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.

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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.

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.

On the Rails Again: Euro Trains are No Amtrak

Another in the series of occasional rants by the Mad Jubilado.

Over two hundred kilometers per hour? That’s more than 124 mph! Well, we seemed to be going pretty fast.  It was no Shinkansen (the Japanese “Bullet Train”) rocketing the 330 miles from Tocho-Mai Station in Tokyo to Kyoto between 150 and 200 mph. In the U.S., the contrast is striking.  Amtrak passenger trains dare not go over about 65 mph, and with good reason. The European trains are quiet, fast, and comfortable.

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Dutch Tulips

In Tokyo, trains routinely pull up to the platform and stop exactly as scheduled, to the second, after their high-speed runs. Departure times are equally precise. In Europe, they are very close. In the U.S., well, things are different. Here, passenger trains have been relegated to a second-class status, behind the more profitable freight trains. They are not particularly comfortable, fast, or on time. Moving all that coal, oil, and Chinese manufactured consumer goods imported by U.S. corporations, gets first billing. Gotta sell that junk to Americans who have lost their well-paid manufacturing jobs and now work as Walmart greeters or fast food cashiers. That is the priority, not public transportation.

Like so much here, public transportation systems have been ‘privatized,’ leaving the public interest behind. The railroads were created to help stimulate western expansion. The federal government gave wide swaths of land to railroad companies to encourage their development. Huge profits were made not only on the rails themselves but in the many land deals that followed. Private corporate exploitation of the commonwealth continues apace, with little challenge.

Now, the railroad companies act like it is their God-given right to exploit those properties in their own interest, the public be damned. Contrary to the corporate “free market” ideology, most of the magnificent technological developments of the industrial era were subsidized by the public purse. The prime beneficiaries have been the private corporations that took advantage of government largess. Any public benefit was secondary, though there have been many. Unlike Europe, where public infrastructure is valued and maintained, here it is all about the next subsidy or tax break for the corporations and super-rich, to be paid for by squeezing public infrastructure and services ever more tightly as the national debt grows.

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On the Rails to Haarlem

The speed, smooth ride, and quiet on the electric European rail lines got my attention. I don’t remember a more comfortable train ride anywhere else. Then I saw the flat panel display on the forward bulkhead in the rather new passenger car. It displayed the speed in kilometers per hour and the time of arrival at the next station. We were on the TGV, the Euro Rail line, heading from Lyon, France to Haarlem, Netherlands.

The French countryside is a beautiful green in springtime. The tulips are in bloom all across the flat lowlands of Holland. What color! The mix of architecture in passing towns and cities, ranging from medieval to modern, is a bit dissonant in its charm. It is all so lovely to watch through the large windows of our passing train. It is almost as if nothing has changed in the world…but it has.

If there is to be a solution to the converging crises of climate chaos, poverty, resource wars, failed agriculture, mass starvation and forced migrations, it must include transforming public infrastructure to create low-carbon forms of transportation, powered by solar and wind-generated electricity and human energy. Trains, trams, and bicycles must become an essential element of a new life strategy, if we let it. The U.S. is so far behind. We wallow in political fights over false narratives while the planet burns. Making significant progress on issues like public transportation will require a political revolution.

Eve Ensler Said It Best

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Eve Ensler  [photo: Getty]

This was Eve Ensler’s response in Time Magazine to the women who support the elevation of an alcoholic misogynist plutocratic predator to the highest court in the land. The struggle continues, though it seems, has just begun.

A Letter to White Women Who Support Brett Kavanaugh

By Eve Ensler, TIME

05 October 18

n Oct. 2, I watched the President of the United States mock a woman who had recounted the trauma of being sexually assaulted in front of the world, on live television. And as he did so, a recent poll rattled around my head. The survey found that, while white men regularly supported Kavanaugh the most, white women also did so significantly more than Hispanic or black people overall. For example, 45% of white women said Kavanaugh should be confirmed, compared to 30% of Hispanic people and 11% of black people. Like so much of these recent weeks, it made me reflect. But even more so, it made me want to write to those women. Not lecture them. Not denigrate them. Just simply to speak to them directly and to try to explain my feelings. This is what I wrote:

Dear white women who support Brett Kavanaugh,

Last night when I saw Donald Trump mock Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I couldn’t help focusing on the women behind him who cheered and laughed. I felt like I was falling into a familiar nightmare. It compelled me to reach out to you.

When I was a child my father sexually abused and beat me. My mother did not protect me. She sided with my father, just like these women sided with Donald Trump, and I understand why. She sided with him because he was the breadwinner. She sided with him because of her need to survive. She sided with him because the reality of what was happening in front of her was so terrible, it was easier not to see.

She sided with him because she was brought up never to question a man. She was taught to serve men and make men happy. She was trained not to believe women. It was only much later, after my father died, that she was able to acknowledge the truth of my childhood and to ask for my forgiveness. It was only then, too late, that she was able to see how she had sacrificed her daughter for security and comfort. She used those words. I was her “sacrifice.”

Some people when they look at this video of women laughing at Dr. Ford, will see callousness. I see distancing. I see denial. I have worked on ending violence against women for 20 years. I have traveled this country many times. I have sat with women of all ages and political persuasions. I remember the first performances of my play The Vagina Monologues in Oklahoma City, when half the women in the audience came up to tell me they had been raped or battered. Most of them whispered it to me, and often I was the first and only person they had told. Until that moment, they had found a way to normalize it. Expect it. Accept it. Deny it.

I don’t believe you want to have to choose your sons and your husbands over your daughters. I don’t believe you want the pain that was inflicted on us inflicted on future generations.

I know the risk many of you take in coming out to say you believe a woman over a man. It means you might then have to recognize and believe your own experience. If one out of three women in the world have been raped or beaten, it must mean some of you have had this experience. To believe another woman means having to touch into the pain and fear and sorrow and rage of your own experience and that sometimes feels unbearable. I know because it took me years to come out of my own denial and to break with my perpetrator, my father. To speak the truth that risked upending the comfort of my very carefully constructed life. But I can tell you that living a lie is living half a life. It was only after telling my story that I knew happiness and freedom.

I know the risk others of you face who have witnessed those you love suffer the traumatic after-effects of violence and those who worry for both your sons and daughters that may someday face this violence

I write to you because we need you, the way I once needed my mother. We need you to stand with women who are breaking the silence in spite of their terror and shame. I believe inside the bodies of some of those women who laughed at that rally were other impulses and feelings they weren’t expressing.

Here is why I believe you should take this stand with me. Violence against women destroys our souls. It annihilates our sense of self. It numbs us. It separates us from our bodies. It is the tool used to keep us second-class citizens. And if we don’t address it, it can lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating and suicide. It makes us believe we are not worthy of happiness.

It took my mother 40 years to see what her denial has done and to apologize to me. I don’t think you want to apologize to your daughters forty years from now. Stop the ascension of a man who is angry, aggressive, and vengeful and could very well be a sexual assaulter. Time is short. Call your senators. Stop laughing and start fighting.

With all my love,

Eve

Whitewashing the Predatory Patriarchy Cover-up

Even if a couple of Republican senators were to revolt and vote against confirming the nomination of Brent Kavanagh to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, the “culture war” over the subjugation of women would escalate. How could it not? A Predatory Patriarchy still rules the nation.

Kavanagh at hearingKavanagh rightly called his confirmation hearing a joke (or was it a circus?) but for all the wrong reasons. His behavior reflected classic alcoholic denial/projection as he aggressively attacked and dodged legitimate questions. It also reflected his powerfully self-indulgent sense of entitlement to yet another among many privileges in his patrician life.

No Laughing Matter

But who was laughing? Certainly not Senator Grassley, who chairs the judicial committee, as he struggled to retain old-white-men privileges for the committee’s majority in ramrodding through the alcoholic misogynous serial predator’s confirmation. Certainly not Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who struggled to perform her civic duty in a deeply hostile environment dominated by predatory patricians seething with disrespect for a woman who would dare stand up and tell her story of Kavanagh’s attempted rape. Her courage befuddled the patriarchs of “the beltway,” who were not laughing. The event most deeply seared into her memory was her assailant and his accomplice laughing, finding their abuse of a fifteen-year-old girl so hilarious.

I remember as a teenager, young men who laughed as they tormented a small animal or bullied another kid on the athletic field or hallway. Torturing others was somehow funny to them. Kavanagh appeared bemused as he attacked Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota when she asked him about his drinking behavior, demanding to know if she had ever blacked out from excessive drinking. Of course, not all ritual degradation is physically violent. But Kavanagh’s attempts to belittle and patronize his questioners, particularly the women, was certainly verbally violent. I was particularly impressed with the unbending Kamala Harris when he persisted in dodging her direct questions.

Congressional Cover-up

As the hearing proceeded, various media quoted growing numbers of potential witnesses who contradicted Kavanagh’s dissembling and evading questions about serial belligerent drunkenness and sexual aggression by him and his friends. Some offered sworn affidavits; almost all but Mark Judge were willing for the Committee or the FBI to interview them under oath. The pressure to have the FBI re-open the background investigation of this nominee to the nation’s highest court.

Finally, Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, walked out of the hearing signaling his friend, Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware, to join him in an anteroom. They agreed on a compromise. As a condition for Flake to vote to refer the nomination to the full Senate, the FBI would be allowed one week to interview corroborating witnesses and new accusers, if the President authorized the reopening of the background investigation.

Whitewashing the Cover-up

As always, Trump sent contradictory signals, claiming publicly that the FBI would have full reign, while the scope of the investigation appeared to be severely restricted. Neither Blasey Ford nor Kavanagh was interviewed and the FBI gave numerous other witnesses given the runaround. The FBI submitted a “report” of the investigation to the Committee halfway through the week authorized for the investigation. It appeared that they followed no leads, so there was not much to report. Mitch McConnell proclaimed that a thorough FBI investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, and immediately called for a vote to confirm by that Saturday.

The predatory patriarchy duly whitewashed the cover-up.

The self-entitled political ruling class has once again raped justice and democracy. We are all Dr. Christine Blasey Ford now.

Mind of a Rapist

Rape is a violent crime of domination. Violence, of course, is the ultimate act of domination. We tend to see violence as an act of physical force leading to either physical injury or death, and it often is. But violence can also take on more subtle forms.

Not all domination directly entails physical force. Some forms of dominance involve mental violence. Spousal abuse, as well as sexual harassment, can take social psychological forms involving no physical act. Some forms of abuse consist mainly of “degradation rituals.” Trump is a master of ritual degradation.

Domination often comes under the “color of authority,” whether physically violent or not. When abusers lead large organizations, the result is often institutionalized degradation of whole populations or vulnerable communities. Elites often subject whole classes of victims to exploitation for profit. So-called “authorities” too often exhibit sociopathic tendencies in their “enforcement” of rules, regulations, or laws.

Sociopathy Empowered

Rapists, like all sociopaths, seek to exercise power by any means necessary to control and exploit their victims. Many power-seekers use their aggression to gain social, economic, or political power. It is not surprising, therefore, that a greater percentage of people in positions of authority are sociopaths than in the general population. Bullies typically begin their abuse at an early age.

Whether he is drunk or not, a seventeen-year-old who attempts to rape a fifteen-year-old exhibits sociopathic behavior; he is a rapist. We should not dismiss such bullying as a mere youthful indiscretion. Instead, attempted rape reflects a deep personality disorder that is not likely to change in adulthood.

However, many sociopaths disguise their lack of empathy within aggressive acts once they become executives, jurists, or politicians who have great power over others. Sophisticated bullies often disguise their ruthless exercise of power as the mere execution of legal principals. We can find bullies in all economic classes, of course. But those who rise within economic and political elites pose a far greater danger to society than any street hustler.

Most experts on sociopathy/psychopathy agree that it is not a curable condition. While sociopaths learn to appear to conform to social norms of civility and even kindness, they actually have little or no empathy for others. Some more severe cases engage in ruthless Trumpery and, while they demand absolute loyalty from their associates, they do not hesitate to “throw them under the bus” if that is convenient. We have too many examples of that emanating from the highest political office in the land.

Many sociopaths adapt to their social surroundings by deploying a practiced charm. As a result, they become quite successful, especially if they went to elite prep schools and universities. In such higher social strata, they develop connections with the sons and daughters of other well-connected families, which they use throughout their careers.

The Career Rapist

It is not unusual for men from wealthy families, who have a need to dominate others, to occupy high offices. Such men often cling to a set of political beliefs that reflect their obsessive desire to dominate, disparage, and dismiss the rights of vulnerable minority peoples. They often advocate for laws that oppress minorities (and women) even further. Too often, they have successful careers.

Sociopaths just do not feel whole if they fail to dominate others from groups they see as weaker and therefore undeserving of respect or rights. That is why fascists are also racists and racists have authoritarian personalities so similar to those of fascists. Nor is it particularly surprising that sociopaths, who usually also display elements of narcissism, express their need to dominate by one form of sexual predation or another. Executive power affords so many opportunities for sexual harassment in male-dominated organizations.

Rape of Democracy

170px-Brett_Michael_Kavanaugh_(2004)Many abusers avoid public exposure for decades. A few, when subject to close scrutiny, such as in a vetting process when nominated for high office, say, Supreme Court justice may be finally exposed. That sends an already corrupt “advise and consent” process into a tailspin with politicians running in all directions for cover.

The accuser is doubly victimized when political allies of the “closet predator” dismiss the claims of a female victim, by using various forms of sexist derision and patronizing innuendo, all while feigning the concern for “giving her a fair hearing.” Anita Hill was the classic victim of such sociopathic politics.

Entrenched politicians see it all as “just politics.” Since many politicians have sociopathic tendencies themselves, those who are allies of the perpetrator rally to his defense using every available discounting and delegitimizing technique they can muster.

In the political realm, when all this happens, another unacknowledged victim of rape is Democracy herself.