“Replacing Self-Ownership with Self-Stewardship”

June 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

On his new blog, Strike the Root, Funky Dung is doing some really original thinking at the intersection of Catholicism and Libertarianism.  He doesn’t ever let himself stop and rest at a comfortable and convenient point; just when you think he’s come to a really pleasing synthesis, he challenges himself to move on.  (When I got to the sentence that is the title of this post, my heart started beating faster.)  He seems to be trying to figure out if a sort of “I-Thou libertarianism” is conceivable, one that goes far beyond utilitarian considerations and natural selfishness.  If there’s a problem with it, it’s the problem of idealism, of basing a political vision on humans at their best, which may be ennobling as an expectation but unwarranted as an assumption.  Very much worth reading, and responding to Funky’s invitation to contribute to an idea under construction.

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Voices from Iran

June 20, 2009 at 2:04 pm (By Randy)



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Sotomayor Update: Starr, Catholics & Groves

June 20, 2009 at 12:06 pm (By Randy)

The Washington Post reports that Kenneth Starr supports the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. In another section, The Post has a short Q & A with Barbara Perry about the history of Roman Catholics serving on the court. (Of the 110 who have served, only 11 have been Catholics and 5 of them are currently serving as justices.) By the way, according to Politico, Sotomayor has now resigned from the Belizean Grove, a group whose membership is apparently open to women only.

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On Iran, Reagan’s Speechwriter Supports Obama.

June 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm (By Amba)

Peggy Noonan still has all the eloquence she put into Ronald Reagan’s mouth, but she has come to be despised by movement conservatives for being an élite Washington insider, and reasonable.  I find her persuasive on the subject of the Prez’s disappointing oratorical restraint in the cause of the Iranian protesters:

To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn’t know whose side America is on. “In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral,” said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it’s neutral?

This was Aggressive Political Solipsism at work: Always exploit events to show you love freedom more than the other guy, always make someone else’s delicate drama your excuse for a thumping curtain speech.

Naturally, this leads the president’s full-bore despisers to characterize Noonan in ugly ways.  Although, as a lover of words, I have to say “Obasmic” is a good one.

As Pat Buchanan said frankly on MSNBC today, the stirring, freedom-loving rhetoric coming from the right, which we would have thrilled to hear from the Leader of the Free World even if it was impolitic, is politics; it’s not pure emotion (I don’t think politicians have that), but a calculated play on the pure, or at least naïve,  emotion of us the public.  It’s the Republicans looking for any crack in Obama’s bulletproof aura to insert a crowbar into.

Unfortunately for him, I think he may have handed them a supersize crowbar by firing Inspector General Walpin.  Also, as the economy continues to stagger, and the stimulus stimulateth not, his aura’s getting tattered; like any president past his honeymoon in rough times, he’s becoming mortal and vulnerable, if not yet a universal target of blame.  Unfortunately too, the Republicans are far more focused on bringing him down than on working out something coherent to replace him with.  They almost risk becoming the Palestinians of American politics, living in refugee camps in the political wilderness while dedicated solely to the destruction of their hated and envied enemy.  Perhaps the party’s boldest prominent thinker, Newt, is despised personally, and its most popular candidate, Sarah Palin, is light in the thinking department.  Mike Huckabee has a brain and a wit, and a loyal constituency, but he’s another big-government compassionate conservative, like Bush.

So volatile, so unpredictable is our world just now that we are, almost unavoidably, the blind leading the blind.

Noonan goes on to say (in a peculiarly contorted paragraph where her eloquence fails her):

If the American president, for reasons of prudence, does not make a public statement of the government’s stand, he could certainly refer, as if it is an obvious fact because it is an obvious fact, to whom the American people are for. And that is the protesters on the street. If he were particularly striking in his comments about how Americans cannot help but love their brothers and sisters who stand for greater freedom and democracy in the world, all the better. The American people, after all, are not their government. Our sentiments are not controlled by the government, and this may be a timely moment to point that out, and remind the young of Iran, who are the future of Iran, that Americans are a future-siding people.

I’m glad that today both the House and the Senate, acting as our elected representatives, made that declaration for us.  The House approved the resolution 405-1, even though it “was initiated by Republicans as a veiled criticism of Obama.”  The dissenter was Ron Paul, who said he didn’t think such pronouncements on the actions of foreign governments were in Congress’s constitutional job description.  I wonder:  it’s certainly served the purpose of expressing the sentiment of the people. While Congress’s main job is lawmaking, perhaps it’s also the right branch of government to do our venting and cheering for us, in resolutions that serve a real emotional need but carry no more than moral force.

Meanwhile, it’s a stomach-turning feeling to be sitting here safe and comfortable on the eve (the morning, really) of what may well be a massacre, unable to do anything to stop it.

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“One size fits all doesn’t apply to adoption, any more than it does to abortion.”

June 19, 2009 at 5:48 am (By Amba)

My purpose was simple: I want everyone to know that giving up a child can hurt (and hurts me) like nothing else.

(Anger alert.)

Found through the related, intense discussion here.

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Mullah-ing It Over [UPDATED]

June 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm (By Amba)

Based on last night’s conversation on Twitter, Ed Morrissey is naïve to suggest that our president’s saying something in their support would help Iranian protesters topple the mullahs.

We’ve written repeatedly that Mirhossein Mousavi is no real reformer; he’s the mullah-approved version of a reformer, and a Mousavi “administration” would not differ much from Ahmadinejad’s, except in tone. Getting excited over a Mousavi win would be akin to cheering on Kim Jong-Il’s son to take over for Dear Leader sooner rather than later.

However, and this is the point that Obama and others miss, the Iranian protests have the potential to go beyond Mousavi — which is why the mullahs want to suppress them. The Iranian people have begun to awaken to the fact that they can be more powerful than the mullahcracy that has oppressed them for 30 years. If the protests continue to grow in number, Mousavi will eventually become a footnote as Iran frees itself from tyranny and grasps self-determination.

No one is cheering on Mousavi — we’re cheering the Iranian people. And we’re frankly puzzled why the leader of the free world has yet to do so.

Sheesh!  Before that comes anywhere near happening, there will be a bloody Tiananmen for sure!  The protesters’ only hope is a split among the mullahs themselves.

So watch Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (“reformist cleric in Qom, and once the designated successor to Khomeini”).  His statement yesterday was nothing short of astonishing.  It suggests that there is dissent and dissatisfaction within the inner sanctum of Iran’s ruling clerics.  But I don’t have time to go read and find out how influential, or not, he is, or what allies he may have or be gaining.  If you do, please pitch in.

Here’s the New York Times archive on him.  Right away you’ll see that he’s 87 years old and was placed under house arrest for five years starting in 1997, for opposing Khamenei.  (It’s pretty funny, hearing people on Twitter say Newt is “too old” to run for president.  This guy is pushing 90 and still a playa.)

UPDATED: I should have added, however, that the protesters potentially give a dissenting mullah a power base; and in that sense, the brave people in the streets are a real contributing factor to some kind of eventual regime change in Iran.  It’s an alliance, in which neither the people nor a mullah could act alone.

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June 16, 2009 at 4:27 pm (By Amba)

Thinking about the last post and the comments unfolding there, it strikes me that now that we count ourselves in the hundreds of millions or billions and manage life on a mass scale, the most important thing any two entities can have in common is bigness.  Bigness reconciles a multitude of differences.  Thus, for example, a Wall Street-K Street alliance is natural, because big entities understand each other, and are motivated to get together to become even bigger.  Rick Warren (big) could be invited to speak at the inauguration of Obama (big).  You can think of dozens of other examples.  The big marry each other and do mergers.  Ideology is much less influential than size.

I hear the title “Big” (the Tom Hanks movie) in counterpoint with another:  “An Army of Davids” (the Instapundit book).  That’s a happy notion, but the fact is that today, to be small is to be helpless, nonexistent.  Even David needs a Goliath in his corner, and most Davids dream of incredible-hulking into Goliath-Godzillas who will finally loom above the mass and be seen.  Goliaths make more Goliaths, like chess masters queening pawns or Olympians immortalizing their favorite boy- and girl toys:  Oprah elevates James Frey, McCain uplifts Joe the Plumber, Instapundit queens Althouse.  Yes, in the blogosphere Insty is Goliath himself.

In a democracy, in a marketplace, little guys have only one form of bigness:  their numbers.  And so they are courted and manipulated instead of brutalized.  It’s the very best a little guy can hope for.

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ABC’s Obamacare “Infomercial”

June 16, 2009 at 2:17 pm (By Amba) (, )

I’m an independent, not a conservative.  I’ve been scoffing at the hysterical hyperbole of those on the right who throw around the word “tyrant” (wannabe) in regard to President Obama.  This, however, really scares me.

I know.  It’s Drudge.  Find me a source that disputes the essential facts of the matter, or that presents a plausible argument in favor of a major broadcast network setting up in the White House, giving the administration lavish air time to pitch a legislative initiative that will profoundly affect all Americans, without opposition voices other than those preselected by the network.  In consultation with the administration?  That would be an assumption, but a fair one.

It’s as if the major media are voluntarily nationalizing themselves.  It makes me feel disoriented.  Someone will say “Just go watch Fox News!”  Well, I suppose I could, and then try to split the difference.  The point is, everyone has an agenda.  No one can be trusted to tell it like it is.  Or:  how you tell it is how it is.  (This reminds me of an article I linked a couple of years ago on AmbivaBlog about how the right, too, now acts on the principle that there’s no “reality” outside of how you spin it.  And here it is!  Biased, so read it with irony.)  Has it always been that way?  Is it just some sort of geezer nostalgia to think that a David Brinkley stood loftily above the fray?  [added] And far worse than just having left media and right media (which is bad enough), a supposedly independent arm of the press is now coupling itself to the power of the state.

Let’s say you fully support President Obama’s vision of health care reform.  You’d even be glad if it was speeding us along the path to a single-payer system.  You believe health care is a basic human right that should be made available to all, not a commercial good to be traded for profit.  You are convinced that a public option is at least a step in the right direction.

Does that justify ramming it down the throats of your countrymen without a full public debate?

Do you like seeing the media divided into the propaganda arm of the party in power and the propaganda arm of the opposition?  Should I be grateful that at least there are still two voices?

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It’s a Heartache

June 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm (By Randy)

Something fun from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

(There’s a message in there somewhere, too ;-)

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A Few Notes on Cooperatives

June 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm (By Maxwell James)

Amba brought up Kent Conrad’s alternative to the so-called “public option” in healthcare reform, which is to have the government charter a large healthcare insurance co-operative that might compete with the private insurance market. Having read a few articles now, I think the most helpful thing I can do is offer a few resources and clarifications as to what this would actually mean.

First, it is essential to understand that at root, a cooperative is an alternative approach to financing a business. Every business is financed through some combination of equity and debt, with the equity provided by the owners  and the debt provided by lenders. Lenders receive regular interest payments in return for their financing of the business; in the case of bankruptcy, they also usually get their money back before equity holders do (and therefore get more of it back)*. Owners have a right to the residual profits of the company, i.e. profits after all interest and taxes have been paid. They also can exert control over the company’s decisions through shareholder vote, with each owner enjoying a vote in proportion to his or her shares.

In a cooperative, every owner receives one vote regardless of how many shares they own. This is the core difference between cooperatives and other business forms, and it leads to many other differences. First, it generally leads to a much more equitable distribution of ownership shares, as there is no incentive to purchase more than the minimum number. Second, it means that a co-op is generally going to have less financing than an equivalent private or public enterprise, because a) wealthy investors who could invest more in a co-op have no reason to do so, and b) co-op shares cannot be traded to increase their value through speculation, as that would inevitably erode the one person – one vote rule at the heart of the model.

A corollary implication is that to be viable, co-ops need to make up in numbers what they lack in dollars. So even a very small co-op, such as the one where I used to work ($7 million in annual revenues), will have a large number of shareholders (in that case, over 3000). This means that that their products have to have broad appeal and that they have to be built on business models that are clearly understandable to most people (i.e., meet the Warren Buffet test). Hence, co-ops tend to focus mostly on providing highly essential and universally desired products or services, such as agricultural goods, electricity, banking, or healthcare insurance.

The main criticism of the cooperative model is that it doesn’t facilitate growth, because it offers no incentives for wealthy investors to pony up. Which is true, but it’s worth noting that there are some pretty large co-ops around the world. The main argument in favor of the co-op model is that it is more democratic than other models; the barriers to investing in a co-op are very, very low, and compared to other models the level of shareholder involvement tends to be fairly broad. But that can be overstated: most co-ops see voter participation levels between 10-20 percent, which is about on par with public companies.**

Now, one way that a co-op can scale up on the level of a large corporate entity is through government intervention, which is what the Conrad proposal would accomplish. I would expect this to be the main point of contention coming from conservatives over the co-op, if it indeed turns out to be the compromise of choice. The numbers I’ve seen floated around for this year’s healthcare reform bill have been around $600 billion or so; that would constitute some pretty significant seed funding for any organization. I am skeptical whether such an entity could even be fairly called a co-op.

If denied such levels of funding the organization could be troubled by adverse selection problems, with the people most eager for membership being those people whose healthcare would probably cost the most. If that is the case, the co-op could find itself unable to actually compete on cost – supposedly its entire reason for being. It’s worth noting that in many ways this co-op idea resembles Obama’s campaign proposal of a public option without mandated use.

Finally, it has frequently been argued that the “public option” would amount to single-payer by stealth, especially if it were funded by said $600 billion or so. Well, a “co-op option” could potentially amount to the same thing if it were large and competitive enough; in fact, Canada’s system of single-payer health insurance very much grew out of the efforts of a number of large, regional co-operatives there (PDF). The northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna – once a Communist bastion and still very Leftist – has a local economy dominated by cooperatives, including many social service cooperatives. Interestingly, in recent years it has also been one of the economically robust regions in all of Europe, although I don’t know how the recent downturn has changed things there.

* Unless, of course, they are forced by intrusive government to give up their claim, as was recently the case with some of Chrysler’s debtholders.

** My own argument for the co-op model is this: it gives people of limited means a very low-risk investment option that can actually provide very good returns, especially if they are committed to actually using the service or product being financed.

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