Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the Margins

Jim Webb gets it half right when he talks of "marginalized" white Americans put at disadvantage by "state-sponsored racism". Webb is correct when he states that many whites face the same difficulties as black Americans. What he gets wrong is the cause. Poverty among whites is not the result of state-sponsored racism. State-sponsored corporate economic policies are more the reason. Those policies are not racist. They are simply predatory. Neither race nor official preferences are protection from a winner-take-all economy where few are winners.

Black and white Americans have always suffered from economic disadvantage. They shared a common interest in ending exploitation and injustice. But race kept them apart, keeping a majority from acting in their common interest. Divide and rule has long been a successful model for minority rule.

Webb's remarks come at the end of an interesting week. Race bubbled to the surface of public discussion with the on-line lynching of a black official. Her merest hint of racial hostility and resentment toward whites earned an immediate dismissal from office. In contrast, white officials with verified histories of discrimination against blacks were never fired. State-sponsored racial animus does not flow against whites in this picture.

Race relations were on my mind before the week's events. I finished reading Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War in which the former war correspondent explores the contemporary landscape of the Civil War. Among the re-enactors, neo-Confederates and endless memorials, Horwitz finds a racially divided society, each with its own history. I was not entirely surprised. Most of my life I lived in proximity to black Americans but not with them. These days I hardly live near any blacks. Still, I was disappointed that the gulf is remains so great.

Race and class have bedeviled America since our earliest days. We seem to still have a long way to go. Simply electing a racially mixed president is not enough.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Most Revealing Statement in the Washington Post In-Depth (And Really Long) Report on American Intelligence Activity Since 9-11

A high-ranking official of the National Security State acknowledges a limit.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was also interviewed by The Post last week, said he's begun mapping out a five-year plan for his agency because the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable. "Particularly with these deficits, we're going to hit the wall. I want to be prepared for that," he said. "Frankly, I think everyone in intelligence ought to be doing that."

If we're lucky, the idea will spread.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spirits Wars

Liquor privatization seems to be the rage these days. Here in Washington we have not one but two industry driven initiatives to do end the state's monopoly on hard spirits. Now I see that Virginia's governor is proposing very same idea in my former home state. In both states privatizing proponents point to lower prices, greater variety and more convenience. All of which can be problematic and should be fully examined and understood before deciding to privatize.

The difference between Virginia and Washington is that the Washington Constitution provides for citizen initiative. Virginia's does not. A very effective industry in provides the necessary signatures for any cause with money to qualify an initiative in Washington. So Costco and others put the two proposals on November's ballot. In Virginia, the a Republican governor must must convince a Democratic senate. He seems to be offering some pretty shaky numbers, according to the WP story.

The story does a good job of looking beyond the governor's numbers to identify shortcomings in the analyses offered by the governor. In the end, for this governor, I don't think the loss of state revenue is a problem. His mission is to shrink government. Less revenue means less government and more private profit. That works for a Republican.

But it may not work for Virginia. Not where liquor is involved. Virginia is a state where liquor-by-the-drink at bars was illegal until the late 60's. Before 1972 you purchased liquor at a state store where a badge-wearing clerk would pick your order, ring it up and affix one or two labels to the bottle before handing over to you. The stores were institutional and bare. All of this was done to convince Virginians in 1933 to allow liquor sales, according to one of my professors. A strong religious sentiment still supported the prohibition while well-to-elites favored their spirits. So they came up with a restrictive convoluted scheme that and promised to prohibit bars and saloons forever.

In the end, forever lasted less than four decades. Four more decades have passed, which is a Virginia time scale for fundamental changes, so maybe it's time to rethink the state's role and investment in liquor sales. I'd pay close attention to those revenue and cost numbers, though.

Here in Washington I'm sure that I will see and hear all sorts of numbers as the retailers, distributors and unions try to convince me to vote one way or another on one or the other initiative. Maybe I'll figure it out.