Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Surrender, No Retreat

I've been thinking this morning about my friends and colleagues who (correctly) point out that politics is all about compromise (this is usually when they're telling me I can't reasonably expect a President to not, apparently, compromise and at least partly support American empire, meaning partly supporting thousands of deaths of foreign nationals from US interventionism, subverting foreign democracies, abetting persecution of their own people, and to compromise, apparently, on the environment and, instead of putting us on a path to sustainability, put us on a path to a compromise on sustainability, which of course means support of unsustainability, since half a failure is still a failure when dramatic ecosocial collapse is concerned.

This is why, incidentally, I think a break with the two-party system is absolutely necessary as a prerequisite to a sustainable future, but something else occurred to me (that really could act independently of my "two party" assertion). I was thinking: what's the one thing people accept with little or no political compromise?

It is, of course, war. We're spending scads on Iraq, despite relatively equivocal support by the US public, because the Democrats, among others, are afraid of being responsible for "the next terrorist attack," or the "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud." For reasons I can't quite consciously enunciate, somehow that overblown rhetoric gets by (with much criticism from certain sectors, to be sure) but overblown environmental rhetoric is sort of universally agreed to be dangerous (i.e. it's one of those things even environmentalists are supposed to say "Well, I agree in spirit but s/he went too far", sort of like everyone has to say, "Israel has a right to defend itself," before they can even make reasonable criticisms of Israel's treatment of Palestine). I guess it's a case of "whose ox is being gored," since there are criticisms from both sides in either case -- but because of the immediacy of war and villainous characters like Saddam Hussein, the charge of being unpatriotic or risking Americans' lives sticks much more easily when you have a practically real-life mustache-twirling villain.

But my point is, how do we make the environment and issue like the defeat of a foreign aggressor? People are very susceptible to the argument "We must stay until the job is done" (though it's also true that they get anxious for the job to GET done); can we use that same rhetoric for the environment?

Thinking about all this, I suppose probably not. That is to say, the reason the military-industrial complex gets pretty much all the money it wants is NOT because of popular support, but rather support from... the military-industrial complex. It's a back-scratching circle of government toadyism and industrial profit, while the actual public relatively consistently ranks military spending pretty far down on the spending-preference food chain (my reading of the data from a very established social polling group, having taken data since 1976, is that defense spending has never been higher than the #8 overall priority by their methodology -- which ranks priorities by subtracting the %age of people who think we're spending "too much" on a given item from the %age of people who think we spend "too little" in an area). So I guess it's not as if the problem is the public concerns per se but is indeed what Eisenhower was originally going to call the military-industrial-congressional complex in his Farewell Address to the Nation in 1961.

So that brings us back to a government that doesn't actually serve the priorities of the majority of the population (which, for example, ranks health as #1 priority in the GSS data mentioned above quite often, and consistently ranks the environment and education in the top five priorities, much above defense spending -- yet defense spending is said to be over half the annual US federal budget). And that brings me back to my theory that we simply cannot break out of this without breaking out of two parties... so I guess I still think I'm right, after all.

Ok, never mind...

Monday, March 24, 2008

B & J: Conclusion... Or IS it?

Becky commented on the most recent post in the debate.

Comments and response to follow -- but I think we've gotten to the meat of our disagreement and somewhat understand each other's points (I have to say, I don't feel like she completely got mine, but that's what this "Conclusion" is for -- and of course, if she feels like I didn't get hers, it's not really the Conclusion...)

>>I think that even though we agree on nearly every issue, the difference between us is that I believe changing in small ways for the good (e.g., cutting carbon emissions, even if we don't end up cutting enough to advert what is probably certain disaster) is worth doing, rather than doing nothing. So, I'm actually very much for incremental change that helps some people, rather than nothing or more active degradation of the world, etc.<<
I feel rather sure you're not trying to imply that I'm doing nothing, or believe in doing nothing, but that is the implication of how you phrase this. Be that as it may; incremental changes are great! Yay incremental changes! But my question is: do they work? Can they avert disaster? I view this as a scientific question, prone to analysis and evidence. I personally feel that the evidence in this case says "No." However, I don't advise doing nothing -- to the contrary! -- I advise doing more. We, all of us, should be spending more time trying to figure out what and how we can do more to change the political infrastructure around us. Dorian Warren, professor of political science at Columbia and whom I heard speak at the New Left Forum last week, assessed it thus: we spend too much time worrying about the person of the presidency/elective office and not enough on the infrastructure that constrains them. Obama, whether he wanted to or not, cannot go outside of certain constraints and still succeed (Dorian's example was the fact that to be an elected black senator in Illinois, you *have* to be a member of a black church in order to gain the aid of some institution with levers to pull within the political machine -- other ways to access the political machine are largely closed to you. And in Dorian, an African-American, and my opinion, it's simply a fact that many if not most black churches are going to have Rev. Wright-like rhetoric at some point. African American church rhetoric is simply not acceptable to mainstream America.) Anyway, Obama seems to have potentially leapt past this issue for now, but it remains to be seen what happens when he has to make his (admittedly eloquent, moving, and inspired) pitch on getting past race to loads of skeptical centrists and conservatives. ANYWAY, the same machine politics constrain Obama's choices in poverty, GCC, etc. -- so voting for him is inherently unlikely to accomplish the larger goals because it does nothing to change the political infrastructure of the United States.

I'm babbling again, but the basic point is this: a) as I've said, I don't believe the necessary changes are possible given the two-party system; b) there is, practically speaking, zero chance any national Democrat -- or Republican -- will actively help to break the two-party system (and if there were, we should vote for them) and reform into a better system; c) if a and b are true, then it is absolutely necessary that effort on incremental change go, for the large part, towards changing the two-party system!!!, which d) of necessity means *not* supporting Democrats who seem unlikely to do this, which means not supporting most of them.

I hardly think it's hopeless! I think staying within the two parties is hopeless, BUT I do believe it's possible for us, yes, incrementally to get out of this system by taking votes away from Democrats who do not go outside the normal box profoundly. The fact that *others* (including, perhaps, Becky) think that such a change is impossible, or that it would be impossible to do this through the strategy proposed, does NOT mean I advocate doing nothing or disparage incremental change. But history does show us, I believe, that the majority of important changes are drastic, not incremental, and accomplished (in democratic cases) not through presidencies, but through movements and after disasters (and as I've said, if you have a strong movement, the president seems almost irrelevant, i.e. Nixon on civil rights).

>>The only other point I must make is that we are both somewhat on the fringe of American politics and many of the policies we see as requisite are not passed by Dems or Reps because they do not reflect US public opinion.<<
That's the thing! Look at the polls! We are *not* on the fringe. Well, in the specifics perhaps we are. But broadly -- poll after poll after poll shows that people want more action on poverty, GCC, education and less spending on the defense budget. They also say they'd be willing to pay higher taxes for it -- it's the lobbyists, after all, who are most hyped on tax cuts, that's not what the average voter lists first on their list of priorities. The average person in US cares much MORE that their taxes are spent wisely (a difficult thing to do and to convince people you're doing, true) than about lessening taxes. For one example article on American priorities, see this. so I must again emphasize -- the problem is not rooted only or even primarily in the will of the American people, their priorities, or who has the presidency -- it's the system that creates a public that is commonly ignored. (Not to forget -- many, many Americans don't vote -- isn't it possible, just *possible* that a candidate who *really* seemed different would attract these predominately poor and minority voters? Isn't it likely that a politician who *would* have stood up in the scene from Fahrenheit 9/11 would do more to singly effect change in the US than several democratic presidents?)

What we are on the "fringe" of would be religious beliefs and civil rights, generally -- gays, guns and abortion as they say. Important issues, but also issues likely best addressed outside of a two party system.

>>I think you may be right about the current war funding, but when I hear people talk about it, I get the feeling that if Congress did step in and decrease funding in any way for the troops, they would lose all hope of re-election, which as politicians they certain don't want.<<
Considering that a) anecdotal evidence is unreliable and b) people quite certainly wanted more than the Democrats delivered (re-authorizing FISA for fuck's sake?), I don't find this convincing. Besides which, we can hardly admire Obama for his boldness in taking on the race discourse in a challenging way but condone him or his colleagues lacking exactly this boldness, innovation, or honesty on the war. And I really, truly don't believe that no one is clever enough to construct a way to change war funding that could be played as *directly beneficial* to the troops. The fact that the Republicans would gnash teeth and wrench hair no matter what just means that one may as well do *something real* rather than pitiful tokenism, which defintively ALSO makes people lose confidence in Congress.

>>this discussion. My basic point is that I don't see Nader as doing anything to truly help the cause of having alternatives to the two major parties, and perhaps he could do a lot more as a senator (had he been one in 2000, he could have stopped the coronation, like you said)<<
Well, for one thing, one of his points is that Congresspeople have a, what, 98% re-election rate? It's almost impossible to break in until someone dies. And even then, you need support from the Rahm Emmanuels of the Democratic elite, who, for example, seem to have encouraged supporting Dennis Kucinich's opponent in the Cleveland Democratic Primaries as punishment for Kucinich defying their desires to drop impeachment bills. This is not just notable because it was a punishment for DK; it would've been at least a mild punishment for the Dems themselves by losing the 12 years seniority DK had. 12 years is no Conyers, it's true, but if I recall the House puts some weight on seniority, and a freshman Congressperson from an incumbent district does indicate some loss of aggregate power. Nader, even if he had the temperament or charisma to run for Congress (which I will readily admit he doesn't, nor for president) would likely not make it past the gatekeepers.

>>or running for something other than President every four years.
Well, I could agree with you here, but the point of my strategy is not actually Nader, though he does make my strategy more tolerable. My historical-analysis based strategy is to avoid the "necessary" socioecological disaster that will bring about change by causing an electoral break large enough to shift the US political system. I'm fine with doing this incrementally -- and to me, part of this incremental fight is cashing out of the Democratic party (until and unless some candidate runs that I *substantively agree with at least in part on issues of empire, not just traditional issues* -- Obama's threatened bombing of Pakistan or Iran represent quite unacceptable variations from this to me, among others). I enjoy Nader because I can vote *for* him; I could take the tactic of some friends and very knowledgeable colleagues and write-in someone else, anyone else. I could take the implicit tactic of the poor here in the US and the explicit tactic of the poor and their supporters and liberals in many other countries and purposefully not vote at all, in protest. I prefer, though, to stand for something rather than just against.

I may consider voting for Obama this year, since, as I said, to my thinking failing is still failing, whether or not you tried half-assedly. I don't think presidential elections are the road to important change (for what it's worth, Dorian Warren, a bona fide political scientists, seemed to back this up in his analysis). Given that attitude, voting for O for the symbolic value of a black president and to appease my Dem friends is relatively low-cost as an individual act. But just as I have spent a *lot* of time considering Obama (if not as much as I should've I suppose), I would ask that my friends and colleagues at arms spend some time researching the history, evidence, arguments that compose my views. One quite certainly doesn't have to be a political scientist to achieve political savvy -- but one does have to study, just as one would study a science. And I guarantee you, historical analysis can be done by college-educated non-political scientists -- and even non-college-educated non-scientists! I really want to be clear that I mean this earnestly: supporters of incremental change, of ANY change, really need to make an effort to do this, BUT those of us with jobs in the "sitting-and-thinking" sector have, I think, a special obligation to do so. Avoiding this obligation to be informed and versed in history and politics is, I think, to block the very change we wish to be in the world. (I'm not accusing you of doing this, Becky -- of avoiding obligation; this is general soap-boxing writ large, especially brought out by some recent conversations I've had here at UM.) --J

The J-Haiku (Jaiku?)

This web-widget makes haikus out of your blog. Most of the one's it's made for J are nonsense; we like this one though:

dasani please yes
the dasani made of tap
water that is rape

god, I couldn't love that more.

Haikus are well and good. But don't forget to keep reading the continuing political debate with J-friend Becky, though.

Becky, Nader, Politics, and I should soooooooooo be in bed

A hasty posting for you.

Further debates with J-friend Becky on the presidential election, electoral politics, and history.

It's late (or early). Read. J go sleep.

>>I concede that every US president, Democrat or Republican, has continued the imperialist trend. I do not disagree that all have done a lot to cause harm across the world.<<
This is a bit of an understatement. And as I said, and you didn't address, as much or more of this was under the Dems as the Reps. And it's not just "harm"; it's thousands, if not millions, of deaths at the hands of our military or our proxies. This is hardly something to be brushed past.

>>I certainly agree that the Dems in Congress often seem to be spineless creeps who can't vote against anything, but I also must recognize that even if they had all moved to stop the Prez at any stage, they did/do not have the votes to override a veto.<<
True, but it's a non sequitir to maintain that they should therefore pass bills that are likely to be signed by the President because they give him everything he wants. The fact that he can veto bills, but that Congress controls spending, should make a Democratic-controlled Congress highly effective actually, being that they can cut off funding for any number of things -- it doesn't have to be funding for troops directly that they cut off. Or they could even be clever and transfer huge sums from the "emergency" bills put at the Admin's discretion and then spend it on the VA or research programs for the wounded vets. The fact that they can't override a veto doesn't mean that they're powerless, but that's how they seem to interpret it.

>>I do hold it against them that they voted for the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act, but at least some of them didn't and some of them are now trying to do damage control on these issues and others.<<
Not to the extent that they've taken any political risks on it. You realize that the US public is more progresive on the war than the US Dem-controlled Congress? Surely, there's a better way to use that than to play out the clock and damage control until the elections. They've done precious little of substance to stop PATRIOT from continuing -- i.e. they renewed the warrantless wiretapping in FISA before they recessed last time! That was purely unacceptable and indefensible -- yet they've done it.

>>I'd like to note that there are few issues that the Democrats so shiningly do differ from Republicans on. Most obvious first: One is equal rights for all Americans, including homosexuals.<<
While this might actually appear blindingly obvious, I'd argue that as a party they're ineffective at the national level, and at the local level there are conservative libertarians who are just as fine with homosexual rights as liberals (with a variety of differences that vary from important to mundane, true). But a Dem congress that gives lipservice to gay rights but does little isn't particularly helpful. And as hateful as Scalia is, he did join the majority in striking down the anti-sodomy laws of (Texas?) last year.

>>Another is abortion rights (which may matter more to me, as a female, than you).<<
That's a bit condescending. It does matter to me as a progressive and a believer in women's right to control their own body. Of course, one must weigh various aspects here. Clarence Thomas, a reliable vote against women's rights if there ever was one, was appointed under a 57-43 Dem majority Senate, with 11 Dems voting to confirm (and the Dem-controlled committee not willing to stop his nomination from going to the floor despite the huge Anita Hill sexual harassment allegation, and being one of the few, if not only, Supreme Court nominees to have been not endorsed as "Qualified" by the American Bar Association). 2 Republicans, of of the 43, also voted against him.

>>A third is actually doing something about GCC.<<
Again, it depends on your perspective. I would maintain that given the fact the latest science alleges we have to make drastic changes in the next 5-10 years, and that the probability of drastic changes under an Administration of Dem or Rep. is approximately zero (and one must give McCain credit as being occassionally sensible about Global Climate Change), it seems to me that failing to stop a catastrophe through half-measures is not meaningfully discernible in outcome from failing through complete inaction. I'm willing to debate this point -- but that's my problem. Dem supporters never positively assert how we'll get from here to there under the "we've got to support person X" plan. And almost all agree that Obama is possibly the best Dem of a generation to get a chance at the presidency; yet he quite simply is not proposing the necessary measures to avoid catastrophe. (Not to mention that he has: said he's open to the possibility of bombing Iran, and Pakistan; said he's not for gay marriage but perhaps civil unions during his Senate election campaign where *he could not have lost if he wanted to against Alan Keyes* -- and if a politician can't speak for full-throated gay rights then, when running against someone polling like 4% of the vote, frankly, fuck them.) It may be "better" to fail through half-measures, but there really is a relatively firm estimate of what we absolutely need to go below in order to avoid a qualitatively different worsening of GCC; not reaching it is not reaching it, despite "good intentions." I frankly see no possible way to address this under a two-party system. Zero way.

>>A fourth is health care and a fifth is cutting taxes for the wealthy vs. giving services to the poor (you're likely to throw Welfare Reform in my face, right now, but if I remember correctly, most Dems were against it and the bill that passed came out of a Republican-majority Congress).<<
Well, health care seems likely to improve in the near future, but that remains to be seen (though it is true it is a primarily Dem issue, but again, if the results aren't seen on the ground, then clearly it's a waste). Cutting taxes/services etc etc they are quantitatively different, but not shiningly -- the poorest of Americans do pretty poorly under both parties. Granted that the poorest are the ones actually suffering and dying -- poverty has nominally decreased, but the "poverty line" is a ridiculous one so one needs to dig for the numbers, but they don't much change (I think) -- then the fact that those who are just getting by get by better or worse is far less important to me that the eventual addressing of the poorest. Welfare Reform was indeed passed in a Rep-controlled Congress, though it looks to me like more Senate Dems voted for it than against it, though "only" 15% of the House Dems did. (I would also point to the sad spectacle of disenfranchisement seen in Fahrenheit 9/11 when all that was needed as one senator to support the House procedures to stop the coronation of Bush and properly investigate, and not one of either party came forward.)

>>sanctions must be preferable to bombing the s*&t out of a country (or two) and then occupying it<<
I would tend to agree, but again, I feel things must be judged by results. Estimates imply something near 1/2 million child deaths due to the sanctions under conservative estimates; that would put total "excess" deaths likely in the 500 or 600,000 - 1,000,000 area (with some estimates around 1.5 million). While this is similar to the estimated "excess" deaths in Iraq right now, and Iraq's suffered huge infrastructure losses as well as life, the direct casualties are at least comparable -- something beyond unacceptable in my book for sanctions, which were about pride and exerting power, for which a million Iraqis had to die. The fact that bombs were not involved does somewhat little to move me.

>>I agree that it would be nice to have a leader who is not involved in any of the deplorable actions that our nation has undertaken in the last 100 years and one who is actually interested in solving some of the real problems in America today. However, I don't think Nadar is the guy to do it.<<
Well, I think Katha does make some fundamental errors, but I can see her points. (No one has any proof it is "vanity" -- that would require seeing inside his head -- and like I said, from all reports, he is just stubborn as a mother-fucker. Impugning his motives does little to advance the debate and expresses instead an understandable frustration. But it is a needless ad hominem.) There's a reason to documentary about was called "An Unreasonable Man." And of course, his net effects on electoral politics could be debated, since he has started several ground-based groups, Public Citizen chief among them, that have taken on some of these issues that he doesn't.

But in the end this is distracting from the point. He was and is right not to campaign in primaries with Kucinich because, as I've written in my blog before, Kucinich serves in the long-term to marginalize the left-prog arm of the Democrats. He gets their/our support, and then invariably throws his full support to the Dem. nominee without even publicly asking for concessions for the few delegates he gathers every 4 years. I love DK's policies and the voice he brings to primaries, but I've realized he's utterly ineffective -- moreso, actively damaging -- to progressive causes when he goes with the Dems, no matter who they support.

Which brings me to the last bits: one, I still have yet to see from anyone, including you, how voting for the Dems works to form any kind of long-term change. As I may have said, my analysis of history is that things change dramatically either a) after disaster or b) after a powerful ground movement takes off or c) both. The critiques of Nader on ground movements both hit and miss -- he, after all, didn't leave the Greens so much as they left him, and then worked hard on imploding; he became the Independent Party candidate, the party that brought for example Ventura to Minnesota (I may not've really agreed with "The Body", but he was different, I'll give him that). So Nader worked with and within parties -- but as the Greens have now realized, running *no* national candidate actually hurts their local efforts for a variety of reasons I won't go into here (not to mention their fucked up decision to run a candidate who more or less encouraged people to vote for someone else in 2004 and ended up looking like ineffectual fools). So Nader should be building, but it's not as if he hasn't tried recently, only to be rebuffed by people whose strategies were worse than his.

In any case, a ground-based movement on issues is not an apparent goal of the Dems -- indeed, I could name you 50 examples of them quashing real grassroots participation in the party. The Dems are active opponents of changing the status quo. One can debate about individuals, but stated plainly, as an institution the Dems will naturally block electoral reform (they just want to, *and have*, preferred re-rigging the system in their favor) just as much as Reps, and they will continue to ignore the base, blunting grassroots movements. Now, I am willing to listen to historically-grounded theories as to how supporting the Dems will get us past the impasses of the status quo, but it rather seems to me that supporters of the Dems are NOT thinking strategically, because they have never enunciated to me a plan of how this achieves long-term change, such that we don't keep killing foreigners and continue to dawdle about GCC. Nader may not be the answer (I don't support him so much because he's "the" answer but because I don't believe that one should vote for the Dems regardless of whether they end up supporting the policies they were elected to support, and I believe we need 3rd parties). Voting for Nader may not be the way to bring in 3rd parties. But, I think it's a start. Feel free to disagree -- but arguments with facts, evidence, and analysis are important parts of strategies, and I don't see it from Dem supporters. After all, is there *any* case you can imagine not voting for the Dem? If the answer is "probably not, barring something ridiculous and unforeseen" then voting is not an exercise in democracy because there is no real choice -- and Dems will use that to continue to not respond to the progressives, to "support" but not enact policies they were elected to support, until gays and lesbians still don't have equal rights, the environment is crap, and the other countries have enough of our shit and overrun us.

I really think that a widespread, and possibly, if unfortunately, violent global revolt against us is going to happen in the end anyway; I'druther try and change things for the better before then (and maybe even avoid it).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Debating Nader with J-Friend Becky

J-Friend Becky posted comments on the post about Nader's presidential bid and Tim Noah of Slate being "nice" about it. Despite the absolute need I have to be doing work, we're going to go through this a bit.

I agree that the two-party system does not serve US citizens’ (or the world’s) best interest. But, I still feel strongly that the two parties are NOT the same. If you want to be stuck in the ‘20s through ‘60s, that’s fine, but since Nixon, the Democratic presidents have led to more peace (think Carter - Israel and Egypt, Clinton – Israel and Jordan (and nearly Palestine)) and considerably less warfare (must I point out Bush – Iraq and Afghanistan??) than the Republican ones.

Who with the what now? Let's review: The Continuum has frequently linked to evidence that Democrats have caused more death than Republicans in the White House, and have not necessarily been better on "peace". To start with a less-than-war transgression, FDR was, perhaps, equivocal on allowing Jewish refugees to enter the US pre-WWII, for a variety of sensible political reasons, including threats of Congress to decrease quotas rather than increase. Understandable, yes, but also not necessarily admirable -- the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes that he basically continued the policies of his Republican predecessor Herbert Hoover. The even-handed-seeming judgment of the USHMM:

A balanced assessment of Roosevelt's policies with regard to Jewish refugees and the Holocaust must also take into account the overall historical context. Roosevelt was preoccupied by severe economic depression and war, and aware of isolationist, antisemitic, and xenophobic sentiments in Congress and among the American public. His own government bureaucracy was, on balance, an impediment to immigration on any large scale; this opposition reflected general popular sentiment. Though Roosevelt had real sympathies for the Jews and for others subject to Axis-sponsored murder and terror, his involvement in refugee issues and rescue efforts remained low. This reluctance to take political risks in refugee policy contrasts sharply with his boldness as a politician and leader in other spheres.

Building on this of course is the debate over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a notorious argument I won't fully engage here other than to say that the military necessity argument is still open to debate, the necessity of bombing Nagasaki questionable as well even accepting the necessity argument, the choice of civilian targets questionable as well, and of course, lastly, even assuming casualties from a ground operation, one must admit that this assumes it's better to kill their civilians (~220,000 deaths from the bombings within the following three months) than engage our military. All reasonable assumptions from the point of view of American Empire and jingoism and the rationale of the times (though it's not as if there weren't voices of opposition at the time including Gen. Eisenhower ("I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives"), General MacArthur (the highest-ranking officer in the Pacific Theater), Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (the Chief of Staff to the President), General Carl Spaatz (commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific), Brigadier General Carter Clarke (the military intelligence officer who prepared intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials), Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph A. Bard, and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet) (from Wikipedia, see also this site). Eisenhower, the next president after Truman, was Republican (and coiner of the phrase and warnings against the military-industrial complex), while Truman & FDR were Democrats. (There's also the debate on whether fire bombing was a valid tactic or war crime; one can easily say that the Germans did horrible things, which they did, but typically we don't accept horrific actions by those we hold in low moral regard as the high ground to start from.)

Going from this, there's Truman and the Korean War including the proposed use of nuclear weapons, and Truman bypassing a Declaration of War by Congress -- a precedent used to poor effect by our current president, though Truman was not the first to set it.

I could continue on, tiresomely, but, also tiresomely, B offers little evidence to back up her assertion.

Briefly: FDR & Carter: Carter had the foresight to let Iran's Shah seek medical treatment in the US, against the advice of the staff of his own Embassy in Iran -- helping to precipitate and the hostage crisis that most hurt his own career; support for the brutal dictator/crime family, the Somozas, in Nicaragua (this latter is an analysis of Carter's true colors from one of the most prominent US academic researchers of Latin American politics, James Petras); the Somozas were almost literally the Hitlers of Nicaragua, backed by US presidents, Democratic & Republican, and rose to power with FDR's practical blessing after assassinating his opponent Sandino; numerous Latin American interventions on this page, including also the School of the Americas, i.e. school for Latin American dictators to make friends with military strong-arm tactics backed by the US and to go back to become dictators of their countries supported by the US, founded under Truman; a number of horrible things done under Kennedy and Johnson, not just in Latin America but also in the happy funtime place known as the Vietnam War (continued by Nixon & Ford, but started by Kennedy & Johnson), also the Bay of Pigs, Papa Doc's Haiti, and almost WWWIII under Kennedy & Johnson; El Salvadorean Death Squads forming, undercutting UN conferences on racism and technology transfer, helping restore the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia after the Vietnamese had kicked them out, sponsoring genocide in Indonesia by selling them weapons while they wiped native peoples out, and loads of other fun times under Carter, the Sanctions of Iraq under Clinton that a) didn't weaken Saddam and b) led to the deaths of thousands of children -- not his fault, one says? But the policy was obviously not weakening him by the time Clinton left office, and many had died, yet he continued to support it -- he bears responsibility for not stopping a failed policy that also hurt people; and more.

That's a lot of babbling for one day. We'll take on some more points some other time. Suffice it to say, I think the Dems are responsible for a massive amount of war, death, imperialism, and destruction and that simply has not been rebutted with evidence. The fact that the Republicans were also bad isn't enough, and the death tolls under Dems are, I think, higher (though of course it all depends on how -- and who -- you count). I rather think it's naive to think any given Dem is going to change this horrifying trend of imperialism and massive disregard for the residents of other countries, and to me, to suborn or support anyone who is wrapped up in this endeavor -- especially those most deeply wrapped in it (which doesn't yet include Obama but would include both Clintons) is a moral compromise to be made only with the most extreme caution and reluctance. Support for the Democrats is support for death abroad, just as surely as it is for the Republicans. And never forget -- Democratic Congresses have repeatedly failed to stop preventable wars and conflicts, or even give token resistance -- cf. the IRAQ WAR. The resolution giving Bush the questionable power to do what he's doing now probably could've been stopped by Dems if they hadn't nearly-all voted for it; same with the PATRIOT ACT, and Jesus Christ, elected in 2006 on a wave of "we want change; we want out," what the FUCK-ALL are they waiting for and what have they done? They've back down on pretty much every fight. Picking your fights is one thing; throwing them is another.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Path to The Modern World: Go back to the farms!

So skimming those few, those blessed few, who have logged on to read the Continuum ("The J Continuum: Now with Reader(s)!"), I saw one of the hits was someone looking for podcasts from Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Wondering myself what other bits pop up in a websearch for the distinguished fellow, I ended up finding this, the Capital Press Agriculture News page. This is significant because from there I saw the article "Bill Pan asked growers to get the word out that there's going to be 'an unfathomable number of new jobs' in agriculture in the next 10 years'". I only skimmed the article, but what's interesting is (among other things) it harkens to something said by J-Mentor JV, that I heartily agree with: "No serious futurist can deny that a major re-ruralization of society is going to be necessary in the coming years." That is, although the number of people in agriculture and the number of farms has been dwindling for decades, that's not any kind of path to sustainability. We must go back to agriculture, from urban gardens to periurban agriculture to actual agriculture -- the methods we've used to provide the plenty (that those of us with money get to enjoy) are unsustainably subsidized by fossil fuels. We'll have to replace a lot of that with organic agriculture and people power -- but don't mistake this for a backwards step. With the necessary amount of vision, mass transportation (i.e. fast rail), increased number and subsidizing of widespread institutions of higher learning, and the Internet and modern telecommunications, there's no reason that a future of this type will be a step backwards to a backwater past, real or imagined. And anecdotal evidence implies that those who have willingly gone back to farming in recent years, especially organic farming, report increased happiness and sense of well-being from it (and of course, properly supported family farmers who don't have to use poisonous or degrading agricultural technology also often report high satisfaction, or so I think I've read). There's no reason this can't be a fun and exciting future -- I hope you'll join me in supporting it.

Now, if I heard Obama say something like this, then he might be talking about change I believe in. Meanwhile, this NAFTA bullshit recently does little to endear me to him -- I'm still waiting for him to mention how Free Trade has been an excuse to foster unsustainable and unjust trade policies between partner countries treated as "equals" under trade law yet existing in a very unequal world. As was said in something I read yesterday but now can't find, a system treating everyone "equal" when the groups in the system come to the table with an unequal distribution of power is not fairness, it is a recipe for continuing and worsening inequality. Whether Obama thinks NAFTA needs to tweaked, or is lying out of expediency as his economic advisor Austan Goolsbee allegedly implied, he's once again far wrong on this one to me. NAFTA has impoverished farmers in Mexico, broadened inequality, increased immigration pressure from Mexico, and directly hurt American workers as well. But it's been great for the large companies -- a la Obama, are the companies the ones they've been waiting for?

Why, MSM, that's the nicest thing you've ever said!

Timothy Noah of writes Lay off Ralph Nader in yesterday's Slate. In what is likely to be the nicest MainStream Media article about him for the next decade or so, Noah acknowledges that while he doesn't believe there are no pertinent differences between the two parties, he does believe that Nader believes it (and thus the talk about ego trips and vanity in terms of his presidential bids are a bit off). I agree with Noah, and I'm glad someone else has said it.

There are two things I don't think people understand about Nader (that I'm presuming I do):
a) if you do believe there isn't an important difference as I mostly do and he almost certainly does, then it isn't egomaniacal to keep running; it is more like Rudyard Kipling's poem "If": "If you can keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you... [you'll be a man, my son]." I guess I'm sensitive to this charge because I've been on the business end of it a couple times, just for believing in what I believed in despite the opinions of others around me. While it does take a certain amount of ego to believe you're right despite many, many detractors, it isn't about your ego. Egomania and vanity are about loving yourself excessively -- this is too often confused, I feel, with the passion and genuine belief and conviction in ideals that we praise in legend and song but seem to punish in real life.
b) If you believe in the evils of American Empire, including numerous deaths abroad (i.e., one million Vietnamese soldiers and 2-5 million civilian casualties compared to 60,000 US dead, courtesy largely of JFK and LBJ -- as I've said and presented evidence for before, Democrats have caused an equal or greater number of deaths from imperial ambitions in the past decades as have Republicans), and you believe the science on the environment (especially Global Warming), it is morally unconscionable to continue or compromise with the program of empire that has killed so many for less-than-noble reasons, and simply unwise and not in anyone's best interest to compromise on the environment, which simply put will not compromise with us -- we'll do what's right, in time, or we won't, and we'll make it worse for everyone. Of course, in case of increased environmental degradation the rich will still survive -- it's the poor who will suffer.

So Noah doesn't believe in Nader's uncompromising stance because it is simply not a politically realistic one. The question that I think is more pertinent though is, are politically realistic stances enough to stave off environmental and imperial catastrophe? I think the answer is no...

Side note: I had an extensive argument, well, with numerous people over this, but memorably with J-colleague EON. EON called my views that under a Dem OR Republican, environmental disaster seemed unavoidable and deaths from imperial efforts would continue practically unabated cynical. She also viewed as cynical (but didn't disagree with) my observation that the poorest and most discriminated-against Americans are among the groups who, for the most part, don't vote, likely because of the realistic analysis that the poorest's fortunes have changed little under whichever party. Both parties target the middle-class, with the poorest rarely seeing substantive help. Her response was whether I thought the comparatively small number of middle-class people who would be helped in a marginally better Democratic administration were unimportant -- I replied that they weren't unimportant, just not more important or even as important as the larger number of people who don't see material changes in their welfare under either party. I.e., the fore-mentioned poor and foreign nationals who, for example, starve to death under Democrat-imposed sanctions that do nothing to weaken their dictator. She continuously challenged my interpretation of history (i.e. that any President will do what they have to in order to stay in office, i.e. FDR & the New Deal occurring only with the genuine threat of rebellion by the poor and socialist upsurges in the 20s and 30s, and that political movements were more powerful, important, and largely independent of party, i.e. Nixon and Ford's civil rights work that they were forced to do and their arguably much better record on civil rights than JFK, etc.), without offering a competing interpretation. So, the question is, as I asked my dad the other day, why is it cynical to believe that the "Best of Two Evils/Obama's Not Evil" Plan will not work, and that the only morally and environmentally correct choice is to generate an alternative system -- that no two-party system is ever going to stave off environmental collapse or empire? I believe breaking the US' two-party system is doable, and real change within it is not. *I'm* cynical because I believe your method will fail but *my* approach that *you* don't believe in has a chance? What kind of weirdworld logic is that?