Progress, Occupy Wall St. & the Need to Keep this Leaderless and Without Demand

I just read that Geithner has proclaimed that “dramatic enforcement actions” will be taken against Wall St. wrongdoing. Although I’m in the ‘believe it when I see it’ camp, it is certainly progress to have a top administration official even threatening to take an action that the 99% would love to see.

In the last couple of weeks, the constant chant from the mainstream media has been “what are their demands?” The fact that without demands, the administration is moving toward a more just position simply reinforces the notion that we don’t really need demands. Our demands are voluminous, too prolific, too robust to state in a simple list; we want social and economic justice. Creating a list of demands would hem the movement in, make it containable and do more to harm the it than all the police in NewYork, Boston and Denver combined.

By keeping the demands of the movement general it allows more people to feel comfortable with the message. The message, we are the 99%, means we are the people, we are united, and we’re fed up with our unjust and unfair system. It also provides no help to policy makers who then must flail about for answers to our call for a more just and equitable system. If they end up arresting banksters, fantastic. We didn’t have to demand that. If they believe that maybe we want to see increased financial regulation that will actually work and go about implementing that, excellent, we didn’t have to demand that either. Maybe they’ll think, gee, this movement really wants us to tax the wealthy more and they’ll raise the top tax rates. Again, we won’t have to specify what will appease us.

This is the truly interesting and beautiful part of this movement, the fact that it is leaderless and lacks any specific set of proposed demands. This allows the utmost in flexibility and in the innate inability for a decapitation. We’ve seen movements in the past that were halted by the assassination of their charismatic leader. Not having a leader is a great solution to this. It also prevents us from being pinned to something one person says or feels that may not be representative of the vast majority of us. The same goes for having no written demands. If demands were created, they would inevitably alienate a segment of the movement or supporters thereof. While this may sound counter productive to many who have worked on social and economic justice causes in the past, allowing the vast majority to claim allegiance to the 99% can only further the cause.

Keeping the pressure on while not enunciating the specific solutions we want keeps the movement from fracturing and forces the policy makers to attempt anything and everything to make us happy. We should use this to our best advantage by keeping it going and growing. Maybe they’ll decide we want medicare for all, maybe they’ll decide we want strong global warming/environmental legislation, maybe they’ll decide we want full equality for LGBT citizens, maybe they’ll decide we want comprehensive immigration reform, maybe they’ll decide we want a new WPA/CCC/TVA/etc., maybe they’ll decide we want a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood, “maybe they’ll settle for publicly funded elections?, an increase in the minimum wage??, lowering the social security retirement age while removing the cap??? No? Perhaps they want us to break up the monopolies??!?, or some vague notion of “liberty and justice for all”!!!?!?!!!. What the hell do you people want anyway?!??!?!?!”

Maddening? Crazy like a fox.

Lets keep ’em guessing and keep ’em relenting on issue after issue.

Cross posted on Dailykos

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Hitting our Heads on the Debt Ceiling

Sometimes we’re a bunch of idiots. As a nation I mean, not so much as individuals (though some would certainly qualify). I’ve seen people advocating for not raising the debt ceiling and I honestly understand the frustration that leads to that argument. Those who advocate this position are really just upset that the country is carrying a deficit and going deeper into debt every day. They are thinking that $14.3 Trillion is an unimaginable sum and scratching their heads as to why the ceiling would need to be raised even further. They figure that by not raising the ceiling, it will force the government to reign in spending and balance the budget. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true.

No matter what the final budget that comes out of Washington this year looks like, nothing changes the fact that we’ve already budgeted for the current year, and unless it’s raised, we’re going to hit debt ceiling. In fact, we already have, but Treasury Secretary Geithner took action to “create additional headroom” so that the department could continue to fund obligations and effectively extending the deadline to August 2. These are “measures” such as raiding government retirement funds for their treasury bonds. This is not good.

President Obama knows this is playing with fire saying:

“The full faith and credit of the United States is the underpinning not only of our way of life, it’s also the underpinning of a global financial system. We could actually have a reprise of a financial crisis, if we play this too close to the line….”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also sounding the alarm, noting a failure to raise the ceiling could cause:

“severe disruptions in financial markets,”

Even former Fed Chair and fiscal conservative guru Alan Greenspan says in plain English that he’s “scared” and calls the games being played over the debt ceiling an:

“extraordinarily dangerous problem for this country.”

Okay, but why is this such dangerous stuff? Why doesn’t it make sense to enforce the ceiling and let the government slash everything they need to in order to regain fiscal sanity?

I don’t want to sound alarmist here, but this really is important. There are real consequences to not raising the debt ceiling that would impact everyone in this country, potentially setting us back to the the great depression. Our country is already in trouble with a sluggish economy and huge levels of unemployment (myself included). Failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause credit rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to downgrade United States’ debt, just as they did on Monday to Greece’s. They did this because they felt that:

a default on some debt appears “increasingly likely.”

There are several negative consequences for us if this happens in the US. One is that the cost of borrowing will increase so that those lending us money, such as Japan, China and the UK, will demand (and be able to get) a higher rate of return in exchange for taking on the now riskier debt. This is also true for individual bondholders, companies who invest in T-bills, etc. Some large bondholders may, if the situation gets dire enough (although I don’t think it will), unload some or all of their US debt, causing a spike in the interest rate.

Another consequence is that the US government itself, the largest holder of Treasury bonds, with about $8.5 Trillion invested in them, may start to dip into these bonds to pay debts. These bonds are currently being held in trust funds (see my last article which references how these differ from discretionary spending here) for things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Selling them would destabilize Social Security and wreak further havoc on an already underfunded Medicare/Medicaid system. It would also have the effect of flooding the bond market with securities that nobody would want to buy, further driving up the interest rate and thus the cost of debt.

A flood of Treasury securities on the market will spur the Federal Reserve to purchase bonds if they wish to keep the lending rate low, putting more money into the system and lowering the value of our currency. This would have a deleterious effect on our buying power as citizens and thus create a huge drag on the world economy. Nobody would want to hold US dollars because there would be increasing fear that a government default would erode the economy. This in turn causes a panic induced “sell” mindset among currency traders, pushing the value of the currency down.

If the Fed opts not to purchase the bonds, interest rates would skyrocket, causing a those who can even get a loan right now to defer. This would have the impact of further reducing economic expansion through business start ups or freezing demand based upon borrowing. Because of the above factors, the stock market would also likely plunge due to falling demand and skittish/risk averse investors not wanting to get soaked. Falling demand would in turn precipitate another round of layoffs because, contrary to conservative ideas, companies hire when there is more demand, not when taxes are cut.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the government would either have to default or immediately fill an an estimated $125 Billion per month hole (most likely with cuts). This is equivalent to approximately 40% of government spending, a Tea Party wet dream. If this occurs, it will almost certainly effect all functions of the government causing mass layoffs which further damage the economy. Lower levels of employment also further reduce the tax base of the government and increase demand for government services such as Unemployment Insurance, food assistance, cash assistance, etc. It also has the effect of further reducing market demand since people without income will spend significantly less.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the approach the right wingers want to take. They are attempting to force us into a choice between austerity and default. Nobody really wants the latter because of the reasons outlined above, but to those who wish to “drown [government] in a bathtub“, the former is pure bliss. People like Grover Norquist would love to force this on us again and again in order to roll back the great society and new deal. They’re taking the nation hostage over it because it could, in “one fell swoop“, eliminate the programs that the right has been fighting for years. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Headstart, Pell Grants, etc. Programs that help the poor, elderly, weak and disabled. Programs that prevent many people from slipping out of the middle class.

These are the kinds of cuts that come as the strings attached to IMF bailouts. Why do you think they’re revolting in Greece?

Time and again, it has been shown that recessions are when government spending is most needed, and in fact increasing spending puts people back to work putting money into people’s pockets and increasing demand, thus healing the economy. When people have more money and have economic security, they will spend more, creating more demand and more demand means more jobs. This is Keynesian Economics, a well known and simple formula that was proven to work back in the 30’s and 40’s. This is a time when we need to increase government spending, not decrease it, even if it causes a larger deficit. This will help pull us out of this recession and bring us toward greater and broader prosperity, it worked during the Great Depression and there is no reason it wouldn’t work today. While our immediate deficit and the national debt are important long term concerns, we must take a more long term approach to them, incurring more debt now, but coming up with a solid plan to pay it off.

Those on the right want to convince us that that there are only two choices here, default or austerity, but this is a false choice. There is actually a third option, tax increases. If we are serious about paying off the debt, and I know I am, we must implement tax increases, such as the Schakowsky Plan, on those who make the most in our society. Those who make the most benefit the most from the infrastructure provided by our government, and should therefore pay more for the privilege of living under it. If the government wasn’t there with all the incumbent legal, military, police and judicial protection their money receives, these people would have their wealth stolen. In anarchy, the bandits wouldn’t head to the ghetto, so it’s only fair that those who are benefiting the most from the government pay more for it. It’s the only just way to eliminate our deficit and pay off our debt.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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Changing the Conversation on the Budget: An Idea for Good Governance

As a Precinct Committee Person for the Washington County Democrats, I’ve taken it upon myself to meet my neighbors and update their voter registrations. As I speak with people about various topics, including the budget, and as I’ve spoken with people in the past about the budget, it has become clear to me that virtually nobody knows what the budget actually looks like. People have their ideas, but they’re often skewed, misinformed or just plain wrong. This has an obvious negative impact on any budget discussion in our country. If people don’t know where their money is going, how can they effectively debate what should be done?

Part of the reason for this is an intentional mingling of all income and expenditures from all sources, even if taxes are raised and distributed independently from one another. Some examples of this are, Federal Insurance Contributions Act-Old Age, Survivors, & Disability Insurance (FICA-OASDI, commonly referred to as Social Security), FICA-Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance (UI). These funds are raised, administered and distributed as trusts, separately from the general budget. Unfortunately (from a clarity standpoint), these trust funds have been combined with other federal funds, resulting in a picture of the budget that looks like this. By combining these trusts with the general budget, it makes it appear that Defense is 18.74%, interest on the debt is 4.63%, and all the other departments of the government are only 19.89% of spending. This provides an inaccurate description of how our taxes are spent (and how they’re raised).

What happens when you separate the trust funds (aka. “mandatory spending”) from the rest of the budget? The Defense Department suddenly looks much more robust at 43.32% of “discretionary spending”. This is followed by interest on the debt at 10.7%. Everything else is a total of 45.98% (the next largest expenditure is for the Department of Health and Human Services at 5.13% and it shrinks substantially from there). Looking at discretionary spending will allow for a more honest debate about what we can/should cut and possibly where we need to raise more revenue.

But how can we educate people most effectively? That’s where the idea for a “tax receipt” comes in. The idea of a “tax receipt” is that the government should start sending out receipts that break down each taxpayer’s share of taxes into easy to understand information and graphic depictions. A simple mailing like you receive yearly from the Social Security Administration detailing your Social Security Account would be all that’s needed. It should separate out social security and medicare, showing personal contributions to each program and each program’s revenue and expenditures as well as projections into the future. This would give people the knowledge to address problems with these specific programs (or not touch them if they’re working). It should spell out what your amount of income tax paid was and how it was spent, line by line. This way, people could see that they spent, $XXX on the military, $YYY on veteran’s benefits, $ZZZ on highways, bridges and transportation, etc. This type of mailing should detail total revenues, disbursements, and projections into the future. It should also show the current and projected deficits, the national debt and “your portion”. Reigning in the debt is not a conservative issue, it is an American one and this would help clarify the conversation on how to do so.

A statement of this sort would help to redefine the debate, changing the focus and bringing the conversation out of the realm of the imaginary budget into the realm of the actual budget. If expenses were broken out so that it was obvious that the military is almost 45% of all discretionary spending, nearly equal to all other government spending on everything else, perhaps more people would see the need to cut it back.

This may even bring on more support for certain tax increases. It would help groups to point out that through tax breaks and loopholes, the wealthy are able to substantially lower their tax burden. It would also make the comparison more stark when someone looks at the total amount they pay compared to corporations. By using the tax receipts of wealthy people who are willing to pay more (like Warren Buffet), you could easily demonstrate the need to eliminate the cap on Social Security taxes and apply them to all sources of income. Currently FICA-OASDI (Social Security) taxes are only applied to the first $106,800 of “gross wages”, but does not apply to investment income (interest, dividends, capital gains).

There are many proposed solutions out there regarding raising taxes, but I like the Schakowsky Plan for adding new brackets for income above $1 Million. This would be a lot cheaper for the rich than the Eisenhower era tax brackets were, while providing stability to the system so they could continue their lifestyle. A tax receipt would help provide the knowledge base to balance the budget through this or other progressive means, such as those outlined in the People’s Budget.

As Jim Wallis said:

Budgets are moral documents.

We need to educate people on the facts if we want to establish a moral and just budget. This idea will help do just that.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos.

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Mr. Obama, It’s Time to Launch a New Apollo Program

I occasionally get forwarded one of those emails from some unwitting friend calling for a one day boycott of gasoline. They say something like: “Don’t buy gas on May 30th to send a message to the oil companies that we won’t stand for higher gas prices.” My universal response has been to tell my friend that if they want gas prices to go down, stop driving a car entirely, buy a bicycle, don’t use any fossil fuels if at all possible. A one day boycott is a laughable concept on its face as it doesn’t change the behavior of the companies that are being targeted. Even if everyone agreed not to buy gas tomorrow, they’d simply go today or the day after tomorrow causing a bump in sales on the days around the “boycott”.

The issues surrounding energy policy, however, run so much deeper. Those of us in the reality based community acknowledge that the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing the last few years is likely tied to global climate instability. We also see the pollution caused by our dependence on fossil fuels resulting in increased incidence of asthma, allergies, and other conditions and diseases. We see that nuclear power is not the answer because it leaves behind poisons that cannot be gotten rid of and the risk of catastrophic failure is just too high. There is also the little problem of our dependence on fossil fuel’s effect on our foreign policy. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is, in large part, driven by the desire to control the world’s second largest oil reserve. Afghanistan is important, not because it has oil, but because it stands between rich natural gas and oil fields in Turkmenistan and the the Arabian Sea and has been in talks with Unocal since the mid-nineties to create a pipeline to export these resources. Not to mention national security problem of being so dependent on oil producing nations, many of whom coordinate their actions through OPEC.

The current policies are driven by entrenched interests, consumer demand, the state of our transportation infrastructure (ie. lack of alternative transportation modes), relative price of fossil fuels when the above named cost are externalized (nationalized), etc. Obviously, a one day boycott won’t do a darn thing in the face of these factors. The question then becomes, “What can we do about it?”

For all the reasons I’ve listed and more, it is imperative that we make the transition to a clean and renewable energy system as soon as possible. Our economy is currently at the mercy of those who control the oil spigots. If OPEC chooses to tighten supply, prices not only spike at the pump, but on everything that uses oil or gasoline in its production or transportation to market…which is to say, nearly everything. If it is our national policy to attempt to gain control of the spigots to prevent said economic disaster, then we pay for it in blood and treasure. The true cost of oil, between the wars to gain/protect access to it, the environmental impacts, the government purchased automobile infrastructure and the direct subsidies to the oil industry is hard to estimate. I’ve seen estimates all over the map, but according to a comprehensive study done in 1998 by International Center for Technology Assessment:

The majority of people paying just over $1 for a gallon of gasoline at the pump has no idea that through increased taxes, excessive insurance premiums, and inflated prices in other retail sectors that that same gallon of fuel is actually costing them between $5.60 and $15.14. emphasis added.

And that was in 1998, when gas was just over a buck! If you simply use an inflation calculator to help determine today’s range, it’s more like $7.73 to $20.89. That doesn’t include the change in the price at the pump of about $3 a gallon. So, perhaps an estimate of between $10.73 and $23.89 would be a more accurate range, the average of which is $17.31. If we knew that it costs us over $200 to buy a full (12 gallon) tank, how would that impact our driving habits? How would it compare with alternative fuel vehicles? Would Amtrak start looking like a better option?

And what about our power plants? Our whole system is set up to burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas or use nuclear as a “clean” alternative. While the coal companies want you to believe in “clean coal”, there really is no such thing. Mining the coal certainly hasn’t gotten any safer. Natural gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is linked to dozens of cases of water contamination. Nuclear, as I’ve stated already, is both perilous and poisonous. The radioactive waste is simply too toxic and the power plants too dangerous.

The interests allied against us are strong, determined and entrenched. They have pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench and the inertia of a sedentary, complacent, uninformed American public and the system that already exists. We will need to be equally determined, and while we do not have the resources of the fossil fuel companies, we do have a more powerful force, the power of the people.

It is well past time for us to take action. To force our politicians to stand for us, the majority of the people who feel the myriad harms of the current system. We need real leadership from Mr. Obama. We need to call upon the President to take a bold new step, as President Kennedy did in his 1961 address to congress launching the original Apollo Program. He must enunciate a broad vision of a future free from dependence on fossil fuels and propose an aggressive timeline for moving us toward a clean energy future, a new Apollo Program. If he will not willingly take this step, it is time to bring the force of our collective voice to him. We need him to realize that this is not just a matter of pollution, climate change, disease, war and national security, it is a matter of justice.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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Deflating Conservative Arguments: The Flat Tax

My neighbor in the apartment across the way is a good-natured centerist who is very interested in issues of taxation. He and I often get into discussions related to our tax system and he’s brought up the idea of a Flat Tax. It sure sounds like a good idea: everyone pays the same percentage of their income. After all, he argues, why should someone making a lot of money pay a higher percentage?

The problem with this idea, of course, is that it’s ultimately regressive, taking a more meaningful chunk of money from the least fortunate in our society. The counter question being, why should someone making only a little money pay the same percentage of their income as someone making much more and is it fair to tax them at the same rate?

Follow me below the fold where I level the Flat Tax in my continuing series Deflating Conservative Arguments.

I’ve found that a lot of people don’t understand how our current progressive income tax system works. Many people think that the tax bracket you reach on your last dollar in income is the one you pay on all your income. I’ve heard people say things like “I got a $2000 raise, but it bumps me into a higher tax bracket” with a disparaging tone in their voice that belies the fact that they’ll be making more money. Fortunately, they won’t really be paying the higher rate on all their income. For example, a single person pays 10% on their first $8500, 15% on their next $26,000, 25% on their next $49,100, and so on. So if you make $34,000 and get a $2000 raise, you’ll be in a new tax bracket, but you only pay the new tax rate (25%) on your last $1500, and your total tax liability will be $5125. This computes to an effective tax rate of 14.23% ($5125/$36,000).

Okay, so now that that’s all cleared up, what about the flat tax? Even some of my more liberal leaning friends have been suckered in by this one. The proposal is that everyone pays the same percentage in federal income tax on all of their income, though proposals vary as to what the percentage should be. In 2008 Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed a 17% flat tax rate. Let’s use this as our example because there is simply no concrete proposed rate that flat taxers are rallying around.

As you can already see by looking up at the previous example, a 17% rate is higher than the 14.23% rate that someone making a modest $36,000 pays today. The break even point is $48,438, meaning everyone making less than that gets a tax increase under a flat tax and everyone making more than that gets a tax break. Let’s look at the lower and upper end of the spectrum for greater relief. Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson (unrelated to former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson) raked in $4.9 Billion ($4,900,000,000) in 2010. Though I know this is investment income and therefore subject to the capital gains rate, let’s pretend that it was counted as regular income taxed at the normal income tax rates. If this were the case, Mr. Paulson would be paying an effective rate of 35% under our current system or around $1.715 Billion. If his taxes were slashed to 17%, he would be paying around $833 Million, a savings of around $882 Million. On the other hand, a single person with no children living at the 2010 poverty threshold of $11,344 pays $1277 in federal income tax for an effective rate of 11.25%. If we instate the 17% flat tax, that would raise their taxes to $1928, a hike of $651.

So the question of fairness arises. What is fair? Is it just to lower billionaires’ taxes by half, but increase taxes on the poorest? Is it just? To me, the issue always come back to these simple questions.

So, what is a fair and just way to pay for our society? I believe that those who make the most money have benefited from the system much more than those who make the least. The poor tend to stay poor because they have the deck stacked against them from the get go. If both parents are working and struggling to make ends meet, children are not as able to succeed. If they live in an economically depressed area, they are likely going to schools that don’t have the resources to hire the best teachers or have the equipment necessary to prepare children for college. If you live somewhere where your life is in constant danger due to high crime (due to poverty), it makes it pretty darn hard to study. Conversely, the well off tend to become richer because they have safe places to grow up and don’t have the added stresses of poverty. They go to the best schools with the best teachers and the top of the line equipment, live in the cleanest, safest neighborhoods, and have parents who have the resources to help them achieve. The disproportionate amount of money spent on all of the services that our society provides such as schools and public safety go to the wealthier areas. This is because their local tax base (or private donations) keep their areas nice because they, as anyone, care deeply for their children and want them to succeed. The problem is that not everybody starts out at the same place, so to pretend that is the case is just fantasy.

The reality is that we’re all in this together and we need each other to succeed. Because the wealthy benefit more from our society, and the safety and security it affords them, they should pay more to keep our society (and the government that administers it) strong. It’s the only just thing to do.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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On Compromise and Capitulation

In my cross post of last Sunday’s article regarding the Rules for Republicans (as sited on the Oregon Tea Party website) titled “Wow. Just Wow.”, this comment on my sparked my attention:

And yet you don’t have to browse (1+ / 0-)

around on this forum for very long to see the mirror image of that attitude among some commenters here, only they believe these things about Republicans as a group.

These are the people who decry the Obama administration for negotiating and compromising with Republicans in Congress in order to pass legislation.

I agree with you, that people with this attitude are an obstacle to progress, but we should recognize that they’re on the left as well as on the right.

While there certainly are people in the Daily Kos community who do believe the flip of the Rules for Republicans about Republicans, I’m not sure why the commenter chose to state that these are the same people who “decry Obama for negotiating and compromising with Republicans in Congress in order to pass legislation.” I certainly believe that while Republicans in Congress are wretched, I don’t believe that the average Republican voter is. As stated in last week’s post, I tend to find them “misguided, deluded, inaccurate, lacking the facts or simpleminded”, but not evil. I do however fault Obama and the Democratic leadership for willingly undermining the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” So I responded:

When compromise is unnecessary (0+ / 0-)

…then why use it? At this point, with Republicans in control of the House, compromise is necessary, but when Dems had a 60 seat majority in the Senate and control of the House and Presidency, why compromise with Republicans? Why even talk to their side if they’re ultimately unwilling to vote for the legislation? We’d get better policy which would result in better political outcomes. There is also a difference between compromise and capitulation.

to which said commenter then replied:

Of course Democrats never really had (0+ / 0-)

a 60 seat majority. They had for a brief time after Franken was seated, 58 Dems, 1 socialist and 1 Lieberman. And before that, they had 57 Dems, 1 socialist and 1 Lieberman. And of those Dems, a good block of them were/are weevily backsliders.

As I recall, Lieberman threatened to block health care reform if there was a public option in it. Health care reform got watered down largely through having to negotiate with Democrats in the Senate, not the Republicans!

Honestly, I really get tired of hearing people complain about compromise being capitulation. From my experience in negotations as a lawyer, this criticism strikes me more as a sound bite cliche rather than an accurate description of the results.

The first point here, while accurate, is a nit pick. I was referring to the Democratic caucus which includes Sanders (not really a problematic guy) and Lieberman (a tremendous pain in the ass). The second point is also true, the Dems had to negotiate with the Dems, but they also for some inexplicable reason (perhaps to “appear reasonable”?) brought Republicans into the discussion. The third point is what really rose my eyebrows. I think a lot of people don’t understand the difference between compromise and capitulation.

Here’s the New Oxford American Dictionary definition of Compromise:

Compromise, n. an agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

.

Here’s the definition of Capitulation:

Capitulation, n. the action of surrendering or ceasing to resist an opponent or demand.

As you can see, a compromise is based on mutual respect and mutual power. Activist organizations engage in direct action campaigns to alter a power relationship. When a corporation, for instance, has all the power and abusing a community, there’s not much an individual can do about it, but if a lot of community members organize, they can start to challenge the corporation’s actions because they’ve altered the power balance. If they negotiate first, they will lose because they have not demonstrated their power, and are therefore not considered worthy of compromise. However, when they use this power to shut down a store, pursue a crippling boycott, or participate in mass demonstrations, the opposition suddenly views them as worthy of concessions. While it does not succeed in all cases, it is almost always better than doing nothing at all.

Organizations, politicians and constituencies capitulate when they have not demonstrated power, even if they have all the power in the world. This is where both Obama and those of us on the left failed in the health care debate. We were fractious (as usual) and sedentary. The right was united in their opposition and vocal. They dominated the news and won the publicity battle. While Obama did eventually pass a weak bill that included the moronic individual mandate, he had an opportunity (an I would say a responsibility) to lead and he failed. Had he taken a position on the issue and fought for it, the outcome would’ve been a more robust reform package, a more energized base, and a demoralized opposition. This could’ve been a home run.

So here’s my response:

When you start from a weak position… (0+ / 0-)

you’re negotiating at a disadvantage. Obama took “single payer” or “medicare for all” off the table from the get go. This worsens the bargaining position. He also didn’t fight. Compromise is not always necessary (or at least not to such an extreme). I know Lieberman and the corporate Dems are/were the issue, but why not go to Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, etc. and stump for the strongest possible plan instead of just saying, “well, we can’t do it if Joe/Max/Kent don’t want to go along.”?

Obama’s unwillingness to fight for progressive policy on anything is what makes him a capitulation machine. If you fight and lose, at least you’ve fought and the people would have your back. But negotiating out of the gate is a recipe for failed policy and bad political outcomes. The president is responsible for generating a strong negotiating position for his desired policy. He must take it upon himself to get out there and generate the pressure on those dissenting voices within his own party and the opposition. He did so against Kucinich, so I know he knows how. This only leads me to the conclusion that weak policy is what he had in mind in the first place, so capitulation was not only the outcome, it was the game plan.

The difference between compromise and capitulation is in a compromise, both sides get some things they like, but nobody gets everything and a capitulation is when one side gets most or all of what they like and the other side gets very little or none of what they want. The difference is determined by how one side is seen by the other side of the negotiation. If you are seen as weak, the outcome will be capitulation to all of the demands of the other side (in this case, the insurance industry and their bought off congress critters on both sides of the aisle), if you are seen as strong, you may in the end compromise, but you’d get a lot more out of the deal then a complete cave in and abdication of your values.

Some progressives say that the health reform measure was good. Some say it was better than nothing. I agree with the latter, but just barely. The individual mandate is a corporate giveaway and a politically toxic idea (witness how it was used in 2010). Obama and therefore the Dem leadership started from a weak position, lessened that position by not fighting and eventually came up with a plan that would enrich the insurance companies and help mobilize the right while demoralizing the left. You can call it what you will, but I call it capitulation.

While compromise is sometimes necessary, it is not always. Many times we can attain a better policy and more positive political outcomes through standing by our highest values of justice, equality and liberty.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos.

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Wow. Just Wow.

As part of the US Uncut movement, on April 1st I sent an email to the organizer of the local Tea Party group in a (perhaps naive) attempt to bring the two groups together around a common cause. Here’s my email:

Subj:Portland Uncut/Portland Tea Party Alliance?

Hi XXXXX,

I’m involved in the Uncut movement an was thinking that the Tea Party may be open to working together to get corporations who are not paying any taxes to pay their fair share. While I know that we may disagree on what represents a fair share and how those tax revenues should be used, I’m sure we can agree that the corporations who are paying nothing while making huge profits (or even claiming a tax rebate), are cheaters and need to pay into the system they use, just like the rest of us. As you said at the TP rally on tax day 2009, it’s not a partisan issue, so I hope we can come together around tax fairness for these corporate tax cheats. What do you think?

Ross Lampert

I had watched a video of the Oregon Tea Party event in 2009 where the organizer spoke and he seemed somewhat reasonable. I got a response back from him fairly quickly saying:

Ross,

I’ve cc’d your message to the current TP chair.

With kind regards,

XXXXX

I asked him to keep me posted, but never heard back. A friend from the Uncut movement asked me on the 21st if I ever heard back from them and when I said I hadn’t, he said it wasn’t surprising and sent me a link from their website to a posting called Rules for Republicans.

I read this and was blown away. I understand not agreeing with someone’s ideas or their reasoning, (see my series: Deflating Conservative Arguments), but this was way beyond the pale. This seems more like hate speech than any rational thought and it actually scared me. When we cannot have a conversation with people who disagree with us, when there is no trust, when they think of us as “evil”, what is next? This is the kind of talk that lead to the genocide of my people. This is the kind of talk that lead to the genocide in Rwanda. It is wretched and it doesn’t belong in our political discourse.

Here’s the first of the “Rules for Republicans”:

1. The era of liberalism is over.
Today there are no liberals in power; there are only radical leftists. They are the enemy, not the opposition. Their ideology is not simply wrong; it is evil.

In all quotes from this document, Italics are in the original, bold is emphasis added.

In their 8 stages of genocide, Genocide Watch outlines the first stage as Classification. This means dividing people into “us and them”. The main counteraction is creating universalism among the population. For instance, we’re all Americans. While Classification is not in and of itself problematic, when combined with the third stage, Dehumanization, it becomes a veritable tinderbox of hatred.

In this first Rule, it is clear that the author is not only classifying those of us on the left as “radical”, but also dehumanizing us. This is not an isolated incident. I know people on the other side who I strongly disagree with on many topics, but I don’t think of them as the enemy or as evil. I may think of them as misguided, deluded, inaccurate, lacking the facts or simpleminded. I may even have real hatred for the policies they advance. But evil? Really??? They think we’re EVIL?

2. It is impossible to be too cynical about the intentions, motives, and truthfulness of radical leftists.
They will always exceed our most horrifying expectations.

Wow, according to Rule 2, we’re not only radical and evil, we’re worse than evil! One cannot be too cynical about our intentions because they’ll always exceed one’s most horrifying expectations! Um…what? I don’t understand my intentions, I guess. I thought I just wanted what’s best for all of us. I’m not really sure what my motivations are either. I suppose they must be rooted in pure evil and borne of satanic vice. I guess I just don’t get myself…oh, that’s because I’m obviously not able to be truthful!

3. Radical leftists are continually seeking to destroy America’s historic foundations, particularly our Constitution.
Their goal is to rebuild upon the rubble according to their own evil vision and to gratify their insatiable lust for tyrannical power.

Oh, that’s my goal! I had no idea. It seems that the author of this document has no knowledge that the foundation of our republic is based on the work of the father of liberalism, John Locke. Our constitution was written by liberals steeped in Lockean philosophy. “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, ya know, that quote so oft used by the tea party which is taken from some declaration is a paraphrase from Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government. According to Rule 3, we want to destroy the constitution! I’m not sure what our “evil vision” is that we want to replace it with, but this whole point is ridiculous. While I do think we need to amend the constitution to eliminate corporate personhood and thus help to roll back wealthfare (aka. corporate welfare and welfare for the rich), I’m not in favor of scrapping the document itself. Or at least I didn’t know I was…until now.

4. Radical leftists are continually seeking to infiltrate and undermine American institutions.
They are especially attracted to institutions where there are unearned wealth, sinecures, and ambiguous standards of accomplishment.

I’m not even really sure what this means. I suppose it means that we’re trying to destroy the government from within by…working? Or perhaps somehow gaining positions that require little or no work but pay anyhow? How? Your guess is as good as mine.

5. Our people must always be seeking to restore America’s tested, historic, foundational principles and to guard and protect our Constitution and our cherished institutions.

Again with the us vs. them. So, the Tea Party is the defender of true American values, principles and guardian of our constitution. Oh, I get it, if you say you support the constitution and its values and principles even while the politicians you support actively work to undermine those same institutions, values and principles, you’re the true patriots!

6. Civility must never trump truthfulness.
Civility is a highly commendable virtue; truthfulness is vastly more commendable.

‘Cause you can’t be both truthful and civil. Sometimes truth is indeed hard for someone to take, but it doesn’t mean you should be nasty in how you say it.

7. Ideology must never trump truthfulness.
We Republicans need to constantly examine our own ideological principles to make sure they are, first and foremost, true. Then we must proclaim them boldly and straightforwardly.

HahahHaHAHahhahhahHHAHhahAHHAhahahHAHahA!!! Oh, let me breathe for a second…hahahahhahHHhahhahhhahahahahHhaAhaHaHHahahAhaAhahahaahahaahhAhaaa. *whew* Wow…damn.

I don’t really even know where to start here. This is the most hilarious thing I’ve read from the right in a long time. They don’t usually know how to use humor, but this is outstanding. What?!? It’s not meant to by funny? Yeah, this must come from someone who doesn’t understand the meaning of the terms “ideology” or “truth/truthfulness”. If they did, perhaps they wouldn’t support people like Jon Kyl.

8. Never try to out-compassion a bleeding-heart radical leftist.
Conservatism is the most compassionate — and most truthful — political philosophy there is. Radical leftism, by contrast, is based on false promises intended not to better the lives of anyone, but to recruit gullible, ignorant people as “useful idiots.”

Another doozy. The last line in this Rule seems an awful lot like psychological projection. If Conservatism were the most compassionate political philosophy, why are there so many people going hungry in America? Why are there so many poor? Why after over 30 years of trickle down economics is there a growing income gap? These are not merely Republican problems, they are problems that both parties have contributed to over the years, mostly because they have both become more conservative and have thus followed the failed policies of supply side “voodoo economics“. If Conservatism was truthful, it would recognize its own failures.

9. Challenge radical leftists to live up to their own publicly proclaimed ethical principles.
They never do. They just fake it. (Cf. Alinsky Rule #4: “Make the enemy live up to their [sic] own book of rules.”)

Well, they may have a point here. A lot of what we believe in may be impossible to live up to in our current society because of the way our society is set up. I’m not sure it means we are faking it, it just means that some things are not possible to do. While I am all for living in a more ecological way, if I need to visit my family in Chicago, bicycling there is not really a viable option. I must say however, that there are an awful lot of members of the Tea Party who are on government support (social security, medicaid, medicare, employment insurance, etc.) or use government infrastructure such as roads or mass transit to attend the rallies to protest the taxes that pay for these services. While I try to live up to my ethical principles to my utmost ability, I’m not sure most Tea Party members even understand the impact of the policies they’re advocating upon their own lives. I also find it endlessly amusing that people on the right are quoting from Alinsky. Most of them have probably never read his work as it seems some of his statements are grossly misunderstood.

10. Refuse to use the favorite language of the radical left.
Their language is always intended to spread lies and propaganda and to create confusion, fear, and retreat, not to convey truthful information.

Again, this is intended to sow the seeds of distrust. It is one thing to be skeptical, but quite another to accuse a whole group of people of lying and spreading propaganda.

11. The language our people use should boldly convey real information accurately, precisely, and above all, truthfully.

With all the emphasis that the author of these Rules puts on truth, you’d think that they’d make more of an effort to make sure their statements are true. I rarely (if ever) hear any constructive ideas coming out of the Tea Party. They just say that our budget is out of whack and we need to get it under control. I agree with this, but the question is “How?” Their only answer seems to be to take a hatchet to social programs and foreign aid. This approach will not get us to a balanced budget, it’ll just cause a lot of misery while still requiring a serious look at cutting military spending and increasing taxes on the rich.

12. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
This is Alinsky Rule #5, word for word, but we Republicans have a special advantage in applying it to radical leftists because ridicule or satire, to be really effective, must be rooted in truth. That’s why leftist ridicule flops; it’s usually based on lies.

Indeed, ridicule is man’s most potent weapon, however I’m not sure why they think leftist ridicule flops as the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are top rated comedy shows. These shows are all about ridicule of the right (though they do ridicule politicians of all stripes). There aren’t too many good comedians from the right, but hey, you can’t win ’em all, right?

13. Attempting to reason with intractable, hardcore radical leftists will always end in futility.
Such people are incorrigibly anti-rational, so it is impossible to establish an authentic interlocutory interface with them. The only realistic way to engage them is to crush them politically, using any and all truthful and lawful tactics.

Therefore we shouldn’t bother to get into debate, it will only be frustrating. Let’s just go home and polish our guns instead. As the last Rule, it seems that this is trying to say, we’re right, they’re wrong, so there! This is also saying that it is impossible that we may have a valid argument. Whenever I see my hardcore reactionary rightist cousin, we have some good, productive and interesting conversations. Perhaps those in leadership positions on the right don’t want their flock talking to the other side for fear that our ideas may prove to be more powerful than theirs. Perhaps we may even sway some of the faithful to look at things in a different way. Maybe some might defect. If we don’t work to heal our political discourse, we will only become more polarized, leading to further rancor; the possibilities that flow from that are frankly frightening.

Rule 13 has the only use of the word “lawful” in this set of Rules and I’m glad it’s there. The beliefs outlined in these Rules are what leads people who are mentally unstable to commit acts of political violence. This seems to be a shot across the bow, an attempt to raise the bodies of anyone who is willing to buy into this madness. I maintain a steadfast hope that this kind of thinking could soon be eradicated and we can return to a more civil and reasonable discussion of policy and the effects thereof.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos.

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