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“With Freedom Comes Responsibility”

(About a 6 minute read)

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  — Martin Luther King, jr.

 

In high school, I had a math teacher — who I blogged about here — who was something of a political outlaw back in his day.

He was a member of the John Birch society.  A political organization founded by a millionaire that espoused, among other things, the notion Eisenhower had been a communist agent of the Soviet Union, and that had even attacked the nation’s parent-teacher associations as somehow subversive of American values.

The Birchers had been cast out of mainstream American politics by William F. Buckley, the most influential right-wing political thinker and pundit of the time (They would not return to the mainstream until our own age, in 2010).  Buckley considered them dangerous fools and radicals.

Continue reading ““With Freedom Comes Responsibility””

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Bernie Sanders Tells the Truth, But Does it Give You Hope?

Perhaps like most members of our species of incredibly sophisticated poo-flinging super-apes, I am fully capable of taking pleasure in imagining  things that happen not, in fact, to be true.

Often enough, my imaginings are clearly fantastic: For instance, the extraordinarily pleasant fantasy that I have been elected Emperor of the Planet, and have managed to end war, involuntary poverty, disease, crime, and vicious paper cuts while at the same time justly employing my imperial powers to at last wreak final revenge on that hideous Brian T. Jurgens, who unfairly and outrageously gave me a black eye in third grade before I could unfairly and outrageously give him a black eye.

Not that the memory of losing a distant childhood battle to a person of no consequence such as Brian could possibly still rankle even in full adulthood a man of my dignity and advanced wisdom: In truth, I’m only dispassionately interested in doing justice, you see, and the uncontrollable cackling you might now hear if you were nearby has nothing at all to do with obsessed glee at the merest fleeting mental image of sauteing Brian in a man-size pan of boiling dragon’s pee.

In addition to all my other noble accomplishments as Emperor, I also once tried fantasizing that I got imperially laid without, however, inflicting insufferable boredom on the lady who laid me, but even in fantasies there are limits to what a person is able to consider imaginable.

Or are there limits?  I was reminded just yesterday morning of how flimsy is the notion of limits to what we can think conceivable when an old priest approvingly quoted a statement once made by Pope John Paul II on the topic of homosexual marriage:

 “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

Now, I think the Pope’s statement is fantastic.  That is, it seems to me right up there on the same level of fantasy as my imagining I am the Emperor of the Planet.  For, so far as I can see, the two claims have in common that there is not one single bit of sound evidence in support of either one of them.    But the fact the Pope’s statement is bunk isn’t what really struck me about it.

What really struck me was how the statement is just one small drop in a daily flood of nonsense. Some long time ago, I stumbled across a beautiful book of Native American poetry.  One of the poems spoke powerfully of someone who was a pathological liar: “And your words when you speak are like a wind from four quarters that carries the dust to my eyes no matter which way I turn.”  It can seem like that — seem like there’s no direction you can turn, nor place you can go in society today, that you are not being told nonsense.

Nonsense such as the Theory of Evolution is scientifically unsound, there is little or no climate change brought about by our burning fossil fuels, abstinence-only sex education works as advertised, cutting taxes on the rich will bring jobs and prosperity for all, and even that there is a War on Christmas — among many, many other such things.

And that, in a rather round about way, brings me now to Bernie Sanders.

Sanders seems to me usually honest, especially for a politician.   And — apparently by telling the truth (!) about such things as the nature, causes, and consequences of income inequality — he has become quite popular.

When the old priest quoted John Paul II yesterday morning, I at first reacted like I usually do when told a lie:  I internally sighed because I thought of how so many of us  believe such lies.  For perhaps what is most overwhelming about the daily flood is not so much the lies themselves but that so many of us swallow those lies.  How can one view with optimism the long term fate of our noble species of advanced spear-chuckers if we are basically such fools, such simple-minded fools?

But then along has come Sanders who both tells the truth  and, apparently, has struck a chord with folks by telling the truth.  He not only draws people to his speeches in record numbers, but he is also surging in many polls.

In a way, whether Sanders wins the nomination or the presidency matters less than the extraordinary response he’s gotten to speaking truth:  Speaking it — not to the powerful — but to common people.  To people that so many of our powerful elites these days seem to contemptuously think of as easily manipulated and exploited dolts.  Yet I think people’s response to Sanders permits us cautious hope for a better future, for it possibly bodes that sooner or later the truth will prevail among us despite the daily flood of lies.  However, another part of me worries that I am once again only fantasizing, and that the people’s response to Sanders means no such thing.  I suppose time will tell which part of me is correct.

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Some Reactions to the Debt Ceiling Deal

We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

From “The President Surrenders”, posted in The New York Times, by Paul Krugman.

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How can the leader of the Democratic Party wage an all-out war on the ostensible core beliefs of the Party’s voters in this manner and expect not just to survive, but thrive politically?  Democratic Party functionaries are not shy about saying exactly what they’re thinking in this regard:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said polling data showed that at this point in his term, Mr. Obama, compared with past Democratic presidents, was doing as well or better with Democratic voters. “Whatever qualms or questions they may have about this policy or that policy, at the end of the day the one thing they’re absolutely certain of — they’re going to hate these Republican candidates,” Mr. Mellman said. “So I’m not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.”

In other words: it makes no difference to us how much we stomp on liberals’ beliefs or how much they squawk, because we’ll just wave around enough pictures of Michele Bachmann and scare them into unconditional submission. That’s the Democratic Party’s core calculation: from “hope” in 2008 to a rank fear-mongering campaign in 2012.

From “Democratic Politics in a Nutshell”, posted on Salon.com, by Glenn Greenwald.

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Overheard: Thanks for protecting the job creators, you know for creating jobs for chauffeurs, valets, domestic help, and most importantly seamstresses who specialize in crafting $100 bills into luxurious overcoats. ~ Jim Cutler

From “US Debt Highlights ~ The Day After…”, posted on The Bis Key Chronicles, by Gandalfe

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The protracted negotiations over the debt ceiling, as well as the final package agreed to by President Obama and the congressional leadership, show what happens when a small minority is allowed to gain control over national debate. While polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public sees jobs as the main problem facing the economy, there has been a well-funded crusade to ignore public opinion and make cuts to social insurance programs and other spending the top priority for Congress and the President.

From “Statement on the Debt Ceiling Deal“, posted on The Center for Economic and Policy Research Website, by Dean Baker.

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“Shame on you! you who make unjust laws and publish burdensome decrees, depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, despoiling the widow and plundering the orphan. What will you do when called to account, when ruin from afar confronts you? To whom will you flee for help?”

– Isaiah 10:1-3

From “A Warning to Congress”, posted on Dover Beach, by Θεόφιλος.

 

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Draft Bernie Sanders for President 2012?

I stole the above chart from Kay’s blog.  The thought of Bernie Sanders challenging Barack Obama for the presidency made me curious about the answers to a number of questions.

For instance: I can easily believe Obama is to the right of most Americans these days, but is Sanders still to the left of most Americans?  Or has he moved right like all the other politicians?  And, if so, is he now in the middle?

Wouldn’t it be funny if Bernie Sanders is closer to mainstream public opinion in this country than either Barack Obama or the Republican members of our National Corporate Party?

I don’t suppose Sanders has a chance, but that’s not the same as saying Sanders would make a bad president.  If you feel like encouraging the old guy, you can sign the “Draft Bernie Petition” here.

_____________________________

UPDATED:  Post corrected to reflect the fact Sanders is not in the same party as Obama.

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Will Obama Cut Social Security?

“Let us be clear,” Sanders said. “Social Security has not contributed one nickel to our deficit or our national debt.” The program that benefits more than 50 million seniors and disabled has a $2.6 trillion surplus, he stressed, and will be able to provide full benefits for every eligible American for the next 25 years. “I am especially disturbed that President Obama is considering cuts in Social Security after he campaigned against cuts in 2008,” Sanders added.

From “Give ’em Hell Bernie“, posted on Kay’s Thinking Cap, by Kay.

 

President Obama raised more than $86 million for his re-election campaign from April to June, his campaign announced Wednesday, far outpacing his Republican rivals and breaking all previous fundraising records by incumbent presidents.

From “Obama Raises $86 Million in Campaign Cash“, posted on The Slatest, by Peter Fulham.

With Obama sitting on top of record campaign contributions, what do you suppose are the odds he feels any pressure to not cut Social Security?

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Senator Chuck Shumer on Republican Efforts to Undermine the Economy

I want to talk today about the economy and jobs, and the concerns I have that not only has the Republican agenda jeopardized our recovery, but that political gamesmanship is trumping the vital needs of hard working Americans across the country.

It is time to stop beating around the bush and call it as it is. The evidence is clear: the Republican approach of ‘cut, cut, cut’ over the last six months has undermined our economic recovery.

Toward the end of last year, the recovery was gaining momentum – GDP grew 2.6% in the third quarter and 3.1% in the fourth quarter. But in the first half of 2011, as the federal government increasingly withdrew support from the economy and Republicans continually blocked us from doing anything to create jobs, growth has fallen to less than 2%.

The Republicans can say all they want that we can cut our way to prosperity, but is at odds with all the empirical evidence we have. We know from history, as well as from what we are seeing in other parts of the world right now, that cuts on the scale they have proposed in the middle of a recession will lead to lower economic growth and less job creation, not more.

And we need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable question – are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012? It’s one thing for them to block programs they have always opposed. But when they start to contradict themselves by opposing programs they have supported—such as pro-business tax cuts—we are left to wonder.

Senator Chuck Shumer

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Should Progressives Support the Democratic Party?

“I maintain that fully supporting either of the two major parties is morally wrong. I maintain that we can not achieve peace by choosing the lesser warmonger, human rights by choosing the lesser trampler of human rights, or equality by choosing the lesser bigot. If liberals and progressives refuse to hold the Democratic Party to account — not just with our words, but with our votes — then all is lost, and we will be complicit in that loss.”

DV8

Do you agree with DV8?  Why or why not?

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Speaking of G-Strings…

I just remembered the issue of G-strings more or less came up during a local election a few years ago.  One of the town’s news organizations polled the candidates for city council on the various issues of the day.  And for unknown reasons, their poll included a question or two about what candidates planned to do to further regulate the town’s erotic dance clubs.

Now, this town does not normally have a wide range of political representation.  There is almost no real left here, except if you want to call one lonely, moderate Democrat a real leftist.  How he gets elected is quite beyond my poor power to fathom.

On the other hand, the right wing extends all the way to the extreme right…and then maybe a bit beyond that to include folks who would — in all probability — find a way to privatize the town’s moonlight on the grounds that free moonlight is godless socialism.  So, you might expect to find a bit — not too much, but a bit — of disagreement among the candidates on the issue of further regulating the erotic dance clubs.  That is, you might at least expect there to be a moderate right wing candidate in favor of further regulation; an extreme right wing candidate in favor of complete deregulation; and, of course, an even more extreme right wing candidate in favor of requiring patrons to hand-over permission slips signed by their church pastors before being admitted to the clubs.

But that’s not how the candidates responded to the poll.  One and all, from the lonely, moderate Democrat right through the “deregulate everything” crowd and on to the “privatize the moonlight” folks, the candidates agreed that erotic dance clubs in this town must be further regulated.

In my more than 15 years in this town, it is the only issue I can recall that has united all factions in the local politics.

When I read that poll, and saw how mightily the scoundrels were united, I knew that regardless of who got elected that year, the city council was going to be hellbent on further regulating the erotic dance clubs.  So, I prepared for the worse.

I got busy mourning the lacy past and emotionally preparing myself for a future in which the local dancing girls would be required by draconian ordinance to avoid coming within 30 feet of a patron, while wearing high-collar flannel night gowns and bank vault quality steel g-strings.  I imagined the dancers staring out from their stage at a room full of distant men with binoculars.  I thought of the Gregorian chants I’d soon enough hear blasting from the club speakers, and of the exciting ways my favorite dancers would find to — not dance their sexuality — but to dance their solidarity with the State’s fence posts.

Then, not a damn thing happened.

No one on the new council bothered to write up and introduce even a single ordinance further regulating the dance clubs.  The issue wasn’t even mentioned in the meetings.  And no reporters followed up on the candidate’s campaign promises.  It had become a non-issue.

The only issue in recent history to unite the whole slate of candidates, was now the only issue in recent history to unite the whole body of the council.  The only difference was all the candidates had been for it, while all the council members were against it.

I could only marvel at how winning an election could change a person.

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Tom Tomorrow on Why the Democrats Lost

When all is said, maybe Tom Tomorrow, author of This Modern World, sums it up best.   I find myself in agreement with him.   And I think Tomorrow’s last panel is especially likely: Bipartisanship is dead.  What do you think?

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Glenn Greenwald on Progressives, Obama, and the Democratic Party

What should Progressives do next?

Three well informed — and I think reasonable — Progressives discuss the question here.

It turns out the three find themselves in solid agreement that Obama has abandoned Progressives, and that Progressives should therefore abandon Obama.   My guess is they are not alone in their thinking, but represent the thoughts and feelings of many Progressives these days.

Progressives seem to be close to taking on Obama and the Democratic Party in somewhat the same way that the Tea Party took on the Republican Party.  But “close” doesn’t count for much.  The question is, will they?

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Michael Kinsley on American Exceptionalism and the Meaning of the Elections

“The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it. A recent Yahoo poll (and I resist the obvious joke here) found that 75 percent of Americans believe that the United States is “the greatest country in the world.” Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is — and how wise?”

“Everybody will be talking in the next few days about the “message” of the elections. They mean, of course, the message from the voters. This is one of the treasured conventions of political journalism. Yesterday, the story was all about artifice and manipulation, the possible effect of the latest attack ad or absurd lie. Today, all that melts away. The election results are deemed to reflect grand historical trends. But my colleague Joe Scarborough got it right in these pages last week when he argued that the 2010 elections, for all their passion and vitriol, are basically irrelevant. Some people are voting Tuesday for calorie-free chocolate cake, and some are voting for fat-free ice cream. Neither option is actually available. Neither party’s candidates seriously addressed the national debt, except with proposals to make it even worse. Scarborough might have added that neither party’s candidates had much to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (except that they “support our troops,” a flabby formulation that leaves Americans killing and dying in faraway wars that politicians won’t defend explicitly). Politicians are silent on both these issues for the same reason: There is no solution that American voters will tolerate. Why can’t we have calorie-free chocolate cake? We’re Americans!”

Michael Kinsley

I’m not sure I entirely agree with Kinsley.  I think people for the most part vote either (1) party affiliation or (2) the economy as it effects them personally.  But I grant that, taking into account those two qualifications, voters can be pretty irrational.  But what do you think?

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Glenn Greenwald on Who Lost in Last Night’s Election

“But for slothful pundits who want to derive sweeping meaning from individual races in order to blame the Left and claim that last night was a repudiation of liberalism, the far more rational conclusion — given the eradication of 50% of the Blue Dog caucus — is that the worst possible choice Democrats can make is to run as GOP-replicating corporatists devoted above all else to serving corporate interests in order to perpetuate their own power: what Washington calls “centrists” and “conservative Democrats.” That is who bore the bulk of the brunt of last night’s Democratic bloodbath — not liberals.”

— Glenn Greenwald

NOTE:

See also Dave’s article on yesterday’s results here.