New Salon Column
October 2, 2010

This went up yesterday. It’s basically an attack on arguments for public policy—but specifically taxation—that put a high premium on notions of what people earn and deserve as central to justice. I do this adapting certain arguments from John Rawls and Peter Unger, the latter of whom originally presented what I turned into the kayak thought experiment in his book Living High, and Letting Die. You should read that book! And also my column!

Just for kicks, you could also check out this weird and confusing rebuttal from Roberty Stacy McCain’s sidekick, Smitty. In it, Smitty:

  • Makes several claims about my beliefs that are either irrelevant (I’m pro-choice), flatly untrue (I don’t believe that it’s immoral for rich people to be rich, nor do I think that “equality of opportunity is meaningless”), or both.
  • Condemns abortion (a legal procedure) and then turns around and adopts a baffling sort of legal-realism-on-crack, in which someone deserves something as long as they didn’t violate the law to acquire it.
  • Implies that my entire argument was dictated to me by my parents and, weirdly enough, Rousseau. (Evidently, Smitty believes that people in Rousseau’s state of nature are subject to a progressive income tax.)
  • And, lastly, gives this as the moral case against progressive taxation: “The moral case for tax cuts is that honest people don’t spend money they lack.” Which I’ll admit I found more than a little mystifying.

Smitty’s post was actually kind of a bummer, because I’m interested in hearing some more sober, coherent rebuttals. I know I’m taking a minority view here, and that a lot of really smart people disagree. But to the extent that Smitty provided anything useful or instructive, I think it was a lesson in the perils of adopting an attitude in which anyone who presents a competing conception of justice is evil or stupid, and just wants to confuse you with his lies. It blinds you to the actual arguments they’re making, and your withering contempt for them obstructs your own ability to persuade. So in the end, nobody really learns anything.

In conclusion: “Smitty” is a fun name to say out loud. Smitty.

On Terry Jones and Burn a Quran Day
September 10, 2010

I have a new Salon column up about the maybe-canceled-maybe-not Burn a Quran Day:

 

Pastor Terry Jones might not be an expert in theology, politics or basic human decency, but he more than compensates with media savvy. He can wring every last drop of press attention out of even a retreat, as he demonstrated last night when he announced the cancellation of Burn a Quran Day and then, not four hours later, issued a semi-retraction, claiming that he’d been misled (those sneaky Muslims!) and suggesting he might still burn some Qurans after all.

As I write this, the fate of Burn a Quran Day is still up in the air, but my guess is it probably won’t happen. Instead, Jones will soak up another news cycle or so of sweet, sweet infamy, before publicly declaring that he’s holding off “out of respect for the troops,” whom his actions could endanger. The career Muslim-haters who previously called him out for going just a teensy bit too far will thank him profusely, leaving open the door to future friendship, interviews and well-paying speaking engagements.

But even if my prediction turns out to be completely wrong, the leaders of the right-wing’s anti-Muslim brigade nonetheless owe this man a fruit basket. He may not have sparked the recent explosion of Islamophobia, but he’s done as much as just about anyone to drag it into the mainstream.

 

The rest is here.

Ahead of the Curve
July 26, 2010

On my way back from #nn10 (from which I’m still recovering), I checked my RSS reader and noticed that the Washington Post was running a piece of analysis titled What the GOP could learn from Britain’s Tories.

Well gosh, that sounds a lot like a Salon column I wrote not one week ago!

While I suspect the conclusions Dan Balz and I draw on what policy lessons the right should take are pretty similar, the differences in our pieces are, I think, pretty instructive. I want the GOP to make a serious philosophical overhaul—Balz, on the other hand, comes to the fairly predictable conclusion that their problems could be solved through triangulation, aiming for the center, etc.

While it’s true that the Republican Party could benefit from coming back from the far right fringes, that seems to me like a pretty banal point. And in this column, as in so many other pieces of political analysis written in objective journo weaselspeak, the good is framed as being entirely a matter of electoral advantage.

 

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New Salon Column
July 13, 2010

Continuing the trend from yesterday’s post of pissing off my natural allies (in that case, the NYC new media scene that has been relatively kind to me), this week’s Salon column is all about how the American left is weak because we (they) never really got around to formulating a coherent set of first principles.

To which I would only add: Wakka-wakka!

If, on the off chance, you actually liked the column, then be a sweetheart on this fine Tumblr Tuesday and recommend me.

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