Sunday, December 18, 2011

Training the Next Generation of Enforcers,
Training the 99% to "Know Their Place"

It has been common for fictional television programs to paint a picture of everyday law enforcement as being encumbered by, and/or wantonly disregarding, many normal civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution, its amendments, and case law. Intentional or not, this has the inevitable result of undermining accurate public knowledge of civil liberties and expectations for police behavior. Get a significant portion of the public trained via television dramas to the memes that nearly anything goes (and is justified) in policing, that civil liberties are an impediment to public safety, and, above all, that cops are always the good guys, then in the real world, abuses of power by law enforcement will be much more easily accepted.

September 11 also convinced many Americans that governmental spying on the American public — without cause or traditional court-issued warrants — was justified, even desirable. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced much of the American populace that drones are a desirable method of surveillance and warfare. The "logical" next step — for those who believe in a logic that ignores the lessons from the history of totalitarianism — is to expand governmental surveillance of the greater American public by means that include drones. That is beginning to happen, as documented in Glenn Greenwald's recent pieces in Salon. (Indeed, it appears that the deployment of drones with offensive weaponry designed to be used against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil is also in the works).

Finally, it has also been established by surveys that a substantial number of Americans — far more than is justified by actual economic mobility — believe that one day, they too will be rich, and it has been suggested that this belief has contributed to the strength of American right-wing politics and opposition to adequately-progressive taxation.

Ah, but for those wishing to advance an authoritarian, intrusive, and economically-unjust system of social relations, a problem remains. If these various current public memes are to become maximally effective, how can they be instilled at the earliest possible age? As the Jesuits have said with regard to religion, give them control of a child before age seven, and they'll have a Catholic for life. Similarly, in matters related to projection of, and obedience to, governmental authority, early exposure and internalization are highly important. And one of the central methods to achieve that is play.

I present below a sampling of slick recent advertisements for toys that promote the aforementioned memes. (I ignore traditional militarism and mayhem, as toys devoted to those memes are even more widespread and undoubtedly already familiar to most people; I also omit video games, as most are aimed at children older than the demographic for most of the toys below).

Happy shopping!

*Pepper spray, handcuffs not included

Of course, the "Protect & Serve" motto is present. As someone once said: If only it meant protecting and serving the 99 percent, rather than the 1 percent.

Handcuffs ARE included

From the Toys R Us description: "... Blow the whistle and flash the badge to tell the baddies to stop, and if they don't, administer some justice with the nightstick before holding them prisoner with the handcuffs. A knife rounds out the kit. ... True Heroes police, fire and soldier toys and spy gear let your kids emulate the latest blockbuster action movie as well as the people who make the world safe and just!"

Above comment is by "Mom from NYC"

From the Hasbro description: "... Put his pistol or gas grenade in one hand, leaving the other hand free for his K-9 companion’s leash! Order will be restored with your G.I. JOE figure on patrol!"

Note the belt-fed portable machine gun above, presumably useful when firing forty-one shots at an innocent man via standard departmental-issue semiautomatic sidearms would be too tiring to police trigger fingers. And what is the nature of the complex-looking "attached revolving weapon" on top of the truck? It appears too large to be a riot-control water cannon, and includes what seems to be a telescopic sight, certainly unnecessary for a water cannon.

Et tu, LEGO?

Above: Note the weaponry carried

For the young one-percenter-wannabe

Should aspirations to become a one-percenter not pan out, there is always the prospect of more plebian employment behind the drive-thru window.

It's never too early to start drone operator training, or to help acclimate your neighbors to being spied upon.

(Photos and descriptions are from manufacturer and retailer websites, and are deemed to constitute fair use, as they are being used to illustrate the slickness of the products and their marketing, the psychological effects that the products may produce in consumers, and the political effects that the products may produce in the nation).

Friday, October 28, 2011

The NYC Police Taking Pride in their Work --- plus a Message about our Social Security

Below is a screen snip from the slideshow accompanying a New York Times story on how cities are starting to move against "Occupy" protests.

I first took particular note of the photo for two reasons:

1) The sight of the two cops obviously straining, really getting into their "work" against an apparently hapless protester. Isn't it reassuring, in a time when so many employees supposedly don’t care about their work, to see two "workers" so serious about doing their job "right"?! (Or should I say "right-wing", instead of "right"?)

2) The large letters on the jacket of the "white-shirt" officer to the right that identify him as "police". This gets to the point I've raised previously (via comment to a story at the NYT, at the Sardonicky blog, and at RealityChex): I believe that all law enforcement and military should wear a large (at least 10 cm tall) identifying number on their uniform, to permit identification at a distance by witnesses and/or photography, of those in positions of authority who abuse their power. As in most jurisdictions, the New York City police have no problem wearing jackets with large letters that identify them as police — but when it comes to specific identification of a particular officer, that will be extremely small (if at all), and certainly not readable at a distance.

The photographer, Spencer Platt, has done a masterful job of capturing these essentials.

However, what prompted the screen grab was the incongruity of the juxtaposition of the above police action in the service of the powers-that-be, with the Charles Schwab advertisement about Social Security to the lower right — and the inanity of a New York Times system for placing advertisements with their content. While the Schwab ad refers to retirement planning, and the pairing was undoubtedly generated automatically, it nevertheless says much. It's about how the vast majority of the public — after more than three decades of being woefully short-changed relative to the corporations and the plutocracy — are about to have their social security and other benefits partially taken by a government (supercommittee, Congress, and the executive) seeking austerity on the backs of the people, in unjust response to a financial crisis largely caused by financial trading. It's about how our supposedly-guaranteed right to assemble for protest has been so constrained as to be a sham. It's about how the police as a whole serve the corporations and the plutocracy. And it's about how the powers-that-be — in any government — will always be able to find enforcers willing to physically act against the people.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Federal Budget Built via
"Direct-Democracy Earmarks"

by Fred Drumlevitch
October 3, 2011

As the U.S. Congress and its deficit-reduction supercommittee prepare to further cut safety-net and social programs, reduce regulatory oversight, ignore crumbling national infrastructure, continue absurdly high military and security spending, and refuse to make even modest additional demands of those who have richly profited from three decades of laissez-faire capitalism, many Americans have concluded that federal budgeting now operates with a philosophy that ranges from callous disregard to utter contempt for the well-being of the nation and most of its people. Philosophy, process, and result are all faulty.

In any endeavor, when a fundamental paradigm is found to be wrong, the only reasonable course of action is to replace it. I therefore propose a federal budget largely built on a new paradigm of "Direct-Democracy Earmarks" — the people themselves directly selecting the departments and programs to be funded. Every adult citizen would independently allocate an equal share of total federal discretionary spending.

Note that allocation independently done by each citizen not only produces collective expenditures in accord with aggregate public preferences, it also prevents both the subjugation of minority interests by a tyranny of the majority, and the blocking of majority interests by an obstructionist minority. While the proposed process is revolutionary, it stands entirely consistent with the founding of this nation, which sought to advance a more rational, moral, and democratic philosophy of government — a philosophy repeatedly betrayed during the past three decades. The democratic decentralization of my proposal rates as a notable improvement, for it will end many of the betrayals, absurd compromises, and episodes of gridlock now frequent in American politics, reduce the current bloated influence of big business and wealth, and, most importantly, finally empower the people in setting national priorities.

The American people already "own" the budget. Unfortunately, our "ownership" extends only to the debt/obligations side of the ledger. It's high time that we also owned the appropriations. We ostensibly elect representatives, but all too often those representatives view wealthy individual and corporate donors as their true constituency, and a significant portion of tax money is expended in ways harmful to the nation and to many of us individually — military adventurism and empire, unwarranted or inadequately-regulated corporate subsidies and bailouts, etc. However, we also see great sins of omission, with major national problems never adequately addressed, so cries of supposed "excessive taxation" falsely frame the central issue. This nation must categorically reject the never-ending, self-serving disinformation from the wealthy and the corporations seeking to avoid contributing their fair share to a country that has enabled them to prosper. Our problem isn't excessive taxation — it's what those taxes are used and not used for. The people of this nation need to reclaim ownership of national spending — and the only process that can be expected to properly accomplish that in our political environment is direct allocation, by all adult citizens, of the discretionary portion of the federal budget.

Will current politicians voluntarily permit it to happen? Of course not — if they can by any means prevent it. However, the Arab Spring should have taught Americans that today’s impossibility may become tomorrow’s inevitability. Thus, the more relevant questions are: Would such a budgeting structure work? Could it produce an allocation balance more progressive than what we currently have (let alone what we will have after the scheduled evisceration by the supercommittee)? Shouldn't progressives be willing to go forward with what would amount to a true grass-roots people's budget? Shouldn't libertarians and genuine conservatives support such a process as more representative of popular will than is government control? Shouldn't free-marketers of any stripe support it as being as close to their vaunted "wisdom of the market" as government can get? Shouldn't all honest citizens endorse it, as eliminating some of the corrupting influence of campaign contributions on the budget process?

Personally, I believe that more efficient, better results would come from allocation by a strong progressive government. But not only is our present government not progressive, even its center-right proposals continue to be blocked by right-wing extremists brandishing an ideological grenade with the pin removed. Our present course is a path to failure, and right-wing ideology will take us to a new dark age of corporatist plutocratic oligarchy. Absent strong progressive leadership and responsible conservatives, we need a new solution. I have proposed one.

I make no claim that my direct-democracy allocation proposal is perfect. Some government departments and programs would undoubtedly attempt to exploit my proposed system — but our current system has long been outrageously exploited, through fear and the widespread geographic sprinkling of contracts, by our "Defense" and "Homeland Security" departments. A mechanism would be needed to insure that accurate information is available to the people, and that departments/programs can make their case for funds to all citizens in an efficient and fair manner that doesn't bias the process towards manipulative mega-departments. Optimum granularity of the allocation menu and the best frequency and timing of the allocation process are yet to be determined. Finally, the direct allocation proposal I have outlined is not a complete solution; it does not itself impose the modest progressive tax increases that most reasonable economists agree are necessary — though it might make such increases more palatable through the promise of direct citizen control. Overall, one can say that complexities are present, but they are manageable, and quite tolerable in light of the benefits to be gained.

I believe that allocating federal discretionary spending via "Direct-Democracy Earmarks" has the potential to revitalize the nation. I assert that philosophy, process, and result would all be vastly superior to what we have now.

This post is hereby licensed for further use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

National Security and the American People — "Boiling the Frog"

At his 1933 inauguration, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke about fear, a declaration that bears repeating in these times: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear... is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance".

FDR was referring to economic problems, and may have slightly overstated his point, but he was mostly correct. Nowadays, his words might well be applied, with equal accuracy, to the issue of terrorism. We've come a long way since September 11, 2001; unfortunately the journey has been very much in the wrong direction. Since 9/11, Americans have made fear into an art form, and dangerously incorporated it into our political, legal, economic, and social systems. We've begged our government to protect us from terrorism risks that are not only quite small by absolute metrics but also completely dwarfed by other dangers. Consider: In the ten years since 9/11, approximately 380,000 Americans have died in motor vehicle accidents, more than 125 times as many as were killed by those airline terrorists. During the past ten years, heart disease has claimed over 6 million American lives, more than 2,000 times as many as were lost on 9/11. Even as I type this, perhaps a fatal obstruction is forming in one of my arteries — or yours. Irrespective of terrorism, our lives are finite, as are our resources. Reason suggests that efforts and expenditures should be at least roughly related to risk and benefit, but that basic principle is grossly violated by most of our terrorism-rationalized security actions (including our current Afghanistan presence). Despite their grandiose aspirations and occasional tragic impacts, terrorists are unlikely to be more than a small pit in the windshield of history for most Americans, and in the grand scheme of things. But as we continue to pour a fortune down the anti-terrorism rat-hole, the opportunity costs mount, and this nation slips further into decline. A deteriorated infrastructure, a priority on military and security spending, the off-shoring of manufacturing (unless the product is missiles or warplanes), a blank check for the financial manipulators, free rein for corporations, indifference to human needs and planetary ecological woes — what an embarrassing legacy this nation seems intent on leaving.

An even larger indirect danger exists, one entirely of our own making. Establishing a multitude of so-called "security" measures during the past ten years, both Republican and Democratic politicians together with enabling judges and the security-industrial complex have been all too eager to shred more than 200 years of Constitutional safeguards. Seeking absolute safety from terrorism, we are building an infrastructure for tyranny. And make no mistake, tyranny is by far the greater danger, clearly demonstrated by history. The three major totalitarian states of the 20th century are estimated to be collectively responsible for over 100 million deaths, many of them their own citizens. (See Matthew White's detailed compilation of casualties at for a sobering perspective on risk).

In many ways the issue of airline security is emblematic of what is wrong — and perhaps indicative of a broad solution. Beyond the danger from their contribution to the developing surveillance infrastructure and the way they condition us to accept totalitarian-style control, the airline "security" measures that have been imposed are also absurd, for they are neither likely to stop a knowledgeable determined terrorist, nor particularly effective compared to alternate methods, nor warranted by the actual threat level (which, even including 9/11, is statistically less than the risk of choking to death on a piece of food). Between the airlines which already treat their customers like livestock and the security apparatchiki who treat them like criminals, the situation for sentient commercial airline passengers has become intolerable. Yet, like sheep, so many passengers put up with it, applaud it, even bleat for more.

Several years ago, I decided that I would not fly until the treatment of passengers improved substantially. I haven't flown since. If enough people simultaneously boycotted the airlines for a sufficiently long time — one year of serious boycott should get their attention — we might see the necessary improvement. Some believe that we should tolerate absurdity and abuse; I suggest that the next twelve months be a self-imposed no-fly year for anyone who wishes to retain any self-respect (and actually see "change we can believe in"). Supplement that with a determination not to patronize stores, malls, cities, counties, and states where either rent-a-cops or official law enforcement violate common decency and infringe civil liberties — and inform management, government, and news media in those locations of the reason you are withholding spending. The boycott is a non-violent tactic with a long and largely honorable history, and some notable successes such as during the struggle for desegregation. It is broadly applicable across a wide range of corporate-governmental policies, and it may be the only tactic that corporate America and its governmental lackeys cannot easily dismiss.

As a closing note, I recommend that current politicians, would-be politicians, and security policy-makers and enforcers, whether they fly or not, all undergo mandatory full body searches and scans — but with particular focus on the cranium, to determine whether they have any common sense, any comprehension of relative risk, any appreciation of opportunity costs and the need for moral uses of capital, any understanding of historical paths to tyranny, and any belief in the value of liberty. What I fear is that they do not.

Fred Drumlevitch

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A "Handicap Principle" for Electoral Politics

Periodically, the idea of term limits for political office gains traction. I have some feelings of support for term limits, but I also have some reservations. While there are crooks and incompetents who have been in office for extended periods, there is no shortage of newly-elected ones. Conversely, some long-time office-holders have demonstrated genuine leadership beneficial to the nation. A separate but related issue is that the electorate is frequently given no good choices.

Here I make a procedural suggestion that differs from strict term limits, and which permits genuinely good leaders to continue to serve while making it progressively harder for bad ones to continue.

There would be an incrementing threshold for re-election; for Congress, the percentage of the cast votes required for election/reelection would equal 50 plus the number of years served in that office. Thus a Senator seeking re-election after one term, for example, would be required to get 56% of votes cast. A Representative seeking re-election after one term would be required to get 52%. In order to be realistic regarding margins achievable for the legislative branch, we might choose to cap the total required at somewhere between 62% and 68%. As for a President, given the extraordinary power and responsibility of the office, and the nearly four years he/she will have had to demonstrate competence (or lack thereof), the reelection threshold should be at least 60% of votes cast. That is not outlandish; a 60% grade on an exam is barely a "D".

Under this system, both the challenger and the incumbent might fail to reach their respective thresholds for election or reelection. In such a case, a new election would be held, with all previous general election candidates barred from participating. (Actually, irrespective of the presence of a differential threshold for new candidates and incumbents, all elections should present the option of a "no" vote, which, if chosen with greater frequency than every candidate for that office, should necessitate a new election with fresh candidates).

My proposal should increase the average level of competence and honesty by three mechanisms: First, the aforementioned bar to continued participation by general election candidates with previously-demonstrated mediocre performance would promote the rise of new and hopefully better choices. Second, the "incumbent handicap" would encourage inadequate current officeholders to retire rather than seek reelection. Third, that handicap would incentivize the party structure and/or primary voters to replace an inadequate incumbent for the next election, to increase the likelihood of a party candidate winning.

The "handicap principle" appears to apply in biology. Perhaps it's time to apply it to electoral politics.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Orwellian 1984-style memory-hole revisionism at the California Democratic Party?

Today, August 10, 2011, I noticed that Vijay Prashad's excellent article in support of a progressive primary challenge to Obama, formerly at , is missing (404 error) from the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus website.

Luckily, the Vijay Prasad's article is still available at Counterpunch:

Similarly, Joe Garafoli's CDP primary challenge reportage, formerly at , is also gone ---

but is available at:

I can only speculate as to the reason why these disappearances from the CDP Progressive Caucus website have occurred, but Orwellian 1984-style memory-hole revisionism, done under pressure from the Democratic powers-that-be at the national and/or state level, is what comes to mind. (It's worth noting that at the bottom of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus webpage is this telling note: "Paid for by the California Democratic Party"). If they have succumbed to pressure, one must wonder about the courage, the commitment to social justice, and ultimately, the worth, of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus, as well as the mainstream party itself.

Shades of Orwell. Next up, Soviet-style purges? If the Democratic Party, national or state, thinks that making written disaffection disappear will make such feelings disappear, or will prevent organization in support of opposition, they are badly mistaken. Such action by the Democratic Party simply tells us that opposition within their traditional party structure is likely a waste of time --- so we must focus our efforts (and any monetary donations) elsewhere. For me, and I believe many other lifelong Democrats, it only redoubles our commitment to work for true, progressive alternatives that cannot be pressured or co-opted --- and we will work outside of an apparently irrelevant party structure if need be, as seems to be the case.

Fred Drumlevitch

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Progressive Challenge to Obama

As many progressives are aware, the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus recently called for a primary challenge to Obama:

I applaud them. And their action brings to mind President Lyndon Johnson's dramatic March 1968 announcement: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

I'd like to hear something similar from Obama, delivered early enough that a progressive candidate has enough time to wage a winning campaign. It is his only honorable option remaining.

But I don't expect that. Obama either doesn't really understand how badly he screwed up what was, in 2009, a golden opportunity for implementation of a progressive Democratic agenda --- which, it should be noted, would have benefited the poor and middle class of all political stripes --- or else, he does know full well, that failure was in fact intentional, and he needs a second term to finish paying off what he owes the investment banks and corporate sector for their support in 2008, lest their enforcers leave a horse's head in his bed. Or possibly, as I've said before, he still suffers from "battered politician syndrome", and still believes that if he just tries hard enough, he'll be able to get the Republicans to love him. If so, I can only wonder what it would take for him to actually break free of their abuse.

Regardless of the explanation, my support for him evaporated long ago; as a progressive, it was an exercise in delusional masochism for me to keep wishing that he would demonstrate proper leadership. Back in 2008, "hope" and "change" had a very optimistic, very expansive meaning. Now, after more than two-and-a-half years of absurdly bad presidential leadership, my horizons have become much narrower: I just hope I'll be able to find some spare change under my couch cushions.

As for Republican politicians, no matter how many religious rallies they attend, or how frequent and intense their profession of faith, morally they are utterly bankrupt.

The only reasonable course of action left to those who care about this country is to support a progressive primary challenge to Obama, or a third-party general election candidate. That is the only reasonable course of action, but history teaches us that reason is often thwarted, and decency ignored.

When self-evident truths in matters of basic human rights and social justice are ignored, the course of human events becomes predictable --- though not in the way that government might wish it to be. That was the case for the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and many others. In the national political theater that currently passes for government, the unrelenting assault on the poor and the middle class by the wealthy, the corporations, and their Republican political lackeys, and the mismanagement, cowardice, and complicity shown by Democrats, will most certainly have consequences for the future of both our failing, socially-unjust economy and our manipulated (though ostensibly democratic) political structure. The revolution may or may not be televised, but it will not be controllable.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Government, Capitalism, and the Flow of Capital

With its Reaganesque trickle-down paradigm, basic capitalism --- raw, primal, Social-Darwinistic --- is like a purely gravity-fed water system. It'll function, but its reliability and volume of flow are at the mercy of changing, uncontrollable external conditions, and its destinations are completely constrained, often not where delivery is most needed.

Such water distribution systems worked (in a manner of speaking) for the Romans two millennia ago. But no reasonable citizen would choose them for a complex modern society, populous and sprawling, needing to maximize the benefit to be derived from scarce resources, and hopefully also concerned with a modicum of fairness for all of its people. Analogously, such a paradigm makes no sense as distribution method for the modern flow of capital.

Yet that is the direction to which virtually all Republicans and many Democrats are taking this nation. It must rank as one of the great ironies that capitalism, always arguing for the "best" use of scarce resources, so frequently and so thoroughly mismanages the scarce resource from which it takes its name.

And capital does seem to be a scarce resource, at least to the average person. Beyond personal finances, lack of money has become the rationale encountered for countless actions, ranging from corporate opposition to wage hikes (including even the minimum wage), through the neglect of infrastructure, to the elimination of some government services and the scaling back of others such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

However, an objective observer from another planet might conclude that our problems arise less from inadequate capital than from failure to use it properly.

Consider the financial "industry". The stock market is basically a combination of numbers racket and circular firing squad, periodically resuscitated by cash transfusions delivered by its minions in Washington and fresh marks in the hinterlands. Except for IPOs, stock buybacks, and hedging of raw material costs and foreign exchange rates, trading is of little benefit to genuinely productive companies, and far exceeds the levels needed to establish a credible secondary market.

As to the rest of our economy, many of its goods and services --- expensive or cheap, exalted or plebian --- are actually of little true value. They are basically churn that only serves to provide the populace with enough employment and income to purchase its own stash of unnecessary junk, while business takes a portion of each transaction as profit.

I'm not advocating that we don sackcloth and become wandering ascetics. But I do find it intensely objectionable that we as a nation devote the overwhelming part of our economic energies to the unimportant, and to militarism, while the essential functions of a civilized society are aggressively being demolished. That combination, however, appears to be the inevitable outcome of laissez-faire capitalism coupled with inadequate governmental revenues, faulty leadership, and a fearful and easily-manipulated populace. These mutually reinforce each other, to our great national detriment, and as remedy we need to address each of them not in turn, but simultaneously. They are where our political focus should be, not on the dance-of-the-debt-ceiling, which serves only as distraction to enable the further looting of our nation by the wealthy, the corporations, and the military-industrial complex.

To return to my opening metaphor: It is clear that right-wing trickle-down is a faulty paradigm for the twenty-first century. Government, when it operates properly, is like a pumped water system, delivering a precious fluid when and where it is needed. When operating properly, government performs vital economic and societal functions which the capitalistic corporate sector cannot do without conflict of interest and/or added cost (if it were even willing to address them at all). To the extent that government does not function properly, we the citizens of the United States need to reclaim it, not cede it to the forces of greed, ignorance, and incompetence.

More WWII Analogy

In my previous post, I neglected to mention another way in which WWII and its run-up are appropriate metaphors for contemporary politics:

The German Nazis and Italian fascists got substantial initial support from business interests in general, and industrial and banking interests in particular, who thought that they could control them to the extent necessary for their corporate profit.

In the U.S., the Republicans and the Tea Party have received substantial support from American business, industrial, and banking interests, who similarly expected to effect control. However, judging from today's New York Times' report of the flow of lobbyists to Congress, it appears that businessmen are now experiencing some degree of fear, as it becomes apparent that, as in twentieth-century Germany and Italy, they have created a Frankenstein monster likely to damage their long-term interests.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

World War II is the Appropriate Analogy

While the widely-made point that a government shutdown will have significant negative consequences is correct, frankly, I see no other way, unless President Obama wants to be the Neville Chamberlain of the 21rst century and the Democrats in Congress want to be his assistants in a shameful surrender. Obama's two-and-a-half years of concession "strategy" has already greatly empowered the Republicans and Tea Partiers, and they think they're on a roll.

World War II, not the American Civil War so often cited, is the appropriate analogy for our present situation. In it, the Allies were fighting fascists --- fascists in control of the power of the state, and who were initially supported by a large portion if not the majority of the populations of the Axis nations. One need only look at the newsreel images of the German crowds cheering for Nazism and its initial gains in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, France, and Russia to understand the exhilarating effect on the masses of a seemingly-winning strategy, irrespective of its immorality and long-term inviability. Only when German soldiers met enough resistance in Russia, enough dead and wounded started coming back from the front, and consequences began to drop from the sky, did the average German start to have second thoughts. Should the Allies have not fought WWII because of the collateral damage they would inevitably inflict?

As an unabashed progressive, I believe that the consequences of a government shutdown, felt by right-wingers advocating massive governmental cuts, are now the only forces capable of stopping these traitors to the American Dream.

Democrats in government, do not forget that your party was once known as the party of FDR's New Deal. Do not destroy that legacy --- and the party's future prospects --- by agreeing to debt-reduction strategies that no matter how spun, are no more than obscene cuts that will produce massive damage to long-standing social programs and the poor and middle class of this nation.

The Debt Ceiling and Rogue Elephants

What should the President do regarding the debt limit?

While David Barash's New York Times July 27 Op-Ed metaphor comparing the Republican Party to an elephant gone rogue due to musth was relevant, I'm not sure it was that helpful for suggesting a solution, given Obama's past surrenders of most of what his opponents have wanted.

I don't think Obama has it in him to "stop playing the game", the general solution advocated by Mr. Barash. As a confirmed right-wing pseudo-centrist, Obama has spent the past two-and-a-half years in an intimate relationship with that Republican "rogue elephant" --- and based on his last speech, he's still a "battered spouse" who can't bring himself to truly leave his abuser(s).

If Obama really were to find his castanets, he'd stop trying to reach a bad-vs-worse agreement with the Republicans. Why? Because the Republicans have fed their base a steady stream of lies regarding the role of government, until those people are now completely out of their minds with hatred towards it --- and the only way to stop the derangement and its consequences is to bring them face-to-face with the world they advocate. In my opinion, the need for that transcends even the detrimental consequences of a reduction in our national credit rating postulated under even a temporary default.

As first order of business, Obama should announce proportional cuts to federal funds going out to each state --- with the cuts based not on the overall federal receipts compared to obligations, but on that ratio for each state. So Alaska, for instance, which gets much more than it remits, would lose proportionately much more than a state with neutral federal dollar flow. (Perhaps someone can research and post the federal dollar flows for each state? And also correlate that to Republican and Tea Party sentiment?)

Just as jingoism doesn't stop until enough coffins roll in, the right-wing anti-government craziness won't stop until enough consequences are felt.

Fred Drumlevitch

Monday, July 25, 2011

U.S. Economic Problems: The President, The Congress, Us

As we try to solve our current economic and budget problems, perhaps the biggest roadblock is the mindset in the political and economic centers of power: they're either trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again (but minus an arm and a leg) --- or they're advocating radical surgery designed to eviscerate him, and plan to feast on the yolk. No competent doctors have treated the patient.

Let's first make a proper diagnosis.

The current situation has many causes including a housing bubble, financial vaporware, inadequate regulation, tax cuts, trade imbalances, military spending, consumer spending, and many more, all tied together via complex interactions and feedback loops.

Consider the graph diagramming the housing bubble. There is an obvious set of links connecting nodes for the banksters, poorly-vetted loans and securitization thereof, and inadequate regulation. But we should also ask ourselves: Why did so many individuals/families --- be they the sub-prime mortgage crowd, or members of the middle class, or the serial flippers --- take part in the irrationally exuberant speculation? (Yes, some such speculation is nearly always implicit in the purchase of a major asset at a price significantly above its historical trendline).

The answer to that question gets to the heart of our problems. I believe that beyond the perfectly-understandable desire to own their own home, many of these people simply wanted --- no, needed --- a small slice of the pie. They looked around, and saw decades of inequity and decline: massive Wall Street profits from speculation and vapor capitalism; corporate CEOs raking-in obscene pay packages while cutting worker salaries and benefits, or worse, offshoring work and laying them off; the demise of defined-benefit pension plans; the evisceration of unions; repeated warnings about Social Security and Medicare shortfalls; rapidly-rising costs for essentials including healthcare, education, and fuel. Many people knew that they needed to do something in order to grab themselves a small piece of the American Dream, before it disappeared completely. And if speculation mostly worked for Wall Streeters, why shouldn't it work for them too? So that's where many additional connections join our bankster graph, with the additional vulnerabilities and instabilities that, depending on connections and feedback, a large network may suffer. That's how --- to choose just one factor, and just one result --- increased income inequities predisposed us to a banking crash.

Think of the banking crisis and our many other problems as "blowback" (if I might borrow that term so well used by the late great Chalmers Johnson) --- Karmic blowback onto a system that has spent the past three decades pulling the rug out from under the poor and the middle class. Unfortunately, those same citizens have now been shafted twice, the second time as collateral damage inflicted by that blowback. Most obscenely, we're about to be given the big one a third time, victimized by a political system that will cut benefits to those who need them most, decimate our infrastructure, and refuse to raise taxes on the rich and the corporations.

Three strikes and we're out, the end of the American Dream. All that's left is a bunch of people on the make --- no, not for a hot Saturday-night date, nor for wealth, just for some measure of basic financial security. Those of us who through prudence and a great deal of luck are not yet impoverished don't know how long that'll last; those doing worse don't know when it'll get better. We're just hanging on, often with both physical and psychological insecurity. Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Many people are barely at his lowest level (if even there). And let's not fool ourselves into thinking that entrepreneurship will solve our problems, as some have suggested. In today's economic climate, new businesses are less likely than ever to address essential needs; startups are frequently based on what can be started with minimal capital and little hired labor, and often provide frivolous services to a shrinking pool of people able and willing to part with money.

What is to be done? The truth is self-evident. We need an intelligent and moral transformation, the restructuring of our society away from militarism, speculation, inequity, and the mindless consumption of consumer products --- and towards ecologically-sound, infrastructurally-beneficial, humanistically-enriching, morally-defensible goods and services: items such as education, medical treatment, social justice, conservation, clean energy, mass transit, other infrastructure development and repair, the arts, literature, music... .

Despite the unique opportunity afforded by the financial crisis, that clearly hasn't happened. It hasn't even been attempted. The Republicans, in their obsessive defense of the so-called "free-market" and opposition to taxes, rabidly oppose the prioritization and planning (and yes, tax-funded government investment) that would be necessary to improve our nation. The Democrats have either lacked the courage to confront the Republicans on these issues, or may have made a seriously-flawed calculation that short-term results (i.e. before the next election) are more important than long-term transformative improvements that might take more time to kick in. A darker explanation is that most politicians --- Republicans and Democrats --- simply aren't on our side. Their most-influential patrons don't really want substantive transformation; they want a restoration, not the reformation that is needed.

This nation is caught in a maelstrom of greed, irrationality, and incompetence. Unless we act properly, in a true progressive manner, we'll keep swirling down, our demise inevitable. In such a current, going with the flow, even with a flotation device, won't deliver safety; it'll just take a bit longer for the end to come. There is no substitute for unabashedly progressive action.

Fred Drumlevitch