Dec 282014

It’s pretty evident by now that this President isn’t afraid of the so-called third rail. In fact, he has shown a willingness to contradict the prevailing wisdom on issue after issue: DADT, tax increases on the wealthy, financial reform, health care, immigration, regulating carbon emissions from power plants, Israel, Cuba, and many other do-not-touch political quagmires which have been assiduously avoided by his predecessors.

As he is now clearly looking at his last two years as an opportunity to make major changes to address entrenched problems, I have one to add to the list.

Today, the President declared the war in Afghanistan over. There is a Status of Forces Agreement and we’ll leave behind some trainers and counterterrorism people, but that will be a tiny fraction of the 140,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan when he took office.

In 2011, similarly, he drew the Iraq war to a close. Of course, Iraq has since proven unable to govern itself or to defend itself against ISIL, but that’s another story. The boots-on-the-ground war there—Bush’s shame—was finally dispensed with.

My hope is this: that before leaving office, President Obama will declare the war for which the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Miltary Force provided legal authority has been completed. I hope he will specify that the people who are conspiring against us through the lens of Islamic extremism are not the same people, nor the same organizations called out in the AUMF, and that the AUMF is therefore now null and void.

The 2001 AUMF has been used as a blank authorization for military action anywhere in the world so long as it can be tied to “Al Queda or its affiliates”, but that language does not appear in the legislation itself. It would be a strong move on the part of the President to rein in the dangerous precedent that the Presidency may use 9/11 as a pretext for a broad range of future military actions.


Aug 202014

Lately, it kinda feels as though the wheels are coming off the bus, doesn’t it?

Psychopaths openly voicing deranged and bigoted nonsense are a growing voting constituency, have hijacked one of our political parties, and are fighting madly against such evils as equality and health care and contraception, fer chrissakes.

Maniacs are murdering their way across swathes of the Middle East…including one such entity which is a major beneficiary of US taxpayer support. Cops are out of control and killing people–especially black and brown people–on a whim. A man who millions knew as fundamentally decent and warm-hearted and generous kills himself, and voices from said aforementioned crowd of psychopaths stand up and cheer.

Oh, and one of the most lethal diseases ever known to humanity is loose in West Africa, where it doesn’t make the front page most of the time because…well, you know…Africa.

And then there’s the carbon thing. Enjoying the hottest summer on record, are we?

It’s all pretty dispiriting. Even though great progress has been made on some fronts in recent years–and overall violence in the world is down considerably from, say, a century ago–the past couple of months have made reading the news something you have to psych yourself up for. And then go take a shower, or wash your eyeballs with bleach, or something.

It’s outrageous. It’s all simply outrageous.

And I think that’s why outrage is exactly the wrong response right now. The bad actors in most of this mess are the ones who specialize in outrage. They’re the Anger Kids, and we have to be something else.

It’s hard, I know, to see the fear behind the awful behavior, and find empathy for it. Doesn’t mean we should be any less firm about opposing the behavior, but for pity’s sake let’s turn the heat down rather than up, shall we?


At publication, the Dragon was APPALLED

Oct 082013

Republicans, as has been widely recognized, have painted themselves into a corner on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.

They’re not going to get any of what they’re demanding. Instead, they’re going to be humiliated after having been revealed as incompetent fanatics. A Continuing Resolution will be approved, the debt ceiling will be raised, and—because, thankfully, even in what has become the Party of Crazy-Stupid there are still enough marginally reality-tethered people to understand that crashing the world economy might be a wee bit bad—the hostage (meaning, all of us, at a global scale) will not be shot.

The result will be the worst possible outcome for them: the Republican Party as a whole has crashed in the polls, and there is now a legitimate possibility that they could lose the House instead of sewing up both houses of Congress as they had hoped. That’s in the swing districts. In the safe ones, members of the Evil Semi-Lunatic Caucus risk primary challenges from the Batshit Caucus, meaning we could see more of this down the road if they do retain the House.

I said this was coming ‘way back, and I am certainly enjoying it now that it is here, despite the fact that I, like everyone else, happen to be sitting atop the powder keg over which these idiots are waving matches.

Today, though, I just want to make one brief observation, which is about True Believers and effectiveness:

They do not go together in the slightest.

Zealotry is about insistence on How The World Should Be. Typically, it is built on axioms about How The World Is. These are generally simplistic, absolutist, and without nuance. If you’re on the right, it’s Jesus the Mean-Spirited Fascist, and Obama the Kenyan Muslim Antichrist, and sociamalism causing Teh Gay and feminazism and science and other Bad Things, and the War on Christmas. Oh, and Tax Cuts Create Wonderland.

When you believe stuff like that, you are incredibly hampered in your ability to get anything done. No effective path—even one that moves things in the direction of your goals—can be charted that doesn’t involve some aspect of soft-pedaling, deferring, or deprioritizing some of your agenda in order to advance some other part of it.

Which is why we have the spectacle of the House sending a ransom note to the White House consisting of a demand that basically every hard-right wet dream that was repudiated by voters in the last Presidential election and could not possibly make its way through Congress be surrendered  before the GOP will agree to fund the government.

Because, to hell with the legislative process in the Constitution, right? What we want is The Right Thing, To Be Had By Any Means Necessary.

It’s a losing strategy, and they’re going to rue the day they decided to let Ted Cruz use them as tools for his imaginary ascent.

My point, though, isn’t so much about that as it is about the zealotry. The noisiest grief I get from friends on the left (supposedly) is rooted in exactly the same kind of black-and-white oversimplification and fanaticism. If it wasn’t single payer health care, it was Obama and the Democrats being corporate stooges and selling out to the insurance industry. If it involved the possibility of killing anybody, it was off the table as a military/diplomacy strategy…even though that’s exactly what it takes to force an enemy to stand down.

You’ve heard something like this from me before, but I’ll say it again: principles are easy. Principles, in fact, are like opinions, which are like…

Well, in any case, everybody has them, of one sort or another.

The hard part is in making something happen in reality that conforms to some degree to your principles. And very frequently, that happens at the cost of something dear.

That’s why great progressive leaders are often criticized in some quarters because of the deals they had to make in order to achieve the strides they did. FDR’s salary cap on Social Security taxation, for example. Or Gandhi’s agreement to allow India to be partitioned in order for both of the resulting parts of it to be independent. Or Brower’s deal on Glen Canyon Dam.

Those actions, painful as they are to examine, weren’t outliers or aberrations. They were the cost of progress.

You cannot solve problems if you start from the standpoint of insisting on only one acceptable outcome and one acceptable path to get there.

100% or nothing really just means “nothing” here on Planet Earth. “No compromise!” is the motto of someone throwing himself into the wood chipper of history. It ain’t heroic. It’s just dumb. It doesn’t work.

The nutjobs holding the world hostage right now won’t learn the lesson even as they go over the cliff of their own making, because they are mentally ill.

But the lesson holds both for right and left: it isn’t True Believers that make things happen in the world. It’s problem-solvers with values, heart, and creative flexibility.

At publication, the Dragon was STUFFED WITH POPCORN

Jun 222013

Recently, what with all the Snowden/NSA mishegas, some of my friends have run with their prejudices to climb on the ZOMG! Spooks! Everywhere! bandwagon, and have accordingly become furious with me for failing to join them (the logic for which I posted previously).

Among the characterizations cast by some of these critics has been the suggestion that the reason I do not agree with them is because (they say) I am a “centrist” (or, sometimes, a “liberal”), while they style themselves “progressives”.


Well, let’s take a look.

I support marriage equality and absolute civil equality for women and racial, sexual, ethnic and religious minorities; absolute abortion rights for women and birth control rights for everyone; guaranteed publicly funded universal health care; a 90% top taxation rate; the Buffett rule; a carbon tax; enforceable and stringent international climate protection rules; reassertion of Glass-Steagel; a hard cap on total corporate executive compensation at 50x the income of the lowest-paid employee; a cap on inheritance at $10 million per beneficiary; affirmative action; withdrawal from GATT and the WTO; predication of foreign aid on recipients’ meeting stringent human rights standards (and no free pass to Israel in this regard); an end to the death penalty; a livable minimum wage; rigorous consumer, workers’ rights, environmental and workplace safety regulations; immigration reform; sharp reductions in military spending (and reallocation of those funds to programs to improve the infrastructure, opportunities and quality of life of the American people); a guaranteed post-secondary education for every American who completes high school or an equivalent and wants one; universal voter registration; a paid holiday for every American on election days; overturning Citizens United; solely public funding and time limits (say, 3 months) to all political campaigns; elimination of the definition of corporations as “persons” under the law; an end to all subsidies and tax breaks to nonrenewable energy industries and agribusiness except family farms occupied and worked by the owners; re-application of the Fairness Doctrine in all televised and radio media, broadcast or not; a ban on private ownership of any firearm less than 3’ long, able to hold more than 6 rounds at a time or able to shoot more than one round in a firing; mandatory, scientifically correct sex education for all students, whether their parents want them to have it or not; legalization and taxation of marijuana; an end to the “pledge of allegiance”; a transaction tax on financial transactions such as security sales; an end to supermajority legislative requirements of all kinds and at every level; elimination of tax deductions on contributions to religious organizations; and removal of all references to “God” from US money and US elected legislatures at every level: period, full stop.

If that’s a centrist, I guess Eugene Debs and Abbie Hoffman were, too.

So okay, the characterization doesn’t hold water (duh!) But thinking about it, I got onto the larger question: what is a “progressive”, really? Is it a just a checklist of policy positions, or is it something more?

I’d say that politics isn’t a thought problem. It’s not about taking a pledge, joining a club or talking like the rest of the cool kids.

It’s about results.

It’s about what happens in the real world.

And that means that the only meaningful definition of a progressive is “one who acts to advance societal movement in the direction of fairness, justice, the common good, environmental stewardship, a robust, informed democracy, ensuring that all citizens are safe from privation and have opportunities to improve themselves, peaceful resolution of differences when possible, working, efficient, up-to-date and well-maintained public facilities and services, and personal liberty up to–but not beyond–the point at which it infringes on those of others or the common good.”

There are two moving parts in this definition. It requires not only a set of values, but also behavior in a manner intended to cause policy and society to move in the direction of those values. And here is where a deep chasm opens between me and the friends who want to characterize me as “not progressive”.

I see little evidence that these friends expend much consideration of what policies are workable, politically feasible or even actually put into place. Their politics aren’t about doing anything: they’re about taking a position. More than anything, they are about how they wish to understand themselves and to be seen as opinion holders. The politics they articulate are about their view of themselves—their chosen identities—rather than about actual intent to accomplish social change.

Unless it completely implements the ideal they claim to support, the folks I’m describing will castigate policy movement in a positive direction as weak tea, and trash those who achieved such movement as having “sold out”…up to and including accusing such policy makers of being in the pockets of the very interests the new policy reins in.

In the eyes of people who think like this, a step forward doesn’t count. Only the ideal on the wish list counts. So the significant step forward of the Affordable Care Act is, in their eyes, a “sell-out to the insurance industry” because “Obama is a corporatist puppet”—which provides them the double pleasure of  staking out a position of moral superiority to the product of the dirty, dirty world by contrasting it with the bright shiny ideas in their heads, and of casting themselves as having “higher standards” which have been disappointed by the failure of those who are in the trenches and doing the work.

Indeed, few of the folks I’m talking about have ever invested much time or energy in engaging the legislative process or participating in electoral campaigns. Adamant as they may be in their opinions they also, by and large, dismiss our public institutions and the systems we have for pursuing political change as irretrievably corrupt. To the degree they have advocated for policies, it has generally been from the sidelines in ineffectual but personally satisfying symbolic gestures like protest marches.

Their opinions are rooted firmly in convictions about “how things should be” but generally uninformed about how they are. And as such, their concept of the nature of American politics is an oversimplified cartoon in which Big Interests Own Politicians (of both major parties, because They’re All The Same) and Buy Elections, resulting in Orwellian Institutions which want to Exploit And Control Us All.

In this, they have a lot in common with the Tea Party, actually.

As someone who has actually been in that world and done stuff in the political sphere, I have a different view.

I’m here to suggest that if what you do undermines progress, you aren’t a progressive.

Trashing the character, competence or motivations or those who got you half a political loaf when you wanted a whole one isn’t progressive.

Setting the bar of acceptability at a pie-in-the-sky level and then erupting in outrage when you don’t get it isn’t progressive.

Starting with an assumption that public officials and institutions are corrupt, ill-intentioned or incompetent and seizing on every opportunity—however flimsy, however improbable—to confirm it in your mind and the minds of others is not progressive.

“Standing for principles” in a manner which makes it impossible for those principles to gain traction in the political sphere is not progressive.

Dismissing a policy maker as a walking dungheap because he hasn’t done exactly as you would like on every issue is not progressive.

The only thing such behavior does is to make progress less likely to occur. It saps voter enthusiasm on the left and undermines the openness of moderates and swing voters to seeing progressive positions as reasonable and viable.

I can also tell you that such backseat driving tempts those who do the heavy lifting which actually results in progress to chuck it all and get a job in the private sector. Policy work is hard. You may think being in Congress or a state legislature is all cocktail parties and being showered with lobbyist gifts, but it isn’t that at all, and particularly not for progressives, who don’t generally align with interests loaded with money.

We’re fighting against the odds anyway. When a policy maker who is pouring out the productive years of her life in the name of the greater good starts having to dig friendly fire out of her back, it’s not a surprise that she might want to quit and let her critics try to do better.

Unsatisfiable self-righteous outrage doesn’t do a damned thing for our country or the world. It is a self-indulgence, and one we can ill afford.

It is the antithesis of progressive. It sabotages progress.

Progressives don’t need to agree with everything an official or an advocate—or a blogger—does or says to forbear from impugning his character. They can express their desire for different policies than those under consideration without framing those working on these policies as betrayers, cowards, traitors, incompetents or criminals.

Progressives don’t have an all-or-nothing approach to politics. They understand that improvement happens one step at a time: you work for a gain, nail it down, celebrate, thank your allies and gear up for another one. That’s how history works.

Progressives don’t leap to endorse thinly-sourced conspiracy theories just because they confirm their prejudices.

You can choose to do those things, if you get some kind of satisfaction out of it, but I’ll tell you this: by no stretch of the imagination is it progressive.

Progressives help to create progress. They don’t impede it, belittle it, or undermine its exponents.

A left-wing concern troll is not a progressive.

Ralph Nader (at least, the version we’ve seen in the past 20 years) is not a progressive.

Dennis Kucinich is not a progressive.

Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald are not progressives.

They are something else. Whatever it is, it is not progressive.

 At publication, the Dragon was THINKING