January 19, 2010 archive

Defining Debate Down – How Language Keeps Us Confined

Language plays a far greater role then just communication. It defines how we think. The reason you can’t remember when you were six months old is not because your brain wasn’t recording events. It’s because you had yet to develop the intellectual framework from which to retrieve the memories of those events.

That intellectual framework is known as representation – how we convert our perceptions of the the outside world into concepts and ideas in our minds. Language is the higher development of representation – when the big round thing becomes a “ball”.

Likewise, our representations of political observations not only affect our ability to communicate, but they affect how we make sense of those observations.

Afternoon Edition

Afternoon Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US troops pour into Haiti to ramp up quake aid

by Daphne Benoit and Beatriz Lecumberri, AFP

1 hr 4 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – US troops led by Marines descended from helicopters onto the ruined Haitian capital Tuesday, as a week after a massive quake the US military ramped up a huge aid operation for desperate Haitians.

In a spectacular move, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne division landed in at least four choppers to secure the ruined presidential palace, a once elegant white building now surrounded by a stinking, squalid refugee camp.

From the palace, a 100-strong squad of soldiers headed on foot to the city’s general hospital, swamped with injured after the catastrophic 7.0-magnitude quake seven days ago, which the Haitian government says killed at least 70,000.

The states of insolvency

  Insolvency is no longer just for California. The dreaded word “bankruptcy” is now being whispered in Chicago.

 While it appears unlikely or even impossible for a state to hide out from creditors in Bankruptcy Court, Illinois appears to meet classic definitions of insolvency: Its liabilities far exceed its assets, and it’s not generating enough cash to pay its bills. Private companies in similar circumstances often shut down or file for bankruptcy protection.

  “I would describe bankruptcy as the inability to pay one’s bills,” says Jim Nowlan, senior fellow at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “We’re close to de facto bankruptcy, if not de jure bankruptcy.”

 Suppliers in Illinois are not being paid (an average 92 day delay in payment), worker salaries are unreliable, and the University of Illinois may not be able to make payroll this spring.

A Question of Morality, A Cautionary Tale

You can’t write about morality without someone taking it the wrong way. So here I go. Have fun.

The real problem with America is not politics, it is morality.

America tortures…..and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

America invades other countries, occupies them and kills innocent men, women and children….and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

America is the richest country in the world, but people routinely starve to death in America….and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

America is designed to foster ‘income inequality.’ And as America deteriorates, that has just kept increasing until there are literally two Americas, a happy and content rich America and a suffering and systematically oppressed poor America…and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

America and the American ‘lifestyle’ is destroying the planet…for all humans everywhere….and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

Americans are willing to give up freedoms and rights it has taken 230 years and millions of lives lost to fight for. Freedoms and rights based on the moral principles of Equality, Justice and the freedom of the individual….because of a tiny tiny percentage of a chance that they could be killed by a guy blowing up his underwear.

And a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

America has a corrupt government, a government that works for all of those things instead of against them….and a large enough plurality of Americans is ok with that.

And so.

Though politics is the way we try to change these stark realities, and though there are many, many, many problems that could be solved (or at least mitigated or alleviated) politically…..politics cannot solve the underlying problem.

To emphasize and illustrate, I will reiterate one point….Americans are willing…either through having bad information, apathy, or an inability to comprehend and face the magnitude of the problem….or perhaps because they just don’t GET that killing the planet so they can continue their ‘lifestyle’ is immoral….

Are willing to allow the planet to be destroyed to the point where billions are likely to die. Including their own children and grandchildren.

That is just reality. Though if course you can spin that reality in a million ways. But spin won’t change the reality…and it won’t save the planet.

America’s morality is broken.

And politics alone won’t fix it. At best it can stop some of the worst effects of America’s broken morality. As we watch the political battles being fought in Congress, in the media, and on the blogs, we see this broken morality in action.

It’s latest illustration occurred with a visitor to our humble blog who was part of a group that was/is willing to sacrifice their own standards and accepted ‘political ethics’ in order to …..win. But when asked what they were trying to win….they were unable to answer. When asked what they were trying to accomplish…they were unable to answer. When asked what the consequences of their political actions were….they were unable to answer.

The only thing that mattered was winning “The Game.”

No thought, no acceptance of responsibility, no consideration of consequence….no morality. All that mattered was winning. Was beating someone else.

Even though they had no idea what they were trying to “win”…or why. All that mattered was winning.

And that is what American morality has degenerated to. All that matters is defeating and destroying things….and people….and so ultimately, the Planet.

What we are trying to do….in my opinion….is to stop as much of this destruction as possible.

Let’s keep that in mind as WE fight the battles that need to be fought. And not become what we are fighting.

My message to Massachusetts Marijuana smokers

We all know Coakley sucks. She crusaded against the Massachusetts decrim initiative in 2008, and after it passed with 65% of the vote urged municipal governments to circumvent it with local ordinances. She then refused to pursue charges against the District Attorneys who illegally used government resources to campaign against the initiative.

So why do I want you to vote for her?

Simple. Brown in the Senate will be just as bad on the issue, but by sending Coakley to Washinhgton we get her nasty ass out of the Attorney General’s office, while Brown remaining in the State Senate will have little impact.

Training Tuesday: Learning from Obama for Local Campaigns

originally posted by Will Urquhart at Sum of Change

Today’s Training Tuesday comes to us from the Organizing 2.0 Conference in New York back in December. During lunch, we were joined by Colin Delaney, of e.politics.com. He and Charles Lenchner, of the Working Families Party, held a conversation about how to translate lessons about new media from the Obama campaign to local campaigns.

Fusion balloting: creating more and better choices for American voters

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an article that was originally posted on my blog a few days ago. I’m posting it here at DD as a followup to my previous diary about the need for ballot access reform.


A few days ago, I discussed the need for ballot access reform as a crucial first step in opening up the American political system and removing the shackles placed upon it by the Republican and Democratic parties. Today, I’d like to discuss another equally important element of political reform which I believe is a necessary co-requisite to ballot access liberalization: electoral fusion.

Fusion balloting, which is also referred to as cross-endorsement or open ballot voting, refers to the practice of allowing multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate for the same office. This cross-endorsement can open up several possibilities for minor parties operating within the constraints of a political system like ours here in America, in which two parties are dominant: these minor parties might, for example, choose to cross-endorse candidates nominated by one of the two major parties, or to cross-nominate each other’s candidates, or to run their own candidates without any cross-endorsements, depending on what their political and strategic priorities are. At present, fusion balloting doesn’t affect most voters because it’s only allowed in eight states: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, Oregon South Carolina, and Vermont.

Open Plea


A Quick History of the US Military in Haiti

1915- 1934: US Marines arrive & then occupation.

1917: The US wrote Haiti’s ‘Constitution’–  which mainly abolished the previous prohibition on foreign owned land. FDR claimed to have written it.

This document abolished the prohibition on foreign ownership of land-the most essential component of Haitian law. When the newly elected National Assembly refused to pass this document and drafted one of their own preserving this prohibition, it was forcibly dissolved by Gendarmerie commandant Smedley Butler. This constitution was approved by a plebiscite in 1919, in which less than five percent of the population voted. The State Department authorized this plebiscite presuming that “The people casting ballots would be 97% illiterate, ignorant in most cases of what they were voting for.”

The Marines and Gendarmerie initiated an extensive road-building program to enhance their military effectiveness and open the country to U.S investment. Lacking any source of adequate funds, they revived an 1864 Haitian law, discovered by Butler, requiring peasants to perform labor on local roads in lieu of paying a road tax.

– Wikipedia

1921: The Haitian revolt, and the US military kills approximately 15,000.

1946: US backed coup.

1950: US backed coup.

1957- 1987: The Duvalier and Baby Doc era’s :

Duvalier’s paramilitary police, officially the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale – VSN) but more commonly known as the Tonton Macoutes, named for a Vodou monster, carried out political murders, beatings, and intimidation. An estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed by his government.

From 1957-1971 Haitians lived under the dark shadow of “Papa Doc” Duvalier, a brutal dictator who enjoyed U.S. backing because he was seen by Americans as a reliable anti-Communist. After his death, Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” became President-for-life at the age of 19 and he ruled Haiti until he was finally overthrown in 1986. It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Baby Doc and the United States government and business community worked together to put Haiti and Haiti’s capitol city on track to become what it was on January 12, 2010.


1991: The US backs a bloody Coup against Aristide — 5000 die, many disappear.

1993: The US military comes back, this time to put Aristede back in power.  After this, Aristede launches widespread human rights abuses, his associates becoming involved in drug running, etc.

Arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, summary executions and police brutality became everyday reality.

2004: The US kidnaps Aristide, and puts in another regime:

On March 1, 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Aristide family friend Randall Robinson, reported that Aristide had told them (using a smuggled cellular phone), that he had been forced to resign and abducted from the country by the United States. He claimed to be held hostage by an armed military guard.[16]

Aristide later repeated similar claims, in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on March 16. He was pressured to resign from office by U.S. soldiers and James B. Foley, U.S. Ambassador to Haïti, on February 29. An aircraft provided by the U.S. carried Aristide and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, into exile to the Central African Republic. Goodman asked Aristide if he resigned, and President Aristide replied: “No, I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a ‘new coup d’état,’ or ‘modern kidnapping.’


Some have come forward to support his claim saying they witnessed him being escorted out by American soldiers at gunpoint….

Witness Vigil :: Worthington & Horton report


I’ve slacked off the past several days, due to multiple distractions. mea culpa. The ever faithful journalists, thankfully, have not.

Murders at Guantanamo by Andy Worthington, published this morning at Common Dreams, discusses Horton’s bombshell piece.

This is disturbing enough, of course, and should lead to robust calls for an independent inquiry, but the problem may be that almost every branch of the government appears to be implicated in the cover-up that followed the deaths.

Our Role in Keeping the Home Fires Burning

I know now that it is foolishness personified to believe that the Democratic Party, nor any of the existing spheres of influence currently established will provide the strong leadership we need.  Back in 2006, I was, of course, certainly elated that we had won back control of the House and the Senate, but my reservations then were that the core of the majority body were the same bumblers and bloodless supposed “leaders” whose inaction led to a loss of control in the first place, back in 1994.  Unfortunately, these fears seem to have been confirmed.  Some have proposed term limits to counter-balance this tendency and while I have my own reservations regarding that solution, I know that surely there must be a better way than what we have now.  Long ago, my home state, Alabama, knew that its concerns were likely subordinate to that of wealthier, more well-connected states, so it consistently has elected the same weasels to office, knowing that with seniority comes power and with power comes the ability to set legislative priority.

Even dating back a hundred years ago or more, the state continued to elect the same decrepit, graying elder statesmen for this very reason.  The most notable example of this was when, out of fear that these men would die in office, a special election was held, whereby voters could select not only these long-standing candidates for perhaps the last time, but also those who would immediately take power the instant they passed away.  “They will be our pallbearers”, one of the ancients was reported to have said at the time.  This unique balloting situation was partially due to the fact that Alabama was a poor state and couldn’t afford the additional expense of printing out a second round of ballots if one of its aging representatives died, but it was also due to the fact that the state wasn’t willing to give up its share of influence in the Congress until it absolutely had to, either.  If Robert Byrd runs again, one wonders if the voters of West Virginia would be similarly inclined to pursue this strategy.  One also wonders if this unique course of action had been employed in Massachusetts had Ted Kennedy’s illness come to light back in 2006 how different the situation facing us today would have been.  

I think part of what we are struggling with is an ability to adjust to uncertainty.  I have recently noticed that workers in their forties and fifties, those who have paid into the system for years, are now beginning to get laid off in scores.  First came the low-wage earners, then came the young, now a group previously insulated from layoffs.  This makes for an angry, confused electorate, one which might finds itself unable to construct much in the way of a unified front from within, but still votes to throw the bums out when it comes time to cast a ballot.  What I do know, based on observing larger trends over time, is that the economy will come back eventually.  This is, of course, not exactly comfort food to those drawing unemployment and subsisting on a fraction of their previous income.  And, we must admit, nor is it a good sign for the party in power.  

We can tout a stimulus as a job saver, but the true measure of its impact might potentially not be measured for years.  The same goes for health care reform.  What leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many about the program is that it begins collecting the necessary tax revenue to properly fund it almost the instant it is enacted, yet is not fully implemented until 2014.  Not only that, some parts of it will not be in full force until a few years after that.  While this implementation stage might be the only way the system can go into effect without toxic shock, that very fact has and will prove to be a powerful talking point for Republicans and disaffected Independents already skeptical of increased taxation, for whatever means.    

In situations like these, the natural inclination is to look for a historical antecedent, and some point back to the 1982 Mid-Congressional elections as well as the 1966 cycle.  Neither of these fit the profile neatly.  The Democratic majorities in the House, for example, were far greater than they are now.  In 1966, the Democratic party shed 47 seats but still had a majority cushion of more then 50 seats.  In 1982, Republicans picked up 26 seats, but the majority Democrats still had over 100 more than the GOP.  No one knows the number of seats that will be lost this coming November, but I still am unconvinced that control will change hands in either chamber.  What is more likely is severely reduced numbers which will likely require more conciliatory and concessionary measures with minority Republicans.  And, to be blunt, perhaps that isn’t all bad since resounding majorities in both the House and Senate have not prevented legislation from proceeding forward at anything more than a snail’s pace.  The Republicans may have put all of their winnings on obstructionism, but inter-party fighting has proved itself a far more effective opponent than anything the GOP has flung at it.  

What concerns me more is the completely justified anger at Wall Street and big business, who have methodically bought up every seat at the bargaining table if not other seats in other contexts.  This sort of conduct is indefensible from whichever context it is examined, and President Obama and the Democrats in power could launch attacks against this base inequality that would prove to be very popular with voters.  Though a few Republican voices might sound the alarm, it is a position that rarely goes sour and can always tap into an endless source of anger, frustration, and bile.  Populist anger at the wealthy is an ancient tactic and one that even the most fervent second-guesser can do little more than scream about, since few actually will listen, or have much in the way of general sympathy.    

As for more contentious matters, Democrats must avoid letting their opponents frame the issue for them.  To some extent, I understand anyone’s fear of big government, if only from the context of reduced efficiency of work and decreased quality of service.  Since the Recession began, I have noticed that in many government agencies, budget shortfalls and layoffs have gummed up or slowed to a trickle what would seem to be rudimentary, straightforward processes.  In so doing, this has given government employees no incentive to do an efficient job.  If you will please pardon, I will again refer to a personal example from my own life.  When I filed for food stamps two and a half months ago, the framework existed to allow and encourage claimants to send out applications online.  But, as I found when it took twice as long as it ever should have to receive my benefits, budget deficits prevented the agency from being able to hire and train the necessary people to process these online claims.  Thus, my file sat on a desk for a month and if I had not contacted an advocacy agency, it would probably still be there.                

In Progressive circles we talk frequently about Good Government™ and its enormous potential to do a massive amount of laudable things.  I, of course, believe in it as well, though I recognize that up to now it is still a dream kicked further and further down the road.  President Obama was swept into power talking about the merits of smart government and, lamentably, up to this point, I’m afraid I don’t see it.  Yet, neither am I willing to sagely propose, as some do, that there is some purity in the private sector.  Different name, same trough.  I suppose it depends on that which you fear the least.  It is the formation and perpetuation of systems which have shortchanged all of us that leads people to make conclusions as to the ultimate success or failure of any new enterprise, government or otherwise.  Our pessimism might not be justified, but our skepticism is not.

Though I too have engaged in finger-pointing as to why we’ve reached this climacteric a mere year after it seemed like we were on top of the world, I recognize that it is ultimately a self-defeating activity.  In the end, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was, unless that entity or collective body is willing to reform itself.  Barack Obama was a rock star once, not a vacuous celebrity as some tried to paint him.  Having released a critical disappointment that didn’t sell nearly as well as advertised, he is now facing the first openly hostile reviews of his career.  Yet, have no fear, fans.  Americans love a comeback, particularly with an extensive tour attached to it.  Someone as talented and as capable easily has the dexterity and strength to exceed our wildest expectations again, but only if he has the help he needs and he presses an agenda with a reasonable chance of succeeding.      

No person is an island.  We have wept and prayed and fasted and purged and been delayed by the same impasse.  My own contribution to a growing canon of proposed solutions is that we take a more active stance within government itself.  Anyone can lock arms, hold hands, and sing stirring songs.  Anyone can find themselves beholden to Protest Culture™, whereby one assumes that rallies, marches, and symbolic posturing are sufficient in and of themselves.  Anyone can oppose and find with opposition a million followers, a million voices of affirmation, and a million friends and supporters validating each and every sentient point.  We can hold the feet of our elected Representatives to the fire, but I believe in the value of electing new feet that won’t need to be forced towards the fireplace on a maddeningly consistent basis.  This is within our power.  

I am reminded of how much talk yesterday revolved around a plea for us to not sanitize the legacy of Dr. King and to keep his memory alive as a revolutionary who made many in positions of power very uncomfortable.  Indeed, if all we remember him today was as a purveyor of sentimental, feel-good platitudes, then we forget that he was more than that.  Far more.  Had he been merely Santa Claus, he would not have been assassinated.  At times, traditional liberalism has been reduced all too often to a never-ending Pete Seeger concert, with the sting removed and without any obligation whatsoever to be self-reflective.  When I left a more conservative, more Christ-centered faith of my own accord and moved towards unashamedly activist liberal faith, I always found it curious how easily the John Lennon song “Imagine” was adopted as a kind of mission statement of sorts.  If one examines the lyrics literally, its lyrics advocate an atheistic, anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist Utopia—a fact that gets overlooked due to the attractiveness of the melody that obscures what even a cursory examination of the words implies.

It is time for Democrats to be bold and edgy again.  I see this all the time in the blogosphere, but I rarely see it among elected representatives.  And even when a Representative or Senator does stick his or her neck out, it is usually to make a splash by forcefully uttering some patently inflammatory or controversial statement, knowing full well it will be media catnip.  The immediate impact is usually positive, but few know how to push their agenda beyond immediate shock value and dramatic statements that sound compelling at first hearing, but often are a bit on the childish end of the spectrum by the end.  And, it hardly needs adding, even these sorts of attitudes are in short supply, all told.  No one ever confused the base as being anything less than fired up and ready to go.  If those elected to serve us are not willing to listen to us, we have an obligation to replace them with those who will, and in so doing, being willing to drafting candidates from within our ranks to fill the slots.  Those willing to complain are legion, but those willing to serve are often not.  Participatory Democracy does not depend on a particular Patrician class we deem the experts and the only sorts that can get the job done.  The skill set needed now and forever is only the willingness to run and the ability to learn the game.

True Blue Progressivism

Two Quotes…

Armando quotes Kevin Drum from his article at MJ yesterday titled “Obama’s Discontents“:

I’ve got all sorts of complaints about Obama. [. . .] Still, none of that comes within light years of providing a reason to turn on him. Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him,  [. . .] Given the cards he was dealt, he hasn’t done badly.

(Emphasis supplied.) Sheesh Kevin. “Turn on him?” What does that even mean? Was some loyalty oath violated? Yes, let’s be blind loyalists like the Bush supporters were. Again, sheesh. As Bill Maher says, he’s not your boyfriend.

Militarytracy replies in the comments:

First of all, I was never in love with Obama.  I saved my delusional self for Edwards, and I have proof of that love making.  I have never seen Obama through any lens other than this is the man who gets the job.  He has been employed by me.  This is the kicker for me though…..

Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him, and even then they revolted more against the Republican establishment than against Bush himself.

Yes Kevin, I aspire to be as politically ignorant as the Republican base!  I have failed miserably!

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