Category "Politics In America"

FDR and the Fight for the Four Freedoms

April 14th, 2014 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

A friend of mine, historian Harvey J. Kaye, has a new book out on FDR and the Fight For The Four Freedoms, and the need for reinvigorating the fight for them today. This is a project he’s been working on for many years, and it strikes me as more relevant and needed today than ever.

Our society loves to celebrate the “greatest generation” and the heroes of World War II and all. Harvey sheds some essential light upon what exactly they were fighting for, and the type of society that most Americans were setting out to protect and advance through the sacrifices made in that war (principles that have been sold out from under us by our recent generation of neo-liberal market fundamentalists).

Here, Harvey talks to Bill Moyers in an enlightening and inspiring discussion, worth the few minutes of viewing time.

You can also watch Harvey talk about FDR, as well as the legacy of Thomas Paine, in an hour-long interview with Thom Hartmann. Kaye also makes this short appearance on another of Hartmann’s programs in to talk about the fight for the Four Freedoms.

What We Must Do: How To Enable A Movement For Real Change

November 10th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

This is a great talk by Gar Alperovitz, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, and co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative. Referencing his work What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, Alperovitz provides some excellent insights and advice about how we can most effectively go from here in addressing the profoundly challenging issues of our time.

Alperovitz challenges our “vested interest in pessimism,” which forgives apathy and inaction, for if one “believes nothing serious can be done, you don’t have to do anything.” Transformation rarely happens overnight. It’s all about every action we take, step by step. What can seem like a futile action in one sense, is actually part of the building blocks, laying the seed for further action, until a tipping point is reached. Alperovitz puts a healthy emphasis on what we do locally, for if we can’t change our own communities, we aren’t (and can’t) change anything. Also, some good descriptions on why the problems we face are fundamentally systemic, and how and why politics as usual is a dead end. It’s all good, but starts to dig in even deeper about 12-14 minutes in.

Communication and Information Rights as a Key To Political Campaign Reform

October 21st, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

An informative discussion with Yale Law School professor Heather Gerken, regarding the corroding effects of unregulated political campaign financing, and how an increasingly wooden adherence to one fundamental American value, “freedom,” is undermining another of the major tenets upon which American society was originally founded: equality.

Of particular note is the insightful acknowledgement contained within her argument that it is not so much the presence of money in politics that is the problem; you’re always going to have money as a necessary fuel for helping to enable the processes involved in social and political action. The real issue needing to be addressed is one of transparency. Gerken is implicitly touching upon a primordially important point here in regards to communication rights (and their accompanying brethren, the right to information). It is once again demonstrative of why communication rights can be defined as “the hole in the death star,” in that if we change the parameters of what information can and should be accessible, and provide the communicative systems in which it can be made effectively available, then many of the other problematic symptoms of our troubled society will be much easier to deal with.

“We are today in an environment in which any lie or falsehood can be peddled by major power factions, and where no traceable accountability can be assigned for those doing the speaking, or who is enabling the speech.”

BILL MOYERS: Everyday people, the polls show they realize, 70, 75 percent realize that there’s too much money in politics. And they just say, they throw up their hands and turn away. Is that your experience?

HEATHER GERKEN: I think the better way to think about it is there’s always going to be money in politics. But it matters where the money goes and how it gets there. So just to give you an example, even with independent spending which has been really terrible in the last few years, if we could trace where the money came from, that would make a big difference. If when you see one of these ads run by Americans for America and it seems really wonderful and it tells you how great coal is, I think if people — and people hear Americans for America and they think it’s just an ad. I think if people heard at the end of that ad, this was paid for by the coal industry, they’d think differently about the ad. When we, you were talking about, you know, this all goes back to voters. If we just give voters the tools they need to see what’s actually happening to realize where money is in the system, it might give them the weapon they need to fight back.

BILL MOYERS: Well, in his majority opinion written for the court at the time for Citizens United, Justice Kennedy said disclosure is perfectly acceptable here, if we’re going to make the system work. But when the disclosure provision was put before the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Republicans filibustered it in effect, they throttled it, they did not let the Senate vote on disclosure.

HEATHER GERKEN: Well, this is another example of what you would call chutzpah. Because when McCain-Feingold was being passed, what Republicans like Mitch McConnell would say over and over again is, we don’t need to cap anything. We don’t need to shut down the money, we can just have disclosure and transparency, and that’s all we need. Now, a few years later, it’s not just that they’re refusing to pass basic disclosure and disclaimer rules, but it even gets worse than that. The lawyers are now arguing that corporations are intimidated if their money was disclosed. So you see lawyers in court and outside in the public arguing that giant companies like Walmart or Target or Exxon are scared to give money into politics because they’re feeling so intimidated by threats. Now and this is just where it goes beyond the level of absurd. They invoke precedent from the Supreme Court from the battle days in the, when the NAACP membership was being threatened with lynching. So it’s one thing to say that, you know, in the 1940s and 1950s people might get lynched for expressing their political viewpoints on race in the south and that there’s reasons to protect that. But it’s quite another thing to say that we should worry about Walmart and Exxon when they’re giving money in politics. That is not a first amendment concern.

BILL MOYERS: If in fact the Supreme Court says disclosure is fine as the court said in the Citizens United decision, yes, we should know and it’s okay to know and it’s legal to know, why are Senator Mitch McConnell and others in Congress preventing disclosure from happening, from passing it, from approving it, from saying, yes, let’s disclose the source of this money?

HEATHER GERKEN: Because the people who support Senator McConnell and the Republican party would prefer to give this money anonymously, secretly through shell corporations. An example, the insurance companies put a lot of money into the Chamber of Commerce. And it was the Chamber of Commerce that was saying things about the Obamacare, not the insurance industry. It looked clean, right? It looked like it was just the business interests being expressed by the chamber of commerce. But it was really insurance money funding that. That’s a problem. That’s a problem because you can’t evaluate the message if you don’t know who the messenger is.

Read The Full Interview Transcript

America’s Gilded Capital of Corruption and the Triumph of Plutocracy

September 4th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

This is one of those interviews that you can’t recommend enough. Bill Moyers talks with author and New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich about his latest book, This Town, in which he writes that money rules D.C., and status is determined by who you know and what they can do for you.

This program really should be required viewing in upper level high school and college political science classes, to say nothing of the homes of every tax-paying American citizen. The abject duplicity and complicity inherent in our political system today; the rank class divides, the plutocratic patronage processes at work, the blatant disconnect and disregard by the political elites for practically every demographic of American other than those who pay for their attention, etc… is all spelled out with the stark facts. Sometimes it really makes you wonder if it is going to take a revolution to change the course of this level of corruption within the system?

The Politics of Debt in America

February 12th, 2013 by Andy in Politics In America

Writer and historian Steve Fraser delivers this must-read overview on the nature of debt, its manipulation, and resistance to it, throughout American history; and why this story is so relevant to understanding today. The history of debtors prisons in America is especially revealing.

Debt remains, as it long has been, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of capitalism.  For a small minority, it’s a blessing; for others a curse.  For some the moral burden of carrying debt is a heavy one, and no one lets them forget it.  For privileged others, debt bears no moral baggage at all, presents itself as an opportunity to prosper, and if things go wrong can be dumped without a qualm.

Those who view debt with a smiley face as the royal road to wealth accumulation and tend to be forgiven if their default is large enough almost invariably come from the top rungs of the economic hierarchy.  Then there are the rest of us, who get scolded for our impecunious ways, foreclosed upon and dispossessed, leaving behind scars that never fade away and wounds that disable our futures. 

Think of this upstairs-downstairs class calculus as the politics of debt.  British economist John Maynard Keynes put it like this: “If I owe you a pound, I have a problem; but if I owe you a million, the problem is yours.”

After months of an impending “debtpocalypse,” the dreaded “debt ceiling,” and the “fiscal cliff,” Americans remain preoccupied with debt, public and private.  Austerity is what we’re promised for our sins. Millions are drowning, or have already drowned, in a sea of debt — mortgages gone bad, student loans that may never be paid off, spiraling credit card bills, car loans, payday loans, and a menagerie of new-fangled financial mechanisms cooked up by the country’s “financial engineers” to milk what’s left of the American standard of living.   

The world economy almost came apart in 2007-2008, and still may do so under the whale-sized carcass of debt left behind by financial plunderers who found in debt the leverage to get ever richer.  Most of them still live in their mansions and McMansions, while other debtors live outdoors, or in cars or shelters, or doubled-up with relatives and friends — or even in debtor’s prison. Believe it or not, a version of debtor’s prison, that relic of early American commercial barbarism, is back. 

————

Debt would continue to play a vital role in national and local political affairs throughout the nineteenth century, functioning as a form of capital accumulation in the financial sector, and often sinking pre-capitalist forms of life in the process. 

Before and during the time that capitalists were fully assuming the prerogatives of running the production process in field and factory, finance was building up its own resources from the outside.  Meanwhile, the mechanisms of public and private debt made the lives of farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and others increasingly insupportable.

This parasitic economic metabolism helped account for the riotous nature of Gilded Age politics. Much of the high drama of late nineteenth-century political life circled around “greenbacks,” “free silver,” and “the gold standard.”  These issues may strike us as arcane today, but they were incendiary then, threatening what some called a “second Civil War.”  In one way or another, they were centrally about debt, especially a system of indebtedness that was driving the independent farmer to extinction.

————

From one presidential election to the next and in state contests throughout the South and West, irate grain and cotton growers demanded that the government expand the paper currency supply, those “greenbacks,” also known as “the people’s money,” or that it monetize silver, again to enlarge the money supply, or that it set up public institutions to finance farmers during the growing season.  With a passion hard for us to imagine, they railed against the “gold standard” which, in Democratic Party presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan’s famous cry, should no longer be allowed to “crucify mankind on a cross of gold.”

Should that cross of gold stay fixed in place, one Alabama physician prophesied, it would “reduce the American yeomanry to menials and paupers, to be driven by monopolies like cattle and swine.”  As Election Day approached, populist editors and speakers warned of an approaching war with “the money power,” and they meant it.  “The fight will come and let it come!”

————

But the age of primitive accumulation in which debt and the financial sector had played such a strategic role was drawing to a close. 

Today, we have entered a new phase.  What might be called capitalist underdevelopment and once again debt has emerged as both the central mode of capital accumulation and a principal mechanism of servitude.  Warren Buffett (of all people) has predicted that, in the coming decades, the United States is more likely to turn into a “sharecropper society” than an “ownership society.”

In our time, the financial sector has enriched itself by devouring the productive wherewithal of industrial America through debt, starving the public sector of resources, and saddling ordinary working people with every conceivable form of consumer debt.

Household debt, which in 1952 was at 36% of total personal income, had by 2006 hit 127%.  Even financing poverty became a lucrative enterprise.  Taking advantage of the low credit ratings of poor people and their need for cash to pay monthly bills or simply feed themselves, some check-cashing outlets, payday lenders, tax preparers, and others levy interest of 200% to 300% and more.  As recently as the 1970s, a good part of this would have been considered illegal under usury laws that no longer exist.  And these poverty creditors are often tied to the largest financiers, including Citibank, Bank of America, and American Express.

Credit has come to function as a “plastic safety net” in a world of job insecurity, declining state support, and slow-motion economic growth, especially among the elderly, young adults, and low-income families.  More than half the pre-tax income of these three groups goes to servicing debt.  Nowadays, however, the “company store” is headquartered on Wall Street.

Debt is driving this system of auto-cannibalism which, by every measure of social wellbeing, is relentlessly turning a developed country into an underdeveloped one.  

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are back.  Is a political resistance to debt servitude once again imaginable?

Read the full article Here.

Beware the hollow calls for “austerity” and “debt reduction,” without first understanding the meaning of “debt” and the motives of those making for such calls.

The Meaning of a Do-Nothing Election: How Not To Change The World

November 17th, 2012 by Andy in Politics In America

Tom Englehardt nails it once again…

When a new Chinese dynasty came to power, it was said that it had received “the mandate of heaven.” We’ve just passed through an election campaign that, while the noisiest in memory, was enveloped in the deepest of silences on issues that truly matter for the American future.

———-

Let’s start with one basic reality: we’ve just experienced a do-nothing election that represents a mandate from a special American kind of hell. (Admittedly, Mitt Romney’s election, which would have put the House of Representatives and Big Energy in the Oval Office, undoubtedly represented a more venal circle of that fiery establishment.)

That, in turn, ensures two different but related outcomes, both little discussed during the campaign: continuing gridlock on almost any issue that truly matters at home and a continuing damn-the-Hellfire-missiles, full-speed-ahead permanent state of war abroad (along with yet more militarization of the “homeland”). The only winners — and don’t believe the outcries you’re hearing about sequestration “doom” for the military — are likely to be the national security complex, the Pentagon, and in a country where income inequality has long been on the rise, the wealthy. Yes, in the particular circle of hell to which we’re consigned, it’s likely to remain springtime for billionaires and giant weapons manufacturers from 2012 to 2016.

———-

Here are things not to expect: a major move to rebuild the country’s tattered infrastructure; the genuine downsizing of the American global military mission; any significant attempt to come to grips with a changing planet and global warming; and the mobilization of a younger generation that, as Hurricane Sandy showed, is ready to give much and do much to help others in need, but in the next four years will never be called to the colors.

In other words, this country is stuck in a hell of its own making that passes for everyday life at a moment when the world, for better and/or worse, is coming unstuck in all sorts of ways.

———-

Take climate change, which like the Arab Spring blasted its way into our unprepared midst in 2011-2012. There was the wildfire season of all seasons in a parching Southwest and West, a devastating drought that still hasn’t fully lifted in the Midwestern breadbasket (or corncob) of the country, and a seemingly endless summer that may make this the hottest year on record for the continental United States. It was staggering and, if opinion polls are to be believed, noted by increasing numbers of concerned Americans who could literally feel the world changing around them.

And yet none of this made global warming an election issue. Month after month, it was The Great Unmentionable. The silence of emboldened Republicans plugging their drill-baby-drill and lay-those-pipelines policies and of cowed Democrats who convinced themselves that the issue was a no-win zone for the president proved deafening — until the campaign’s last days….

Still, in just about every sense that matters in Washington, real planning for climate change is likely to remain off that table on which all “options” always sit…

Among the truly bizarre aspects of this situation, one stands out: thanks in part to a long-term climate-change denial campaign, well-funded by the giant energy companies, the subject has become “political.” The idea that it is a liberal or left-wing “issue,” rather than a global reality that must be dealt with, is now deeply embedded. And yet there may never have been a more basic conservative issue (at least in the older sense of the term): the preserving, above all else, of what is already most valuable in our lives. And what qualifies more for that than the health of the planet on which humanity “grew up”?

———-

But stop waiting for change, “big” or otherwise, to come from Washington. It won’t. Don’t misunderstand me: as the residents of the Midwestern drought zone and the Jersey shore now know all too well, change is coming, like it or not. If, however, you want this country to be something other than its instigator and its victim, if you want the U.S. to engage a world of danger (and also of opportunity), you’d better call yourself and your friends and neighbors to the colors. Don’t wait for a Washington focused on its own well-being in 2014 or 2016. Mobilize yourself. It’s time to occupy this country before it’s blown away in a storm.

Read The Full Post

Confessions of a Former Republican

September 26th, 2012 by Andy in Politics In America

A truly must-read piece, particularly for my dear brethren who may identify themselves as Republicans, or have a deeper affinity for the ideals upon which that party ostensibly represents.

This story resonates rather deeply with me, as I came from a similar enough background as the writer, and was imbued with the same ideological sympathies and beliefs. As I grew older, I was fortunate enought to be blessed with enough capacity for a certain amount of openess and interest to the world, and the opportunity to explore and engage with it more fully. This helped prevent those initial ideas and inclinations (and indoctrinations) from congealing into a type of ideological rigidity, one which would have inevitably (and to a certain extent did) restrict my own awarenessess of how and why the world works the way it does. I am today much, much more interested and concerned about the effects that actions and beliefs have on real people in the real world. This is regardless of how disdainfully dismissive people like Karl Rove and his GOP followers are of trying to understand and operate in that “reality-based community”.

I used to be a serious Republican, moderate and business-oriented, who planned for a public-service career in Republican politics. But I am a Republican no longer.

——–

Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”? That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed. But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series. Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.

In order to learn more — and to secure my membership in what Karl Rove sneeringly called the “reality-based community” — I joined a social science research institute. There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt. Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception of U.S. martial power — what it’s for, how it’s used — diverged from the reality of our wars.

——–

An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion. I think I finally understand what it means. We see different realities, different worlds. If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren‚t talking about the same things. I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn‚t actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it). It explains why study after study shows — examples here, here, and here — that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don‚t bother to follow the news at all.”

——–

Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned. I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).

Read the complete, and rather profound confessional from a recovering Republican, Jeremiah Goulka, Here.

Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On

September 10th, 2012 by Andy in Politics In America

Coke or Pepsi?

…The shallow talking heads who cover the 2012 presidential campaign on corporate media have noticed out loud the remarkable absence of disagreement between Republican and Democratic candidates on many matters. They usually mention what the establishment likes to call “foreign policy.” But the list of things Republicans and Democrat presidential candidates agree on, from coddling Wall Street speculators, protecting mortgage fraudsters and corporate wrongdoers to preventing Medicare For All to so-called “foreign policy,” “free trade,” “the deficit” “clean coal and safe nuclear power” and “entitlement reform,” is clearly longer and more important than the few points of mostly race and style, upon which they disagree.

——-

The rabbit hole goes still deeper. We didn’t have to stop at these fifteen points of Democrat-Republican agreement, but you get the idea. Just as in Frederick Douglass’s day, the more Democrats and Republicans agree, the worse it is for the rest of us.

Isn’t freedom of choice wonderful?

Read The Full Report

And this is one of the better arguments I’ve read yet for avoiding the two-party, “lesser of two evils” trap in the election. It only touches on a couple of major issues, but there are many more which can be weighed into this context, as well.

The Lesser of Two Evils = Vote Third Party

Congressman Darrell Issa Goes After The Greatest Generation

August 30th, 2012 by Andy in Politics In America

My friend, writer and scholar Harvey Kaye, author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (one of the best books written on Paine), calls out one of America’s more reactionary political figures, congressman Darrell Issa, for his comments regarding the moocher generation that sold America down the river while in the process of coming together to win World War II .

As Issa commented…

“The Greatest Generation created many of what the private sector would call Ponzi schemes. They created Social Security, they created Medicare on their watch, [they] created Medicaid … All of that without resources or funding.” Indeed, he continued, “A generation that was doing many things right — coming out of World War II — also planted the seeds for all the problems we have today.”

Harvey had some remarks about that.

You can just imagine the reaction of his Republican colleagues. They surely can’t defend him on it. Ever since Reagan spoke at Normandy, France on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 1984, they have been trying their best to take advantage of Americans’ phenomenal admiration and affection for the World War II veterans — apparently hoping to wrap themselves in the “flags of our fathers,” not to mention praying that Americans do not remember that their party opposed America’s entry into the Second World War.

———

In his defense, the congressman did refer to Social Security, and the generation’s later Medicare and Medicaid initiatives, as “Ponzi schemes.” Still, one can practically hear the Tea Party’s admonitions: “Darrell, what are you doing? You are putting our whole historical project at risk. Indict FDR, not our parents and grandparents! Hey, don’t forget, loose lips sink ships! Talk like that and the next thing you know Americans might start remembering what made the Greatest Generation and its greatest leader great…”

They might start remembering how a generation subjected big business to public account and regulation, empowered government to address the needs of working people, organized labor unions, fought for their rights, enlarged the ‘We’ in ‘We the People,’ established a social security system, expanded the nation’s public infrastructure, improved the environment, and imbued themselves with fresh democratic convictions, hopes, and aspirations — all of which gave them the courage, confidence, and wherewithal to fight and win a global war against fascism and imperialism…

They might start remembering how a president and people saved the nation from economic ruin and political oblivion and turned it into the strongest and most prosperous country on earth by making it freer, more equal, and more democratic than ever before in the process.

Hell, Darrell, before you know it Americans might start remembering how progressive their parents and grandparents were and want to start emulating them!

Harvey is currently working on a new book about FDR and the Four Freedoms. By the way, I had no idea that these were imprinted on the World War II Victory Medal, which was awarded to all the servicemen and women who served in the armed forces during the Second World War. They knew what they were fighting for, and it wasn’t the kind of world Darrell Issa wants us all to live in. A fact revealed by Issa’s recent comments.

Read The Complete Article by Harvey Kaye Here

A Conversation with Glenn Greenwald

February 29th, 2012 by Andy in Politics In America, Video

There is no one in today’s national discourse who has more direct, to-the-point insights to offer for making sense of the current American political situation, how it got the way it did, and what, if anything, can be done about it, than Glenn Greenwald does.

Greenwald lays it out in uncompromisingly clear, concise language which can be understood by practically anyone. Of particular note is Greenwald’s take on the role of journalists and the state of journalism today. Greenwald is also a fan of Orwell’s work on propaganda and the debasement of language, and how destructive that is to critical thinking.

Why Greenwald is not on the Sunday morning talk shows becomes pretty self-evident in this interview.

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