by

Deconstructing the Constitution

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Don't let the wigs fool you.  These guys were radical hooligans!  They were also all white men, so, y'know, maybe change is good.

Don’t let the wigs fool you. These guys were radical hooligans! They were also all white men, so, y’know, maybe change is good.

It’s easy for us to forget that the founding fathers, now revered as the heart of a sage and long-lasting establishment, were actually a bunch of iconoclastic ruffians. I’ve discussed how they not only codified terrorism, but were actually basically terrorists themselves earlier, so no need to rehash that. It’s just become so easy for us to forget that they were, well, revolutionary. They were outside the normal bounds of their society, their beliefs were radical and different, and they similarly wanted to engender that same revolutionary spirit in future generations.

Instead, what happened in the wake of revolutionary fervor is what always happens: people forget that part of the revolutionary message is that spirit of ongoing change and instead settle down to revere every syllable uttered by that particular band of revolutionaries. This was never the intended message, but it became the message, especially by the time the dust settled on the Bill of Rights. People were so impressed and enamored with the ideas laid out by the early Americans that they forgot a core principle was a willingness to change and change and change again in exactly the same way that had first taken place. Many people can quote Jefferson’s line about renewing the tree of liberty with blood of patriots, but that gets mistaken as a call to violently defend Jefferson’s precise text rather than his real message of staying radically revolutionary in spirit, of always making changes.

Yes, some changes have been made in the 240 years since the Declaration of Independence. We took slavery out of the Constitution and even allowed women and eventually minorities the right to vote. Equality started to actually fan out to mean some semblance of equality among people, not white male landowners. But somewhere along the way, we completely lost sight of the notion that the Constitution was there to be changed, that it was written with specific procedures to make it a living document. Instead, we insisted on holding it up like any holy text: doctrinally perfect, to be interpreted perhaps, but never altered, never touched, only hallowed forever and ever amen.

It is bizarre that the calcification of the Constitution in our societal perception has coincided with revolutionary changes in the shape and nature of our society. We have become more diverse, more impacted by technology, more connected, more entertained. The social, technological, and economic changes of the last 16 years alone are breathtaking and beyond the average person’s full comprehension. And yet this time has brought the least legal change to our highest governing document, with the exception of a handful of Supreme Court cases that have upheld or struck down certain interpretations thereof. While the change brought about by some of these rulings has certainly been notable, it has only served to further crystallize the notion that the document they are interpreting is itself sacrosanct and that only these high priests we call justices are able to properly tease out any alterations in our understanding. This is not for mere mortals to take on.

We have amended the Constitution just once in the last 45 years. And that was to ratify an amendment originally proposed in 1789! It’s also the amendment of the 27 (17 since the Bill of Rights) that made the least tangible change, simply impacting the timing of pay raises for elected representatives. It is the amendment that is the most technical in our Constitution and the one that impacts by far the fewest people. It is barely an amendment at all, and it is one of the oldest ideas we’ve ratified. So leaving this very much aside, the last change we made was in 1971, dropping the voting age to 18 to match the Vietnam War draft. Those 45 years* are the longest streak of untouched time for our Constitution since its original ratification.

Perhaps worse, we haven’t even proposed an amendment since the 1992 technicality of the 27th amendment was ratified. That’s 24 years of total stagnation, without any formal process for change even being initiated. If we leave out the trivial ’92 amendment, we have to go back to a 1985 proposal to give DC representation in Congress. And before that was the Equal Rights Amendment, the 1979-1982 proposal that somehow failed. That was at least a sweeping potential change that would have fundamentally altered our understanding of our Constitution. And perhaps that’s why it failed despite being an obviously good idea. Maybe after 1971 and the demise of Vietnam, we gave up on change. Maybe that’s when our perceived duty to the original sacred text of America overrode the interest in making society better or, to coin a phrase, “more perfect”.

The founding fathers would not be happy with this state of affairs, folks.

It’s not just because they were revolutionary bandits, though that’s a big part of it that really cannot be said enough. They were the insurgents of their age, the rebels, the outlaws and outcasts. This simply needs to be understood by everyone trying to engage with American politics. But beyond that, they had the foresight to recognize that the world would change after their passing. In the wake of yet another mass-shooting in this country, many of my friends have again raised the rallying cry about how far 18th century muskets were from the semi-automatic weaponry available in today’s open market. This is true, but is only one example among thousands of critical things that they could not have anticipated. The state of our economy and corporations are surely beyond anything that Jefferson and Washington could have fathomed. Corporate personhood, the surveillance state, and even instant communication from radio to television to the internet, all would have dwarfed their imaginations. There is so much that they cannot keep up with. And this is a big part of why amendments were featured in the Constitution and taken seriously with a reasonable ratification process: they knew their own limitations in their ability to anticipate the challenges of the future.

Yes, we obviously need to eliminate or significantly overhaul the second amendment. That should be trivial at this point to anyone paying attention, unless we want to become a society where leaving one’s house carries a 1% risk, over time, of dying in a massacre. But we also need to think more broadly and sweepingly about the Constitution itself and what it does and doesn’t guarantee at this point. And imagine ourselves to be founders, or refounders, creating something more perfect that what we had before. Would the founding fathers really not have enshrined access to healthcare as a right in a world of today’s modern medicine? Would they not have taken steps toward codifying greater equality in a society so governed by scarcity, inequality, and corporate greed? And even if you don’t think they would have agreed with these principles, they surely would have wanted the radicals among us to speak up and stand up for them, to advocate radically altering the Constitution or even casting it aside altogether in favor of something, well, more perfect.

As long as we cling to the original verbiage of the Constitution like a holy and unalterable text, we will be beholden to looking at the world like it stopped in 1789, or at least in 1971. But the world didn’t stop there, it is living and evolving daily, just as the Constitution itself was intended to. You can’t simultaneously defend the America the founding fathers wanted and advocate prolonging this level of stagnation. They would be ashamed of you, ashamed of us. They changed far more in their time than Bernie Sanders would ever advocate. It is a disservice to the principles of this country, such as they are, to insist on not making significant and sweeping changes in our own time.

by

A Pilgrimage

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, Marching to New Orleans, Tags: , ,

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish Catholic Church in New Orleans.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish Catholic Church in New Orleans.

On Saturday night, hours before the shooting in Orlando, I was driving for Uber. As I explained on Facebook at the top of the month, I have recently started driving for Uber while between jobs and possibly as the new quasi-full-time gig to enable more creative pursuits. The first step in getting back in a creative rhythm has been posting here more, which has itself been fueled by ideas from the many riders whose journey I help enable on a near-nightly basis while conducting this little experiment.

As I posted about in a later comment on that Facebook thread, these are the four key questions asked by the experiment:
1. Is this a sustainable way of replacing day job income?
2. Does this gig help facilitate a more creative/writing lifestyle?
3. Do I feel like I’m doing enough good? Or at least not doing harm?
4. Can I get a lot of writing material and inspiration out of the chance conversations that this gig creates?

So it’s Saturday, early evening, I’m just starting what I expect will be a long overnight shift and it’s not even dark out yet. It’s just after 5:00 PM and the French Quarter is crawling with tourists, locals, and attendees of the Creole Tomato Festival. I get a ping for a pickup at Cafe du Monde, the iconic open-air beignet restaurant, open 24 hours daily and boasting a line for many of them. I crawl slowly through the heavy traffic toward the green-and-white striped awnings.

A minute or so after pulling over, I’m greeted by what look to be three generations of women in the same family. The Uber was called by someone in her early twenties, while her mother and someone who could easily be her grandmother also pile in, the mother in the front seat and the others in back. However, the bespectacled potential grandmother is fully adorned in a spotless Catholic habit, modest shining cross at the center of a sea of black and white. She could have taken the veil later in life, but the dialogue later seemed as though she were a more distant relative of the great aunt ilk, while their status as family seemed almost undeniable.

They were relatively low-energy (a not uncommon trait of post-beignet du Monde pickups), but quite polite and clearly in awe of all the French Quarter had to offer in full bustle. I confirmed their destination as Canal and Broad Street, which already seemed of concern since the destination in the app just said “Canal Street, New Orleans” which is akin to saying “Main Street, USA”. They asked if I knew the whereabouts of the Seelos Church, which, through the nun’s particular accent, I couldn’t quite catch. I asked her to spell the location, but she said it was just on Canal and as long as we went up Canal, we’d find it. She said she thought it was near Broad or a little before. So off we went, slogging upstream through the Quarter like salmon climbing the waterless face of Hoover Dam. Once it became clear it could take us 30 minutes to reach Canal that way, I aborted (apologies for the turn of phrase, sister) and redirected eastward out of the Quarter to run back to the west and meet up with Canal around the freeway.

Once we hit Canal, it became pretty clear we’d misjudged the location of the church. A search revealed something about Dauphine Street, a fixture of the Quarter, and I despaired that we’d been just feet from it from the outset. They advised we redirect to Canal and Dauphine, but I pulled over and suggested we actually confirm the location of the church online before chasing more geese, already feeling a bit guilty I hadn’t done this in the first place. The youngest of the three pulled it up on her phone, discovered that there were two churches (a Seelos Shrine and a Seelos Parish) and after consultation about the relative locations, neither of which were remotely close to Canal Street, we opted for Seelos Parish as the more likely match. We were on a pilgrimage, it turned out, to where the nun had spent part of her early days, or at least visited decades prior. She said the church was very beautiful and she wished to see it again. It was clear in equal measure that her traveling companions were nonplussed about the church quest in their own right, but very much wanted the sister to feel fulfilled. We redirected in the direction of Seelos Parish, deep in the Marigny, and the sister confirmed that it had been close to the Mississippi as she recalled.

After a brief stint on the highway and a long stop-signy traverse through the Marigny, we pull up to a contrastingly glorious red brick church with a high steeple in the midst of a run-down neighborhood. Two robust heavy wood doors lie at the center and a sign on one side indicates that Saturday mass began two hours prior as it’s now just 6:00 PM. We’ve been on this adventure nearly an hour and the youngest is unsure the church is still accessible after the mass that must surely be over. She pops out to check the doors, crossing the street to the church, but finding no purchase on the unhandled wood doors. I’m just about to roll down the window to suggest she try around the side when a naked man rides by on a bicycle.

And then another. And a naked woman. And then a horde, hundreds long, of naked or nearly-naked bike riders.

After a gasp, the mother yells “Cover your eyes, sister,” a command which the latter ignores as we all half-stare at, half try to look away from the fleshy procession. The three of us in the car exchange periodic awkward expressions of disbelief, mine tending more toward the “that’s New Orleans” variety while the other two continually profess shock that such a thing can be happening. The awkwardness is pervasive for all of us, though when I steal a glance across the street through the flopping bodies, the shame/horror I see on the face of our stranded counterpart on the far sidewalk is enough to make anyone blush.

“Beautiful bodies, though,” murmurs the vaguely Caribbean accent of our elder pilgrim, prompting the mother to crack up in a mixture of nervousness and surprise. The nun, encouraged by this reaction, is then inspired to declare “The older you get, the more you see.” And then even I have to join in the laughter, because it’s all too real.

After the nearly interminable predominantly nude parade, the flashing lights of cop cars signal the tail of the bicycles, and the youngest of our cohort skips back across the street, looking older but otherwise no worse for the wear. She reports that the church is closed, deftly ignoring the 250+ unclothed elephants that just left the room. I suggest she try around the side, which she does, pausing only slightly at the notion of crossing this street again. Within minutes, she has discovered that it is indeed open for viewing and after a brief deliberation, they say it might be a while and they don’t need me to wait. I wish them a great night as they slowly exit the vehicle, still chuckling about this city of stark contrasts wedged between the waters of a sunken swamp.

Soon I was on my way, in search of the next person who needed to get to wherever they were going next.

by

The Problem is Poverty

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

PovertyPic

Domestically, we have one disease that kills more people than any other. That imprisons people in a life that falls short of their potential, that forces people into crime, addiction, homelessness, and illness. It’s a scourge upon men, women, and children, the very old, the very sick, the disempowered, disenfranchised, and marginalized. It has one cause: the lack of money in a capitalist system. It has every negative symptom you can imagine: from despair to death, and every form of ruin in between.

And yet the way we treat this disease, the way we tackle this malady, is categorically different than the way we approach everything else. There is no race for the cure to poverty, no attempt to stop poverty in its tracks before it starts, no effort to eradicate poverty entirely. Instead, we just try to patch up the symptoms for any given person and lift them out of it, getting them over it temporarily so others can be threshed back down to take their place. Maybe this is actually a bit more like how Americans view other diseases too, but it’s a devastatingly ineffective way to deal with any problem. To change this ineffectiveness, we need to acknowledge the structural factors that ensure the existence of poverty and recognize that only when those are altered or eliminated can we actually move the needle on poverty as a concept, not just move poverty around between different people.

My convictions about poverty being the root cause of all our domestic American ills doesn’t just stem from a predisposition against capitalism. It comes from almost a decade spent as a non-profiteer at various levels, in both direct service and administration. The problem we were treating was always poverty. Whether it manifest in addiction, abuse, hunger, or dropping out of school, the critical problem putting people in toxically stressful situations that led to bad impacts was always a lack of money. This is not to say that the rich cannot be addicted to drugs or commit physical violence or abuse, but that the reason that most people are susceptible to these things is because they are poor. Some people use drugs purely recreationally and lose control, but most people use drugs as a way of medicating their impossible financial situations, of finding some glimpse of happiness amidst the despair of their everyday world. Hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, and other issues are more obviously and concretely the result of poverty. Crime and cycles of crime are almost entirely rooted in poverty. Yes, there are poor people who still resist the temptation to turn to crime and there are rich criminals, but most of the people rotting in American prisons were put there by cultural and societal cycles that left them with few to no viable opportunities to get ahead financially. The correlation between poverty and dropping out of high school is mammoth. Ditto the correlation between poverty and criminal conviction. Not least because the rich criminals can pay someone to keep them out of prison.

And where other problems exist, the way they manifest their harm is primarily through the vehicle of poverty. Far be it from me to say that various forms of oppression, from racism to sexism to homophobia to imperialism, don’t exist. But they manifest in one of two ways: violence or poverty. And violence is a very real issue and problem that is sometimes separate from poverty and trust me, as a pacifist I believe in stopping violence in all its forms. But at least we all recognize, codify laws, and work together to stand against violence (in all forms besides wars). There is not a major groundswell in society that says a certain amount of domestic or racist violence is super-necessary to a well-ordered society and the proper incentives. But we do make this argument about poverty all the time. Or at least, those defending capitalism do.

Other than violence, though, the fallout from racism, sexism, homophobia, and imperialism is primarily economic: it’s forcing people into poverty. Purveyors of these ‘isms deny jobs and opportunities to their targeted groups, deny them possible benefits or social programs that would lift them out, and generally demean their worth in a way that manifests in keeping them ensconced in poverty. There is still racism against Barack Obama and it’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t meaningfully reduce his ability to impact the world, because he’s kept himself out of poverty. Same with Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey or Neil deGrasse Tyson. Which is not to say that racism against them is still bad and something we should fight against, but they have largely been able to overcome its meaningful ability to negatively impact their life. Whereas the millions of their brothers and sisters who are being denied opportunities based on race do not enjoy this luxury.

Put another way, poverty is the enforcement mechanism for most of the harm done by ‘isms. The hate and myopia of ‘isms is obviously wrong on face, but it would have few to no teeth without the ability to keep people impoverished. Statistics that prove racism persists as a problem in our society tend to use poverty as the driving force of their proof, showing that traditionally marginalized groups enjoy fewer economic opportunities and experience worse financial outcomes than their white male peers. This demonstrates that most of the harm done here manifests in poverty. If poverty didn’t exist, haters would lose a key tool, perhaps the biggest single tool, in their arsenal of oppression.

The problem with how we approach poverty is that we see it as an individual issue. We take each person as a stand-alone case of poverty and then try to treat their individual symptoms, while ignoring the obvious fact that they suffer from a widespread and entrenched epidemic. This would be roughly akin to treating each individual person with AIDS as their own new unique case, trying to conquer the disease anew with each patient. It would be inefficient, ineffective, and unconscionable to take this approach with disease, and yet we suffer under the delusion that poverty is largely a choice and that a heightened sense of personal responsibility can defeat it.

This belief is exacerbated not only by Republican values, but by the fact that some people do seem to be able to lift themselves out of poverty by sheer force of will. Many of our stories about this phenomenon are exaggerated and even apocryphal, fueling our delusional obsession with this as the only viable solution to the problem. We ignore the real role of luck in their stories, or the hidden advantages they had over others that enabled their rise from poverty. And then we tout these few exceptional examples as proof that anyone facing crippling poverty can overcome it easily, with a little pluck or grit or a well-timed tug on the old bootstrap. We are a nation obsessed with this belief structure because treating poverty this way if it were a disease would be too horrifyingly callous and impossible to face. It’s tantamount to holding the few people whose inoperable cancers suddenly go into remission as the exemplars of how to treat and fight cancer. “Everyone can go into remission if they just try hard enough!” This is the brand of medicine we advocate for a whole society of people being driven toward untimely death by poverty.

Not buying that poverty is like a disease? It’s fueled by environmental and hereditary factors with statistical correlations nearly as high as transmission rates of most communicable diseases. People are vastly more likely to live in poverty if they are surrounded by people in poverty, if they live in high-poverty neighborhoods, if their family members (especially parents) suffer from poverty. It does irreparable physical, mental, and emotional harm to its sufferers. It is growing and spreading. Even when some people are able to recover, others become infected. Having suffered poverty makes one more likely to suffer from it in the future (making it more like a degenerative or recurring disease than, say, the chicken pox). If left untreated, it often kills the host.

Unlike disease, though, our capitalist society structurally requires a certain number of people to suffer from poverty in order to function in the image its constructed of itself. Capitalism hinges on people being driven into terrible and abusive jobs because they fear the impacts of poverty. It also requires them to not really realize that those same jobs keep them entrenched in poverty, clinging to a belief that if they work long enough or hard enough in those positions, they will eventually escape. This is roughly akin to downing placebos in the hope that they will cure a terminal disease. It might make you feel a little better in the short-term, but it won’t save you from what’s actually hurting you.

And yet even if you believe that personal responsibility is somehow a factor in someone being in poverty, the placebo treatment is an idiotic way to approach it. For example, lung cancer is a disease that we largely feel most sufferers experience because of choices they made earlier in life, and thus they bear some responsibility for it. However, we don’t thus say that the only solution we will offer lung cancer sufferers is to pop placebos and hope they get better or magically enter remission. We still treat their case like the disease it is, still spend billions seeking a cure for their ailment.

And yet the cure to poverty is staring us in the face. Create a system that doesn’t allow people to be poor. Where a basic standard of living cannot be infringed, no matter what choices or decisions you make. Where you will have a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, treatment of disease, and a safe place to be, no matter what. Less the safety part, this is literally what we guarantee prisoners, those most marginalized and maligned in our society, people who most would agree really have chosen to do something terrible with their lives. It’s sadly ironic that we feel that prisoners deserve a basic minimum and it would be inhumane to deny them these items, but children born into poverty deserve no such similar safety net. And we wonder why so many of those children grow up to wind up in prison.

The only argument I’ve ever really heard against guaranteeing a basic quality of life to all is that it costs too much and that it reduces the incentive to work. I feel like the folks making these arguments miss basic facts about human psychology. People are actually much more able to work effectively and more motivated to do so when they are not doing so at metaphorical gunpoint. And forcing people to work against their will is the moral equivalent of slavery. Actually, it’s the literal definition of slavery! The fact that slavery made some sort of unjust economic system appear to function is not a valid argument for slavery as a system.

But does this system actually work? A great deal of government and virtually the entirety of the non-profit sector spends their time and money fighting the uphill, ineffective battle with poverty. Treating one person at a time, one situation at a time as though it’s not part of a larger preventable disease, these groups spend billions and billions of dollars trying to eradicate poverty in a wholly ineffective manner. This would be saved in a system without poverty. Then there’s the prison system and police forces. Yes, there’d still be some violence and you’d need a skeleton crew of these industries even without poverty. But over 90% of crime would be eliminated. Which also would drastically reduce one of our most expensive industries – the court system. When you start to think about all the mechanisms and spending we have in place to reactively try to fight back against the tide of poverty rather than prevent it in the first place, you have enough money to fund poverty prevention many times over.

It’s only our belief that people in poverty somehow deserve it and/or our belief that capitalism as currently structured is intractably inevitable that keep us from changing this system, saving money, and saving just about everyone in our society. Both of these claims, about desert and inevitability, are facially laughable. The biggest single factor in determining whether one is impoverished is whether one’s parents are impoverished, the textbook definition of an immutable characteristic. A massive portion of those in poverty are children who lack the agency to make any decisions about their fate. And systems of society change constantly. We are constantly tweaking and altering aspects of our society, large and small, and every monarchy, dictatorship, and tribal structure that came before was equally convinced that they were at the terminal arrangement of human affairs before the next tide of change swept in. We are imprisoning ourselves in a myopic, idiotic, unnecessary cycle of disease. That is worse for most of its victims than prison itself. What will it take for us to recognize this reality and start working actively to change it?

by

Bernie Sanders and the Future of American Democracy

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

When I was growing up in Oregon, I was an avid 4-Her. (That’s pronounced four-ae-cher, not four-her, if you’re not familiar with 4-H.) We had ducks, geese, rabbits, and chickens, and I would show them at the county fair every summer, especially the summer I was 12. During that year, we’d just formed the Beach Bunnies 4-H club after I’d spent a few years in a couple other clubs, and we won the coveted Herdsmanship Trophy at the Clatsop County Fair in what proved to be the only year of the club’s existence. And it was the only year we took Patty Duckworth to the fair.

Patty Duckworth is probably my favorite pet of all-time. She was our lone duck to survive an overnight raccoon attack that killed our three other ducks, including her brother, Patrick. She almost didn’t make it, living three months in our spare bathtub being nursed back to health as the skin on her neck re-grew and other wounds healed. This experience transformed her, making her believe that she was indeed a human just like us, that she belonged in the house, and giving her a taste, somehow, for rabbit food. She was a very attached animal, following me around all over the yard, constantly communicating, and showing some minimal PTSD by making warning quacks anytime anyone got near. We jokingly called her the guard-duck.

In the 1992 Clatsop County Fair, we entered her in the mallard category. There are generally two ways to show animals at the fair – entering them as examples of their breed (kind of like a dog show) and actually showing them, which is more about the presenter’s command of the animal and knowledge of how to work with their animal (which I guess is like a different kind of dog show). We did both with Patty that year, but her status as a mallard only mattered in the breed ribbon. She won a red ribbon, which roughly conforms to second place, for the female mallards.

The only trouble was, we soon thereafter found out that she wasn’t a mallard at all. She was a rouen, a similar but ultimately different breed. We’d been sold Patrick and Patty as mallard ducklings, but the distinctions in the yellow-brown balls of fluff they were at the time were probably lost on the farm store staff. Or maybe they just knew mallards were more popular since most folks haven’t heard of rouens. Rouens, in fairness, look very similar to mallards, including the distinctive green heads with little white collars on the males.

Bernie Sanders is a lot like Patty Duckworth. Not just in being one of my all-time favorites, but in being entered in the wrong category as a candidate. And like Patty, he earned a red ribbon. My liberal friends, tripping over each other to line up behind Hillary Clinton, have been maligning Bernie for everything he’s done lately, especially staying in the race, and even his allegedly poor showing in earning his narrow red ribbon to Hillary’s blue. I think this misses the real headline, which is that a rouen almost beat a mallard in a mallard contest. Bernie Sanders is not, nor has he ever been, a Democrat. He’s a Socialist. And he very nearly staged a successful takeover of the Democratic Party, despite having transparently joined for the sole purpose of doing just that. His near-victory* should not be processed as a crushing defeat so much as a very exciting signal to radicals, and a very scary one for traditional Democrats.

*It’s worth noting that he could still win the nomination, which is why he hasn’t dropped out. We have between now and Philadelphia for Hillary to get indicted. I don’t think it’s very likely, but if it happens, boy will all those liberals be glad that Bernie stayed in so Trump doesn’t win 47 states in November.

The Democrats have been a centrist party since Bill Clinton took them in that direction in 1992. No major nominee for the party in the intervening time could be confused for being leftist, let alone far-left, with the stated exception of Barack Obama, before we saw what his government actually looked like. The pattern of talking left but moving center-right has been well-established, underlined by the purported success of the Bill and Barack administrations, which actually amounted to sort of aimless rightward drift, with the notable exception of a few solid policies in Obama’s lame-duck half-term. The reforms to wage and hour laws and the reaching out to Iran and Cuba make me wonder what an actually progressive president could achieve. Sadly, there’s no way we’ll find out in the next four years unless Hillary gets indicted.

The craving people feel for a real progressive movement in politics is clear in more than just the Bernie movement. The success of Occupy that set the stage for Bernie, the advancement of Black Lives Matter, the brief but popular campaign of Howard Dean in 2004 (before he sold out), the immense popularity of who we thought Barack Obama would be, and the general rising disgust with a society built on debt and income inequality all speak to the potential power of a real progressive. And with a rising consciousness about climate change and real environmentalism, combined with the ongoing fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear to many that capitalism is not compatible with progressive ideals. Indeed, that capitalism represents a very real destruction of human life, either as we know it or altogether, at least for the vast majority of eligible voters. It is painfully ironic that the only remaining messenger of this reality in the 2016 contest is himself perhaps the all-time poster-boy of capitalism, a charlatan and huckster who has crafted a lifetime of imagery around being the ultimate capitalist.

And, of course, his adherence to that message can be trusted about as much as anything Hillary pivots to in order to curry favor. The final general election choice being offered by the major parties is a race to the bottom between two inveterate liars, two individuals who embody self-aggrandizement and empowerment at the expense of all else, who radiate detestable self-promotion and opportunism, corruption and greed. One is popular because he was born into money, the other because she married into power. These twin titans of American folly are pitted against each other in a fear-fueled campaign to the death, one that opens with a near-majority of America probably hating both of them, 85% hating one of them, and this is before they throw the first real punch in their heads-up fracas.

If I were trying to disenfranchise an entire nation, to nullify hope and eliminate faith in politics for a whole country, I could not imagine two better candidates to wield the coffin-nails. I have quipped that by the end, about seven people will vote in each state.

That claim itself at this point is a bit of referendum on why we vote. Most of my cynical colleagues from various generations of APDA have insisted that people vote out of fear, not hope, despite what 2008’s turnout may say to the contrary. They insist there will be robust and enthusiastic turnout as people storm to the polls to reject Trump’s brand of bullying racist populism. I observe that Hillary is probably the most hated politician in America of the last two decades, so just as many fearful folks would turn out against her. But ultimately, I think this level of fear and exaggeration just leads to fatigue. Fatigue that does not inspire one to drive to the booth and pull the lever for the lesser evil. We shall, of course, unfortunately, find out.

I would say, today, that if it remains Trump vs. Clinton and remains a generally perceived two-person race (surely Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will exceed expectations, but probably not approach 10% each), that Trump’s about 62% to win. I don’t think the long race favors Clinton when she has to slog it out with someone who has made his life in show-business, someone who the camera and the soundbite favor, someone who has already made his living out of belittling people and remaking his image. They are both practiced liars, both skilled manipulators, but I think the fresher face to this particular scene has the edge, especially when Trump seems more in touch with the reality of 2016’s electorate and real financial situation. I don’t think it will be a slam dunk and I don’t think it’s guaranteed, but the Democrats are already underestimating Trump nearly as much as the Republicans did, and we all saw how that turned out.

(Incidentally, I still think, even as of today, that Paul Ryan has about a 30% chance of being the Republican nominee. It’s really up to the party how to proceed and they don’t have to follow their own rules. And Paul Ryan would beat Hillary Clinton in a Reaganesque landslide, if only because he’s totally avoided all the 2016 action and thus doesn’t symbolize this ugly year to voters.)

So what of people like me? Like so many of my friends, like so many people who know that the future is not capitalism but a turn toward something anti-corporate and truly progressive? Where do we go for help and hope, other than to the protest ballot for Jill Stein? Do we form our own party and start running for 2018 spots? Do we make sure to point out all of President Clinton’s flaws if she does get elected, relishing in yet 4-8 more years of being called a traitor every day and demanding too much of someone who allegedly represents us? When both parties insist on boxing out any voice we have despite the fact that we nearly took over a vaguely hostile centrist party, do we just give up on this groundswell of power and move on to knitting clubs and 4-H and other pursuits? Do we move to Europe?

I don’t really have an answer today. My Dad has insisted for twenty years that “there are no political solutions.” I’ve perhaps never been closer to agreeing with him. And yet the demographic trends point out that the balance of time favors the Bernie supporters and the real progressives, that this movement is only likely to grow more powerful over the next few years, not less. And more importantly, that power can’t help but be accelerated by a Trump or Clinton presidency, one that continues to pay off the cronies, the rich, the companies, and the greedy. Eventually, capitalism resolves to one person owning everything. The closer we get to that, the closer we get to either literally discarding democracy or witnessing some more serious backlash to capitalism within it.

There is a lot of reason to be hopeful about 2020, then, I guess, though it’s that kind of hope that involves thinking the war will be so bad that there must be a good peace settlement in four years. In the meantime, it might be a good time to unplug from all domestic political news entirely, lest you start believing all the impending insults and drama mean something to the real future of our country.

by

What We Talk About When We Talk About Unemployment

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Tags: ,

It’s been a while since I’ve visited the question of our unemployment figures in the United States and what they imply for the real state of our economy and our future, such as it is. When I first started posting about this four years ago, no one was particularly telling the story of labor force participation rates as a proxy for unemployment and how these rates were hiding the real story behind the glorious recovery narrative that everyone was being fed in the wake of the Great Recession.

Last week, somewhat hearteningly, almost everyone described a jobs report where unemployment purportedly fell from 5.0% to 4.7% as a disaster because of the corresponding drop in labor force participation. The narrative has finally largely caught up with the reality, even if the official numbers still enable media pundits to talk about “full employment” like it’s a stone’s throw away instead of the miles it actually is from nearly 11%. I don’t have enough of a readership to take any credit for the shift in the narrative cognizance, unless it’s as part of a much broader grassroots movement quietly observing that the BLS has no clothes in a country where tons of people have decided it no longer makes sense to even try to work. But it’s still great that people are talking about this more widely.

Part of why I haven’t posted in a bit is that unemployment numbers actually have been steadily falling in the last few months, at least through the March figures. The Reporting Gap, the distance between the reported percentage and the underlying reality when one accounts for labor force participation, was commensurately dropping, from a record-high of 6.52% in September to a two-year low of 5.67% in March. During this time, what I call Real Unemployment, accounting for those who’ve left the labor force, fell from 11.62% to 10.67%, nearly a full point. The reported figure in that span fluctuated between 4.9% and 5.1%, ultimately going from 5.1% to 5.0% from September to March.

This presents a damning flip-side to the problem I’ve been discussing here for four years. The media and the BLS were actually missing some real recovery and job strengthening that was happening during this six-month period. Granted that the larger headline might be unemployment remaining stuck above 10.5% for seven years and counting, but a 1% drop in six months was the second-best rally for employment during that whole span. Meanwhile, the media reported flatness and unchanged during this real improvement.

Of course, now we have the realization that 4.7% is not reflective of what actually happened in May. But it belies a more real story that the backtracking actually started in April. In April, unemployment popped back up to 10.96% from 10.67%. It was reported as steady at 5.0%. Then, in May, it was actually flat at 10.96%. This was the alleged disaster moment, when the 0.3% reported drop just showed fleeing the labor force. And that’s true, which is why the unemployment figure was actually flat. But the spike in unemployment actually happened the month before.

Here are your graphs:

Real Unemployment (red) and Reported Unemployment (blue), January 2009 - May 2016.

Real Unemployment (red) and Reported Unemployment (blue), January 2009 – May 2016.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, January 2009 - May 2016.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, January 2009 – May 2016.

Do any of these little fluctuations matter that much? Other than the distance between the notion of nearly full employment and more than seven sustained years over 10.5% unemployment? I would argue they do, especially when trying to spot trends. Labor force participation had cratered to 62.4% in September, but built all the way back up to 63.0% by March (a two-year high). Now it’s already back down to 62.6%, dropping by 0.2% each month. What does this portend for the economy? Are things already unraveling again, finally exposing the alleged recovery as hollow, shallow, and only benefiting those at the top? How will this impact the upcoming election?

Maybe having a one-month jump on the trends in these figures isn’t that big a deal. Maybe everyone talking about labor force participation in the same breath as unemployment means victory on this issue has already largely been achieved. But if we are headed for another official recession, it’s meaningful to realize that we’re starting from a place of 11% unemployment, not 5%, and that the hit to the economy that’s coming is on top of a problematic environment, not on top of a healthy one. At least if we’re looking at the bottom line for the bottom 50%, not the corporate titans.


This is part of a continuing series on the under-reporting of unemployment in the United States of America.

Past posts (months indicate the month being analyzed – the post is in the month following):
September 2015
July 2015
June 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014 – labor force participation assessment
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014 – age assessment
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
April 2014
December 2013 – seasonal assessment
December 2013
March 2013*
August 2012*
July 2012* – age assessment
July 2012*

*My initial analyses led to a slight over-reporting of the impact of the reporting gap, so the assessments in these posts are inflated, as explained and corrected in the December 2013 analysis.

by

Duckland

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

DucksOnAPond

When I lived in Oregon, I was in a lot of plays. I started (and ended) my professional acting career, serving in the ensemble for the Lewis and Clark Pageant, an annual summer play on the riverbank in Seaside designed to commemorate the expedition and desperately tie our little rural/tourist corner of the world to something monumental in history. I was one of two children in the play (we were both about 8-10 years old), and we danced in the scene in Missouri to celebrate the expedition’s departure, then played Native American children who encountered the expedition, and at one point I think I also played the equivalent of a cabin boy on the expedition itself. Mostly I was backstage and watched the various scenes as the real keelboat floated on its tether and various dramatic and vaguely historical happenings unfolded before the summer beachgoers. I also spent a tremendous amount of time with journeyman actors on the rural Oregon circuit, having some of my first non-school contact with adults who were not of my family. And I got a social security number and card, a prerequisite to collecting my nominal paycheck for the performances. I don’t know if it was standard procedure to not issue these things at birth in 1980 or if it was just that my parents resisted such norms at the time.

I also began my most serious and earnest writing project to date there, and one decidedly more original than the more substantial one that followed (that being The Legend of Enutrof, an embarrassingly derivative rip-off of Brian Jacques’ medieval fantasy novels starring talking animals). Enutrof was a few years later, dipping into the New Mexico years, and topped out at about 135 pages before I realized just how unoriginal it was. But the prior effort, crafted mostly during the mosquito-bitten summers in the twilight pageant of my 9th summer, was called Duckland. It reached about 50 or 60 pages before I gave up, though these were handwritten pages in my unimpressive scrawl, so it probably translates to something more like 20. This was based mostly on the largest and most vocal community to adorn the pageant’s stage, a flock of ducks.

(Incidentally, Google informs me that a flock is usually what a group of ducks is called in flight. Apparently it’s either a raft or a paddling in the water. If I’d just casually dropped “a paddling of ducks” there, though, I think you might have thought I was one of those kids who tortured animals from a young age. I was not. Without that connotation, though, I kind of like that. Though a raft is reminiscent of the omnipresent keelboat that was a key feature of the stage, so maybe we should go with that.)

The ducks were ostensibly wild, but functionally domesticated in the way that so many approachable animals become when they have ongoing contact with human communities that cultivate their presence. The riverbank where the pageant was held was reasonably traversed with tourist traffic taking in the pastoral scene even when the show was not on, and the show only increased this presence. Inevitably there would be a lot of children, or older folks, and they would bring bread, so by the time I met this raft of ducks (weird, right?), they were far more likely to waddle toward strange people than away from them. All while making that low murmuring sound that can be translated as a very soft quack, but really sounds more like Donald Duck at half volume and one-third speed.

The ducks were endlessly fascinating to me, even though I had ducks of my own at home to tend to and play with. These ducks could fly, though they mostly did so only when spooked to lift off the water, take a long arcing bank, and then land splashily again a few yards away. They had specific habits and social structures, unique personalities, and group tendencies. I got to the point where I could pick out many of them from the crowd between their appearance and proclivities and of course started naming them. Naming them quickly became a story and the story soon went into pencil-on-notebook-paper efforts that piqued the interest of many fellow actors as I chugged away at it.

Duckland‘s protagonist was Jimmy Richter-Duck (all of the last names were *-Duck, which I guess was a bit redundant, and there was definitely something about an earthquake in Jimmy’s past, maybe when he hatched?). An outsider and iconoclast, his primary issue with duck society was its slavish devotion to the cycle of the sun. Why should a duck go to sleep just because it’s dark out, Jimmy inquired of his fellow fowl. Jimmy stayed up late and even slept in during the morning, boldly resisting nature’s precepts. He started winning other converts to the cause of night-owling (-ducking?) when I ran out of steam on the project. There were other subplots too, but I’d have to dig through the archive boxes in Albuquerque to be sure of their nature. I think Jimmy had a romantic interest who he really wanted to stay up late with, as well as a rival duck of some sort who constantly derided him.

It’s much easier in retrospect, as it often is, to see echoes of my own arguments with my parents about bedtime reflected in Jimmy’s struggle, though that was a battle I won fairly early in childhood, unlike haircuts and the eternal skirmishes over food. (As I prepare for my own potential fights with a possible child down the line, it strikes me how my parents never had a chance on any of these issues in the long-term. Or would I have been so committed to them in adulthood had they not been arguments in childhood?) But I’d like to think there was also something more fundamental or universal in Jimmy’s resistance to nature, even amongst a more obviously nature-bound group like ducks (as opposed to how humans perceive themselves). Of course, it was pretty clear to me at the time that the ducks perceived themselves more like people do than like people perceive ducks. And this is more than a “what’s water?” query from a fish. It should be obvious to anyone whose spent extensive time with communities of animals that they have elaborate communication, something I think is only fit to call language, along with daily tribulations and variation to rival our own. Duckland at times felt almost as much like journalism as it did fiction.

I remember that my scribbling attracted the specific attention of a particular actor who I probably spent the most time backstage talking to. My image of him is a little hazy, but he was definitely overweight, with glasses, and a bit of a nerdy demeanor. He talked to me, as most of the actors did actually, like an adult, and even read some of my writing. After perusing some pages of Duckland, he asked if I wanted to be an intellectual. I said unequivocally yes. He told me that I was wrong, that one shouldn’t be too intellectual. Feedback that, when I relayed it to my father, he was horrified to hear. I still cannot think of this guy or even that whole summer without almost immediately thinking of that series of conversations, how passionately my dad defended being an intellectual and intellectual pursuits, and how hot under the collar I felt for even allowing myself to talk to someone who decried the approach.

I wish I could remember his name, but I don’t. We would play chess during longer stretches of waiting backstage. It’s also obvious, of course, that he was an intellectual, a serious and sensitive one, and that he regretted his own path at the expense of something more socially acceptable or popular. Or easy, perhaps. That he spent his time backstage of a vaguely dweeby semi-professional play hanging out with a precocious nine-year-old rather than, say, any of the actresses. That to the extent that he could pass on advice, it was to avoid his fate.

In the end, I’m with Jimmy Richter-Duck. You’ve gotta make your own path. Walking through Audubon Park yesterday, basking in the overheated glow of a gorgeous day filled with the freedom that only the recently resigned (and not destitute) can feel, I saw some ducks, heard the low murmur of their conversation. And hoped that the rest of that guy’s life was longer on opportunities and shorter on regrets. I’ve collected plenty of regrets myself, but being an intellectual isn’t among them. Nor is any single time I’ve gone on a walk in search of ducks.

by

Prevention and Cure

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

PreventCure

We live in a cure society. Not just because we have races for the cure and build awareness for cures and believe that eventually every malady we face will someday be cured. Also for those reasons, but not even primarily because of that. It is reasonable to hope that we can discover, create, and utilize cures for the things that go wrong in our lives. But as the old adage reminds us, it is even more reasonable (and efficient) to aim to prevent those things in the first place.

We don’t believe in prevention in this society, though. I guess we’re starting to believe a little in the prevention of pregnancy and the transmission of STDs, but otherwise we’re not really into taking steps to keep ourselves from harm. We drive cars, we put the cell phone right up to our brain, we eat poorly, we live with chronic stress and pain and fatigue and anger. And whenever the inevitable things go wrong, when we have accidents or cancer or heart disease or panic attacks, we wait impatiently for the cures to come in and make it all better. To get us back in the game so we can head back out and reinjure ourselves and we can begin the cycle anew.

When I got kidney stones in 2010, my assigned urologist was uninterested in even examining what in my life might be causing the phenomenon. He rattled off a list of prescription drugs that would help combat the stones’ effects, as well as some advanced treatment options for splitting the stones into more manageable kidney pebbles. He rolled his eyes when I asked about side effects of these drugs, let alone the little lasers that could play Bruce Willis to the calcified asteroids in my organs. But the contempt really came out when I asked what steps I could take to keep from getting kidney stones in the future. Apparently I was his first patient to deign to ask why I was getting kidney stones in the first place, so I could attempt to stop doing whatever that was. Granted by the assembled populous of kidney stone and prostate cancer sufferers in the waiting room that I was below his average patient’s age by about four decades and this made me decidedly more invested in future behaviors than most of my comrades, but still. He blinked at me and acted like he hadn’t heard the question. When I made another pass, he mumbled something about eating more stone fruits and maybe less dairy. They are made of calcium, after all, those kidney stones. Not all of them, but the ones I had, according to a week of urine I collected in an orange bucket.

Turned out that the real issue was dehydration, the result primarily of crying basically all the time over my divorce. Which, you know, is not a diagnosis that I could reasonably have expected him to come up with. I got the 100% real cranberry juice (something a friend had to tell me about, because my doctor certainly wasn’t going to) and cut back on cheese, but hydrating more and crying less did most of the trick. I haven’t passed a stone in three years.

So this reality certainly applies to the medical field and our entrenched beliefs about it. It’s part of why medical costs are so disproportionately high in this country, driven as they are by the cure-side of the equation. Prescription drugs are one of the single biggest industries, in terms of both absolute size and ongoing growth, that we have in this nation. Preventative medicine is kind of a fringe notion, vaguely associated with quacky herbs and the word socialism. No matter that health plans focused on prevention rather than repair are immensely more efficient and effective than their rivals. That doesn’t propel a growth industry so much as the maintenance society. And we all know a society addicted to cancerous growth cannot abide a viable maintenance plan.

But this goes well beyond just the medical field as a notion about how we are to live our lives. We live with a model of life that presumes it will create all manner of unhealthy side effects, then try to sell a variety of cures to solve those problems. Stress, unhappiness, inadequacy, depression, infidelity, insomnia, crime, poverty, disaster. We expect most of these things to befall us as we approach our daily life, making it vital that we raise enough money for the tools to fix them: yoga, gym memberships, better food, vacations, therapy, medical care, and entertainment of every possible variety. Examine our professions and pastimes in this society and how many of them are making up for some real or perceived deficiency created by the hardships of life. And I am hardly here to sit on some high horse and chastise you about these things: in the past year, I’ve signed up for yoga, a gym membership, tried to eat better food, considered counseling, taken vacations, and bought a lot of entertainment. It’s not like all or even any of these things are innately problematic. But when we feel a desperate need for them as the natural consequence of the way we live our life, it might be time to take a step back and re-examine.

There is a simpler and perhaps more documented model for this kind of prevention-cure dichotomy in our society: childcare. Childcare is almost uniquely expensive in America, perhaps the only thing people are willing to sacrifice for more than health care. And the justification for buying childcare is maintaining one’s place in the capitalist economy: bringing in enough money and perhaps prestige to keep the wheel turning. For so many couples in America, the equation doesn’t really work: it’s break-even at best. But the notion of living on just one income, of ditching the job for the child, is often unthinkable, even when it would make more total financial sense, to say nothing of the benefits of not having one’s kid raised primarily by a stranger.

Now this particular example is massively complicated by the gender issues involved, with the deadly combination of traditional sexist expectations of women to be the primary caretakers and the pay gap exacerbating pressure on women to be the ones who step away from the workplace. When one adds bias against both women and men with career disruptions on their resume, these factors negate the simplicity of the choice for a lot of couples. This makes it powerfully important for many to stay in the workplace, even if they’re running on a treadmill just to keep up. But if we could hit a giant reset button on gender perceptions in our society (yes, this would fix a lot of things), making it truly as likely that the man would stay home in any given instance, then we’d have another example of it being totally nonsensical to choose cure over prevention.

The trouble is, whether you think it applies well in the childcare example or not, we know that prevention is more effective than curing. Beyond the cliche, it’s fundamentally obvious to us that the cure is never 100%: there are always complications and side effects and increased risks going forward. And sure, prevention is never 100% either. You can avoid the stressful day job and still get depressed. Condoms break. The train can crash just like the car. But at least prevention gives you a good chance at 100% avoidance. And the worst-case scenario of failures in prevention are needing the cure. In other words, the worst-case scenario of a prevention mentality is relying on the best-case scenario of a cure mentality.

What tangible steps can you take in your own life to replace cures with prevention?

by

Consistent Judgment vs. BattleBots: an Analysis of Bernie and Hillary Supporters

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

JudgeBattle

Near as I can tell, the best litmus test (perhaps outside of the South) for whether a potential Democratic voter is likely to support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is income. If you’ve got money, or think you will soon, you like Hillary. If you don’t have money, or see economic trouble on the horizon, you like Bernie. This isn’t strictly true, of course, since there are folks who hold onto their ideals of economic equality even after making capitalism work for them and amassing wealth and there are those who don’t have a realistic shot at wealth who still believe the wealthy should rule the world. But fundamentally, people tend to vote their perceived self-interest and you’re more likely to endorse capitalism full-throatedly if it’s working for you. And Bernie vs. Hillary is probably a referendum on capitalism as much as anything else. As much as Hillary is trying to get in on some of that socialism in the primary, we all are pretty aware that Bernie likes taxes and hates corporations way more than his opponent.

This post is about what I think the second-biggest distinction is, and one that I think a lot of folks are talking around but no one is actually directly addressing. And that’s the role one perceives politics to have in this country, and really what the purpose of representative democracy is. This is often phrased quite differently in condescending Hillary propaganda in the media that says things like “Hillary gets things done.” That’s a leading indicator of this type of perceived difference, but it doesn’t really address the core of it in a fair way. And acknowledging my bias as a Bernie supporter, I will try to put this both as clearly and as fairly as possible.

There are two theories of representative democracy and what it’s all about. Okay, there are lots of such theories, but there are two that are relevant to the campaign:

1. You cannot be there to vote on everything yourself, to make every decision, and to advocate for every position. We cannot all be President, nor can everything come down to 300-million-person referendum. As a result, one should choose leaders who most clearly demonstrate clear and consistent judgment. This means both that their decisions will be maximally predictable and that they are most likely to, in the midst of crisis down in the bunker, make the best decision. I’m calling this theory Consistent Judgment.

2. You cannot be there to vote on everything yourself, to make every decision, and to advocate for every position. We cannot all be President, nor can everything come down to 300-million-person referendum. As a result, there are two parties who represent the two possible reasonable and widely held slates of positions on issues to decide these things for the people. One should choose the leader who will best navigate systems of government to maximize the advantage for the party one favors, to beat the other party as clearly and significantly as possible. Even if that person has to change their positions radically, as long as they have the strategic advantage over the other group, them winning for their team is the highest priority. I’m calling this theory BattleBots.

I think the divergence between these two theories is large and explains the level of incredulity Democrats have looking across the divide at the other deeply entrenched camp. For Consistent Judgment advocates, it’s bizarre that consistency doesn’t matter and that positions can change radically as long as the team is winning, since this often mean altering positions or making compromises that look a lot like conceding to the other team. For BattleBots advocates, it’s bizarre that one could advocate someone whose loyalty to the team is nascent and questionable, someone who is less interested in playing the game, since the whole point of politics is to play and win the game.

This is why Bernie is doing so well with independents, both those who choose to vote in Democratic primaries and those who are surveyed nationally in hypothetical general election polls. Independents are free-thinkers who have alternative slates to the two parties and lament the BattleBot culture in Washington. They love Bernie’s judgment and trust his ability to contravene the grain of two-party politics. It’s also why Hillary is doing so well with conservative Democrats, because they feel a strong loyalty to their team that may transcend even the actual platform of their party. They love Hillary’s strong, attacking style that will go after the enemy wherever they may roam.

For those to whom politics is an all-out battle, a game of chess with a winner and loser, Bernie is totally confounding. He’s not rabidly attacking the other side, he’s not even totally committed to this team, and he’s not fully steeped and invested in the team’s infrastructure and bottom line. His voice will criticize members of the team if they contradict his political views and he blames the team for many of the ills he’s fighting against. What a terrible BattleBot!

For those to whom politics is about displaying consistency of judgment, Hillary is totally confounding. She changes her positions yearly, monthly, weekly, even hourly if she’s just been at an event that caters to a particular constituency. She will run in the direction of any candidate she’s against, then run the other direction if her opponent changes. She will use any tactic at her command, even if she criticized that tactic last year. What terrible use of Consistent Judgment!

This is how Hillary supporters can actually see her shifting positions as a strength: they believe it shows the strategic calculation necessary to make the proper adjustment for the moment. Chess games are not about adherence to the preservation of rooks or the ideal of the bishop. They are about winning, whatever shifts and alterations and sacrifices need to be made. Even if the queen was the most important piece on the board last turn, if there’s a strategic advantage in trading her off, then down she goes in the next turn. Hillary supporters see it as clear that she’s a great chess player and they want to win the game.

And this is how Bernie supporters see his commitment to ideals even when potentially impractical or hard to implement as a strength: they believe it shows the good judgment to advocate what’s right, even in the face of total opposition or infeasibility. Politics are not just the domain of the hard-nosed practical compromise, but also about the ability to inspire and lead, to set a precedent at the top that convinces people to change their hearts and minds. Bernie supporters see it as clear that he’s an inspiring change agent and they want that kind of rhetoric and judgment at the top.

For someone who values Consistent Judgment, it’s terrifying to imagine what kind of expedient political decisions Hillary might make in the White House: starting wars, compromising deeply on legislation, changing her mind to advance the interests of her team. Nothing is hard and fast, so anything could go if she finds it valuable at the time, and she’ll recant and apologize later after the sober reflection of what actually resulted. When past examples include DOMA and the Iraq War, it’s really hard for Consistent Judgment advocates to get excited about this.

And for someone who values BattleBots, it’s terrifying to imagine how little Bernie might do for the Democratic Party as a whole in the White House. This is the source of the new criticism that he’s not raising money for down-ticket Dems, as well as the old one that he’s not even really a Democrat. How can you trust someone to be the best BattleBot for your team if he’s only loosely affiliated with your team? If he’s willing to criticize Obama’s policies and Democratic lawmakers, how can he help convince the country that they must support Democrats at all cost? No wonder BattleBots advocates have such a hard time with Bernie.

It’s no secret (except briefly to a couple people on Facebook on April 1st) that I’m in the Consistent Judgment camp. But I also strongly dislike the two-party system and one of my highest priorities as a voter is to oppose it on face. In my mind, BattleBots thinking is exactly why we have gridlock in Washington, a lack of creative solutions, and people consistently flipping positions just to say that they’re getting things done or blocking the other team. Obamacare is a great example of this: the model for the ACA was invented by the Heritage Foundation as a conservative response to advocacy for something closer to single-payer. The individual mandate was a Republican creation first implemented by Mitt Romney to ensure that the market still dominated healthcare. With no cost controls, the ACA has manifest as a pro-corporate development in almost all ways (with slight exceptions being the expansion of Medicare and the removal of pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage). But since Obama was responsible for and associated with the ACA, Republicans suddenly opposed it with every fiber of their being, even though they spent years advocating for its underlying principles. Meanwhile, former single-payer advocates like Howard Dean and even, yes, Hillary Clinton, now disavow single-payer as unthinkable because the Democrats have tied their flag to the mast of the ACA.

Bernie Sanders would never abandon single-payer just because the Democrats had decided to advocate something else. Even if that meant throwing “his party” under the bus. For me, that makes him a hero. For a long-time Democratic Party strategist, that makes him unreliable at best and destructive at worst.

My hope in writing this is not even necessarily that the acrimony between Bernie and Hillary supporters reduces, since I still am a staunch advocate of Bernie. But I think we can gain some understanding of each other by examining not just how our personal policy views might be different, but also how our methodological differences inform our view of political actors. It really impacts every aspect of the campaign. It’s why Hillary supporters are outraged Bernie hasn’t left the race since his chances of winning the nomination are somewhat slim: if there’s even a chance that he hurts Hillary and Hillary is the more likely nominee, then he’s undermining the Code of the BattleBots by hurting the eventual BattleBot Supreme. What if he shaves off a key part of her armor before she has to do battle in the big arena?! And it’s why Bernie supporters are outraged by this call from Hillary supporters – he’s being true to his ideals and consistency, regardless of the situation. He’s representing his views as ardently and consistently as he would in the White House and that’s a critical voice to hear for as long as possible. What if voters become further disillusioned by the idea that politicians only ever say things because they are strategically expedient?!

by

What if Bernie Wins 35 States?

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

I haven’t been posting a lot here this year. I’ve spent too much time arguing on Facebook with people who will probably never change their minds, an old habit from years of debating and judging debate and coaching debate. I truly love debate in all its forms and yet I’m still not totally convinced that it’s always or even often a good use of time. And yet I am the moth to debate’s flame, no matter what it consumes. Regardless, like Bernie’s campaign, this post isn’t about me.

It’s about Bernie Sanders, what happened last night in Michigan, and what it portends for the increasingly unpredictable 2016 Presidential race.

Nate Silver, universally regarded guru of electoral politics, and his team at 538 are calling last night the biggest upset in any vote since the 1984 New Hampshire primary, if not ever. You might think he’s trying to just wipe the egg off his face for basically saying there was no chance (“less than 1%”) that Bernie would win Michigan after polls ranged from having him down 5% to 37%. Never mind that 538 somehow concocted that the 37% was the most reliable poll, even though it only robo-called landlines:

“Federal law only permits us to call land lines using automated polling. Because likely Primary voters are older, 54% are 60 or older and 86% are older than 50, we believe there are sufficient land line voters to get an accurate sample. We do not have to make any assumptions of likely voter turnout.”
-“Clinton Opens Up Huge Lead in Michigan”, Mitchell Research & Communications, poll conducted March 6, 2016

But everyone got this wrong, though not all as appallingly as Mitchell Research & Communications. Even Bernie himself sent his supporters home, somehow unsure that their massive grassroots campaign among people younger than 50 would work to turn the state that everyone had already penciled into Hillary’s column. And suddenly, every Democratic state poll, every model, every assumption has to be scrabbled up and thrown out like so many contracts at Mitchell Research & Communications. The narrative that Hillary Clinton is marching inexorably, though slowly, to the Democratic nomination is back in the uncertainty column.

Her surrogates on national TV and all over the media, through their budding panic last night, hasten to point out that Hillary dominated Mississippi, adding yet another Southern state to her tally. And don’t even get them started about the insurmountable lead in superdelegates! Never mind that those superdelegates are fickle and might flip as soon as the winds change, or that they’re not committed at all, at any point, until the actual convention, or that they are entirely undemocratic and would never flip an election that Bernie had otherwise won if they ever wanted to see another progressive vote for the Democratic nominee in their lifetime. They’re super! Let’s count them in every major media analysis as though they were locked in. Because somehow Hillary’s lead of about 200 delegates doesn’t look that insurmountable if you only count the real, representative delegates.

But let’s leave out delegates. Say the media is right about delegates, but wrong about polls. Let’s just say that Michigan provides the green-light that Iowa and Nevada almost did (and would have had they been primaries and not machine-impacted caucuses), demonstrating that Bernie can win anywhere outside the South, can basically tie or win in every blue state, that the establishment’s polls have been flawed from the outset, unable to keep up with Bernie’s momentum, excitement, and youth power. We’re almost out of real estate in the South – after North Carolina and Florida vote next Tuesday, there will be no more “firewall” for Hillary to hide behind, no way of her saying she “still won tonight” based on lopsided votes in states that will inevitably vote for Trump or Cruz or both at once in the general if the Republicans succeed in betraying Trump.

What if Bernie wins 35 states?

2016DemsBlog

No, Hillary supporters, you can’t poll your way out of this one. Polls are useless, remember? Remember the 37-point lead on the eve of Michigan? Remember “greater than 99% for Hillary”? Nate Silver isn’t going to save you from this possibility.

We’ll give Hillary Florida, though I think that’s quite questionable – there’s a lot of evidence that Florida is it’s own quarky state that diverges from the rest of the South. But let’s say it’s enough like Texas that she gets it. And we’ll throw in New York, too, home of Wall Street and the Clinton carpetbagged Senate tenure. And let’s assume DC is enough like the South that she takes that too.

Then… what else? Where else, after Michigan, can Hillary possibly plant her flag and say “yes, this territory is mine”.

I will grant you that Utah, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey all seem a little borderline to me. Maybe even Connecticut too, though most of the 1%ers there are Republicans I think. That’s five more states that would make it a slightly more respectable 30-20 split. But honestly, after Michigan, I’m not at all sure. The few Democrats in Utah and Kentucky don’t strike me as sure Hillary voters. Connecticut looks a lot like Vermont in some ways. Let’s pursue for the sake of argument the map above.

And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the delegates still lean Hillary. Or even strongly so. That Bernie’s thinner margins in the 35 states than that band of solid red Southern states Hillary wins by a lot mean that he still trails in the delegate count overall. What then?

Oh, I know what the rules say. I also know that the rules say the Republicans have to nominate Trump when he wins the required number of delegates, but I’d still be more than surprised if they actually do that. Given the utter open war on Trump in the Republican establishment, it’s very hard to picture a convention where Mitt Romney, John McCain, and other party elders lock hands with Trump in triumph and wish him well on the way to the White House, even if he gets 1,400 delegates. Party politics are not federal laws – they are rules both set and enforced by the parties. There’s no saying they have to follow their own rules.

Which is another advantage-Hillary argument, right? Because the Democratic establishment so desperately wants her to win?

Well, maybe. What Democrats seem to want even more than Hillary is to back a winner. And if they look at that map, really study it, do they see a general election winner in Hillary? When she wins mostly red states and Bernie wins 35 of them overall?

If you’re wondering, Barack Obama beat Hillary 29-21 in the state count in 2008:

2008DemsBlog

There are some populous and blue states in her column that year, and Obama still went on to win the general. But there are also lots of solid blue states in Obama’s map, plus bellwethers like Missouri and Wisconsin. Both campaigns had their mix of coalitions. But I’m not convinced that Hillary’s coalition is as large as either hers or Obama’s in 2008. It’s Southerners and old folks. That’s it. She split the African-American youth vote outside the South. She won it among the oldest generations, but she wins every race in the oldest generations. People who’ve given up on being truly progressive or have enough money that they feel comfortable with the establishment love Hillary. Everyone under 50 outside the South is in Bernie’s camp. And he’s drumming up the kind of enthusiasm and energy that drives them to the polls in the face of insurmountable published odds, paying off that better than 100-1 ticket.

Once we leave the South, once Bernie starts racking up state after state after state, week after week, what will this race look like? As Hillary starts getting more panicky, possibly blundering more and making more insensitive or entitled statements, as Bernie voters gain confidence about his electability and popularity and ability to defy the establishment-issued odds? Can you really hand the nomination to someone who won 30% of the states?

I think we may find out. If nothing else, we learned last night that 2016’s primaries didn’t stop being interesting. They’re only getting started.

by

Christmas Eve, 6 AM

Categories: A Day in the Life, Tags:

1202Lumis

Woke up at 5:30. Set my alarm for just before 6, but I couldn’t really sleep. Today is my holiday, the one that I unequivocally call my favorite every year. It’s luminaria day, Christmas Eve, in Albuquerque.

It’s supposed to start snowing at sunrise, 7:12 AM. I’ve never seen snow on Christmas Eve here, though a White Christmas is not unheard of. We’re getting a huge storm in a couple days that might dump 6 inches of snow, while New Orleans faces tornado warnings and the east coast is in the 70s. But our real Christmas Eve miracle today is that yesterday and tomorrow are both too windy for little paper bags to stand with flames inside, both featuring winds over 20 MPH. Today, however, will top out at 8 MPH, perfect weather for lumis.

Those of you who have followed my obsession over the years know that part of what fuels my love of luminarias is the nature of obsession itself. The ability to set a personal record, to work hard and long hours at something obscure that I like more than most people do. But I’ve also witnessed in recent years how much joy and excitement others get out of this holiday, and especially my efforts to create a massive display. That is what this season is all about, giving joy to others.

But luminarias hold a special place in my heart for the meaning of the tradition, never more salient in my lifetime than this year. The tradition symbolizes lighting the way for the Christ-child and family as they seek shelter on Christmas Eve. People light a path along the walkways in the dark of night, along their fence lines, roof lines, and leading up to their doors. The message is clear: There is no room at the inn, but there is room here. Come, stay, sit by the fire. We will take you in.

I don’t consider myself a Christian, though I think Jesus is an admirable if highly misunderstood figure. His pacifism and the values sometimes found in Christianity are still highly influential to me. But perhaps no story could be more important to us this year than that of those lost and suffering, wandering in the wilderness, seeking solace and comfort on the 24th of December.

For the next 11 hours, I’ll be out there making the magic come together, all to symbolize the welcoming nature of our home, our city, our people, the openness to those lost and seeking. Setting up small candles, a bulwark of hope against the dark, in concert with others, to light your way home.

by

One Nation Under Hate

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Problem of Being a Person, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , ,

HateSpeech

I guess I shouldn’t have targeted Donald Trump so specifically. I guess that’s what really brought the vitriol out of the woodwork.

When I launched the green Facebook profile pictures to support Muslims in America project two days ago, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Certainly I knew that my Blue Pyramid Facebook page could be the target of incredible vitriol from right-wingers. But somehow I didn’t think that the hate lobbed my way for questioning gun rights in the wake of mass-shootings could be, well, trumped. And maybe if I’d only stood up for Muslims in the abstract and not connected the timing of the need for this to Donald Trump’s consistent claim that all Muslims should be barred from the US, then there would have been fewer death threats, less invective, less utterly disturbing images on my post.

I know, I’m not really being that serious. The comparison of saying “Maybe if I’d only stood up for Jews without criticizing Hitler” would sound a wee bit histrionic in other contexts. In the context of a rising political leader invoking hate against a religious minority to label them as the ultimate threat and bar them from a nation, well…… yeah. I’m hardly the first or even millionth person to draw that parallel.

Still, by attacking the extremely popular person at the top of the totem pole, it invoked many responses which (a) assumed that I support Democrats, (b) assumed that I support Hillary, and (c) assumed that I carried the usual liberal party line. The media does not deal with issues in complex, nuanced, or variable ways, so I can sort of understand why the assumptions are all binary. Either you love Trump or you love Hillary. Either you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Either you care about the entire right-wing slate as presented by modern Republicans or the entire left-win slate as presented by modern Democrats. And yes, not many people are out there espousing pacifism so I wouldn’t expect anyone to assume that as my baseline. What I would expect is some religious tolerance. At least a little. Or some vague understanding that ISIS and 9/11 are not representative of Islam or even a tiny fraction of it.

Nope.

I got death threats. Muslims got way more death threats. People openly, with their names attached, with photos of them holding their smiling kids, called for genocide. It was unbelievable.

I’ve been torn between taking it all down to just reduce the amount of hate in the world, hate that I feel loosely responsible for since I, after all, posted something that elicited it. Torn between that and leaving it up as a little monument to a verbal atrocity. I know, I know, the rule about Internet comments can apply to Facebook pages too. And I’m sure it pales in comparison to the invective thrown at Muslims daily, though I’m pretty unconvinced that most of these folks have ever so much as spoken to a Muslim, let alone a minority of any kind. But the net impact so far of my effort seems to have been rallying a bunch of spiteful violent people against their misunderstanding of Islam. I feel like people who graffiti hate-speech on college campuses, who then see the next day as half the campus rallies in defense of the targeted group. But, y’know, in reverse.

The story of cycles of hate and violence is nothing new. Arguably, this is the only story of human history worth remembering and the only lesson we really need to learn at this stage of our time on the planet. “This stage”, in this instance, being roughly the last 6,000 years. But I don’t think I’d really realized until this week how brazen and substantial the hate is in the United States. And how campaign rhetoric like Trump’s is, as many have observed, emboldening and normalizing hate.

KillEmAll

I guess the ultimate issue is that it’s not really about Trump. That was the post I almost wrote night before last, when I instead decided to turn my frustration into a more positive show of support rather than just criticizing everything again. Obviously, if Trump can enjoy this level of support and garner more enthusiasm for policies like barring all Muslims from entering the nation, then the seeds of this sentiment are much older and deeper than the last few months. I certainly saw glimpses of this at Brandeis in September 2001 – and if I saw it at a purportedly liberal college campus, then one can only imagine what was happening in conservative small towns – but I just greatly underestimated how ready the country was to declare war on a whole religion, a whole people, and not stop till they were wiped out entirely.

I’m not saying everyone feels that way, or even most Republicans, and possibly not even most Trump voters. But the ongoing obsession with terrorism and fear, the incredibly sheltered and privileged position of America as it sits in comfort while lobbing missiles at everyone who disagrees, destroying lives and families and buildings and whole countries in a single bound. It’s coming home to roost. It’s manufactured a dangerous, spiteful, intolerant country that is all the more problematic for its claims at representing the opposite. Many early critics of Trump’s comments this week called his thoughts un-American. I think they were kind of quintessentially American in the America we have now. An America so afraid of its own shadow that it’s ready to blow away the person casting the shadow just to have someone to blame for its paranoia.

by

Go Green on Facebook to Support Muslims in America

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Wild Wild Web, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

FBImageGreen_525

I have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments to make somewhere around here at some point, but I’m tabling that for now. Partially because so many people have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments. It’s relieving that he’s finally gone far enough that some people think it’s too far. Hopefully that will get us to start thinking about how far those of us who are not Donald Trump have gone in condemning large groups of people and reflect on our own behavior. But rather than lament and reflect today, I’m doing something. At least, starting an online project.

That project is a Facebook movement, starting with changing Facebook profile pictures green. Not all-green, like the old Libyan flag, but to have the green overlay tint, a la celebrating marriage equality or mourning the Paris attacks. Green is the color historically most associated with Islam and Muslims are the folks who need support right now, especially here in America. We are facing a time where hate-speech, threats, and persecution of Muslims is reaching an unprecedented pitch in the United States. I think we should take stock of those who disagree.

Please log in to Facebook and join my new group there. Use the hashtag #GreenProfilePic to get the word out. And until Facebook creates the option and prompts everyone to do it, tinge your own profile picture with green. I recommend using web color #009900 at transparency 70%.

Spread the word.

by

What I Learned on My Day with Pro-Gun Facebookers

Categories: A Day in the Life, Call and Response, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , ,

ProGun

Yesterday, my recent post on mass-shootings and the second amendment garnered a wide response on Facebook. Most of it was from people who are rabidly pro-gun.

What’s kind of fascinating about the experience is that I had forgotten there were a wide number of people in the country itself who are so adamantly pro-gun. I knew there were corporations in favor of gun proliferation, and politicians bought off by the NRA. But the thing we often forget about the NRA is that it has a wide membership. Since my wife left me five years ago, I had lost touch with my last real bastion of gun ownership in my day-to-day life, that being her family who had an arsenal in the basement and regularly went to the shooting range as a Sunday outing. It was easy to get lost in my own Facebook echo-chamber in the wake of mass shootings and believe that it really is only politicians and corporations who are fueling these disasters.

I really shouldn’t have been as surprised by the reaction as I turned out to be. Like all people trying to promote content on the Internet, I chose an attention-grabbing headline and a controversial picture and blurb. I wanted the experience of seeing the post to be dramatic since I see this as a dramatic issue. And I know, deep down, that Donald Trump is highly likely to win the Republican nomination, arguing against folks who for months have said he’s a flash-in-the-pan and even now maintain that the flash is six or seven months, but certainly not the eighteen he needs to be President.

Who do I think is voting for Donald Trump if not rabid gun-nuts?

That said, there were some really interesting interactions. I had several back-and-forth threads with some of the more articulate gunners which ended in a conclusion of begrudging mutual respect that we’d each argued our positions well and kept things civil. A couple of people for banning the second amendment valiantly did battle with the gunners, but it mostly ended in name-calling. There was, incidentally, an unbelievable lack of accurate spelling almost across the board.

I tell everyone I discuss the subject with that I deeply love Facebook. While I regret its impact of filtering the previously wide-open Internet into one primarily used portal of information, this is vastly outweighed by the contact it engenders between people. I love that I can post an open-ended crowd-source poll on income inequality and generate a thoughtful discussion between twenty different people, many of whom never met each other. I love that thirty people will respond to my random question about which month most symbolizes winter to them. I love the randomness and the sense of loose affiliation we all have.

And I’ve never really found the critiques of Facebook to be all that compelling. Especially when the main one is about artificial presentations of happiness. Though I recognize that I, perhaps somewhat uniquely, really don’t mind expressing frustration, depression, or despair on Facebook. But if others are more inhibited there, then doesn’t Facebook just reflect how they’d be in other public settings? Which I guess brings me to the issue that I’ve learned from this run-in with gunners: garbage in, garbage out. Maybe the only reason I like Facebook is because I like my friends and they are easy to deal with. There are even some pro-gun folks among my Facebook friends, many of them from the five years I spent in rural Oregon in my childhood or from the West Point debate team. But because we have the bond of friendship, we are able to be respectful in a way that many of the gunners were not yesterday.

So perhaps the critique of Facebook, like so much of the Internet, as a siloing echo-chamber, is valid. Most every algorithm that the primary holders of the Internet, be they Facebook, Google, or Apple, have developed in the last half-decade has been designed to customize our Internet experience to be more reflective of what we already believe. What we want, what we think, what we feel is just shot back at us in search results, the friends whose posts get bumped higher in our feed, and the ads we see. And much of it is, ultimately, about advertising. People want to customize and tailor advertising to get precisely in our head, to be as close to intercepting our inner monologue as possible in order to understand exactly how to sell us goods and services. This little capitalist worm that infects everything has inspired the tailoring, but it is probably not the only thing that drives it. Certainly we are comfort-seeking beings, no matter how much harm being comfortable ultimately does us. And it’s comfortable to wrap ourselves in a cocoon where only the like-minded surround us.

The problem is, of course, that there aren’t ground-rules for debating on the Internet, so it’s not possible to learn quite as much from Facebook comments like “With such a outrageous statement for a title no sane person will even read your article …. If the title is bullshit your article most likely is to!” or “Blue Pyramid sounds like the name of a Butt Plug…” or even just the classic “STFU” as I might from, say, a 45-minute ordered discussion on the topic. But maybe I’ve been spoiled by decades of formal debate experience. Maybe it’s good to just get down in the mud and wrassle with folks who spew invective in lieu of argumentation.

I guess I’ll close with the most popular article I saw yesterday from my actual Facebook friends, who were not the folks commenting at length on my Blue Pyramid post. The title was Your opinion on gun control doesn’t matter. And I think that kind of sums up where we stand at the ideological divide here in the United States in 2015. People just don’t think the other person’s opinion matters. They will rarely engage with it or interact in any real way. They will rarely regard it as something to be considered. They will simply hold their opinion and observe that the other person’s doesn’t matter.

And look, I’m not holding myself outside of this in some way. I have strong, firmly held beliefs that rarely change. My goal when I talk to others is usually to persuade. As a lifelong student of persuasion, I see that as core to my purpose here.

But at a certain point, I wonder how we’re going to rebuild bridges of discourse when everyone is getting swallowed up into their own cocoons and bubbles and silos. For all the world’s burgeoning connections, we seem to be building just as many walls.

by

The Second Amendment is Terrorism

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

2ndAmendmentTerror

I’m writing this in the evening following the San Bernardino mass shooting, for context to future readers who may run across this post. My guess is that the San Bernardino mass shooting doesn’t ring a bell with you, because it set no kind of record to distinguish itself from the handful of mass shootings that you do, at this point, remember. It was not a trend-setter like Columbine, it did not open new horrors of venue like Aurora, of high-profile target like Tucson, or of low-age targets like Sandy Hook. It probably has not been memorialized in a permanently posted Onion article like UCSB, nor was it the first big one at a college like Virginia Tech.

I could go on, as the shootings have and will. Odds are you don’t even remember all the names dropped up there, despite the captivity on imagination that they all have at this point in our nation’s history. Tonight, the media belongs to San Bernardino as everyone gets used to that second, silent R and trots out the same sad outrage that nothing is being done to prevent this near daily occurrence in our allegedly civil society.

There are many things one could focus on, and there’s a blog post for all of them, or thousands. They’ve been written before and linked before and gone viral before. Hooray. Tonight, I’m focusing on the second amendment. Because that, more than anything, is the chapter and verse that sanctifies gun ownership in this country. And gun ownership, no matter how it is checked or extolled, limited or promoted, is the root cause of gun violence. Without guns, there could not be gun violence. There could be violence, yes, but not gun violence. There could be stabbings and rock-throwings and poisonings. There is a reason that there are almost no mass stabbings, mass rock-throwings, and mass poisonings in our society. These are difficult, tiring, and inefficient ways to kill people. If you want to do a lot of damage and you aren’t a government, you use guns. Very occasionally explosives, but mostly guns.

So let’s look at why we have the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s for terrorism. No, my right-wing friends, not to prevent terrorism. To guarantee the right to commit terrorism. Yeah, I’m gonna go to the actual text on this one:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

In the context of the militia that fought the American Revolution and inspired this little devastating snippet of our highest code of laws, there are basically two ways to read this. The way it was probably intended involves the lack of standing army and the militia being the only way the US could imagine repelling invading forces that were sure to come from Europe or elsewhere. The militia was the army of the people, by the people, and for the people, so everyone needed a musket at home in case the militia had to be rounded up at dawn to fight off the reconquering British. It would be really inefficient to keep all the muskets in the federal armory and send out Revere and friends to throw everyone a gun when the alarm was sounded. Plus, the American Revolution was a guerrilla war and the Americans assumed future wars on US soil would follow suit, thus decentralization of armaments would be key.

However, this clause of the Constitution has gotten reinterpreted to be a right to violent self-defense, not for the government, but from the government. And it could be argued that this was (at least some of) the framers’ intent as well, what with Jefferson and the bloody trees of liberty from time to time and all that. So if we’re all going to hold hands and collectively pretend that the militia bit isn’t there at all, or that the words “well regulated militia” actually mean “guy in a basement”, then it’s a right to take up arms against the state. Er, State. On behalf, presumably, of the People.

Well, folks, that’s terrorism. The right to violently check your own government in small but hurtful ways that deter government overriding your liberty or will? That’s what we’re calling terrorism these days. The second amendment is a little provision in our Constitution that says citizens are permitted to commit terrorism. Nay, that the right to commit terrorism shall not be infringed.

I mean, sure. Maybe it doesn’t have to come to actually firing the guns. Maybe the point is that the guns, merely as possessions, will be sufficient to deter government action. But the government currently has tanks and stealth bombers and nuclear weapons. And while “arms” does not, strictly speaking, mean guns, the NNWA (National Nuclear Weapon Association) has failed to gain sufficient lobbying power to reinterpret that word in this amendment to ensure that we all have a right to our own household mini-nuke. Though, really, if the framers’ intent was to guarantee that we could deter the government, then that’s what we deserve. Not that anyone currently shooting up the place would possibly misuse a household mini-nuke.

The point is that the argument for individual ownership of guns in a truly private setting requires the belief that people should be able to bear (and presumably fire) guns at the government to prevent their liberty from being infringed. It is strange that so many die-hard second amendment advocates, or at least those who claim to advocate the amendment, the NRA, and its ilk, are simultaneously so angry at Edward Snowden. He merely fired information at the government in order to defend his liberty. Despite repeated claims that someone, somewhere, would die for his actions, no humans were killed in the making of his leak. And yet the amendment so vaunted should actually have given him the right to shoot up the NSA had they tried to stop him.

I know the tone of this post is glib in places, which you’d be within your rights to find inappropriate in the wake of the latest* shooting in San Bernardino. At least 14 people are dead by the volitional acts of their countrymen. But make no mistake, this is serious business: it is incoherent to simultaneously defend the second amendment and decry terrorism. Not just because one tends to lead to the other, but because one literally authorizes the other.

*I hope. I haven’t checked the news in the hour or so it’s taken to write this post.

My only explanation of how this country can continue to cling to this fatally flawed amendment in the wake of the cascading reality of mass-shooting culture is that we are so pridefully obsessed with our self-image as a country that we are categorically incapable of admitting mistakes. It’s how a nation can continue to not apologize for genocide, slavery, internment camps, and bombing the civilians of nearly every other country on the planet. It’s how a nation can continue to demand that all of its leaders believe and regularly proclaim that the country itself is the epitome of human perfection. It’s how a nation can continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over, at home and abroad, for a willful refusal to even try to learn.

Look, the amendments aren’t ironclad. We outlawed slavery at some point with a new amendment. We even undid an amendment with a later amendment! We didn’t always have this infallible notion of ourselves. The framers whose intent we care so much about were a band of unruly, arguing misfits with no governmental experience. They would probably have been delighted to hear that we’d make it past 200 years, but equally horrified that we were carting around their precise verbiage like holy relics. Think about how much Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin cared for the traditional order of their time. Then think about San Bernardino.

I said San Bernardino.

It was the one after the Planned Parenthood Clinic but before the other… oh, never mind.

by

The Conflation Problem

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

HillarySnapchat

There is a troubling trend afoot among supporters of Hillary Clinton. In their haste to embrace her as the avatar of all women in her quest for the White House, many articles have surfaced that claim the main or only reason people truly oppose her candidacy is because she is female. In so doing, there is a not-so-subtle effort underway to brand her opponents as universally sexist and to conflate every character criticism and policy objection with sexism. While there is no doubt that some of her opponents are sexist, just as some of Obama’s are racist, this overall conflation that all critiques of Clinton are borne of sexism is dangerously misleading and, ultimately, an effort to silence legitimate and important objections to her candidacy.

This kind of identity conflation is nothing new. It’s seen most prominently and actively in the conflation of all opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism. When hard-line right-wing Israeli leaders are pushed on the treatment of Palestinians, they retreat to lumping their critics in with Hitler to avoid talking about the real issues. This is equally prominent in debates with US-based supporters of Israel, and perhaps more so. Never mind that the most virulent objections to Israeli policy come in the internal domestic debate inside Israel and that by this logic, many Jews in the Knesset are also anti-Semitic. A government capable of blaming the entire Holocaust on the Palestinian people (reframing occupation of Palestine as a new front of World War II rather than a sadly ironic lack of compassion) has no problem using the notion of anti-Semitism as a blank check for all dubious activities, many of them racist. While this conflation is often effectively stifling to speech, it is utterly illogical.

It’s a difficult thing to talk about, because there are actual racists and sexists out there. There are some people who oppose Obama primarily because he’s African-American and some who oppose Hillary primarily because she’s a woman. And yes, society has subtle and insidious ways of making us more racist and sexist than we’d aspire to be. But no one thinks Elizabeth Warren or even Sarah Palin is a flip-flopper on issues just because there are sexists out there. We think this of Hillary Clinton because she has changed her opinion on almost every significant issue in this campaign. Because even now, her most avid supporters are openly embracing the idea that she’s lying about her stance on TPP to beat Bernie Sanders. Because she equivocates on almost every position even once she’s changed it. “I didn’t have a position on Keystone until I had a position on Keystone” is an actual quote from the debate she allegedly dominated. We aren’t worried about these stances because she’s a woman; we’re worried about them because they indicate that we have no idea whatsoever what she would actually do or advocate for in the White House.

The sting of this concern is especially strong following the last two Democratic Presidents, at least from the progressive perspective. Obviously Obama’s first term was a sad little shadow of what we were promised in the Hope and Change campaign of 2008. Gitmo, accelerated drone strikes, a health-care reform package that prioritized corporations over everything and was barely negotiated, and a stirring lack of social reforms or advances all combined to make left-wing critics of Obama’s policies. These people were not racist. Many of them voted for Obama. Was there a racist among them? Sure. Were some people perhaps in denial about race creeping into their criticism? Sure. But should their objections have been excluded from the discussion because a racist agreed with them sometimes? Of course not.

And of course a lot of the reason we (I guess I should say I here) worry about Hillary Clinton is because of her husband, who did more to move the Democratic Party right on the political spectrum than probably anyone in history. A champion of centrism and double-talking, his time in office was marked by little besides scandal, obfuscation, and DOMA. Yes, the economy thrived while he happened to be in office, but the limited connection between a President’s policies and the contemporary economy is well-documented. And much of that thriving was the vaunted irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble, that burst late enough in his term to keep him away from blame. The best that can be said about Bill’s Presidency is that he did nothing in office, just took up space for eight years and survived impeachment. While there are some who want that from the President, just to let everything happen and get out of the way and smile for the camera, progressives tend to want more solutions from their leaders. The Bill Presidency is a little too like the Freedom Caucus – content to fiddle while the country does whatever it does. I really don’t think we want 4-8 more years of that.

Which is not to say that Hillary would definitely do what her husband did. There are many claims out there that she’s more progressive than Bill, though the record doesn’t really seem to bear that out with her joining the gay marriage movement very late indeed and her stated desire to utilize the military early and often. Regardless, we’re also all in recovery from seeing a second Bush Presidency that was even more Bushy than the first, doubling down on the mistakes and pushing harder into wars for oil. A similar doubling down on the first Clinton Presidency is nearly as worrisome.

It is important to talk about these concerns. It is vital to talk about where Hillary’s money comes from and how that diminishes her credibility when she says she’s going to take on Wall Street (yes, Bernie missed a chance to dunk the debate by not pointing this out). It is essential that we continue to ask Hillary for her stance on issues she’d rather not comment on, or that she gave a different audience a different answer last week. It is critical that we discern which wars she’s likely to start, who she wants to bomb and kill, so we can determine if that’s really where we want the next 4-8 years to be spent.

Hillary is not the first politician for whom pure ambition seems to be the driving factor. Nor do all of the other politicians who seem driven by this force skate by just because they are generally men. Ambition and power for their own sake are never appealing characteristics. Most of those pointing out that this seems to be Hillary’s desire are not doing so because she’s a woman, but because that seems to be her only motivation. It didn’t seem to be Sarah Palin’s motivation, nor Elizabeth Warren’s. It also doesn’t seem to be Bernie’s motivation, making the contrast especially strong in this primary race. Not because of Bernie’s chromosomes, but because of his character. As with all royal families, the Bushes and the Clintons seem to care, first and foremost, about the empowerment and enrichment of the Bushes and the Clintons. And it is reasonable, and not sexist, to be wary of both Jeb and Hillary on these grounds alone.

Where there is racism or sexism behind an objection, it’s good to observe that. We just must be very careful not to conflate the notion of criticizing anyone with prejudice against their identity group(s).

by

I Find Your Lack of Amy Sherman-Palladino Disturbing

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

GilmoreWars

You get bullet points today. Because I’m overdue to post, but nothing stays in my head longer than a paragraph in the morning these days. Just pretend Introspection is back.

-I think I may be the person in the world most mutually excited about the return of Star Wars and Gilmore Girls. And not just because I live in an apartment where old seasons of the Gilmore Girls are on a loop in the background most waking hours and this offers the opportunity for new content. I’m also that guy who didn’t think the prequels were much of a departure from the originals – yes, there was stilted cheezy dialogue and poorly sequenced action. Watch the originals. Same thing. Doesn’t make me love Star Wars any less, nor should it for you. The intro music still gets me going. And the fact that Amy Sherman-Palladino will be back for Gilmore Girls salvages the whole project, since the last season of GG to date was pretty close to unwatchable. Now if only we can convince her to write one of the Star Wars movies, we’ll really be in business!

-Living in Louisiana is different. This is a trivial statement: all of the places I’ve lived are different. But in the New Orleans bubble of craziness and left-wing politics, it’s easier to forget that we’re in the Deep South, or at least an hour’s drive from it. Lately, Facebook ads have been trying to remind me. It’s very weird to see a barrage of ads criticizing right-wing Republicans for being too moderate or not Republican enough. My political views on Facebook are “Pacifist Socialist”. I have liked about 14 pages associated with Bernie Sanders. I am trying to make this easy for you. Granted, you don’t have “Pacifist Socialist” indexed in your political spectrum, but I promise I am not the droid you are looking for.

-All debate teams are the same. Again, this is kind of trivially untrue, because the tone set by leadership and the goals of the team can make the experience of the members of the team wildly different. But deep down, at a fundamental core level, the dynamics and interactions and aspirations are all the same. After debating on high school and college teams and coaching professionally, I find this deeply comforting as I start to get more involved with yet another college debate team, despite their being on a different league entirely. And for what it’s worth, slow NPDA is really not as different from APDA as you’d expect. There’s slightly more technical jargon and less overall creativity that comes from the pre-set resolutions (which are predictably topical, generally speaking), but the basics of speeches and what makes for success are easily recognizable. The problem with the league as I can discern it is that it’s so regionally fragmented that the event is completely different in different regions, much like LD when I was in high school. So the exact same performance could win a tournament in one area and go omnidefeated in another. Unfortunately, like every debate format in the world except for APDA and BP, speed has taken over the top of the national circuit, which is a thing Tulane will have to figure out if we’re going to go beyond regional success. Or we could just sit on the even fence of southern NPDA and southern APDA, I suppose.

-I really hope Joe Biden gets into the race. Not because anyone should vote for Joe Biden, but because 95% of his support will come from current Hillary voters. There’s no way that Biden can beat Bernie Sanders, but he can peel enough knee-jerk Clinton support to vault Sanders into a clear lead in the primaries. And all you people moaning about winning should be looking not only at Trump and Carson, but also at Obama and Trudeau and Greece and Corbyn… there is a wave of positive, left-wing populism abroad in the land that can also win here. And if the Republicans nominate a populist and the Democrats trot out the politician’s ultimate politician, it’s going to be a bloodbath. If winning is your primary (pun!) Democratic concern, then you need to take a long hard look at a general election scenario between Trump and Hillary. Turnout, energy, and excitement drive election results in this country. “Obvious” Democratic establishment choices drive the failed candidacies of Al Gore, John Kerry, and HHH. The last time an establishment Democrat won the White House (outside of a re-election campaign) was FDR in 1932.

by

Unemployment Jumps in September, Reporting Gap Hits Record 6.52%

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Tags: ,

For every person listed as officially unemployed in yesterday’s jobs report, there are another 1.28 people who are really unemployed, but are not captured because they have left or never entered the labor force. In total terms, this means that 7,915,000 people are “unemployed” and another 9,140,784 are unemployed, but living in what I call the “Reporting Gap” where they cannot be seen by the official BLS numbers. These folks have either given up looking for work, were ineligible for unemployment because they’ve never had (and thus lost) a regular job, or have restructured their life outside of a legal job because they just don’t think it’s feasible for them. If our numbers were more honest, they’d show that over 17 million Americans are out of work, or 11.62% of the population.

Here are your charts:

Real (red) and reported (blue) unemployment, Jan 2009 - Sep 2015.

Real (red) and reported (blue) unemployment, Jan 2009 – Sep 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, Jan 2009 - Sep 2015.

Reporting Gap between real and reported unemployment, Jan 2009 – Sep 2015.

Real unemployment is now at its highest rate since December 2014, when it was 11.66%. Unemployment has been above 11% for 77 consecutive months, since May 2009.

The Reporting Gap hit a record high of 6.52%, surpassing a record 6.23% from last month. It has been above 6% for four straight months, and above the reported unemployment rate for 10 straight months, since December 2014. This means that the official unemployment rate has been capturing less than half the unemployed for all of 2015.

I hasten to add that my real unemployment figure includes no one who is working part-time or less than they’d like to be. It includes no one who is working at all. Including people from that popular U-6 figure (currently 10%), would push the overall unemployment rate well above 15%. But I think U-6 unemployment, while capturing some job distress or under-utilization of the employment market, is far less accurate for the phrase unemployment than my figure, since people working even a couple hours a week are employed. Not one of the 17 million people I would call unemployed is working professionally (at least legally) so much as an hour a week.


This is part of a continuing series on the under-reporting of unemployment in the United States of America.

Past posts (months indicate the month being analyzed – the post is in the month following):
July 2015
June 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014 – labor force participation assessment
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014 – age assessment
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
April 2014
December 2013 – seasonal assessment
December 2013
March 2013*
August 2012*
July 2012* – age assessment
July 2012*

*My initial analyses led to a slight over-reporting of the impact of the reporting gap, so the assessments in these posts are inflated, as explained and corrected in the December 2013 analysis.

by

Volkswagen and Corporate Impunity

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

VWThinkGreed

“Corporation, n.: an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

The only thing shocking about the recent incident involving Volkswagen lying about the emissions of their so-called “clean diesel” vehicles is that people are shocked by it.

Or, perhaps, that people seem to believe that Volkswagen is the only company doing something like this.

The entire structure of the way corporations are built and expected to act in modern America, especially large MNCs, is to incentivize and reward this kind of behavior. And increasingly, the advent of major so-called “free trade” deals is designed to give those corporations supremacy over the laws they already blatantly ignore. Law is merely national, while corporations are forever and supreme. And once the law officially gives primacy to the corporation over the nation-state, there will be nothing left to check the nearly ubiquitous cheating, skimming, corner-cutting, lying, and outright fraud that pervades the corporate reality.

The problem, as many corporate apologists have observed, is that corporations are designed and their leaders feel obliged to uphold only one principle: profit. Which, of course, is the opposite of principle, because it’s merely a count of dollars at the end of the day, however and wherever they were acquired. And the larger problem, of course, is that there is only one way to punish a corporation: by taking away money. But not and never all of the money. Only some of the money. Corporate dissolution is not an option the nation-state has given itself to combat misbehavior, nor, realistically, are any sorts of individual punishment like prosecution for fraud. In a world where not one CEO, banker, or financial engineer has faced prosecution for a financial crisis that defrauded and impoverished millions of actual human beings, how could anyone sitting in a corporate office elsewhere even begin to fear personal disempowerment, impoverishment, or imprisonment for any act they choose?

This system means that literally all incentives and disincentives are calculated financial transactions. That is merely the business of business. Just as profits are expected to outrun expenditures (pushing down wages, prices for goods, health insurance premiums, taxes, and anything else the corporation may have to pay), they are also expected to outrun fines, fees, and other wrist-slaps administered by less profitable organizations. The question of whether to lie, cheat, steal, commit fraud, violate sanctions, or otherwise take an illegal advantage is merely referred to the bean-counters. Will this, on average, make us more money than it costs? If yes, proceed.

I don’t doubt that there is a corporation somewhere, or maybe even a few, that are not operating by this principle. The great problem with economics as a theory of life is that it totally overlooks the human element, mechanistically assigning the exact same set of motivations and priorities to every single individual person without fail, ignoring the multitudinous diversity of actual people and their lives. Of course some corporations are run by people who believe in the rule of law or ethical principles or even (God forbid!) morality. Of course fear of losses is not the only thing driving everyone in all of their decisions on any given day. The scary thing is that, increasingly, these voices of purported reason (or tradition?) are getting drowned out by actual statutes that say a corporation is singularly beholden to its shareholders and that their only priority must be profit. We are on the verge of the concept that corporate leaders have a fiduciary obligation to commit as much fraud, deceit, and trickery as can outrun the punishments for it and pad the bottom line. Otherwise, they will face the wrath of investors who can rightfully point across the street to Volkswagen or down the hall to this or that bank that wantonly fixed currency prices or traded with allegedly isolated Iran and say “see, they’re trying to get every advantage they can! What are you doing for me?”

Like police impunity, like the war crimes committed by US Presidents, the only possible antidote for this ever-escalating race to the bottom is accountability. People have to believe and internalize that there can be consequences for bad behavior to feel it’s not worth it. And right now the scales are so badly tipped in the direction of total impunity that it will actually take several high-profile examples of accountability to even begin to suggest to the corporate bean-counters that punishment (real punishment that’s not just a few million dollars) is a reasonable possibility to be taken into the calculus. We could dissolve Volkswagen, imprison its executives, strip all wealth from said executives, and garnish their wages for life, and most corporations would merely recalibrate to lying a little less than VW did. That said, this level of punishment is many scales of magnitude beyond what even the most hawkish prosecutor is considering or even has as a disposable tool. Volkswagen will live through this, just as BP survived the oil spill and Exxon its own, as Blackwater survived its war crimes and all the tobacco companies have persisted. The worst possible punishment is to have to rebrand, and that’s only the worst because it actually costs more than the fines incurred for wrongdoing.

Anger at Volkswagen misses the point. It has its purpose, since it marginally drives up the chance that this will be the rare time there are moderate levels of accountability instead of zero to none. But all that is mostly Titanic deck-chairs. The lifeboats are questioning the whole system that incentivizes and openly encourages this behavior, that makes monsters of men, that takes most of the smartest and best educated minds in our world and turns them into coal-shovelers on a runaway train of profit for profit’s sake. It doesn’t matter where that train is headed or how much coal costs in human, animal, or planetary terms. More coal! This train must move, ever onward, into oblivion, spewing toxicity in every direction.

by

Democracy at the Crossroads

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Corbyn

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
-Winston Churchill

It is the fundamental human assumption that one lives at the time of terminal understanding of the world, the universe, and human affairs. This, I think, is the direct result of being temporal beings, doomed to live a finite existence making regular steady progress from birth to death on a planet that is always making its own equally steady journey. It is very challenging to see oneself as just at a sad point in the early part of history where not very much progress has been made and not very much is understood, nor will it be in one’s lifetime. This is a depressing and frustrating thought that leads to the apparent meaninglessness of one’s individual existence which is, in a very real sense, each person’s world. It is also, unfortunately, a true thought.

But we have toasters! We have airplanes and cars and iPhones and bombers! Surely this is the time of terminal understanding! Let’s turn to another celebrated British quote-maker on this one…

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s really tough for us to wrap our minds around democracy being a failed and sort of silly experiment on the long journey toward functional government, or toward a favorable state of affairs for humanity. And yet I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is the fate democracy faces, and sooner than later depending on the outcome of the next few elections in the major states subscribing to this theory of government. But there is a last gasp of the democratic spirit asserting itself throughout these nation-states, a last desperate tide to prove that a government alleging to be of, by, and for the people can actually produce results that live up to this claim. It is the sudden popularity of far-left populism. It is the election of Alexis Tsipras in Greece, the appointment just now of Jeremy Corbyn to head the Labour Party in the UK, and the emerging and ongoing surge of Bernie Sanders to the top of the polls in the US.

These people are unlikely heroes, and it is their unlikeliness that drives much of their power and appeal. Corbyn and Sanders buck all the trends of traditional democratic power brokers. They are old, they identify as socialists, they can easily be characterized as disgruntled ranters. They don’t play well with others in their party because they’ve carried decades of conviction that consistently spurn the wishy-washy adjust-to-polls commercialism of the last three decades of so-called leftist politics in their country. While Labour and the Democrats have been out starting wars, chasing corporations, and trading their principles for money, Corbyn and Sanders have been diligently trotting out the real principles of a people-driven left-wing agenda. And until now, getting basically no traction outside a loyal following in their home districts.

So what’s changed? Why is 2015 the year that these aging scions of consistency get popular?

The reality is that politics as a whole in most Western democracies have swung so far to the right, that really no one besides Corbyn and Sanders can even be described as leftists anymore. There are several key causes that can be explained as a general combined force, but have come together to make the right-wing shift radically rightward and the center-left head to the right of where the right-wing used to be. The shifts have been multifarious and subtle enough to not be noticed as a radical pendulum shift, but all the little hops along the way have suddenly led us to a place where the outrageously radical left is the only thing standing to the left of true center.

Some causes:

1. The learning of the military-industrial complex since the Vietnam War.
While the left went out and celebrated finally stopping an utterly insane slaughterhouse in Vietnam, the right went home and tried to learn from their mistakes. They realized that drafts were always going to create problems, so they altered the draft system into the Selective Service and went to work advancing the de facto economic draft. They improved jingoistic propaganda to promote the military, brought militaristic pride into sports and other venues where it would attract low-income soldiers who felt they had few or no other options. And they continued to buy massive amounts of technology to ensure that war would be more devastating for the “enemy” and less costly for US soldiers. They realized that only a few people cared about the dead Vietnamese in that war, but it was all the American body-bags that meant the gravy train of war had to end. So war would have to become more antiseptic, with fewer American casualties, so that more wars could be fought more often. The first Iraq War was the perfect test of the new approach to militarism, and went off without a hitch. By the time of the “War on Terror”, the military-industrial complex had ensconced a perfect system that “didn’t do body counts”, embedded journalists and the media right into the military, made sure everyone was on the same team, and neutralized all opponents as un-American. I could write tens of post on the little insidious ways all this has manifest since 9/11, but the groundwork for it was laid long before. The result is that even a President who most of the country saw as quite leftist and won the Nobel Peace Prize regularly kills named individuals abroad (something that was explicitly against US policy pre-9/11), intervenes with weaponry, advice, and soldiers in most armed conflicts around the world, keeps operating a prison that holds people who have been their for a decade and a half without charges, and is on a rather unscrutinized war footing with several foreign nations or people in their territory. And really no one questions it, outside of people in the radical left.

2. The advancement of debt as a tool of control.
Call this more learning from the Vietnam era. In an age when the most academically inclined and ambitious young people all gathered together to think about the future of their country for an affordable price, these campuses fomented a strong awareness of the problems with that society and how to fix them. These students were being raised as future leaders, they saw themselves that way, and anything was possible. In today’s economic landscape, college students don’t think of the future as a place of possibility, by and large. They think of the present as a brief respite from the real world, an oasis of personal exploration before they have to start paying for it, literally, for the rest of their life. While some are starting to break away from this system quite recently, most still believe that the piece of paper that comes at the end of this spending spree is the only possible ticket for the future they imagine and that the alternatives are too ghastly to contemplate. As a result, they willingly sign away their future economic well-being to have some hope at an even further-flung future of economic well-being. Thus, today’s college students are far more interested in law school, investment banking, corporate consulting, and anything else that greases the wheels of the neo-capitalist machine because it offers the whisper of relief from their enormous indebtedness. It’s all well and good to debate the merits and ethics of a job when one has economic freedom. When facing six figures of crippling debt that one cannot declare bankruptcy from, the choice quickly seems like fealty to the highest corporate bidder or death. Most choose the former. And thus the greatest minds of my generation expend their energy fueling an immoral system that places profit above people unquestioningly. Worse, almost everyone in that system feels they have no choice and no control, thus they don’t feel agency over the people-defeating choices they make. This is an incredibly right-wing system, but people just see it as “the way things are”. The result is massive wealth consolidation at the top and increased desperation at the bottom. And the bottom is increasingly close to 50% or 60% of the population.

3. The unfettered rise of the corporation.
When the corporation is the only thing that can save us from our debt, we increasingly see ourselves as workers first and everything else (family members, Americans, humans) second. Or last. The increasing rise of disaster capitalism, sampled in the dot-com bust and accelerated to a fever pitch in 2008’s financial crisis, have forced the issue time and again of the corporation’s pre-eminence over the nation-state. There have been so many insidious large and small steps in this chain of events that they are almost too difficult to all chronicle, though I have blogged about many of them individually. The endless rhetoric that government is inefficient while corporations are ruthlessly efficient, even though only corporations produce the waste we call “profit”. The meme that lowering taxes creates growth, despite forty years of evidence to the contrary. The definition of everything about the success and health of society in economic terms, which enables us to support things like a bloated, crippling private health industry that routinely bankrupts thousands of people each day because that industry is a huge portion of the economy and the health of “The Economy” is all that matters. Free-trade deals and agreements that offer massive power to corporations at the expense of countries. Corporate personhood. Citizens United and an unending stream of decisions that give corporations the power to buy off the government. Massive deregulation. The investment of everyone’s retirement fund into the stock market. Too big to fail. Bailouts left, right, and center. Unending zero-percent interest, amounting to an endless free loan to corporations direct from the printers of currency themselves. The list goes on and on and on.

4. The rise of the prison-industrial complex.
An unabated series of “tough on crime” local authorities have been able to arm their police forces like our new high-firepower dehumanized military and funnel people into prisons or graves. The dire consequences of this reality have only gotten attention in the last 18 months, somehow, despite years of an administration with an African-American President perfectly positioned to discuss these issues and bring them to the fore. Our police imprison and kill more people than any law-enforcement authority in the world, by far, and they are so sequestered and marginalized and sent away for so long, that no one advocates for them whatsoever. Worse, the increasing rise of private prisons means that conditions are more dehumanizing than ever, in the name of profit and shareholders, our new gods in the increasingly right-wing world. Anyone who disagrees is seen as pro-crime, someone who wants the world to be more dangerous, and disregarded.

5. The destruction of social safety nets.
The Clinton administration, arguably more of a shift to the right than even the Reagan presidency, is largely responsible for this one, though it’s been ongoing for some time. Policies like workfare, putting more pressure on the unemployed, the destruction of school lunches and mental health facilities and everything else that takes care of people at the bottom have combined to make being poor totally unlivable. The fact that government is no longer taking care of people at the bottom increases the pressure on them to put themselves in the dead-end economy, which is why so many single mothers are now working 2-3 jobs and are still completely unable to pay their bills. Mythical memes like “welfare queens” have fueled this crazy rage at the poor that has led to a massive increase in homelessness that would be out of control were so many people not, through #4 above, now housed in prisons instead. Non-profits have emerged and grown to pick up the slack left by government absence, but even these (and I say this as a loyal non-profiteer) are increasingly beholden to corporations and the wealthy to fund their efforts, leading to almost none of them advocating for policy changes. The more that the government is put out of the business of taking care of those at the bottom, the more that those already doing well financially are seen as the saviors of everything in society, creating greater loyalty to their interests, just as investing government pensions in the stock market creates government interest in propping up its value.

These are the big ones, though you can see that each contains a bevy of large and incremental changes that have lulled us into this right-wing fantasy world. And there have been just enough socially leftist changes to distract us from what a massive rightward tilt every other policy has made. The rise of gay marriage and legal marijuana, almost entirely through popular referenda or the courts, have made us think that political progress in the last thirty years is somehow a mixed bag, when actually it’s a giant right-wing stomp. But these also illustrate the ever-widening gap between politicians and the people. When the people get to decide directly, then left-wing policies tend to be enacted. Politicians would never have implemented gay marriage, as seen by how many establishment politicians took forever to endorse the policy. It’s only the courts, who remain relatively loyal to a set of principles, and the people, who fundamentally don’t seem to want all this reactionary policy (but feel powerless to stop it) who can implement anything to the left of center.

But that may be starting to change as the real leftists make an unlikely last gasp to save our democracy from itself. The burdens of austerity and corporate control have been so massive, the shifts in our priorities so rapid and fundamental, that socialists are the only ones left to speak of alternatives. It’s not stunning that veterans of the sixties are often the only ones left to speak for this possibility, since so many Millennials and Xers are too resigned to the status quo to believe that corporate control can be curbed. The old are an unlikely voice for radicalism, but that has not dampened how compelling these voices have been.

Taking control of the traditional left-wing party is, of course, only the beginning. The mechanisms that modern democracies have put in place to thwart a left-wing resurgence are multifarious. Corbyn now heads the Labour Party, but can he win a national election? Surely he seems to be the person who can bring SNP voters that fled Labour last time back into the fold as the possibility of a real shift left becomes feasible. But all the money and traditional corporate-fueled media is solidly against him, so it remains to be seen how it will play out. And Sanders is increasingly taking the lead in the race to functionally head the Democratic Party, but there’s a long way to go. Will this be a replay of Eugene McCarthy in 1968, who upset incumbent LBJ and forced him out of the race, only to have the establishment regroup around RFK and HHH as alternatives, then kill off RFK so that Chicago’s convention could be stolen and the party restored to the power elites? Or will the momentum of Bernie be simply too popular, especially as the rise of Trump on the other side speaks to a populist rebellion that finally sees through the garbage of all the corporatist shenanigans above and wants a real change?

It’s an exciting time to look at these things, that much is clear. It may not be the terminal point of politics, but it’s a really exciting crossroads. We could realistically have a 2016 convention season that matters, where one or both of the delegate leaders have the nomination withheld by party elites as the Republican or Democratic establishment simply refuses to choose the person the people have chosen. And then what? Will we have four major candidates for President, including two major-party “choices” who the people have already rejected? Will there be any illusion of democracy after such an election season? Or will the parties go back to actually betting on the people and letting the chips fall where they may? Do corporations and the current complexes have enough of a hold on the pendulum that it cannot swing back naturally as political cycles tend to?

We’ll find out!

But to the extent that you can, you can influence these results. You, if you like the idea of democracy and want to give it another go, can try to be a believer. Don’t be skeptical, don’t give in to the voices saying “unelectable” and that it will never work. Because we get to choose. Or at least we can believe we can choose, and that might make all the difference.

1 2 3 4 5 72 73