The outrage in Oakland on Tuesday night has prompted a wave of righteous anger from those of us backing the Occupy movement, and rightfully so. The behavior of the Oakland police department was nothing short of fascist thuggery (and a perfect expression of what Charles Pierce describes as “the militarization of America’s police“). That said, my oh-so-liberal sense of fairness requires me to take issue with the spread of Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street compare/contrast memes spreading on Facebook and in the blogosphere at large. Folks, a one-day rally is not the same as an occupation. The gun-toting clowns in the tri-corner hats with the misspelled signs may have committed many crimes against intellectual rigor and common human decency, but they pretty much showed up, screamed their slogans, and went back to their comfy, white, FOX-News-ified suburban enclaves at the end of the day. They didn’t set up camp and occupy public (or public/private) spaces for weeks on end. That tactic – which is brilliant and wildly effective and which I enthusiastically applaud – is an entirely different thing from an ephemeral event like a rally, and it should surprise no one that the occupations are raising a different set of issues for city authorities and provoking a different set of responses. OK? Believe me, I hate the Tea Party and I love the Occupiers and I loathe the heavy-handed police-state bullshit we’re starting to see from the boys in blue. But that doesn’t excuse lazy thinking or facile comparisons.
Posts in category Politics
While I’m truly thrilled that Occupy Wall Street has prodded the mainstream media into covering the subject of skyrocketing income inequality, I confess to having a strong secondary reaction of extreme frustration that it took a sustained popular uprising just to get people to begin to acknowledge and discuss this very real and deeply corrosive phenomenon which has been going on for three decades. I suppose that the occasional booms – the .com bubble, the housing bubble, etc. – had the effect that a hot streak has on a gambler in distracting us from the fact that the dealers were sucking us dry. But the casino background noise – the chimes and dings and whistles that emanated from the Jim Cramers of the world, assaulting our ears, disrupting rational thought, telling us we could all invest our way to the 1%, coupled with a never-ending RAH-RAH CAPITALISM chorus and wave after wave of gushing Rock Star CEO stories – surely helped matters along.
The news story dominating the headlines as Tracy and I return from our ten day visit to America’s largest creditor are the protests being staged by “Occupy Wall Street” down in New York City. Despite the relatively small number of participants, OWS is getting major play on cable news and, of course, in the blogosphere.
A major theme of this coverage is the group’s lack of a clear, focused message. The criticism is hardly new, and certainly not unique to OWS. In fact, it’s plagued the left since forever.
I’ve been to anti-war protests and pro-choice protests, and I found that both attracted the same travelling coterie of seemingly random elements (“Free Mumia!” “Free Peltier!” “Legalize It!” etc. etc.). This glomming on of fringe interests is not unique to the left – the Tea Party, despite being a largely corporate-organized Astroturf affair, attracted its share of unrelated right-wing nuttery – but it hurts us more because the media finds Dirty Fucking Hippies™ much easier to parody than they do the right’s corresponding contingent.
Assuming OWS can get its act together and focus on the economy, however, they still have a tough job to do in communicating a message that’s simple and accurate. The right’s economic message – Taxes Bad! Government Bad! Freedom Good! – is just plain easier to convey than the left’s more nuanced and complex view of the proper role of government in regulating the marketplace, policing corporate bad behavior, maintaining the commons (public infrastructure and whatnot) and providing a safety net for the less fortunate among us. That doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.
But we on the left always make this messaging problem worse than it has to be. When we rail against capitalism we play right into that dirty hippy caricature. When we launch into tirades about the Republicrats and Demicans being wholly-owned subsidiaries of Wall Street whose explicit goal is to keep us in line while they do the bidding of the Plutocracy, we sound like tools. And when we talk about the need for revolution and overthrowing the system – and yes, a few among the activist left still do, and they’re often the ones who you’ll see viral videos of, not the sober, reasonable majority of us – you can hear the mind of Joe Sixpack slamming shut.
We need a message that’s simple and more accessible than that. Something that resonates with the non-politically-obsessed majority. And here’s what I think that message should be:
We want our share.
That’s simple, right? We’re not aiming to replace global capitalism with a Socialist Utopia. We’re not trying to recreate a European-style welfare state here in America. We’re not lazy assholes who want the government to take care of us. We’re not looking for a handout.
We just want our share.
Because for the past thirty years, we haven’t been getting it.
United States GDP has climbed steadily since the early 80′s, and corporate profits have climbed along with them. The shareholder class – and I’m not talking about you with the hobbyist E*Trade account or me with my 401-K – has done amazingly well. The top 10% has kept up with the pace of growth and the top 1% have seen their fortunes grow to Gilded Age levels.
But the middle class and working class? We got jack. We got wage stagnation. Our incomes have flatlined since Saint Reagan brought the dogma of low-taxes and deregulation as solutions to everything into our lives (and New Democrats rushed to become more “pro-business” in response).
The promise was that, unfettered by regulation and taxation and the demands of labor, the John Galts of America would be set free to create growth and opportunity for all. The reality is that they looked around and just decided to keep everything for themselves. The staggering amount of wealth our country has generated in the last three decades? All for them. Skyrocketing corporate profits? Straight into the pockets of the shareholders, and to hell with the employees who made it possible. Thirty years of riches. All for them, none for you.
(And you didn’t really call them on it, did you? Because you kept believing that some day, if you kept your nose to that grindstone, they’d reward you. Sucker.)
Remember, they didn’t create this wealth in a vacuum. We helped. We put in the hours at our desks, behind our counters, and in the factories. We gave them the consumer demand they needed by taking our paychecks (and our plastic) and ponying up for the stuff they were selling. We were part of the engine – the most important part, actually – that created the pile of gold they’re now hoarding. The myth of the Superman CEO and the Genius Investor notwithstanding, the financial elite didn’t suddenly start doing more to earn their share of the pie in 1980. They add about as much value as they did before (and to be fair, they have a role to play) and so do the rest of us. But they got to keep the loot.
So, you see, what Occupy Wall Street is trying to say – or at the very least what they should be trying to say – is simply that this state of affairs is fucked up, and it’s time for it to end.
We want our share of the wealth we helped create.
Not a handout. Not a free ride.
There are so many things to loathe about the Debt Ceiling deal, beginning with the fact that for the first time in history a “deal” was necessary to raise the debt ceiling. But it helps to focus your anger, so I’ll pick the one piece of this catastrophe that truly fills me with contempt: The Trigger.
You know the Trigger, right? That’s the threat hanging over the heads of the new Debt Reduction Star Chamber that Congress is going to form to investigate more ways to reduce the debt. Where’s the Extra-Super Congressional Panel on Job Creation, you ask? Fuck you, America’s financial and political elite reply.
The Trigger gets triggered if the Star Chamber doesn’t come up with an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving. (Most reports, tellingly enough, describe this figure as $1.2 trillion in additional “cuts” but Democrats insist revenue increases could factor into the agreement as well. Insert snark about bridges for sale here.) If the new committee does not come to an agreement, automatic cuts equal to the target figure will go into effect. These cuts will be split 50/50 between defense and discretionary spending.
That’s the Trigger, and here is where I note that, for Democrats, it contains both insult and injury.
The injury is that this automatic package of debt reduction came in a form that was 100% cuts. Considering that this gimmick was designed as an incentive to get the two parties to deal, why wasn’t the half of the package meant to prod Republicans composed of tax increases? Oh, that’s right, because the ass end of the Republican Party had a gun to the nation’s head and Obama and the Dems agreed to negotiate with them under those conditions instead of telling them to go to hell.
The insult is that the 50% of the cuts that is meant to offend Republicans is to defense. Because, obviously, only Republicans care about Defense spending. Democrats are all hippie peaceniks. To be clear, I’m not defending defense spending per se. I just find it nauseating that the old, tired, Republicans-are-the-Party-of-the-Military trope was baked into this shitty little clause in this even shittier piece of legislation.
So there you have it: The Trigger is a shallow, stupid gimmick that pokes Democrats in the eye and, like everything else in this “deal” flies in the face of sober economic thought. Good job, everyone!
“Trying to be the grownup and actually being the grownup are two different things.” – Eliot Spitzer on Obama’s failure to get past posturing and appearances and actually lead.
Some days the Stupid is almost too much to bear. We are on the brink of Great Depression II. Why are we there? Because one party – the REPUBLICAN party – decided to take a routine, pro-forma vote and turn it into a partisan fire-fight.
One party. Got that? If you’re upset about “those politicians” or “congress” or “Republicans and Democrats” then you need to get your head out of your ass. One side has brought us to the brink of economic Armageddon. One fucking side.
It’s astonishing to me that there are still people – purportedly sane people – who hang onto the conceit that they’re in the “middle” – that they’re “independent” – and that both parties are to blame for our problems. Get a fucking grip.
The Republican party is why we are mired in double-digit unemployment.
The Republican party is why we can’t take action to improve the economy.
The Republican party is why middle-class wages have been stagnant since Reagan took office.
The Republican party is why assclowns who trade paper all day pay 15% on their gains while people who show up and do actual fucking WORK pay much more.
The Republican party is why we haven’t done a damned thing about climate change. ‘Cause, you know, it’s not real. It’s just something Al Gore made up.
The Republican party is why we can’t get anything through Congress anymore, 60 votes now being a requirement instead of a very, very rarely-applied threshold.
The Republican party is why corporations can spend unlimited money to elect politicians who will return the favor. ‘Cause, corporations are people. And money is speech.
The Republican party is a fucking cancer. They are destroying our country. They are the problem.
Democrats aren’t perfect. They leave much to be desired. They are at odds with themselves and they do a terrible job of representing the interests of the people who elected them. Obama, in particular, is a staggering disappointment. The Conceder in Chief has done more to enable the fucksticks of the right than the last dozen Republican party leaders combined. Because he, too, suffers from the conceit that the good, right and true path is in the “middle”. The fucking middle. Take the middle and shove it up the middle of your ass cheeks. If you believe there’s a “middle” and you’re in it, you’re an imbecile.
Sorry, forgot where I was going.
No, Democrats aren’t perfect. They make me sick most days. But if you look at all that’s wrong with our country right now you can ultimately trace it back to one villain: The Republican Party.
They’re a fucking cancer. And I’m starting to think the American Body Politic needs a little chemotherapy.
“I’d rather have a unprincipled poll-driven Republican than a principled one, since Republican principles are terrible.” — Neil Sinhababu, on the desirability of Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential candidate
Reading Kunstler’s latest dispatch on the state of the world – short version? We’re totally screwed and it’s our own damned fault – I had an interesting thought that I wanted to throw out there: What would the world look like without fossil fuels?
Now, note, I’m not asking “What will this world, the one we currently occupy, look like when we run out of fossil fuels?” That’s a question that we’ve been chewing on for decades. It’s been the special preoccupation lately of Kunstler and others like him who envision a Mad Max-like dystopia where we roam the Earth in bands of lawless scavengers searching for the last precious drops of our society’s drug of choice, clinging to the shattered remnants of a doomed culture.
That’s an interesting question and one of no small import for policy makers.
But what I was wondering was what would the world look like if we had never had fossil fuels? What if that first spurt of oil had welled up from the ground and been totally inert? If coal were a hard, dusty rock good for writing on walls and not much else?
There are probably myriad reasons any chemist – or Chemist – can give me for why this is not possible. Put that aside for now. Indulge me.
Would it be possible to get to something that looked anything like the civilization we have now without a two-hundred year run on a cheap, abundant, energy-dense and easily converted source of power like what we have in fossil fuels? Most of the alternative energy sources that now compete with oil and coal – obviously photo-voltaic solar and nuclear but also industrial-grade versions of hydro and wind – are premised on manufacturing technologies that are the result of the oil economy. Do you design your way to the turbines in the Hoover Dam or the giant, whirring blades of the modern wind farm without an economy built out on a cheaper, lower-tech energy source like oil? I don’t see it.
All I can imagine – and I’m by all means open to the criticism that my imagination is feeble – is that, in an energy-scarce world, humanity would have ambled along at a much slower rate of progress and eventually reached a technological plateau. At that point, things would have stayed virtually the same forever. That seems the likeliest result to me. Alternate theories are welcome. Be advised that I may squirrel them away for the day when I quit my career as a corporate IT drone and become the Next Great Science Fiction writer.
It seems like forever since I’ve fired up the Toaster and cranked out some slices. Today is the perfect day for it. Got a few small chores to do, nothing major, and a whole bunch of stuff – both read and unread – queued up in Instapaper and Google Reader that’s share-worthy. Might even be some stuff in my own brain. Ya never know!
Just saw an ad for a new reality show called Secret Millionaire. It’s like Undercover Boss, only they’re going to have a millionaire couple go slumming, literally living in a poor neighborhood and getting to know the “real heroes” who live there and then, presumably, giving them money. Am I wrong to find this premise incredibly repulsive, even by reality-TV standards? (Also, will they use this as the theme song?)
Neil Sinhababu, who I used to love reading over at Cogitamus but lost track of after he moved over to Donkeylicious despite the fact that I’m friends with him on Facebook – a situation I finally remedied today by adding said blog to my RSS feeds – posted an amusing riddle about butts last week in honor of the nineteenth anniversary of the release of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”:
You are curious whether your butt is big or small. Unfortunately, you lack the ability to accurately assess the size of butts. Fortunately, there are three rappers before you. You are of their preferred gender, so they are willing to collectively entertain exactly one yes-or-no question from you, to which they will each give an answer.
One rapper likes big butts and cannot lie. One rapper likes small butts and always lies. One rapper likes all butts but shares your inability to assess butt size, and will answer yes or no at random if asked whether a butt is big or small. You do not know which rapper is which. All the rappers know all other facts relevant to the situation, including everyone’s identity and butt preferences.
There’s more, so be sure to read the final, important twist before answering. I swear, I was on the right track with this and would have gotten it had my ADD not kicked in and sent me to the comments instead. (Hint: Read the descriptions of the rappers’ preferences very carefully.)
PZ Myers gets some seriously deranged email. You really do have to wonder about people who presume – or should I say “take it on faith” – that morality must proceed from some unseen supernatural force. I wouldn’t want to be around any of them if their faith in God were to be shaken for some reason.
Jonathan Cohn has a first look at the House GOP’s budget proposal, which seeks to slash funding for Pell grants, Head Start, the USDA’s food inspection program, and Title I grants which help fund school systems in poor areas. House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers described these cuts as targeting “excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending” and said that “hard decisions” were necessary in deciding where to cut. (Wait, if this shit’s truly excessive, unnecessary and wasteful, why was the decision hard?)
The important thing, of course, is that the rich got their tax cut extension. Nothing excessive, unnecessary or wasteful about that.
(BTW, my cousin-in-law Tom sent me an interesting newsletter by an economic analyst he’s a fan of. I’m only part way through it right now, but it reads kind of like James Kunstler’s pieces on Peak Oil, only if the subject were instead the public debt of developed nations and the crisis it portends. It’s important to remember that, while Republicans are a bunch of evil whores who use fear-mongering about the federal debt as a cudgel to achieve their political ends, there are plenty of others who, analyzing the situation in good faith, see it as a truly serious threat. It’s an unfortunate fact that the latter unwittingly give cover to the former, but there it is. And no, I’m not sure if I buy the alarmist interpretations of the debt crisis. I tend to think we could solve most of our problems by just letting tax rates return to their Clinton era levels. But what do I know.)
Roger Ebert, who I started following on Twitter a few months ago, posted a link yesterday in honor of Darwin Day to this outstanding (and lengthy) takedown of Ben Stein’s pro-creationist crockumentary Expelled that he wrote in 2008. It’s a great read. Two thumbs up. (Sorry.)
I recall seeing Ebert’s name a while back on a list of “famous atheists” and thinking “Huh. That’s cool. Always liked his movie reviews.” What I’m finding out is that the dude is about way more than just film criticism. He’s actually a bit of an intellectual bad-ass. (And yes, Furious, I dug up the Esquire interview you mentioned. Looking forward to it.)
And that’s all for this edition. Time for dinner. Gotta get all fueled up so I can live-blog the Grammys…
As most of you have probably already heard, after twenty five years of – well, take your pick:
1.) Helping the Democratic Party reinvent itself for the 21st century
2.) Moving the Democratic Party towards the “center” of American politics
3.) Shaping the Democratic policy agenda to be more pro-business and market-oriented, or
4.) Whoring out America’s last great political party to our overlords in the corporate kleptocracy
the Democratic Leadership Council is closing their doors this month.
It seems like the moment demands a more dramatic denouement. You know, a bittersweet voice-over where the narrator says “And just like that, they walked out of our lives forever.” Or perhaps Al From turning towards the camera and muttering “You Dirty Fucking Hippies™ won’t have the DLC to kick around anymore!”
Alas, the demise of the Left’s great policy Nemesis doesn’t feel like a demise at all. As I and others remarked when the news came out, the DLC doesn’t need to exist anymore; their policy agenda and that of the Democratic Party as a whole are now entirely indistinguishable. Rather than a funeral for the organization, they’re probably holding a retirement party, complete with a “Mission Accomplished!” banner.
Earlier today, Ed Kilgore published his Requiem For The DLC in The New Republic. Kilgore, the DLC’s long-time policy director up until 2006, has always struck me as one of the group’s few somewhat-convincing apologists (although he’d no doubt chafe at that term). He’s not a rigid ideologue and unlike so many of his colleagues he seems to bear no ill-will towards the Left’s activist base. I thought he deserved a hearing. And so:
[T]he DLC was never the ideological or political monolith that its enemies—or even its friends—sometimes imagined. Yes, it was partially financed by corporate money (mainly because corporations wanted to hedge their partisan bets, and because the DLC was at least friendly to them), and it undoubtedly went far over the top in celebrating the “New Economy,” along with the deregulatory demands of the tech industry and its financial allies. But it also pioneered attacks on “corporate welfare” in the federal budget and tax code, opposed state-level tax giveaways as an economic-development tool, and opposed most of corporate America’s legislative priorities (other than on trade policy), most notably the Bush tax cuts and the health care industry’s cherished Medicare prescription drug benefit. Yes, the DLC fought with the labor movement over trade policy, but it also supported the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which could not have pleased corporate donors, and, on one occasion, PPI’s Will Marshall co-authored an economic policy manifesto with American Prospect editor Bob Kuttner. And yes, the DLC often scourged Democrats for appearing to be weak on defense, and it became too closely associated with the Iraq war (though it quickly split with George W. Bush’s policies on Iraq after the invasion). But DLC founder Sam Nunn led the Democratic opposition to Operation Desert Storm, and many elected officials associated with the DLC opposed the 2003 war from the get-go. The DLC’s reputation for “Republican Lite” policy ideas was never that well-merited: At a time when these ideas were outside even the Democratic mainstream, the group came out for public financing of congressional elections and GLBT rights.
As you can see, Kilgore offers for our consideration quite a few examples of the DLC taking laudable, progressive-friendly positions. And there’s more in the article. See for yourself.
The problem I have with Kilgore’s defense is that his list of pretty trees obscures the policy forest that the DLC led the Democratic party deeper and deeper into over the course of their existence. They may have taken a smart stand here or made a constructive point there, but the greatest effect I see them as having had on the party is one of first re-orienting and then greatly constraining the spectrum of “acceptable” policies that Democrats could advance.
Under the DLC’s waxing influence – and cowed by the Reagan Right’s relentless anti-government PR campaign – the party of the New Deal and the Great Society forsook their legacy. They embraced a new model of governance where any idea that wasn’t “business-friendly” and market-driven was taken off the table before debate even began. The notion that government could do big things – directly, that is, bypassing the marketplace – was consigned to the dustbin of American history almost overnight.
The past two and a half decades are littered with examples of this sort of thinking among Democratic policy makers, but there’s no more perfect example than the demise of the Public Option in the recent healthcare reform debate. From the very start the single payer option – long a dream of liberal activists and a model that has been shown to work quite effectively elsewhere – was ruled out. The idea of expanding Medicare to cover more Americans was likewise shunted aside. Instead, the Democratic Party assembled a policy framework from pieces proposed by conservatives over the years: An individual mandate, means-tested subsidies, regional exchanges, and targeted regulation of a wholly-private insurance marketplace.
Well, wholly private except for one little detail: the Public Option, wherein the federal government would create and run a plan that would compete on a level playing field with private insurers. Surely that would offend no one. Surely, just that one little nod to the not-for-profit, public-spirited approach, that one spot on the policy map – our “Otisburgh” if you will – would be an acceptable part of the mix.
Sadly, no. Late in the debate, despite protestations on its behalf from the president himself, the Public Option got kicked to the curb. And whose boot did the kicking? Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman: Erstwhile Democrat, ostentatious moderate, and, after Bill Clinton, the greatest poster boy the Democratic Leadership Council had ever produced.
The Public Option – the one vehicle which would have allowed the government to act directly in the insurance marketplace as part of the solution – simply Could Not Be Allowed.
This, to me, is the paradigmatic example of world we live in now, of the policy landscape the DLC has left the Democratic Party, its supporters, and indeed all Americans to inhabit. The wisdom of the market is always to be preferred to the wisdom of public servants. Any need worth meeting must be passed through the hands of the for-profit marketplace. Government, if we allow it to intervene at all, can only set rules and boundaries; it is no longer allowed to be an actor in its own right, on our behalf.
It’s an impoverished set of tools they leave us to match an impoverished vision of America – an America where we’re nothing but individuals in one great market, each acting to maximize our own advantage. Homo-consumerus, as it were. Thanks to the blinkers the DLC put on that Democratic Donkey, this vision is no longer cherished by the libertarian right alone. It’s the way both parties see things. It permeates the language leaders on both sides of the aisle employ.
I was struck, after Obama’s latest State of the Union speech, by this acidic summarization of his word’s by Slate’s Tom Scocca:
[W]hether he was capitulating to the plutocracy or trying to co-opt it, Obama spoke largely in the bleak and amoral ideological language of Stage IV metastatic global capitalism—America and Americans are bound by necessity and duty to “invest,” to “compete,” to “win,” to abandon the outmoded notion of a fair paycheck for a fair day’s work and to give their lives over to innovation and entrepreneurship and risk-taking in a ceaseless global struggle to become the exploiters rather than the exploited. To Win the Future.
Harsh words, to be sure, but as I see it totally justified. Ironically, given Obama’s now infamous invocation of the challenge of Sputnik and the space race, what I heard echoed from the presidential podium wasn’t “Ask not what your country can do for you” but rather “Who moved my cheese?” And if you’ve ever sat through that soul-crushing half-hour of animation, you know the message: Get crackin’, bitches, because you’re on your own.
That’s the language, and the reality, of the new policy landscape the DLC-ified Democratic Party inhabits. A reality where the government is no longer a direct actor but merely a referee and a cheerleader, and thus in no position to offer aid or comfort to a citizenry that’s been left to sink or swim in the all-encompassing sea of the market.