The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part IV: Foreign Policy

Defense spending makes up about 20%, a full fifth, of the U.S. federal budget; Social Security and various health-related programs like Medicare each make up another fifth apiece, so those three things by themselves make up 60% of government expenditures, and since things like Social Security and Medicare are trust funds separate from the rest of the budget, defense spending represents upwards of a third of the average American’s tax dollar, maybe close to half. The United States spends close to 5% of its GDP on its military, and represents over 40% of all the world’s military spending, meaning it spends nearly as much on its military as all the other countries of the world combined. Yet for supposedly fiscally minded conservatives, defense spending represents the untouchable third rail of American politics.

In the years since 9/11, there’s been an increased emphasis on the armed forces as American heroes and on “supporting the troops” as “defenders of America’s freedom”. The theory goes that we need to keep our military as strong as possible to keep up the fight against terror and defend America’s freedoms and status in the world. But when America spends nearly as much on our military as all the other nations of the world combined, doesn’t this reasoning start to ring a little hollow?

“Defending America’s freedom” may have been an important goal during the Cold War when it was important to keep pace with the Soviets, but the Cold War’s been over for over twenty years now. In recent decades, America’s military might has tended to undermine America’s security more than safeguard it. America has been accused of inadvertently building the Taliban and Osama bin Laden during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and 9/11 was in part a reaction to America’s support of Israel and military presence in the Gulf even then. America-backed coups during the Cold War have also contributed to anti-American sentiment in those countries in the present day, most famously in Iran; for much of the 20th century, some on the left have accused America’s military of advancing the interests of big corporations first and foremost.

Before the two World Wars, America had a long tradition of isolationism that dated back to George Washington, with conflict with other countries mostly involving the Americas themselves, and with the exception of the Napoleonic Wars (which took the form of the War of 1812 in America) stayed out of Europe’s conflicts. After World War II America, along with the Soviet Union, found itself the leading world power by default with Europe in ruins, and needed a strong, active military presence to support its allies and fend off Soviet influence. The Cold War lasted so long that by the time it ended, one needed to be on the verge of retirement to remember a time when America didn’t have some sort of enemy to fight, and some wondered what would fill the void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. For some people who only remembered the Cold War-era state of global geopolitics, the War on Terror was a godsend.

The real answer, though, was that nothing was going to fill the void, or at least nothing needed to. With America being the only nation with enough power to really make a huge dent in global geopolitics, and no real interest in doing so (at least directly), the pacifist streak dominant in intellectual circles since World War I could truly start to come to the fore and it became possible for the vast majority of the world’s nations to live in peace and harmony, competing only economically if at all. Today’s global priorities involve improving the well-being of people all over the globe and bringing them into this new global order, and we’ll explore some of them later in this series. To maintain this peace, the nations committed to it need to have enough of a “big stick” to effectively settle disputes, especially those threatening the global peace itself. Right now most of the military force enforcing this peace comes from the United States, precisely because a significant element within it doesn’t believe in the peace. This both allows the American Right to claim that it is only because of American military protection that Europe enjoys the life it lives, and the US itself to exploit “peacekeeping” missions for its own aims. The rest of the world needs to be willing to share more of the military burden to enforce the peace, and the US needs to let them.

Smart Tea Partiers recognize the absurdity of the United States’ military outlay in comparison to the actual need for national defense. But the movement’s intellectual godfather, Ron Paul, seems to be looking in the opposite direction as the rest of the world, supporting a neo-isolationism and withdrawing the United States from international organizations. Conservatives have long hated such organizations as threats to American sovereignty, but it seems disingenuous for them to support such neo-isolationism on the one hand and free trade with the nations such a pullout would antagonize on the other. For the United States to stop meddling with other nations’ affairs is welcome, but I’m not convinced pulling away from the rest of the world entirely and hiding in a corner is even an option anymore. The mere fact that organizations like the UN could be a threat to American sovereignty shows the fruitlessness of the exercise; some sovereignty has to be surrendered just to get along with the rest of the world. It’s true that the UN has been a massive disappointment at meeting it’s goals, but to pull out could destabilize the world order, depending on the reason for doing so. The United States bears a lot of the responsibility for the UN’s failures in the first place.

The United States’ decision not to participate in the International Criminal Court was seen in some corners as an excuse for the US to pull off war crimes if it wanted to. Things like that would be far less of an issue if the United States were to stop meddling in other nations’ affairs. Rather, the conservative desire to pull out of the UN seems to be rooted more in a fear that it represents a potential world government. That’s a legitimate, if long-term, concern and one the nations of the world may need to be on guard against, but several issues simply need to be managed on a global scale, even though there exists nothing that can enforce anything on a global scale effectively. The United States has as much of a stake in these issues as anyone else and I can’t imagine that staying out of global efforts to resolve them will actually be beneficial to the United States, especially in the long term.

For example, if the United States were serious about adopting a non-intervention policy its response to accusations that Iraq and Iran were developing nuclear weapons would be to allow international weapons inspectors to determine that. If they did, and intended to use them against the United States, the US could then defend itself against those countries, and ideally the international community would support the US in this. Even if the US had a strong enough military to crush Iraq or Iran and destroy their nuclear capabilities on their own, would it really be in their best interest to reject the support of the rest of the world? Or consider the action taken to support the rebels in Libya; followers of Paul would oppose it because the United States didn’t have a clear national interest in bringing down Qaddafi. Does that mean the United States isn’t committed to the spread of democracy around the world? Should a movement intent on giving power back to the American people be indifferent to the people of another country?

It’s time for America to adopt a policy of live and let live, no longer tinkering with other countries’ governments and only antagonizing them in the long term. The specifics of the policy are understandably controversial; more left-wing activists would support a doctrine of international cooperation, while Paulites would support a neo-isolationism. The former strikes me as more realistic, not only given the current world order but also because the government has already proven its propensity for defining the “national self-interest” in whatever terms it wants, terms that often end up not being in the “national self-interest” in the long term. We’ll stay in Afghanistan long enough to give it a modicum of stability, continue working to support a normalization of relations between Israel and Palestine, and work to build a strong international community that can be a strong advocate for peace around the world. Perhaps the peace and brotherhood America can form with its fellow nations can serve as a model for how we can live at home.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part III: Economic Recovery

Economics quiz: What is the best response the government should have to a recession? Is it:

  • A) To hand out a bunch of tax cuts?
  • B) To spend money on public works projects?
  • C) To do nothing?

Most economists would probably answer B. To see why B is a better answer than A, consider this scenario: Suppose there are two governments. One decides to give $1000 to the wealthy, the other spends $1000 on public works projects. Ultimately, all the money the second government spends on public works projects is going to make their way into the hands of people, whether construction workers, contractors, extractors of natural resources, you name it. So both governments are giving $1000 to various people, but the first government is handing it out for free while the second government is actually getting something for their money – and that something might benefit people who won’t directly receive any of the money, for example, the construction of roads.

A sizable chunk of the 2009 stimulus, on the other hand, went to tax cuts and maintaining the status quo for various government programs; arguably less than half went towards actual things the government could get for its money, and several economists voiced concerns that the whole thing wasn’t big enough to make enough of a dent in the recession. What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office raised concerns that the stimulus could actually be bad for the economy in the long term by adding to the nation’s debt and potentially crowding out private investment.

In any case, faced with this apparent recommendation against free markets and for bigger government from a field they normally depend on to recommend the opposite, the Tea Party would probably recommend C, do nothing – in fact, maybe even go in the opposite direction by loosening restrictions they see as holding the economy back. (Mainstream Republicans, on the other hand, seem to want to answer A.) Despite the prevalence of Keynesianism, there are certainly enough economists willing to argue that any government interference in the marketplace is bad no matter how bad the economy gets. It’s worth noting that no projections seem to indicate that the stimulus would actually shorten the recession, in terms of a return to baseline GDP, only make it less severe. There is evidence that the stimulus has created jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and any failure to meet the unemployment targets projected at the time is more because the recession itself was even worse than thought at the time, but it’s not clear that that alone should be the goal. On the other hand, most Keynesians would argue that the government should depress the economy when it starts riding too high, to prevent it from crashing and causing a far worse recession.

What this gets at is the question of what the government’s policy towards the economy should be: whether it should take an active role in creating optimum conditions for the economy to function, or whether that sort of thing just causes recessions in the first place? Even the people who are supposed to be experts can’t quite agree, so I sure as hell won’t even try to resolve the debate, and should someone like Ron Paul become president they would probably attempt to get the government to take a more hands-off approach. In turn, that debate is even further bound up in the debate about the government’s role in everything else, as opposed to the free market, and the appropriate level of taxation, raising a whole other set of issues.

That said, Keynesianism is mainstream enough that my introductory macroeconomics text seemingly presented it uncritically, and its most well-known critics, the Austrian School espoused by Ron Paul, are mostly rejected by most mainstream economists, since we haven’t had anything resembling even the depressions of the 19th century since the government took a more active role in the economy starting in the 30s (though the present recession has come close). Besides, the truth is that the government isn’t likely to take its hands off the economy, or anything else, anytime soon. Thus, I would tentatively support the stimulus, a larger stimulus, and a more spending-focused stimulus. As much as I don’t want to give more power to government, ultimately a lack of jobs are what’s at the heart of the Occupy movement, and if the stimulus can provide them, and it’s not clear anything else would, more power to it. Besides, many of the things the stimulus pays for are things the government, for good or ill, essentially has a monopoly on, things the free market ultimately relies on even if it might do better at it were it forced to take over.

What this touches on, though, is the central disagreement in American politics between the right and the left. The right believes the government should be as small as possible and not go meddling in people’s lives; the left believes the government has a duty to create good lives for everyone. If the government were wholly committed to one or the other it would probably produce the optimum effects each approach suggests, better than the compromise-enforced status quo, but since there remains disagreement over which approach is really best we end up with a mix of both worlds. Is there a way to get the best of both worlds, allow people to live their lives as they choose without the negative consequences that implies? I’ll attempt to answer that question as this series continues, starting with quite possibly the biggest and most telling example.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part II: Obamacare

Health care reform and universal health insurance is one of those issues that has popped up time and again in American politics for decades, dating back to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, if not further. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton tried and failed to enact their own reforms. In that context, love him or hate him (or his plan), the fact that Barack Obama was able to pass anything, in the most polarized political climate since at least the Civil War, is nothing short of astounding.

The spiraling costs of health care pose such a threat to the long-term viability of the federal government, especially as the baby boomers retire, that this should be an issue that both sides of the aisle can agree on. In practice, a lot of people, especially on the right, seem to be unclear as to what the issue actually is, seeing the health care debate as being less about health care and more about the role of government in our lives, and there’s a lot of disagreement over where to fix the problem. (It doesn’t help that “Obamacare” has become a bogeyman that has arguably overshadowed the actual contents of the bill.) A lot of Democrats made insurance companies into the scapegoat, calling for the government to institute a public option to force insurance companies to keep premiums down and stop discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions (the people who most need it) in the name of profit, if not take over the health insurance system entirely and adopt a single-payer system.

While I’m sympathetic to the Democrats’ stance, I’m still not convinced that repealing the health insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption wouldn’t have done a lot to solve those problems even on its own, without further government intervention in the marketplace. Ultimately, Obama wasn’t able to pass any form of public option, and the bill’s ultimate solution to the problem of the insurance industry could be seen as an adoption of my viewpoint. Perhaps the centerpiece of the bill is the establishment of an “exchange” with which individuals and businesses could compare and contrast various health plans. But this was coupled with numerous requirements for qualifying health plans and a universal coverage mandate. During the debate on the bill, while watching C-SPAN I saw Republican lawmakers denounce the “exchange” as sufficient to constitute a “government takeover” of health care, raising the specter of the government deciding which insurance plans you’ll have a “choice” from. The “exchange” comes across to me as more of a shadow free market than an actual one, one the Democrats didn’t have enough confidence in not to include instructions to insurance companies on what to do and what not to do on top of it.

I can see why the individual mandate, probably the most controversial specific provision, was included. Most young, healthy people consider themselves invulnerable and don’t think they’ll need health insurance for anything. Requiring them to get health insurance means they’re covered if they turn out to be wrong, while their healthiness makes them the insurance companies’ ideal customer and makes it easier for them to cover more marginal customers for less, possibly having the result of lowering insurance costs overall. Republicans have been most vocal in decrying the mandate, but even Keith Olbermann, then still with MSNBC, called for the mandate to be stripped after the public option died, claiming that with the mandate but no public option the bill amounted to a massive gift to the insurance companies. I suspect that betrays his lack of faith in capitalism and the free market more than anything else, but in any case I can definitely see a scenario where requiring everyone to get health insurance causes high and inelastic demand, theoretically allowing insurance companies to drive prices to the moon.

At any rate, all the emphasis on insurance may be at least slightly misguided anyway. A larger problem may involve the quality of care itself and how it’s delivered to patients. There’s little research on what treatments offer the best bang for the buck; doctors are presently paid based on how often they’re used, not with a constant salary, encouraging overtreatment; and there needs to be effort to encourage healthier lifestyles so people aren’t so reliant on the health care system in the first place. (This last may come up in later entries in this series.) Republicans would rather focus on tort reform, claiming that fear of malpractice suits is what drives up costs; I’m not convinced by Wikipedia’s analysis which focuses on the effect of the actual rather than perceived risk of malpractice. And we’re running the risk of shortages in doctors and nurses in the future. The health care legislation does confront many of these problems, though they’re clearly in the background compared to insurance reform.

This is too complex an issue for me to figure out what the best approach is, so I may revisit it later. My impression is that the health care bill is superior to the status quo ante, and any better reform would need to build off at least some of its provisions, and if the Republicans repeal it without providing some sort of replacement there may be some people who feel a bit betrayed. But I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if we had instituted a true free market, rather than one imposed by the government. As it stands, it may well turn out that the health care legislation will give more power to both government and business, and while I’d like to see how it plays out before making any rash decisions, if it does end up repealed we should insist that it be replaced with a bill that empowers patients first and foremost by encouraging, rather than stifling, innovation in all areas of health care. Perhaps it includes an individual mandate, perhaps not, but if it includes it it does so only if it’s been established that, combined with other reforms, it will improve health care costs and quality of health for all Americans, rather than serving as a giveaway to insurance companies.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part I: Reforming the Financial System

Yesterday I suggested that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street arose from a common impetus of the people fighting back against The Man holding them down, be The Man government or big business. I proposed that this common impetus could be seized to become the birth of a new political movement looking out for the best interests of the people rather than government or business.

Of course, if it were that simple, our political system wouldn’t be so gridlocked in the first place. So let’s start with OWS’ concern about the depredations of Wall Street, because it most clearly illustrates both the problem and the opportunity. Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have at least some of their roots in outrage over the huge bailouts given to big banks, but at the same time, who’s going to rein in Wall Street if not the government?

The question is really one of saving Wall Street from itself. It’s as much in Wall Street’s best interest as anyone for the economy to be humming along smoothly. Ask Lehman Brothers or the hordes of other banks that went down as a result of the financial crisis whether they enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else. Individuals who made money from the constructions that precipitated the financial crisis may have gotten off relatively scot-free, but that’s a different problem from “Occupy Wall Street”.

Wall Street’s problem is that, in their zeal to make money, they sometimes throw common sense to the wind and bamboozle themselves into the equivalent of a pyramid scheme. They delude themselves with a bunch of fuzzy math that says that, in aggregate, these investments are an awesome, can’t-miss proposition, even if there are enough not-so-can’t-miss investments hidden in there that the fuzzy math obscures that can still send the entire construct crashing into a heap. Wall Street may have swindled each other and the public, but first and foremost, they swindled themselves. The biggest problem with untangling the financial crisis is that Wall Street failed to do what one would think it would do regardless of what anyone tells it to.

Painting “Wall Street” as the monolithic villain of the story is probably unfair unless you’re arguing against capitalism itself. At least in theory, big investment banks are the engine that drives the system of capitalism, lending the money that allows people to do everything from starting a business to buying a home. If you’ve ever taken student loan money or saved for retirement, your money has probably been tied up in what Wall Street does, and you’re counting on them to make sure you get it back in one piece. Ideally, Wall Street does this precisely by working for its own benefit, because that benefit should be passed down to the people whose money has passed through there, through lower or higher interest rates. It could be said, if you wanted to oversimplify, that a bank’s role is to temporarily redistribute money from those who have it to those who need it, in the hopes that the same money will eventually flow back in the other direction.

Of course, part of the reason why that’s an oversimplification is that banks have what might be considered a weird definition of “need”. Banks are obviously not in the business of simply handing out money to the poor; arguably, getting into that business is what precipitated the housing crisis. Rather, banks lend out their money to people who will (hopefully) use that money to make more money, both powering the economy and allowing them to pay back that money with interest.

The problem is not that Wall Street is too powerful in and of itself. The reason why Wall Street was able to bamboozle itself was because certain specific banks became so big they could effectively act with impunity. Even that isn’t really a bad thing in and of itself, because lost in all the talk of all the risky loans banks handed out is that without risk, there’s no reward. The problem comes when banks become completely isolated from any negative consequences of their actions at the peak of their power, with nothing stopping them from bringing down the entire economy once they’re big enough to potentially do so, because the government will bail them out if they do. The alliance between government and business isn’t even all that great for business.

The answer isn’t to burn down Wall Street entirely, or even for the government to put up barriers to confine it, reducing the incentive for success. What’s needed is some way to keep Wall Street from bringing down the economy without restricting their ability to grow it. That means transparency, not control; rather than tell Wall Street what to do, let’s make sure we know what it is doing. We need independent watchdogs who can keep an eye on what Wall Street is up to and determine whether or not it’s working, watchdogs who can be trusted not to be in Wall Street’s pocket, but can speak up whenever it starts undermining itself – and who will be listened to when they do. And rather than bailing out banks that are “too big to fail”, the government should instead mitigate the damage by protecting such banks’ assets, getting everyone off the bus before it crashes, possibly by liquidating those assets on other banks or even taking them on itself. If the government does need to resort to bailouts, we need to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

Wall Street needs a check on its power the American people can trust, not one that can’t keep up with it, only seeks to build its own power at Wall Street’s expense, or worst of all, actually makes it easier for Wall Street to abuse its power.

The Tea Party Occupies Wall Street

The funny thing about the “people’s movements” that have energized both sides of the aisle and challenged their respective parties over the course of the past three years is that they’re not inherently incompatible.

In fact, they largely stem from the same source. The Tea Party was a reaction to the perceived encroaching dominance and enriching of government; Occupy Wall Street was a reaction to the perceived encroaching dominance and enriching of big corporations. Both at least portrayed themselves as movements of the people against those with a lust for power and money, and even to the extent they were single-issue movements – the Tea Party excessive taxation, OWS Wall Street’s role in the economic crisis – it was still possible for someone to sympathize theoretically with both positions. Indeed, part of OWS’ message is precisely that big business has taken over the government.

Although both movements are largely associated with a particular political persuasion, the Tea Party positioned itself as a libertarian movement independent of the two major parties, while even some conservatives felt Occupy Wall Street had a point, even if they disagreed with their methods. It was possible to be a Democratic Tea Partier and a Republican occupier of Wall Street. To be sure, the diehards of each political persuasion could probably never be convinced of that, claiming the former to be fakes or the latter to not be “real conservatives”.

Still, I see in the compatibility of the two movements hope for moving beyond our tense ideological divide. A lot of people across the country saw outrage in their particular economic situation, and a lot of people across the country saw outrage in the general economic situation, enough so that they felt the need to demonstrate their outrage. It’s a shame that OWS seems to have lost a lot of its momentum, unable to seize the momentum of the initial protests into a long-term political movement like the Tea Party, and it’s also a shame that the Tea Party itself may be sputtering out as the Republican Party has settled on its most moderate plausible candidate for President, but in that may be opportunity. Had both movements remained strong they might have become irreconcilably opposed. Now, though, if we can take these two different currents of populist outrage and find a way to articulate a coherent, populist message and platform from the both of them, we can effectively give voice to the broader position of the people, and in so doing, create a better chance to “take back the country” than either movement could have done alone or in opposition.

This unified, populist platform, with the potential to strike fear in the heart of both parties, might have among its guiding principles:

  • The liberty of the people shall not be infringed.
  • The people will fight for their freedom and their livelihood against all who would take it.
  • Government should not take our hard-earned money so they can intrude into every aspect of our lives.
  • Wall Street should not be able to make themselves rich at the expense of everyone else.

If I had to distill the message sent by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street into a single sentence, it might be: We won’t let anyone else screw with us. Whether the enemy is government or Big Business, the people are willing to fight back against the both of them. And considering how huge the people are compared to government or business, that’s a force that will prove impossible to ignore.

Over the next several days and weeks I’m going to look at how this position might play itself out in practice. I’m going to look at various issues and consider what a policy based on the best interests of the people would decide. At no point will I give more power or money to government or big business unless there is no way for that to come at the expense of the people and there is no alternative. As such, I won’t always advocate things either political party is backing right now. In so doing, I hope to give structure to this new populist movement, to recommend concrete strategies for people to advocate and follow and guiding principles for voting and activism.

It’s time to move beyond pointless division and allow all of us to move forward as Americans, truly and passionately, as more than a buzzword for politicians who are about to realize just how much they didn’t actually want it to happen, and if nothing else, set an example for a Congress seemingly unable to do so.

State of the Occupy Movement

Admittedly I looked after midnight Eastern time on Wednesday/Thursday, but I didn’t find much national coverage of Tuesday’s May Day protests and even less of the protests in Seattle. Nonetheless, I presume there was enough for Michelle Malkin to use the #seamayday hashtag.

Judging by that tweet and the local coverage, the headline, at least in Seattle, would appear to be the outbreak of violence and vandalism of downtown storefronts, which jibes with some of the reasons Occupy has lost some popularity and momentum since the heady early days. Now, the Occupy movement can say things like how the violent protestors don’t represent them, or how the corporate media is overemphasizing the violence (the Seattle Times is locally-owned but tends to be further to the right than its former competitor the P-I), but there is still one thing that is undeniable.

At least when Martin Luther King was running it, the civil rights movement never (or almost never) turned violent.

One of Occupy’s greatest strengths at this point has been its lack of an overarching leader, its status as a spontaneous movement of the people. Right now, however, if it sees itself as a movement on par with the civil rights movement, perhaps it could use one to keep the movement disciplined and its message clear. Perhaps outbreaks of violence show how desperate people are, perhaps Occupy’s concerns are more frivolous than those of the civil rights movement, but whatever the case the movement seems to be stalled in more ways than one. It’s an election season; maybe it’s time for some of the same tactics as the Tea Party.

More on this (hopefully) next week, in a series I’ve been trying to get off the ground for over a month.

Reading between the lines: Keith Olbermann’s departure from Current

While Keith Olbermann was at MSNBC, I was, as a liberal myself, rather fond of his show, especially his willingness to put up an actual fight against the right with little guilt, but I felt that it was entertainment more than anything else and not exactly the most reliable place to get “news” despite Olbermann’s tendency to refer to it as a “news hour”. It was basically a place for Olbermann to bring on his liberal friends to talk about how much those conservatives stink; the real reason I watched the show when I did was for Olbermann’s segments where he could bring his own brand of snark and sarcasm to the stories he talked about, segments like the infamous “Worst Person in the World”. I always felt Olbermann’s real counterpart was more the blustering Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh than the more straight-laced, putting-on-a-front-of-balance Bill O’Reilly (whose own counterpart might be Rachael Maddow).

Last week, Olbermann’s relationship with Current – a network he almost singlehandedly built into a fulfillment of Al Gore’s original vision of a “progressive” news network – abruptly ended as he was replaced in the 8 PM ET hour by Eliot Spitzer, on Friday no less. Much like his departure from MSNBC a year prior, which appeared to have been motivated more by longstanding issues with the brass than by the aftermath of the Giffords shooting, this appears to be one in a long line of departures resulting at least in part from Olbermann’s ego running unchecked (though I hasten to add that I get this only from a line in the show’s Wikipedia article that had a [citation needed] tag on it when I looked on Friday).

And that ego was on full display in his snarky statement on the break-up:

I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV.

Overdramatic much? I read that and thought that Current itself was shutting down.

It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain.

Really? It sounds to me like all Current needs to do is point to this statement for an example of your lack of “respect” and “collegiality”. Just look at the last paragraph:

In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.

Yes, because they wouldn’t do every little thing you said? Where are you going to take your schtick now, “KOTV“?

Should I say it? Keith Olbermann, today’s Worst! Person! In the Woooorrrrrrrlllllllldddddddd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From an example of congressional bipartisanship (SOPA) to an example of ideological bipartisanship.

Our school’s library gets a lot of magazines, and occasionally I take a peek at them. Over the past few months, the National Review – the United States’ conservative magazine of record – has published stories with, essentially, the following messages:

  • “Hey, you know, maybe those Occupy Wall Street guys have a point, maybe these big banks might just have a little too much power?”
  • “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s harder to move from relative rags to relative riches in America these days.” (This was the cover story of the same issue as the above.)
  • “Hey, maybe we should get all this Wall Street money out of the Republican party?” (Another cover story; I didn’t read this one, but this was the gist I got from the table of contents.)

I don’t know if this says more about the National Review, the state of the country, or the state of the Republican Party, but I do know I will have much more to say about this sort of thing next week, and especially in March…

Programming Note

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized blackout.)

I had heard of SOPA before today’s protests thereof, but I generally don’t like jumping to conclusions and following whatever people tell me I should think. Nonetheless, in light of current events, next week will see a special four-part series on the future of content. Some of this will likely be things that would have made my book on the Internet had I ever written it, and not all of it will be related to SOPA; there will also be things specific to this site’s main two topics, sports and webcomics.

Also, will go down today sometime between 9 AM and noon PT, but not because of SOPA. I’m finally upgrading to WordPress 3.x series; seems someone finally got around to taking over the plugin that powers the Sports and Webcomics subsites.

Also, as I write this, it is 1:35 AM on the West Coast, and many webcomics have not updated yet, and I still feel confident saying that no other webcomic will protest SOPA as well as Homestuck, even if no one will get it later. (Although now that I’ve seen xkcd, I like its alt text too.)

The Day of Reckoning Revisited

Due to space constraints, I barely scratched the surface of how far into the gutters the political discourse remains in my first Understanding the News post last week. Here are the titles of a few recent sample threads on the Democratic Underground site: “Teabaggers: Tools of Bin Laden?” “FUCK YOU CONDI RICE.” “An Open Letter to Delusional Rightwing Folks.” Not to be outdone, here are a few excerpts from posters on the right-wing forum Free Republic: “These presstitutes make me sick!” “‘I had no hesitation about taking a human life’… Neither did Stalin. You can’t have a moral dilemma when you have no sense of morality.” “We all know his pappy is a commie, his momnie [sic] is a comie [sic] and that he aint a po azz black boy down fo de struggle. He was raised a privileged white communist punk by his rich ass grandparents.”

I edited these out of my original post fairly early on (and in fact I’m missing even more such comments as a result of my quick hatcheting) because anyone like me can cherrypick the worst comments from public forums where anyone can post like DU and Free Republic, but as I hinted at in my original post when I talked about how partisan views can be self-reinforcing, extreme viewpoints have a tendency to go unchallenged, and hence increasingly legitimized, on partisan forums. For one thing, extreme viewpoints tend to be more vocal about it. This isn’t just a tendency inherent in the positions themselves (the status quo is more of an outrage the further your own position is from it). Consider a hypothetical Democratic message board, with posts from various parts of the spectrum represented. Some posts may be very moderate, others may be all-out Marxist, but they all share one thing in common: assuming there are no trolls, they are probably all in disagreement with the Republicans. Indeed, to feel strongly enough to sign up for an explicitly Democratic message board, one is probably not terribly moderate.

That means there are certain micro-level issues that all of the board’s members are in agreement on. Whenever there is a thread on one of these micro-level issues, the extreme Marxists and the relative moderates will have scarcely any difference between them, in theory. But on issues that might produce more controversy, the moderates are less likely to speak up, because they might be construed as agreeing with the enemy. (In my experience, individual posters tend to have less individual identity on the most popular political message boards.) On the other hand, those that hold relatively extreme positions just on the fringes of what is considered acceptable are allowed to speak freely. Their positions are legitimized, allowing new frontiers to be opened and eventually closing off more moderate positions as the social controls against dissent take effect.

Despite the seeming demise of any principles with which to define and control society – from the naked greed of large corporations to the demands for rights coming from any corner large and loud enough to be heard – the tendency to make such rules, and form societal associations organized around these rules, is endemic. We find it anywhere you look in society, wherever cliques or subcultures are found, and one ignores or underestimates this basic tendency of human nature at their peril. Right now such tendencies have put us on the brink of the abyss, and while I’m still not certain what needs to happen, something definitely needs to happen. Congress will only find the middle ground when America as a whole will, so let’s put together each side’s solutions and the problems with each, and find a way to solve those problems, reason out why one solution is ultimately better than the other, find a solution that incorporates the best of both sides, or at least come to an understanding of each position.

In addition to everything I suggested in my original post, this will require a voice for moderate voices that can recognize the merits of each side and point out their flaws, and hopefully suggest synthesized solutions. The aim is not so much to convince either side so much as to provide a voice for the silent majority in the middle. But for the same reasons mentioned before, moderates tend not to care as much about politics, at least if they’re prone to seek compromise, because they tend not to have very solid views (given their propensity to waver between them) and tend to be okay with whatever comes out, if they even pay attention to politics given how little they care about them. And once again, they’re not likely to escape charges of bias, and may even show some real bias if they become increasingly convinced one side is superior to the other. The entrenchment of our political positions works to keep them from leaving the trenches, and I don’t know how to break the cycle.

I will say that our present system of electing our government on a geographical basis, though it appears reasonable at first glance, does not encourage healing the divide or giving a voice to moderates. Political positions have always been partly geographically determined, whether it was the north being against slavery and the south being for it before the Civil War, or urban areas being more Democratic and rural areas more Republican now. The result is that, even without much gerrymandering, districts have a tendency to become “safe” for one party or the other, which does not encourage and, with our increasing partisan divide, may even discourage the election of moderates. This makes it easier for Congress to reflect the partisan divide in the rest of the country; moderates do get elected, but they do not tend to have much of a voice, especially since their districts may be more vulnerable, and they risk being demonized on the national level among their nominal peers, as Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter know well; better to give the leadership positions to those more likely to stay in Congress longer. (I don’t believe changing this necessarily requires amending the Constitution, which to my knowledge only governs the division of representation among the states, not that those representatives need to be elected by geographic sub-divisions.)

The geographical system of electing our Congressmen is not the only aspect of our electoral system that furthers the divide. Our “first-past-the-post” plurality system of voting discourages the formation of more than two parties, as should be obvious to anyone who sat through the effect of Ralph Nader on the 2000 presidential election; any viable third party needs to be able to attract exactly as many people from each side. With only two parties, polarization is all too easy; with at least three, one party can synthesize the best ideas of the other two and come up with some ideas of their own that might be better than that suggested by either side. There are ways to address both problems, but I’ll save them for future posts because they’ll take quite a bit of explaining.