Tuesday Evening Links

Hat-tip to Shelley (see also snark at PZ’s): a woman in Colorado was threatened with a fine by the Homeowners’ Association for putting up a Christmas wreath the shape of a peace symbol on her house.

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Fortunately, the board of directors relented, in part due to massive outcry. But the board’s president still had no trouble saying that the sign was seen as a Satanic symbol. Apparently, it’s okay to hang Christian crosses on your home in the US, but as soon as you put up a symbol associated with another religion, free speech stops applying to you.

Some EU member states knew about and consented to the CIA’s locating secret prisons on their soil (via Appletree). It’s not a new development that Poland and Romania cooperated with the US, but apparently there are additional culprits, and Poland and Romania are refusing to cooperate with the European investigation.

The report follows months of investigation by a special committee of MEPs led by an Italian, Claudio Fava.

“Many governments co-operated passively or actively (with the CIA),” said Mr Fava, quoted by AFP news agency.

He accused top EU officials including foreign policy chief Javier Solana of failing to give full details to MEPs.

The report echoed allegations made in June by the Council of Europe – Europe’s leading human rights watchdog – that European states were complicit in illegal CIA operations as part of the US-led “war on terror”.

Belledame has yet another depressing post about sex-negativity, judgmentalism, the oppression olympics, and the need of some radical feminists to attack everyone whose sexual practices they don’t like. The highlight – or possibly lowlight – of her post is a quote from Catharine MacKinnon about gay rights:

These suspicions about the male supremacist nature of the privacy right were furthered by another thing some of us noticed. That was that the freedom of the penis to engage in anal penetration in the name of privacy had become a priority issue for women under the banner of “gay and lesbian rights,” without connecting a critique of homophobia with a critique of misogyny.

I keep telling myself to write that damned post about the radical tendency to totalize things. Mostly I’ve been thinking not just about radicals who totalize their pet movements and attack everyone who has the temerity to agitate for something other than The Cause, but also about radicals who try to fuse all radical movements together but end up only becoming more extreme (good blogospheric examples of the latter are Chris Clarke and PunkAssBlog).

Ezra’s sidebar led me to a superb article demonstrating the difference between economic populism, which my commenter Yoram Gat conveniently defines as “taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor,” and economic nationalism, which involved taking money from poor countries and giving it to rich countries.

There is an important distinction to be made between economic populism and economic nationalism. Many of Tuesday’s Democratic victors stressed familiar populist themes: corporate misbehaviour and tough times faced by working people. Al Gore ran in 2000 as an economic populist and so, implausibly, did John Kerry in 2004. Raising the minimum wage (which Republicans foolishly failed to do before the election) is a classic populist position. Opposing Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is another. But in places where Democrats made their most impressive inroads this year, one heard a distinctly different message of economic nationalism. Nationalism begins from the same premise that working people are not doing so well. But instead of blaming the rich at home, it focuses its energy on the poor abroad. The leading economic nationalist today is probably Lou Dobbs, who natters on against free trade, outsourcing, globalisation and immigration on CNN.

The most prominent nationalist candidate this year was Sherrod Brown, who unseated incumbent Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, a state that has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since George W. Bush became president. Mr Brown is the author of a book called Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. Here is a snippet from one of his television advertisements: “Sherrod Brown stood up to the president of his own party to protect American jobs, fighting against the Mexico and China trade deals that sent countless jobs oversees” [sic - Alon]. For some reason, economic nationalists never seem to complain about job-killing Dutch or Irish competition. The targets of their anger are consistently China and Mexico, with occasional whacks at Dubai, Oman, Peru and Vietnam.

Directly from Ezra comes this explanation of the difference between sensible centrism, and waffling masquerading as sensible centrism. Ezra has consistently attacked the media and the punditry for trying to split the difference on economic issues even when the facts are squarely on the left (e.g. on health care), and the Democratic Party for listening to the said pundits even when polls suggest taking the standard liberal position would be popular. Now he says,

What’s necessary here is, silly as it may sound, to separate ideas perceived as centrist (say, on the economy, policies seeking to achieve equity aims through market mechanisms) and what Atrios would call “wankery,” the deployment of such ideas to undercut more useful solutions or marginalize progressive voices. Guys like Sebastian Mallaby, Robert Samuelson, and David Broder make a play at pushing marginally useful, technocratic ideas as a way of dismissing progressive ones. In these instances, the idea is subordinate to its perceived position on the ideological spectrum.

12 Responses to Tuesday Evening Links

  1. The very term “centrism” implies an irrational outlook. If two people take different positions on an issue, why would I assume that the best approach probably lies somewhere in the middle?

    For example, if one person says that we should offer universal access to health care, and another says that the government should not provide anyone with health insurance, then is the current American system the optimum model? What if the debate is between those who favor our current model, and those who say that the government should play no role in providing health care? If the “center” shifts according to which debators have the loudest public voice, how can we say that “centrist” solutions are generally better than “extremist” solutions?

    I think that one problem that we’ve been having in our public discourse is that many equate “moderation” with “centrism.” A moderate can hold “extreme” views, but favor non-coercive solutions. For example, one might take the “extreme” view that carbon emissions need to be drastically cut, but favor cutting emissions over a 10 year period in order to avoid undue disruption of the economy. He might favor tax credits and government grants to encourage upgrading facilities and developing alternatives, rather than heavy-handed regulations.

    In the American media, such a person would be treated as an extremist, while someone who argued that the US government should do nothing about global warming, but should also not drill in ANWR, would be called a “centrist.”

  2. Chris Clarke says:

    but also about radicals who try to fuse all radical movements together but end up only becoming more extreme (good blogospheric examples of the latter are Chris Clarke

    The “smarter than everyone else” act would be a little more convincing, Alon, if you would read what people actually SAY about what they think a bit more carefully.

    Unless you’re just deliberately pulling assertions out of your ass, that is. Which wouldn’t be a new thing.

    (Those are the only two reasons I can think of that you’d claim I want to “fuse all radical movements together,” seeing as I disagree with more “radical movements” than not, and have never been shy about saying so.)

  3. Auguste says:

    Alon, is the sentence Chris quoted another way of saying “jacks-of-all-radical-trades-but-masters-of-none”? Because if so, well, huh?

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Chris, take your post about why you’re not a feminist. You didn’t criticize feminist ideas about gender, but rather said you had your disagreements with movement feminism when it failed to also fight racism, classism, etc. It’s not exactly the same language that R. Mildred used in her “Let’s not fight over who’s more oppressed, because all of these are oppressions,” but it’s close enough for lumping them together to be more fruitful than separating them.

    Gordo, word. Centrism is just a term of directionality that happens to have a mostly positive connotation. Ezra already noted that a centrist idea can be good or bad, independently of its being centrist. Moderation is something else, but in practice it gets twisted to mean the same thing as centrism, while conservatism is twisted to mean right-wing politics and, in the US and Canada, liberalism is twisted to mean left-wing politics.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Auguste, it’s not exactly “jack of all trades, master of none.” I don’t want to get too far into it right now, but traditionally, left-wing radicals suffer from both the radical pathology of Judean People’s Front-style fracturing, and the progressive pathology of different movements (feminism, civil rights, civil liberties, etc.) not talking to one another. What I call fusion radicalism is a way of getting rid of the latter type of schism, typically by granting each movement its most extreme assumptions. That’s different from reformist fusion, which does it the opposite way, i.e. by granting movements very little and goading their people to join the larger reformist movement; if you’re familiar with Kos’s proclamations about single-issue movements, you already know what I’m talking about here.

  6. I’m amused at the idea that my boyfriend is more “radical” than me. I can’t wait to tell him. He’s always embarrassed that I out-hippie him. ;)

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Who would that be? The people I have in mind when thinking of PunkAss are always Marc and R. Mildred; I’m not familiar with Kyso and McBoing enough to say anything about them.

  8. punkass marc says:

    Why do I want to fuse all radical movements together? What does that even mean? Is it just because I think we need to sell the idea of liberalism a little better?

    Weirdest pseudo-insult ever.

  9. gordo says:

    I had never thought of fusing all radical movements together until Alon mentioned it. Now it sounds kind of cool.

    Of course, being radicals, it’s going to be hard to get them all together. I would think that the Spanish Civil War would have taught us that.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Really, just read Chris’s blog, or a large fraction of what R. Mildred and Punkass Marc write. Chris is really good at it; at one point he managed to seamlessly fuse the fat acceptance movement, which traditionally doubts that obesity is even a problem, and whatever you call the movement that includes Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me.

  11. belledame222 says:

    >which my commenter Yoram Gat conveniently defines as “taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor,”

    “Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore…”

  12. [...] I think it was Alon, so I condemned him for trying to fuse all radical movements together. [...]

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