As 2011 starts, I'd like to take a little look at the state of politics and the economy for the coming year.
Obama is about half way through his term with an approval rating around 50%. While he has no particularly popular programs to claim victory on, he can at the very least say that he's one of the most well-regarded members of the federal government. His calm and cool demeanor is simply preferable by contrast to the typically rabid and doom-predicting politicians we've had for the last decade or so.
A new Republican majority is taking over the House of Representatives, and the polls indicate that they're also getting a little bit of a honeymoon type boost. While Congress is never particularly popular as a whole, it is still up a few points over the last few weeks since the Republicans took over. Even though the Republicans have a few more seats in the House, no one really expects them to pass much against the Democratic Senate and President. Instead, the likely outcome of the 2010 election is more gridlock and inaction.
Healthcare reform remains relatively unpopular, with about 60% of the population saying they don't support the recent changes. Those who have healthcare as an employment benefit still like the coverage they've got, but the problem is that they're healthy enough to work a forty plus hour week and they don't actually see the costs or terms of their policy until much further down the line. Republicans will try to repeal this reform bill, but unless they offer some radically progressive alternative to the status quo they won't get much support from anyone but their most die hard base.
The economy is teetering toward a dangerous position. Bailouts and stimulus measures have stopped overall prices from falling: but unfortunately, gas is back over $3 and houses continue to crash. Instead of ever trickling down, the financial system bailout has enriched commodity holders while preventing price drops in the cost of living. Of course, even though housing wealth drops rapidly, rents have been on the way up. Workers are feeling the pinch from every direction, and if this trend continues it will only climax in a new wave of foreclosures and bankruptcies. Those, in turn, hurt the collateral that underlies our highly leveraged financial markets, and creates a new run on the banks and markets.
Will the cost of living recede again, or will wages suddenly catch up with them? The first is unlikely due to government policy, and the second is unlikely due to a large number of unemployed individuals willing to work for less. Then, when and if the next panic hits, will Obama respond with the same kind of panic that enabled Bernanke and Paulson to enrich their friends on Wall Street, or will he find the courage to act more like the Obama from the elections?
Liberals and libertarians have accomplished little in America but to give liberty a bad name
The paradox of freedom is simple yet profound: One individual's freedom of action will often have an unintentional effect of limiting another person's choices. By definition, you're not free when someone else's actions are directly limiting your own action choices.
As such, the debate over freedom is generally framed as one person's freedom versus another's. Is the smoker free to smoke at his favorite bar, or are the non-smokers to be free to breath smoke-free air?
Modern liberals have a few biases in their opinion, and it can kind of be summed up in a nationalistic and collectivist way. Its all about the greater good, so you shouldn't necessarily be free to impose your unhealthy habits on others. This is the liber- root that influences modern liberalism in America, but so many on the left side of the spectrum will take these ideas even further. If you eat the wrong food or even smoke in the privacy of your own home, you're still imposing a forced action on society because of increased aggregate medical demand. Unfortunately, this logic carried out to its conclusion reduces the individual to a cog in a highly efficient machine - and freedom loses priority to efficiency.
American libertarians will often come up with equally strange conclusions when the liber- root is considered. As Rand Paul demonstrated on Maddow last night, a Republican with libertarian & Tea Party affiliations might have a hard time giving a straight answer on something directly related to individual liberty: The Civil Rights Act.
"Should a business be able to discriminate against customers based on race, religion, or belief?" And there are many self-proclaimed promoters of liberty who would support that "right" to discriminate from any legal reproach. Of course, they'll concede afterward, the bigoted shop owner deserves to be boycotted and ostracized - but we can't let the courts get involved!
Higher Education is a Liberty conspiracy
Republicans will often accuse intellectuals & professors & institutions of higher learning to be part of a leftist, liberal conspiracy - and there is almost a shred of truth in that.
The fact is that only an educated society can ever hope to be free, because only an educated society can begin to understand what freedom truly means. Much as the printing press brought knowledge to larger populations, hopefully so does the internet expand our capacity for understanding and feeling empathy for those who most need the protection of freedom.
When liberals side with Hollywood and police unions on intellectual property & drug laws, they're generally siding with the liberty of those who already have money and power against the freedoms of those who don't. The same exact thing happens when libertarians side with business owners and socially conservative religious voters. Natural social and economic power doesn't need the government to protect its freedom - its us people that need protection from the institutions that generate such natural power.
Politics has always been a game of consensus, and societies hold together because of some shared set of values and beliefs. Whether the uniting myths are religious, hereditary, or purely secular in their tenants, the social purpose of such national stories is to unite the people in cooperative action toward the defined goals.
Since inception, the bond that holds these nations together is media. Tracing back to the earliest forms of religious governance, this took the form of those priests and prophets who would mediate between the gods and man. Medieval kings employed both religious mediators as well as town criers - and ultimately armies if a consensus could still not be achieved. As technology progressed, the printing press gave the churches and monarchs competition from the capital-owning classes, and in to the 20th century the ownership of broadcast capital in the form of television, movies, and radio came to dominate the political debate.
And debate really is the wrong word for a discourse with such low tolerance of divergent opinions...
In an era of rapidly decentralizing online media, it is no wonder that a president intent on building consensus would start to show frustrations with the nature of the internet.
"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter," he told the students. "And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy."
For many decades, the political spectrum in this country has been highly divided between a left and a right that don't honestly disagree on too much. The broadcast media outlets, or mainstream-media, are big owners of capital and they're heavily invested in the industry of military. As such, the mainstream political real has been dominated by pro-capital hawks - to the extreme that we begin preemptive wars on shaky premises and provide trillions of dollars in easy money loans to the biggest banks around at the same time classrooms are getting more crowded & people are going bankrupt from medical bills.
And new media isn't just low in capital intensity, it is practically capital-phobic. Many a great website has been ruined by large investment, and few of the biggest sites are even able to turn a profit on their massive volume. Where the traditional wisdom has long been that economies of scale are desirable, the function seems to be unraveling in 21st century media distribution.
The government really just has two choices: It can either begin to decentralize like the media that enables it, or it can try to turn the new media in to something that resembles the old one. Unfortunately, despite the great loss of our most empowering and emancipating technology, many of those holding power would rather flex their muscles than give up what influence they have acquired - consequences be damned, of course, because most of these people don't even know how to use the devices they're trying to criticize...
Language is a social construct: words are just concepts and we hope for the sake of debate that we're all sharing the same concept when we use the same words. But in many specialized jargons - and especially in politics - debates will often rage on for decades and generations at a time without the two sides ever coming to agree on what the words mean. Even if the denotation (dictionary definition) of a word is universal, the connotations (more culturally subjective meanings) can vary wildly from one group to another.
Of course, controlling the connotation of these words is an important part of ensuring that a debate will end up in a pre-defined way while retaining the illusion of earnest discussion and compromise... This is basically the job description of partisan political pundits - success means bending the meaning of a word to your goals, and failure means that someone else beat you to it.
Single-payer healthcare is often discussed by Democrats as the "ideal" solution - the one goal we should be moving toward. But what does it mean? The UK's National Library of Medicine defines it as: "An approach to health care financing with only one source of money for paying health care providers."
While that single source could be a private insurance monopoly or a publicly run government program, it can't, by definition, be both! So in effect, when someone argues for Single-payer healthcare, they are not just talking about a system with universal coverage, they are explicitly referring to one that intentionally limits competition for service funding.
Anyone who understands America's "spare no expense" mentality when it comes to medicine should immediately realize why the idea of single-payer healthcare is a non-starter in American domestic politics. Yet interestingly enough, multi-payer universal systems have never really come up as a topic in this so-called debate... So enjoy your mandates, I hope you can afford mandatory insurance with few caps on the cost of service!
Talk about a misused word - by both sides!
If you listen to Limbaugh or Maher, you might believe that socialism refers to any kind of welfare payment, social service, or social safety net. The big difference we might expect between these two groups is just that they disagree on whether or not that's a good thing.
But what is the denotation of socialism? Wordnet at Princeton University defines it as: "a political theory advocating state ownership of industry" or "an economic system based on state ownership of capital."
Well, last time I checked, food stamps have nothing to do with whether or not the government owns the farm and the grocery store. Ergo, social welfare programs are not socialism by any stretch of the dictionary's definition. Further, universal healthcare isn't even necessarily socialist in nature unless you have a very strict single-payer system that highly regulates or limits private funding and services.
When "socialism" becomes part of the typical left/right debate, the right will always win because people who actually know what socialism means won't support it. History provides little evidence of instances where a state-owned monopoly outperforms more mixed economies.
Corporatism is often thrown to imply a system of government captured by private corporate interests. What does San Jose State University say? Well, like most economics or political science professors they will tell you that "The basic idea of corporatism is that the society and economy of a country should be organized into major interest groups (sometimes called corporations) and representatives of those interest groups settle any problems through negotiation and joint agreement."
Well now, that sounds like some kind of collectivist philosophy to me! Society is organized into interest groups, and they use some kind of centralized government to hammer out the negotiations. This is what Mussolini meant when he famously declared fascism to be a form of corporatism - he was not referring to what we have in America where banks and big manufacturers know that they can constantly come to the government for as much money or legislative protection as they could possibly want. Actually, Mussolini would have probably executed the CEOs if they tried to hold the economy of Italy hostage for the sake of bailouts and infinite loan guarantees - that kind of greed isn't a rational compromise of society's competing interests, its a giveaway to the most powerful ones.
More accurate ways to describe the political economy of America might be crony capitalism, a failed (or captured) state, regulatory capture run amok... etc... But corporatism? By definition, no.
So we've got self-proclaimed socialists railing against collectivism, we've set up this single-payer ideal for inevitable failure...
But who cares right?! These words will be misused so long as people continue to get their civic education from the TV and radio personalities instead of from books and academic sources. No specialist really expects non-specialists to understand and correctly use the jargon of their field, and politics is only different because non-specialists have a strong say in the decisions which will ultimately effect an entire society. Obviously, an autocratic political class is the only thing more dangerous than that, so we'll just have to groan and chuckle and do our little bit to promote the neutral denotations that are more effective for constructive debate.
One of the strangest, and perhaps most morbid, developments in American politics is the way that the usual partisan suspects have mobilized to disown the suicidal pilot in Texas.
He isn't one of us, he's one of them!
Liberals have clung to the choice of an IRS building as "proof" that this guy was some far-right tea-party anti-government guy. Conservatives are pointing to his rants against big business and the way he seems to praise communism.
What they can both agree with is that he clearly belongs in the other camp because none of their own team mates could ever possibly do such a thing. So while we have very few actual clues to what this man's voting history looks like, or what philosophical books might have informed his ideology (if any), there is an entire industry of punditry currently busy at the task of proving that he wasn't "one of us..." whatever that us happens to be.
Frustration beyond ideology
Beyond attempting to one-up the competition, I think the partisans are also looking for a more practical end in their effort at profiling.
There seems to be an idea that if the ideology is identified, so too can the ring-leader who incites such violent action. Some have suggested Ron Paul, because apparently someone with a similar name to the pilot made a significant donation to his primary campaign in 2007. But Ron Paul is a pretty strict pacifist who only advocates armed conflict in extreme cases of self-defense. The guy who is calling for drastic military reductions and prison leniency isn't exactly the same kind of guy who would incite his followers to commit political violence... Talk about counter-productive!
Others have suggested Palin, since she's crowned herself as the new leader of the conservative protest movement. This one doesn't fit either though, because she seems much more interested in seizing control of the very power that people are becoming frustrated with.
The reality is probably a bit more murky and disturbing than the stereotyping analysis will be able to explain.
People just aren't happy, and they rightfully see that the government in D.C. can do little to protect them from the economy. Looking at where Congress's priorities are, they might even be making things worse for a lot of us average people who still have to work for a living if we want to eat or have an overpriced roof for our heads.
When times are tough, people can't afford the luxury of rigid ideologies and partisanship. Its enough to have two stubborn forces intent on trying to differentiate from each other in every possible detail, but the reality is that neither group will be able to achieve a pure truth without conceding ground to the good points of the opposition.
So, if you're looking for a partisan ring-leader to blame, consider all of them - at once. Then move on, move on to something that is more flexible and constructive, because this rigidity is otherwise to become the rigormortis of our nation.
A lot of Americans are quick to grab at the totem of "moderate," but what does this really mean?
Here's a graphic I made and posted a while back on the old site, but unfortunately I've since lost the demographics I was using to derive it:
We have four colors represented in the graph:
- Light Blue: Progressive democrats, primarily concerned with economic fairness and human rights.
- Dark Purple: Centrist or Nationalist/Corporatist Democrats. Despite making up a smaller part of the voting population, they are the majority of elected representatives.
- Red: Nationalist or Mainstream Republicans, primarily concerned with military dominance, appeasing corporate overlords in hope of bring trickled down upon, and religion.
- Orange: Liberal Republicans, Libertarians, Ron Paul Republicans, and other populist organizations
Independents can be anywhere really, a lot of the times they will address each issue on its own merits rather than sticking to any particular political labeling. This subgroup might pick a leader based on single issues, or even personality, character, or debate performance.
Now, what happens is that progressive Democrats continue to support moderate candidates, and these candidates actually share more in common with the Neo-cons of Bush's administration than they do with the progressives who are supporting them. In a corporatist political environment, competing sectors seek political favors to expand their market power, and the centrist realm is dominated by the dominant beneficiaries of government policy. Basically, the military, the media, unionized manufacturing, and public employee unions share a pro-nationalist expansionary policy at all times, because they are the primary beneficiaries of any such spending.
Following Obama's election, we began to witness one of the most significant electoral shifts in the last several generations. Not only have the progressives began to put pressure and spoken out against the Democratic majority in Congress, but a lot of Republicans have also begun to drift away from their traditional party leadership.
One factor promoting this shift is the new nature of online media. Dissatisfaction with old experts has created a niche for bloggers and amatuer pundits who want to spread their political ideas. Since the reach of new media is so much more focused than old mass-media, the newer splinter groups may share some ideas without necessarily being unified into a new political front.
The policies defined by the moderate middle (corporate subsidy and militarist nationalism) will increasingly face attack from the left and right flanks.
As the Republican party continues to factionalize, progressive leaders will seize on the opportunity to collect disaffected libertarians and populist conservatives. A new opposition party will spring up to the left of today's "centrist Democrats," and the old Republican Reagan coalition will fade into irrelevancy.
Well, that's the optimistic case... 😉
Hello surfers and subscribers, long time no see!
We had a serious attack that left Joomla out of order. At the moment, the old data is stored away in various places, and I might be able to get pieces of it back online.
It will probably be a little while before this site is back up and running in a proper fashion, but I appreciate your patience and all of the positive responses I've gotten from the site.
Stay tuned, the revolution will not be televised, but I'm definitely going to be blogging about it.