Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Reese Memo

Colonel Timothy R. Reese, a senior US adviser and military officer serving in Iraq, recently published a brief essay on his blog site about the eroding situation in Iraq and our nation's involvement there. He basically argues that the US job is done, not so much because we have built a democracy there or anything else like that, but because further progress is not and will not be forthcoming; the window of opportunity is basically closing. In the meantime, the good relationship between US forces and the Iraqi Security Forces that the US military has committed so many resources to building and sustaining, is itself eroding as the Iraqis become more interested in seeing the Americans leave.

Colonel Reese argues that we should get out now, and not wait till the December 2011 final withdrawal date agreed to in the US-Iraqi Security Agreement. He says not doing so will not only cost American lives needlessly, but will damage what little constructive work the US forces have sacrificed so much to build there.

While I take issue with the value of some of what the US forces have done in Iraq (such as running prisons and torture centers and violating pretty much everything that our nation has stood for throughout its entire history), I find myself in agreement with the colonel in a lot of what he says. His essay, just a few pages long, is well worth the read. Check it out (click on the title above, and it will take you to a NYT website edition of the complete text of his paper).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Left and Immigration

Many people treat immigration as a "problem." The Right make much noise about it, albeit without really doing anything about it; in part, because it really isn't a "problem," other than the fact that popular perception of it as such makes them acknowledge it publicly; and they wish to point to the Left as being uninterested in the views of the people. Of course, the actual strategists for the Right are smart enough to know that immigration is a major part of what makes America a strong country with a (generally) healthy economy, so they make the right noises for the voters without actually taking real steps to curtail immigration. It must also be understood that some of the industries where illegal immigrants account for a part of the workforce, have lobby groups keeping the politicians from taking real action in order to keep company costs low. The Right-wing strategists therefore have a dual motivation for sitting on the fence, while verbalizing pointless and ineffectual jargon that makes them sound more "concerned" with the poor man's predominantly racist attitudes towards people that look and sound different, wear different clothes and eat different food, and worship a marginally different god.

Why is immigration considered to be a problem? Because of the increased competition for jobs (at least as far as publicly acceptable reasons are concerned); and because of prejudice against foreigners and foreign cultures (though this can't be stated publicly by proponents of increased controls and limitations). Also, there is a popular misconception of a connection between immigration on the one hand and increased crime and increased demand for public resources for the poor on the other (despite the enormous mass of evidence which actually suggests otherwise).

Why isn't it an actual problem? First of all, the competition for jobs is a myth, for the most part. Immigrants (especially the illegal ones that everyone gets up in arms about) generally get the sorts of jobs that most Americans choose not to fill, even when times are hard and jobs are scarce. In truth, it really isn't so much that Americans "won't" do these jobs; but Americans want way more money than meat packing plants and farms want to, or are able to, pay. These jobs are filled by immigrants because no one else shows up for them (and because the illegals are a "captive" workforce, unable to organize for higher wages for fear that they'd be deported). The better types of jobs, and the better paying jobs, that most Americans are concerned will go to the immigrants almost never do; companies don't hire people with language or cultural barriers when they don't have to. There are also legal and administrative difficulties involved with hiring (either legally or otherwise) non-citizens for work in the US, and penalties for hiring illegals.

Another reason why the "immigrants stealing American jobs" idea is a myth is the simple fact, always deliberately ignored by the Right in fanning protest, that every additional person in the country means one more person spending money and contributing to the economy by adding jobs in order to increase output to service the demand. An immigrant is one more person paying rent to a landlord, who has extra money to keep up his property, paying maintenance firms more money for upkeep, or putting more money into his bank account for that bank to use for domestic investments. An immigrant is one more person who wants to buy and operate a cell phone, paying money to a phone service that wouldn't have had that money, and which will be used for additional services which require putting their workers on for longer hours for more money, or hiring additional workers for the extra hours. An immigrant buys food and beverages from American stores, giving them more money for buying and stocking more product, and putting more workers on (or working their staff for more hours) to service that need. Transport and distribution companies then have more product to ship; again, more workers and/or longer hours for their people. An immigrant will want to spend money on entertainment, which again will be money that the recipient companies wouldn't have had otherwise. It is, of course, true that immigrants often have family in their country of origin to whom they send some of the money they earn here; but they still have to survive, and they still manage to buy cars, phones, TVs, and pay rent and utilities; all of that money is extra consumerism and extra money going to the merchants selling these products and services.

The reason why all of this money is additional income for our economy is that, again, these immigrants are not for the most part taking jobs away from US citizens, but are filling hard to fill slots that companies can't keep filled without them (or wouldn't be offering as many of at the higher wages needed to attract citizens and legal immigrants). Immigrants have a hard time getting the "good" jobs that Americans want, and yet they still find work when they get here, because there is a constant demand for them. Another reason why all of this money is additional is that, for US citizens, there is an unemployment system that provides a minimal income for workers out of work and looking for jobs; even in the hypothetical case of a citizen losing work to an immigrant (say for less pay for the immigrant), most workers still have a temporary income to spend while the immigrant brings in an income as well, so that now there are two incomes where formerly there was one. Ultimately, the effect of the increase to the population is to increase the number of jobs available and in demand; this growth forces the job market to expand to meet the needs of the increased demand for products and services. The surest and quickest way to improve an economy is always to encourage it to grow in real size.

So in the end, the only logical argument for closing the holes in the border and enforcing the laws more strictly (both of which require substantial outlays, which means less money for other things the government could or should be doing - e.g., health care, education, and social services if you ask the Left; or enforcing Christian morality and corporatism, and killing foreigners overseas, if you ask the Right) is that the illegals are different and therefore somehow bad simply because they're foreigners, and the laws certainly allow enough of that kind into our country. It is certainly fortunate that the Right-wing strategists know enough about their business and political careers to know that they can't, and won't, actually do anything about the "problem." Nonetheless, it is also just as unfortunate, and extremely hypocritical, for them to point the blame at the Left for their own lack of movement, and then get political capital out of a situation in which they have no intention or desire to move any faster than the Left.

Immigration is what makes America the great country it is - we ask for the world's tired and poor (however many legal quotas we may throw up to say, "Thanks, that will do us for now."), as well as the prosperous and ambitious, and we make them our citizens, friends, and family members, just the way our country did with our own ancestors who came here from foreign soils. We give them a chance to prove themselves, and we get a bigger economy, and more customers and consumers to sell our wares to, and make more money off of. America has grown enormously and explosively due to the waves of immigrants that came here to work and then give us their hard-earned money. The capitalists and corporate officers know this, the lobby groups in Washington know this, and the politicians of both the Left and the Right know and faithfully abide by this. It is time for the Left to stand proudly on their record (at least for those defending immigration and immigrants), or to return to the values of the people they claim to represent and verbally support immigration and the immigrants themselves trying to join our nation.

Monday, January 19, 2009


The following proposal was sent as an email to the Obama-Biden Transition Team (now officially the Obama Administration):


The Middle East is both a vital region of the world, and one which three of the most significant religions of the world view as their home. It is also home to one acknowledged nuclear power (Israel), as well as to aspiring nuclear powers. In the coming century, demographic shifts in the Palestinian territories are going to present great, and ultimately grave, challenges for Israel as a "Jewish State." These challenges themselves will increase the risks of war, as well as the actual costs of war, between Israel and other parties in the area. For these as well as other reasons it is absolutely vital to US interests as well as to global security in general that peace be established and maintained in this area. The following proposal constitutes my thoughts on how this should be pursued.

Involved Parties

For the peace process to be taken seriously, and to therefore have any chance for success, the following parties must be involved:
a) International participants: the United Nations Organization, and NATO.
b) National participants: US, the European Union, Russia, and China (as sponsors, trade partners, and providers of various technologies to the parties in the region); and Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority.
c) Organizations: Hamas and Hisballah, and other organizations as deemed necessary.

The international participants are needed to provide a global context (for example, by ensuring that the various negotiating parties abide by international law and custom) and to provide the maximum range of peacekeeping options and international aid options.

The non-regional national participants (US, Russia, and China) are needed to ensure that no external great power has interests or goals in conflict with the established peace terms, and that the external great powers with direct interests in the area support the peace and work together to maintain it.

The regional national powers are obviously directly involved to the point that the exclusion of any of the above mentioned powers would likely create a party or parties hostile to the peace and with motivations to undermine it by supporting extremist, factional , or terrorist organizations.

The inclusion of non-governmental organizations (NGO's) such as Hamas and Hisballah is necessary in the recognition of the fact that in the 21st century, non-statist systems are developing as powers at least as potent and influential as traditional state structures. In Lebanon, specifically, Hisballah operates as a de facto government; while Hamas has also achieved a similar status in Gaza. These organizations specifically, as well as others (Al Jazeera comes to mind), go great lengths to influence popular opinion as well as direct action. In the day of the internet, and other forms of direct connections between groups of people that go across boundaries and don't require government participation or encouragement, it is vital to US interests to acknowledge and treat with these new powers on the mapboard. A Middle East "peace" that was not sponsored by both Hamas and Hisballah, and other organizations of the Arab "street," would be no peace at all, or for long.


1) The first step will be for the US to begin organizing these various forces towards a peace process. Direct, bilateral discussions must be made with each of the parties mentioned, with the following immediate goals in mind:
a) Getting all of the parties interested in a large and cohesive peace plan that does not sacrifice any of the negotiating parties' core interests.
b) Canvassing all of the parties, to get initial talking points worked out on the issues seen by each negotiating party as vital to their interests, as well as to get initial ideas on negotiating room (potential compromises the various parties would be interested in making in order to protect their core interests).
c) Agreeing on specific formats and schedules for initial talks.

2) Once these goals are met, and multilateral talks can begin, the participants should create Working Groups, each of which will be a smaller group of participants working on specific issues that are of direct interest to them but are of less direct interest to parties not in that group. Working Groups can be created, disbanded, coalesced, or broken into smaller groups as needed to settle specific issues and ensure all parties that their interests are being served by the peace process; but four general Working Groups can begin the discussions, organized by their status with respect to the region:
a) International and Non-national Group: UN, NATO, Hamas, Hisballah.
b) External Great Powers Group: US, the European Union, Russia, and China.
c) Central Conflictual Powers Group: Israel,
Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
d) Regional Powers Group: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

These groups should begin by identifying key issues, and core interests. Key issues will become the final talking points for the treaty negotiations, and core interests will serve as the minimal results for each party, which the peace process and treaty terms will serve to protect.

Once Working Groups are developed and begin talks (including the creation of new, and more specific Working Groups to discuss specific issues), talks should begin at several different levels simultaneously, and include the following direct-negotiations formats by statespersons and representatives of mutual responsibilities from all parties of the Working Groups:
a) Heads of state and/or government
b) Ministers of foreign affairs, and/or principal ambassadors
c) Ministers of defense, and/or national security policy-makers
d) Legislative representatives
e) Human rights representatives

In the process of conducting these negotiations, it is vital that the United States not be overly sympathetic to Israeli needs at the expense of the other parties. The other parties are more likely to come to the table and talk, and stay at the table to work, if the United States can assure them that we are concerned just as much with their interests as with the Israelis'.

Ultimate Solutions

The following represents a basic outline of objectives for the peace process, to be enshrined by formal agreements between the various negotiating parties:

1) Israel must withdraw entirely from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These territories must be legitimized as a Palestinian state, with their own government, military, security and intelligence, foreign ministry, and civil bureaucracy.

2) All parties involved in the negotiation process must ultimately proclaim the mutual legitimacy of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Both Israeli and Palestinian territorial integrity are each to be guaranteed by one or more friendly, negotiating parties capable of offering direct, military intervention.

3) Israel and Palestine must agree on limited and specific terms of right of return. The negotiation process should also discuss and establish the right of Jewish fundamentalists settling in the West Bank to remain there under Palestinian citizenship if they so choose (and the Israeli renunciation of all rights of governance, sovereignty, allegiance, and protection with respect to such citizens).

4) Israel and Palestine must agree on an international and protected status for all existing religious sites in the city of Jerusalem, and the right for all people of all faiths to visit these sites and practice there.

5) Egypt must secure its border with Gaza and prevent illegitimate arms trade and other smuggling across that border.

6) Israel must (either as part of the peace treaty system, or as independent government legislation, but developed in concert with the other negotiating powers) develop guarantees and rights for its non-Jewish population (and especially for Palestinians returning under agreed upon right-of-return language).

7) Israel and Syria must reach a permanent accord on the Golan Heights territories, and a final, binding peace treaty in the same vein as the treaties between Israel and Jordan and Egypt.

8) The parties of the region must work towards an agreement on the composition of power in Lebanon. Israel and Syria must include in their final treaty a section on securing their mutual relations with Lebanon in a way that ensures the Lebanese of their own security and ability to develop their own independent state and civil structures.

9) All parties must sign an accord forswearing the use or support of certain specific methods such as suicide bombing, the targeting of civilian populations, and the use of indiscriminate bombings.

10) Iran should agree to a temporary moratorium on the development of nuclear weapons and place all nuclear-related sites requested by the UN under UN inspection for the duration of the agreed moratorium. The United States, the European Union, Russia, and China must provide Iran with positive incentives for fulfilling these goals, such as protected trade status and assistance as requested in the establishment of infrastructure and social services.

11) The United States, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran must come to an agreement on the status of Iraq and on these states' relationships with Iraq, in order to guarantee Iraq a chance for its own internal development as a state. These states must agree that all of the above parties have an interest in Iraq and a desire for involvement, and so none of these states should be excluded in Iraq should the people and government of Iraq request their presence or assistance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

YES, WE DID - So What Now?

OK, let's all enjoy our orgasmic joy at finally having a voice in the election, at not having a complete bubblehead in the White House (as of January, at least - see the Bush clock to the right), and at breaking one of the great barriers of the racial divide. There's been adulation pouring in from across the world. While the CNN article describing dancing in the streets in Paris and Africa and Japan and elsewhere is heart-warming, the message I enjoyed most was relayed by my honey, who is on the Straight Dope message board, where there are a number of members from other countries. The foreign members basically said, "Oh, good for you - Welcome Back!" America can now re-join the world, rather than being the pariah hated by the ROW (for those not in the lingo, "Rest of the World," i.e. that seemingly small and powerless part of the world that is not the United States).

So, as the Republicans must, so must we also now move past all that. Lots of things got put off in the fury of getting a better candidate into office, and now that we have, it's time to move on and look at our problems, why we needed a better candidate, and what we and our new President will have to do to solve our problems. We have our work ahead of us and we need to start looking at that work with a realistic attitude towards erasing the stains of eight years of Republican misrule and restoring honor and dignity to the White House.

One thing that concerns me greatly is how much the media is congratulating the country for its "New Liberal Order" (as Time magazine called it in a recent article). Yes, we did manage to put our mutual differences aside and get a fairly competent and compassionate candidate elected who has also continuously demonstrated an interest and ability to get to work on our toughest problems, domestic, foreign, and international. But the problem here is that it seems by itself to solve our problems and let us get back to watching American Idol and worrying about Britney Spears' Palinesque breeding woes. What all this ignores, though, is that the Republicans have for over a quarter of a century controlled the political dialogue through a variety of means that are still very much a factor of our social and political structure. Our "revolution" is not over, complete, and forever safe. Our "revolution" has barely even touched our consciousness as a possibility. If we simply sit back and watch from a distance, our "revolution" will never happen. The conservative revolution, on the other hand, remains as strong as ever.

Over a quarter of a century ago, the conservatives realized that in order to get any work done over the long term, they needed to put aside their internal differences, and also to form a new constituency by finally swallowing their pride and reaching across to the religious right. They did both, as well as finding a new level of internal discipline with which to overcome their internal disputes and march in accord. They have also exploited some of the violence and uncertainty of the 1960s to paint many of the ideals of the Left in a somehow un-American light, to the point that liberals are almost afraid of the word "liberal", while "socialist" means dirty, wrong, unholy, and almost criminal.

Yet "liberals" led the American revolution, the campaign towards the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and the civil rights movement. Socialists pushed the national agenda towards the establishment of the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage, the illegalization of child labor, and the legalization of union organization and a multitude of protections for the workers. Almost everything that our nation stands for, and for which Americans have to thank, are results of the Left pushing for the rights of the citizen against the rights of the corporation, the church, and the established social classes which were in turn supported by the Right. The Right's principal legacy is in arguing that these reforms were "too much, too fast," or weakened our nation and economy (by which the Right mean the right of the rich to stay rich, and the obligation of the poor to stay poor), and in protecting the right of a minority of religious thinkers to control how the rest of us should live our lives.

The Right has been able to sell their image of the world to the people, through the control of much of the media. They even label their own, corporate-controlled and carefully stifled, conservative information machine as the "liberal media," which allows centrist information (which comes closer to portraying the basic views of the American voters) to appear as "tainted" with liberalism and all things bad. This also allows Right-wing and far-Right propaganda to seem more centrist, or even "liberal." Pundits like Rush Limbaugh come to seem almost reasonable and acceptable to the very people whose interests are directly harmed by the Right, while those pundits and politicians trying to keep the dialogue open and fight for the rights of their fellow citizens are lambasted for being somehow un-American. This massive and well-organized machine is still in place and still in operation. Many of the facets of the conservatives' control of our language are still very much in place, and accepted as fact by members of Right, Center, and Left alike.

A telling example of this is the abortion debate. We on the Left continue to call right-wingers fighting against women's reproductive rights as "Pro-Life," which they aren't. "Pro-lifers" have supported the war efforts, and fight against aid to poor nations trying to legalize abortion in order to reduce famine and disease problems; the "pro-lifers" are very much a factor in the dissemination of both deliberate and circumstantial death. Nor can "pro-lifers" be distinguished from their opponents as being "anti-abortion"; the majority of pro-choice activists are themselves anti-abortion, but don't see it as their call to make for other women or their families. The only thing that distinguishes the two sides are whether they feel that their views should be dictated to others or not; "pro-lifers" feel that their views should become a legal obligation for everyone, whereas the "pro-choicers" feel that it should be and stay a personal choice and an individual's moral obligation. It is just a question a whether one believes in freedom or not. The "pro-lifers" are against freedom, the "pro-choicers" are for it. Our language should reflect this, rather than implying the opposite of the truth by calling those against freedom (and, largely, against "life") as being nonetheless "pro-life", which of course also falsely implies that the pro-choice side is somehow "against life." The opposing sides of any argument are pro and con; and so our language should indicate. The "pro-life" movement is Anti-Choice, and that is all that distinguishes them from their opposition. We should stop giving in to the Right's language and call these activists against freedom what they really are.

Another issue of concern is the organizational capabilities of the Right. For decades, they have been organizing and moving in unison, often putting aside their petty differences in order to march forward together on the big issues that they agree upon. The Left, on the other hand, has spent more of its time criticizing itself for (and purging itself of) the merest hint of "socialism" in order to come closer to the Right than some members of the Right are. The Left has wallowed in its petty quarrels, and focused on the individual pet projects at the expense of combined activism, and has lost most of the ground won since the 1960s, and most of the elections. We have not formed a "movement" the way the Right have. We have carefully dismantled the very machine we built up, severing our connections with labor, with minorities, and with the elderly and poor who need the support structure we have conspired with the Right to eliminate. We have become "conservatives with a conscience," and have betrayed most of our central beliefs. We need to get back on track, or the conservatives will be right back in 2012 (and 2010 in the Congress). They are as strong as ever, and while riding on our wave of victory, we have barely scratched the surface of what is required to build a long-term movement capable of taking on the conservative army in our strategic war of culture.

We need to mobilize, and to commit ourselves to the battle. We need to understand that we are in fact at war, and are under heavy fire from a well-armed, and regimented host. The first priority of the moment should be recruiting and organizing our own forces. Now is the perfect time to do this on both sides of the spectrum, Left and Right, because those on the Left are starting to feel their power again, and because some of those who have been supporting the Right are having second thoughts about the machine that thought Sarah Palin could possibly have been a good candidate for a job she knew nothing at all about. The smart Republicans are now second-guessing themselves, and the stupid ones are looking for leadership. Now is the time to appeal to their patriotic impulses (because, misled, misguided, and mistaken as they are, they don't feel that their policies are destructive or evil; they think they're doing the right thing). But we need even more to appeal to the Left and rediscover our Leftist and socialist values, the values of social justice and collective organization, the values of democratization of both politic and economy. We need to stand up and be proud to be Leftists, to accept this title with the honor and dignity it commands, and to embrace its values and objectives. Then we need to start working on recruitment, organization, and information, so we can fight the war with the Right that they have been fighting, and winning, for almost three decades.

Obama's election should not be the final result of our labors; it should be simply the first step on the path toward national and social redemption and a better future for the generations to come. It can be this if we all work together, and not simply spectate and criticize from the sidelines.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Failure of Capitalism (A Babbling Preamble)

American capitalism is suffering from a serious problem. The banks, Wall Street, marketing firms, and the US government have conspired to convince Americans that they can, and should, afford increased rates of consumption by taking on a substantially increased debt burden. Now the bubble is burst, and everyone is pointing blame and running for cover. Personal savings are down to an all-time historical low, and the simultaneous "wealth" of consumer goods flooding the market should be a telling point that we cannot afford all that the corporations want to produce and sell. That American capitalism works by making people spend themselves to death should be a pretty strong indication that the system does not work as well as its protagonists argue that it does. The American economy has become the "wealthiest" in the world by creating an illusion that the American people can afford all that they desire and that they should have all that they desire. That "wealth" is now proving itself to be the hollow shell that it always was.

Capitalism can work in moderation. In fact, in moderation it works extremely well, rewarding innovation, enterprise, ambition, and ingenuity. It also, of course, has the down side of rewarding these things in direct proportion to the pre-existing wealth enjoyed by the individual in question, so that "opportunity" is most enjoyed and taken advantage of by the wealthy, much less so but still to a significant degree by the middle classes, and rarely if at all by the poor. "Opportunity" is abundant in America, indeed; but it predominantly protects and reinforces the class structure of American society. Nonetheless, capitalism encourages businesses to operate effectively, and can act as a Darwinian environment for business, rewarding those who make the right decisions and punishing those who don't. Capitalism, when properly regulated, taxed, and controlled, will add immeasurably to a society's ability to operate effectively and economically.

But in America, we have let the dogs off the leash almost entirely. Regulations have been struck down, the government has canceled its own tax system in order to promote corporate lobbying (which our own politicians cash in on in ridiculous quantities), and the government is openly protective of corporations' "rights" to destroy our environment and produce harmful commodities. The government has given to the corporations protections originally guaranteed to the individual, while at the same time taking it away from the individual.

The government has openly encouraged the banks to engage in predatory lending, and has also encouraged consumers to sell their own lives away in order to purchase immediate consumption of disposable products and temporary services. Where our parents worked and saved, and therefore kept themselves safe from levels of consumption that they couldn't afford, our generation works to buy and spend, leaving ourselves with nothing. We do this, by the way, at the same time that long-secured medical benefits that our workplaces used to pay for are now disappearing, while the government warns against "socialist" universal health care. We are going to run out of money and out of medical benefits at the same time, when the conservatives take away Medicare and Social Security.

And yet, as we happily march on to the great collapse of the American economy, with Americans earning less and less, and saving nothing at all, and watching conservatives take away the last of our social services and giving these benefits instead to companies already rich by promoting uninhibited consumption, we still harp on about the great advantages of capitalism. The Republicans argue that now what is needed is tax cuts for the rich; and somehow, people don't see that eight years of Republican tax cuts, and spending the Clinton surplus in Iraq, has not brought forth the jobs that they miraculously are supposed to bring suddenly under McCain's "change."

All of this diatribe has, by the way, ignored the progressive destruction of the biosphere by the use of fossil fuels and various other harmful behaviors of excessive capitalism. We have to a great degree been living off of the future generations of this planet who will have to face the greater temperatures, and greater ranges in weather patterns caused by our negligence and inability to limit our own destruction of our own home. Capitalism doesn't favor green policy for the most part, so the millions of people who will die of hunger, disease, and war because we need to drive our very own car to work will just have to accept their fates as their parents' and grandparents' sacrificial victims. Remember how our parents scrimped and saved so we could have better lives? Instead of passing on that fine tradition, we have sold ourselves into debt for our McMansions, SUVs, cell phones, and MP3-players; and we are quite knowingly destroying the planet our children and grandchildren are going to try to inhabit.

Capitalism unfortunately is like the problem with drugs. Do you blame the supplier, or the user? It is easy, and in fact very frequently perfectly justified, to blame corporations because they often (especially when the laws allow them to) engage in harmful activities for the financial benefit of their stockholders. But Wal-Mart would not be the profit-earning giant it is if millions of people did not flood through its doors to purchase its wares. Big Oil makes big profits because we spend our time bitching about high gas prices while pumping fifteen gallons of the earth-killing substance into our gas tanks. Consumption-hungry people create a demand; and a corporation fulfills that demand. Both sides are to blame. If we are going to make our nation stronger and our world better and healthier, we need to come up with a better plan than this, because if we don't the next century is going to be a bleak time of war, disease, death, and destruction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama in the Middle

OK, this is definitely one I want feedback on. If you're reading this, then please comment on it - and then send your comments to the Obama campaign. Comments, everyone, please; this is a blog, not a monologue (or will be if you add your comments). The Man may not hear you, but I certainly will, so let's hear what you have to say.

In November, my choice at the polls will be between Obama, writing in a candidate, or not voting; so unless something very wrong goes on in the Obama campaign I will be voting for Mr. O. This is because the Right is just plain Wrong, and is destroying our country and everything that is (or used to be) great about it. McCain is OK with turning Iraq into the new Hundred Years War, when every day we spend money we don't have to keep our forces and mercenaries there, and to kill Iraqis and suffer casualties for no good reason at all. McCain has no education policy to speak of, when our schools are increasingly destitute and we are rapidly losing our place in the global race to the future. McCain has no health care policy to speak of, in the only modern, industrialized nation in the world with no public health system worth mentioning. McCain has no energy policy to speak of beyond increasing oil production, which is another way of saying that we should hit the accelerator as we approach the brick wall of global ecological (and national economic) disaster so we can slam into it that much more quickly and effectively. I suppose the only positive thing to say about his "policies" is, that he is so old he'll be dead before his administration is, so he won't have to live to see our nation collapse as the incredibly likely result. Thanks, John.

The Republicans are irresponsible, immoral, and ineffective at leading our nation towards any goal other than that of widening the income gap by increasing the wealth of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. They are also happy to ally themselves with the far right forces which are fighting for a regime of authoritarianism, theocracy, and imperialist ambitions both at home and abroad. Every day under Republican rule puts this nation ever more solidly in the grip of Big Brother, and the future safety and security of our nation, our people, and our freedom depends on a fight for survival against these forces. We must fight against the Right with every weapon at our disposal, and Obama is one such weapon. I therefore urge every free-thinking and patriotic American to vote for Obama in the general election in November, and against McCain.

Nonetheless, I firmly believe that an Obama administration would represent at best a holding action, and really something more akin to an orderly retreat to more defensible lines. Despite the attempt by the Right to paint Obama as a "radical," it is clear to anyone actually bothering to look into Obama's actions, statements, and history, that Obama is a definitive Centrist, and not a Leftist by any means. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama speaks again and again on the need for the Left and the Democratic Party to compromise with the Right to reach a consensus. Obama argues against socialized medicine, against any radical increase or restructuring of social welfare programs, and against any "precipitous" withdrawal from Iraq.

The American political system is keyed to a process of negotiation and compromise between the two parties. Both parties hold close to even numbers of supporters, forces, and resources. In Congress, laws are worked out through deals and compromises, bargains are made in committee and subcommittee. Neither party has the clout to push through a program against the other's express will; it should be remembered that many of Bush's most unpopular initiatives involved a degree of participation by the Democrats. In any such situation, it should be obvious that to get anything done, each party must be willing and able to give up some of its demands in order to get others fulfilled. The ultimate positions reached in Congress are usually somewhere in between the starting positions of both sides. In theory, this should, or at least can, result in American politics being predominantly Centrist, providing that we have a strong Left fighting against the Right for influence and support.

But the problem is that we don't have a Left and a Right; we have a Center and a Right. The Democrats are ever apologetic about being "liberal" (and they are becoming less "liberal" every day), and rather than start out by arguing for Leftist goals, they start out by arguing for Centrist goals. At the same time, they negotiate and compromise with a Republican party happy to exploit far-right forces and always struggling unabashedly for conservative goals. The result is a compromise that lies solidly in the middle between the Center and the far Right, a definitively right-of-Center result. This brings us further to the Right with every political battle fought; and makes "liberal" ideals every day seem more "radical", "dangerous", and "unachievable."

A perfect example of this is the health care policy debate. Obama doesn't call for socialized medicine, which our nation has more than enough resources and knowledge with which to provide. He simply calls for the insurance of the uninsured - and will have to fight against Republicans with roughly even strength of forces in Congress doing all they can to inhibit this result, and trying to get all the Democratic support they can for their own conservative goals in return for what little they give back. The result of a "successful" Obama "fight for health care reform" will not be universal health care; but simply a reduction in the proportion of uninsured. It will be better than what we would get from a Republican administration interested only in corporate profits and increasing the centralized authority of the government and the church, but not much better; and it will be far less, inexcusably less than what our nation is capable of achieving. We are the country that introduced large-scale mass production and put people on the Moon. Is it really too much to ask to suggest that we might just be capable of doing what virtually every other country in the world does, including many that are so much poorer than ours is?

It is time for the Left to be what it is, to not feel sorry for it, to shout to the world that our nation has the money, the materials, the manpower, and the staggering ingenuity needed to achieve whatever we set our sights on achieving. It is time for Obama to be what the Right say he is, but which his own actions and statements say that he is not - a Leftist, the president that America needs to make our nation once again a great nation, and a true nation of compromise and consensus. It is time for the Left to be proud of itself again, and for us to make the conservatives feel a little guilty for their faults instead, such as promoting ignorance, centralized authoritarianism, theocracy, and a widening income gap. We will still, and probably always, have the Right to contend with and negotiate with (and, let's face it - to remind us of what we stand for and need to fight for, but also to remind us not to take ourselves so seriously that we forget we're not the only ones living here). We will probably never get a "radical" Leftist regime into office or achieve really "radical" Leftist goals; but we can, and will, still achieve our share of victories if we push for them, rather than start by offering to give up our rapidly diminishing ground to the enemy. The Right have declared, and have been winning, a war on everything that we value about our nation. It is time for the Left to stand up and fight back.

Friday, August 22, 2008

1984 in 2008

During the Cold War, George Orwell's novel 1984 was a favorite among people of many different political beliefs. The book was often taken in the spirit of its condemnation of totalitarianism to be specifically a condemnation of communism and of the Soviet Union, and of the Soviet system of government and social organization, which in part it was. However, Orwell's message went well past a simple condemnation of one side of the bipolar conflict, and both during and after the Cold War, many readers have ignored the rest of Orwell's message. This is ironic considering the fact that the philosopher Eric Fromm was invited to write an introduction to the novel that is often included in many issues of the book, and that Fromm specifically outlined Orwell's warning to his readers.

Fromm argued that the book's main warning was not directed against the Soviet system so much as it was directed against the West, as the West was itself headed into its confrontation with the Soviet Union by emulating many aspects of the Soviet system in the effort to fight against communism. One of the aspects of the Orwellian depiction of the near future that most people ignore is the degree to which the West became ever more similar to the East while claiming an increasing ideological divide. The story takes place in Oceania, a geopolitical entity combining among other things the United States and Great Britain, and the leaders of Oceania prosecute eternal warfare against the world's other two superpowers, Eurasia and Eastasia, by claiming a fight for freedom, justice, and morality against the decrepit and horrific systems of its opponents. Yet the three superpowers all employ the same ideology, and the same means of supporting their ideology and of fighting their opponents.

Fromm argued that Orwell's warning was that in fighting the Soviet Union the United States and the leading powers of Europe would become ever more like the very system that they claimed to be fighting against. This warning largely went unheard, as many chose merely to see the Soviet system and not the American one in the construct of Oceania. This has not changed since the Soviet collapse, as many still see the novel as a Cold War story that has now become dated. But Orwell's warning, as unheard and unheeded as it remains, becomes ever more strident.

The proof in the pudding of Orwell's warning lies in the changes in the American political landscape since the collapse of the Soviet system. The conservative revolution of the past quarter of a century has employed so many ideas and language tools employed by Oceania and its totalitarian opponents that one can't help but see Big Brother in every policy that the American conservatives enact, and in every statement of conservative ideals. The very goals of the conservative revolution in fact can be defined quite neatly by J.D. Talmon's concept of totalitarian democracy, in which the people are ruled by a ruthless and authoritarian, but nonetheless popularly elected, republican regime. The conservatives are building an ideal future based on the values of the past, in which a tyrannical father rules the home, a tyrannical company rules at work, a tyrannical government rules in the capitol, and a tyrannical Christian church rules the social and cultural norms. The conservatives have managed to build a frighteningly large consensus and support base of the very people they wish to control and exploit, a base of supporters ready and eager to sign away their last rights and civil liberties in the happy knowledge that they are building a future free of freedoms, in which they are safe from foreign ideas such as the notion that the government shouldn't tell them how to live their lives. The voters are persuaded to bask in the warm and protective embrace of a government uninhibited by inconvenient realities and moralities. Enemies are imagined up and the government strips away the people's civil liberties in order to protect them from imaginary or impotent enemies; and rather than protest, the people vociferously support the government's rights against their own, in proud defiance of everything that America's founding fathers believed in and fought for; and they do this in the very name of everything that America's founding fathers believed in and fought for.

This relates to Orwell's statement that the Party (the ruling organization of Oceania) destroys all freedoms and all notions of equity and social justice; and that it does so in the very name of freedom, equity, and social justice. But this is just the beginning of a comparison between Oceania's Party and our own beloved Republican Party (and the conservatives of which the Republicans are merely the tip of the iceberg). The Party of Oceania had three central slogans: War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength. All three slogans are unspoken but nonetheless central strategies employed by the conservatives to further their aims.

WAR IS PEACE. The conservatives (with, it must be admitted, a frightening degree of enthusiastic support from "liberals" and the Democratic Party) have built up a system of eternal warfare and have eroded the distinctions between war and peace to the point where there is no longer any clear distinction. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has continued to pursue its "War is Peace" strategy both at home and abroad. The US has deliberately blown foreign "threats" out of all proportion to their actual level of antagonism and capabilities; and in particular insists on a warlike and military engagement of all opponents and "threats," at the expense of negotiation, compromise, and inclusive methods that led to the end of the Cold War and to the development of democratic government in East Europe. They do this in order to prove that continuing the employment of direct military force to any and all situations of foreign "threats" is the only way to protect America, American ideals, and the American standard of living.

To that end, the conservatives propose continued increases of military spending despite the obvious lack of any enemy capable of taking on America and winning on a conventional military level. They propose to continue funding and fighting a war in Iraq with no end in sight, because it keeps everyone's nerves on edge and keeps everyone cognizant of the "threat" that is out there and which we must sacrifice wealth and civil liberties in order to defeat.

The conservatives know that we can't and won't stay in Iraq forever, and so Iran is now being raised to a "threat" worthy of military response, and one which every attempt made to negotiate with is lambasted by an ever hawkish "liberal media." This despite the fact that every time Iran has stepped in the way of American goals, it was because we had stepped on their toes first. The United States has been interfering in Iran's affairs for over half a century, including the unspeakably ugly period of our direct support for the Shah's secret police and their torture and murder of thousands of Iranian dissidents. Iran has never shown any indication that they would remain antagonistic to an America that didn't continuously impose its will upon them; but the United States has never given Iran the chance. Nor will we, because it only helps build a conservative and authoritarian American system of totalitarian democracy if we have a credible threat out there trying to build atomic weapons and remaining seemingly antagonistic.

And so, in the prosecution of actual war, and the preparation for a combination of both real and hypothetical future wars, the US remains ever at war. Yet at the same time the US is ever at peace as well. This is because we are fighting, or preparing to fight, against threats not even remotely capable of withstanding US military force. There is therefore no real possibility of reinstating the draft; and so the civilian population remains safely at home working to support the troops defending their rapidly eroding freedoms.

The continual state of warfare and/or the preparation for it (with a deliberate policy of fanning and provoking such threats, and of warning the American public against them) offers several advantages to the conservative construction of totalitarian democracy, which were discussed by Orwell in 1984.

First of all, the perpetuation of an endangered state keeps the population insecure and suspicious of outside influences, and not uncommonly of each other at home. A population at war is often willing to allow, and sometimes actually desirous of, restrictions of freedoms and of civil liberties, and are easily convinced of the dangers inherent in newly arrived immigrant peoples with different languages and cultures. A constant state of war enables a state to impose and maintain authoritarian conditions.

Second, perpetual warfare requires the perpetual expenditure of resources on military equipment and supplies. This is actually considered a positive feature as it not only provides the government with a ready economic activity which must be maintained at all times, but it inhibits the government from spending money on social programs that would interfere with the conservative construction of totalitarianism. The conservatives desire a society regimented and structured along traditional authoritarian and class-based lines. They desire a society in which the rich and powerful remain in charge, the middle class manages affairs for them at a lower level of comfort that requires them to remain subordinate, and the poor remain a subordinate and cheap labor force. The conservatives fear social programs that offer social mobility, that enable workers to leave their jobs for other jobs, that provide the poor with support which interferes with the corporations' control over labor and working conditions, and that support the kind of education that enables people to improve their lives and working conditions. It is easy to sacrifice these programs when there is a credible threat out there which we have to prepare to fight, and which taxes our resources enough to put social spending on the back burner.

The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, the "threat" of Iran, and other conflicts are created and perpetuated in order to develop this totalitarian form of society in America. The imposition of military force enables the state to support corporate controls at home and abroad, both by keeping the workers hungry and ready to accept whatever working conditions the authorities wish to maintain, and by imposing the American state's will upon foreign territories that may then be exploited as corporate colonies. Thus, the conservatives make ready use of the WAR IS PEACE strategy to impose authoritarian conditions and to eliminate social spending that would negate the conditions needed to build totalitarian democracy.

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. The conservatives consider the constitutional separation of church and state to be a significant barrier to the development of totalitarian democracy, and they fight for "religious rights" in an effort to protect the freedom of Americans by taking their freedoms away. They consider "justice" (greater police powers, fewer civil liberties, harsher sentences) to be a value of freedom and so they separate the citizens from any and all legal protections in order to "protect" them. But which is more dangerous: a thug with a gun (lovingly guaranteed to the thug by the NRA), or a government with a million guns, and no rules protecting the citizen from that government or its guns?

The equation of freedom with slavery gets even more reinforcement in a corporate society, where the government's guns are used to protect the corporations, and where few of the constitutional rights can be applied to the workers in their relationship with their employers. Citizens have political rights that are meaningless in their most fundamental and day-to-day relationship with their work environment. Conservatives fight to maintain and reinforce that basic reality of a democratic-capitalist structure. They fight to protect the corporations' rights (in the name of "the economy"), to prevent the government from intervening on the workers' behalf, and to invoke government intervention in support of the corporations. This is all done in the name of "free trade," as is the establishment of trade barriers, protective subsidies, and pro-corporate tax structures.

Another aspect of this strategy is the "blackwhite" tendency of conservatives to paint leftist struggles for freedom as threats to those very same freedoms which the conservatives fight to erode and destroy. The conservatives equate giving rights to people with enforcing specific choices from people not willing to make those choices. When the Left fights for the people's rights to pick their own books, movies, and music, the Right paints a public picture of goose-stepping feminazis forcing people to read Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian," and to watch movies filled with gay sex and violence, and to listen to gangster rap. When the Left supports the rights of a gay person to live their life their way, the Right equates this with people being somehow forced to live gay; gay marriage is somehow envisioned as taking something away from heterosexual marriage. The conservatives insist that a freedom granted is really a freedom taken away: the freedom to enslave, the freedom to enforce, the freedom to intimidate the different, the freedom to dominate and control other people. What the conservatives call "Freedom" is in fact Slavery; what they call "Slavery" is in fact Freedom; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. The conservatives are pursuing a state of war against education, to bolster "home schooling" as a form of fundamentalist Christian propagandizing to a captive audience without being influenced by science and rational thought. The conservatives are deliberately trying to reduce college education in the knowledge that the educated are far less likely to be conservative than the uneducated. They also desire a less educated society in order to increase social divisions and reinforce the class structure; they want the best education for the rich, a sustainable technical education as needed for the middle class, and the bare minimum level of education for the poor and working classes. A reduced level of national education increases hierarchical and patriarchal social organization, preserves the elite status of the rich and the subordinate status of the workers, and keeps the middle classes right where they are.

The "Strength" inherent in the conservative battle for Ignorance is threefold. First, it enables the conservative to maintain and reinforce their power base by keeping the people away from the education, facts, and rational thought that would encourage more liberal political tendencies and more liberal politics. The conservatives also fight to include "intelligent design" as a "creationist science" to sap away the strength of programs attempting to teach real science, empirical methods, and rational thought, in order to reinforce their base among those "forced" to attend real schools. The conservatives fight vigorously to protect their people from education and knowledge, and from dangerous, "foreign" ideas and cultures.

Second, the "Ignorance is Strength" strategy is employed to maintain and reinforce both social and political authoritarianism by increasing the powers of hierarchical and patriarchal structures such as the family, the workplace, the church, and the state. The conservatives therefore support home schooling where children can be "protected" within their "religious rights" from scientific principles and taught traditional Biblical laws instead, reinforcing the stratification of society, the suspicion of the different, and the powers of both church and state over the individual.

Third, the "Ignorance is Strength" strategy is used to protect the corporate structure by hiding the damage done to the planet by excessive corporatism. The conservatives fight to hide the corporate exploitation of resources, the corporate (and even private) pollution and damage to the ecology and biosphere, and the corporate exploitation of foreign labor and resources to the detriment of human rights abroad and at home. Thus, the conservatives employ their IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH strategy in order to improve their domestic political position, but also for the direct construction of a totalitarian society and government.

Besides these three central strategies, the conservatives also employ other language tools from Orwell's novel in order to fulfill their revolution for Big Brother. The conservatives are especially fond of "doublethink," and "blackwhite." DOUBLETHINK is the simultaneous holding of two contradictory ideas in one's mind, and the simultaneous knowing and not knowing that one is doing so. BLACKWHITE is a very closely related concept, the labeling of something as its opposite.

The conservatives use these tactics in order to control the language of politics and win a false image of moral supremacy while engaging in the most immoral actions and for the most immoral goals. For example, they label the media "liberal", despite the controls imposed on the media by the conservative corporations which own them; and despite the fact that the majority of pundits and talk-show hosts making specific observations and opinions on TV and radio are right-of-center to far-right in their opinions and statements. The media are far more pro-regime than the conservatives are willing to admit, far more than foreign media and the real (and largely marginalized) leftist press. Between the conservative ownership, the vast numbers of actual right-of-center to extreme right-wing pundits, and the editorial controls put on those in the media that actually are liberal, the "liberal media" as a voice of opposition to the conservative revolution is a total (but very unfunny) joke. The media support the regime by attempting to be hesitantly and marginally critical of minor tactics and "mistakes" while supporting eagerly the strategic goals of the conservative revolution. Recently these tactics have been applied in the right-wing media to Democratic candidate and affirmed centrist Barack Obama; despite standing solidly in the middle (despite the urging of party liberals to move closer to the left), Obama is now being accused of "radical leftism." This imaginary shift to the left would be like calling the KKK "moderately conservative."

By creating a fiction of "liberalism" that is really centrist at best and in many ways actually right-of-center, by making moderates and centrists look like extremists, the conservatives shift the country's political meter much farther to the right. The only way to avoid looking like an extremist is to support the regime whole hog; and those solidly on the right end up looking moderate or even "liberal." John McCain, a "maverick" Republican with no interest in social spending, with his "Hundred Year War" concept of Iraq, with no real education policy to speak of, becomes an acceptable way of building the totalitarian democracy through WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. He appears "moderate" to liberals, he becomes a "Republican we can live with." This is the result of conservative DOUBLETHINK and BLACKWHITE.

The conservatives employ so many tools out of Orwell's fictional Party playbook that one can't help but see Big Brother throughout the conservative revolution, and throughout the America that they have created and are continuing to build at the expense of our rights and freedoms and everything the founding fathers risked their lives for. Americans no longer take Orwell's book as seriously as they did during the Cold War, mostly because Americans only took the book to be a depiction of conditions abroad and not at home. But Orwell's warning was not intended for the people of East Europe that he assumed wouldn't be able to read the book; the warning was directed at Americans and Britons and the people of West Europe that he saw inching ever closer to the conditions of Oceania in their fight against Eurasia. Oceania is now a reality, and the conservatives are now reinforcing that reality for the future perpetuation of their revolution, a revolution of power for the state at the expense of the people, a revolution of hatred and fear and perpetual war, a revolution of a boot forever stamping on the face of the weak. We must fight against this revolution, for it is our own faces that the conservative boots are stamping upon.