Sunday, April 30, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908 - 2006

Nearly 40 years after writing "The Affluent Society," (economist John Kenneth) Galbraith updated it in 1996 as "The Good Society." In it, he said that his earlier concerns had only worsened: that if anything, America had become even more a "democracy of the fortunate," with the poor increasingly excluded from a fair place at the table.

Galbraith likely was distressed, as much as any of us, by the kudzu-like spread of the most obnoxious and appalling aspects of conservatism across the American political and social landscape.

A major influence on him was the caustic social commentary he found in (Thorstein) Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class." Mr. Galbraith called Veblen one of American history's most astute social scientists, but also acknowledged that he tended to be overcritical.

"I've thought to resist this tendency," Mr. Galbraith said, "but in other respects Veblen's influence on me has lasted long. One of my greatest pleasures in my writing has come from the thought that perhaps my work might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position. Then comes the realization that such people rarely read."

I'll pause for a moment while you acquaint (or re-acquaint) yourself with Veblen. He's worth a post all to himself, but I try to keep it light around here.

Galbraith's seminal work was written the year I was born:

"The Affluent Society" appeared in 1958, making Mr. Galbraith known around the world. In it, he depicted a consumer culture gone wild, rich in goods but poor in the social services that make for community. He argued that America had become so obsessed with overproducing consumer goods that it had increased the perils of both inflation and recession by creating an artificial demand for frivolous or useless products, by encouraging overextension of consumer credit and by emphasizing the private sector at the expense of the public sector. He declared that this obsession with products like the biggest and fastest automobile damaged the quality of life in America by creating "private opulence and public squalor."

Almost fifty years ago, and before that by Veblen 107 years ago. How far we have come.

And the call to arms:

"Let there be a coalition of the concerned," he urged. "The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system."

Rest in peace, Mr. Galbraith.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This Week in Felons

-- I've been remiss in following the trials of the two Enron scoundrels Skilling and Lay. You've got many sources who have been doing the yeoman's task, and I trust you're already aware that the two men have employed the Sergeant Schultz defense, which I believe will be a losing one.

Update (5/2/06): Houstonist summarizes Lay's bipolarity.

-- Karl Rove is on the verge of indictment for perjury. Will he resign if he is, or continue working to repair the GOP's political fortunes for November? I suppose Fitzo de Mayo sounds as good as Fitzmas.

-- Rush Limbaugh made an arrangement to avoid his drug charge. He smiled broadly for his mugshot, as did Tom DeLay. This appears to be an extraordinarily lax penalty: 'stay clean for a year and a half and we'll drop the charges', essentially. Does it seem as if the state of Florida has really lenient narcotics law enforcement -- or does this only apply to Republican addicts?

-- Finally (for the time being), the Republican lobbying mega-scandal seems to have lately taken a sexual turn. Who could the "one person who holds a powerful intelligence post" be?

Porter Goss, CIA director, whoremonger? What's that likely to mean for national security? If you recall, Goss (in refusing to investigate the Plame leak case) said, "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation." So I suppose we can anticipate a potential case made on the basis of hands-on physical evidence.

You know, photos, call logs, credit card transactions, that sort of thing.

Who cares about $3 gas? The Texans drafted WHO!?!

Bob McNair better hope Mario Williams is real good, real fast, or there will be blood in the streets of H-Town, and not over trivial matters such as immigration or the legislature failing to fund public education or even the exorbitant price of gasoline.

Osama ain't got nothin' on Casserly if this turns out bad.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Net Neutrality (and why you should care)

Sean-Paul Kelley has been leading the charge in the battle to keep the Internet wild and free despite the whining of corporate titans like AT&T's Ed Whitacre, who would rather make us all pay dearly for the privilege of using his "pipes".

(A personal shoutout to Big Ed: I just upgraded my service with you despite the fact that you signed off on the most massive invasion of privacy in recorded history. If you keep trying to shaft the entire world, you'll force me to drop my DSL like a bad transmission and encourage all ten of my loyal readers to sign up with Time Warner Cable. Capice?)

Little would have come of this had it not been for five Democrats in the House, two of which sold out extraordinarily cheap: San Antonio's Charlie Gonzales and Houston's Gene Green. Charles Kuffner, as usual, has the best summary and linkage.

Please go and follow them -- his links, and his suggestions.