Liberal? Conservative? Really?

Most of us, it seems, define our political orientation as liberal or conservative, often with a “moderate” caveat. But what do we mean by that, really? I am afraid that these labels have taken a real beating in recent decades, with the result that they have lost most of their meaning, if not all.

Wither Liberalism?

Let’s start with “liberal.” For a good while now, the word “liberal” has taken on the aura of an almost dirty word.  Do you listen to talk radio or Fox News (which I prefer to call “Fixed News,” or “Fake News,” since it so heavily indulges not just in a particular political bias but also in falsehoods, innuendo, and ignoring facts, just like the president who follows it so closely)? There you will hear “liberal” used only scornfully. But, who are liberals, really?

proudliberalChris Hedges, in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, argues forcefully that the liberal class has abandoned its traditional political values, retaining only the name and rhetoric. The Democratic Party was once the bastion of liberal policies. However, through the latter half of the 20th Century, business interests controlled more and more of electoral politics as well as legislation itself.

Corporate interests and money-have long since taken control of the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians continued to spout liberal slogans. But they actually represented the corporate and investor classes as measured by most of their voting in both the House and Senate. Actual liberal citizens repeatedly came away frustrated by the party’s failure to implement liberal values touted in electoral campaigns. Thus, it is not surprising that while the views of a majority of Americans are generally liberal, the voting turnout in the U.S. is among the lowest of the industrialized nations.

Wither Conservatism?

So, similarly, what do we mean by the term, “conservative”? Well, here we have a different conundrum. “Conservative” has not taken on the negative connotations of “liberal.” However, the force of corporatized politics in the U.S. has similarly damaged it.

conservative.republican

Proud Conservative

Most of us have some conservative values and some liberal values as well. We value stability and responsibility in our fellow citizens and try to represent them in our own behavior. We don’t always succeed, but we try. The political buzzword, “law and order” has exploited our conservative character by instilling the fear that criminals and others of questionable repute threaten the stability and security of our lives.

You might think that the conservative and liberal labels reflect directions of political, economic, and social policy favored by citizens who identify with those labels. You might also think that politicians who identify themselves by those labels attempt to implement policies that reflect those values. But, you would be wrong. Labels are often cover stories used by politicians to justify their actions, which may have entirely other sources.

The politicians gain their campaign contributions and other largess from mostly corporate lobbyists. Of course, the lobbyists advocate for political interests that benefit from the policy choices they persuade (bribe) senators and representatives to make. And, where do liberal or conservative values fit into this picture? Well, they don’t, really.

Rise of the Corporate State

In an extremely important, though not widely known study, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that over many years, legislation favored the interests of corporate and business groups that lobbied politicians. The expressed interests of ordinary citizens and citizen groups representing the public interest rarely found expression in legislation. Their report, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics 12:3 (September 2014):564-581, provides strong empirical evidence that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In this context, it is difficult to surmise that the conservative and liberal ideas have any role in politics other than as cover stories to curry the favor of voters who identify with those labels. They certainly do not predict more than superficially the voting behavior of most politicians who use them.

Power of Propaganda in the Face of Facts

On the first day of 2019, the Washington Post printed a story summarizing the numerous extreme signs of climate change in 2018. The list of extreme hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts and heat waves around the world of unprecedented intensity, impressed even the most cautious scientists.

Most climate scientists are unwilling to attribute a particular event directly to global warming. It is far too complicated for that. The heating of the atmosphere affects the entire climate system, so it influences patterns of weather everywhere rather than “causing” single events.

Change in Surface Temp.1901-2012_IPCC-grap-02

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ~ Public Domain

Nothing is Normal Now

But, so many weather events now fall so far outside the normal range of weather that no other factor can explain it. They have grown more intense and frequent as humans pour more carbon into the atmosphere. That is why scientists are now willing to conclude that the frequency and intensity of such extreme events are due to global warming. Scientists are a conservative lot; they resist making claims without overwhelming evidence to support their assertions.

That is both good and bad. In ascertaining the validity of a finding, scientists rightly find it important that the evidence is overwhelmingly strong. Climate science builds its findings on the entire history of the physical sciences. They apply basic physics and chemistry to the extreme changes in climate conditions and events that have emerged over the past several decades. Global heat retention due to industrial-consumer economies pumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere is the scientifically undisputed cause of those changes.

However, scientists have preferred, for the most part, just to report the facts and the projections of change into the future that they have concluded are justified by the evidence. They leave it up to the public and the politicians to develop policies to respond to the dangers inherent in the facts they report.

Power of Propaganda

Not only have climate scientists projections proved much more optimistic than later facts revealed, but the whole process is accelerating because of previously unaccounted for positive feedback loops. These include darker arctic seas absorbing more sunlight than the white sea-ice that has melted, and melting tundra releasing methane, to name just two.

Politician and citizen alike easily ignore extremely dangerous conditions projected into the distant future. Now, however, the most recent research reveals we have little more than a dozen years to reduce net carbon emissions to near zero to avoid catastrophic consequences for societies all over the world. The U.S. government’s most recent Climate Assessment Report concludes that the damage from extreme climate events will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the near future.

At the beginning of this past October, a special report by the IPCC revealed very disturbing findings. At current rates of carbon emissions (which have not slowed), sea rise from melting polar ice caps and the giant Greenland glacier will inundate coastal cities worldwide. Droughts and poverty will intensify. The data from numerous studies projecting the catastrophic consequences of inaction just keep piling in.

Science and Political Action

However, as the decades pass, more and more scientists have come to recognize that propaganda has effectively countered the facts. The fossil-fuel industries and their lackeys in Congress, extremist talk-radio, and partisan cable “news” outlets continue to dominate the politics of global warming. The climate-denying president attempted to bury the U.S. Climate Assessment Report by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, a “dead” news day when so many consumers were out shopping for bargains in the industrial-consumer economy that is the primary cause of global warming.

At some point soon, the overwhelming impact of devastating events will overcome the propaganda of politically motivated climate denial. The problem is that soon it may be too late to prevent some of the most catastrophic consequences for planet and people, which humanity could have avoided if policies based on the factual evidence of science had prevailed over counter-factual propaganda.

Tax the Markets!

Today, the world faces multiple interacting crises, most of which now approach catastrophic proportions. With every new research report on climate disruption, species extinction, ecological destruction, or various population, economic, or political disturbances, it becomes clear that many are at or approaching a tipping point toward chaos.

Political authorities remain unable even to formulate, no less take effective countermeasures. Idealistic if inadequate targets set for pleasant outcomes become meaningless gestures. Meanwhile, kleptocratic oligarchy grows stronger.

Economic pundits – who mostly follow the lead of the financial elites that profit from driving the endless-growth economy toward the brink of collapse – offer feverish pitches to “stay the course.” The super-rich force their lackeys in Congress to pass extreme tax cuts for themselves, which benefit the millionaire/billionaire senators too. The national debt soars as a result and it appears that “nothing can be done” to stave off national, no less global disaster.

stock market chartBut wait, there’s more, so much more. As the plutocrats drive the nation toward bankruptcy, chaos, and collapse, giant corporations remain awash in both cash, much held overseas, and cheap debt as they exploit low-interest rates to finance their operations and excessive executive pay.

At the same time, “Recent research suggests that “60%–90% of daily equity trading is now performed by algorithmic trading, up from 25% in 2004.” These trades skim profits from slight moves in equity pricing over nanoseconds. They drive market moves more than human trading while making their rich institutional executives even richer. Is that what a stock market is for? Well, yes, if you are a rich institutional trader.

Markets are Not Magic

All markets are social phenomena, the complex sum of many transactions. They emerge and develop in the interaction of humans who seek to gain from their trading. Well, that’s fine and dandy. Modern developments, however, make it clear that no “invisible hand” guides trading algorithms to produce the best of all possible financial worlds for all, or even for many.

The promoters of free markets have always insisted that they are necessary to achieve the best economic outcome for all in society. How has that been working out for you? Markets are, in fact, social creations, designed to serve the interests of their members, not the rest of us. Today, oligarchy is replacing democracy as wealth concentrates and drives politics.

Now, here is where we get in trouble with the devotees of Ayn Rand who run the country as well as the markets. Rand’s pseudo-philosophy of “objectivism” assumes that government has no legitimate role in serving the general welfare of the citizenry of the nation states. Well, I beg to differ. Members of the financial elite use the “market forces” they control to line their own pockets at our expense. It’s the biggest scam ever.

Governing in the Public Interest

A major role of government should be precisely to protect the public from the excesses of capital markets and the speculative extractive projects it finances around the world. The federal government is supposed to regulate elements of the economy as needed in the public interest. Absent such supervision, the consequences of the “creative destruction” of the most powerful institutions of the industrial era have now reached catastrophic proportion. The people must now act in our own defense.

Consider the fact that if Congress were to impose a transaction tax of just a few pennies on each trade on the financial markets, the effect on profits would be negligible. Yet, due to the volume of transactions, a seriously large stream of revenue would flow to the U.S. Treasury. So, yes, we can afford to take definitive action to mitigate climate catastrophe, achieve social, economic, and climate justice, and, well, maybe even survive as a species. That will happen only when the U.S. federal government breaks free of its plutocratic overlords and begins to serve the Public Interest.

Trump’s Decline and Fall: Myth or Reality?

Joker-TrumpHere’s an interesting take on what some see as the imminent fall of the TV clown who would be Emperor, in the form of a phone conversation between Robert Reich and an unnamed former Republican congressman.

~ ~ ~

Robert Reich: The end is near for Trump

Trump is a “dangerous menace.”

This morning I phoned my friend, the former Republican member of Congress.

ME: So, what are you hearing?

HE: Trump is in deep sh*t.

ME: Tell me more.

HE: When it looked like he was backing down on the wall, Rush and the crazies on Fox went ballistic. So he has to do the shutdown to keep the base happy. They’re his insurance policy. They stand between him and impeachment.

ME: Impeachment? No chance. Senate Republicans would never go along.

HE (laughing): Don’t be so sure. Corporate and Wall Street are up in arms. Trade war was bad enough. Now, you’ve got Mattis resigning in protest. Trump pulling out of Syria, giving Putin a huge win. This dumbass shutdown. The stock market in free-fall. The economy heading for recession.

ME: But the base loves him.

HE: Yeah, but the base doesn’t pay the bills.

ME: You mean …

HE: Follow the money, friend.

ME: The GOP’s backers have had enough?

HE: They wanted Pence all along.

ME: So …

HE: So they’ll wait until Mueller’s report, which will skewer Trump. Pelosi will wait, too. Then after the Mueller bombshell, she’ll get 20, 30, maybe even 40 Republicans to join in an impeachment resolution.

ME: And then?

HE: Senate Republicans hope that’ll be enough – that Trump will pull a Nixon.

ME: So you think he’ll resign?

HE (laughing): No chance. He’s fu*king out of his mind. He’ll rile up his base into a fever. Rallies around the country. Tweet storms. Hannity. Oh, it’s gonna be ugly. He’ll convince himself he’ll survive.

ME: And then?

HE: That’s when Senate Republicans pull the trigger.

ME: Really? Two-thirds of the Senate?

HE: Do the math. 47 Dems will be on board, so you need 19 Republicans. I can name almost that many who are already there. Won’t be hard to find the votes.

ME: But it will take months. And the country will be put through a ringer.

HE: I know. That’s the worst part.

ME: I mean, we could have civil war.

HE: Hell, no. That’s what he wants, but no chance. His approvals will be in the cellar. America will be glad to get rid of him.

ME: I hope you’re right.

HE: He’s a dangerous menace. He’ll be gone. And then he’ll be indicted, and Pence will pardon him. But the state investigations may put him in the clinker. Good riddance.

Fascist Reality Show: It’s Real

Two years after the 2016 presidential election, the Fascist Reality Show now emanating from the White House is very real. Yet, too many “liberals” and moderate Americans are complacent, if bemused. Most Americans see it in one of two ways. First, the “moderate” liberals especially enjoy scoffing with Rachael Maddow at the absurd and bombastic lying about almost everything, and the gross display of ignorance and incompetence. Others, some of whom even voted for the narcissistic sociopath (who I have called “the empty clown suit”) have reached a level of disgust that they have turned off politics entirely.

Michael.Moore

Michael Moore saw it coming.

Michael Moore had predicted the Trump win because he understands the plight of the American worker and his anger. Moore recognized that many Americans desperately needed to express their frustration with the two-party monopoly exploiting them from the nation’s capital. So, they threw a political “Molotov cocktail” at the electoral process that represented the corrupt system that failed to represent them. Once the Dem’s took out Bernie, they voted for the only remaining candidate who claimed to be an outsider.

Electoral Breakdown

However, Trump’s status as an outsider was one-dimensional as well as an economic lie. The New York financial elite from whom he had desperately sought acceptance for decades despised him. The Republican Party elite did not take him seriously until the primary voters changed their minds. The Democratic Party corporatist insiders cut off the only progressive populist challenger from outside of their establishment-controlled nomination process. So, populist tendencies turned to the only remaining claimant to the hopes of the ignored white working former middle class.

Many who would have voted for Bernie, instead chose the man who, back in the 1980s, investigative reporter David Kay Johnson had called the modern-day P.T. Barnum. But Trump’s demagoguery expertly played upon a sore spot in the psyche of racists, white nationalists, and outright neo-Nazis across America. He consciously ignited a spark of legitimacy for scapegoating and bigotry to build his base and win the primary election.

Then the maximal leader of the resentful and hate filled economic outsiders upped the ante. He recognized the growing population of former middle-class white males “and the women who loved them.” He callously exploited their growing resentment of lost aspirations and that of the much younger crowd who had already lost any hope of ever reaching the economic security their parents once had.

Trump incited violence in those who attended his rallies. He encouraged the racism and resentment against minorities and immigrants beginning to explode among formerly fringe groups of violent right-wing alienated youth in America. It is its striking and should be terrifying to see the parallel to similar risings of bullyboys in Europe.

Recognizing Fascism in the Making

The exact same forces of fear, resentment, and hatred fomented by Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s are at work and growing in the U.S. and Europe today. These are the leading indicators of growing instability of the mass society of alienated individuals that the corporate growth economy has created and failed to support in its relentless quest for the profits of expansion. Timothy Snyder in his small but powerful book, Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, offers a guide for citizen action to restore our democracy.
All the warning signs are all there.

Yes, it can happen here. The Fascist Reality Show is real. We must take up the fight for democracy, or we will lose it.

Communication, Contagion, and Conspiracy

Social contagion is an age-old process of collective behavior. It has been studied by sociologists in the U.S. for decades. In the economic sphere, stock market bubbles that end in a furious crash that reflects the contagion of panic. Economists cite the infamous

Tulipomania

A tulip, known as “the Viceroy,” 1637

collapse of the “Tulip Mania” in Holland in 1637 as the classic example of stock-market contagion gone suddenly reversed. The U.S. financial crash of 2008-9 had elements of contagion, but calculated actions by financial elites artificially drove the market in mortgage derivatives to collapse.

The New Contagion

Today, socio-political contagion has achieved new heights of both intensity and extension through social media. When life is relatively stable, most people behave in routine and mostly traditional ways. They find comfort in the predictability of everyday life supported by a regular paycheck, manageable debt, and hope for a better future. Only when things get dicey do conspiracy theories proliferate and extreme political movements grow contagious and threaten the established order.

Of course, we can always find social outliers in society. Dreamers, artists, and explorers of the unknown chafe at the constraints of social habit. They are restless seekers of new ideas, new images, new frontiers, and vindication for their fertile imaginations. Most of us live in a world where our habitual behaviors are far more important to us than any deviation from social norms. However, that is rapidly changing. As “normalcy” disintegrates and economic and social stability dissipates, fear of the other rises, resentments follow growing instability, and many more people become subject to manipulation by political demagogues.

Conspiracy of Concordance

Today’s socio-political contagion does not result from the imagination of dreamers. Instead, it results from increasingly unstable conditions of life in the last stages of the industrial era. Most people in the industrialized societies of Europe and North America know in their guts that things are not exactly as claimed by the economic culture or dominant institutions. Opportunists such as Steve Bannon quickly exploit the chance to use fear and resentment to their advantage.

The rise to power by neo-fascists, white nationalists, and outright political scam artists rides on the hatred they can generate toward the scapegoats they blame for the conditions brought on by extractive capital and its agents. The societal failures of an industrial system designed to concentrate wealth and power by exploiting land, air, water, and people provide the grist for their mill of hatred. The real conspiracy is between these political opportunists and the super-rich who bankroll them, not among refugees or racial minorities. The political elite rewards their benefactors by tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and de-regulation for their corporations, then find scapegoats to blame for the painful consequences.

Science and Sanity

The evidence of increasing instability mounts, as the average citizen’s ability to make a living and avoid danger, grows ever more difficult. The evidence of reaching the limits of

highwaterline_miami1

High water coming to Miami soon.

plundering Nature becomes more obvious as the health effects of polluted air, water, and land reach new heights. More frequent and more intense extreme weather events penetrate our emotional shields even as many cognitively deny their human causality. Active suppression of scientific findings by the Trumpists and their financial backers attempts to hide the solid evidence of growing planetary danger. The absurdity of “climate denial” grows with each new report of accelerating glacier melt, drought, superstorms, and species extinction.

It really does not matter whether we prefer to attribute “conspiracy” to the forces of extractive capital, political demagoguery and the culture of hate. These forces need not meet in a smoke-filled room to plot strategy and coordinate their behavior. Their cultural beliefs and economic interests result in coordinated action to gain more and more power.

It is up to the rest of us to find ways to turn our lives away from the destruction they foment and shape a world in which we can live. Little time remains to resist hatred, restore ecosystems, and re-establish our resilience. We must combine human civility with scientific rigor to take the drastic steps needed to dampen the chaos that grows daily.

Departments of Insecurity and Dysfunction

I remember when most Americans most of the time lived in a world of predictable events, stable relationships, and reasonable expectations for the future. Well, our worlds are mostly not so stable anymore. That, after all, is what much of the current political turbulence is all about. Everyone seeks the novelty of interesting things, but not if they interfere with the stability of our everyday lives.

In 2016, fed-up with the self-serving political stagnation and corruption, voters decided to try an “outsider.” Had the Democratic Party nomination process been democratic, they might have chosen an independent predictably moral grandfather figure. But an inveterate real estate huckster effectively conned them into picking the brash disrupter over a corporate insider.

Never mind the fact that she won the popular vote; never mind the voter suppression, never mind gerrymandering; never mind Russian trolls. Resentment of stagnation and corruption of the political process drove many angry voters, as Michael Moore put it, to throw a political “Molotov cocktail” into the arena.

Even in these turbulent times, when the lives of so many have destabilized, we tend to see the institutional world out there as a given. Well, not so much. What we thought was certain, what we thought we could count on, has been “kicked under the bus.”

Constitutional Chaos

We tend to see American society as a stable institutional structure, ordained by the Constitution. We may see politics as an unfortunate if necessary disturbance of the normal process of constitutional government. Even in these times of administrative disruption of numerous departments and agencies, we believe that the institutions of the nation are rock-solid entities beyond the range of any threat to their existence. We remain placidly comfortable in the Constitution and the institutions it supports as if nothing could change what the founding fathers wrote in it. We see villains pecking at the perimeter, but no real threat.

Whether we are strict constructionists or interpretive relativists, we see the Constitution as a sacred and solid guide to the conduct of government and of citizens. Well, actually, no institution is any stronger than the beliefs and actions of the people who sustain it. The ties that bind an institution together are only as strong as the commitment of the people charged with overseeing its operations. What interests do they have in holding it together as required by the Constitution? What if a president appoints political hacks to cabinet posts or as directors of core federal agencies, who are diametrically opposed to the very mission of those institutions? Well, here we are.

Destructive Deconstruction

We now have plenty of evidence for what happens when a leader intends to “deconstruct” a department or agency. Typically, the appointed leader is “in bed with” the entities that legislation mandates the institution to regulate or prosecute. If so, s/he can do a lot of damage to the mission and morale of its members. Such “leadership” can divert and stifle normal operations and drive dedicated public servants away in despair.

Institutions do not stand alone. They stand only in the values of leaders who believe in them and support employees in carrying out their mandate. Yes, people come and go as members and leaders over the years. Yet in normal times, the structure and purpose remain stable and clear. That is because leaders of variable competence and commitment either drive the institution to greater achievement or do not much get in the way of effective performance.

However, if a president appoints a “leader” to administer an agency or department with the explicit intent to eliminate its function in society by budget constraints, executive orders, or censoring reports, all hell breaks loose. Employees committed to the mandate of their organization will retreat into obscurity to keep their jobs or they will resign on principle. The organization and its mission suffer severely and the destroyers claim victory.

Plunder and Plutocracy Propagate Profusely

Today, a presumptuous president produces an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. His executive appointees are hell-bent on reducing and eliminating any function or operation that does not serve his and his cronies’ economic interests. The plutocratic class of super-rich corporate and financial elites have already benefitted immensely, both financially and politically. They wallow in new freedoms from social and environmental responsibility and from windfall tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The appointment of Supreme Court justices that favor corporations and the ultra-wealthy over the people and the public interest, assures the continued future strength of the plutocrats. Hence, continued climate denial in the face of overwhelming catastrophic facts. No wonder the Republicans, who are more heavily bribed by the wealthiest of the wealthy than the poorly organized corporate Democrats, faun over the political pretender they initially despised. No wonder they are now so “loyal” to the would-be dictator. Their greed matches his.

Rob Riemen warns us in his brief book, To Fight Against this Age, of the dangers of the new rise of fascism. Timothy Snyder urges us to practice citizenship as argued in his small book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, to avoid falling under the spell of a would-be fascist dictator. These two scholars, one Dutch and one American, sum up the clear lessons of history on how to retain democracy and freedom. We must learn them or lose both.