The Growing Failure of The Wisconsin Republican Agenda

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As reported by the Oshkosh Northwestern, the political news this week in Wisconsin has been bad. First, instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, the Republican-controlled legislature has been concentrating on such critical issues as the rules of deer-hunting. Secondly, despite Governor Walker’s promise that cutting public employees’ salaries, taking away their collective bargaining rights, slashing public education, and providing tax giveaways to corporations would be good for jobs, the Wisconsin unemployment rate has increased from 7.4 to 7.9% since Walker was inaugurated. Thirdly, it seems that the latest round of budget cuts to the UW system were insufficient given upcoming budget shortfalls; the associated press reports that UW campuses will have to cut $46.1 million more this year and $19.6 million next year.

UPDATE: The four-year campuses are clearly being targeted; 2-year technical colleges are being excluded from the cuts. This, of course, is quite consistent with the anti-intellectual bent of conservative Republicans these days. According to a story in the Northwestern today (10/20)-

…UWO Chancellor Richard Wells said he was “bewildered” by the amount asked of universities. State agencies were asked to plan for a combined $174.3 million in cuts. The UW System was asked to plan on absorbing 38 percent of that number, according to figures released Friday by the Department of Administration. The UW System’s budget takes up 7 percent of the state’s general purpose revenue.

“It’s confusing. It’s disappointing. It causes dismay. We didn’t expect anything like this,” Wells said Wednesday. “It’s clear we’re the lowest priority in the state, which doesn’t make sense given we’re fundamental to economic development and recovery.”

Of course, the four year universities are fundamental to economic development and recovery only if you are hoping to attract professional, high-paying jobs to the area. But Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is admitting that their plan (which is basically to lower taxes for corporations and pray they will come to a state with an ever-diminishing public sector and a deteriorating infrastructure) is not so specific-

“What we’re trying to do is create a more positive business environment,” said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon. “No single piece of legislation is going to go out and create thousands of jobs.”

Fitzgerald, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said Wisconsin’s economic recovery has been slowed by the nation’s economic woes.

“We as elected officials, we can’t create the jobs,” he said. “The government can’t. That falls to the private sector.”

To borrow a Sarah Palin-ism, “How’s that attempt to create a more positive business environment workin’ out for ya?” [wink, smirk]

Of course, Republicans will likely blame President Obama for the failure of their own policies. But the Republican-controlled Congress has blocked nearly every policy initiative Obama has suggested, so that excuse won’t cut it.

Politics at both the state and federal levels have become absolute nightmares. Let’s hope we all wake up soon.

George Will Accuses Straw Woman Of Attacking Straw Men

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They say you can’t fight fire with fire. Actually, you can. But what you really can’t do – at least effectively – is fight what you identify as fallacious reasoning with precisely the same style of fallacious reasoning. George Will provides a striking illustration of this self-defeating pattern of reasoning in his latest editorial about Elizabeth Warren’s now famous rant at a small fundraising event. Will writes-

WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and former Obama administration regulator (for consumer protection), is modern liberalism incarnate. As she seeks the Senate seat Democrats held for 57 years before 2010, when Scott Brown impertinently won it, she clarifies the liberal project, and the stakes of contemporary politics.

The project is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual’s zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism’s instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone — for the individual’s own good, it says. Warren says:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. … You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, aka the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Will goes on to write derisively about 1960s-era new leftists like Kenneth Galbraith, with their views about “false consciousness” implanted in individuals by corporate advertising, as if that has anything even remotely to do with Warren’s (or Obama’s) view that the rich should be taxed at slightly higher rates – closer to the rates at which the economy was actually doing much better in the past! The “collectivist” straw woman against whom Will rails is simply a traditional liberal, one who seeks to empower all individuals – rather than just a privileged few – by providing opportunities for self-improvment through public institutions. Anyone who identifies such liberalism with collectivism (or communism, or even socialism) needs to re-take Political Science or History 101. Will no doubt knows better, and is intentionally engaged in conservative rhetoric aimed to mislead the ill-informed.

What is sad is that Will is clever enough to engage in non-fallacious debate with his political adversaries, and both he and other conservatives surely have logically respectable arguments they could make in favor of their policy positions. Why don’t they bother to make them in such widely read editorials?

The Steve Jobs I Knew…

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The Steve Jobs I knew at Reed College, 1972-1974, was not anyone I would have guessed was destined to become Steve Jobs, Titan Of Industry. He was just a long-haried, sometimes barefoot, somewhat disheveled hippie with a fondness for taking saunas. Nothing about him suggested that he had any sort of drive to be materially successful. In fact, he exuded the sort of flaky, devil-may-care attitude that characterized our whole generation in those days. But even then there was a quiet, charismatic intensity about him, a sort of self-confidence beyond his years. It made you perk up your ears and listen to him when he spoke, despite his apparent aimlessness.

He once told me something I’ll never forget. It was a sort of offhand piece of advice that, as it turned out, stood me in very good stead many, many years later.

I was sitting under one of the shade trees in front of Eliot Hall, the oldest red-brick building on campus, and he came and sat down beside me, just to strike up a conversation. I believe it was our sophomore year; he may have already officially dropped out, although I knew he was still sitting in on classes (including, I believe, the calligraphy class that would change the world). I don’t remember whether I was playing my guitar – as I often did when I sat on the lawn – or not, but I do recall that it was my musicianship that had caused him to take notice of me in first place – really, it was the only noticeable thing about me. I remember envying what seemed to be his cavalier attitude toward formal education, because at this time I wanted nothing more than to finish what I considered primarily an obligation to my parents, get my B.A. as a philosophy major, and follow my heart into the jazz-fusion music business. When I expressed my frustration to him, he said the one and only thing that I think had any chance of setting my mind at ease at that moment… a very simple thing that made me see him in a whole new light as well: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with being an educated musician.” Partly because that little nugget of wisdom stuck with me, I returned to Reed after taking the next year off, finished my B.A., and left open a door to graduate school – and a second life as a professor – that I wouldn’t walk through for another 17 years.

I’m pretty sure that that was the last conversation we ever had. We were, at most, casual acquaintances, and I lost track of him entirely… until, some ten years later, I saw his face staring back at me on the cover of Time magazine.

Thanks again for the advice, Steve. And rest in peace.

Image of a young Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, a few years after our acquaintance.

Passing Strange

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I’ve never been a big fan of musicals; they always seem to cheapen either the music or the narrative of what might otherwise be a perfectly good album or play. But this collaboration by Stew (of The Negro Problem) and his partner/bassist Heidi Rodewald really won me over, big time. Running just over two hours, I do recommend experiencing it in halves; the intermission is there for a reason. And the sophisticated lyrics, punctuated by Stew’s often ironic narration and the inventive choreography and staging, might require more than one sitting to fully absorb. But it all packs quite a punch the first time around.

Really, there are several decades worth of reflections and ruminations about art, music, politics, culture, race – and, of course, motherly love – crammed into and between the lines of this piece. But even if much of it goes over your head on first view, you can’t help but be impressed by the rock-solid songwriting and some absolutely jaw-dropping performances by the cast, which includes De’Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis and Colman Domingo.

Oh, and did I mention that it was filmed by Spike Lee?

Here’s the trailer (which doesn’t really do it justice)-