Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/13/14

October 13, 2014

White poverty exists, ignored by Leonard Pitts Jr. for the Miami Herald.

There are more poor, unemployed white people in the USA than there are poor, unemployed black people, and poor whites, too, are targets of prejudice.

I remember being told as a boy that “white trash” were a lower class than “Negroes”.

But the basic cause of poverty is the same in the slums of Detroit or small towns in Kentucky: Employers shutting down and moving out.

Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes by Michael Samish, Robert O’Harrow Jr. or Steve Rich for the Washington Post.

Since 9/11, police have seized more than $2.5 billion from 61,998 motorists without search warrants or indictments.  At what point to the police stop being protectors and start being predators?

Tom Cotton and the era of post-truth politics by Steve Benen for MSNBC.

The GOP candidate for Senate for Arkansas tells blatant lies and gets away with it.

The postmodernist philosophy is that there is no such thing as objective truth, only different ways of looking at things.  This philosophy seems to have taken hold in American politics.

Andrew Cuomo Is a Very Flawed Concept by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

Given a choice between a right-wing Democratic candidate and an extreme right-wing Republican candidate, This is why I plan to vote for the Green Party candidate for governor of New York.


The passing scene: Links & comments 7/11/14

July 11, 2014

Oligarchy Blues: Without fair elections and a viable legislative process at the federal and state levels, the republic no longer exists by Michael Ventura for the Austin (Texas) Chronicle.

This writer sums up what’s wrong with the USA very briefly and very clearly.  I highly recommend reading this.  Like Ventura, I don’t have a complete answer for what to do, but, like him, I think it is necessary to break free of the assumption that the alternatives that the political system offers are the only possibilities that exist.

In Fever Dreams Begin Irresponsibilities, Texas Edition by Hendrik Hertzberg for The New Yorker.

The Texas Republican Party is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Enemies like these make Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton look good.

Fighting for Oil by Michael Klare for TomDispatch.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

It’s no coincidence that the world’s various “trouble spots” torn by “age-old conflicts” happen to be rich in oil and natural gas.

The legacy children of the Honduran coup by Dan Beeton for Aljazerra America.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

It’s also no coincidence that the unauthorized child migrants sneaking into the USA come from countries such as Honduras, with its U.S.-backed military dictatorship, and not from democratic countries such as Nicaragua.

The French Do Buy Books – Real Books by Pamela Druckerman in The New York Times.  [Hat tip to Laura Cushman]

France and some of the other European governments forbid on-line booksellers to offer big discounts on book prices.  As a result, French people pay more for books, but independent bookstores are much more plentiful.

The fall of a superpower by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Brazilians assumed that being Brazilian made them inherently superior in World Cup football  and were shocked at their team’s defeat by Germans.   But superiority in anything is never inherent.   Excellence takes continual hard work and hard thinking, and, even then, there’s no guarantee that a smart, determined competitor won’t out-do you.

Ian Welsh on the way of thinking we need

October 25, 2013

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh, whose blog link is on my Blogs I Like page, wrote four excellent posts this week on the current economic and political situation and how we should think about it.

They are all worth reading in their entirety, along with the comment threads, but here are some highlights, with links.

The preferred business model today is to make it so that no one owns anything: everything is unbundled, instead of owning it, you lease or rent it and the moment you can’t pay it all goes away.  This is what “cloud” computing is about: a revenue stream. Lose your revenue, lose everything.  Ownership of DNA sequences, ownership of seeds, effective ownership of your intellectual property because it appears in someone else’s pipe (like Google using people’s endorsements without compensating them), you will own nothing, and all surplus value you produce in excess of what you need to (barely) survive will be taken from you.

To put it another way, the current business model is value stripping.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.

We’re going to hit the wall.  We’re going to have fight a dystopic panopticon police state in which ordinary people are not allowed to own anything of real value, let alone keep any of the real value they create.  We’re going to do this while the environment comes apart, while we get battered by “extreme weather events”, droughts, water shortages and hunger.

That’s the baseline scenario.  That’s what we have to be ready to deal with, to change as much as we can, to radically mitigate to save hundreds of millions or billions of lives, and to make billions of lives good, instead of meaningless existential hells.

via Baseline Predictions for the next Sixty Odd Years.


The politics of a new generation

October 7, 2013


For most Americans, things have been changing for the worse for a long time.  Good jobs are disappearing.  Wages are stagnant.  Health and other job benefits are disappearing.   More and more people are permanent temporary workers or permanent part-time workers.  American industry is being hollowed out.  The current generation of Americans is the first that could not look forward to a better life than the generations that came before.

If this is a democracy, why do we put up with it?  Why isn’t there a strong political movement for change, like the Populist movement, the Progressive movement, the New Deal or the civil rights movement?

It seems to me that for real political change to take place, two things have to happen, and one of them hasn’t happened yet.  The first thing is that people come to understand that the ideas of the past no longer fit the conditions of the present.  This has happened.  The second thing is that people have to reach a new consensus on what is to be done.  This hasn’t happened yet.

I think there were two big changes in the 20th century about how Americans think about politics.  The first came out of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the second out of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America.”

My parents were young in the 1920s, when the American consensus was rugged individualism, small government and isolation from world affairs.  This changed as a result of the Great Depression and World War Two, and a new consensus emerged.  I was born in 1936.  My thinking was (and is) shaped by my memories of the war and my parents’ stories of the Depression.  I am part of the that consensus.

I grew up with a national consensus that the country needed strong social safety net, government regulation to prevent corporate abuses and strong alliances against totalitarian foreign aggressors.  This was the baseline of American politics—the point of departure for any suggested change.  It was the baseline for Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon as much as for Democrats.  You could move one way or the other from that baseline, but this was your starting point.

By the 1970s, that consensus had lost its hold on Americans, but it wasn’t until the Ronald Reagan administration that a new consensus emerged.  The new baseline was tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, law and order at home and a free hand by the U.S. government abroad.  This has been the starting point for Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as much as for the elder and younger George Bush.

Now a new generation has come of age to whom the assumptions of the Reagan era are not taken for granted.   The new generation does not remember the Oil Embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis or rioting in the streets.  It is not hung up on differences of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Many of them are highly educated and unemployed or with marginal jobs, while loaded down with debt.  All of them are being told that the good jobs are going away and never coming back, and nothing can be done about it.  They fit the profile of a generation ripe for revolution.  But while there is unrest, there is as yet no consensus on which direction in which to go.

Young people turned out to elect Barack Obama and Democrats in 2008, but the Obama administration turned out to be as committed to the assumptions of the Reagan era as its predecessors.   The labor union movement seems divided as to whether to stick with the Democrats and follow its more radical members.  I don’t know what to make of the Occupy movement.

What I don’t see is anything comparable to Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, which was both a complete philosophy of politics and economics and a blueprint for change for the Reagan era.  Nor do I see any movement strong enough to force the political establishment to respond, such as the labor union movement of the 1930s or the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

My own political thinking is backward-looking.  I want to defend the social safety net, the separation of corporation and state and basic civil rights, and to restore basic protections that have been taken away.  My political desires are modest, but as things stand now, bringing them about would require a radical transformation and overthrow of the American power structure.

And the people on top positions are acting more pro-actively to forestall any threat to their power than anybody as the bottom is acting to bring about progressive change.  I’ll write more about this in a followup post.


What does it take to enact a law in the USA?

September 30, 2013

In a country with a parliamentary system, a Prime Minister is chosen by the party with a majority in parliament, or by a coalition of parties if none of them has a majority.  The Prime Minister then proposes laws and normally they are enacted by parliament.  If parliament rejects an important bill, the Prime Minister has the option to call an election, and let the people decide which they think is right.

Here in the United States, the process is different.  In order to become law, the Affordable Care Act has to get a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and 60 out of 100 votes in the U.S. Senate.  It then had to be signed by the President and reviewed by the Supreme Court.  It seems to me that, whether or not you agree with the law, that ought to be enough.

Source: Buffalo News

Hat tip to Buffalo News.
Update: President Obama signed a law providing for continuation of pay of active-duty military personnel.

But now the Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government unless the Obama administration delays implementation of the health care act.  They don’t have the votes to repeal the law, so they are using a blackmail tactic instead.

In my opinion, Obamacare is a flawed plan which is unlikely to work as intended.  But it is law, and millions of individuals and thousands of businesses have made plans based on the schedule for implementing it.   Shutting down the government would be harmful to the country, but there would be even more harm from the economic uncertainty created by doubts as to whether a law really is law even after it is enacted.

Granted, there are worse things that could happen than a temporary shutdown of government.  But it creates unnecessary disruption, unnecessary hardship and also unnecessary expense, because it is more costly to shut down and restart than to continue operations.  It is terrible way to run a government.


The politics of defunding Obamacare

September 26, 2013


Click on What Republicans don’t understand about the politics of Obamacare for more from Ezra Klein on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Hat tip to jobsanger.

Chris Hedges on the failure of the liberal elite

August 21, 2013

Click on Death of the Liberal Class (and scroll down through breaks in the text) for more from Chris Hedges.

Elections do not a democracy make

July 17, 2013


Another thing we Americans should take into account when criticizing the Egyptian political culture is that our government for decades has propped up an Egyptian dictatorship which has crushed a free press, independent civic organizations and the other institutions that make democracy possible.

Few despots are powerful enough to stamp out organized religion, so, when no other means are available, opposition to the dictator often takes a religious form.  This was true of Iran under the Shah, it was true of Poland under the Communists.

I don’t say that Egypt would be a well-functioning democracy if only the U.S. hadn’t interfered.  I don’t know enough to make a statement one way or the other.  I do say the Egyptians and the other peoples of  the Middle East would be better off if the U.S. government ceased interfering with their government and politics.

Anyhow, we Americans have a highly dysfunctional democracy ourselves, and no foreign power to blame it on..

The cartoon is by Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Hat tip to jobsanger.

Recommended reading 7/17/2013

July 17, 2013

Here are things I read recently that I found interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Chalmers M. Johnson reviews ‘Gold Warriors’ by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave in the London Review of Books (2003).

Gold WarriorsThis 10-year-old book review is utterly fascinating.  Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold tells the story of how the Japanese military looted the whole of eastern Asia of its treasure and buried it in hidden underground vaults in the Philippines, much as described in Neal Stephenson’s great thriller Cryptonomicon, and how some of it was discovered and used to fund top-secret activities of the Central Intelligence Agency.   Weird, but evidently true, according to Chalmers Johnson, an expert on China, Japan and U.S. policy in the Far East.

Are Corporations Trying to Distract Us With Social Issues While They Take Control of Our Economy? by R.J. Eskow on AlterNet.

Robert Frank, in What’s The Matter With Kansas? wrote about how Republicans persuaded “values voters” to base their vote on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control rather than on their economic self-interest.  R.J. Eskow argues that the Democrats are doing just the same thing, except using the reverse side of these issues.   The problem for American voters is that the only meaningful choices the Democratic and Republican parties offer us are on issues that don’t threaten the holders of economic and political power.

Time to Fight for Something Better Than Obamacare by Alejandro Reuss for The Washington Spectator.

The Affordable Care Act will leave the United States with a certain number of people with good individual or employer-provided private insurance, a lot of people with bad private insurance, some people helped by Medicare or Medicaid and some with no insurance at all.  Should we be satisfied with that?  Alejandro Reuss argues that Americans should demand a single-payer system (Medicare for all).

Why the City of Miami Is Doomed to Drown by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone.

Miami might well be doomed even if its leaders face up to the threat of rising sea levels and worsening tropical storms.  Which they aren’t.

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed by Michael Grabel in ProPublica.  (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt)

Taken for a Ride: Temp Agencies and ‘Raiteros’ in Immigrant Chicago by Michael Grabel in ProPublica.  (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt)

It’s tough to be a temporary worker.  It’s infinitely worse to be an immigrant temporary worker.

Jack Hunter the Southern Avenger

July 12, 2013




Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is under attack for employing Jack Hunter, a former member of the pro-secessionist League of the South, who broadcast commentary as the Southern Avenger.

Hunter, like a number of other white Southerners, is blind to the fact that the Confederacy was organized in defense of slavery, not of state’s rights.   But on a lot of issues, he makes a lot of sense.  Back in 2011, I linked to his videos on Wikileaks, neo=conservatism and extremist language, which I think stand up very well.  Whatever criticism is aimed at Rand Paul for his association with Jack Hunter also applies to me.

I don’t expect to agree with everyone on everything.  In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, there will be a lot of people with whom I agree on some things and disagree on other things.

Now there are some political positions, such as justifying torture, that are so morally reprehensible that I would not support their advocates under any circumstances.   But for me, having the wrong idea about the issues in the Civil War is not one of them.

Maybe I would be more of a political purist if there were more liberals who were outspoken in opposition to undeclared wars, presidential death lists and warrantless surveillance.

Click on Rebel Yell for the article by Alma Goodman in the Washington Free Beacon that generated the controversy about Jack Hunter’s record.

Click on Rand Paul is not ready for prime time for comment by Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner on the implications for Rand Paul’s political future?

Click on Rand Paul’s Aide: a Dunce on the Confederacy for a thoughtful discussion by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic.

Click on Southern Avenger – “conservative, libertarian, independent” for Jack Hunter’s web page.

What do you think?  Is Jack Hunter beyond the pale?  Should Rand Paul repudiate Hunter?

The election cycle

May 30, 2013

Can't Act

Click on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for more cartoons like this.

The high cost of politics

May 23, 2013


Hat tip for the infographic to United Republic.


How money power overrides citizen power

April 10, 2013

This brief TED talk by Lawrence Lessig highlights the power of money in American politics and what a small number of people are able to exercise that power.  I recommend the video, but I don’t think things are going to change until there is a populist movement in this country strong enough to challenge the power and question the assumptions of the elite class.

I think the campaign financing reforms that he suggests are a good first step, although they are not a solution.  The greater problem is the power of an interlocking elite class in government, high finance and giant manufacturing corporations, in which people move back and forth from high level jobs in Washington and Wall Street and everybody in these circles takes it for granted that Social Security and Medicare are a problem that has to be solved.

The great American reform movements of the past—abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the populist and progressive reform movements, the organization of labor unions, the civil rights movement—came from people who did not accept the choices offered by the two major parties, and whose power did not depend on governmental favors.

Hat tip to Daily Kos.

Liberals and the wisdom of conservatism

April 2, 2013

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, wrote in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion  that good people are divided because liberals and conservatives fail to understand the moral foundations of each others’ values.  Haidt identifies as a liberal, and yet says the conservatives typically have a broader and better understanding than liberals do.

Haidt and his colleagues created what he called a Moral Foundations Questionnaire, which were intended to show how strongly people felt about moral behavior in five categories: (1) Care vs. harm, (2) Fairness vs. cheating, (3) Loyalty vs. betrayal, (4) Authority vs. subversion, and (5) Sanctity vs. degradation.  Later they added (6) Liberty vs. oppression.

righteous.mindThey found that self-identified liberals and progressives cared most about Care, a lot about Liberty, some about Fairness and very little about anything else.  Conservatives, on the other hand, cared about all six Moral Foundations in roughly equal measure.  Libertarians, who don’t fall into either category, called most about Liberty, a lot about Fairness and very little about anything else.

Haidt said that while American liberals care about individuals and their welfare, American conservatives balance this with concern for the virtues necessary to uphold social order.  You don’t help the bees by destroying the hive, he said.  He said libertarians are even more limited; they are liberals without bleeding hearts.

When conservatives were asked to fill out questionnaires based on what they thought a typical liberal would think, they were reasonably accurate.  But when liberals were asked to put themselves in the place of a typical conservative, they failed utterly.   That finding startled me, and I wonder how many Fox News and Rush Limbaugh fans were included in the survey.

But his basic point is correct.  The liberal virtues of freedom, reason and tolerance can be practiced only in a stable society, and a stable society requires the conservative virtues of duty, authority and tradition.

Just as liberals are outliers within American society, Haidt wrote, Americans are outliers among the people of the world.  Americans value the well-being of the individual over all else.  Most other cultures set a higher value on community and divinity.   Haidt became aware of this on a visit to India, where he came to appreciate the virtues of a hierarchical, tightly-knit society in which people weren’t treated equally or even justly, but everyone had a place in society with its duties.

He cited an article on cross-cultural comparisons by Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen, which coined the acronym WEIRD—Westernized, educated, individualistic, rich and democratic—to define what sets Americans apart from the rest of the world.

Haidt participated with Brazilian psychologists in a survey of moral values of rich and poor people in Recife and Porto Alegre, Brazil, and in Philadelphia.  Interestingly, they found that the richer and more educated Brazilians and Americans had more in common with each other than they did with the poor and working-class people of their own countries.  The poor people thought breaking rules was wrong regardless of circumstance, while the educated people said that it depended on whether breaking the rule did any harm.

I wish Haidt had followed up on that finding.  What it suggests is that so-called WEIRD values are a natural consequence of wealth and education.  I would like to believe that liberalism represents the direction of human progress, rather than a fair-weather philosophy that goes overboard in adversity.

Click on YourMorals.Org to take Jonathan Haidt’s Morality Quiz

Click on Of Freedom and Fairness for Haidt’s article in Democracy Journal about the current political situation.

Click on Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World for a feature article about Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen and their cross-cultural research.

Click on The Knowns and the Unknowns for a criticism of Haidt’s philosophical assumptions by John Gray in The New Republic.


How redistricting foils majority rule

April 1, 2013

The first two charts below show how Republicans used redistricting to tilt election results in Michigan.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The two charts are in an excellent series of articles by Bloomberg News on how gerrymandering enables Republicans to win a majority of House of Representatives seats even in states where they get a minority of the votes.   The concluding article proposed a solution, a non-partisan commission to draw election districts, as was done in California under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Click on the following links to read the articles.

Republicans Foil What Majority Wants By Gerrymandering

Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes

California Nonpartisan Districting Ousts Life Incumbents



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