September 27, 2010

FLOTSAM & JETSAM: THE BIG DISASTER THAT BEGAN WITH A LITTLE DISSIN'

Sam Smith

War is the joint exercise of things we were trained not to do as children.

War is doing things overseas that we would go to prison for at home.

Anyone can start a war. Starting a peace is really hard. Therefore it is much harder to be a peace expert than a war expert.

The media treats war as just another professional sport.

War has rules, which means that we can change the rules.

Murder, rape and slavery still exist. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have banned them. The same is true of war.

Telling a country we won't negotiate with it until it does what you want is like saying you won't play a game unless you are allowed to win.

There is no evidence that supporting war, or telling presidents to do so, improves your testosterone level, so Ivy League professors are better advised to stick to tennis.

There is one way to deal with guerilla warfare and that is to resolve the problems that allow it to thrive. The trick is to undermine the violence of the most bitter by dealing honestly with the problems and complaints of the most rational.

Of course, there can be peace with so-called terrorist organizations; it's just a matter of whether one waits the better part of a century, as the British did in Northern Ireland, or whether you start talking and negotiating now.

Three thousand people is, of course, far too many to die for any reason. But it is also far too weak an argument for the end of democracy.

Peace is a state of reciprocity, of trust, of empirically based confidence that no one is about to do you in. It exists not because of intrinsic goodness or rampant naivete but because of a common, implicit understanding that that it works for everyone.

Implicit in the "what about their violence?" argument is the idea that what we do wrong is excusable because it has been matched by the other side. Of course, the other side sees it the same way so you end up with a perfect stalemate of violence. When I raised a similar argument as a kid, my mother's response was, "If Johnny were to jump off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff, too?" I never could come up with good answer to that and so eventually had to concede that somebody else's stupidity was not a good excuse for my own.

From the moment we commence a moral intervention we become a part of the story, and part of the good and evil. We are no longer the innocent bystander but a full participant whose acts will either help or make things worse. Our intentions become irrelevant; they are overwhelmed by the character of our response to them. The morality of the disease is supplanted by the morality of the cure. In fact, every moral act in the face of mental or physical injury carries twin responsibilities: to mend the injury and to avoid replacing it with another

One of the reasons America is in so much trouble is because it happily makes all sorts of compromises in order to get along with large dictatorships such as Russia and China, but thinks it can handle smaller operations like Hamas, North Korea, and Iran by simple obstinacy and belligerence. In other words, it is happy to talk with big terrorists, but not little ones. In fact, most of these small entities - and those who lead them - suffer from extreme inferiority complexes. By threatening war, imposing massive embargos and so forth, America merely feeds the sense of persecution and encourages the least rational reaction. A more sensible approach would be to constantly negotiate with these leaders and edge them towards reasonable participation in world affairs.

Imagine if we had told Israel and Palestine a few years ago that if they would just make nice we would give them enough money to equal Israel's GDP for one year and Palestine's for three. Take the time off, go to the Riviera or the Catskills, forget about productivity, and just party on thanks to the American taxpayer. Or if Israel and Palestine wanted to be really sensible, they could have invested in their countries' future instead. Think how much safer we would be today. . . But where would such a large sum of money come from? Well, all we would have had to have done was to cancel the invasion of Iraq and used the money as a carrot rather than as a bludgeon. For that is just what it has cost us so far. (2007)

The people who built castles and walled cities and moats are all dead now and their efforts at security seem puny and ultimately futile as we visit their unintended monuments to the vanity of human presumption. Like the castle-dwellers behind the moat, we are now spending huge sums to put ourselves inside a prison of our own making. It is unlikely to provide either security for our bodies nor solace for our souls, for we are simply attacking ourselves before others get a chance.

Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the dangerous frustrations and failures involved in having one's contrary myth constantly butt up against reality - like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home. Instead of defending the non-existent, we could turn our energies instead towards devising a new and saner reality.

Places like Harvard and Oxford - and their after-school programs such as the Washington think tanks - teach the few how to control the many and it is impossible to do this without various forms of abuse ranging from sophism to corporate control systems to napalm. It is no accident that a large number of advocates of war - in government and the media - are the products of elite educations where they were taught both the inevitability of their hegemony and the tools with which to enforce it. It will, therefore, be some time before places such as Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations are seen for what they are: the White Citizens Councils of state violence.

September 23, 2010

FIFTEEN YEARS ON THE WEB

This was written five years ago, on our tenth anniversary on the web:

Sam Smith, 2005 - This fall marks the Review's tenth year on the web - and our 11th year of sending out email updates. In the last quarter of 1995 we got all of 388 page views, and in 1996, we got 27,000. This year we are approaching three million.

How early was 1995? Well, the number of Americans using the Internet was still less than the number who were watching TV in the mid 1950s. And the Washington Post hadn't yet found a way to stay on line and be happy with the results.

Some other papers, however, had gotten into the act. Fredric A. Emmert writes that, "In 1992, the Chicago Sun-Times began offering articles via modem over the America On Line computer network, and in 1993, the San Jose Mercury News began distributing most of its complete daily text, minus photos and illustrations, to subscribers of America On Line. The first multi-media news service in the U.S., News in Motion, made its debut in the summer of 1993 with a weekly edition specializing in international coverage, with color photos, graphics and sound.

In 1994, the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service began distributing news to its newspaper customers via computer before their morning editions arrived, and The Washington Post has created a Digital Ink subsidiary, providing an electronic newspaper research service for clients, who can buy custom-made reports on subjects of their choice." The Post dropped the fee-based Digital Ink in favor of its current site in 1996.

Your editor's interest in the internet was not all that surprising, since he had long ago discovered that keeping up with advances in technology helped compensate for his own deterioration. The Review began as a hot type magazine, The Idler, in 1964 and over the years used such novel technology as Press Type, the IBM Selectric, Radio Shack's TRS-80 (or Trash 80 as it was fondly known), the Model 100 - an amazing battery operated laptop with a six line screen, and Exxon's Qyx, among many others.

Before all that, however, were other influences, starting with Alice Darnell, my high school math teacher who went to Harvard in the summer of 1954 to learn about this new thing, the computer. She returned reporting that she had almost been locked up in a computer overnight, as it needed an entire building to do the work of a present day Mac, and she introduced us to the basics of Boolean algebra.

It would be twenty years, however, before I actually touched a computer: an 8K Atari purchased for my sons. As I fleeted up to 16 and then 32 K it occurred to me that these things might have some journalistic use. In fact, if you wasted a whole Saturday you could already program them to do little things like write messages and keep addresses.

It was a time when an earnest father such as I sent his son to computer camp where he learned to write programs that in just a year or so he could buy at the local computer store. It was a time when a computer expert came to speak at that same son's school and, at the end, the headmaster arose and said, "This is all very well and good, but I'm not running a goddamned secretarial school." Within a year he had purchased an impressive array of computers.

It was also a time short on computer expertise. The Review was blessed with two high school students who came by to empty our floor's office trash who were also seminal cyber whizzes. They shall remain nameless to preserve the security clearance of the one who now works for a major defense contractor, but he still provides occasional assistance such as suggesting that I repair a computer suffering from too much atmospheric moisture by putting it in an oven at 150 degrees for an hour. That was a year ago. It worked and the computer still helps produce the Progressive Review.

Some years back I went to a Shaker village in Maine. While on the tour of this vanishing sect I noted a TV antenna atop the dorm. I mentioned this jarring departure from my image of Shakers to our guide, who explained that the Shakers saw no conflict between technology and their faith. After all, she said, their furniture was technologically advanced for the time.

It was not unlike the Quakers who do not shun change but merely apply their faith to it. About a year and a half after launching our website I tried to give a sense of this approach in a book I was writing, The Great American Political Repair Manual:

"The first rule of media survival is use it; don't let it use you. We must ignore the role the media has prescribed for us -- audience, consumer, addict -- and treat it much as the trout treats a stream, a medium in which to swim and not to drown. The trick is to stop the media from happening to you and to treat it literally as a medium -- an environment, a carrier. Then you can cease being a consumer or a victim and become a hunter and a gatherer, foraging for signs that are good and messages that are important and data you can use. Then the zapper and the mouse become tools and weapons and not addictions. Then you turn the TV off not because it is evil but because you have gotten whatever it has to offer and now must look somewhere else."

Sam Smith, 2007 -
The Wall Street Journal's claim that this is the tenth anniversary of the blog - as well as some of the critical reaction to the story - led us to our archives to find what we could about our role in this tale. We've tried to avoid the word blog - preferring to call ourselves an online journal - but the phrase has a ubiquity one can't duck. The Wall Street Journal claimed, "We are approaching a decade since the first blogger -- regarded by many to be Jorn Barger -- began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary.

"On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: 'I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis,' and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word 'weblog.'

"The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were "proto-blogs," embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form."

While we refer to Barger as the sainted Jorn Barger - he has been repeatedly kind to this journal over the years - the WSJ has got things somewhat mixed up. It is certainly true that Barger blessed or cursed us with the word blog, but whatever you called it, something was already underway, including at the Progressive Review. As evidence, we would quote from the very issue cited by the WSJ: Barger's December 23, 1997 Robot Wisdom WebLog in which he writes: "There's a new issue of the Progressive Review, one of the few leftwing sources that's vigorously anti-Clinton. . . The lead story this week is Judge Lamberth's condemnation of White House lies about the healthcare taskforce in 1993. Its editor Sam Smith also offers a nice fantasy of what a real newspaper should be, USA Tomorrow . . ."

Barger's contribution was not just one of nomenclature, but of gracing the Web with an eclectic spirit and curiosity, tapping its holistic wonders and happily mixing technology, politics, literature, philosophy and rants. In musical terms, Barger showed us how to swing.

At least as early as 1993, the Progressive Review was sending a faxed blog-like substance to our media list as a supplement to the print edition. The earliest mention of an online edition that we could find comes from the August 1994 edition: "If you have an Internet address, send it to us on a postcard or to ssmith@igc.org and we will add you to our Peacenet hotline mailing list. You can also find us at alt.activism and alt.politics.clinton. Sorry, offer not good for networks that carry e-mail charges"

There then followed a series of blog-like entries. None of that really counts, however, because it wasn't on the Worldwide Web. But by June 1995, the Progressive Review was on the web, where only about 20,000 other websites existed worldwide.

Still not bloggish, as we initially only posted longer articles. But within a few months - we were promising that "The Progressive Review On-Line Report is found on the Web" and our quasi-blogging had begun. While we weren't the earliest we were certainly in same 'hood and we may hold some sort of record for consistency. We are still brought to you by Turnpike and we are still using Adobe Page Mill to post our non-blog pages. A year or two ago we ran into an Adobe sales rep at Best Buy and mentioned our loyalty, saying that "we still love it." She looked quite annoyed and said, "That's what a lot of people say."

The Web would come to value style over substance in design and conventional loyalty over free thinking in politics. But, inspired by a few like Jorn Barger, we have tried to keep our layout simple and our thoughts complex. In the game of Internet high-low poker, we went low and it doesn't seem to have a hurt a bit. Thanks for sticking around.

September 16, 2010

A WARNING TO OBAMA FROM HIS BACK YARD

Sam Smith

If I had been still living in DC last Tuesday I would have been a white voting for a black Gray. According to a City Paper poll before the election, only about 24% of other whites would have agreed with me.

Yet Vincent Gray won easily over Adrian Fenty, who four years earlier had captured every precinct in the city, with nearly all white Ward 3 and nearly all black Ward 8 each giving him 56% of the vote. This year Fenty got 80% of white Ward 3 and 16% of black Ward 8.

Eddie Elfanbeen did a precinct by precinct analysis. Some 31 precincts gave Fenty 75% or more of the vote while 53 gave him 25% or less. All of the top Fenty precincts were heavily white while all the top Gray precincts were heavily black.

Remember: while the precincts might vary markedly in ethnicity, both major candidates were black (or biracial as the pro-Fenty media began suddenly to call him).

There were other huge differences according to the City Paper pre-election poll. For example, those who thought DC should remain a majority black town gave only 11% of their vote to Fenty. Sixty percent of those who had lived in the city for less than four years voted for Fenty while only 32% of those who had lived there over twenty years supported him. Over 45% of home owners supported Fenty, but only 25% of renters.

There has been a lot of talk about post-racial politics both nationally and in DC, but what these figures show is that to the extent ethnicity no longer matters, class increasingly does.

In other words, as one commentator noted, in the DC results are signs of a left wing Tea Party - another strong indicator of how our country is being divided by income and wealth, a topic politicians and the media never want to discuss. The have-nots - whether actual, perceived or misperceived - are highly pissed off.

What happened and why is instructive to anyone interested in politics, from Barack Obama on down.

Obama, Fenty, as well as Newark mayor Cory Booker and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, belong to a cohort I think of as the black Ivies (although Fenty went to Oberlin, a sort of college Ivy). They were the first generation of modern black politicians to get ahead by passing white examinations rather than crossing white police lines.

All but Patrick came out of successful families including Booker's parents who were the first black executives of IBM and Fenty's parents who ran their own successful small business, which was one of the reasons I foolishly voted for Fenty the last time. I thought the small business ethos would serve the city well. Unfortunately, Fenty didn't have it.

Obama's mother worked for the government (perhaps including the CIA) and his grandmother became vice president of a Hawaii bank.

Patrick, on the other hand, was born in a Chicago housing project. But then things started look up. As Wikipedia notes: "While Patrick was in middle school, one of his teachers referred him to A Better Chance, a national non-profit organization for identifying, recruiting and developing leaders among academically gifted students of African American descent, which enabled him to attend Milton Academy," one of the upscale private schools.

Each of these black Ivies had what was, for blacks, atypical growings up. For example, Booker got a Rhodes scholarship and Obama was shepherded through a variety of white vetting institutions ranging from schools to a corporation working for the CIA to being invited to speak at a Democratic convention despite only being a state senator. And all four of them went to good law schools.

While there are obvious personal advantages to such an upbringing, preparation for the brutally real world of politics and dealing with ordinary citizens is not one of them.

Now Fenty has been kicked out, Obama is on the ropes, Patrick is only 2 to six points ahead in the polls. And even Booker, perhaps the most politically hip of the bunch, has gone from 72% to 59% in his two elections.

The Fenty disaster is the most instructive in looking at Obama, because of their similarities. For example, both

- Won victory by appealing to one constituency and then effectively dumping it when elected.

- Sometimes act like an over-praised child, which is to say one whose life story has been built too much on presumed skills and virtues and not enough on hard knocks and actual achievements.

- Rely too much on legal approaches to politics - in Fenty's case depending on the widely despised attorney Peter Nickles and, with Obama, creating bizarrely complex legislation such as his healthcare bill.

- Sow tone deafness when talking to constituents other than the elite.

- Use public education as a weapon to encourage urban gentrification.One news report noted that "when Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee began her reform of education, she began by closing two dozen schools. None was closed in predominantly white Ward 3, while predominantly black Ward 5 took the brunt." This is another topic that doesn't get discussed in the press, along with the fact that Rhee - like other education deformers - has objectively accomplished little other than a lot of gratuitous chaos.

- Encourage a strong anti-union undercurrent in public education policy and other matters. This backfired in Washington as the unions worked hard for Gray.Nationally, it is another sign that we're really talking about class more than ethnicity. There was a time when Democrats supported unions, without which we would not have had a middle class.

- Rely excessively on words and actions that appeal to upscale whites but leave others wondering what the hell is going on.

- Display an arrogance about it all, at least in the view of many. It's fair, for example, to call Vincent Gray's record unimpressive but he is so clearly rooted in the community and likeable that many would prefer his stumbling efforts to Fenty's false achievements.

In other words, Obama is an Adrian Fenty waiting to happen, albeit, in his case, from the right.

Nikita Stewart and Jeff Mays, The Root, Atlanta - "Despite the fact that he won 40 percent of the black vote, Cory [Booker] does have a problem with blacks in this city," says Rahaman Muhammad, leader of the influential SEIU Local 617. "Cory's secret hasn't got out yet. Most black people outside of Newark think he is beloved by blacks inside the city."

That certainly wasn't the case when Booker first ran for office in 2002. During his first mayoral bid, Booker's opponent, longtime mayor Sharpe James, furiously attacked him for not being black enough. James painted Booker -- who grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, attended Stanford University and Yale Law School, and was a Rhodes scholar -- as a plant by white outsiders who saw Newark's potential and wanted to take over.

Booker has also struggled with black voters. In May he was re-elected with 59 percent of the vote -- down from his 72 percent landslide in 2006 -- despite having spent $5.5 million, more than all the other candidates in the race. In addition, Booker's own polls show him struggling with black voters. A 2008 internal poll conducted by Obama pollster Joel Benenson found that only 69 percent of blacks agreed with the statement that Booker was bringing progress to Newark, compared with 85 percent of whites and Latinos. Forty-four percent of black single mothers, who make up at least 8 percent of the city's electorate, felt Booker was taking the city in the wrong direction.

Muhammad says that he recently met with Booker in his office to discuss a growing concern among blacks in the city about talks of massive layoffs at City Hall and the concern that black contractors were not being brought into the fold.

"I said, 'Mayor, you have a black problem,' " Muhammad recounts. "He said to me, 'I only need 30 percent of the black vote to get elected.' I said, 'You might be right, but is that the strategy a black elected official wants to pursue?' "

Bill Turque, Washington Post - Speaking at the Newseum to an auditorium studded with Washington A-listers gathered for the red carpet premiere of the edu-documentary "Waiting for Superman," [DC school chancellor Michelle] Rhee said she would not "mince words" about Tuesday's Democratic primary defeat of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating," Rhee said. "Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post - In a stunning repudiation of divisive, autocratic leadership, District residents Tuesday toppled the city's ruling troika: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. All busted up. The trio's contempt for everyday people was handed back to them in spades at the polls.

Having taken office promising to cradle the most vulnerable residents, Fenty set out almost immediately shooting the wounded. Closing homeless shelters. Forgetting about job-training programs. Firing city workers with the wave of a callous hand -- black female heads of households more often than not.

Don't ask Fenty or Rhee whom this world-class school system will serve if low-income black residents are being evicted from his world-class city in droves.

What happened Tuesday involved more than just the unseating of a mayor with an abrasive style. It was a populist revolt against Fenty's arrogant efforts to restructure government on behalf of a privileged few. The scheme was odious: re-create a more sophisticated version of the plantation-style, federally appointed three-member commission that ruled the city for more than a century until 1967.

So people went to the polls and politely delivered a message: Most residents actually believe in representative democracy, thank you very much, messy though it may be.

Derek Kravitz Washington Post - If there was one vote that D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray had locked up before Tuesday's mayoral primary, it was the cabdriver bloc.

The city's roughly 6,000 taxi cabdrivers, a group made up largely of African-born immigrants, have long been upset with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) over his 2007 change from the city's zone fare system to meters. On Tuesday, they waged what one union leader called "the fight for our very lives."

"We supported Fenty, but he turned on us," said Aklile Redie, 52, of Silver Spring, a cabdriver for 15 years. "We know how important this is to our way of life and our families."

Many of these drivers had voted for Fenty in 2006. That year, a few dozen cabbies drove Fenty voters to the polls for $150 a day, said Nathan Price, chairman of the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association.

This year, hundreds of cabdrivers offered their services to Gray for free.

September 08, 2010

THINGS TO DO IN A LOUSY TIME

Since 1989, we have occasionally published a guide to getting through the crummy era that we are still in. It seems time for a new, updated edition.

Face the facts. The First American Republic is over. The Constitution is being trashed by both major parties. We are incapable of responding to the environmental crisis. Liberals can't tell the difference between being elite and being extinct. We're in the most expensive wars of no purpose in our history. Both major parties have moved steadily to the right over the past thirty years. Both have never been so corrupt. Ethnic prejudice is at an overt level unseen since the days of the civil rights struggles. The economy is still in the pits. Our creative culture has been reduced to the likes of Lady Gaga and Jersey Shore. And Barack Obama has turned out to be the Bernie Madoff of the Democratic Party - successfully conning America's liberals out of their hope and spare change.

Work around it. If a hurricane comes to your neighborhood, you don't just sit around the kitchen table complaining about it; you do things to help your survival. The same is true of the great storm of American disintegration. We have clearly lost what we have lost. We can give up our futile efforts to preserve the illusion and turn our energies instead to the construction of a new time. It is this willingness to walk away from the seductive power of the present that first divides the mere reformer from the rebel -- the courage to emigrate from one's own ways in order to meet the future not as an entitlement but as a frontier.

Use the word 'progressive" and not 'liberal.' There are still a lot of nice liberals around with whom to make common cause, but the word itself carries too much baggage. Progressives are activists; liberals are a demographic. Progressives emphasize economic change; liberals in recent years have largely ignored it. Progressives convert their opponents; liberals rant about them. Progressives are grassroots; liberals are fedocentric.

Put national politics on the back burner. State and local politics are still a good battlefield, but national politics has been so completely bought by corporate interests that it won't change until a lot of other things do first. It's movement time again, just as it was in the 1950s and 60s. We must create for our era what the civil rights, peace and environmental activists did then. Then the politics will respond. Few things scare national politicians more than people getting organized. 

Become an existentialist. Existentialism has been described as the philosophy that no one can take your shower for you. Weigh your words and actions on your conscience, not on polls. We may not be able to change history, but we can always choose how we react to history.

Read 1984 again. In Orwell's 1984, the Inner Party amounted to only 2% of Oceana's population; the Outer Party - the worker drones of the establishment (like those in Washington and on Wall Street) - were 13%. The rest were the proles, looked down upon socially yet retaining more freedom than those above them. We are in a similar situation - where, oddly, the lack of power can mean the presence of freedom. As we move towards - and even surpass - the fictional bad dreams of Orwell and Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World,', it is helpful to remember that these nightmares were actually the curse of the elites more than those who lived in the manner of centuries of humans rather than joining the living dead at the zenith of illusionary power. This bifurcation of society into a weak, struggling, but sane, mass and a sociopathic elite that is alternately vicious and afraid, unlimited and imprisoned, foreshadows what we find today - an elite willing, on the one hand, to occupy any corner of the world and, on the other, terrified of a few young men with simple weapons.


Read about movements that worked, particularly the populists, the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, the gay and women's rights efforts. And don't forget the Beats. They were the warm-up band for one of the biggest eras of change in our history. 

Look up and down, not left and right. Consider the purported major achievements of the Obama administration. Each of them - the stimulus, healthcare bill, education changes and foreign policy - has at its core helping the top class of America grab still more of our economic and cultural assets. The healthcare bill was specifically warped to favor private insurance companies. The stimulus gave vastly more attention to Wall Street than to homeowners threatened with foreclosure or the unemployed. Plans to improve train service emphasize high speed rail - i.e. business and not coach class service. And so forth.

We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered they were not alone. The freedom schools of the civil rights movement. The politics of the folk guitar. The plays of Vaclav Havel. Church basements. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King. Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple suppers.


Have noble goals, but look out for yourself: As maritime wisdom puts it: one hand for the ship and one for yourself. You're no good to the cause if you're injured, depressed or fall overboard. 


It's the people's economy that matters. Losing jobs while the GDP goes up is not an improving economy. Public policy should first and foremost be aimed at making economic conditions better for ordinary Americans. 

Be nice to small business. Few in politics, at either the national or local level, pay much attention to small business. That goes for Republicans, Democrats and Greens. The problem is that small businesses put too little into campaign coffers. But small business is the big job creator, it's the hardest part of the economy to outsource, and its about the only part of the business world that can honestly talk about being in a free market. Further, small business people are important community leaders and useful viral marketers of opinion. Be nice to them and it will pay off.

Remember that diversity includes those you don't like. Both the absolute rights of a libertarian and those rights derived from a liberal government falter on the issue of what to do when presumed rights are in conflict. A good way to deal with this is think of liberty as reciprocal, which is to say that I can't have my liberty unless you have yours. To retain both our liberties, we must engage in constant negotiation rather than a battle to the death over our philosophies. Let's talk more about a democracy in which everyone wins instead of one in which only approximately half do. Instant runoff voting and proportional representation are good approaches for starters.

There has been a stunning increase in class-based arrogance and disparagement by liberals towards large blocs of voters dismissed as red staters, fly-overs, evangelicals, etc. For a species that prides itself on avoiding stereotypes this is a bit hypocritical. Worse, it is terrible politics. Remember, we've always had Christian fundamentalists in this country, but there was a time that we called them New Deal Democrats. 

Martin Luther King reminded his aides that among their goals was that the people they were opposing would one day be their friends. One good way to do this: go after to the big guys - the rightwing pols, hypocritical preachers and so forth - and leave the little guys alone. 

Build cross-cultural coalitions quietly on issues, not noisily on guilt. One of the best ways to build a cross-cultural coalition is to work on campaigns and projects together and in so doing build cooperation and trust from successful experience rather than on good intentions and nice words. There are far too many noble thoughts about racism even as opportunities for multi-ethnic cooperation pass unnoticed. There particularly is a tendency for white progressives to become involved in symbolic and celebrated multi-cultural issues, while ignoring the potential and necessity of more consistent, more local, and less flashy support of the interests and causes of those still seeking a fair share of America. And one of the most powerful progressive coalitions would be a long overdue black-latino combination. 

Create a counterculture. It worked in the 1960s and it work again. You don't have to be a prisoner of the dominant culture. You can help create an alternative, just as the young did in the 1960s, without money or power. And without a counterculture there will be no significant change. 

Be nice to white men. One of the besetting sins of many in the progressive movement is that they have made white men the enemy. In fact, no ethnic group in history gave up so much power so quickly and so peacefully. Every social movement of the past 40 years has depended on either the acquiescence or active participation of large numbers of white men. To bash them is both bad politics and bad philosophy, throwing away constituency and logic at the same time. One of the basic reasons for the Democrats' current problems is that they have implicitly treated minorities and women, on the one hand, and white males, on the other, as mutually exclusive groups. This perception has helped to drive white males to the Republicans. While it is obvious that white men have been responsible for most of the horrendous political and ecological policies that have left us in our current situation, it should be equally obvious that most white men have also been among their victims -- in everything from war to black lung disease to economic exploitation. 

Be frugal. Both liberals and conservatives spend too much money on the wrong things as soon as they are in office. liberals get 99% of the rap for it. Here is another case of the left stipulating to a conservative stereotype. Ral frugality, at the moment, is an untouched political cause. Progressives need to shuck the assumption that spending money in the name of something is the same as spending money for something. Billions are spent in Washington in the name of good causes; far less actually serves those causes. A number of states have dealt with this problem as it exists in charities by placing a limit on the bureaucratic overhead a non-profit can have and still claim tax-exemption. Progressives should seek a similar standard for government. Few things would change more the popular impression of progressives than if they began to concern themselves with the efficient use of the taxpayers' dollars.

Think Green. A progressive movement that is going to make a difference is going to include a Green Party movement. You can't do it just with a bunch of lite Republicans who happen to support abortion. This doesn't mean that everyone joins the Green Party, but it means, for example, a powerful green wing within the Democratic Party and an end to the anti-Green Party nastiness by Democratic liberals.

Rediscover populism. The real divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, blue states and red, conservatives and liberals, faith-based and sectarian, or socialists and capitalists, but between little folk and big shots, between ordinary citizens and their leaders. Both Democrats and Republicans don't want you thinking about this because they get their money from the latter even while pretending to represent the former. 

Don't be too pure. It's okay to be a saint but don't expect many others to follow you into self-deprivation, moral perfection, supererogation or martyrdom. Be happy if someone votes the right way, writes the letter you want or shows up for the meeting. And if you find among them some anti-abortionists who are also against our policy in Afghanistan, don't knock them; put them on a committee. Progressives need a constituency, not disciples. Besides, most people aren't as interested in this stuff as you are. They're more like Oscar Wilde who said he could never become a socialist because he liked to keep his evenings free.

Speak United States. The people we are trying to convince speak United States; it helps to talk the same language.. Most Americans don't talk about stimuli, transparency or infrastructure. But you'd never know it listening to typical Democratic politicians. Avoid the language of the corporate executive, pompous academic, hustling preacher, or boring lawyer.

Don't let the right rewrite history. Since only 6% of the country has ever known, as adults, a progressive president , and since the media has generally bought the GOP line on progressive politics, it is important to remember what life would be like if it hadn't been for progressives. For example we would not have

- Regulation of banks and stock brokerage firms
- Protection of your bank account
- Social Security
- A minimum wage
- Legal alcohol
- Regulation of the stock exchanges
- Right of labor to bargain with employers
- Soil Conservation Service and other early environmental programs
- National parks and monuments such as Death Valley, Blue Ridge, Everglades, Boulder Dam, Bull Run, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Mount Rushmore, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton, Cape Cod, Fire Island, and San Juan Islands just to name a few.
- Tennessee Valley Authority
- Rural electrification
- College education for innumerable veterans
- Housing loans for innumerable veterans
- FHA housing loans
- The bulk of hospital beds in the country
- Unemployment insurance
- Small Business Administration
- National Endowment for the Arts
- Medicare
- Peace Corps


Get a plan. Many Americans think they know what the Republicans and Democrats stand for. The trouble is that they learned it from the Republicans. This is because Democrats and progressives have been miserably incapable of stating clearly what they are about. This is not - as some have suggested - a matter of better rhetoric or proper branding; it is a matter of having something you believe in and explaining it well to others. The Vichy Democrats in control of the party aren't interested in this because it destroys their flexibility to appear to be one thing to their contributors and another thing to their constituents. In the end, to many it appears to many that the GOP stands for all the good things - patriotism, values, family, the economy, security et al - while the Democrats stand for nothing..

Come up with a progressive platform, preferably one that can be written on a single side of a sheet of paper. Here are some samples:

- Economic programs aimed at doing the most for the most and an end to Wall Street bailouts.
- An end to colonial occupation and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- The restoration of democracy and constitutional government in the U.S.
- Single payer health care
- A safe and clean natural environment
- Electoral reform including instant runoff voting and public campaign financing.
- Government carried out at the lowest practical level


If you don't like that list, then write your own.

Remember what you have in common with others. Since the sixties there has been a tremendous splintering of progressives into groups specializing in a single issue or around a cluster of single issues. This has produced a high level of expertise on these issues, raised the national consciousness on many of them, and provided a cadre capable of writing and criticizing legislation. The less happy side-effect has been that progressives have forgotten how to work in coalitions with one another and seem incapable of providing a holistic vision of that for which they are striving. They have become specialists and technocrats of change rather than leaders and prophets. And far too many fit G. K. Chesterton's description of liberals: they can't lead, they won't follow and they refuse to cooperate.


So go beyond your own cause. It works and helps to undermine stereotypes. Encourage your cause to join worthwhile coalitions even if they seem removed from your own. You'll make new friends and change others' view of you. Gays for guns, women for drug reform, blacks for small business, whatever. . . 

Find or build oases of freedom and decency in the desert of globalization and national deterioration - places of sanity or small communities of concerned individuals. Remember that the biggest political divide is between the peoples of the world and their leaders. 

Be an activist, not a clicktivist. Signing an online petition or writing a check is not enough. Use the Internet, but only as a tool for organizing real people working with each other. For one model, study the decentralized congregational approach of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that helped to produce civil rights. 

Use boycotts. Find things that are easy to boycott, easy to get the word out about, and for which there are alternatives - such as boycotting one brand of several. Boycotts are an especially useful tool in a society as atomized as ours. 

But don't be afraid of internal debate. The Democrats used to be far more contentious then they are today. There were liberals and conservatives, northerners and southerners, civil rights advocates and segregationists, reformists and the corrupt. As a liberal you learned to fight a two front battle - against the Republicans and against the bad guys in your own party.
With Clinton, liberals packed away their views and their vigor and went along with whatever the top guns of the party wanted. One reason this has worked so badly may be that the very contentiousness of the Democrats sent a message to the rest of the country that all sorts of people could feel at home, even if a bit restless, within the party. Everyone knew the Democrats were a crazy conglomerate of America. 

Don't be afraid of popular issues. One of the striking differences between old-style liberals and their descendants is that the former had a knack for finding popular issues such as social security, the minimum wage, and day care funding. Too many contemporary progressives feel almost guilty if they get involved in anything that will take less than years of activism to win general support. This is not to say that unpopular causes should be avoided, but simply to suggest that it is okay to leaven the difficult and the controversial with things people already want. 

Avoid dignifying the despicable by treating it as debatable. In rhetoric, analysis and approach, bear in mind that we're often not dealing with ideology or policy, but with mean people, thugs and thieves. Stop harping on Glenn Beck. You're only helping to build his base. Follow Samuel Goldwyn's advice and "don't even ignore him." The more he becomes the issue the less important real issues become.

Describe a future worth fighting for. Optimism is deeply ingrained in American culture. Progressives are in a tough spot in this regard, because they tend to bring America the bad news. And America typically kills them for it. We need a lot more skill in motivating people to correct what's wrong without simultaneously casting a pall over their vision of the future. Progressives need not surrender optimism to the conservatives. As Thomas Jefferson said, "My theory has always been that if we are to dream, the flatteries of hope are as cheap, and pleasanter than the gloom of despair." It was the Democrats, after all, who in the runaway election year of 1936 labeled Republicans as "disciples of despair" floundering in a "fountain of fear." Roosevelt himself got considerable mileage from his insupportable assertion that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. And one of the driving characteristics of the sixties was its vibrant, if unrealistic, vision of the future, including the dream of an Age of Aquarius. Today, the Democrats have an excess of whiners, nagging nannies, and contumelious scolds. Did the politics of joy really die with Hubert Humphrey?

Define your politics issue by issue, not icon by icon. One reason progressive politics fares so poorly is because we spend too much time on individual campaigns and not enough on issues. While the former tend to drive away the independent, the skeptical and those who don't like a particular a candidate, the latter can attract all sorts to join with others who may agree only one issue.

Define your politics by issue by issue, not by ideology. It's a lot easier to get a cross section of people backing a particular issue than it is for them to buy into your whole philosophy of life. Use the former approach on the streets and save the latter for the bar. You don't need common ideology if you have common causes.

No more stimulus packages for grad school liberals. Use fewer experts from the Ivy League and more from Iowa. End the grad school politics that favors those that collect data, assess and legalize issue over those who actually do something. One of the things many people don't like about traditional liberals is how federally oriented they are. This is due in no small part to an elite class that designs jobs for themselves in Washington. 

Remember that most minority voters don't get to even look at a glass ceiling. But many of them run into locked doors every day. Pay much more attention to the latter.

Personal to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Madow: A progressive movement can't be built on the mirror image of Bill O'Reilly or with endless sarcastic comments about your opponents. It can be built by people understanding and becoming enthusiastic about the policies you support. Help them and stop worrying so much about Bill O'Reilly.

We need local democracy as much as local lettuce. Progressives are often afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of localization -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. We need to rediscover the 1960s spirit of localism, including things like credit unions, coops, and community organizing. 

One of the great failures of liberalism has been its great disinterest in local power. The closer government is to the people the more they like it and the more responsive it tends to be. Besides, if you can't be an effective progressive in the 'hood, then you'll be a pretty lousy one in Washington.

All national legislation with state and local impact should meet the standards of what the Catholic Church used to call the principle of subsidiarity: government power should exercised at the lowest practical level. There lots of ways to do this in federal legislation. Here are a few:

- Revenue sharing
- Giving money instead of orders to public education and other programs.
- Decentralizing government agencies like some of the best existing ones such at the National Park Service, Coast Guard and US Attorney
- Not making too many decisions at the federal level.
- Supporting the 9th and 10th amendments that clearly limit the federal government's role 


Support the Second Amendment for three good reasons: it works, gun prohibition laws don't and you'll make all sorts of new friends. 

Change the rules as well as the game. Support instant runoff voting, public campaign financing, more states, a larger House of Representatives with mixed proportional and district representation like Germany, state banks, and a constitutional amendment to end corporations' legal status as "persons."

Distinguish between good regulation and good jobs for regulators. New laws often favor the latter which is why we keep adding regulators but can't even bring the Glass-Steagall Act back.

Support a shorter work week. It sure helped progressive populists in the past.

Don't forget the forgotten. Everyone talks about having a black president, but hardly anyone does anything about the huge number of young black and white males to whom we offer two main futures: incarceration or pain if not death on the battlefield. It is similar with the poor in general. They have not only been deserted by conservatives and centrists but by liberals as well.

Ditch the war on drugs. A great recession is a wonderful time to get rid America's most unsuccessful and expensive policy this side of foreign wars. Ending the war on drugs will save money, reduce the police state, limit prosecutorial discrimination against the poor, lower the crime rate, switch attention to health-based solutions and attract a lot of young voters who didn't even known they were progressives.

Don't be afraid to lead: When your national leadership is pretty much down to Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich, you know there's plenty of room for you. Most great movements have been led by those most hadn't even heard of a few years earlier. You could be one of them.

Don't be afraid to follow. One of the most useful techniques in organizing is to support the work of others. A mass movement is built by groups alternately leading and following each other. And one of the best ways to get respect is to give it.
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Turn public schools back to their communities. It worked for some 200 years until we decided to turn schools into human drone detention centers where the young are taught to pass tests rather than to learn live. And among the subjects driven out of our schools by the test tyrants: how to become a good citizen.


Don't let anal retentives, turf protectors, budget bullies, data druggies, assessocrats ambitious lawyers and CYA bureaucrats kill good ideas. Given the state of contemporary political culture, it would be unlikely that Social Security, Medicare or a minimum wage could be passed today. That's not so much a reflection of our politics as it is of our culture. We have mainly learned how to say no. Progressives need to reintroduce the concept of yes.

Keep in mind the great 1960s saying: Our goal is not to overthrow the system but to make it irrelevant.

The history of our country has involved repeated conflict between the specifics of the soul and institutional abstractions -- between people and places on the one hand and, on the other, a succession of systems desiring to exploit, subjugate or supplant them. We need to oppose not only the bad systems of the moment but unnatural systems in general - all those that revoke, replace or restrain the natural rights of human beings and the natural assets of their habitats.

The first rule of staying free is to act free. The number of liberals and progressives that follow this rule is sadly small. Everyone these days seems to prefer to talk about balancing rights instead of exercising them. But the rights outlined in the Constitution weren't bargaining chips; they were permanent guarantees.

Don't surrender the Bible to the right. Progressives leave the right's phony theological arguments largely unchallenged. For example, the Ten Commandments doesn't say anything about abortion or gay marriage but sure as hell is down on adultery, stealing (even on Wall Street), bearing false witness (even in political ads) and coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor (even in the name of capitalism). The Bible also doesn't like usury and strongly suggests that the earth is the lord's and not the property of multinational corporations. The ultimate irony of right wingers is that that they are the leading despoilers, usurers, war-mongers, hypocrites, idolaters and groupies of false prophets - all of whom are frowned upon by the book it pretends to follow. And its opponents, who are more faithful to the words that the conservatives only quote, are often such good Christians that they never say a mumblin' word about it all.

One of the best ways to revive democracy is to make sure that every organization, church, school, or club is run according to its principles.
 
Value tolerance. It's a word that isn't heard much any more but could ease a lot of our pain. Tolerance is often a necessary waypoint for people on the way to accepting new ideas. It's the trial period before full acceptance.

Educate more and scold less. Issues like climate change are complicated for many and hard to grasp, especially since our schools have devoted more time to teaching driving and creating drug free zones than they have to science. Help people understand issues and don't blame them for not.

Make change from the bottom up - Part of the illusion of mass media is that change can be organized like a TV series. Try it and typically one of two things happen: it fails or it becomes just more political mush. Too many web-based liberal organizations are modeled on corporate lobbying groups. They don't change politics, souls, or history. Despite TV and the Internet, change still comes from the bottom. Build from up there.

Forget the capitalist-socialist conflict obsession. Two questions illustrate the futility:
- Do capitalists ever ride the public subway?
- Who will run the restaurants in the Marxist utopia?


Mix and match based on the reality of the situation and not on somebody's theory. 

Define America. If you don't like the way the right does it, come up with your own description, stories and role models.

Have fun. If you don't enjoy your cause, how can you expect others to?

stattrax.com


























September 02, 2010

A LABOR DAY ADMISSION

Sam Smith

The week leading up to Labor Day reminded me of something journalists never admit: we don't just report the news, we help to create it.

The eerie disappearance of news during certain predictable times such as Labor Day, the Christmas & New Year holidays, and even come mid-June (when news releases mysteriously dry up), is not an accident. It's just that we and our sources have better things to do.

There are, of course, exceptions such as acts of God and human stupidity. I still recall coming home from college, turning on the TV and being surprised by the glut of fires, accidents, and criminal activities that seemed to absorb the Christmas holidays. It took me awhile to realize the correlation between my vacations and what I was viewing. A five car crash simply becomes more important around Christmas or Labor Day.

This year, of course, we've had not only Hurricane Earl to fill the gap but another oil disaster in the Gulf. Yet still there was a huge void in political crises, pronouncements, upcoming decisions and recent actions passing noisily into the death chambers of history.

It brought back my early days as a radio reporter, being stuck in a newsroom on Thanksgiving or Christmas, comforted only by the realization that there were far fewer listeners as well as far fewer events.

Does this mean that humanity could get along with less news than it muddles through normally? What if we made Thanksgiving a year long experience? Would that end wars, shut up Sarah Palin, and cause Charles Krauthammer to reflect permanently in silence?

Perhaps not, but it is worth recalling that during the 19th century when Congress only met part of the year, the capital's crime rate regularly fell when it was out of session.

There is no question but that a high percentage of what passes for news - especially political news - is not really news at all, but a bunch of sock puppets imitating news. Of course, the media doesn't tell you this.

For example, years ago, I learned that one way to find time for real reporting was to hardly ever attend a news conference. It was one of the great gifts of freedom in my work life. News conferences are devices designed to make reporters the indentured servants of their sources.

Gene McCarthy once said that Washington journalists were like blackbirds on a telephone wire. One flies off and they all fly off. One secret of good journalism is to stay away from that telephone wire in the first place.

So if the only disasters on such occasions as Labor Day are of the natural variety, if trivia seems to have suddenly soared in importance, and if all commentators appear obsessed with what will happen next because they can't find anything happening right now, enjoy it. It won't last long. Besides, a five car crash can be pretty interesting.