Connelly Weighs In

Seattle PI Columnist weighs in on the Eastern Washington secessionists, which I discussed last week.

The bottom line? East and West give and take more than either of us want to admit.

Speaking of the death of states as we know them, I finally finished Robert Kaplan’s An Empire Wilderness. A great book, and I highly recommend it. He travels the American West and comes to the conclusion that the next (and final) chapter of the American Empire will involve the Federal government being reduced to little more than the military, with the wealthy the population balkanized into self-sufficient, globally-connected city states and the poor fighting it out in rural areas and depressed urban ghettoes.

When I get home I’ll supply you with a quote of his about the Pacific Northwest that I found really beautiful.

Risk in America

Via Political Animal, I see Peter Gosselin’s three-part series on Risk in America from the LA Times has been compiled for viewing. This is an amazing series of articles that I’ve been reading from the beginning. When Bruno & the Professor: the Book comes out, you can bet we’ll be trumping some of the ideas Gosselin puts out in this series.
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Reich on Wal-Mart

Robert Reich’s op-ed in today’s NYTimes on Wal-Mart has turned some heads. Reich argues that ultimately the consumers have chosen Wal-Mart, and no one forced them to do so. It’s an interestingly balanced argument from someone as staunchly pro-labor as Reich.

He gets at the heart of the debate here:

But you and I aren’t just consumers. We’re also workers and citizens. How do we strike the right balance? To claim that people shouldn’t have access to Wal-Mart or to cut-rate airfares or services from India or to Internet shopping, because these somehow reduce their quality of life, is paternalistic tripe. No one is a better judge of what people want than they themselves.

The problem is, the choices we make in the market don’t fully reflect our values as workers or as citizens. I didn’t want our community bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., to close (as it did last fall) yet I still bought lots of books from Amazon.com. In addition, we may not see the larger bargain when our own job or community isn’t directly at stake. I don’t like what’s happening to airline workers, but I still try for the cheapest fare I can get.

The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one.

What I think he means is that we need to use government to balance the social lever with the individual lever. He’s arguing, in a sense, that there’s a market failure and therefore it’s appropriate for government to balance.

There’s a term in economics called Perfect Competition, a theoretical holy grail. It’s like how high-school physics problems ignore the effects of air resistance on gravity. It makes it easier to model. For Perfect Competition to exist, consumers must have “Sufficient Knowledge.” But how many of them know that Wal-Mart is increasing their tax burden by forcing more working poor onto the welfare rolls? That seems like a key piece of knowledge.

Until every consumer is informed as classical economics asks them to be, I’ll stick with allowing the government to regulate behemoths like Wal-Mart.

Libertarian Friday!

Here’s a new feature, inspired by Kevin Drum‘s Catblogging Friday. But less cute. We’ll call it Libertarian Friday. Will I start doing it every Friday? Who knows?

First, though he’s probably just a LINO, Bill Maher’s column in today’s LA Times is pretty funny:

Hollywood is nothing more than a restaurant that takes your order for entertainment. You like pornography? We’ll make it. And we do, a lot of it. And it’s not just people in blue states who’ve made it a $13-billion-a-year industry.

Heh.

Also, in a column that’s both libertarian AND neo-localist, Josh Feit at The Stranger gives us the skinny on why the Washington State Bar Association wants to legalize drugs in the Evergreen State.

The proposal itself is worth browsing.

The SS Alternative

Between Will Saletan’s judicious number-crunching in biology and the Diamond/Orzag plan as relayed by Jonathan Weisman we may just be asymptotically approaching (as Mickey would say) a sensible, pragmatic response to the President’s Social Security gambit. It’s about time! The president is only moments away from offering to replace the Lincoln memorial with a giant statue of Kent Conrad!

The solution? Punch up the wage cap, trim benefits (Diamond/Orzag), and raise the retirement age (Saletan).

Sounds good to me.

Of Rappers and Bloggers

Today’s Slate piece on blogging vs. rapping is pretty entertaining. Amid all the mock sincerity, there’s an interesting point buried in here:

Essentially, blogging is sampling plus a new riff. Political bloggers take a story in the news, rip out a few chunks, and type out a few comments. Rap songs use the same recipe: Dig through a crate of records, slice out a high hat and a bass line, and lay a new vocal track on top.

I dig it. Blogging is a meta-filter on the news. A second- or third-round culling and distilling of memes.

But there’s a further point that author Levin doesn’t quite hit, which is that both Blogging and Rapping are part of a new culture of alternative identities. He does mention it:

And don’t forget those silly, silly names. Even if he didn’t flaunt his devotion to pimping and pit bulls, you’d probably guess Snoop Dogg is a rapper. And Fedlawyerguy—yeah, probably a blogger. But the “blogger or rapper?” parlor game can stump even the nerdiest gangsta. Does uggabugga hate on wack emcees or wack Charles Krauthammer?

Beyond that, though, is something a bit more profound. Musicians, bloggers, message-board mavens, and even some enterprising moviemakers have moved to employing the “handle,” a unique moniker that ensures a Google search on the word will return results for you and only you. In the era of the search engine, intentional misspellings are a vital branding tool. It’s something that actors have been doing for years. There’s a reason it’s against the Screen Actors’ Guild rules to allow two people to have the same name: it’s bad marketing.

The alter-ego, once reserved for high-flying international spies, is now available to anyone and everyone. We “front” an image that is not our own. We create an alternative, idealized, virtual self that fits our desired persona better than we could ourselves. The internet’s been great for that.

Sincerely,
Frank Bruno