Friday, November 07, 2014

Well said

This is just a brief note to direct your attention to a couple of worthwhile pieces. Although they break no new ground in terms of factual information, they have the virtue of being extremely well-written and insightful.

Krugman on the midterms. Paul Krugman, frightened of the prospect of a GOP takeover of the Senate, went far too far in his praise of Obama. But liberalism's favorite economist makes up for that lapse with his latest:
But Republican policy proposals deserve more critical scrutiny, not less, now that the party has more ability to impose its agenda.

So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.
Everything, yes...but, in particular, they were wrong about austerity.
According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.
And yet a provably wrong analysis has triumphed. Why? Because Obama's half-measures achieved such tepid results, and because a well-funded propaganda campaign convinced much of the populace that Obama's half-measures were Socialism Incarnate. Plus...
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.
Stupefication. Jim Sleeper, a writer previously unknown to me, has written a powerhouse rant (published by Salon) that lists the sins of our corporatized culture and explains the recent Republican victory. I like the way this guy polishes his phrases, although he has to learn when to take an ax to an overlong sentence:
...our body politic is so drained of candor and trust that we’ve let a court conflate the free speech of flesh-and-blood citizens with the disembodied wealth of anonymous shareholders, and we’ve let lawmakers, bought or intimidated, render us helpless against torrents of marketed fear and titillation that are dissolving a distinctively American democratic ethos the literary historian Daniel Aaron characterized as “ethical and pragmatic, disciplined and free.”
Many over-stressed, over-stimulated Americans have adapted to living with variants of force and fraud that erupt in road rage; lethal stampedes by shoppers on sale days; elaborate (and intensively marketed) security precautions against armed home invasion; gladiatorialization in sports; nihilism in entertainment that fetishizes violence without context and sex without attachment; micro-aggressions in daily relations; commercial groping and goosing of private lives and public spaces in the marketing of ordinary consumer goods; and a huge prison industry to deter or punish broken, violent men, most of them non-white, only to find schools in even the “safest,” whitest neighborhoods imprisoned by fear of white gunmen who are often students themselves.

Stressed by this republican derangement, millions are spending billions on palliatives, medications, addictions and even surveillance designed to protect them from themselves. All those vials, syringes, security systems and shootings reflect the insinuation of what Edward Gibbon called “a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire …” until Roman citizens, having surrendered their republic to authoritarians in pursuit of security, “no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defense to a mercenary army.”
I want to read more from this Sleeper fellow. I especially like this bit...
If there’s a silver lining in Snowden’s having to spend all his energies fighting the state, it’s that his battle spares him the perverse compromises made by libertarian and free-market conservatives who can’t reconcile their sincere commitment to republican ordered liberty with their knee-jerk obeisance to unregulated market riptides that are dissolving republican virtue and sovereignty before their eyes.
Sleeper has identified a problem -- a paradox. I support Snowden, but I don't support Snowden's libertarian ideology.

In today's society, the only Spookworld whistleblowers we're likely to get will be turncoats motivated by libertarian ideals, a la Snowden. There will be no more spooks who embrace the left, a la Agee and Stockwell. That kind of thinking has been squeezed out of our culture.

But people like Snowden have to realize that Total Unfettered Corporate Control will only make the problem worse. Power corrupts. Elections -- and the threat of insurrection -- are the only things that have ever kept power in check. The Ayn Rand Wet Dream Anti-State, the land of unleashed corporate power, will not respect privacy or make our lives easier.

Even now, today, Google plays ball with the NSA. Get rid of elected legislatures, put Google and Amazon in charge of All Things -- and what will happen? A Google-ized society will institute the kind of draconian security measures that will make the present NSA seem as innocent as a Boy Scout jamboree. If you think that our right to free speech is in trouble now...

I admit that my own stance is a difficult sell, for what I propose is also paradoxical. Unlike the Randroids, I believe in the need for government. And yet I agree that this government has done horrendous things, and seems to be getting worse every month.

The key word is democracy. Libertarians don't like that word. The more honest libertarians freely admit that their version of the beatific vision has no place for democracy. The syllogism is inarguable: Libertarians don't like government. Democracy is a form of government. Therefore, libertarians don't like democracy.

I see things differently. I like democracy.

In the end, the outrageous nature of our current surveillance state is not the result of democracy but of democracy's subversion. If we cleaned up our system of elections, we could elect people to clean up the NSA.

As infuriating as our present government can be, it must always be remembered that government is the only environment in which democracy can live. No, I'm not saying that our present government is a perfect democracy -- in fact, there are days when I fear that it stopped being a democracy some time ago. What I'm saying is this: Democracy can exist nowhere else but in government.

So you have to ask yourself one simple question: Do you favor the idea of democracy? Let's have no hemming or hawing: Yes or no. If your answer is "yes," then you cannot embrace the anti-government rhetoric which motivated Snowden, and which so many young people foolishly see as the only alternative to our present mess. The problem is not government per se, and the problem is not government's size. The problem is who runs the government.
What's democracy?

I don't think putting up democracy against whatever its opposite is conceived as (dictatorship? autocracy? fascism?) gets to grip with the sheer weight of false consciousness, which itself can only begin to be comprehended in terms of who does what to whom and class structure and composition.

Every dollar's worth the same... Except that it isn't. No offer from Putin, however large, is likely to buy him the NYT. Or in British terms, you won't get into many places if you speak with a plebian accent, even if you can pay the normal price. So broaden out the concept of money to include non-currency forms of money (some of those who use the term 'cultural capital' have got some of the way there), all the time hypostatising class and capital... There is no serious alternative to a Marxist take on these shitty conditions in which we have the misfortune to live.

Without one, concepts such as 'economic' and 'political' are hypostatised but left undefined (how rigorous is that?), and we get to Max Weber or Talcott Parsons with his obsession with the number four...and he probably wasn't even a Jungian either...
This is the crux of the problem for sure: people in the United States and around the world believe we live in a democracy because the media machine tells us we do, despite all evidence to the contrary. They'll twist and bend the rules, if not outright break them, as much as they need to in order to keep the mongrel hoards at bay. Whether it's purging voter rolls, enacting vote suppressing legislation, or outright killing politicians who dare challenge the status quo, they're not leaving without a fight, and they're certainly not letting a bunch of plebes vote them out of power.
Government is both a social and economic system. Ideally, it is intended to apportion economic benefits according to a humane charter defined in a country's constitution, laws and people's preferences, and to regulate economic activity in support of these goals. Like all institutions of government democracies are intrinsically flawed and can never be perfected (see Arrow's theorem). While they can be modified to favor one social or economic group over another they can never fully reflect all of the aspirations of all of the participants ("The greatest good for the greatest number") at the same time. Some social and economic biases must inevitably occur. When a people are both cognizant and accepting of these inherent structural weaknesses then can choose where to allow their system of government to fail and their democracy can function reasonably well despite its known limitations.

The problem arises when the lie is put that governments are inherently perfectible, or that there is an identifiably 'best' model containing particular courses of action which will rectify all (or most) problems and provide optimum economic benefits. Libertarianism is a current variant of this damaging lie (along with Nazism and the Great Leap Forward). Under the guise of social and economic 'perfectibility' it introduces economic and social biases that do terminal damage to the humane charter subscribed to by the majority of people. When this lie is put by sectional interests such as business groups, defense industry contractors, and elected officials with a view to their own particular benefits then a system of government that might have acceptable social and economic flaws for most of the people most of the time becomes one with grotesque and extremely damaging outcomes for most of the people most of the time.

One of the dynamics used by the sectional interests I referred to is the "LIE" carried by our current Right wing media ("There is no alternative" social inequality).

Another is the divide-and-conquer principle used to isolate citizens from each other.

These violent trends, considered overall, represent a violation by powerful sectional interests of the implicit social contract between the government and the governed.

As philosopher John Ralston Saul has noted, the agents who dominate our current public discourse about democracy and governance are not democrats but Bolsheviks and Jacobins committed to destruction of the common good as expressed in progressive taxation, government regulations, the rule of law, public accountability and respect for the environment and the well-being of others.

I don't know any easy answers but the lies have to stop if we are to have any hope. We can't get by with any more Right wing hokum about government being the enemy.
I'd like to thank fred for putting together a really well-written, cogent, and concise post explaining the uphill battle we all face. I think the reality is that we're all marked already, i.e. we're a known quantity. The ability to post your thoughts online and make your position heard is a double-edged sword of the worst kind, especially in this the most heavily surveilled society in history.

With respect to the divide and conquer strategy fred touched on, the irony is that the angriest individuals with the biggest axes to grind and the most weapons are consistently guilty of blaming the wrong constituency for their anger. That's part of what makes controlling the media such a valuable prospect: you can continually misdirect the pitchfork-wielding masses by assigning false.

Yeah, "liberals" are the cause of our current situation. The segment of the political spectrum which has been on the receiving end of all the political violence with none of the political clout in the past 50 years is the problem...
Why should democracy be limited to government? Why should the shareholders control businesses instead of the workers and their elected representatives? Are you in favour of democracy or not?
Are you deleting comments Joe?

My concern is that I'm creating xtra work for you.

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