Browsing the blog archives for November, 2011.

What Would Gandhi Do?

Obama Administration

Ian Desai makes a provocative argument that for all the deference shown to Gandhi by the OWSers, they don’t really “get” Gandhi. I have a few quibbles with Desai’s argument, but I agree with it more than not.

I agree with Desai that Gandhi would have discouraged the “us against them” mentality one sees on all sides. Gandhi said,

All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul.

The protests at millionaires’ homes, for example, is not something Gandhi would have done. That really served no purpose except to reinforce the us/them dichotomy that is the foundation of inequality. On the other hand, I believe he would have approved urging people to move money out of banks and into credit unions. He urged people to not cooperate with wrongdoing.

Even while protesting British colonial rule, however, Gandhi disavowed personal animus toward the British and left a door open for cooperation and discussion.

Further, genuine nonviolence begins with acknowledgment and atonement for one’s own responsibility for the current situation — Desai writes,

Society exists in a certain way when we enter it, but it is our actions or our inaction that maintain the status quo, make things worse, or transform them for the better. Gandhi explained this most pointedly when he declared that the British Empire existed because Indians had let it exist. He would say the same thing about the drastic income inequality in America today: it is here because Americans collectively allow it to be here.

Of course, Americans allowed it to be here. And those Americans include progressive and liberal activists.

As I’ve pointed out many times on this blog, much of our current economic/political situation was made possible by the actions of progressive activists over the past few decades. Most particularly, New Left activism played a large role in destroying the New Deal coalition back in the 1970s, but then the New Left failed to step in and take its place as a reliable voter base for the Democratic Party. Instead, the New Left fell in love with identity politics and splintered into myriad single-issue advocacy organizations that mostly stayed outside election politics. And the Right was well funded and ready to step into the vacuum. Soon Democrats were left with no alternative but to line up for corporate money to win elections.

We can complain all we like that both parties are corrupt, but let’s acknowledge that progressives collectively allowed this to happen. I know most of the OWSers are too young to have been around in the 1970s, but an understanding of how we got into this mess is critical for finding a road out of it, IMO.

The knee-jerk dismissal of all party politics one sees among so many lefties is the same mindset that caused the New Left to kick the props out from under the Democratic Party and then walk away from it, which is how come we are left with right-wing dominance of politics. It’s just compounding the same stupid mistake.

Citing the course of Gandhi’s work, Desai suggests that OWS would do well to re-focus on “direct social assistance and positive political action.”

At the height of his prominence in 1930, Gandhi renounced his own home and political headquarters and later moved into the heart of rural India to set up service organizations and promote “village industries” and sustainable small-scale economies.

There are differences between 1930s India and 2011 America. There already are programs and charities serving the needs of the poor, even if inadequately. The Right, in fact, would probably approve of such action as a way to completely absolve itself of responsibility — let the libs take care of ’em. But mass actions to call attention to the consequences of financial injustice — rather than just occupying city space while waving “tax the rich” signs — might be just the thing.

Desai continues,

As for political action, Gandhi would also want a more systematic, constructive plan for the movement. While he would have been patient as objectives and tactics were debated, he would insist that eventually the protesters adopt goals, define their strategy, and communicate these to their opponents and the broader public. That is the responsibility would-be revolutionaries must assume. If you want transparency, fairness and conscientiousness from your opponent, you have to become an exemplar of those virtues yourself.

Yes. Like it or not.

This sounds promising.

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Majority Minority Democrats

Democratic Party

Sorta kinda related to the last postThomas Edsall wrote in the New York Times

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.

Now, if you watched the video in the last post, you saw that most of the children featured in the video are white. These are families that lost jobs and homes because of the financial crisis and prolonged unemployment and haven’t been able to get back on their feet. And while you can certainly find bad actors in both parties who contributed to the mess, ultimately our deteriorating economy is the inevitable result of 30 years of Reagonomics and the “no taxes, no regulations” hysteria promoted by Grover Norquist, “free market” conservatives, et al.

And, as we all know, the politicians that brought us this mess get elected mostly because they hoodwink white working-class Americans to vote for them.

I posted something a few days about about some New Hampshire voters who had either crashed or were hanging on to middle-class status by their fingernails, and who were planning to vote Republican next year. And you can go bang your head against a wall all day long over this stuff, but unless one has some understanding of why the economy is failing, and why Washington isn’t responding, I could see why it wouldn’t seem to make much difference which party one votes for.

And you’re not going to get that information unless you’re willing to do some reading, because it’s rarely properly explained on radio or television. And if they’re watching Faux News, they’re just plain being lied to about it.

As I said in the earlier post, for years at progressive conferences the question of how to reach these voters to explain reality to them comes up again and again, and no one has an answer. I think step one is to somehow gain their trust or sympathy so they are willing to listen, but that won’t happen overnight.

Howard Dean’s “50 state” strategy allowed the Dems to take back the House and Senate, but it also saddled us with a bunch of right-wing Blue Dogs who voted with Republicans on critical legislation (and, children, that’s what killed the public option). And in 2010, the white working class voted for Republicans in record numbers, Edsall says.

So, instead, the Obama campaign team wants to put together a center-left coalition of college-educated whites and racial minorities.

There are plenty of critics of the tactical idea of dispensing with low-income whites, both among elected officials and party strategists. But Cliff Zukin, a professor of political science at Rutgers, puts the situation plainly. “My sense is that if the Democrats stopped fishing there, it is because there are no fish.”

Demographic projections suggest that the Dems could be a “majority minority” party as early as 2020. Being cynical, I’d say eventually the Dems could dominate elections simply by making sure people living in their cars and trucks can’t register to vote.

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Reagan’s Children

Obama Administration

Children and their parents living in trucks and cars, or in the streets. One in four American children are now living below the poverty line.

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Say It Ain’t So …

Obama Administration

Barney Frank to announce retirement.

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A Few Small Gripes

Obama Administration

Karoli points out that many African Americans are not exactly wallowing in sympathy for the pepper-sprayed OWSers.

Police brutality is an issue, but then, it’s always been an issue, and it should definitely be a part of this national conversation we’re having about inequality. Handcuffs, rubber bullets, pepper spray and clubs are routine for people of color. Routine. So he and others have a point when they ask why it’s only an issue now. Whether you agree or disagree with Black Canseco, I think there are points of agreement about the militarization of police. They’ve perfected those arts in neighborhoods where many would never go.

This is sorta kinda what I was saying a few days ago, after much shrieking that the U.S. had entered into some unprecedented state of police brutality. And I said, it has always been the case that any group that could be singled out as “fringe” or “not one of us” could be brutalized with impunity in the U.S. Only very occasionally has brutality carried out on behalf of the establishment evoked any widespread public sympathy for the victims. Most of the time the public sides with the police (or military/militia/hired muscle), if they even hear about it.

The NYPD and LAPD have long and very public histories of brutality. Doesn’t the name Abner Louima ring any bells, people? In recent years many incidents came to public attention only because someone caught the situation on video.

I keep reading that OWS participants are disproportionately white (and male), and this gives us a clue why. The attitude that NOW police brutality is an issue must be a turn off.

This also points out why it’s terribly ineffective to try to be a movement for progressive change in government and the financial sector while behaving like a counterculture. Making yourself an easy target for the establishment is counterproductive in the long run.

But there seems to be a lot of collective amnesia these days. Steve Benen wrote a post seconding Nicholas Krostof’s post about the things Obama has accomplished. Many of the comments amount of a lot of “Obama is no better than Bush” screeching.

One guy complained that Obama is really a moderate Republican, if you look at Republicans of 30 years ago. I’d say 40 years, but yes, that argument could be made. But you could make exactly the same argument about Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both of whom were mostly center-right on many issues based on that same standard. (Note that since LBJ, Democratic nominees who came across as liberals were all defeated in a landslide.) So where has this guy been since the mid 1970s?

And another was complaining that she’d never thought she’d see a Democrat threaten the safety net. Again — Clinton? Welfare reform? The repeal of Glass–Steagall (not Clinton’s idea, but he didn’t see to fight it very hard).

It struck me that it’s like people have been asleep for 40 years and just woke up and blame Obama for everything that’s gone wrong since the fall of Saigon.

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A Few Good Links

big picture stuff

Related to the last post — Joshua Holland, “Naomi Wolf’s ‘Shocking Truth’ About the ‘Occupy Crackdowns’ Is Anything But True

Via Angry Bear — Barry Ritholtz, “Examining the big lie: How the facts of the economic crisis stack up.”

Nicholas Kristof, “President as Pinata.”

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Is Truth Losing Its Liberal Bias?

liberalism and progressivism

Two weeks after the debunking of the rumor that the Department of Homeland Security co-ordinated the attacks on OWS encampments, Naomi Wolf publishes an article at The Guardian claiming that DHS was behind the attacks on OWS encampments. And no, she has no new evidence. She’s just pretending the old evidence wasn’t fabricated.

Via Angry Black Lady, please see Karoli, “How Bullshit Magically Turns Into Fact.”

Basically, Karoli documents that elements of the Left have gotten just as bad as most of the Right at taking hearsay, unsourced claims, quotes taken out of context, etc. etc., and spinning them into some reason why the Obama Administration Has Betrayed Us. And once these rumors are accepted on the Left as Revealed Truth, there’s not a dadblamed thing you can say or document to change people’s minds.

And this matters, Karoli says, because it the end, when people like Naomi Wolf, Jane Hamsher, Michael Moore (as much as I like him, he’s very fast and loose with facts sometimes), etc. etc., push this nonsense, the only people who benefit are the dreaded 1 percent.

We tend to exalt people who say things we want to hear, or who we know have been right about some things in the past, or who share our general outlook, so when such a person with a big public megaphone makes claims contrary to any provable fact we may overlook the lack of sourcing and accept what we’re told. But we’ve got to resist doing that, folks, because it’s hurting us more than helping us.

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Stuff to Read


To read together — “We Are the 99.9%” by Paul Krugman and “The Reign of the One Percenters” by Christopher Ketcham.

Um, has the “black Friday” thing gotten out of hand? Wal-Mart shoppers in California resort to pepper-spray to eliminate the competition.

“People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray,” the Sylmar resident said. “I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes.”

The rich get richer; the not-rich scratch and scramble and trample each other for discounted Xboxes. Stephanie Clifford writes for the New York Times:

Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.

Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Best Buy and Target will start their Black Friday sales earlier than ever — at 9 and 10 p.m. in some instances — with dirt-cheap offers intended to secure their customers’ limited dollars. A half a day later, on Friday morning, higher-end stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom will open with only a sprinkling of special sales.

The low-end and midrange retailers are risking low margins as they cut prices to attract shoppers, while executives at luxury stores say that they are actually able to sell more at full price than in recent boom years.

Next up: Wal-Mart opens arenas so the wealthy can sit in luxury boxes and watch the poor fight over flat-screen televisions.

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Happy Turkey Day

Obama Administration

First, I want to offer my deepest thanks to everyone who responded to my recent fund raiser. It makes a huge difference in my life, I assure you.

My children are cooking this year; I’m just going to show up with the wine. I like this plan.

If you need a politics fix, check out this graphic showing Republican voters thrashing around looking for Anyone But Romney. And reflect on the delicious irony of Iowa social conservatives who want to steer the caucus away from the Mormon Mittens who may be forced to turn to the, um, morality challenged Newt.

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More Mooching

Obama Administration

From Michael Lind:

The citizens of red states like Texas can enjoy lower state and local taxes in part because of the success of their elected representatives in Washington in redistributing income from the blue-state rich to red state social programs.

This is not new information, but it does irritate the bleep out of me. And then you’ve got California, which is not necessarily a “red state” but which has put itself into severe financial jeopardy because it refuses to tax itself enough to pay for its own government services.

This is a situation that the Founding Fathers didn’t envision, I don’t think. And as Lind points out, the “moocher” states also are stealing jobs from the “benefactor” states by offering business cheaper labor and lower environmental regulations. Oh, and tax cuts. The federal taxes paid by union workers in the north are helping to ship union jobs to moocher “right to work” states. So, the moocher states are mooching wealth out of the whole country in more ways than one.

I have a fantasy solution that will never happen: Attach some strings to federal tax dollars given to states. Require states to levy some minimal rate of taxes on income and investments before they can receive federal tax money. This would not affect federal benefits going directly to citizens, and I would also not include Medicaid in this. Genuinely poor states would not have to match the amount of revenue collected with that of wealthier states, but wealthier states would not be able to let its citizens skate while leeching money from everyone else.

When conservatives scream bloody murder, show them the Laffer curve. Tell them that according to their own theories, cutting taxes grows tax revenue. So, why do they continue to need federal subsidies that other states are not getting? If they are running short of funds, they can just cut taxes more!

The downside of this is that a lot of citizens of moocher states would genuinely suffer, for a while. But maybe they’d finally get off their butts and get to a voting booth and throw the bums out. Call it tough love.

The Lind article is pretty good. A little more:

Don’t be fooled by talk of the “libertarian” West. Red state America is really just the former Confederacy, including Texas, with some over-represented, low-population Mountain and Plains states thrown in. The social ideal of the neo-Confederate right can be summed up as follows: voters who don’t work and workers who don’t vote.

Ever since the federal government deprived them of their slaves, the Southern elite has sought to create the functional equivalent of slavery, by creating a low-wage work force stripped of bargaining power and voting rights. Until the civil rights revolution, the neo-Confederates did this on the economic side by creating unfree labor systems like tenant farming and the convict-lease system, as well as “right-to-work” laws to stifle unionization in their region. Keeping welfare benefits low, and controlled by local elites, forces Southern workers to accept jobs on the terms offered by Southern employers. On the political side, Dixie’s politicians used poll taxes and residency requirements to strip poor blacks and poor whites of the right to vote.

Some of Lind’s carping at “Starbucksy neighborhoods with subsidized mass transit for credentialed hipsters in brick-walled lofts” is unjustified, but otherwise he makes some good points.

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