Smart people saying smart things

Charlie Pierce: “Austerity: The Beatings Will Continue …

Austerity has murdered any hope of recovery in the UK. It seems to have done the same thing in Italy. And, in Greece, the citizens of democracy’s birthplace seem to be taking offense at the notion that their first obligation is to punish themselves to make a lot of international bankers whole again, and to cement Angela Merkel’s place in European history, which will be further propped up in Germany by an economy that depends on strong labor unions, a thriving government safety net, and the world’s oldest universal health-care system, to which Germans are entitled, but to which Brits, Italians, Greeks and, if you believe David Gregory, Americans, are not.

Make no mistake about it. “Austerity” is a theological construct. It is about punishing the alleged sins of sloth and gluttony. It is about purging through pain. It is about enshrining into law every misbegotten slander about the poor and struggling that’s been floating around the political dialogue for generations. And it doesn’t work.

Bill McKibben: “The Great Carbon Bubble: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.

Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

Sarah Moon: “Women matter

It’s not even a whisper but a yell. “You don’t matter. Not when it comes to politics. Not when it comes to religion. Not even when it comes to your own health. You don’t matter.”

The world is telling us this every day, women. In the way it represents us, in the way it treats us, and in the way it speaks to us. The world is saying, “You don’t matter.”

… We see political policies that directly affect us women being discussed by men, and men only. We see religious decisions that directly affect the women of the church being made by men. And often, we don’t blink an eye because we’ve been told so often that we don’t matter, that we almost accept that it’s a man’s world.

Because the world is telling us we don’t matter.

It’s telling us everywhere we turn.

It’s yelling at us from cars as we walk down the streets. It’s hitting us over the head with these messages in movies and commercials and sitcoms. It’s preaching it at us from the pulpits and political campaigns.

But we don’t have to listen.

Digby: “It’s the coercion, stupid

Here’s the thing that is instinctively obvious to any normal person: the women are being forced to undergo a physically invasive procedure they do not want and which has no medical purpose by state actors for political reasons. It’s like something out of the inquisition. No, these women are not virgins, but the last I heard the definition of rape didn’t require virginity. It’s about the state not being allowed to stick something inside your body in order to persuade you not to do something you have every legal right to do.

The argument about abortion is all about women’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. If you want to prove that this is about someone else making decisions about women’s bodies, there can be no better way to do that than insisting that pregnant women seeking abortions first have an instrument shoved inside them against their will. These disgusting little sadists are pretending there’s nothing wrong with that — but the pleasure they are clearly taking in the prospect is what gives them away. They know it’s coercive. That’s the whole point.

Erik Loomis: “Anthony Comstock: American Prude

Has there ever been a more loathsome American than Anthony Comstock? The self-appointed regulator of American morality, Comstock acquired great power during the late 19th and early 20th centuries through taking advantage of the anxieties of the upper classes to pass anti-obscenity legislation and prosecute those he thought were smut-peddlers. Loathed even in his own time, but with powerful protectors, Comstock represents the worst of puritanical America. His pernicious influence still lives with us today. …

… Comstock frequently referred to himself in typical modest fashion as “the weeder in God’s garden.” In 1873, Comstock continued his national career of prudity by creating the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Through his powerful congressional benefactors, Comstock pushed through Congress in 1874 the notorious Comstock Law, which made illegal sending “obscene, lewd, and lascivious” material through the U.S. mail. Examples of such material included information on birth control and biology textbooks that showed accurate representations of the human body. Comstock believed the birth control devices caused lust to rise in the human body and lewd behavior to follow. It was primarily to stop birth control from being propagated that Comstock fought for the law that bears his name. Soon after, 24 states enacted similar laws to prevent the dissemination of birth control on the state level. The worst of these laws was in Comstock’s home state of Connecticut, where even the use of birth control was a violation of the law. Married couples could be prosecuted for using birth control in the privacy of their own homes and sentenced to a year in prison.

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  • Lori

    Make no mistake about it. “Austerity” is a theological construct. It is about punishing the alleged sins of sloth and gluttony.


    Sloth, yes. Gluttony, no. If the austerity pushers cared in any meaningful way about gluttony they wouldn’t be working so hard to transfer more money to bankers. 

  • Anonymous

    You’re confusing gluttony and greed.

  • Gluttony is hoarding wealth and resources. So, no, she isn’t.

  • I would argue that they don’t give a rip about actual sloth either. Most people receiving gov’t assistance work, and many working class families (mine included) work three or more jobs just trying to make ends meet.

  • Has there ever been a more loathsome American than Anthony Comstock?

    Is it any coincidence that one of the central characters in the upcoming game Bioshock Infinite (set in 1912) is named “Zachary Hale Comstock”?  And that he is the leader of a city built on American Exceptionalsim, xenophobic hatrid of “foreign hordes”, and jingonistic manifest destiny? 

  • Lori

    I would argue that they don’t give a rip about actual sloth either. Most people receiving gov’t assistance work, and many working class families (mine included) work three or more jobs just trying to make ends meet.  

    I agree that they don’t care about real sloth, but they do care about perceived sloth or faux sloth. They love the notion that there are hordes of people who could work, but instead just lay around all day because they can make a perfectly fine living off the dole. 

  • WingedBeast

    It’s about the fantasy.

    The fantasy is that line between wealth and poverty is drawn in hard work, intelligence, and generally being a worthwhile human being.  Therefore, those on the other side of that line are there because they’re lazy, shiftless criminals.

    The fantasy is that luck doesn’t play a part, or, if it does, its part is insignifigant.

    That being the case, the fantasy says that any alms given to the poor, any social safetey net, any effort to ease their suffering is just rewarding them for being an unintelligent criminal class.

    To do other than advocate for the refusal of such rewards is to admit that the fantasy is just that, a fantasy.  Being that it is a fantasy, that by virtue of having occupational interests that aren’t as financially rewarding, by virtue of changes to the economic arena, by virtue of not having allies at the wrong time, they, too, could find themselves in the realm of poverty.  Like many an uncomfortable notion, the instinctive response is not to analyze it for truth-value, but build defenses agianst it so that it will realize the fight is too hard and go away.

  • mmy

    I think that the word “austerity” in that sentence was referring to the traditional austerity practiced by, say, monks, rather than austerity as in the economic plan. I too don’t understand European austerity, but I find American austerity even more confusing since it seems to involve tax cuts across the board (with some people timidly suggesting that tax hikes be imposed, but only on people who are currently so poor that they don’t pay any federal income taxes…) and cuts only to programs that your opponents support. Austerity in Europe might be about funneling public funds from the nation to the wealthiest elite, but austerity in America just seems like a new justification for the same policy goals  as before.

    It barely even counts as austerity since it basically just involves borrowing even more while shifting the spending focus from domestic welfare to defense spending, which is short-sighted even from an austerity-baed perspective.

    (Seriously, is there any difference between now and a few years ago? Tax cuts for the rich! Spending cuts for everyone else! They were making this exact same argument before the economy, heck, before we even had a deficit!)

  • The predator class also thinks it outrageous that members of the servant class in the West have lately been able to live the good life. Many have been able work 4 or 5 hours a day average, have health care, decent food, clothing and housing. They have even been able to be human: to socialize, create and play. I am beginning to wonder if this is not the primary driving force behind the push for austerity.

  • Anonymous

     Silly Lori. Only poor people can be gluttons.

  • My new boss, who is a pretty good guy but distressingly conservative, said the other day that “poor people are mostly lazy”. I ended the conversation at that point because I was pretty sure I’d say something I’d regret if I continued.

  • ‘Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate
    real estate . . . purge the rottenness out of the system.” – Andrew Mellon to Herbert Hoover in the 1930s.The only solution this man could offer his President was “more of the same” – let the economy collapse and take society down with it, because supposedly if this were done long enough the resulting penitence for the Roaring Twenties would somehow stabilize the USA.As Paul Krugman points out, this kind of thinking is ridiculous and asinine.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Ask him to hire another few thousand unemployed, then?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Here’s a question I got hit with on another forum:  If Global Warming is about to put Florida and Manhattan underwater, why don’t we hear about real-estate owners in those areas clamoring for anti-GW laws?  Or at least a rush to dump their properties?  (Aside from the all-inclusive explanation of ‘human stupidity’, of course.)

  • Lori

    Never underestimate the human capacity for denying the inconvenient. You also don’t want to underestimate the herd instinct. People want to believe that coastal loss will not occur in their lifetimes and predictions are imprecise enough that they don’t have to work too hard at that. And as long as everyone else is staying it must be OK, never mind that I’m part of everyone else’s everyone else. 

    You’d have to Google for it, but IIRC insurance rates are starting to reflect concerns about global warming. It’s one thing for individuals to deny unpleasant risks for themselves, it’s another for actuaries whose corporate profitability depends on good risk management to do so. 

    There’s also the fact that especially in today’s economy even if you absolutely believe that rising sea levels are going to claim your house in the foreseeable future you may not be in a position to do much about it. 

  • P J Evans

    insurance rates are starting to reflect concerns

    I think it was an executive at Munich Re that said (not very long ago) that it’s getting to be a major part of their planning. They’re getting tired of paying for rebuilding houses on barrier islands, for one thing.