Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 24, 2014

On February 16, I noted that our right-wing politics bore some resemblance to certain developments in twentieth-century France. To alter the metaphor, we could look at nineteenth-century Prussia. Recently I read Iron Kingdom, a history of that country. Its policies regarding voting bear a resemblance to the situation developing here, following the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and of limits on political spending, and given the laws and practices of several states.
In Prussia, beginning in 1849, voters "were divided three 'classes' according to their taxable income."[24] Voters cast ballots for electors who in turn chose the deputies to the parliament. Each class selected one-third of the electors. "In 1849, the steep income differentials across the kingdom's population meant that the first class, representing the wealthiest 5 per cent of the electorate, voted for as many electors as the second (12.6 per cent) and the third (82.7 per cent)." We haven’t quite reached that point, but the "steep income differentials" are here, and treating money as protected speech goes a long way toward allowing the wealthy to control both elections and legislation.
In the late 1870s "the Bismarck administration began systematically manipulating the electoral process in favour of conservative candidates: . . . electoral boundaries were gerrymandered to safeguard conservative majorities; polling places were moved to conservative areas within swinging rural constituencies, so that voters from opposition strongholds had to trudge across kilometres of open country to place their votes." Some of our states are fully up with Prussia, even if the techniques of making voting difficult are slightly different.
In one way, though, Prussia is too progressive a model; it pioneered social programs.
The medical insurance law of 15 June 1883 created a network of local insurance providers who dispensed funds from income generated by a combination of worker and employer contributions. The accident insurance law of 1884 made arrangements for the administration of insurance in cases of illness and work-related injury. The last of the three foundational pillars of German social legislation came in 1889, with the age and invalidity insurance law.
The early programs "were quantitatively small by present-day standards, the payments involved extremely modest, and the scope of the new provisions far from comprehensive . . . ." But, unlike the American right, which aims to restrict benefits, the momentum in Prussia was forward. By the early twentieth century, "the Prussian state offered cutting-edge social services, including unemployment and accident insurance and medical protection schemes."
There is one more parallel. When Germany became a republic following World War I, the right refused to adapt to the new regime. "It is one of the salient features of Weimar politics in Prussia (as in Germany more generally) that the 'conservative interest', for lack of a better term, never accommodated itself to the political culture of the new republic." Contemporary American conservatives seem to regard the New Deal as a revolution of comparable scope; certainly they refuse to accommodate themselves to it. A "large, fragmented and radicalized right-wing opposition [emerged] that refused to accept the legitimacy of the new order." So here too.
24. All quotes from Clark, Iron Kingdom, pp. 501, 560, 617 and 635.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April 17, 2014
HLN, formerly CNN Headline News, apparently ran out of facts or sensible commentary about the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane. On March 21, It turned to a psychic, one Lisa Williams, to help locating the missing aircraft. She offered a summary of her technique: "Naturally, I don’t actually have hard, concrete evidence," she acknowledged. "I think any psychic who has hard, concrete evidence can’t do their job correctly. . . . They’ll just work on what they know, so I tend to work off what I don’t know."[22] 
That could serve as the motto of the political right, for example in its attitude toward climate change.
A somewhat similar disdain for facts is present at the Supreme Court, whose decisions in campaign-finance cases are based on not knowing something which everyone else in the country knows: the injection of vast sums of money into politics has a corrupting influence. The Court’s see-no-evil mindset isn’t the only flaw in that line of decisions. Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC reflect a flawed definition of corruption, an intrusion on separation of powers, and partisanship. More on that later.
A final — no, merely another — example of defiant ignorance was provided by an angry Nevada rancher who disputes federal control of land he uses for grazing cattle. His reasoning: "I don’t recognize [the] United States Government as even existing." That’s only a somewhat more extreme statement of personal or collective secession than those put forth by hyper-libertarians and nullifiers.[23]

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