Universal Translator

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New York Advances The American Story

My oldest friend called me up over the weekend and said to me, “Hey, man.  You know we can get married in New York now.”

“Yeah, I saw that,” I told him, “that deeply affects my life.”  We were being ironic.  Although we both support marriage equality, we’re also both heterosexual guys and New York’s decision to extend marriage rights to gay couples does not personally impact either of us.  Still, I was extremely pleased to learn of New York’s decision because -- as an American – had New York affirmatively decided to deny secular marriage rights to homosexuals then that really would have had an effect on me.


Friday, June 17, 2011

We Are Doomed

Picking up on this story out of Kentucky, about two Iraqi refugees arrested for attempting to send arms back to Iraq and Mitch McConnell's call to have them sent to Gitmo -- as opposed to, y'know, just trying them in the normal course of justice -- because it is "the only way we can be certain there won't be retaliatory attacks in Kentucky."
(H/t to Steve M. over at No More Mister Nice Blog.)

Let me go ahead and apologize right off the bat: I'm sorry for using offensive language. But I cannot think of another word that carries the same level of disdain, contempt and visceral impact. Probably because I am not well-read enough.

But . . . seriously, when did America become a nation of pussies? Jesus H. Christ! We looked Hitler in the eye and said, "No." We went through decades of a steely-eyed staring contest with the USSR when the stakes were nuclear war. We lifted ourselves out of the Great Depression, we revolutionized food production and computer engineering, we gave rise to the indomitable idea of the Great Middle Class.

And now we're just a bunch of pussies. 'Cause some brown guy with a beard might look at us squintily.

Screw the GOP. I don't like them mostly because all of their ideas are wrong, but God in Heaven!  How the hell people can look at that party and consider it anything other than a bunch of pantie-clutching schoolgirls is beyond me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oil Independence is Impossible

Something we’ve been hearing for decades now is that America needs to achieve “energy independence.”  However, while both Conservatives and Liberals deploy this phrase routinely, they usually intend it to function as shorthand for two very different policy prescriptions.  For Conservatives, “energy independence” generally means independence from foreign sources of oil.  For Liberals, “energy independence” usually means the creation of sustainable and renewable energy sources.

The two concepts are not the same, and it is a shame that a single phrase has been used to signal both.  Although it is probably too late now, our national dialogue would be much improved by using different phrases to distinguish these two positions.  What Conservatives are really seeking is “Oil Independence” – the ability to have as much oil as is wanted without being subject to the whims of other nations.  What Liberals are really seeking is true “Energy Independence” – the ability to have as much energy as is needed without relying on finite energy sources.

A few recent news stories clearly demonstrate that not only is Energy Independence a more idealistic concept than is simply seeking Oil Independence, it is also much more practical.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does Modern Debate Foster American Ignorance?

The New York Times had a story yesterday about how American students know less about U.S. history than any other subject.  This seems to be old news.  I remember reading a story a year or so ago that reported a significant portion of American adults were unable to correctly identify two of the three countries America fought in World War II.

I remember marveling when I read that.  Even if no one surveyed ever attended a history class in his or her life, World War II is part of our national culture -- had none of those people ever seen a WWII movie?  Sure, Italy tends to get short shrift in these films, but I just don't understand how one can grow to be an adult in our country and not at least know that WWII involved us fighting Germany and Japan.

I was reminded of that when I read the New York Times story and saw that one example of our country's high school seniors' ignorance of American history is that few were "able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean  War."  Was this really supposed to be surprising?

Korea is often referred to as "the forgotten war," and with good reason.  WWII basically supports an entire entertainment industry, as does the Vietnam War.  But you just don't see a lot of documentaries or films being made about the Korean War.  And I don't recall ever learning anything about that war when I was in high school, or even during the history classes I took in college.  In fact, the only reason I learned that China was a North Korean ally is because - like a lot of people my age - I grew up watching M.A.S.H.  Pathetically, the sum total of my knowledge of the Korean War comes from that television show.

Which makes me wonder why the New York Times's Sam Dillon picked this factoid to put in the first paragraph of his article.  Is it really the case that most people think the Korean War was a central conflict about which all U.S. high school students should know?  Or is it more the case that - like me - Dillon absorbed a few basic facts about the Korean War from watching one of the most popular television shows of all time and now can't comprehend how other people don't know what the both of us unthinkingly imbibed through our popular culture?

Its ability to round out my knowledge of recent events is one of the reasons I am a big fan of popular culture, at least that part of it we have easy access to.  Watching movies and television shows, listening to music, and reading popular books produced in the 50's, 60's and 70's catches me up on a lot of stuff I missed simply because I wasn't around for it.  Pop culture can't supplant studying actual history, of course, but it can supplement it to a great degree.  Especially with the Internet, recent pop culture is more accessible now than ever before.

Which is one of the reasons I get so incensed when I see people opine on things about which they do not know, and then when called on it reply:  "Well, that was before my time."  As if because it was before their time is sufficient reason not only for them not to know about it, but for them to dismiss it as irrelevant.

The most egregious example of which I am aware occurred about two years ago, back when President Obama had been in office for about 5 months and was struggling (as supposedly he still is) to get the economy back on track.  Meghan McCain had been invited to appear on Real Time With Bill Maher, ostensibly for what she had to contribute on presidential politics. 

At one point, McCain claimed that it was inappropriate for President Obama to blame the country's economic problems on George W. Bush -- I mean, sure Bush had been in charge for 8 years but by the time this show rolled around he already had been gone 5 months.  When Paul Begala pointed out that after taking office Ronald Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter for the nation's economic slump for years, McCain attempted to dismiss this fact with the non sequitor "I wasn't even born yet so I don't know," and Begala - rightly - schooled her for it:


What rankles is not that Meghan McCain did not know recent presidential history -- though this appears to be what she was invited on the show to discuss -- but that she so obviously didn't think she should be expected to know anything that occurred prior to her own birth.  Even more, she seemed to think that her own ignorance somehow rebutted actual facts presented by someone who disagreed with her.

Translating this attitude into rational sentences, you end up with something like this:

Advocate:     I assert Proposition A.

Opponent:     History shows that Proposition A is incorrect.

Advocate:      Well, I don't know about that because that happened before I was
                      born.  Since I don't know about that, I don't have to accept it.
                      Therefore, you haven't proven me wrong.

In the end, it comes down to a very basic misunderstanding that seems to prevail in our modern discourse:  that all views, so long as they are sincerely held, are equally valid.

It doesn't make any sense, of course, but given that we seem increasingly to be turning into a "now oriented" society, given our media's refusal to present facts to their audiences instead of simply reporting competing claims, and given that literally everything (does smoking cause cancer?  do carbon dioxide emissions lead to climate change? does life actually evolve?) is unsettled and up for debate so long as even one person sincerely claims it is, what more can we expect?

In fact, given that this is how policy debates increasingly are conducted in our country, aren't we simply fostering ignorance?  It used to be that if you wanted to prevail in an argument, you had to be able to marshal facts.  Now you just have to be able to marshal sound bites.  And if you can maintain ignorance about what you are talking about, you never run the risk of being forced to accept a fact you don't like.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on the Seven Dwarfs Debate

Last night the Seven Dwarfs gathered to debate who would best serve the interests of the Republican Party in its attempt to prevent President Obama’s re-election.  This debate, sponsored by CNN, was actually the Dwarfs’ second.  The first took place about a month ago, and was sponsored by Fox News and the John Birch Society(Yes, that John Birch Society.  The one that called President Eisenhower “a communist,” Nelson Mandela “a communist, terrorist thug,” and warned that water flouridation was an effort by communists to control Americans’ minds.  The one founded by the infamous Koch Brothers’ fatherThat John Birch Society).


In a futile ratings-chase, CNN decided to emulate Fox News’s tabloid style of broadcasting by engaging in a really dumb stunt it called:  “This or That.”  The stunt obviously was intended to bring some levity to the proceedings, and consisted of nothing more than moderator John King singling out one of the game show contestants and asking – for example – “Leno or Conan?”  “Elvis or Johnny Cash?”  Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain inevitably was asked “Deep Dish or Thin Crust?”  Poor Ron Paul got asked “Blackberry or iPhone?” and his long pause before answering clearly signaled that the poor old guy almost certainly doesn’t know what those things are.

Now, there will be some that accuse me of overreacting to what is intended to be a little bit of harmless fun, but this kind of stunt by our political media really does piss me off.  Despite the fact it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, John King began each “This or That” segment by solemnly telling the viewers that these dumb-ass questions were being asked “in an effort to learn more about the candidates” – as if a candidate’s personal choice in reality TeeVee shows or his preference for spicy chicken wings tells us anything about what kind of president that candidate would be.

And it is not just that this is dumb.  A great part of the American electorate simply does not understand the immense power to change our lives that we grant politicians every time we hold an election.  Indeed, as detailed in this classic article by Chris Hayes, they do not even understand that many of the things that most concern them – their ability to find a job, obtain higher wages, afford health care – are political issues at all.  This is “the undecided electorate,” those Americans who do not particularly follow politics and do not consider themselves part of either the Republican or the Democratic camp, which means these are the people who very often decide elections.

CNN’s “This or That” stunt only serves to reinforce for these people that selecting a President is something that comes down to – that should come down to – whether you want to have a beer with that guy.  Whether he or she likes the same TeeVee you do, or truly appreciates the importance of a really good spicy chicken wing.  Needless to say, this is a terrible way to pick those people to whom we would hand power.

(Although I have to admit that asking Pawlenty “Coke or Pepsi?” is a great metaphor for a lot that is wrong with modern Republican politics.  Coke and Pepsi are essentially the same thing:  carbonated water mixed with caramelized syrup.  Everybody knows what they taste like, and they are frequently substituted for each other in restaurants that don’t serve both.  The main difference between the two soft drinks is in their branding – that is, in the millions and millions of dollars they both spend every year trying to distinguish themselves from each other.  By and large, when you choose between Coke and Pepsi you are really only choosing between marketing images.  For a party that believes the American people can be convinced to buy anything even the Republican Plan to Destroy Medicare – if it is only marketed in a compelling way, asking the limpest of the candidates to pick between nearly identical products neatly encapsulates what we saw on the stage last night.)

And now, in no particular order, let’s look at the Seven Dwarfs themselves:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Banks: Our Private Profit Trumps Your Public Interest

It isn’t often that I read an article about the political battles being fought over financial regulation and get reminded of an old girlfriend, but that is exactly what happened yesterday when I read James Suroweicki’s piece in The New Yorker about how banks are flexing their political muscle to derail the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The CFPB is charged with bringing more transparency to consumer financial markets so that people looking to borrow money -- whether by accepting a credit card, taking out a home loan or otherwise -- have a very clear understanding of what the real cost of that new debt will be.

In his article, Suroweicki points out that the creation of the CFPB actually will benefit the banking industry, and argues that the banks are therefore acting counter to their own interests by opposing the creation of this agency.  

Unfortunately, I think Suroweicki is missing something important here.  I am sure that the banks fighting so ferociously against the CFPB understand quite well that its creation really will benefit the banking industry, but they also are profoundly aware that it will do so at the expense of the banks themselves.  These two interests are not identical, and Suroweicki misses part of the story by assuming that they are.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Also, Too

UPDATED BELOW

Following up a bit on yesterday's deconstruction of David Brooks and his disingenuous attempt to frame the Democratic and Republican approach to Medicare as a philosophical choice between "bottom-up" engineering and "top-down" central planning . . .

It occurred to me that the right wing in this county has a sort of schizophrenic take on how to address economic problems. On the one hand, they are filled with rhetoric about how "small businesses" and "entrepreneurs" are the heart and soul of our economy, and that if we only unleash the forces of the Free Market then those forces will solve any problem we might have cleanly and efficiently, without involving the government or any kind of central planning.

On the other hand, despite this rhetoric it seems pretty clear that they don't really believe in bottom-up solutions to anything when it comes to the economy. No matter the economic situation, whether boom or bust, whether the government runs a surplus or a deficit, their prescription is always the same: more and more tax cuts for the wealthy, large corporations and financiers, less and less corporate and financial regulation. And the justification is always the same too: these are the people and entities who create jobs and drive the economy. Not the people at the bottom, not the working class or the hard-working middle class -- nope, true wealth is generated by the wealthy at the top. Especially the banksters.

Sadly, the Democratic party leadership has bought into this idea nearly as much as the Repubicans have. Matt Taibbi warned us long ago to keep in mind that Wall Street financiers provided the largest part of Obama's presidential campaign donations, and despite Wall Street's public wailing whenever Obama says something that hurts their delicate feelings, Wall Street has made out pretty well under Obama. After nearly crashing the global financial system the banksters received what amounted to a strings-free bailout, and profits are now higher than ever on Wall Street, as are salaries and bonuses -- all at the same time the rest of America is still suffering through the worst economy since the Great Depression. And it doesn't strike me that this is entirely the result of political payback for campaign contributions. I get the sense that Obama really has bought into the idea -- as has pretty much everybody in the leadership of both parties -- that it is the Titans of Wall Street who are the fundamental drivers of our economy.

I think this is exactly wrong. America's FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) economy is now the largest sector of our national GDP, but that doesn't mean it produces any actual wealth. Money is shifted around and interest is paid on debt, but no actual goods or services get produced by the FIRE economy. Nor does it employ a lot of people. Back when GM was the largest company in America that meant a lot of actual people were employed, both because automobile manufacturing was a (relatively) labor-intensive industry -- someone had to work the assembly lines -- and because all the suppliers to GM were also labor-intensive. But you don't need a 40,000 member workforce to shift money between electronic accounts. So while the vast amount of money that GM generated back in the 50's and 60's necessarily was spread out among many employees, all of whom then spent it themselves and thereby kept tons of other people employed, we don't have that with the FIRE economy. Now vast amounts of money are concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.

But the real wealth of any society resides in its natural resources and the goods and services that society can produce; while this wealth may end up concentrated in a few hands at the top level of society, actual wealth always -- always -- is created from the bottom up.

Whenever I think about this subject I am always reminded of feudal Japan. The Samurai class may have had all the wealth and the power in that society, but it didn't generate that wealth. The wealth was generated by the rice farmers at the bottom of society -- a circumstance recognized in Japan by the fact that up until the mid-19th century taxes were paid, not in money, but in actual bushels of rice. That -- the basic ability to feed its people -- was recognized as the nation's real wealth.

But I watch the fiscal and monetary decisions being made by our government today, and I don't get the feeling that anyone in charge really believes any longer that it is the great mass of people, toiling day in and day out, that actually created the wealth our society now has.

When the Fed is less concerned about doing something to bring down unemployment than it is about making sure inflation doesn't hurt the creditor class, when Republicans insist on shifting taxes away from the already wealthy because "they create the jobs" (a patent lie), when the salvation of the bond market is obviously more important to both parties than is our educational system, our infrastructure, our health care or -- as near as I can tell -- pretty much anything at all . . . .

Well, I get the sense that the people we put in charge really think that their job consists in making sure that the other elites in our society are basically free to do what they please because they are the only ones who "really matter." The rest of us -- the non-wealthy -- seem to be regarded more or less as livestock that can be herded, occasionally put to use (when the "real people" need consumers, debtors, or cannon fodder) but can also generally be safely ignored. The reasoning seems to be that if the richest of us are taken care of, then the rest of us will somehow naturally be taken care too.

How do they think that works? I dunno, but they seem to believe it. Maybe they think it's magic, or just a natural law of some sort. In any event, it is the epitome of a top-down approach to the economy and it seems to have infected everyone with a grip on any of the levers of power in this country.

UPDATE: In his column today Krugman hits on many of the same points I made here, albeit in a more erudite and slightly less despairing way. Representative quote: "Consciously or not, policy makers are catering almost exclusively to the interests of rentiers -- those who derive lots of income from assets, who lent large sums of money in the past, often unwisely, but are now being protected from loss at everyone's expense." But do click over and read the rest of what he has to say about how policy makers are protecting the creditor class by, i.e. choosing to curb (nonexistent) inflation over doing something to end unemployment, etc.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Deconstructing David Brooks

Now that the Republican Plan to Destroy Medicare has proven to be so incredibly unpopular with the American public, the GOP and their enablers in the Village Media are trying to shift voters’ focus away from that plan to the Democrats.  Increasingly we hear the right-wing claim that Obama, Democrats and the Left don’t have any plan to “save” Medicare, which means that it will soon be driven into bankruptcy and go away on its own.  Republicans, they argue, have to destroy Medicare in order to save it.

David Brooks may not be the worst such offender, but given his prime real estate over at The New York Times he could be the most influential.  His latest column is classic Brooks, filled with false equivalencies, rhetorical straw men, and dubious comparisons all deployed in an effort to persuade his readers that the Republican Plan to Destroy Medicare will result in a consumer-driven, “continual, bottom-up process of [health care] innovation.”  His “argument” such as it is, is a muddled mess, an exercise in rhetoric but not logic.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Warfare State

Via David Weigel reporting on the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference over at Slate, I think we have what might just be the perfect lens to distinguish between the competing Liberal and Conservative visions for America.  Specifically, I’m referring to this statement made by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell:


Clean water is important to us.  Decent housing is important to us.  But they’re not rights.  And we have to begin to say that what’s important is that we in a rational way are able to reform these programs in a way to save them.  And, yes, if it means that somewhere down the line individuals have to make sacrifices, because the rationalization of the system means we save it, but we are also doing it in a more efficient way. . . .  I don’t think too many Americans will object to that.  At the end of the day we’re going to get back to making sure we’re in a position to finance the wars in which we engage.  Does that mean we can do that without sacrificing?  No.  We have to make sacrifices.  But what’s more important?  Our freedom and security or the gluttony of the federal government.  (emphasis added)
Unbelievable.  So much reveal is packed into this one paragraph.

On a meta level, the biggest reveal is not that Blackwell can utter these thoughts without shame, but that he can utter them with pride.  Blackwell is explicitly telling us when it comes down to choosing priorities that what is more important for America – and for most Americans – is not that we have clean drinking water or basic shelter, but that the country is free to finance its chief export:  Warfare.  How anyone can take pride in such a morally bankrupt idea is simply beyond me.

But the manner by which Blackwell makes this argument is also instructive.  Clean water and decent housing are dismissed as things that are merely “important” to us but to which we as members of our society can claim no “right.”  Well, yeah, clean water and shelter are in fact important to us.  In fact, “water, food, shelter” have long been recognized as the most basic of human needs.  That is, they are the minimum needs that must be met in order for us to continue, y’know, living.  People who cannot obtain food, water and minimal shelter quite simply die.

Nevertheless, as important as meeting these needs is to every single person in this country and on this planet, the Conservatives can dismiss their importance by asserting simply that nobody has a “right” to have these needs met.  Even though this assertion directly contradicts all of human history and the entire point of human civilization.

The point of any human society – any agglomeration of people, working together, whether formally organized or not, whether it maintains a formal government or not – is to help each of its members at least meet their basic needs for survival.  We are social creatures not only because we value each other’s company, but because it is nearly impossible for any one of us to survive without the assistance of each other.  This is why throughout history humans have organized themselves into tribes, villages, city-states, nations.  And at each stage, as our social organizations grew larger and more complex, our ability to create wealth by specializing in tasks, trading with each other, and investing in common projects for the good of the community as a whole increased.  As these abilities increased our societies grew richer, and as they became richer they undertook to make sure that more and more needs could be met for all members of society.

For example, the Roman Republic made a certain amount of grain available to the poorest of its citizens to prevent those citizens from starving; when the grain dole was in short supply, Rome faced the threat of riots -- in part because it was understood that one of the rights conferred by Roman citizenship was the right not to starve to death.  The Senate invested large sums to build aquaducts so that sufficient clean water could be brought into the city.  As early as 600 BC, when Rome was still ruled by kings, the Romans started building their Cloaca Maxima, their “Greatest Sewer” to drain marshes and carry sewage and waste from their city.  Over the centuries Rome continued to improve and expand its sewage system, because doing so was necessary for the city to continue to grow.  All of these basic needs were met by “the government,” not by private individuals, because only the organizing principle of the Roman people at the time – be it the Monarchy, the Republic or, later, the Empire – was capable of meeting these needs.

Nothing about these fundamental truths of human organization has changed.  People still do need clean water, and food fit for human consumption, and decent housing.  Now, if these are provided in whole or in part as public goods, paid for by all of our taxes, then I suppose we can argue about how “clean” that water needs to be, how “fit” that food needs to be, and how “decent” that housing needs to be – but can we really argue that meeting at least these minimum needs for all members of our society is in fact our society’s first goal, its most basic purpose?

And isn’t our society’s immediate secondary goal to aspire to even more than that?  As the American Exceptionalism cheerleaders never tire of telling us, America is the richest and most powerful nation on the planet.  One would think that these facts should be reflected in our society as a whole.  In addition to water, food, and shelter, why can’t we make sure that every member of our society has at least the opportunity of a decent education, and access to at least some basic level of health care?  Why can’t we have the world’s best infrastructure – highways, airports, bridges, dams, electrical grid?  And in today’s Information Age, as I have argued before, shouldn’t we be doing something to make sure our telecommunications system isn’t being put to shame by former Soviet bloc countries like Lithuania? 

I live in a military community, and every summer an “Air Show” is put on highlighting our nation’s awesome military aircraft.  And they are pretty awesome.  A few summers ago I heard an advertisement for that year’s Air Show over the radio.  After extolling all of the thrilling sights and machines that visitors could expect to see there, the announcement ended with the promise that “Your patriotism will be at an all-time high!”

Really?  This is what is supposed to give me my patriotic high point?  The fact that we have the biggest, baddest toys?

* * *

Back when the Affordable Care Act was being dragged through Congress and the health care debate was at its height I got into a discussion with one of the more conservative members of my family.  He kept demanding to know how I could believe that having access to basic health care should be considered a “right” in this country, even for those unable to pay for it on their own.  And I realized maybe for the first time that what we were debating was not health care or how medical costs should be paid for.  Our debate really was about competing visions for American society.

So far as he was concerned, nobody in our country has a “right” to anything, not unless they can pay for it themselves.  For my part, I believe the whole point of belonging to “the richest nation in the world” is that we can ensure that certain basic needs of all our people are at least minimally met, and very often the only way to do that is through the organization (and purchasing power) that only the government can provide.  I can raise all kinds of supporting arguments in favor of my belief, but the point here is simply to recognize that the dispute I was having with my brother-in-law was more than about how to accomplish certain things.  At issue was nothing less than what kind of a society we should be trying to build, and his and my ideas on that were fundamentally different.

* * *

In his statement, Ken Blackwell makes it clear that Conservatives no longer have any interest in thinking about the good of America as a society.  He begins his statement explaining that just because you live in America, you cannot necessarily expect that membership in our society will help you to meet even your most basic needs for survival; he ends by dismissing the provision of any such help as nothing more than “the gluttony of the federal government.”  But making sure we can still wage war – ah, now that is the proper focus for America.

And so there is the Conservative vision for America’s future, explicitly laid out for all of us to see:  not the Welfare State, but the Warfare State.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I was a very young child my grandfather used to gift me with anthologies reprinting classic comic books.  The very first one I can remember getting from him was a collection of classic 1960s Marvel Comics origins, which told how The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Thor all got started.  I was (maybe) five when he gave this to me, and I pestered my poor grandmother to read me those stories over and over again until she grew sick of them and decided to teach me to read for myself.  Ammy just wanted me to leave her alone, but teaching me to read was undoubtedly the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

So I have a soft spot for Marvel Comics, which I kept reading over the years.  And like any good comic book fanboy I found reprints of the older stuff – the stuff that came out before I was even born – so that today I have a fairly good grasp of the underlying mythos that surrounds those comic book franchises and the movies they are making based on those franchises.  Because I have such a soft spot for this stuff I was really looking forward to X-Men:  First Class, and I went to see it last night.

Boy . . . did that suck!

I’m going to get into why it sucked below the fold just ‘cause I think it’ll be fun to slag on this movie, but be warned:  if you have any intention of seeing this movie for yourself do not read any further.  SPOILER ALERT!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ayn Rand, Eugenics, and "Lesser Breeds"

Something very weird and deeply unsettling was going on in 1920’s America.  During this decade Eugenics, the idea that the human race can be improved by proper breeding and – more significantly – by preventing “undesirables” from reproducing, really came into its own in American society.  At the same time the celebration of an amoral Superman, an idea derived from a flawed understanding of Nietzche’s Ubermensch concept, led to at least one horrible crime and – for one person – seems to have provided the basis for a horrible “philosophy.”

The problem is that the “one person” was Ayn Rand, and through her writings both of these rotten ideas continue to exert influence over many of the people who help shape our national conversation today.  Listen carefully to the leaders of the Conservative Movement and the rhetoric designed to further the Conservative Cause, and you can hear these terrible ideas, filtered through Ayn Rand’s awful rhetoric, thrust themselves into our current discourse.