Monday, December 29, 2014

Robert Samuelson to Middle Class: I find your lack of faith disturbing

Robert Samuelson says the middle class is thinning out because it doesn't believe hard enough:

What the middle class faces today is a crisis of faith. Being middle class is more than attaining some threshold income. It also involves embracing a set of beliefs that, unfortunately, have been severely shaken. 
Middle-class Americans believe in opportunity, stability, reward for effort, a brighter future and the ability to control their lives, as sociologist Herbert Gans showed in his 1988 book “Middle American Individualism.”
Anybody who endured any bout of unemployment during the Great Recession would be bound to have their faith in such precepts shaken. There's nothing like wondering if you're going to be poor forever to make you question the American dream. And that's true even if you got back on track, somehow. I've got a good job these days, one of the best I've had, but I'm also deeply aware of how fragile it all is — how lucky I am to have found my way back.  The underlying faith I used to have that things would generally be on an upward trajectory? Gone. I miss it.

Samuelson adds:
The economy is more random, unstable and insecure than we imagined. It is less susceptible to policy engineering. The fact that the upper classes can better shield themselves against its upsets naturally breeds resentment.
That's not quite right. The resentment is bred more from the fact that the upper classes are shielded by government from the vagaries of the economy more than the lower classes are. Banks were too big to fail, our tax dollars bailed them out, and executives kept on collecting bonuses. Middle class home buyers found themselves stuck with underwater mortgages,meanwhile, and got lectures about responsibility. The people most directly responsible for screwing the economy suffered little, if any, long-term consequences. The rest of us are still living with consequences in many cases. Hard to have faith when lived experience contradicts it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The disaster that is the F-35

Total taxpayer losses in the failed Solyndra solar-energy program might come, at their most dire estimate, to some $800 million. Total cost overruns, losses through fraud, and other damage to the taxpayer from the F-35 project are perhaps 100 times that great, yet the “Solyndra scandal” is known to probably 100 times as many people as the travails of the F-35. Here’s another yardstick: the all-in costs of this airplane are now estimated to be as much as $1.5 trillion, or a low-end estimate of the entire Iraq War.

Netflix Queue: The Master

Lots of thoughts inspired by my viewing of The Master on Netflix, but the easiest to convey is this: Joaquin Phoenix's face in this movie is an amazing thing, a craggy and broken down work of art. So amazingly photographed by Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew.

After New York: A question about police, protests, and the limits of politics

Since it now seems to be a common theme on the right that critics of police practices enabled the (horrible, awful, only-to-be-condemned) murders of two New York cops, a question:

What is a permissible level of protest regarding police activities?

What is a permissible level of criticism?

Are any protests or criticisms permissible, or do they by definition contribute to a lawlessness that endangers police lives and thus our civic order?

The war in Afghanistan is over. Long live the war in Afghanistan.

Well, that was anti-climactic:

The United States and NATO formally ended their war in Afghanistan on Sunday with a ceremony at their military headquarters in Kabul as the insurgency they fought for 13 years remains as ferocious and deadly as at any time since the 2001 invasion that unseated the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11 attacks.
We've been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for 13 years. We're going to keep on fighting and dying in Afghanistan ... only not quite as quickly as we have been. That's not war anymore? George Orwell, call your office.

Big-government conservatism

Robert P. George, natural law theorist extraordinaire, is in my morning paper:
Considered as isolated acts, someone's recreational use of narcotics, for example, may affect the public weal negligibly, if at all. But an epidemic of drug abuse, though constituted by private acts of drug-taking, damages the common good in myriad ways. This does not by itself settle the question whether drug prohibition is a prudent or effective policy. It does, however, undermine the belief that the recreational use of drugs is a matter of purely private choice.
A lot of my conservative friends are fans of George, I think, and look to him when making arguments against gay marriage. (He's talking about pornography in the current column, though.)

What's striking, though, is how closely this argument for drug prohibition mirrors the argument for, say, banning old-style lightbulbs in favor of more energy-efficient modern models — a project that caused no shortage of chest-beating among many of the same conservatives who are allied with George on matters of morality. It's an odd concept of liberty and governent's proper role in our lives that anguishes over lost light-bulbs but feels free to deny the marriage contract to individuals.