Posts Tagged Liberty

This is What Terrifies Progressives


“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is the merger of corporate and state power.” ~ Benito Mussolini

There are only two real parties in American politics, but perhaps not the ones you think. Our system promotes a two party state because of the mechanics of our elections. The winner take all system that we employ causes any major third party challenge to split votes off from the dominant party who’s views most closely match their own, thus throwing victory to the party most opposed to their views. This is why it is extremely unlikely, and exceedingly rare, to have a third party candidate win. I’m all for making changes to the winner take all system, but while we have this method, we need to figure out how to deal with the reality of how it works in order to elect more progressives.

Simply put, our issue is that we have one party that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporations and another is a partially owned subsidiary of corporations. It’s not so much the Republicans and the Democrats as it is the Corporatists and the Progressive-Populists. Or as Alan Grayson put it in reference to Occupy Wall Street on Real Time with Bill Maher:

…they’re complaining about the fact that wall street wrecked the economy 3 years ago and nobody’s held responsible for that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying 20%, 20% of our national net worth accumulated over the course of two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that wall street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of wall street, and the other party caters to them as well. That’s the real truth of the matter…
Bill Maher on WhoSay

This is why even when we get reform, it’s usually watered down and full of corporate welfare (wealthfare). The much hyped and touted Affordable Care Act with its individual mandate is a huge giveaway to the health insurance corporations that are the problem in the first place. Yes, there are some good parts of the law and in the long run it may help move us toward a Medicare for All type solution, but with 60 Senators, a solid 257 seat majority in the House, and the Presidency, why couldn’t Democrats pass something better? Likewise, why was there such a struggle against creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Why were the Dem’s so vexingly ineffective at creating real, lasting, and substantive change as a majority party? And why was 2010 such a bad year for D’s at the ballot box?

The simple answer is because the Corporatist still outnumbered the Progressive-Populists. Corporate Democrats like Max Baucus and the thankfully retiring Joe Lieberman (who was so Corporatist that the party activists kicked him out of the party in 2006) join with Corporatist Republicans (is there any other type?) to prevent progress. Progressive legislation is not only good policy, but good politics. When you pass popular legislation, people vote for you. I specifically refer to Progressive-Populists as such because it is the combination of popular ideas (ie. Populism) and ones that contribute toward social and economic justice, or progress, for the large majority (99%?) of regular people (ie. Progressivism) While this is a fairly simple idea, many Democrats either don’t get it, or are so busy collecting campaign donations from their corporate backers that they just don’t care.

This gets at one of the root causes of the problem. That we have a system that requires candidates to raise obscene amounts of cash in order to be heard allows those with obscene amounts of cash to simply buy the candidates. Generally speaking, the group of those with obscene amounts of cash include those in the top 1% and corporations. Corporations are mechanisms to aggregate wealth and therefore, the largest corporations usually have huge treasuries. With Citizens United v. FEC (pdf) giving corporations the ability to spend unlimited sums from their corporate treasury, the Corporatists will only become harder to beat. This is why we not only need a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations are not people and overturning this atrocious ruling, but one that also allows for the creation of a publicly funded election system with matching funds, like Arizona’s original system before it was struck down by the Supreme Court.

This would not completely solve the problem, but it would go a long way toward that solution. One of the consequences of the publicly financed system in Arizona was that because it opened the doors to just about anyone to run for public office, it allowed a lot of extreme right wingers to take control of the state. There are three reasons for this, the first is that the right was/is more organized than the left in Arizona, the second being that legislators are paid a paltry $24K salary making it hard to recruit quality candidates, and the third is that most of the legislative districts are drawn in a way that whomever wins the primary in one party or the other will prevail in the general. This combination of factors allowed the right wing of the Republican party to take over that party and the state government because they found extremists who would be happy to make $24,000 that they could run and get elected in the primary and subsequently the heavily partisan general. The left has not been so organized as to take advantage of the system in a way that pushes their partisans to take more progressive stances. They have also had a hard time recruiting candidates in many areas that are winnable. Arizona has a system whereby each Legislative District elects 1 Senator and 2 Representatives. While doing some elections research, I came across many examples of elections when the Democratic party won a State Senate seat, but did not even contest the corresponding House seats. This has lead to occasional control of the Senate, but decades in the minority in the House. In fact, because online records only go back as far as the 1974 election, I can’t tell you when the Democrats last controlled the House.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, however, represents a new hope for Progressive-Populism. Many people have cautioned about outside forces, such as labor unions or Democrats, co-opting the movement, but why shouldn’t the movement co-opt the Democratic party?

It should. The party is ripe for a takeover. In poll after poll, large majorities agree with the policies advocated by OWS, yet many occupiers shun traditional politics, opting only to protest rather than protest and vote. Many believe it is time for a complete revolution, but the public is not ready for this and pursuing this path would be deleterious, leading to a 70’s style fizzle out. As Daniel Quinn put it in Ishmael in reference to the movement of the 60’s and 70’s:

“The revolt hadn’t been put down, it had just dwindled away into a fashion statement.”

OWS should still rally and protest in the streets, but in order to stay relevant and powerful, it must transition into the political arena. If the OWS movement funnels its energies into taking over the Democratic Party at the precinct committee person level and running its own candidates on the Progressive-Populist platform it espouses, it can take real political power to make the country over as it sees fit. Alternatively, OWS could endorse candidates and hold them accountable to their values. This will require taking on (and taking down) incumbent Corporatist Democrats who stand in the way of progressive reform and winning in places that are not currently thought of as winnable for Progressive-Populist Democrats. With the right candidate and the Progressive-Populist message, Democrats can win in every district in the country. While there aren’t many who’ve tried, I can point to bold progressives like Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson as examples of Progressive-Populist Democrats winning in heavily Republican territory. It may not be as dramatic as occupying Times Square, but occupying the chambers, halls, and offices of congress carries much more power to fulfill our common values of Justice, Liberty, and Equality.

Cross posted at 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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Deflating Conservative Arguments: The Myth of Individualism

My rabbi recently told a story about a bunch of people in a boat. One of them started drilling a hole in the boat under his seat and everyone screamed, “What are you doing?!?”. The man drilling the hole said, “What business is it of yours? I’m doing this under MY seat. It doesn’t effect you.” The commentary is, of course, that we’re all in this together even if we think our actions don’t effect others.

To me this is a perfect parable for the myth of individualism. Conservatives have seized upon the idea of individualism to further their argument toward a more corporatist state. Their argument goes that individuals, given access to all pertinent information, will make the best decisions for themselves, their communities, their states and their country. It further considers these all to be the same thing; the best decision for the individual is the best decision for everyone. This obviously ignores any conflicts that may exist among individuals and between individuals and society. It also ignores greed.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is ‘individualism’ a ‘myth’?” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (subscription only), one definition of “myth” is:

Myth, n. A widely held, but false belief or idea.

According to The Free Dictionary, Individualism is defined as:

Individualism, n. Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.

Simply put, this is the theory that I described above. In order to believe in individualism, you must be willing to believe that what we do has no effect on the outside world, that there is no causal relationship between anything that we do and the things we see around us. It’s easy to put the lie to this by simply taking a look at any interaction between people with a material conflict such as the example provided by the boat parable, or perhaps this: the nuclear industry and those individuals working for it are making the best decisions for themselves, but it comes at a terrible cost to many others. The fact that we’re all in this together is why I call individualism a myth.

I would further argue that the myth of individualism causes self destructive behavior. There are plenty of stories of malfeasance to choose from, Enron, BP, fracking, Madoff, etc., etc., etc. All of these came about because someone thought it was the best thing for them to do. They didn’t consider the negative impacts on other people, the environment, health and safety, fairness, equality, justice or economic well being. The prime reason that the decisions leading to all of these crises are made is profit.

As Ambrose Bierce noted in his work the Devils Dictionary:

Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

It is beyond any doubt that individualism causes destructive behavior, but self destructive behavior? Well, consider that the individuals making the decisions on behalf of the corporations, or on behalf of themselves (as many of the top decision makers have incentives to make their corporations more profitable), just as the man drilling the hole in the boat, also must live with the consequences of their actions. In many cases, they might not feel those consequences immediately, but eventually, everyone is impacted.

But alas, this myth is a useful one when you’re trying to gain the support of the rural poor to advance the will of the super rich. Many of the people who make up the base of the Republican party are the same people who get beaten down by Republican policy. This is because, like most Americans, they don’t pay any attention to the policy after the election, so they believe the rhetoric. They believe in individualism because when you’re a farmer or rancher, you work the land and raise crops or cattle by the sweat of your own brow. This is the very appealing image of rugged individualism as portrayed by Reagan and before him Teddy Roosevelt. However, when you look at the results of policies of conservative governance, you see a widening of the income gap caused by upward redistribution of wealth.

Meanwhile, although the Republican party (and conservatives generally) espouse individualism as a core value, social conservatives don’t really want individuals to have any real choices that pertain to their personal lives. It really only takes one look at today’s war on women, or their fight against the rights of gay Americans, or their recent onslaught against labor. It’s clear that while they talk a lot about individualism, they really only like it when it means that corporations can do whatever the heck they please.

Many people have been taken in by the myth of individualism over the years. There are always those who are willing to believe that people can make it on their own, despite the fact that everyone needs the things society provides through our government in order to succeed. If it weren’t for our shared systems of education, transportation, sewage, water, (subsidized and regulated) power, public safety, dispute resolution (the courts), etc., it would be impossible for businesses and the individuals behind them to succeed.

The truth is that there really is no such thing as individualism. The whole concept is a falsehood, a myth. The reality is that we truly are all in this together, but in the minds of so many conservatives, you’re on your own.

Cross posted on Daily Kos.

Update: In the linked posting on Daily Kos, a few people have noted in the comments that there are positive aspects of individualism. This is not what the diarist meant to address. I was referring to individualism as a societal theory, not a personal trait. I’m specifically referring to people pursuing their individual self interest as is discussed in the free market ideological theories of Milton Friedman. Sorry if this was unclear.

In this vein, individualism causes destructive behavior because it presumes that what is right for the individual is right for all. This is a false presumption as what feels good to me might be to pillage the village, but clearly this would not be best for the village. People who see themselves as disconnected from the community (even if all they want is to be left alone), do harm to themselves and others whenever they act in a way that is harmful to society.

I’m not saying that we don’t have individual responsibilities or arguing that we should have some sort of big brother watching what we do, or that we shouldn’t be allowed to do things that we like. I am arguing however, that we have an effect on one another, whether we know it (or like it) or not.

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The time is Now!

Elections have consequences. In 2010, the Republican base, fired up by the tea party, continued capitulation of the Democrats and their unadulterated hatred of President Obama, swarmed the ballot box and delivered a crushing blow. Many legislative chambers, governor’s mansions, and congressional seats fell to the overwhelming anger of the revved up, conservative base dominated electorate. All the while, the milquetoast Democrats had disappointed, disaffected and generally ignored their base, and so in turn, the people who elected Dems in 2006 and 2008 just stayed home.

The Democrats never seem to get the message that the ideas of the left are much more popular than those of the right. They never seem to fight for our values. Our values are stronger than theirs. Our values are Equality, Liberty and Justice. These are foundational principles of our republic and they are incredibly powerful. But instead of consistently framing their messaging around these values, Democrats back away, compromise, lose faith in the fact that Americans side with the left on issue after issue and crumble in the face of conservative arguments.

The Republicans, however, always align their arguments with their values of “limited government” (even though they tend to grow the government), “constitutional rights” (although they tend to infringe on civil liberties) and “personal responsibility” (while they encourage corporations to externalize costs and internalize profits). They frame every issue around these key values and have gotten a lot of average Americans to buy into their world view through these values.

But it has finally gone too far. In their new found power, Republicans are proceeding to fire up the much larger liberal base by ignoring the vast majority of Americans in favor of catering to their ideologically driven base. Now is the time to build upon the the uprising in Wisconsin and across the Midwest.

It occurred to me recently that I cannot remember the last time that the left had a major offensive (advancing our agenda) legislative victory, but I can name a lot of major offensive legislative victories of the right. The fact that I can’t remember it is primarily because I was born in 1976 and the first President I remember is Reagan and secondarily because there hasn’t been one since at least 1980. You may argue with this, but I’m not talking about elections or court decisions, I’m talking about major pieces of legislation that advanced the progressive agenda. The Affordable Care Act is a gigantic subsidy to the insurance industry, so I don’t see it as a victory. Mostly, the things we’ve won on have been defensive victories, and while it’s important to defend what we’ve got, we’re not advancing our agenda and when we lose, our agenda is being rolled back. Many times, even when we win, we still lose. Had we prevailed in Wisconsin, our unions were still making concessions, so even if the right to collective bargaining is defended, we’re losing ground on pension and salary. What I’m saying here is that because we’ve been on defense for so long, we sometimes win battles, but we’re losing the war.

It’s (past) time to go on the offense. Republicans, emboldened by this past election are staging an all out attack on all fronts. They’re giving tax breaks to businesses that primarily help the wealthy, setting up future crises, while using the current budget crisis to kill public employee unions, attempting to disenfranchise reliably Democratic voters, waging war on women, the poor, disabled and elderly. They are trying to roll back government benefits to the people while bestowing them on the rich all while wrapping this in rugged individualism, limited government and “hey, it’s not in the constitution”.

But we’ve always been in this together,

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. ~ Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

had need for governmental protection from abuses,

The public be damned! ~ William Vanderbilt upon his doubling of fares on New York streetcars

and it is in the constitution.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. ~ Preamble of the Constitution of the United States (Emphasis Added)

And we have instituted real, positive, progressive changes in our society, and we can in the future. All it takes is for us to join together and organize. We have seen the rumblings of this in Wisconsin and I for one hope it continues. We must learn that rallies are all fine and dandy, but limited in their scope if those being protested will not heed the will of the people peacefully. Accountability through recalls is fantastic but horribly slow (especially in this case). There is some talk of a general strike which would be amazing, but how about some creative new tactics? Perhaps the good people of Wisconsin should visit their Governor at his Mansion 3 miles Northeast of the Capitol at all hours of the day and night. Perhaps its time to bang on some pots and pans so that he hears us. Perhaps.

Whatever those on the ground in Wisconsin decide, I’ll be there to help. I’m not going to physically go to Wisconsin as that would be a burden on both me and them, but I will send food boxes for strikers, I will gather donations, I will help organize. This is what we need and there’s a name for it…solidarity.

Which brings me back to my broader point, we on the left are too fractious. We organize around important issues when we need to be organizing around our crucial values. We each fight on our specific issue, but fail to get each others backs. We must realize that there are only two types of power the world has ever known; money power and people power, and people power is stronger if we have the numbers. However, as Ben Franklin made the point earlier in this post, we cannot fail to hang together. We need to unite the various movements of the left. The labor movement, the environmental justice movement, the peace movement, the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and human rights movements. We need ALL progressives to come together, to stand together, to fight together. The fate of our country, our republic and our economic well being depends on it. This is an epic struggle for liberty, equality and justice and we must not falter. The time is now.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos

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