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The Only Issue

The battle for Health Care is already over. It was over the minute the Democrats took single payer off the table. Now it’s just a tug of war between the lobbyists and the legislators to see how fake this fake reform will really be.

Did anyone really think that a political system as corrupt as ours could possibly produce anything but a corrupted product? Does anyone really believe another Obama speech is going to alter this fact?

Sometimes miracles do happen. So I’ve kept my mouth shut as this calamity has played out. But I accurately predicted all the way back in the campaign that a health care reform effort would, at best fail epically, and at worst actually make matters worse.

How did I know this? Am I an oracle from the netherworld? No. I predicted it because I am not insane. And by insane I mean doing the same thing over and over and over again while each time expecting different results. I mean WTF did people expect?

Progressives need to focus on one single issue for the rest of their lives if necessary: banning campaign contributions and other means to bribe politicians.

This is separate from campaign finance reform. There are a thousand ways we could finance elections. I’m sure we could come up with a few hundred that would be just, equitable and of benefit to the functioning of democracy.

The real issue is not how we finance elections. It is how we do not. We need a constitutional amendment to prohibit ever giving a penny to a public servant or candidate for office. It’s that simple.

This would be the second American Revolution and this country will continue to fail until it occurs. It will fail on health care reform, it will fail on climate change. It will fail on everything, just as it is failing now.

Removing the money from politics won’t solve all our problems. But it will at least eliminate the primary impediment that prevents us from solving those problems.  

Imagine politicians elected on the merit of their ideas instead of their ability to raise cash. George Bush would have never been governor, much less president.

Some day, historians will look back on this era as an absurdity – the way we look back on the days when monarchs enslaved the people or when we enslaved Africans.

Why wait?

Every other issue liberals and progressives care about, with the partial exception of civil rights, has one single source: the corruption of money. And yet we continue to attempt change without addressing this issue.

NOTHING WILL CHANGE until we get the money out of politics. There is no other issue that compares in importance. Not even close.

Matt Taibbi – Sick and Wrong

This is a teaser. Read the whole thing here.

Sick and Wrong

How Washington is screwing up health care reform – and why it may take a revolt to fix it

By Matt Taibbi

Let’s start with the obvious: America has not only the worst but the dumbest health care system in the developed world. It’s become a black leprosy eating away at the American experiment – a bureaucracy so insipid and mean and illogical that even our darkest criminal minds wouldn’t be equal to dreaming it up on purpose.

The system doesn’t work for anyone. It cheats patients and leaves them to die, denies insurance to 47 million Americans, forces hospitals to spend billions haggling over claims, and systematically bleeds and harasses doctors with the specter of catastrophic litigation. Even as a mechanism for delivering bonuses to insurance-company fat cats, it’s a miserable failure: Greedy insurance bosses who spent a generation denying preventive care to patients now see their profits sapped by millions of customers who enter the system only when they’re sick with incurably expensive illnesses.

The cost of all of this to society, in illness and death and lost productivity and a soaring federal deficit and plain old anxiety and anger, is incalculable – and that’s the good news. The bad news is our failed health care system won’t get fixed, because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system: the political entity known as the United States of America.

Just as we have a medical system that is not really designed to care for the sick, we have a government that is not equipped to fix actual crises. What our government is good at is something else entirely: effecting the appearance of action, while leaving the actual reform behind in a diabolical labyrinth of ingenious legislative maneuvers.

Over the course of this summer, those two failed systems have collided in a spectacular crossroads moment in American history. We have an urgent national emergency on the one hand, and on the other, a comfortable majority of ostensibly simpatico Democrats who were elected by an angry population, in large part, specifically to reform health care. When they all sat down in Washington to tackle the problem, it amounted to a referendum on whether or not we actually have a functioning government.

It’s a situation that one would have thought would be sobering enough to snap Congress into real action for once. Instead, they did the exact opposite, doubling down on the same-old, same-old and laboring day and night in the halls of the Capitol to deliver us a tour de force of old thinking and legislative trickery, as if that’s what we really wanted. Almost every single one of the main players – from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Blue Dog turncoat Max Baucus – found some unforeseeable, unique-to-them way to fuck this thing up. Even Ted Kennedy, for whom successful health care reform was to be the great vindicating achievement of his career, and Barack Obama, whose entire presidency will likely be judged by this bill, managed to come up small when the lights came on.

We might look back on this summer someday and think of it as the moment when our government lost us for good. It was that bad.

Chris Hedges – Go to Pittsburgh, Young Man, and Defy Your Empire

Posted with kind permission of Truthdig

By Chris Hedges

Globalization and unfettered capitalism have been swept into the history books along with the open-market theory of the 1920s, the experiments of fascism, communism and the New Deal. It is time for a new economic and political paradigm. It is time for a new language to address our reality. The voices of change, those who speak in powerful and yet unfamiliar words, will cry out Sept. 25 and 26 in Pittsburgh when protesters from around the country gather to defy the heads of state, bankers and finance ministers from the world’s 22 largest economies who are convening for a meeting of the  G-20. If we heed these dissident voices we have a future. If we do not we will commit collective suicide.

The international power elites will go to Pittsburgh to preach the mantra that globalization is inevitable and eternal. They will discuss a corpse as if it was living. They will urge us to remain in suspended animation and place our trust in the inept bankers and politicians who orchestrated the crisis. This is the usual tactic of bankrupt elites clinging to power. They denigrate and push to the margins the realists-none of whom will be inside their security perimeters-who give words to our disintegration and demand a new, unfamiliar course. The powerful discredit dissent and protest. But human history, as Erich Fromm wrote, always begins anew with disobedience. This disobedience is the first step toward freedom. It makes possible the recovery of reason.

The longer we speak in the language of global capitalism, the longer we utter platitudes about the free market-even as we funnel hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the accounts of large corporations-the longer we live in a state of collective self-delusion. Our power elite, who profess to hate government and government involvement in the free market, who claim they are the defenders of competition and individualism, have been stealing hundreds of billions of dollars of our money to nationalize mismanaged corporations and save them from bankruptcy. We hear angry and confused citizens, their minds warped by hate talk radio and television, condemn socialized medicine although we have become, at least for corporations, the most socialized nation on Earth. The schizophrenia between what we profess and what we actually embrace has rendered us incapable of confronting reality. The longer we speak in the old language of markets, capitalism, free trade and globalization the longer the entities that created this collapse will cannibalize the nation.  

What are we now? What do we believe? What economic model explains the irrationality of looting the U.S. Treasury to permit speculators at Goldman Sachs to make obscene profits? How can Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, tout a “jobless recovery”? How much longer can we believe the fantasy that global markets will replace nation states and that economics will permit us to create a utopian world where we will all share the same happy goals? When will we denounce the lie that globalization fosters democracy, enlightenment, worldwide prosperity and stability? When we will we realize that unfettered global trade and corporate profit are the bitter enemies of freedom and the common good?

Corporations are pushing through legislation in the United States that will force us to buy defective, for-profit health insurance, a plan that will expand corporate monopolies and profits at our expense and leave tens of millions without adequate care. Corporations are blocking all attempts to move to renewable and sustainable energy to protect the staggering profits of the oil, natural gas and coal industries. Corporations are plunging us deeper and deeper as a nation into debt to feed the permanent war economy and swell the military budget, which consumes half of all discretionary spending. Corporations use lobbyists and campaign contributions to maintain arcane tax codes that offer them tax havens and tax evasions. Corporations are draining the treasury while the working class sheds jobs, sees homes foreclosed and struggles to survive in a new and terrifying global serfdom. This has been the awful price of complacency.

Protests will begin several days before the summit. Many of the activities are being coordinated by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center. There will be a march Sept. 25 for anyone who, as Jessica Benner of the center’s Antiwar Committee stated, “has lost a job, a home, a loved one to war, lost value to a retirement plan, gotten sick from environmental pollution, or lived without adequate healthcare, water, or food. … ” There will be at least three tent cities, in addition to a Music Camp beginning Sept. 18 that will be situated at the South Side Riverfront Park near 18th Street. Unemployed workers will set up one tent city at the Monumental Baptist Church on Sept. 20 and five days later will march on the Convention Center. The encampment and the march are being organized by the Bail Out the People Movement. The Institute for Policy Studies, The Nation magazine, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Pittsburgh United and other organizations will host events including a panel on corporate globalization featuring former World Bank President Joseph Stiglitz, along with a “People’s Tribunal.” There will be a religious procession calling for social justice and a concert organized by Students for a Democratic Society.

But expect difficulties. The Secret Service has so far denied protesters permits while it determines the size of the “security perimeter” it will impose around the world leaders. Pittsburgh has contracted to bring in an extra 4,000 police officers at an estimated cost of $9.5 million. Activist groups have reported incidents of surveillance and harassment. The struggle to thwart the voices of citizens will be as fierce as the struggle to amplify the voices of the criminal class that is trashing the world’s economy. These elites will appear from behind closed doors with their communiqu├ęs and resolutions to address us in their specialized jargon of power and expertise. They will attempt to convince us they have not lost control. They will make recommitments to free-trade agreements from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, which have all thrust a knife into the backs of the working class. They will insist that the world can be managed and understood exclusively through their distorted lens of economics. But their day is over. They are the apostles of a dead system. They maintain power through fraud and force. Do not expect them to go without a struggle. But they have nothing left to say to us.

“Those who profess to favour freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground,” Frederick Douglass wrote. “They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

If you can, go to Pittsburgh. This is an opportunity to defy the titans of the corporate state and speak in words that describe our reality. The power elite fear these words. If these words seep into the population, if they become part of our common vernacular, the elite and the systems they defend will be unmasked. Our collective self-delusion will be shattered. These words of defiance expose the lies and crimes the elite use to barrel us toward neofeudalism. And these words, when they become real, propel men and women to resist.

“The end of something often resembles the beginning,” the philosopher John Ralston Saul wrote in “Voltaire’s Bastards.” “More often than not our nose-to-the-glass view makes us believe that the end we are living is in fact a new beginning. This confusion is typical of an old civilization’s self-confidence-limited by circumstances and by an absence of memory-and in many ways resembling the sort often produced by senility. Our rational need to control understanding and therefore memory has simply accentuated the confusion. … Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation.”

Chris Hedges’ latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”  

Yeah, What He Said

Great Op-Ed in the Times yesterday:

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S apparent readiness to backtrack on the public insurance option in his health care package is not just a concession to his political opponents – this fixation on securing bipartisan support for health care reform suggests that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead.

This was not true of Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Congresses that enacted the New Deal. With the exception of the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 (which gave the president authority to close the nation’s banks and which passed the House of Representatives unanimously), the principal legislative innovations of the 1930s were enacted over the vigorous opposition of a deeply entrenched minority. Majority rule, as Roosevelt saw it, did not require his opponents’ permission.

When Roosevelt asked Congress to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide cheap electric power for the impoverished South, he did not consult with utility giants like Commonwealth and Southern. When he asked for the creation of a Securities and Exchange Commission to curb the excesses of Wall Street, he did not request the cooperation of those about to be regulated. When Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act divesting investment houses of their commercial banking functions, the Democrats did not need the approval of J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers.

Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him – and he profited from their hatred. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. “They are unanimous in their hatred for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

My only difference would be to point out that Obama didn’t “forget” to lead. He never knew how in the first place.  When he came to Daily Kos to chastise us for being too shrill, his big argument was that the American people don’t share our views of politics, so we need to be more conciliatory.

In my rebuttal diary, which incidentally knocked his diary off the #1 spot on the rec list, I argued that they don’t share our views because they’ve been lied to for years and someone needs to stand up and tell them the truth.

“It is not enough to take a poll and decide what can be done. We must change perceptions so that we may do what must be done. We must educate. We must persuade. We must lead.

Senator Obama says our perspective “misreads the American people.” I say we need a lot less reading and a lot more leading.”

Obama responded to my rebuttal with this:

I also agree that it is the job of Democratic elected officials to help shape public opinion, and not just respond passively to opinion thats been aggressively shaped by the Republicans PR machinery.  I am simply suggesting, based on my experience, that people will respond to a powerfully progressive agenda when its couched in optimism, pragmatism and our shared American ideals.

Yeah, it sounded good. But it was complete BS. Obama has had the greatest opportunity of any president in my lifetime to reform public opinion on a score of issues from the role and importance of government to the dangers of too big to fail institutions and monopolies.

Instead he sent out Larry Summers to lie about the economy and tell everyone it’s all coming up daisies.

Obama is a decent orator, though utterly and completely over-rated, but he is not a leader. He’s another Ivy League technocrat. He should have gone back to teaching, churning out more little technocrats. God knows we need more of those.

Choose Progressive Change, Or Democratic Loyalty – You Can’t Have Both

How do they do it? That is the question progressives should be asking right now. How do the insurance companies manage to kill health care reform in a supposedly democratic republic, where public support for health care reform, and I mean the kind progressives can get behind, is overwhelming?

In a word: leverage.

The insurance companies have leverage over politicians. Most of that leverage comes in the form of money. God do they have a lot of money. But they also have something else. They are loyal to no one and no party. They don’t care if you’re Democrat, Republican, or Green, as long as you can be sufficiently  bought off, or sufficiently threatened into compliance.

There are after all only two forms of leverage in politics. Threat and reward. Or, more traditionally, carrots and sticks. The insurance lobby uses both to great effect. Progressives know all about carrots and sticks. Carrots for Democrats, sticks for Republicans.

But special interests like the insurance lobby aren’t so choosy. And that’s where they get their real power. They are just as happy, for the most part, to buy a Democrat as a Republican. And they are just as happy to run either out of town.

Progressives don’t use this power because we know that using sticks on Democrats may result in Republican victories. So no matter what some Democrats do, the worst they can expect is a primary challenge which, as we saw with Lieberman, will probably fail.

So the end result is progressives have little or no leverage over Democrats. And, as a result, progressives are in a constant state of frustration. Sure, Democrats come crawling at election time. But one fundamental, yet unstated reality pervades: Where ya gonna go?

Some, in an attempt to remedy the situation, have advocated making the Democratic party more progressive by taking it over. “Be the party you want,” they say. “Infiltrate.”

This is a pipe dream. The entire structure of the two party system is designed to prevent that from happening. There will be no crashing of the gates. No progressive Democratic revolution. I explained the pipe dream in more detail here. But long story short, almost every bought out, sold out, corrupt Democrat in Washington started off trying to crash the gates.

The truth is, both parties are controlled by the same monied interests. This way, as the late Carroll Quigley observed, when an election occurs, real power doesn’t change hands.

The Democratic party is not designed to represent the common people. It is designed to contain us. To create the illusion of representation so that we don’t revolt.

So in lieu of the pipe dream, I was asked recently what I recommended. The answer is simple politics 101: I recommend doing precisely what every powerful interest group in Washington does. I recommend using leverage.

But that is risky is it not? I mean, if we use sticks on Democrats in general elections, we could lose our majority in Congress. The White House. Right?

You don’t have a fucking majority in Congress. Or the White House. Please figure that out. Your majority is an illusion. We don’t have Democrats and Republicans. We have “in-the-pocket-of-big-oil” and “not-in-the-pocket-of-big-oil”. We have “in-the-pocket-of-big-pharma” and “not-in-the-pocket-of-big-pharma.” Those are the real parties.

Please figure this out: Parties are illusions that only start to become real when you get to the bottom of the food chain. In the Senate, they are almost all illusion. It’s all about what interest you serve. And that’s all about the money. The rest is a sideshow.

Only when we realize this, and use our leverage accordingly, will we gain real political power. The only leverage a politician understands is the power to make him or her LOSE.

You want a more progressive Democratic party? You have to be willing to lose. It’s that simple. Sure, it may cost them their “majority”, but they will never fuck with us again.

This is how you get “better” Democrats. This is we change this country. THis is what our enemies have long understood. There is no other way. Leverage.  

Choose Progressive Change, Or Democratic Loyalty – You Can’t Have Both

How do they do it? That is the question progressives should be asking right now. How do the insurance companies manage to kill health care reform in a supposedly democratic republic, where public support for health care reform, and I mean the kind progressives can get behind, is overwhelming?

In a word: leverage.

The insurance companies have leverage over politicians. Most of that leverage comes in the form of money. God do they have a lot of money. But they also have something else. They are loyal to no one and no party. They don’t care if you’re Democrat, Republican, or Green, as long as you can be sufficiently  bought off, or sufficiently threatened into compliance.

There are after all only two forms of leverage in politics. Threat and reward. Or, more traditionally, carrots and sticks. The insurance lobby uses both to great effect. Progressives know all about carrots and sticks. Carrots for Democrats, sticks for Republicans.

But special interests like the insurance lobby aren’t so choosy. And that’s where they get their real power. They are just as happy, for the most part, to buy a Democrat as a Republican. And they are just as happy to run either out of town.

Progressives don’t use this power because we know that using sticks on Democrats may result in Republican victories. So no matter what some Democrats do, the worst they can expect is a primary challenge which, as we saw with Lieberman, will probably fail.

So the end result is progressives have little or no leverage over Democrats. And, as a result, progressives are in a constant state of frustration. Sure, Democrats come crawling at election time. But one fundamental, yet unstated reality pervades: Where ya gonna go?

Some, in an attempt to remedy the situation, have advocated making the Democratic party more progressive by taking it over. “Be the party you want,” they say. “Infiltrate.”

This is a pipe dream. The entire structure of the two party system is designed to prevent that from happening. There will be no crashing of the gates. No progressive Democratic revolution. I explained the pipe dream in more detail here. But long story short, almost every bought out, sold out, corrupt Democrat in Washington started off trying to crash the gates.

The truth is, both parties are controlled by the same monied interests. This way, as the late Carroll Quigley observed, when an election occurs, real power doesn’t change hands.

The Democratic party is not designed to represent the common people. It is designed to contain us. To create the illusion of representation so that we don’t revolt.

So in lieu of the pipe dream, I was asked recently what I recommended. The answer is simple politics 101: I recommend doing precisely what every powerful interest group in Washington does. I recommend using leverage.

But that is risky is it not? I mean, if we use sticks on Democrats in general elections, we could lose our majority in Congress. The White House. Right?

You don’t have a fucking majority in Congress. Or the White House. Please figure that out. Your majority is an illusion. We don’t have Democrats and Republicans. We have “in-the-pocket-of-big-oil” and “not-in-the-pocket-of-big-oil”. We have “in-the-pocket-of-big-pharma” and “not-in-the-pocket-of-big-pharma.” Those are the real parties.

Please figure this out: Parties are illusions that only start to become real when you get to the bottom of the food chain. In the Senate, they are almost all illusion. It’s all about what interest you serve. And that’s all about the money. The rest is a sideshow.

Only when we realize this, and use our leverage accordingly, will we gain real political power. The only leverage a politician understands is the power to make him or her LOSE.

You want a more progressive Democratic party? You have to be willing to lose. It’s that simple. Sure, it may cost them their “majority”, but they will never fuck with us again.

This is how you get “better” Democrats. This is we change this country. THis is what our enemies have long understood. There is no other way. Leverage.  

Was This A Joke?

I mean this appearing on the front page?

Men are about power and sex, and the power to get sex.

Women are about sustaining the species.

Women love people more for their weaknesses, their humanity, are more forgiving.

Women don’t war for “stuff”… they will only fight to protect their own, or someone they see as in need in of protection, the weak. “

As one who has actually gotten out of the house before, I can say with utmost certainty that women are just as capable of evil, greed, power mongering, stupidity, violence, environmental neglect, or any other loathsome human characteristic you can think of, as men are.

Goddess worship may seem appealing in the abstract. I myself, in my younger days, too saw its allure. As a young, idealistic environmentalist, I latched on to the whole idea of matriarchalism as an antidote for the very, patriarchal growth and expansion problem. But over the years, especially looking at real women in power, I’ve realized it’s a fantasy.

I have no desire to debate that here though. Believe what you want. I don’t care. I do have a problem with the sentence I highlighted though. “Men are about power and sex, and the power to get sex?” Really?

The writer presents both an idealized view of women (does Michelle Malkin fit in there) and a wholly offensive stereotype of men. Neither are remotely connected to reality and by no means deserve a spot on the front page here.

Divide and conquer has been the modus operandi for the plutocrats for a long time. And they do it well – gays against straights, christians vs. non-christians. Back in the day, blacks vs whites and women vs. men were very popular distractions from the class warfare being waged against us.

In fact, there has been a long history of plutocrat controlled organizations like the CIA infiltrating and supporting culture war groups just to inflame the divisions within the left. At one point, noted feminist Gloria Steinem was even on the CIA’s payroll.

This has been accompanied by another plutocrat controlled entity, the mass media, coming in to fan the flames even more. This is how they conquered us. And it is all for one purpose, to rip you off. While the people have been fighting over comparatively irrelevant issues, like prayer in school and whether gay people can call it marriage or not, the plutocrats have been carrying your shit out the back door. They have been robbing you of your rights and your wealth. As a result, more and more of us are falling into poverty, sickness, and despair.

They’ve bankrupted our schools, our communities, governments. Right now an Alabama city is so broke it’s closing down courthouses and laying off so many cops that it’s now planning to call in the National Guard to maintain order.

Now you want to resurrect the gender war? As if there isn’t enough division already?

Count me out.

More Progressive Plan

Right now there’s a big headline at Huffington Post: Senators Who Opposed Bill Received Top Dollar From Tobacco Industry.

If I were to cite similar stories of the corruption of money and its quid pro quo in our nations capital, I would drown this blog. Another big headline has appeared recently: Blue Dog Dems Rake in Health Care Contributions, Protest Exclusion from Debate.

The corruption of our political system is obvious to anyone with a pulse. Yet campaign finance reform isn’t even on the radar in most progressive circles. Why? Well it may have something to do with the delusion that many in the progressive left have been selling for years now.

DELUSION #1

I went to a book signing with Kos when his first book, Crashing the Gate came out. His big message that afternoon to the 40 or so people in attendance was that we have to be the Democratic party that we want. His big pitch was for everyone in the new netroots revolution to get superactive in their local Democratic parties, become precinct captains, run for local office etc. Others pushing this strategy were Jerome Armstrong, Chris Bowers and a whole slew of bloggers who had gained notoriety online.

The underlying assumption in this strategy is that us Netroots Democrats were somehow, inherently better than the thousands of already existing volunteers, precinct captains and local politicians. And that if we all flooded the party at the grassroots level, donning our orange hats, it would become a party that is a reflection of our Netrootsy betterness. As though our current grassroots Democrats were the problem.

As one who has actually been involved in local Democratic politics for many years, I saw the fallacy of this logic. While it is always better to have more boots on the ground, it is delusional to assume that netroots activists are somehow immune to the same systemic corruptions that plague our party. Again, it’s always good to get involved, but the idea that by us being the Democratic party that we want we can bring about a better party is a fantasy.

DELUSION #2

The next big delusion being sold by the our netroots leaders was that we can create the party we want by electing better Democrats. This strategy is often referred to as “more and better Dems.” Getting more Dems was the mantra of the Bush years where Republicans controlled Congress and the White House. This was an easy sell – anything to remove power from the most transparently criminal GOP in history.

But after the 2006 midterm elections, and Democrats seized back Congress, the netroots was struck by a hard and cold reality: The Democrats we had worked so hard to put in office were, on such critical issues as economic justice, constitutional rights, investigating the White House and our illegal war in Iraq, not much better than the Republicans we had just defeated. So after one failure after another, and as the policies of the Bush administration continued unimpeded, a new mantra began to emerge: better Dems.

This idea was that the big bloggers would become bundlers of sorts, through their online networks, to raise money for politicians who had the progressive stamp of approval. So in 2006, Actblue for example, an organization founded by Kos and other netroots players, picked 19 candidates to rally around. Most of them lost. But of the ones who won, there’s a pretty good probability that the progressive netroots helped take these races over the finish line. But how has it worked out since? Are these candidates the voices for progressive change that we had hoped? Far from it. On a whole host of issues, from the war in Iraq, to the bankers bailout, to FISA, to the Mortgage cramdown to aid homeowners, these senators have been disappointing at best, and downright traitorous to the cause at worst.

Kos was questioned a while back about these disappointments. His response was more of the same:

Systemic change is a long-term process with lots of setbacks. I have a whole chapter on how you have to take baby steps. Etcetera, etcetera.

He went on to note the conservative movement’s vision and patience. “For them, it was a 30-year process to take control of the government. And had they not been so corrupt and incompetent in running the government, you know, we’d still be playing catch-up. ”

That sounds good – spend the next 30 years building a new progressive party. Except for one problem. It too is a fantasy. The progressive movement is fundamentally different from the conservatives. We want to take money away from big business and the super wealthy. Conservatives want to do the opposite. Take health care for example. The public option would be a trillion dollar loss to the health care business. And while I see no evidence that most progressive see it this way, I can assure you the health care crowd and their proxies in Congress do.

Understanding that almost all of politics is really about money is a subject for another essay. But here let me just point out that the conservative takeover, which actually began 40 years ago, was a deliberate, well coordinated campaign started by corporate leaders who were mortified by liberal gains in the 60s. Google the Powell Memo if you want to know more. But suffice it to say that the path of conservative ascension and any possible progressive rise to power are not the least bit similar. These corporate forces, from the Business Roundtable to the Chamber of Commerce, to countless PR fronts and think tanks, have endless resources, control most of the media, and display a ruthlessness that no good intentioned progressive could match.

Thinking that we could somehow replicate the conservative’s rise to power, without the pocketbooks of the wealthiest corporations on Earth at our disposal, is ridiculous. The only thing we have on our side that can match that kind of spending power is the truth.

But despite the obvious failure, visible every day, to move an inch closer to anything resembling a progressive policies on these most critical issues (economy, national security, wars, constitutional rights), the same crowd is still selling the same prescription. I hate to keep picking on Kos. But he’s front and center on a lot of bad ideas. And on the worst idea of all of them all, he is downright nasty. That is campaign finance reform.

The single worst idea the netroots captains have been selling is that we can overcome the corrupting influence of money by replacing it with small contributions. But Kos and a couple other big netroots bloggers have gone further. They’ve actually attacked campaign finance reformers in broad strokes. It is true, some campaign finance reform proposals are absurd. And Markos and others are right to go after these proposals – such as trying to limit who can make political videos in the age of Youtube.

But they do a disservice by conflating those with really bad ideas about the media’s role in our political process and who should have access to it, and those who just want to make it a crime to bribe a politician. Here is Kos spewing the most nonsensical, misinformed, idiocy I’ve ever read on the issue – excluding Mitch McConnell:

From a Daily Kos entry titled, Scrapping Campaign Finance Reform

Finally, there’s the boneheaded belief that money is inherently evil, and thus getting rid of it is the highest purpose. The problem, of course, isn’t money, it’s the source of the money and the ability of money to corrupt government. That fear is obviously real.

The original solution, embodied by campaign finance efforts, was to eliminate money from politics. It seemed like a noble goal, but over 30 years after first enacted, CFR has been an abject failure. Big money continues to find ways to enter and corrupt the system. The Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech (and it is, no matter how much that may rankle many of you), and as such, drastic restrictions in its political application are limited. I used to be a huge CFR supporter, but it requires ideological rigidity (the likes we see on the Right) to continue pretending that CFR is a valid solution to the problem. Reality has shown, quite clearly, that it simply does not work.

But there is another solution — people-powered campaigns. That $20 or $100 contribution that we send candidates buy us no special access. It doesn’t guarantee that our pork is inserted in the latest appropriations bill. It may make politicians more responsive to us as a community, but responsiveness is not the same as buying our way into the system. Being heard is not the same as using the government to financially reward our private business dealings. (There is no “Bloggers Tax Relief Act of 2008” on the books.)

So one would think that Obama’s millions of small dollar supporters are a good thing — they lessen his dependence on corrupting big-money contributers and has allowed him to swear off PAC contributions and cut lobbyists out of the picture. This financial independence has given him governing independence — no industry or interest group will be able to hold his agenda hostage.

But, and here we go full circle, this financial independence has a cost — millions of regular people are now participating in the process. Organic farmers from Montana and grizzled combat vets and authors from Virginia are winning elections against establishment favorites on the strength of people-powered campaigns. John McCain, best friend to the elite “reformer” community, is under assault from who?

Kos begins with the first absurdity: We’ve tried CFR, and it hasn’t worked. This is only true if your definition of campaign finance reform is to keep allowing our politicians to be bribed, but change the rules every now and then to create the illusion that the problem is being solved. The last round of CFR was the McCain-Feingold Act. Does anyone really believe that that legislation did anything to reduce the corrupting influence of money? I they do, I have a bridge in Alaska to sell them.

He moves directly on to absurdity #2: giving politicians money is “speech” as ruled by the Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo. This ruling has as much credibility as Bush vs. Gore. What kind of speech allows only the wealthy to speak? Free speech as protected by the First Amendment? No. Very expensive speech.

This is as far as I’ve gotten on what was supposed to be part 1. I may or may not finish it.

The Progressive Plan

Worshipping the Free Market God

The experiment began in the 70s with the idea, propulgated by the likes of Milton Friedman, that free markets could solve all of societies ills. The role of the Nation State, as well as of democracy itself, became second place to the miracles of the market. The traditional functions of regulation, imposed democratically to ensure the interest of public good, would now be relegated to market forces which would ensure the public good through Darwinistic selection. Those who survive and prosper do so because they provide the most service or good. Privatization of utilities such as power and water would usher in a new era of competition and lower prices for consumers. Lifting off burdonsome government regulations would free the markets to naturally select and economies would flourish.

This never happened.

Joseph Stigletz, Nobel Prize winning, former chief economist for the World Bank began to notice a pattern. Everywhere the experiment was implemented, economic disaster occured. Throughout the 80s and the 90s, all across Africa and South America the free marketeers, through the mechanisms of the IMF and the World Bank, got to try out their theories: deregulate, denationalize, privatize.

It didn’t work. Facts:

“In perhaps the most comprehensive such study to date, Scorecard on Globalization 1980-2000, Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker and other researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research documented that economic growth and rates of improvement in life expectancy, child mortality, education levels and literacy all have declined in the era of global corporatization (1980-2000) compared to the years 1960-1980. From 1960-1980 many countries maintained protectionist policies to insulate their economies from the international market to nurture their domestic industries and allow them to become competitive. Those policies are the same ones on which U.S. economic prosperity was built.

The Scorecard findings include:

  • Slower economic growth for countries at all income levels;
  • A negative growth rate for the poorest countries;
  • For moderately wealthy countries, income growth declined from 100% increase per capita between 1960-1980 to a 21% increase in the last two decades;
  • Reduced progress in education as evidenced by declining school enrollment rates and literacy. Slower growth in domestic spending correlates to decreased educational spending;
  • An overall slowdown in reducing infant and child mortality and in improving overall life expectancy (this is not necessarily an indicator of policy failure–it could be a natural flattening of progress curve).

You don’t have to go to Argentina to see the wrath of the Free Market God.

Yet despite these facts, proponents of globalization, like members of a cult, ignore evidence for ideology. And with every indicator of failure, they respond “more”.

Take the California energy crisis of the ’90s. This is one of the first areas where they got to try out their experiments in the U.S. By promising cheaper prices for consumers through deregulation and market selection, they lobbied and passed legislation to free up the energy markets. The result? In one day, electricity prices rose 7000%. No, that’s not a typo. In the end they had to call in the regulators again. But not before Enron and others milked Californians for over $7 Billion.

How did they do it? They profiteered on the fact that electricity, unlike widgets, is not something you can do without. So they colluded and schemed and basically held California’s electricity for ransom.

The free marketization of natural monopolies such as water and power is bad economics, but the free marketization of medicine is immoral. Just like water, healthcare is not optional. And yet the priest of the free market expect the forces of consumer demand to apply to kidney transplants and cancer treatment. But they really don’t expect that. They’re just out to make a buck. So they falsely claim that profit incentives have created the best healthcare system in the known world. Meanwhile, 45,000,000 (45 million) Americans have to crowd into emergency rooms to get substandard treatment and if you need something severe like a new kidney, tough luck.

Democrats: going right along.

Like Californians, all Americans havw been taken for a free market ride. At every turn the neoliberals are trying to perform their ideologically driven, factually challenged experiment here. And the Democrats are going right along. The party of FDR has shed of it’s old skin as the party of the people for a new, gobalization friendly sheen.

But in doing so, they have also shed the post-New Deal, anti-corporate, highly regulatory policies that oversaw the greatest economic prosperity in the history of the world and led, for the first time, to the creation of a thriving middle-class.

By bellying up to the free market alter, Democrats have largely lost their reason for existing. And it shows. For the past few decades, with the exception of civil rights and social issues, Democrats have been hard pressed to define a unifying principle. The Democratic agenda has consisted of issues: education, prescription drugs for seniors, choice or now gay marriage. But a fundamental principle around which to coalesce has been awash in inconsistencies and contradictions. The old principles of economic justice and progressive populism have given way to corporate appeasment and economic abiguity. The principles of FDR’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society have been replaced by Clintonian Machiavellianism and the myth of globalization as vehicle for the spread of democratic prosperity.

And while the liberal left and the religious right have been fighting over partial birth abortions, endowment for the arts, and gay marriage, the corporate center have been driving off with the furniture.

This has led to an exodus from the Democratic party of progressives who no longer feel they can support policies that continue to allow the accumulation of wealth and power into corporations while devouring the poor and working class. And the exodus will spread. As free market reforms failed in South America and elsewhere, they will fail here as well. And there is nothing in our history to indicate that we are protected from the fate of those other failed countries: civil unrest, riots, military intervention. If you believe that we are fundamentally different from those in Argentina and elswhere, I suggest you look at the streets of Boston after a Celtics upset.

The inevitable outcome of extreme economic diparity is social instability. And as all of the evidence indicates, the inevitable outcome of globalization is extreme economic disparity.

Globalization vs. Democracy

Of all the outcomes of globalization, none is more dangerous than the subversion of democracy. Just as corporate influence is corrupting the democratic process here at home, it corrupts smaller, less institutionalized countries tenfold. But if bribery of officials and CIA covert operations are the old way of globalizing, then the new way is the WTO and GATS. The WTO is a way to give the undemocratic imposition of the corporate agenda a bit of legitimacy. Kind of like Disney in Vegas. And GATS is the new law that makes it all happen.

Globalization vs. U.S. Constitution

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Article VI.4 says that governments have a duty to hold “a balance between two potentially conflicting priorities: promoting trade expansion versus protecting the regulatory rights of governments.” But who determines this balance between democratically enacted regulation and the promotion of trade expapansion? The democratically elected leglislature? The democratically elected president?

No.

A mysterious entity called the GATS Disputes Panel decides where the balance is drawn. Who is the GATS Disputes Panel? If you can find a list of it’s members anywhere we’d sure like to have it. But using a criterion called the “necessity test”, the GATS Disputes Panel has the authority to override U.S. legislation if it finds that leglislation causes an unnecessary burdone to the promotion of free trade.

Keep in mind, none of the trade agreements — NAFTA, GATS, and GATT — are debated or voted on democratically. They are negotiated in closed session and signed in closed session. So we now have an undemocratic body that has regulatory override authority over not just the United States government but over all participating countries.

Sociopath Nation

A diary was recently posted to a liberal blog attacking the baby boomers for their bad eating habits. The argument was made that they should not be allowed unlimited health care because they don’t deserve it – “they should have eaten better.”

This is typical Right wing savagery. But what surprised me were the responses.

Many arguments accepted the premise that health care is earned and responded by proposing that the baby boomers have indeed earned their health care because they are paying for it – with social security etc.

What I didn’t see was one argument that addressed the real issue – that access to health care is not something you earn, it is a right.

As decent people of good conscience we must reject the right wing frame of health care as a privilege or something you must earn. What kind of society turns away the sick because they don’t “deserve” health care? A sick society.

This is the disease of the free market ideology – the idea that everyone, working in their own selfish interests, creates an equilibrium which benefits society as a whole.

What this ideology creates is a sociopathic society.

sociopath

noun

a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

We must restore the health care debate to the realm of common decency. And we must reject the fallacy that Adam Smith’s invisible hand can replace our basic obligations to our fellow man.

Humans, on the most instinctual level, have always understood that we depend on each other to survive. Society itself is a product of this understanding.

The ideology of the free market, the view of society as the aggregation of individual self interests, is just an invention designed to allow the corporate model to operate without conscience or regard to society as a whole.

It has been embraced and propagated by capitalist forces who see democratic institutions and government regulation as enemies to profit. The health care system is only one manifestation of this sociopathy.  There are many others, from environmental abuse to economic injustice.

What the left has allowed, under the leadership of conservatives like Bill Clinton, is nothing less than the defeat of the idea that society is a social compact, the means by which we work together to solve common problems, and express the basic understanding that we are all in this together. We have allowed right wing forces to slowly redefine our most basic values and subvert our better nature.

Even entertaining the notion that people should be denied access to health care because, by some criteria, they don’t deserve it, is evidence of how far we have fallen.

The instrument of Social Democracy, the way  we as a society make collective decisions on how to benefit society whole, is democratic government. But the left, and Democrats specifically, have largely conceded to the right’s fallacy that government is inherently bad. And as a result, we have allowed the subversion of the most powerful agent of social justice in the history of the human race – the federal government under the United States constitution.

This could not have happened at a worse time. Never before in history have we needed to come together as much as we do now. Modern civilization is in a crisis state on multiple fronts. It is essential that we, as Americans, and as citizens of the world, unite in common purpose to solve these problems – the climate crisis, the energy crisis, overpopulation, under-education and, of course, the health care crisis. Transparent, effective, democratic government is the only tool we have. It is our only shot.

The first Americans fought and died for the same government that Ronald Reagan, a candidate for the presidency, called “the problem.” We must fight for our government again. We must fight for the idea that a free, thinking people can come together and work for not only the interests of the individual, but the interests of society.

If we don’t succeed, we will see all that we know and love perish.  

The Strange Currency of Violence

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins”
Soren Kierkegaard

The United States has never been more powerful than it was on September 12th, 2001. On that day, with the sympathy of the world, we had more true power than all the armies in on Earth combined. Strange to think that as we lay smoldering, bleeding in the ruins of our collective self image as the most powerful nation on Earth, we had in fact grown in power by exponent. This is the strange currency of violence. The wealth of martyrs. And this currency is as tangible as a bar of gold.

Rarely discussed, and little understood, this principle is essential to understanding why the war on terror, and the aspirations of global American hegemony, will fail. It is why all empires fail. It is why terrorism fails.

I have been aware of this idea for years. I’ve been trying to distill it down into a fundamental law. But it is not an easy idea. There are nasty lose ends and apparent exceptions to the rule. But as best as I’ve figured it out, the rule is this:

Whenever you cause harm to another, you empower them.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual or a country, bombs or words. The moment you strike, or even strike back, you hand your opponent a gift. The people who attacked us on 911 didn’t weaken the American beast. The unleashed it. And when we responded with bombs in Afghanistan, we didn’t weaken radical Islam, we empowered it, justified it.

Unlike real currency, where every exchange is a tit for tat, the currency of violence creates a new specie on every transaction. It’s as though I hand you a $20 bill, and in exchange you hand me another, different $20 bill that had not previously existed. Except also, unlike real currency, it is not wealth that is created in the exchange, it is more hatred and more violence.

While it may seem that this idea should be resigned to the concerns of some dusty philosophy course somewhere, make no mistake, it’s political implications are as practical as they are profound.

How did Mahatma Gandhi defeat the most powerful Empire in the world without firing a single bullet? The currency of violence.

As I’ve watched the discussion on Guantanamo and torture and Dick Cheney’s speech and Obama’s speech and the advertisement for the arms industry that Memorial Day has become, it hit me that none of our leaders understand the nature of true power.

They speak of America’s strength in the world as something that comes from might. But might used, more often than not, is power spent. Just as the mighty British learned.

We are a militant nation. Our national symbol, the eagle, is a predatory animal. We like to pride ourselves on being able to kick some foreign butt, at least we did until Iraq demonstrated the limits of our prowess.

But Americans desperately need to begin to understand what real strength means and where it comes from. And we have to rise above the reptilian impulse to take the easiest path. The voice for strength through peace should be the Left. But the Left, following the lead of Bill Clinton, has long abandoned enlightenment for political expediency. But such primal expediency at home is anything but expedient abroad.

Obama, at least, pays heed to the idea of strength through peace. But it is an empty gesture as he escalates one war while failing to end another. Empty as bombs kill hundreds of women and children and unmanned drones swoop down on peasant villages.

The idea of strength through peace is not new and did not originate with Gandhi. He just demonstrated a mastery of it that was unprecedented in the modern world.

I’ve been trying to pound into my brain this wisdom as I navigate through my own battles. The currency of violence is fully redeemable in all wars, big and small. It is hard for me to remember that when I lash out at my political foes, when I launch ad hominem attacks and call people names, I am actually giving them something – a gift. The gift of martyrdom.

I think this is why Bill Moyers is far more dangerous and persuasive than say, Keith Olbermann or other attack dogs of the Left. And why he is rarely, if ever, invited into the corporate media sphere.

Attack is not Moyers style. He induces the scoop from his guest and allows the user to feel their own outrage. This is the opposite of an Olbermann special comment where he is so busy expressing outrage that we aren’t much allowed room for our own.

I’ve been in attack mode for so long that I almost feel like I’ve lost my voice, my claws to say this. But I’m tired of empowering my opponents with hate and hostility.

I do hate. I hate what has been done to my country. I hate the greed and brutality of corporatism. And I hate the actions of man.

But hate is just the bank in which the currency of violence is deposited. I am going to try -try- to stop trying to harm my enemies with vitriol and invective. They already have too much power as it is.

P.S., I also have a new blog. Check it out if you want. Visit often if you like it.

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