Sunday, March 30, 2014

Liberalism's Greatest Strength

What is it?  Its ability to admit to a mistake, and to correct it.  Thank you, Ed Schultz.  And, when it comes to Keystone XL, from your mouth to God's ears, and to the voters' ears as well.

One Big Reason NOT To Write Off The Democrats in 2014

Republicans may think it's enough to have new technology, but Democrats know that it's essential to understand how to use it.  That's what they did in Virginia last year.  And it wouldn't surprise me to see them do it again this fall.

The Coming Tax Hike Revolution

This blog was found on the premise, among others that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, and that civilization can only be sustained by everyone paying their fair share--not by having the majority pay for the Olympian status of an investing class only Ayn Rand could truly love.  It would seem that others are slowly coming around to that point of view as well.  If anything, the understanding is growing that tax hikes of this sort, on high frequency traders, are the moral and functional equivalent of welfare reform for the rich.

It's always good to find out that you're not alone.

100% Sustainable Homes?

That's the promise of so-called "earthships."  Take a look.

Being "Muscular" Is Grossly Overrated

It's far cheaper and safer to let your enemy destroy itself.  David Ignatius believes that this is exactly what Putin's invasion of Crimea is doing to Putin.  Here's the proof that he's right.

Does Beating A Dog With A Stick Make It Hunt?

Today's conservatives say "Yes."  And, as always, reality says they're wrong--that social programs help people move upward.  Take it away, Paul Krugman.

The Liberation Of The Bullies: It Didn't Start With "Animal House"

Thomas Frank's Salon piece on the comedy of the late Harold Ramis is, as usual, spot-on.  He shows how the seemingly anti-Establishment anarchy of Ramis' best-known films--"Animal House," "Caddyshack," and "Ghostbusters"--is little more than a series of battles between two aristocracies, a crumbling one and a would-be one that eventually wins.  What doesn't win in any of these movies is anything representing communal values--generosity, humility, thoughtfulness and so forth.  If anything, those on the left should be siding more with the crumbling establishment, since they embody those virtues to at least a small degree.  So much can't be said for the winners, who, in Frank's view, paved the way culturally for the current-day wolves of Wall Street.

Frank's wrong, however, to think that Delta House, or even Ramis (or "Saturday Night Live," for that matter) was the wellspring for this cultural shift.  In fact, it has nothing to do with comedy or entertainment.  After all, the behavior in all of these movies has little to do with real wit, or even insight into life or humanity.  All of it is little more than a creative series of bullying acts.  We don't laugh at how clever these movies are.  Put simply, we laugh at the bullying---and, more specifically, the success of the bullying.

And bullying in this country has been on the rise ever since the end of the Second World War, the last time that the liberals understood that the niceties of a liberal society had to be brutally defended by people with no respect for those niceties.  Since the end of that war, liberals have pretended that victory settled the question of whether we would be a nation of laws, or of forces beyond society's control.  Perhaps they were simply tired of fighting, or perhaps it was an exaggerated sense of confidence.  Whatever the reason, they believed that they had created a world in which fairness and due process would reign supreme--especially in the victorious United States.

The bullies, on the other hand, knew better.  They saw in the left's reluctance to fight an opportunity to use their good manners and turn them against them.  They understood that if they bullied in an underhanded way, using imaginary grievances (the "Red Menace, anyone?), and leaving as few traces as possible, while playing a game of patience with regard to reaching their long-term objectives, they just might win.  Today, nearly 70 years after the end of the war, they are on the verge of winning.

Frank is correct, however, in seeing the connection between the political and the cultural when it comes to bullying behavior.  Bullying has not been confined to politics--it has seeped into every area of our lives, including our public schools.  It has, in fact, reached such epidemic proportions that it has in fact become a political issue.  And you can color me unsurprised on this subject; I was a victim of substantial bullying when I was in elementary school.  I saw first-hand how little school officials can do if the bullies are shrewd enough to play the system against itself.

How will all of this end?  Well, as I've said any number of times, that's up to us.  I've been saying for much of the past few weeks that we need to organize, contribute and vote.  We still need to do all of those things.  But there's one thing we must do above all.  Or not do.  And that is cave into the bullying.  I only learned to repulse my bullies when they learned that I would not give in to them.  And sometimes--very few times, but sometimes--it may be necessary to bully back.  That's how we stopped the Third Reich from ruling the world.  It may well be how we need to prevent the Caddyshacking of America.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"New Weird Order," Or The Dawn Of A Brave New World?

This article from Salon caught my attention a while ago.  It's worth a look, even though I think the "mystery" it identifies is not as much of a mystery as the author thinks it is.  In brief, he outlines in detail how, despite the crashing and burning of American attempts to create an "empire," we're still the only nation in the world close to being a superpower, and wars are playing a lessening role in resolving international conflicts.

Well, to paraphrase the husband of the next President of the United States, it all depends on what your definition of "war" is.  War, in the traditional sense of military machines colliding across national boundaries, are in fact playing a lessening role in the 21st century.  On the other hand, so are national boundaries.  The rise of the international economy, and international travel along with it, combined with the rise of the Internet and the spread of digital and wireless communications, have begun to create not only an international common market, but also a global culture, one in which economic and personal interests routinely cross national boundaries, and even circle the world on a regular basis.

In such a world, with little international regulation or enforcement to stand in the way, it has become relatively easy for a handful of multinational corporations to aggregate ownership and control of the world's economic resources, including its workers, to such an extent that even national governments are often useless to stand in the way of their power.  In such a world, wars between nations would achieve nothing, except interrupt the flow of profits.  It's far easier to simply buy out the national governments, and turn them into capitalists tools to keep the citizens, who are nothing more than fungible employees and/or negligible consumers to the multinational corporations.

In fact, this is often the source of the rioting the article mentions.  It is the natural reaction of citizens reacting to the failure of the governments to protect their interests.  One can see many examples of this playing out around the world (most recently in Spain, for example).  But, of course, here inside the borders of the one remaining, declining superpower, one need not look abroad for examples.  The rise of corporate control of our political process, which was gradual for much of the 20th century, has taken off in this century in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.  That control asserts itself in every corner of what's left of our election process, with the modesty of a 42nd Street stripper.

Its peculiar genius has shown itself to be equal to the size of its resources, in that it has created its own AstroTurf "grass roots" movement--the Tea Party--as a way of distracting a large segment of disaffected Americans from the fact that liberalism is the true source of our Revolution, our Constitution, and most if not all of the rights we take for granted.  Believe me, there's a reason Richard Nixon wanted the song "Cool, Cool Conservative Men" removed from the film version of the musical, "1776."

To sum up, despite the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal propping up its status as the world's lone superpower, we do in fact live in a bipolar world.  The power and competition of nations has been sidelined by the new global war for power--multinational corporations on one side, the rest of us on the other.  And yes, Tea Party folks, that includes you.  But the economic and global ties that bind the multinationals together are, slowly but surely, binding the rest of us together as well.  H.G. Wells was prescient enough to understand that you can't have a world state without a world culture to support it.  The good news is that a world culture is being built.  The bad news is that, until that building has made more progress, it won't be enough to stop our international enslavement.

One of the keys to building that culture is a right that has long been recognized as a fundamental one here in the U.S.:  the right to travel.  Now, more than ever, we need to expand the rights of citizens everywhere to move around the globe to work, to visit, to invest, to start families, to enable the whole human race to join hands and become citizens of a global community.  That is why comprehensive immigration reform is not just another political issue.  In the context of the bipolar struggle I have just described, it may well be the single most important political cause of our time.  Every American needs to take it seriously, and work to make it a reality.

And, beyond that, all of us need to understand that, no matter the boundaries, languages or ideologies that seem to divide us, we all have a common enemy.  And we have to start working together, in the way the multinationals do, to ensure that we, not they, rule the world all of us share.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Should Climate Activists Work On Other Issues As Well?

If North Carolina is any indication, the answer is yes.  Anything to move this forward; if we don't, we may not have any other issues to discuss.

A Way To Tackle Income Inequality That Both Sides Agree On

Perhaps, at some point, they'll be able to turn that agreement into law.  Free money for everyone?  Maybe.  We've got to do something, and we're running out of time to do it peacefully.

"The Poor You Will Always Have With You"

So said Jesus, who intended it as a reminder of the perpetual obligation of those who have to help those who have not.  Sadly, the 1 percent have a different religious application of this statement.  Take a look.

Envy Versus Anger?

That's the question posed recently by Paul Krugman, and it's a good one.  There is indeed a marked difference between jealously over someone else's position, and resentment that others are using their position to stop you from improving yours.

I've got bad news for the 1 percenters and their supporters in the Tea Party booboisie:  most Americans can tell the difference.

And While We're On The Subject Of The Post Office ...

... this article from Curbed gives me great hope that, one day, Daniel Moynihan's dream of a restored Penn Station might finally come true.  It also illustrates a point that could be useful in the current debate over affordable housing in New York City. 

One objection to Bill de Blasio's apparent intention to "build up" in order to achieve his housing goals is the very real concern of turning the city into an oppressive metropolis of monoliths.  One solution:  allow owners of sites re-zoned for taller structures to sell their air rights to one or more sites to be used for affordable housing.  This would allow many building sites to maintain smaller structures without denying their owners the full economic yield that they're eligible to get under existing zoning regulations.  This has worked to help preserve landmarked structures, and it could also help keep the middle-class in New York City.  A win-win for both issues.

Should Banking Go Postal?

It's an intriguing new idea (from the party that actually has ideas, i.e., the Democrats), and this piece from Salon does an effective job of listing the pluses, of which there are many.

One that it does not mention:  in the absence of any action by Congress to break up the big banks, it would inject a real degree of competition into the banking services currently available to consumers at all economic levels.  It wouldn't do as much as a new Glass-Steagall Act could do for the American people, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

A Government Fears The People When It Won't Let Them Vote

While we're on the subject of famous quotes this month, here's one from Thomas Jefferson:  "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."  This is one that conservatives are found of quoting in support of their fantasies that masquerade as political philosophy.  If, in fact, they had a consistent political philosophy, instead of nothing but a monstrous appetite for power, they would find a way to deal with Jefferson's views on corporations.  They can't, of course, because in no small part because of the aforementioned monstrous appetite.

But I digress. Conservatives love that quote in no small part because, paradoxically, they agree with Mao Zedong that all power comes out of the barrel of a gun.  Hence, their obsession with arming America (or their side of it) to the teeth.  That view might have worked pretty well for Chairman Mao, and it may have worked tolerably well in frontier America.  But this is not the People's Republic, and the frontier closed over a century ago.  Which leaves us with voting booths as the machines by which the people can ensure that their government fears them.

Only, when it comes to spreading fear that way, conservatives tend to be not so hot on the idea.  This nonsense emanating from Wisconsin is only the latest example of a trend that has asserted itself at all levels of government since the Tea Party triumph of 2010.  Voting restrictions, combined with ruthless gerrymandering and off-the-record billionaire donations, offer the ultimate indictment of modern conservatism:

In a democracy, they fear the majority of voters, and have to go to any lengths necessary to stop them from voting.

They can't say this out loud, of course, or they would lose the last illusory veil that disguises them from being revealed as the criminal conspiracy that they essentially are.  So they pretend that they are actually stopping non-existent "voter fraud," rather than systematically denying whole swaths of the American adult population the most basic right that exists in a democracy--the right to choose your government.  If they had programs, policies or even a philosophy that they could actually discuss with voters, and attempt to gain their support by doing so, they would do so.  But they don't have programs, policies or even a philosophy at this point.  They have the aforesaid appetite--and no means to feed other than by spreading hatred and fear, and keeping the object of that hatred and fear home on Election Day.  That object, of course, would be you and me.

This brazen, shameless willingness to subvert the rights of all the people is perhaps the greatest evidence of the slenderness of the thread by which the fate of a free society currently hangs.  Now, more than ever, this is way not voting is simply not an option this year.  If you don't cast a vote, you have no way of being sure that you will ever have an opportunity to vote again.

They're scared to death of you.  Give them good reason to be that way.  Organize, contribute and vote in 2014.  Only by doing so can you assure yourself of a government that will not deprive you of your liberty.

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

That quote, famously attributed to Benjamin Franklin, should have special relevance for Democrats and other progressives when it comes to the 2014 elections.  Because those elections may represent our last chance to keep our Republic from becoming an empire in everything but name.

We are facing an opposition that is prepared to spend obscene amounts of money simply to buy a government that will do its total bidding.  Even worse, we are facing, in tandem with this opposition, their political servants, who are willing to do absolutely nothing for the next six months--the length of the Major League baseball season--in the hope that hated of the ACA will be great enough to single-handedly deliver them a victory they have done nothing to earn (and never mind the needs, current or unanticipated, of the country in the meantime).  And finally, we are facing some cold, political reality:  progressive turnout is low in off-year elections, and the party controlling the White House for six years is vulnerable in any event to voter fatigue.

I know what you're thinking.  Save your time and money.  Sit it out.  Let Obama veto the really bad stuff that will come out of an all-Republican Congress, and wait for Hillary and a new wave of young progressives to come along so we can all dream the dream again.

I've got bad news for you.  America, and the progressive cause, can't wait that long.

To begin with, no vote at all is a vote that effectively ratifies any outcome in which the opposition comes out on top.  This is the harsh reality of a democracy (or what's left of ours):  those who do not exercise their right to choose their government have their voices effectively silenced for two years.

And progressives, madly in love with the idea that sitting at home is some kind of "protest vote" that yields results would do well  to consider how few results we've had for our side over the last 40 years.  Do you want to know why it's the case that Noam Chomsky can call Richard Nixon, of all people, our last "liberal" president? Because when Nixon was President, progressives were out in the streets, day and night, seizing every forum--and, sometimes, even seizing arms--to advance their causes.  Nixon didn't have a choice.  He had to be a liberal at times, even when the Democratic Party was far more conservative that it is now.

Even worse, the "protest vote" you want to "cast" makes you no better than the current Republican House of Representatives, willing to hold the country's needs hostage in a desperate effort to gain point.  We can't afford to sit on the sidelines--not when the economy of this country has turned us into a banana republic (thanks to banana Republicans).

And don't fall into the trap of thinking that our clever journalists and bloggers (discounting myself) are enough to persuade those on the other side to cast their votes in our direction, or to motivate those on our side to get out and vote.  We are no longer a country that listens to opposing views; we listen to ourselves--and think that it's enough to agree with what we hear.  It's not.

Finally, and worst of all, an all-Republican Congress will be in a position to not simply cripple the last two years of Barack Obama's presidency, but to lay the groundwork for a strong Republican Presidential campaign.  And, if that campaign is successful, there's no reason to think that a GOP controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue won't try--and, perhaps, succeed--to further its Bush-era efforts to turn our Republic into an empire.  How far will they get?  Will they take our country past the turning point?  Who can really tell?

I can't.  That's why I agree with Talking Points Memo and PoliticusUSA that there is only now to think about and, more importantly, do something about.  2016 may mean nothing if 2014 is a big enough disaster.

And here's how to stop that from happening:
Most of all--and I'm going to say this again and again over the next six months, ORGANIZE, CONTRIBUTE, AND VOTE!  Now as never before, the keeping of your Republic depends on it.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Better Answer For Urban Waste?

Don't dispose of it, reuse it--and create parkland in the process.  Take a look.

Government Aid For Me, But Not For Thee

That's the Republican way ... even when it comes to Medicaid.

"This 14-Year-Old Boy Just Wrote The Most Important Poem Of The 21st Century"

Yes, he did.  Read it.  Especially if you're under 30.

Obamacare Is Here To Stay

Forget about repealing it, Republicans.  And stop running away from it, Democrats (and, yes, Barack Obama, I'm talking about you).  It's here to stay.  So let's work together to make it better.

We Can Afford The Common Defense AND The General Welfare

But, right now, we're spending far more on the one, at the expense of the other.  This series of charts illustrates that point better than anything else I've seen.  And shame on you if it doesn't make you angry enough to do something about it.

A Small Step For Workers In Tennessee

Let's hope that this can become a giant leap for workers across America.

Correction: It's ALREADY Backfired

But this serves to explain why "religious liberty" became a piece of Orwellian doublespeak that not even the VRWC could push across the finish line.

Conservatism Is A System Of Exploitation, Not A Philsophy Of Freedom

Here's the ultimate proof:  they're so lazy that they hire others to make the passionate arguments that they take credit for producing.

Shame on you, Brent Bozell.  At least your uncle did his own writing, so far as we know.

"Immigrants Welcome Here"?

That might seem like a peculiar statement, in light of today's explosive national debate about immigration reform.  But it's the headline of a recent New York Times article, which reports on cities--including ones in red states--recognizing the urban-renewal benefits that come with taking steps to encourage and support an immigrant population within their own "borders."  So much for the argument about all that money immigrants are costing us.

Why "Free Enterprise" Isn't Really Free

Because, in cases where there are natural monopolies for essential services, regulation is the only way to create competition and, hence, affordability.  This is why other countries, even poorer ones, outrank us in health care and Internet service.  Take a look.

It's Climate, Not The Weather, Stupid!

Today's weather in our neck of the woods, however cold it may be, is one part of an overall system of global climate that, overall, is getting warmer, whether the deniers know it or not.  This explains it as well as anything I've read.

Not that the deniers will notice.  They either can't read or don't want to.  And, either way, they're a danger to the rest of us.

Today's Christian Church Does Not Lay Up Its Treasure in Heaven

It is content to build it up here on Earth, at the expense of its followers and there needs.  This is but one example of how the Catholic Church is notorious for doing this.  But, to be far, and thought the Catholic Church has much to account for, they are hardly an exception to the rule.  Any evangelical "megachurch" could serve just as well to illustrate the same point.

Why, in God's name (literally) do Christians allow their churches to serve both God and mammon, or at least attempt to do so?  They are co-conspirators in their churches' larceny, and stupid enough about it to not even get a share of the profits.

Jesus weeps, and so do I.  But please read the last four paragraphs of the linked article above.  That way, you will be blessed by the story of someone who understood how to bring good news to modern humankind.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Liberalism Is Only As Dead As Liberals Allow It To Be

Somewhere, buried deep inside of almost every liberal, there must be a not-so-deeply buried streak of masochism--or, at least, pessimism.  How else to explain the seeming popularity, or at least inevitability, of articles like this one?

For my part, I think that the pessimism, and perhaps even the masochism, stem from the fact that liberalism is a perpetual uphill battle in a society that perpetually clings to the familiar, no matter how repugnant the familiar is.  But liberals believe that, no matter how repugnant the present, pain and doubt are a price worth paying to ensure a better future for Americans.  Unfortunately, the pain and the doubt sometimes reach the point that leads some liberals to write articles like Adolph Reed, Jr.'s cover story in Harper's.

As for the article itself, its contents fall into an all-too-familiar category--the liberals-compromise-their-principles-too-much-by-focusing-on-elections-category.  It's a standard diatribe of those on the hard left, as it is to those on the hard right--the mistaken belief of zealots that American voters are especially impressed by purity.  Unfortunately, what voters are most impressed by are results--and you don't get results without winning elections and working with people who don't agree with everything you believe in.  And too, our system of government divides power in such a way so as to thwart unilateral change on a broad scale, and to promote consensus-building.  That ensures that change happens slowly--but, as this article points out, that doesn't mean that it can't or doesn't happen.

Unfortunately, while the Framers may have built us a "better mousetrap" for governing, we live in an age in which the other side of the political divide isn't interested in catching mice--or governing, for that matter.  They're mostly willing to allow themselves to be manipulated into doing nothing, the better to allow our corporate masters to treat all of us like mice.

So what are progressives to do?  Be purer, or be patient?  Like most either-or choices, it's a false one.

We mix purity with patience and pragmatism.  We focus on core principles, and take the time to relate them to the current needs and concerns of voters.  We listen, and respond to what we hear.  And then we organize, fundraise, and turn out voters without pause.

In short, we should take the advice of this article.  Because it's right:  everything's at stake.  And if we don't take its advice seriously, all of us will be trapped like mice.

Preservation: The Enemy Of Affordable Housing, Or Its Friend?

A housing project on top of Grand Central Station?  That seems to be the direction in which Mayor de Blasio's vision of affordable housing for New Yorkers is going.  Up, that is.  And the result is that Manhattan real estate developers couldn't be happier, while many of the new mayor's supporters are beginning to wonder about the man they worked so hard to elect.

The most recent reason for their concern surfaces last week, when the Mayor successfully coerced the developer of the old Domino Sugar plant on the East River in Queens to add more affordable housing units before allowing final approval of the project.  A noble accomplishment, in one sense, and one that affirms the sincerity of his statements on the subject.  But, as this article in The New York Daily News shows, de Blasio's choice to focus on this project also affirms the viewpoint he expressed earlier on the subject of affordable housing--that the solution may be to allow the development of taller buildings than the ones permitted by current zoning regulations.

If the result is to increase the building density of New York's cityscape in the same proportion that the Domino development does (and the photos that accompany that article do a very effective job of illustrating that proportion), than the Mayor's supporters--along with the rest of us urbanists--have real reason to worry.  Perhaps the most significant one, from the vantage point of public safety, is the fact that we've tried this approach to public housing before, as some have pointed out.  The high-rise projects of the 1950s and 1960s, almost without exception, were sociological and criminological disasters.  It was, in fact, for this very reason that public housing was steered in a different direction in the 1990s, toward the construction of low-density townhouses.  The Mayor might want to have a chat with his Governor about this, as that Governor, Andrew Cuomo, was also the HUD Secretary responsible for implementing that change.

Almost as bad is the idea that affordable housing must come at the expense of historic preservation, a key component of tourism (which, in turn, is a key component of economic development).  That's where my reference to Grand Central comes in.  Not surprisingly to those of us familiar with their "thinking," the Real Estate Board of New York has seen in de Blasio's plans an opportunity to crack down on what they describe as the "museuming" of the city, claiming that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has destroyed their ability to destroy what makes the Big Apple a world-wide tourist magnet.  Read this, also from the Daily News, if you want an idea of how specious this argument is.  My favorite part is the percentage of city real estate that's protected--four percent.  Apparently, 96% just isn't enough for the 1-percenters.

Which brings me to a discussion of the real cause behind New York's lack of affordable housing:  the new-found popularity of the city with the international uber-rich, and their financial ability to single-handedly triple and even quadruple or quintuple the "paper" value of the land they are buying.  The ripple effect of this is to not only make the city more crowded physically, but also to make the value of real estate in general beyond the means of the middle-class, to say nothing of the poor.  This isn't a question of supply and demand.  New York doesn't suffer from a lack of places in which to put people.  It suffers, like the rest of the county, from the irrational whims of a tiny minority that has, through political chicanery, acquired more money than most people can rationally used.  And, as a consequence, the use of that money is propelled not by rationality, but by greed.

If de Blasio is serious about bring supply and demand back into the picture, and make the best use of the city's existing building stock (including many landmarkable structures), he would focus his affordable housing energies on preserving and retrofitting those structures as subsidized housing for middle-class and poor residents.  Give long-term residents of the city, who helped keep it going during the lean years, priority in living there.  And yes, it's acceptable up to a point to finance these ventures with land use incentives to build "up" in other parts of the city, provided that the incentives are structured to vary the distribution of the density, so that New York does not become a city of monoliths.  But past that point, don't be afraid to slap luxury taxes on the new luxury developments.  That won't stop the uber-wealthy from coming here, and it may assure that their wealth truly benefits the city as a whole.  In any event, it will put a decelerator on the upward bidding of land values.

Preservation and adaptive reuse are the best way to honor the city's past and lay the foundation for its future.  Anyone in the preservationist community could city hundreds of examples; but I'll leave you with this one, showing the creative use of former fire houses.  That's the New York I want to see.  That's the New York everyone's attracted to, rich or poor.  And that's the affordable, sustainable New York that Bill de Blasio should focus on building.

Why Should Democrats Pay Attention To A New New York Times/CBS Poll?

Or, to put it another way, why to that poll, as opposed to others?  For that matter, why the equal amount of hysteria in the corporate media about a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, which also shows the Republicans with a statistically insignificant lead in the generic congressional vote?

Or to put it yet another way, why to either of these polls, when other equally reliable (if not more reliable) polls show the Democrats the lead in that vote?  Why not talk about the fact that Rasmussen Reports, no one's idea of a bleeding-heart liberal pollster, has in fact consistently shown the Democrats with a slight lead in the generic vote from February 9 to the present--an entire month?

Look, I am not pretending that the current political environment isn't challenging for Democrats.  It's a mid-year election in the sixth year of a Democratic presidency.  Obama's popularity has sunk, and the ACA is still unpopular with a large number of voters--especially in red states, a significant number of which will be in play in 2014.  The truth of the matter is that, with those variables in the election formula, the Republicans actually should have a much higher, more consistent lead in the polls than they've had.  The fact, however, is that they haven't.  Call it the Tea Party effect, call it the Bush-Cheney syndrome, call it what you will--but, statistically, there's no real traction for the GOP.  Why is the corporate media pretending otherwise?

Because they're the corporate media, that's why.  The major traditional outlets--broadcast and print--are now owned by a handful of multinational conglomerates whose loyalty to the truth extends no further than the bottom line, and who long ago destroyed the walls between the editorial and business sides of journalism.  They know which party will grease their palms the most--and they're doing everything they can to expand that party's power.

One need look no further than the Sunday talk shows to see the truth of this.  There was a time (and it ended not that long ago) when these programs, priding themselves on at least the pretense of journalistic integrity, would have equal number of Democrats and Republicans as guests.  Not any more.  Today's shows are a sad case in point:  excluding guests with no clear party affiliation, the guest roster included only four Democrats versus nine Republicans or conservatives.  So much for fairness and balance.

I would be more concerned about this if I believed that print and broadcast media still possessed the same clout that they possessed up until the early 1990s.  But they don't.  In the Internet age, people don't just receive the news, they share it with each other.  They build up networks of their own in the process--networks not only of people, but of funding, organization and planning.  This is how progressives triumphed in 2008 and 2012.  And it may very well be how they will triumph in 2014.  Truthfully, because our communications process is much less centralized, it's a lot harder to measure public opinion on a broad scale.

As for the corporate media, forget about them as a guide to public opinion.  Their audience is older, less-Internet oriented and, therefore, far more conservative.  Their coverage is going to reflect that, and, quite frankly, so will the polling results that they publish and push.

Which just means they will end up going down the drain with the party to which they've hitched their increasingly wheel-less wagon.  Don't believe them.  And don't give up on the possibility of success this fall.  Work for it.  Your democracy and your future both depend on it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Jimmy Obama," or "George W. Putin"?

There they go again, I thought to myself.  The New York Post, the slightly more expensive alternative to toilet paper, whipping its falling far-right readership into a supposed frenzy of indignation over Barack Obama's response (more correctly, his response thus far) to Vladimir Putin's imperial invasion of Ukraine.  Not masculine and muscular enough, to paraphrase Brit Hume on the subject of Chris "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it" Christie.  Why, Obama's reaction is so feckless and limp-wristed that it invites a comparison to the Post's favorite Democratic demon, Jimmy Carter!  Da-da-da-da-doooooom!  Oh, no!  Jimmy Carter!

And never mind the fact that Jimmy Carter's current approval rating is significantly higher that that of the current House of Representatives, with which the Post surely finds no fault for doing nothing.  That hasn't stopped other dim bulbs of the right from going beyond trashing Obama to praising Putin.  Yes, Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, I'm talking about you.  Of course, I would expect nothing less, especially from Giuliani, who knows a first-rate bully when he sees one.  For Rudy, it's like looking in the mirror.

Which should make all of us wonder, as it does me:  Is Carter really the President who offers the most relevant point of comparison here?

Look at this this way:  Putin, surrounded at home by every sort of domestic problem and further hobbled by the financial and public relations fiasco of the Winter Olympics, desperately needed to change the subject.  The collapse of his puppet regime in Ukraine both enlarged that need and gave him an opportunity to change it in a big way.

On the other hand, it's a change that carries with it major risks of its own.  Putin's campaign is already leading to disaster in the Russian financial markets--much as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (not, repeat not Ronald Reagan) was the beginning of the end of the Soviet economic system and, ultimately, the Soviet empire.

And much as George W. Bush's unfunded war on terror on two fronts helped to trigger the near-collapse of the American economy.

It's not surprising that professional bullies like Palin and Giuliani admire Putin as much as they do.  Of course, none of them criticized Bush for his alleged eye-to-eye favorable appraisal of Putin's "soul," nor did they criticize Bush when Putin gave Georgia the same treatment he's now giving Ukraine.  That's because Bush was giving them the bully wars they wanted--and from which they personally profited.

The problem, however, with conventional warfare in a multipolar global economy is that the losers, potential and actual, outnumber the winners.  This is why conventional warfare is disdained more than ever now, in favor of the application of "soft power"--for example, Obama's current threat of sanctions against Putin.  Soft power, properly applied, takes longer to get results, but ultimately does so at less cost than conventional warfare.  The successful end of the Cold War is, after all, an example of this, as is the fall of apartheid in South Africa.  In the world we live in, "muscular" solutions are beside the point; in fact, they are no solutions at all.

Obama understands this, and has made it work for him time and again during his Presidency.  Even better, he is a student of history, and understands the similarities between the trap the Soviets built for themselves in Afghanistan, and the one that Putin is building for himself now in Ukraine.  Which is why he is content to rely on soft power, and not resort to force unless there is no alternative and only after he is ready to do so.

Which is why, when all is said and done, we're going to be spending less time talking about "Jimmy Obama," and more time talking about "George W. Putin."

One more thing: for a similar, and highly informative take on Putin and Ukraine, take a look.