Thursday, May 24, 2018

Turning Out the Left – In Answer to Jim Wright



Something was in Debs, seemingly, that did not come out unless you saw him. I'm told that even those speeches of his which seem to any reader indifferent stuff, took on vitality from his presence. A hard-bitten socialist told me once, “Gene Debs is the only one who can get away with the sentimental flummery that's been tied onto Socialism in this country. Pretty nearly always it gives me a swift pain to go around to meetings and have people call me ‘comrade.’ That's a lot of bunk. But the funny part of it is that when Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it. That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself.”
 Heywood Broun, quoting an unnamed socialist
in It Seems To Me, 1925‑1935 (1935), p. 38

Turnout. Elections in the United States hinge on turnout. With one of the lowest turnout rates of  wealthy countries, elections in the United States hinge on turnout.
On Twitter, Jim Wright (@Stonekettle) asks, “Describe to me that candidate. Folks, give me a list of the attributes a Democratic candidate MUST have in 2020 for you to show up and vote.”
He is complaining that liberals don’t show up and vote and that this is part of why Republicans dominate the government. I don’t think this is quite accurate; liberals do show up. But they are concentrated in cities and therefore under-represented in Congress, Senate, and Electoral College. Having cows or shopping malls in a district, it seems, raises the districts’ political power. But there are liberals everywhere, and if they turned out in the suburbs and the rural districts, it would tip the balance of elections.
So, Jim Wright is asking the leftist Tweeters who object to the Democratic as well as Republican candidates – what it would take to get them to show up? The answers I have seen so far are unenlightening. Most leftists vote Democratic, though without much enthusiasm. The ones who do not vote have specific issues important to them. This is not so surprising. In marketing we know that people often do not know what they want until it is offered to them. The saying, perhaps from Steve Jobs, is “No-one asked for the iPad.”
It is not different in voting. I remember young men and women who were inspired by Bernie Sanders. Who knew? Sanders’ socialist rhetoric and socialist policies turned out to be what young people wanted, and they registered and voted. It was not enough, especially since Sanders did not win the nomination.
So here is my answer to “What would it take to get these people to show up and vote?”
Representation. The first thing, surely, is representation. The candidate has to be one of us. “When Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it.” Identification with a Presidential candidate is important; in Converse’s sociological work he found that the largest plurality of voters voted on identification. There has been a great deal of fake representation on both sides of the aisle: pictures of W. Bush showing how folksy he was by cutting brush on the ranch he sold as soon as he left office, Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.” And all the while we have elected officials using their offices – mostly quite legally – to enrich themselves or protect their own wealth. Trump is surely the ultimate example. Trump’s supporters hear themselves in his anger. The Trump vote is the ultimate spite vote. But we have the Clintons as another example: as much as social class exists in the USA, they have joined the upper class; their daughter has even married a wealthy banker. By comparison, we have Senator Sanders, who is one of the least wealthy Senators.
Integrity. The second thing is integrity. 33 House and 17 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to weaken the already weak Dodd-Frank banking law. Those 33 included many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose constituents were hit especially hard by mortgage fraud and abusive mortgage billing and collection practices during the 2008 crash. Those Democratic votes in the House didn’t matter to the outcome – the House Republicans had the votes to pass the law – but those Democratic votes were a slap in the faces of constituents who have lost their homes.
Courage. The Senate votes did matter. Which brings us to the third thing: courage. A leader inspires no-one if they don’t stand up. “Courage,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Cowardly leaders, cowardly representatives; these will betray their promises as soon as they are threatened.
Honesty. Politics is notorious for attracting dishonest people, even sociopaths. Donald Trump is the obvious example. But even more garden variety politicians routinely deceive their constituents. A certain amount of, at least, dissembling seems necessary public office. But political betrayal has become routine and we need to be shut of it.
The characteristics of a President acceptable to the left are representation, integrity, courage, and honesty. The policies such a President might pursue:
1.     Life.
a.     Health care for all, at a price all can afford.
b.     An end to stochastic terrorism in schools.
c.     Comprehensive police reform. Public oversight of police conduct in every jurisdiction. No more police shooting down innocents.
d.     Immigration reform. No more undocumented underclass. No more disappearing children. No more turning away desperate refugees.
e.     Environmental policies that will preserve the world for our children.
2.     Economic Fairness
a.     An economic policy made for all.
b.     Honest work for honest pay.
c.     Remove the barriers to the formation of labor unions.
d.     Provide economic support in a dignified manner; no more harassing people who apply for it.
e.     Rely on Keynesian economics; neo-liberal economics has failed.
f.      Regulate the income distribution.
g.     Regulate finance. The bankers had their chance; they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down as well as houses, which were nailed down.
3.     Civil rights
a.     First and foremost, women’s rights.
b.     But also, black lives matter.
c.     And so do Muslim and Mexican and Jewish lives.
d.     And LGBT+ lives.
4.     Make peace a goal of foreign policy. Abandon Kissingerism. Abandon brutal interventions  in foreign countries.
5.     Protect the environment and ecology of the United States and the earth.

Sounds remarkably like Senator Sanders’ Presidential platform, doesn’t it? Perhaps he was popular because he had popular ideas.
If these policies are to be adopted, how might this be done, and what effects would that adoption have?
This platform would, I believe, win over all but the most extreme leftists, but it would do so at the cost of the votes of more conservative Democrats. Because the US system only allows for two major parties, US political parties are necessarily “big tents” – broad coalitions. If the goal is to build a Democratic coalition that defeats the fascists of the Republican Party, it will take strong leadership and careful planning to build a coalition that keeps the more conservative factions in the Party.
At this time, I see no interest in building such a coalition in the current Democratic Party leadership. Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, voted with the Republicans in support of their bill weakening Dodd-Frank. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York voted to approve the torturer Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been actively opposing leftist candidates in Democratic primaries. And just today House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that any effort to impeach Trump must be bipartisan.
With the Democratic leadership opposed and no major leftist leader within the party, I do not see how the left is to be brought to enthusiastically support the Democratic Party. From the viewpoint of the left, all the Democratic Presidential hopefuls are compromised in some way, some quite seriously. The endless influence of money and the national security state in US politics makes it near to impossible to rise to a position of leadership in US politics without major impropriety. People who want to be President after all want to wield the power of the office and so make the compromises. I find some hope in feminist activism, the strength and energy of the Resistance, and candidates like Jess Phoenix and Cynthia Nixon, but hope is not a plan.
In any event, I intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if it is someone I hate. I do not want the fascists in power for another minute.
Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. – Eugene V. Debs, “Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act.” Debs was jailed by his political opposition.

Monday, May 21, 2018

In Which Josh Marshall Discovers the New York City Bourgeoisie

There’s something about New York, New York City, that is, that is at the root of the Trump phenomenon. […] New York City is a liberal city, probably the most progressive big city in the country, as far as it goes. Yet its power structure, its money class includes a whole community of people with extreme wealth who live in a culture in which predation and acquisition is the norm. – Josh Marshall, Predators of New York

Firearms and Terrorism in the USA


– 1 –

“I don’t even want to send my kid to school anymore. I’m not joking.” – tweet, @DrPsyBuffy
“It's been happening everywhere, I always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too.” – Paige Curry, Santa Fe High School student.
So here we have it. America’s parents and schoolchildren are a population as scared as any in a country where terrorism is routine.
School shootings are stochastic terrorism, enabled by the easy availability of semi-automatic weapons in the USA and the failure of socialization of men. The events themselves are semi-random. What is not random at all is the easy availability of firearms and the propaganda that exacerbates all manner of fear in order to sell weapons. First, of course, firearms manufacturers want to sell more firearms; they have contributed millions to the NRA and “The NRA does the bulk of lobbying for the industry.” Second, there was the 1977 radical-right takeover of the NRA. The new NRA leadership was and is racist and misogynist. They are fine with firearms as long as white men have them; everyone else, they would rather … not.
But this campaign to distribute firearms as widely as possible and the firearms industry’s endless advertising validating use of lethal force, has empowered an unexpected group, unexpected because the NRA leadership and weapon sellers did not realize it even existed in significant numbers: racist and misogynist terrorists.
Our children and their teachers have been and are being terrorized. But there might be worse to come.

– 2 –
In the afterword of Alt America, entitled “Fascism and Our Future,” David Neiwert, a journalistic expert on the modern US radical right, addresses the question of whether Trump/Republican movement is fascist. His discussion is worthwhile, and I recommend the whole book, but I want to draw your attention to the following:
[…] fascists have, in the past, always relied upon an independent, movement-driven paramilitary force capable of intimidating their opponents with various types of thuggery. […] Members of various white-supremacist organizations and bona fide paramilitary organizations such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percent movement are avid Trump backers. Trump has never made known any desire to form an alliance with or to make use of such groups. (p.  364.)
One cannot, however, assume this will last, or that other members of this administration or state or local officials have no such desire; indeed, it is likely that many do. Should that time come, as in past fascist movements, the racist and misogynist terrorists who are now terrorizing our schools will provide ready and well-armed participants. It will not be a well-regulated militia; as with historical fascist paramilitaries, it will be more of an armed rabble, but a terrifyingly well-armed rabble with excellent modern communications technology.
It would take time to organize such a thing, and there would be substantial opposition, especially from girls and women, who are after all targets of a misogynist group, so I think – I hope – there is not an immediate threat. (On the other hand, many white women might be persuaded that a paramilitary force will protect them, so perhaps the opposition will be less than I expect.) Still, if we do not begin to defuse this, by restricting the civilian availability of battlefield weapons and perhaps addressing the social issues that fuel the terrorism, it will be a continuing threat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lines Crossed


Yesterday, at the behest of its religious extremists, the USA moved its embassy to Israel to Jerusalem. The Palestinians of Gaza protested, 58 were shot by Israeli troops, and reportedly nearly 2,800 were wounded.
Also, Gina Haspel, who tortured for the CIA back in the aughts, has acquired enough Democratic votes, including that of the Senate Democratic leader, to win approval as CIA director.
Two lines, I think, have been crossed. First, a major foreign policy shift has been undertaken to satisfy an authoritarian religious minority. Second, the Bush/Cheney torture policy has been validated by a bipartisan consensus in the Senate.
F’ity F F F.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pragmatic Pacifism

(This is edited out of some comments on the US Civil War I wrote in Ta-nehisi's Coates blog back in 2012. All comments in that discussion have been taken down, so I am very glad I saved copies!)

I don't have any ideology in this area beyond objecting to the deaths of nearly 100 million and wanting to avoid a catastrophic global war, which seems to me scarcely an ideology at all.

If humans keep on believing that wars are a way to resolve conflicts, which many do, and the wars keep increasing in intensity and scope, as they have, and the weapons and strategies in capability, as they have, then there will be nothing left of human civilization. Opposing that is not idealism but pragmatism.

Regardless of what could have happened in the 19th and 20th century, it is important to continue efforts to make war less and less likely.

The Conquering Republic

A republic can be a democracy internally and a conquering power externally. Rome, from which we get the word "republic," was a conquering power and this was the intention of the theoreticians who invented classical republicanism. Republics can and do come into conflict.

We need a new ideal of governance. It is not enough to insist that a polity be democratic internally; it must exist in a world order of polities which respect each other. I do not see how this is achievable without most of those polities being themselves democratic internally; a ruler who tyrannizes their own people will not hesitate to go conquering.

Emaciation and Beauty

(This is a starting point, rather than a finished piece. Still worth thinking about.)

Audrey Hepburn nearly died of starvation when she was 16. She was living in the Netherlands in 1944 when Nazi Germany blockaded the country, and her weight dropped to 88 pounds. She had lifelong medical problems as a result of malnutrition from ages 9 to 16.

And yet she became an iconic beauty. After the 1930s, a period of epic poverty, we had a generation of knife-slender models. The trend, from what I remember, actually started in the 1920s, with the stylish uncurvy flapper, but it was after the lean depression and war years that the extremely slender woman became a model of femininity. And to this day we have women starving themselves to copy that look.

There is a lot of history here I do not know. It may be that part of the reason that emaciation became popular was because it was made popular; there were a lot of men who were threatened by the emergence of independent women and who wanted to make women weaker and ashamed of themselves. Or maybe not. But this is true: part of the model of beauty for a generation was an emaciated woman who was a survivor of wartime starvation.