Friday, October 11, 2013

Guest Post: Liberals & The Second Amendment by Zee

Introduction by Fred Drumlevitch

I am pleased to have the opportunity to run my first guest post, a fine piece by "Zee" on the subject of the Second Amendment, cross-posted here with permission from both Zee and Sardonicky's Karen Garcia, who served as editor on Zee's post.

That I support it undoubtedly comes as no surprise to Sardonicky regulars given my own past comments about such matters on that forum. As I've previously said there, my own opinion derives in part from my background, which includes rural connections via one side of my ancestry, my current residence in the Southwest, the long-ago murder of someone I knew who was unable to defend herself from an infamous serial killer, and the deaths of many distant relatives in the Holocaust.

But my opinion derives from more than the personal.

First of all, though my politics are unabashedly well to the left of the current so-called center, I've long thought that the often-substantial leftist/liberal opposition to private firearm ownership has been a grave strategic mistake, alienating large numbers of lower-middle-class working Americans — who should, more often than not, identify with progressive economic positions, but who have been peeled away by Republicans based on hot-button social issues, one of the most inflammatory being the prospect of highly-restrictive gun control. The Democrats (and progressives too, whether formally Democratic or not) have often shot themselves in the foot (or a worse place) so to speak, with gun control pronouncements that have fueled such fears. Even when leftist or liberal politicians have made a deliberate show of being at ease with firearms, it has often come off as insincere. And when they have made statements supporting gun rights, those statements have often focused on hunting, not the issues that were more clearly the inspiration for the Second Amendment.

Which brings us to perhaps the most important point of my introduction. The 1960s and early '70s resonated with chants of "power to the people!", but matters have gone very much downhill since then. We have witnessed a long-term erosion of fundamental civil liberties that we thought were guaranteed by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent Amendments. Meanwhile, the power of government has increased exponentially — but in all the wrong ways, in all the wrong places. Serious regulation and criminal penalties for the banksters who brought our economy to its knees, the frackers and industrial waste disposers who inject toxic liquids into the ground, or the corporate bosses who endanger workers? Dream on! (Oh, an occasional prosecution might occur in the most egregious cases, but the deregulation-of-corporate-activity trend is clear). Instead, in recent decades government has come to view the people as threat. National, state, and local governments have all overtly militarized, while at the same time building a massive (at least at the national level) covert surveillance apparatus that vastly exceeds that of the Communist East German Stasi. Fundamental civil liberties such as those supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment have disappeared via secret Presidential directives or ill-conceived legislation. Militarization of the police, marginalization and sometimes even violent dispersal of peaceful protest, a vast expansion of no-knock warrants, huge prison expenditures and a per-capita prison population that is the highest in the world, and ubiquitous governmental spying on the communications, associations, and geolocation data of law-abiding citizens — simply put, we are building an infrastructure for tyranny.

The founding fathers of this nation understood the value — and interdependence — of our fundamental individual rights. Certainly, the entire Bill of Rights is important. But paradoxically — I say "paradoxically", because while people of a rational, moral, progressive bent certainly desire an end to gun violence, and may fervently wish that firearms had no presence in the civil affairs of man — we must consider that given current conditions and the deliberate violation by government of our other supposedly-guaranteed liberties, the widespread distribution of private firearms enabled by the Second Amendment may well be the most important still-operational deterrent to the transformation of our nation into a fully totalitarian one.

Lest the reader in some way misinterpret the nature of my points above, I'd like to state most emphatically that I am NOT seeking to advance insurrectionist rationalizations. No one in their right mind should romanticize violent rebellion. My main point is a simple one, that widespread private firearms ownership has a significant deterrence value against the conversion of our expanding current softer-and-gentler "inverted totalitarianism" (sensu Sheldon Wolin) into a more brutal traditional one.

Deterrence. I chose that word carefully, and I mean precisely that. And I believe it to be an accurate assessment of the situation.

In his guest post, Zee makes a thoughtful, well-documented case for the Second Amendment as an individual right — and it's a case based on arguments and sources that, for the most part, cannot be labeled as right-wing.

Liberal Professors and Historians of Constitutional Law Who Hold Surprising Views on the Second Amendment
guest post by Zee
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has long generalized that the Bill of Rights — or, at least, the first Eight Amendments — protect individual rights, an assertion with which I agree.
Yet the ACLU — along with perhaps most American liberals — has decided to assign a special, “collective rights” interpretation to the Second Amendment (hereafter, SA), directly contradicting its/their own general assertions. This needless torture of plain language is done, IMHO, strictly for political purposes, and is damaging to the entire Bill of Rights.

Alan Dershowitz, liberal professor of law at Harvard Univ. and an expert on constitutional law and civil rights, has recognized the serious danger lurking behind this interpretation of the SA. From Wikipedia (and note that all bold emphases that follow are mine):
“Dershowitz is strongly opposed to firearms ownership and the [SA], and supports repealing the amendment, but he vigorously opposes using the judicial system to read it out of the Constitution because it would open the way for further revisions to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution by the courts. 'Foolish liberals who are trying to read the [SA] out of the Constitution by claiming it's not an individual right or that it's too much of a public safety hazard don't see the danger in the big picture. They're courting disaster by encouraging others to use the same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don't like.'
But Dershowitz is by no means the most respected professor or historian of constitutional law who has decided that the SA protects an individual right to own firearms.

Let's start with the person who is probably the biggest “intellectual constitutional gun” on the field, and who has undergone pretty much a complete reversal from his earlier position in support of the “collective model,” liberal Harvard law professor and constitutional law expert, Laurence Tribe: 
“Perhaps the most accurate conclusion one can reach with any confidence is that the core meaning of the [SA] is a populist/republican/federalism one. Its central object is to arm 'We the People' so that ordinary citizens can participate in the collective defense of their community and their state. But it does so not through directly protecting a right on the part of the states or other collectivities, assertable by them against the federal government, to arm the populace as they see fit. Rather, the amendment achieves its central purpose by assuring that the federal government may not disarm individual citizens without some unusually strong justification consistent with the authority of the states to organize their own militias. That assurance in turn is provided through recognizing a right (admittedly of uncertain scope) on the part of individuals to possess and use firearms in the defense of themselves and their homes — not a right to hunt for game, quite clearly, and certainly not a right to employ firearms to commit aggressive acts against other persons — a right that directly limits action by Congress or the Executive Branch and may well, in addition, be among the privileges or immunities of United States citizens protected by sec. 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment against state or local government action.” -- Laurence H. Tribe, “American Constitutional Law (3rd edition),” 901-02 n.221, Foundation Press, 2000.
What a complete reversal from his position on the SA in the two earlier editions of his highly-respected textbook!

Note that Tribe's year-2000 textbook predates the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) cases Heller v. DC and McDonald v. Chicago, of which the latter's decision “incorporated” the SA under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Tribe acknowledged his epiphany in a 2007 NYT article regarding an appeals court case, Parker v. DC, which was later consolidated into Heller v. DC when it arrived at SCOTUS:
“Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, said he had come to believe that the [SA] protected an individual right. 'My conclusion came as something of a surprise to me, and an unwelcome surprise,' Professor Tribe said. 'I have always supported as a matter of policy very comprehensive gun control.'”
Earlier, in a 1999 USA Today article that followed closely on the heels of the release of his 3rd edition, Tribe said:
“I've gotten an avalanche of angry mail from apparent liberals who said, 'How could you?...But as someone who takes the Constitution seriously, I thought I had a responsibility to see what the [SA] says, and how it fits.”
(So, after two editions of his textbook, he finally gets around to seeing what the SA really says? Well, better late than never.)

And now that SCOTUS has incorporated the SA just as Prof. Tribe thought might happen, that protection — “admittedly of uncertain scope” — extends right down to the individual.

Another respected constitutional law professor, Akhil Reed Amar (Yale Univ.) has reached the same conclusion, both in his book, The Bill of Rights, and in several related newspaper, magazine and webzine articles. He has been described as a “liberal” in a NYT review of his most recent book.

From The Bill of Rights:
What's more, the 'militia,' as used in the amendment and in clause 16 [of Article I, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution] had a very different meaning two hundred years ago than in ordinary conversation today. Nowadays, it is quite common to speak loosely of the National Guard as the 'state militia,' but two hundred years ago, any band of paid, semiprofessional, part-time volunteers, like today's guard, would have been called a 'select corps' or 'select militia' — and viewed in many quarters as little better than a standing army. In 1789, when used without any qualifying adjective, 'the militia' referred to all citizens capable of bearing arms. The seeming tension between the dependent and the main clauses of the [SA] thus evaporates on closer inspection — the 'militia' is identical to 'the people' in the core sense described above. Indeed, the version of the amendment that initially passed in the House, only to be stylistically shortened in the Senate, explicitly defined the militia as 'composed of the body of the People.' This is clearly the sense in which 'the militia' is used in clause 16 and throughout 'The Federalist,' in keeping with standard usage confirmed by contemporaneous dictionaries, legal and otherwise. As Tenche Coxe wrote in a 1788 Pennsylvania essay, 'Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves?'”
Amar goes on to spike the notion that either the term “well-regulated” in the SA, or Article I, Sec. 8, clause 16 of the U.S. Constitution somehow trumps an individual right:
“First, it appears that the adjective 'well-regulated' did not imply broad state authority to disarm the general militia; indeed, its use in various state constitutional antecedents of the [SA] suggests just the opposite is true. Second, and connected, the notion that congressional power in clause 16 to 'organiz[e]' and 'disciplin[e]' the general militia logically implied congressional power to disarm the militia entirely is the very heresy that the [SA] was designed to deny. How, then, can we use the amendment's language to embrace the same heresy vis-a-vis state regulations? What's more, as shall become evident in Part Two [of Amar's book], the right to keep and bear arms was plainly viewed by the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment as a 'privilege of national citizenship' that henceforth would apply, and perhaps should always have applied, against states.”
It seems clear that Prof. Amar has come to the same conclusion as Prof. Tribe, again, well before Heller v. DC. And he similarly anticipated the extension of that protection right down to the individual based on the Fourteenth Amendment, which we now know has happened. So again, here's another highly respected, liberal constitutional scholar who has determined that the SA protects an individual right to own firearms.

However, Amar's position on the SA and “reasonable” gun control is also informed by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, as well as by simply examining customary firearms ownership, usage and laws in America since colonial days. From an article co-authored with Tribe,
“The fact is, almost none of the proposed state or Federal weapons regulations appears to come close to offending the [SA's] core right to self-protection. [Excluding, of course, the near-absolute bans of DC and the City of Chicago, both of which SCOTUS found to be unconstitutional!] The right to bear arms is certainly subject to reasonable regulation in the interest of public safety.”
I might argue at length with Profs. Tribe and Amar as to what is “reasonable gun control,” but I don't deny their basic premise: “Laws that ban certain types of weapons, that require safety devices on others, and that otherwise impose strict controls on guns, can pass Constitutional scrutiny.”

Another liberal law professor — not of constitutional law — who has been quoted favorably in this forum on other matters, Jonathan Turley, published in USA Today in 2007 an article entitled A Liberal's Lament: The NRA Might Be Right After All.
“Principle is a terrible thing, because it demands not what is convenient but what is right. It is hard to read the [SA] and not honestly conclude that the Framers intended gun ownership to be an individual right. It is true that the amendment begins with a reference to militias...Accordingly, it is argued, this amendment protects the right of the militia to bear arms, not the individual.”
“Yet, if true, the [SA] would be effectively declared a defunct provision. The National Guard is not a true militia in the sense of the [SA] and, since the District [of Columbia] and others believe governments can ban guns entirely, the [SA] would be read out of existence”
More important, the mere reference to a purpose of the [SA] does not alter the fact than an individual right is created. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is stated in the same way as the right to free speech or free press...”
“Considering the Framers and their own traditions of hunting and self-defense, it is clear that they would have viewed such ownership as an individual right, consistent with the plain meaning of the amendment.
“None of this is easy for someone raised to believe that the [SA] was the dividing line between the enlightenment and the dark ages of American culture. Yet, it is time to honestly reconsider this amendment and admit's the really hard part...the NRA may have been right. This does not mean that Charlton Heston is the new Rosa Parks or that no restrictions can be placed on gun ownership. But it does appear that gun ownership was made a protected right by the Framers, and while we might not celebrate it, it is time that we recognize it.”
Leonard W. Levy was not a professor of law, but he was a respected historian regarding the Bill of Rights. He won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for History with his book, “Origins of the Fifth Amendment.” In an obituary, he was described as a “New Deal liberal.”
From his book, Origins of the Bill of Rights:
Believing that the [SA]does not authorize an individual's right to keep and bear arms is wrong. The right to bear arms is an individual right. The military connotation of bearing arms does not necessarily determine the meaning of a right to bear arms. If all it meant was the right to be a soldier or serve in the military, whether in the militia or the army, it would hardly be a cherished right and would never have reached constitutional status...”
“The right to bear arms is by no means unlimited. Public regulation may specify the kinds of weapons that are lawful and the conditions under which those weapons may be kept; but no regulation may subvert the right itself. The very language of the amendment is evidence that the right is a personal one, altogether separate from the maintenance of a militia. Militias were possible only because the people were armed and possessed the right to be armed. The right does not depend on whether militias exist.
So there you have it. Five highly respected, liberal professors — three, of constitutional law, the fourth a professor of law, and the fifth a distinguished historian of the Bill of Rights — have reached the same conclusion as have I and many others, viz., that the SA protects an individual right to own guns for personal protection independent of “enrollment” in any militia; a right that may neither be completely prohibited, nor made impossible to exercise — by, for example, complete bans on firearms ownership, imposition of exorbitant taxes on firearms and ammunition, expensive liability insurance requirements, or burdensome “fees” for background checks, etc. — at any level of government.

This interpretation also brings the entire Bill of Rights into conformance with the ACLU's general assertion that it does indeed protect individual rights. Which is as it should be.  

introduction copyright Fred Drumlevitch
guest post copyright by its author

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wargasms On The Potomac:
U.S. Weapons Good, Syrian Weapons Bad

by Fred Drumlevitch

The sound of war drums rose over the Potomac. As did also certain other items. The tumescent political “leadership” and their rent boys of the mainstream media alternated between stroking each other to the point of wargasm and oh-so-seriously rationalizing to the public why they must let loose their dogs of war. Fortunately, many ordinary Americans have begun to realize just how tired they themselves are of getting screwed by the imperial overreach of what is supposed to be their government. Ostensibly elected by public vote, supposedly beholden to the people and meant to serve them, “our” government has over the past 30+ years transformed into one dedicated to delivering benefits to the rich, the banks, the corporations, and the military-industrial-surveillance-security complex — and that perpetuates its malfeasance through lies, manipulation, the marginalization and repression of protest, and the distraction of never-ending war.

Never-ending war? Well, nearly so. And this refers to far more than the duration of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our ongoing assassinations via drones in several sovereign foreign nations including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Time dulls the memory, especially for those who weren’t active participants, but a recent Associated Press story summarized major U.S. military actions over the past three decades: Beirut (1982-83), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), Somalia (1992), Iraq (1993), Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1994-96), Iraq (1996), Sudan and Afghanistan (1998), Iraq (1998), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), and Osama bin Laden (2011). 

It doesn’t end there. The United States probably maintains at least 500 military bases in at least 100 foreign countries, and it is likely that actual numbers are considerably higher. (The exact numbers are hard to know for a variety of reasons including deliberate obfuscation by the U.S. government. See here, here, here, here, and here). We spend more on our military than the next highest-spending fifteen to twenty nations combined. Is our country destined to forever undertake foreign military actions with the compulsion of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn? What will our unending pursuit of worldwide military domination beget?

And I haven’t even yet referenced our covert operations, which, since WWII, have been instrumental in the overthrow of several legitimate foreign governments (and significantly subverted many more). The overthrows of Mohammed Mossadegh (Iran, 1953), Jacobo Árbenz (Guatemala, 1954), Patrice Lumumba (Congo, 1961), and Salvador Allende (Chile, 1973), stand as but the most prominent examples in a long and sordid history of covert U.S. actions.

The covert operations and smaller military interventions may seem (by our imperial-capitalist metrics) to be fabulously successful, but are in fact profoundly dangerous, for they set the stage for later blowback, plus overreach elsewhere and spectacular failures. Our frequent foreign interventions, whether large or small, overtly military or instead covert, are part of a highly-dangerous feedback system of U.S. action and arrogance, a runaway self-righteousness that puts our entire foundational national purpose at profound risk. Do we exist to be the world’s policeman? The preamble to the United States Constitution does state that it was established "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity", but these refer to this nation. Nowhere in our founding national documents do I recall any mention of world policeman.

As important as are the issues of imperial overreach, media failure, and perversion of the purposes of a democratic republic, they and their psychological underpinnings have been thoroughly examined countless times, and I will not further pursue them here (beyond including these links to recent posts by Andrew Bacevich, Ira Chernus, and George Lakoff). Instead, my focus in what follows will be on something else: a brief look at U.S. governmental hypocrisy in its current characterization of chemical weapons as so abhorrent as to necessitate U.S. military action in Syria.

To understand the scope of this hypocrisy, we might examine any of a wide variety of weapon systems that have been deployed, used, and, in many cases, provided to others by the United States: napalm and other incendiaries, Agent Orange, cluster munitions, land mines, thermobaric bombs, and nuclear weapons. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Senator McCain, and all others so eager to militarily strike Syria — surely you are aware of the massive death and suffering these American weapons have inflicted on civilian populations. Please spare us your outraged denunciations of Bashar al-Assad and your insistence that we must act — unless you are also willing to denounce and adequately hold accountable American soldiers (and allies) who have caused the deaths of foreign civilians using the aforementioned weapons. Ah… I thought not.

(The United States is not even willing to properly hold accountable those soldiers who have murdered with more conventional weapons; while Major Nidal Malik Hasan was quite deservedly sentenced to death for his murder of thirteen U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood, Army staff sergeant Robert Bales was allowed to plead guilty and thereby escape the death penalty for his brutal murder of sixteen Afghan civilians. And most American war criminals are never properly punished. For example, in 2012 a U.S. military court would release with absolutely no prison time the leader of a U.S. Marine squad that in 2005 massacred 24 civilian men, women, and children in Haditha, Iraq — a war crime within the even broader war crime of a war of choice by the U.S. against a country that posed no threat to us.)

Let’s consider napalm and other incendiary weapons. (Open in front of me is the book Napalm: An American Biography, by Robert M. Neer, published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. Extensive in scope and supporting references, it should be required reading for those wishing to learn how weapons come to be developed, used — and misused. It and Wikipedia are my main sources for what follows).

British RAF bombers using magnesium weapons incinerated eight square miles of Hamburg in July 1943; the death toll from the Hamburg attack was an estimated 44,600 persons. A German doctor wrote “Bodies were frequently found lying in a thick, greasy black mass, which was without doubt melted fat tissue… All were shrunken so that clothes appeared to be too large.” (Neer, p.62-63). The RAF aided by the United States Army Air Forces incinerated fifteen square miles of Dresden in four raids in mid-February 1945, with a death toll estimated at around 25,000 (Wikipedia).

These attacks would be dwarfed by the aggregate of later U.S. incendiary attacks on Japanese cities. The night of March 9-10, 1945, U.S. Air Force general Curtis LeMay dispatched over 300 B-29s to wage an incendiary attack on Tokyo using napalm, magnesium, and white phosphorus, creating a firestorm, incinerating 16 square miles of the city, and producing approximately 100,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injured. But that was just the beginning. “After Tokyo, American bombers attacked Japan’s largest cities with napalm for ten days, […] until supplies ran out on March 19, 1945. After a three week pause to restock, incendiary bombardments started again on April 13, and continued again until the end of the war. […] During the five months until the end of the war over 33 million pounds of napalm in about 13 million M-69 bombs, along with napalm in other bombshells, explosives, and other incendiaries, laid waste to 106 square miles in Japan’s six largest cities, and destroyed or damaged 169 square miles in sixty of its largest metropolises” (Neer, p.83-84).

Of course, the above statistics do not convey any of the specifics of the human suffering experienced. “‘In the dense smoke, where the wind was so hot it seared the lungs, people struggled, then burst into flames where they stood’. … Jammed bridges became funeral pyres. Civil guard commander Kinosuke Wakabayashi and his daughter, shielded by a concrete warehouse, saw thousands ‘streaming towards the Sumida River bridges, and leaping into the river, clothes and even their bodies aflame. Soon both banks of the river were clogged with bodies. The bridges were so hot that anyone who touched a bit of iron or steel was seared like bacon on a grill.’ On the Kototoi Bridge, another recalled, ‘The steel grew white-hot and people who touched the metal were seared like steaks on a barbeque’. ‘[I]n some of the smaller canals the water was actually boiling from the intense heat’ recounted a U.S. government after-action report. Pools and ponds vaporized.” (Neer, p.79). “‘The updrafts brought with them a sickening odor, an odor that I will never be able to get completely out of my nostrils — the smell of roasting human flesh. I later learned that some pilots and crewmen gagged and vomited in reaction to this stench, and that a few had passed out,’ [ace pilot Robert] Morgan wrote.” (Neer, p.81). … “Dr. Shigenori Kubota […] described his travels in freezing temperatures through the devastated area just before dawn on March 10: ‘There was no one to rescue. If you touched one of the roasted bodies, the flesh would crumble in your hand. Humanity was reduced to its chemical properties, turned into carbon.’” (Neer, p.82).

"Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9–10 March 1945" (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Charred bodies of woman and child, firebombing of Tokyo
photo taken March 10, 1945 (Wikipedia/Wikimedia)
photographer: Kōyō Ishikawa 1904-1989

Such barbarism was not unique to World War II. I could continue with similar details from U.S. use of incendiary weapons and strategic bombing in Korea and Vietnam. I could describe the birth defect and cancer effects on the Vietnamese (and on U.S. veterans) produced by Agent Orange, the contamination of which during manufacture by a[n at that time unidentified] toxic substance was known to the U.S. government as early as 1952, long prior to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I could document the continuing deaths and maimings (including of children) produced by anti-personnel land mines — an international treaty on which the U.S. has refused to sign. But I believe that I have made my point. War is indeed hell, and any attempt to characterize chemical weapons as somehow worse than other weapons that have been widely used by the United States is not just disingenuous, it is a bald-faced lie, and cannot be used to justify military strikes. It is in fact just one of many bald-faced lies that have come to dominate the U.S. political stage and been used to manipulate us during the past several decades. Those lies must end. The manipulations must end.

We, the people of the United States, do hereby declare that we will no longer offer blood and treasure to the gods of war. We will not replenish the coffers of the military-industrial complex. We will not sacrifice our own lives — nor will we take the lives of others — for the delusions of small men in high places. We ourselves hold no delusions about our ability to dominate the world, and we have no desire to do so. We will not be bamboozled into believing that our security is dependent on us acting militarily every two or three years in some far-off land. We will not accept being spied upon by our government, nor will we tolerate governmental repression of our dissent. We are reclaiming our country, and rededicating it to the purposes envisioned by its founding fathers. We will fight, but it will be domestically, for our Constitutional rights, opportunity for all, and social and economic justice. To the current politicians of this land we say: Understand that, accommodate yourselves to that, or vacate your offices, for you will be irrelevant to the future.

Text Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch

Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at
He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Information Flow and Action in Progressive Politics. 2013 and Beyond, What Is To Be Done?

by Fred Drumlevitch

Why do we blog? Do progressive political bloggers and the more structured progressive information sources matter, in the context of contemporary mainstream media’s massive footprint? What is the nature of mainstream media’s betrayal of democracy? How are mathematical models of infection relevant to dissent? Most important, what is to be done to advance progressivism? Those seemingly diverse questions are in fact intimately related, and can provide useful guidance as we strive to reverse the decades-long deterioration of the national social compact.

Bloggers: Pissed Is Prologue

It is apparent that serious political bloggers (and online commenters, as well) do so for a wide variety of reasons that may include the honing of one’s thoughts that hopefully results from formally presenting them, the desire for full control over their exposition, and the benefits of dialogue with like-minded individuals and rational opponents who may be quite dispersed geographically. Some old-fashioned idealism, a dash of ego, a hogshead of outrage, and a visceral appreciation for that old A. J. Liebling quip that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” might also be involved! We believe that we have an inalienable right to make our voices heard with regard to the governance of this country, and that right includes frequent and detailed expression if desired, not simply a largely co-optive vote every few years. We hope, in bits and bytes, for at least a modicum of influence with regard to the future of the nation.

Truth be told, though, the average independent blogger/commenter’s audience is minuscule, and even those that are most widely read reach an audience orders of magnitude smaller than that influenced by mass media’s “news” coverage and pundits. Worse yet, we are often “preaching to the choir”, addressing a self-selected group of generally similar-thinking people; much the same might be said about the more traditional progressive sources. In the parlance of an infectious disease political analogy, our contact rate is low, and mostly with those already “infected” with our political opinions — and that will not do much to further the spread of progressivism.

An aside: While the analogy of dissent in general and progressivism in particular as a communicable infection may initially be a bit off-putting, it ultimately should not be. A related metaphor is already in common use, the rapid spread of information being labeled “viral”. If an “infection”, progressivism is a beneficial one that immunizes people against the pustulant selfishness currently widespread among American right-wingers, much as cowpox protects against smallpox. If progressivism is an infection, I’m thankful to be infected. I assert that such a model is analytically useful even when the spread is not rapid, and has not — yet — produced an “epidemic” of rebellion.

Mass Media: Memory Holes and Burial Mounds

Moving on, well, what about the mainstream media as vector for progressivism? Here, we encounter other issues relevant to the control of information flow, and therefore to the control of dissent: unwarranted trust, and the low signal-to-noise ratio and high structural biases of modern Western mass media.

Despite the wide availability of alternative information sources in the Western democracies, the relative influence of accurate, bona fide alternative sources, measured across the still-important broad political middle of the population, may not be that much greater here than under authoritarian regimes. This occurs because some of the alternatives are not what they seem, and because the mainstream media in the democracies, inadequate though it may be, retains enough credibility with the bulk of the populace to maintain its dominance despite the many alternatives available.

That dominance comes at great cost to our society. Certainly, it is obvious to the thoughtful citizen that adequate coverage by the mass media of important problems and progressive solutions does not occur; the scant reporting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposals and of Senator Bernie Sanders’ trenchant analyses — even by the New York Times, the supposed U.S. “newspaper of record” — stand as clear examples. Even Paul Krugman, avowed liberal columnist for that paper, admitted on April 22, 2011 in his NYT “The Conscience of a Liberal” blog to inadequate coverage of the Progressive Caucus “People’s Budget”; he did mention it favorably two days later in his regular column at the paper, but never again referred to it by name within the Times. Nancy Folbre, of the University of Massachusetts, writing July 18, 2011 in the NYT “Economix” blog also noted the poor coverage of it by the Times, and elsewhere.

More recent coverage remains similarly deficient. The Progressive Caucus’ subsequent budget proposal, the fiscal year 2013 “Budget for All”, was released March 26, 2012. According to my own searches, done May 12, 2013 using LexisNexis, Google, and site-specific search tools, this moderately-progressive budget alternative has in the more than a year since its release received no formal news coverage or analysis whatsoever from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, or USA Today, all “top-ten” newspapers based on U.S. circulation data. Upon release, it was superficially looked at in the Washington Post’s “2Chambers” blog of March 26, 2012. As commenter “kwilson4” succinctly noted there on April 1, 2012: “Ryan's budget got news stories in this paper. This budget is mentioned in a blog. Hardly balanced coverage. What gives?” There would be neither answer nor improved coverage from the Post. The only other (and very brief) mention of the “Budget for All” in that paper was in their “Wonkblog” of November 21, 2012. The CPC’s later and more limited “Deal for All”, House Resolution 733, was the subject of an August 1, 2012 photo and caption, and an op-ed piece by Congressman Keith Ellison on November 18, 2012, both in USA Today (and neither indexed by LexisNexis). An online column by Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post on December 31, 2012 made passing reference to that “Deal for All”. And Greg Sargent penned a WaPo opinion column February 5, 2013 on the CPC’s more recent “The Balancing Act” proposal, H.R. 505 (summary, full bill). Then, on March 14, 2013, the CPC’s just-released FY2014 “Back to Work” budget was referred to briefly by Paul Krugman in his NYT column and in more detail by Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein in two blogs at the Washington Post — with Klein beginning favorably, but pivoting to deride it as a “fantasyland” … “analogue to Ryan’s budget”. The New York Times editorial board gave this latest CPC budget a one-sentence derogatory reference in a March 15, 2013 editorial, columnist David Brooks devoted his March 18 NYT opinion column to lambasting it, and the Times referred to it in a March 20 article focused on House of Representatives budgetary polemics — all three assiduously avoiding mention of the CPC budget’s actual name. A Washington Post opinion column by Katrina vanden Heuvel on March 19 did a good job of advocating for it, while the Post’s Plum Line blog of March 19 references that vanden Heuvel column and adds one sentence of comment. And an article in the Los Angeles Times on March 20 (not indexed by LexisNexis) gave it one sentence of superficial description after its defeat in the House. These citations constitute the full extent of more than thirteen and a half months “coverage” by the above-referenced “journalistic” enterprises of all CPC budget proposals released since March 26, 2012. In contrast, a Lexis-Nexis search for co-occurrences of “budget” and (“Paul Ryan” or “Paul D. Ryan”) at those same four publications during the same March 26, 2012 – May 12, 2013 period produces a total of 1285 hits. And the Obama budget released April 10, 2013, which violates basic principles of progressivism (and morality), has already received extensive favorable coverage from those newspapers. Lastly, let us not forget the 2012 presidential election, where Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, and all other third-party candidates were barred from the televised debates, and virtually ignored by the mainstream media not only during the campaign but even in defeat. My November 7 examination of the web sites for the New York Times, the PBS NewsHour, and the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, found national vote totals for the third-party presidential candidates only at CBS News.

The conclusion is inescapable: For the majority of the populace that does not take the initiative to actively seek out reputable alternative information sources, mainstream media’s minimal to non-existent coverage of progressive thought effectively equates to suppression. In our “kinder-and-gentler” megacorporation-run, advertising-sponsored information tyranny, no “ministry of information” directives prohibit certain coverage. No reporters are brutally “disappeared”. But the effect of the invisible hand is much the same.

In fact, mass media’s poor coverage of politics and other issues of great importance is, in some ways, worse than nothing. The trivial is abundant, and the most absurd far-right claptrap is presented with a frequency and deference unwarranted by any objective standard — while actually being fully explainable. Much of it may be understood as part deliberate noise component that obscures the signal of rational and moral solutions, part strongly-repeated Social-Darwinistic/ pro-business/ authoritarian/ militaristic/ jingoistic/ xenophobic content that seeks to phase-lock the populace to its reactionary paradigms. In 1956, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ranted at the West “We will bury you”. He did not succeed, but the mainstream media of our modern so-called democracies has. That mainstream media, in its service to corporate, plutocratic, military, and governmental interests, has adopted a highly effective interment strategy with regard to progressive solutions to national problems, burying them under a never-ending flow of distracting rubbish and manipulative falsehoods. (For an in-depth look at this process, see the classic “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media”, 2002 updated edition, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky). Progressivism has been thoroughly marginalized via domination, distraction, dilution, and distortion, the four horsemen of a disinformation apocalypse. Returning to the communicable infection analogy, both the absolute amount and relative strength of the infectious progressivist agent have been much reduced, thus greatly reducing the rate of transmission.

Under those conditions, waiting for progressive thought to passively spread to the majority of the American people is as futile as waiting for Reagan-inspired economic trickle-down to occur. The megacorporate mainstream media will not voluntarily assist — indeed, as I have argued, it is often an impediment — though profit considerations and fear of audience desertion may push them to anemically follow once a trend becomes too big to ignore. And the universe of progressive bloggers, websites, and traditional alternative press, alone or together, cannot solve the problem. In the United States, these elements have managed to communicate to a significant minority of the populace the ideological foundations for progressive opposition, plus important news and encouragement, but they have not remade the political landscape.

What Is To Be Done: Overall Strategy

A rational analysis suggests that a multi-pronged strategy is necessary, the first part of which is that progressivism should be actively communicated to all potentially receptive citizens. And one size does not fit all. We need a wide spectrum of information dissemination and involvement, ranging from modern electronic methods to old-fashioned leafleting and broadsides, picketing, marches, direct co-worker and neighbor engagement, broader organization, satire, and yes, even the theatrical absurdity, carnival-barkery of the late-1960s Yippie movement. We have begun to see those things episodically, and hopefully they will grow; in any season, the nation would certainly benefit from an “American Spring” rebuttal to the authorities’ anti-democratic efforts to quash visible protest.

But for the progressive message to be considered relevant by the broader target audience, it must be coupled with substantial progressive actions — serious electoral challenges by authentically-progressive candidates, unrelenting pressure by progressives on core issues such as adequate and fair taxation, proper national spending priorities, a livable minimum wage, the protection of civil liberties, and restraints on U.S. militarism both abroad and as expressed in corollary form by domestic law enforcement. We also need a broad range of other actions including the development of non-governmental institutions beneficial to the people and the movement (as suggested in Michael Kazin’s September 25, 2011 New York Times op-ed “Whatever Happened to the American Left?”). The breadth and depth of the national systemic rot necessitates a wide diversity of nonviolent actions both inside and outside of the system, vigorously pursued irrespective of which persons or parties hold political power.

Yet in all of that strategizing, there exists a significant paradox, game theory 101: A logical plan and extensive groundwork may well be a recipe for defeat, for the movement does not operate in a political vacuum, and every day the reactionary right acts in a multitude of venues to consolidate and extend its multi-decade dominance and looting of the nation. The seemingly-beneficial strategy of strengthening progressive foundations will actually be counterproductive if we excessively delay the actions that should arise from the foundations, or if enhanced foundations can be easily neutralized. We need to act accordingly.

Therein lay the genius of “Occupy”: finally, dramatic popular democratic action that hadn’t been expected, accompanied by a narrative at least part of which resonated quite broadly — a currency of protest, made current. Occupy melded action, education, consciousness-raising, solidarity, resistance to co-optation, unpredictability, and media spectacle. Even that combination, however, is insufficient to guarantee victory, particularly in the context of a mass media that shirks its duty to investigate and inform and an American public that has been extensively brainwashed into the meme of unfettered capitalism. As noted by Chris Hedges a year and a half ago (“Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent”, at Truthdig, October 24, 2011), the bulk of the American people do not consider themselves to be even liberal, let alone leftist; they often view those political philosophies as alien by reason of style and ideology, or discredited by past accommodation and ineffectiveness. But one must be careful to not take away an incorrect conclusion from that. While a better political education of the public in the value of true progressivism would be desirable, it should never be forgotten that to act is semantically implicit in the word activism, and that to delay action until some supposed necessary fraction of the populace has first been thoroughly schooled in progressivism is simply a prescription for permanent impotence. Drawing upon an old metaphor, I would say that the workers of the world aren’t much impressed to hear yet again that they have nothing to lose but their chains; they could, however, be responsive to clear evidence of timely actions to help free them. Or to put matters in a more modern way (and as any salesperson can attest): Interest in a product is not sustainable if there are no signs that the product will be available within a reasonable time frame. We need to bring some examples of the product to market now. The most impressive argument for progressivism would be progressivism’s dynamic, determined, contemporary actions in support of the people — and there are countless ways that such desired actions could find expression.

What Is To Be Done: Let’s Get Specific

“Occupy” made a good start, and showed that strategy and tactics should include an amorphous and unpredictable component. However, I believe that achieving progressivism’s ultimate goal of an equitable, just, and humane society requires a greater current focus on a strategically-chosen set of more proximate goals, plus crystal-clear relevance, a broader permanent base, a diversity and flexibility of tactics yet resolute firmness with regard to goals large or small. None of that should surprise — it was the playbook of the African-American Civil Rights Movement during the time of its greatest gains, and such a strategy is needed once again, this time in the service of broader public needs, as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others envisioned. If social justice and economic justice are fundamental human rights as we claim, surely they merit, right now, specific substantive widely-supportable truly-non-negotiable demands, and concerted nonviolent action in furtherance of those demands, not merely the expression of anger or general yearnings that history indicates will likely permit continued co-optation and suppression by the traditional power structure.

In the near term, the most pressing item on the agenda must be to block all moves by the wealth-lackey Social-Darwinist Republicans and spineless complicit Democrats to cut social spending as even a partial response to the contrived crisis of the “fiscal cliff” and its sequelae. Members of the poor and middle classes have for decades been losing ground not only relative to the wealthy but also in comparison to their same-class historical peers, particularly when costs such as higher education, health care, and retirement are included. Note, though, that with regard to the poor, the argument needn’t — shouldn’t — be based solely upon a relative decline. By absolute measures, many in this country live under conditions of appalling deprivation that should shame the well-off who clamor for reduced taxes and cuts to government-funded social services. The bottom line is that our less-fortunate citizens bear little or no responsibility for our national economic problems, and it is patently unjust — actually, immoral — for them to be expected to bear any of the burden of economic remedies.

We must also effect a transformation of the very nature of the U.S. national economy, both governmental spending as well as the spending that comprises the rest of our economy.

Substantial cuts to our bloated military spending should be front and center in any attempts to reform U.S. governmental finances. It is often stated by progressives that U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next fifteen or so countries combined. Less well publicized is what that military spending would buy for this country and its people if applied to more rational and moral uses. The tradeoff is astounding, far in excess of the even-then high costs that President Eisenhower cited in his April 16, 1953 “The Chance for Peace” speech. At that time, Eisenhower equated the cost of one fighter plane to one-half million bushels of wheat. (Note: Eisenhower’s reference to one-half million bushels of wheat could not have been the lower flyaway cost (marginal cost), which for the F-86D, the most expensive F-86 variant/derivative operational at the time of his speech, was at 1953 prices the equivalent of only about 183,000 bushels of wheat. So he was probably referencing full life-cycle costs). Now, the procurement cost of the modern F-35B/C is an estimated $237 million per planenearly thirty-four million bushels of wheat (at May 10, 2013 closing prices for May futures) — with the estimated life-cycle cost even higher, $618 millionmore than 88 million bushels — per plane, and $1.51 trillion for the entire F-35 program216 BILLION bushels of wheat at current prices! (Time Magazine in its U.S. December 3, 2012 issue incorrectly reported the F-35B cost at $160 million apiece, and $400 billion for the whole program; the New York Times in a November 29 article incorrectly reported cost per plane as $137 million, and total program cost as $396 billion. All those lower (but still massive) costs appear to be based on outdated and/or optimistic estimates of both the flyaway cost and R&D costs, both of which have already ballooned far more than the GAO and the Pentagon have been willing to admit. Most important, though, is that the vast majority of mainstream media references have grossly under-stated the true cost by ignoring all operating costs).  Calculate some relevant equivalencies — in health care, education, physical infrastructure, social services, environmental preservation and restoration — and then talk up — no, shout, scream — all the various numbers, as loudly and as often as possible, so that the obscene opportunity costs of our national militarism can be brought to the forefront of public consciousness. U.S. military spending should be significantly reduced, and it can be, without harm to either our national security or economy. The military spending reductions mandated by “sequestration” are actually only a tiny fraction of the much more substantial military cuts that should begin now and continue over at least several years. Worth noting is that an 89% cut in U.S. military spending occurred post-WWII, 1948 vs. 1945, and that very large cut, even at a time when military spending comprised a much greater percentage of our GDP than it does now, did not cause our economy to collapse. Rather, it heralded an era when our industry would greatly increase output of products that our populace needed and wanted.

As to the non-governmental portion of our economy, much of it has failed both the nation and the people. While so-called conservatives continually denounce the government for its supposed distortions of what they see as an otherwise wondrous free market, the truth of the matter is that our most damaging systemic distortions originate with inadequately-regulated capitalism itself, and include: reckless financial system speculation and other misuses of capital; unfair advantage resulting from information differentials; anti-competitive domination by a small number of large corporations in many economic sectors; subjugation of labor leading to the exploitation, endangerment, and even deaths of workers; off-shoring and outsourcing destructive of individuals and communities; sophisticated manipulation of consumer demand via advertising; and countless instances of environmental damage, the costs of which are not borne by the perpetrators. All of this is greatly exacerbated by business’ subversion of democratic political processes through undue influence over politicians and by concurrent marginalization of opposition viewpoints. Not only are fundamental global, national, and human needs not being beneficially addressed by contemporary capitalism, they are often very much worsened by it. As FDR understood (but many contemporary capitalists do not), governmental policies and regulations reining in the excesses of capitalism and promoting basic social and economic justice do not harm capitalism, they assist its survival.

Fundamental changes to that non-governmental segment are necessary. The excessive political influence of corporations effected through advertising and political contributions must be ended; corporations are not people, and artificial economic constructs should not have the free speech or other rights of individuals. An increase of the minimum wage to living levels would permit those at the bottom of our economy to live with a measure of dignity. Progressive import tariffs based on the degree to which trans-border businesses negatively externalize costs would partially counter the current “race to the bottom” in worker compensation and environmental degradation caused by so-called “free trade”. Our present tax revenues being wholly inadequate to correcting the well-documented needs in this nation, particularly in the context of American capitalism’s inherent dedication to maximizing its own profit regardless of societal costs, we need a much more progressive domestic tax structure with some significant (but certainly bearable) tax increases on the well-off, on capital gains, on corporate profits, and most of all, on financial system transactions (especially for short-term holdings, which cannot with any honesty be called socially-useful investments). This would not only help fund government-directed infrastructure and social programs, it would also discourage the non-productive speculation that has become rampant in modern capitalism. The stick can be accompanied by carrots: a concomitant expansion of tax credits and subsidies for individual and business activities that responsibly address true needs could provide a modest financial incentive to “do the right thing”, as well as promote a competitive diversity of approaches to remedy our problems. (Caveat: Strong controls are absolutely essential to prevent inter-governmental “bidding wars” and other abusive manipulations by business of governmental incentives such as were detailed in New York Times articles in-print December 2, 3, and 4, 2012). A further benefit of an economic restructuring that increases our focus on true needs and genuine desires is that such an economy would be more resistant to recession.

For the long term, none of these issues should even require debate. Our fundamental human rights, as well as the obligations of government, the corporations, and the wealthy, to both the nation and the people, should all be legally codified via new Constitutional foundations — a twenty-first century Bill of Rights that establishes a framework for a rational and moral social contract. However, the degree to which our older Bill of Rights has been shredded during the past decade by deceptive or demagogic politicians aided by reactionary courts and a complicit mainstream press suggests that serious sociopolitical activism will always be necessary.

The great mass of ordinary Americans must escape the abattoir of mainstream-media-assisted co-optive American politics — where we are first herded to a place of individual and collective paralysis; then drained of our hopes, dreams, and future; carved up into manipulable political-demographic chunks; and finally rendered completely powerless. Genuinely-liberating transformative action is essential, and time is short.

Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch

Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at
He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)