demigod. An old, old formula that was mined by A. E. Van Vogt and L. Ron Hubbard and Orson Scott Card and so many others.

Bwe-livingut therein lies a problem!  It’s the romantic Phase One of the old cycle that Rand admires – the rise of a self-made buccaneer who seizes lordship from decadent, inbred fools.

Phase Two – what happens next – she never talks about. She averts her eyes and the reader’s attention.

Why do none of Rand’s characters ever have kids? Because they’ll inherit the olympian status wrested by Howard Roark or by Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Sons and daughters of demigods, they will assume privileges and power that they never earned through fair competition. They will take lordship for granted as a right of blood, and use it to squelch new competitors from rising to face them on a level playing field. It’s what happened in 99% of human societies.

Ayn Rand faces a steep burden of proof that “this time it’ll be different.” A burden she never picks up. Rather, she shrugs it off.

If there are offspring, then the reader might become consciously aware of this inevitable outcome. and realize: “Hey, I’ve seen all this before. It’s the same old boring-human pattern, and nothing new, after all.”

== The Problem Is People… ==

ayn-rand-selfishnessOh, but maybe I am reading too much into this aversion toward kids. After all, as the recent film reminds us, Ayn Rand was pretty much an equal opportunity hater of people, in general. (As evidenced by her passionately-admiring defense of the horrific murderer William Edward Hickman.)

Just look at how brothers are portrayed in ATLAS SHRUGGED.  Always treacherous, small-minded, parasitical and craven. Clearly, Rand is no Nazi, no believer in the paramountcy of blood. Sons, daughters, brothers and sisters? Neighbors? Strangers? Spouses? Co-workers? Civilization? Bah, who needs em. Who needs anybody?

Well? I said she ignores Darwin and this is consistent! Reproductive success? Fie and feh!

Her ubermensch demigods are less like “lords” – obsessed with establishing an inherited clan of privilege – than they are pirates – superior in boldness and in mind, going wherever they like, taking what they deserve by the very essence of what they are.

And hey, doesn’t everybody love a pirate?

Yoho. That’s the life for me.

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Keeping Fear Alive — and When a Candidate’s Religion Matters

I am supporting Stephen Colbert’s Rally for Fear, for several reasons. First, my career lies in scaring people via vivid science fiction novels. (Sure, they also contain science, reason and confidence in a bold future… still, what would a plot be without pulse-pounding peril? Keep fear alive!!)

JonStewart_Earth10Second, I’m fuming with rage at Jon Stewart for blatantly stealing the title of my novel EARTH, for his merely-hilarious guidebook for aliens visiting this planet. Heck, I won’t even tell you want it’s called, so you can’t order it, right away, and laugh yourself sick.

(Mind you, one of my novels was a finalist for the Stephen Colbert Award for Literary Excellence! But I would never allow that to sway my judgment! (Guess which novel?))

All right, I admit that I kinda like “sanity” and share Stewart’s overall worry about the plague of sanctimonious, self-righteous indignation that aging-sourpuss baby boomers are inflicting on this great land, from every political extreme.  (I’ve even written about the scientific/biological aspects of this epidemic, and spoken about it at the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction.)  I’m glad the rallies on Saturday will be about restoring the calm spirit of negotiation that was the hallmark of the Greatest Generation… and that might return, after the bilious Boomers fade and our smarter kids take over!

Hence I’m pleased that (despite some overlap) this won’t be a rally for the Democratic Party.  Certainly, the left has some indignation jockeys of its own, who give Glen Beck a run for it.  Oh, they aren’t in the same league, when it comes to outright puppeteer-lying!  But Keith Olbermann certainly matches Beck when it comes to choleric-polemic pyrotechnics!

Hence, I seldom link to Olbermann, even when I agree with him! We should all be tired of proof-by-loudly-delivered-anecdote… and his latest screed serves one gigantic helping of separate and questionably-linked anecdotes, about the truly “eccentric” gang of Tea Party candidates who are spearheading the Fox Crusade To Distract Populist Wrath Away From The Oligarchy And Instead Toward All the People Who Know Stuff.

Again, I find anecdotes less persuasive than sanity and facts. Still you have really got to watch this Olbermann rant! Endure the first few minutes for the sake of what follows — a lengthy and scary list of maniacal quotations from the new Know Nothing Party that seeks to “march this nation as far backward as it can get… an attempted use of democracy to end this democracy…”

While I have you, here are items to show that “ostrich conservative” of yours, who dislikes the Bushites but who has so far convinced himself that “the alternative is marginally worse.” Or who actually believes that his movement has not been hijacked by crazies.  (There are millions of these poor, abandoned, Nice Conservatives. Help them!

A pair of older pieces I wrote in 2004, before things got THIS crazy…
war21centuryWar in the 21st Century: Maturity vs. NeoCon Panic and the True Role of Pax Americana

Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War

And for your libertarian theoretician friend or brother – the under-achieving MENSA-member who goes on and on about Left, Right, and MODELS of government systems and Adam Smith and what keeps getting in the way of freedom and markets send him here for a wake-up.http://reformthelp.org/reformthelp/marketing/positioning/models.php

Oh, Back to Jon Stewart… here’s a chilling parallel! Stephan Richter writes  “Jon Stewart is a powerful one-man version of all the Weimar cabarets. If the underlying causes of his rise were in any way a reflection of what ailed the Weimar Republic, that would be bad news indeed — not just for the US, but also the world as a whole.”  I love it when someone makes me stop and go “huh!” Even when I’m not sure what his point is!

… And now our feature thought of the week…
=== When is it appropriate to contemplate a politician’s religious beliefs? ===

Good question.  We have grown up during an era when – progressively – a candidate’s private faith has become ever-less relevant in American political life (a trend even more pronounced in Europe and Australia.) Moreover, most of us see that as progress, akin to the putting of racism and sexism and corruption into disrepute (though their remnants are still vile and remain with us.)

Indeed, the modern reflex is to cringe back from anyone who says that we should scrutinize the private beliefs of a public person.  And yet, are there exceptions? Are there times when it would be negligent – even stupid – not to take those beliefs into account?  I suggest that such articles of faith have real – even profound – relevance, when they reflect upon a politician’s general view regarding the world, the value of his or her fellow citizens, and the prospect of applying those articles toguide actions in the temporal world. For example, specific dogmas are highly relevant:

1. When those beliefs cast Judgment (with a capital “J”) on the fundamental worth and goodness of a majority of Americans. Or, indeed, any large and non-criminal minority of them.

2. When those beliefs implicitly or explicitly declare it acceptable, even glorious, that a majority (or large minority) of his or her fellow citizens are… or should be…consigned to eternal torment (in Hell) for holding differing beliefs.

3. When a candidate prays openly to hasten the day when her nation will end and democracy vanish, I have to assert that is pertinent to whether voters might want to democratically elect her to lead that nation.

4. Further, when he or she yearns openly for events to unfold that will purportedly “rain fire from the sky,” is that pertinent to our decision whether to assign such a person control over our nuclear tipped missiles?

I find these questions – entailing the potential survival of my children – to be entirely germane to making political choices as to whom I should entrust with our nation’s military, political and practical power.  Moreover anyone who sneers that I am bigoted, merely for asking them, is no friend of the republic, of human civilization, or of me.

…and finally… I’ll finish with a large except from a recent and powerful article about the roots of the financial crisis.  I’ll post the fist few paragraphs here… and then some more down below, under “Comments.”  It makes very clear to whom we owe the recent near-depression, that was spawned in an era when the Federal government’s sole reason to exist seemed to be enabling vampires to run wild. And that is still the agenda of the party that got us into the mess.

Get out the vote.

=== The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America and Spawned a Global Crisis ===
by  Michael W. Hudson

9780312610531A few weeks after he started working at Ameriquest Mortgage, Mark Glover looked up from his cubicle and saw a coworker do something odd. The guy stood at his desk on the twenty-third floor of downtown Los Angeles’s Union Bank Building. He placed two sheets of paper against the window. Then he used the light streaming through the window to trace something from one piece of paper to another. Somebody’s signature.

Glover was new to the mortgage business. He was twenty-nine and hadn’t held a steady job in years. But he wasn’t stupid. He knew about financial sleight of hand—at that time, he had a check-fraud charge hanging over his head in the L.A. courthouse a few blocks away. Watching his coworker, Glover’s first thought was: How can I get away with that? As a loan officer at Ameriquest, Glover worked on commission. He knew the only way to earn the six-figure income Ameriquest had promised him was to come up with tricks for pushing deals through the mortgage-financing pipeline that began with Ameriquest and extended through Wall Street’s most respected investment houses.

Glover and the other twentysomethings who filled the sales force at the downtown L.A. branch worked the phones hour after hour, calling strangers and trying to talk them into refinancing their homes with high-priced “subprime” mortgages. It was 2003, subprime was on the rise, and Ameriquest was leading the way. The company’s owner, Roland Arnall, had in many ways been the founding father of subprime, the business of lending money to home owners with modest incomes or blemished credit histories. He had pioneered this risky segment of the mortgage market amid the wreckage of the savings and loan disaster and helped transform his company’s headquarters, Orange County, California, into the capital of the subprime industry. Now, with the housing market booming and Wall Street clamoring to invest in subprime, Ameriquest was growing with startling velocity.

Up and down the line, from loan officers to regional managers and vice presidents, Ameriquest’s employees scrambled at the end of each month to push through as many loans as possible, to pad their monthly production numbers, boost their commissions, and meet Roland Arnall’s expectations.

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While defending sanity on Saturday — bring along (decent and smart) Capitalism

Folks may be curious how I can avow to be a libertarian (albeit a heretical one who despises Ayn Rand) and an admirer of Adam Smith… while urging everybody in sight to attend the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rallies, this coming Saturday and to “think blue” on election day.

For starters, because contradictions don’t bother “Contrary Brin”… in fact, they’re part of the fun in life! Also because most are illusory contradictions.  (Have you actually read Adam Smith? Today he’d be a democrat.  It’s clear on almost every page.)

One commonly-used crutch that I’ve long denounced is the hoary-stupid so-called“left-right political axis” — a monstrous metaphor that lobotomizes all who use it. It should be abandoned because it’s puerile, misleading, illogical… and because it’s French! (;-)

Seriously, if you’d like to probe everything from several dozen fresh perspectives,that I guarantee you’ve never thought of before, then have a look at this essay series I wrote for a group that wants to transform libertarianism from a fringe-of-flakes into a real force for pragmatic freedom in American life.  I wish them luck! (Though I won’t hold my breath.)

Will the comedians rescue us? To those of you heading for the Stewart-Colbert rallies, October 30 in DC… thank you, heroes! And if you cannot attend the main event in Washington? Then find a satellite rally at www.rallymao.com !

Is American Civilization in a steep decline? So you’d think from dyspeptic ads running on Fox.  But for a broader perspective, historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot (TED-talk) view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and “soft” power shifts and moves around the globe.

Me? I am appalled that 99% of American are unaware of what we have accomplished.  And how simple it would be for the United States to remain the rich and influential and respected leader of the world.

=== The Road We’ve Traveled ===

Let’s start with a basic fact that is too-seldom discussed. Nearly all of world development, since WWII,  has been financed by American purchasing power … us buying countless trillions of $ worth of crap we never needed.  US consumer purchases — uplift via Wal*Mart — has lifted more people out of poverty than all the “aid” given by all nations, across all of time.

If we set aside (temporarily) concerns about labor practices, corruption and eco-side-effects, the creation of a nascent world middle class has been one of the greatest achievements of Pax Americana, fully on a par with toppling Hitler and staunching the fever that was communism. By one light, our trade deficits have been sacred and noble things.

Find that boggling?  Compare Japan and Europe in 1945 to now. Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Brazil… and today, as we speak, even in a recession, we are lifting the economies of China AND India… at the same time.

But how have we afforded to do this?  Every decade, dour pundits predicted that calamity would result, but it never happened…. that is, till now.

The reason is simple.  HALF of all GDP growth – since WWII – occurred because ofscientific and technological advances. Jets, satellites, pharmaceuticals, copiers, computers, the Internet… you name it.  We dealt with IP theft by creating new patents faster than others could steal them!

This is why the right’s endless rants against both science and labor unions are monstrously stupid and self-defeating.  The solution is not to drive working Americans into penury.  Nor is it to hate the smart people who kept us dining on the ‘golden eggs’ of new discoveries and inventions. These were the folks who kept the rising tide that lifted all boats, and allowed the US to stay ahead, and able to pay for it all.

But today we are seeing the result of the Bushite War Against Science.  Ronald Reagan shifted R&D from Carter’s energy program (which would have taken us off of the Middle-East oil teat, by now) and onto frantic overdrive in developing things we prayed that we would never use!  But, even still, at least in those days, Republicans liked technology!  And some science.

Reagan’s version of the War on Science was mild. He funded some research and listened to OSTA, now and then.  In contrast to the neoconservatives, who trashed the OTSA as their very first order of business, I miss Reagan, terribly.  At least he would negotiate.  He called liberals foolish.  He had no truck with labeling his fellow citizens as satanic beings.

The dawn of the 21st century saw the first US leadership that directly and deliberately undermined the basic source of our power and strength, as well as the health of the Middle Class.  The font from which we took IN so much wealth that we were able to uplift the world, through trade.

Can we believe this? Whether this parsimonious explanation is true — that it was done deliberately — or else the preposterous story that is believed by nearly everybody — that such a perfect record of harm to the United States was wreakedunintentionally, out of staggeringly uniform and manic stupidity — either way, the harm has been grievous. And it is ongoing.

The relentless campaign of propaganda that manifests on Fox News and in the Tea Party Movement has one common them… Hatred of All Smartypants.  Fuming, smoking spite toward America’s “creative minority” —

— the same minority of smart folks that the great historian Arnold Toynbee once called the core to any great nation’s success.  The same segment of society that Rush Limbaugh recently spewed venom toward, in openly-declared hatred and in extremely clear, general terms.

Let us be plain.  They want us to cook the goose that laid all those golden eggs.  And serve it to a conniving oligarchy that is almost as profoundly short-sighted and stupid as it thinks itself smart.

—–
An afterthought… preventing this realization is probably the reason that many of the puppeteers have inflicted on us the treason of subsidized culture war.  By deliberately fostering populist, know-nothing confederate hatred of urban/science/blue America and a million other distractions, they get enough political clout to prevent any populist reaction against aristocratism in Congress.


And finally… I repeat it everywhere.  Liberals, get off your butts and RECLAIM THE FIRST LIBERAL!  Adam Smith. The theoretician who despised conniving oligarchs far more than any other enemy of competitive enterprise.

Read Smith!  Don’t take the word of doofus right wingers who proclaim that Smith wanted “laissez-faire” to run roughshod over the poor.  In fact, in his fervent support for public education, social mobility, transparency, open competition and the creation of power centers that can hold the oligarchy in check, Smith provides a litany of neocon-demolishing quotations!

Moreover, by reclaiming Adam Smith, we:

1- emphasize liberalism’s roots in pushing social justice, not just because it is “nice” but because it is totally pragmatic to maximize the number of capable, competitors!

2- anti-monopoly sentiment is fizzing, just below the surface.  Harness it!

3- It is political jiu jitsu!  BE the party of enterprise!  It is about time that competitive markets got a champion, after the Republican Party has spent a generation demolishing them.

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The Real Reason for Tea Parties

Lighting the political lamp (it may be on for a couple of weeks), let me begin with a disclaimer, for those of you who don’t know me … I despise all dogmatists, including those on the far-left. As a one-time keynoter for a Libertarian Party Convention, I have the bona fides of someone who has read and understood Adam Smith.  In fact, it is for that reason that I know which party the “First Liberal” would vote for, today, if he could. And it’s not the one that touts his name the most.

Moreover, if communism was a principal threat to freedom, a generation ago, can there be any doubt that the madness and danger is coming from a different direction today?

=== TEA PARTY INSANITY ===

To see just how crazy it is out there, you really must read this.  Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty.

“It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn’t sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn’t ponied up. Inglis’ task: Get them back on the team. “They were upset with me,” Inglis recalls. “They are all Glenn Beck watchers.” About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, “They say, ‘Bob, what don’t you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.'” Inglis didn’t know how to respond….”

Neither do the rest of us, Bob.  Apparently, the flabergasted Mr. Reasonableness who sits in the White House simply cannot pause – in his relentless attempts to negotiate – and parse out exactly what it going on.

So let me put it  simply.  The whole nation knows that the Republican Party was a festering nest of corruption and incompetence, since 1996 or so.  (I do not include the first year of the Newt Gingrich Revolution, during which actual conservative values were <i>negotiated</i> with the sitting president, and the parties, together, enacted both Welfare Reform and budget restraints — a brif era of maturity for which Gingrich was resoundingly punished, by his own party, as it chose to plunge into lunacy.)

Under that party’s misrule, America experienced a steep plummet in nearly all unambiguous metrics of national health – from GDP to home values, from patent rates to small business startups, all the way even to military readiness!  The near-perfection of this national decline has never (for some strange reason) been laid out openly by the President or the democrats… probably for the same neurotic reasons that keep them from appointing a special prosecutor, to expose Bushite corruption and theft.  But the people clearly know that the Republican brand is soiled, almost beyond repair.

That left only one hope for the masters of that undead elephant… to market a populist rant that Democrats are even worse. And since there is not a scintilla of real evidence for systematic Democratic wrongdoing or mismanagement (not a single Clintonite ex-official was ever covicted, even indicted, for malfeasance of official duties, and Clinton paid down the national debt), this populist rabble-rousing must take the form  of legerdermain and magic! Unproved or unprovable assertions, Beckian hornswaggle and Limbaughian incantaions of towering indignation.

The list of counter-points that the dems could use is astonishing… primarily in their total absence-of-use.  For example, picture a 60 second television spot describingwhat would have happened to Ma and Pa’s Social Security, if the GOP had been allowed to “privatize” it, back in 2004… and who the winners would have been.   Or the truth about which party does a better job beefing up the Border Patrol and actually limiting illegal (as opposed to legal) immigration? (Hint, it ain’t the GOP, by a thousand miles.)

Or point out that Obama’s so called “socialist” health insurance bill was based on the Republicans’ own 1994 alternative plan. Sure that’s well known to folks on the Sunday talk show circuit, but it would be devastating in a 60 second spot… purchased on Fox.

Let’s be clear about the poisonous nature of this campaign to win back Congress by painting the democrats as “even worse.”  In order for them to be worse than the Bushites, they must be portrayed as satanic beings… the very same way that the Southern press depicted northerners and Abraham Lincoln, in 1860.  The potential effectiveness of this populist campaign of lies is seen in the way a quarter of a million poor southern whites marched off to fight — very bravely and well — for the “cause” of protecting the interests of their local lords and cotton barons and slave-owning oligarchs.  Hey, don’t under-rate it! The method worked for the Rupert Murdochs of past eras.  It’s working for the Rupert Murdochs of today.

In fact, ok, it is that time again. Cyclically, regularly (and always) keep checking on the Fox News Boycott.  You have a right to make your purchasing judgements based on many criteria.  Including a list of those who advertise with Glenn Beck.

Indeed, were I a speaker at Jon Stewart’s Rally For Sanity, next week… (I offered!) … I’d make that point.

=== Marching Instead for Colbert! ===

But since Stewart blatantly stole the title of my novel EARTH for his recent, hilarious volume that I refuse to mention, lest you run right out and buy it, right away, I guess that’s the last straw.  I am angry!  So I’ll march instead for Steven Colbert!

Can’t make it to DC?  Then find a satellite rally at www.rallymao.com.

And stay tuned!  I am due to be interviewed for one of these shows, I’m told!  Not in-studio, where you’re treated as a guest… but one of those things where you answer questions in all earnestness and then expect to be edited down to appearing like a complete dunderhead!  What fun!

I’ll let you know.
=== AND A POLITICAL MELANGE! ===

PROFILES IN COURAGE — A group of 23 Communist Party elders in China has written a letter calling for an end to the country’s restrictions on freedom of speech.I’ll be commenting in detail about this, soon.

It can be fascinating to see how memes spread across the web, passed from peer to peer. But how can one tell what ideas are grass-roots and which are spread by political campaigns or corporations? Truthy, based at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing attempts to chart the diffusion of information & misinformation on Twitter – by tracking keywords and retweets.

Take a tour of “Richistan…” the America that Fox is so frantic to get average citizens to ignore.

“The revelation that Rich Iott, a Republican candidate for Congress from Ohio, was an active member of a group of dedicated to understanding the experience of soldiers who served in the Nazi Waffen SS by dressing up in their uniforms — and staging recreations of their battles — has forced historical re-enactors to defend their hobby. “That Mr. Iott engaged in this pastime came to light on Friday, when Joshua Green of The Atlantic published photographs of him in an SS uniform beneath a headline asking, “Why is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?” Um… the SS?  Jumping Jehosephat, if a democrat had done anything remotely like that….

Here’s a terrific take-off on WWII cautionary posters about “loose lips sink ships.”

The respect-worthy Amitai Etzioni – who is no pantywaist – is pushing for a simple“take care of America first” withdrawal from Afghanistan. (And if they become an enemy state again?  Heck, enemy states are FAR simpler to topple than it is to fight a grueling insurgency.  Think about it.)  Anyway, we could sure have used the three trillion dollars these wars have cost.  Spent on R&D, it would have left all our enemies — and our trade rivals — in clouds of our (by-now) nearly transhumanist dust! Ah, parallel worlds.

Finally, see a county by-county map of education levels... and how this affects disparities in income.  From this it seems self explanatory why – and how – the Fox distraction campaign, to aim the ire of the ill-educated against the well educated, is working so well.

Again, drop by http://www.rallymao and find your local Stewart-Colbert Satellite rally.

Better yet, find the nearest <i>close</i> partisan race and contact the HQ of the candidate you prefer… and help get out the vote!

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