Thursday: Things that shouldn’t need to be said but…

1.) Susie Madrak found this post by George Lakoff that I think everyone in the left blogosphere should read and commit to heart.  It’s about the Santorum Strategy and what is really going on with the Republican primary.

Liberals tend to underestimate the importance of public discourse and its effect on the brains of our citizens. All thought is physical. You think with your brain. You have no alternative. Brain circuitry strengthens with repeated activation. And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called “independents,” who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.

This point is being missed by Democrats and by the media, and yet it is the most vital issue for our future in what is now being discussed. No matter who gets the Republican nomination for president, the Santorum Strategy will have succeeded unless Democrats dramatically change their communication strategy as soon as possible. Even if President Obama is re-elected, he will have very little power if the Republicans keep the House, and a great deal less if they take the Senate. And if they keep and take more state houses and local offices around the country, there will be less and less possibility of a liberal future.

I think I’ve said this before (I’ll see if I can find the links to my posts about it) but it bears repeating because the A list bloggers don’t seem to be getting it: the reason why the Republican primary is dragging on is because it works in the Republicans favor.  It changes the national dialog and keeps the issues that Republicans want to talk about out there in the media all the way to August.  Don’t be surprised if there is a brokered convention.  They *want* the whole nation sitting on the edge of its seat waiting to see who the Republicans crown.  That means they can talk about deficit reduction, entitlement reform and women’s reproductive rights for a long, long time. By the time they are done, the general public will believe that reducing the deficit at all costs is the most important thing in the world and that no one should pay for anyone’s health insurance, much less birth control.  If you made the stupid lifestyle decision to be born human and indulged in living, putting your body at risk, that’s YOUR problem. Romney and Santorum are in this together for this tag team event and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans have already issued primary voters their votes in advance.  It only looks like chaos to the lefty bloggers sitting smugly at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.  But come August, the Democrats, who should have been championing Occupy Wall Street without trying to co-opt it (see more on this below) are going to be scrambling to control the message.  Never underestimate the Republicans’ desire to win.

PS: I need a job, George.  Call me.

2.) Lefty bloggers are wasting their time talking about Sarah Palin.  If Democrats need independent women’s votes, maybe they should stop assuming that Palin is the cause of their defection from the Democratic party.  She’s not.  There are just as many of us out here who are independent liberals who are Democrats in Exile, who do not give a flying fuck about what comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth.  Frankly, we’re turned off by the Palin bashing, not because she’s a viable politician (she’s not) but because she’s a human being and we’re just tired of the left using Palin as the dumping ground for their current round of misogyny.

Can we move on from Palin already?  She disgraced herself last year during the  Gabby Giffords shooting episode and before that when she teamed up with her chum, Glenn Beck.  Palin had a choice after 2008.  She could have become a legitimate politician on the right, and still not to our tastes, or she could have become a hack.  She chose the latter.  Let’s move on.

Palin is not relevant in this election season.  OBAMA is relevant this election season.  Nothing Palin tells women who have flocked to her, and this woman is not one of them, is going to persuade them to vote for a Republican.  What might persuade them is the persistently lagging economy and anger at Obama for doing such a lousy job as president.  We could have had a V8 but we got watered down tomato juice instead.

The rest of us independent liberals are shopping around for a third party.  I would advise the Democrats to stop touting Lilly Ledbetter as the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Not only is this stupidly deceptive, women are not fooled.  It’s an insult to our intelligence.  Even we can figure out that there is still no fairness in our paychecks, if we are lucky enough to still have them.  And instead of being proactive about reproductive rights, the Democrats are not making a full throated defense of them against the Republican juggernaut.  We are going to remember who took down Rush.  It wasn’t president Obama.

By the way, if some of this diatribe about Palin sounds like something the Republican right wing nut cases are saying, it’s because even those vile mouths of Sauron have a point.  Stop being dicks, Democrats.  You’re playing right into their hands.

I’m still hopeful for a third party candidate.  The two major parties are busy talking amongst themselves and leaving the voters out of it.  They are leaving the American electorate on the table.  Some decent politician could see this as an opportunity of a lifetime and consider running as an Independent New Deal Democrat.  Think about it.

3.) When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.  The reason why the Republicans are pulling out all of the stops over paying for women to have sex is because they are working for insurance companies.  Insurance companies do not want to have to pay for this.  They are going to pass the costs onto someone.  Are you kidding?! Did you think the CEO of United Healthcare is going to take a cut to his bonus just because some broad in Washington wants to have sex?  Please.

The argument that Democrats are making that this will actually save insurance companies money doesn’t ring true to me.  Right now, all of the women who aren’t covered by the birth control mandate are bearing the costs by themselves.  That is saving the insurance companies money.  The vast majority are already preventing unwanted pregnancy related expenses for the insurance companies.  But let’s say that the companies end up paying for some unexpected surprises.  The cost of a pregnancy is already factored into the negotiations the insurance company has made with doctors and hospitals.  There’s a flat fee for an uncomplicated delivery.  That could easily be eclipsed by 10 years of oral contraceptives.  And now, they are going to be covering millions of women that they previously didn’t have to cover.  Of course it’s a hit to their bottom line.

If the Democrats were smart, they would have adopted the message of Occupy Wall Street and associated the insurance companies with the 1%, which they are.  They are trying to make a profit at the expense of your health.  They are collecting much more in premiums than they will ever pay out to you.  It’s immoral.  They’re making money hand over fist and giving themselves huge bonuses at your expense.  It’s immoral.  They’re greedy bastards and they’re making you feel dirty for asking for something that should be your right as a premium paying individual.  It’s immoral.

But Democrats are not smart.

3.) Speaking of the morality of Occupy Wall Street, the way that Democrats participated in muting the occupy movement (temporarily) may come back to bite them in the ass.  As I have noted before, the Republicans have a moral worldview and the Democrats do not (will try to find link to my post on this.  Must make better tags.  Sigh.).  You may not like the Republicans’ worldview but there’s no question that any American you ask can explain what it is.

What the Democrats currently have is everything on the table on a slippery slope and no backstop.  Not a winning formula.  They could have let the Occupy movement build momentum and then coasted to a win on its slipstream.  They could have said, “Hey, those dirty fucking hippies have a point!  The 1% *are* greedy fucks who are destroying the American middle class.  Maybe we should redefine what it means to be successful.  Maybe we should make the system more fair and help everyone achieve their goals so that America is number one again in innovation and prosperity.  Maybe we need to treat hard working Americans with more respect and champion their free speech rights.  Maybe we should stand up with them and labor against the soul destroying corporate class. Maybe we should force bankers to be good American citizens.”

But the Democrats did none of these things.  In fact, the Democrats were ultimately behind the DHS riot police interventions and the FBI surveillance and the infiltrations.  Oh, no, you say?  Well, who the hell else is in charge of the executive branch these days?

So, you gotta ask yourself, why is it that the Democrats would be more willing to engage in a strategy to enforce learned helplessness in anyone who wants to change the conversation and redirect it away from the ubiquitous Republican austerity message machine?

Who are the Democrats working for?  Hint: it’s not for you.

4.) Greg Smith, formerly of Goldman Sachs, now joins the ranks of the unemployed, possibly forever, after he immolated himself on the Op/Ed page of the NYTimes.  I hope he has a stash to fall back on.

I believe Smith.  I think he was what he says he was and do not question his descriptions of business as usual in the hallways of Goldman Sachs.  Let’s not forget that Jon Corzine was once a top executive at Goldman Sachs and look what wonders he did for the muppet investors of M. F. Global.  Or the Democratic base for that matter.  He has a habit of taking what is not his and giving it away to the undeserving.

Anyway, lest any of us in the pharma research forget, it was Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan who coordinated the merger mania that lead to Pharmageddon and all of the jobs we have lost in the past several years.  They do not care that what they are doing to the research industry is destroying it and is going to result in a vastly reduced portfolio of new drug therapies in the future.  All that is important is extracting the last bits of wealth from these ailing industries for the big shareholders and gigantic bonuses for themselves.  The ruined lives and careers that are left in the wake of these restructurings and mergers do not matter to them at all.  We’re losers, muppets and carrion.

This is not going to stop as long as executives are rewarded for short term planning.  It’s really not their fault that they behave the way they do.  It’s what they get paid for.  When we stop rewarding them for it, they’ll stop destroying us and not a second before.  It is stupid and foolish to expect them to act like decent human beings when they don’t have to.

So, what are Democrats planning to do to make sure the incentives are directed towards long term investment and prudent risk and financial stability?  Fuck if I know.

5.) Last but not least, I was looking at the lineup for the Reason Rally and while I am impressed by the great speakers who are going to be big draws for the Humanist, Freethought, Skeptics and Atheist movement, I was a little disappointed to see that many of them are not American.  If the Reason Rally organizers are trying to get attention for their voting bloc, it would be a good idea to ask Dawkins to serve more as MC, rather than headliner and let the American superstars take center stage (Dan Barker, Greta Cristina, Adam Savage etc.).  Otherwise, this rally is going to backfire.  You can already see the spin the Republicans are conjuring up.  Don’t fall into their trap.  I know that the rally attendees are going to be good, hard working, patriotic Americans who want reason to prevail over superstition.  That is what you need to work with.  The last thing you want is an international lineup of eggheads, much as I like Dawkins.  You need to have speakers who can connect with their audience, who come from a genuine place in the American experience and who lead Americans to a better way.  Sort of like this guy, Jerry Dewitt, former Pentacostal-Dominionist pastor and current executive director of Recovering from Religion, who in the span of 12 minutes manages to honor Tim Tebow, Christopher Hitchens, Thanksgiving and Christmas in a genuine, uplifting, positive  and non-theistic way:

Can I get an “Amen!”?

Recovering from Religion is an organization that is helping clergy and other believers make a transition away from more oppressive religious sects.  Dewitt says he gets a lot of inquiries from conservative Christians, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses because these communities tend to isolate their members so when a believer tries to get out, they lose much more than their religions.  They lose their families, community, sometimes their jobs, and they lose their identities.  Dewitt calls it “identity suicide”.  It’s a hard transition to make but people of good conscience who can no longer bear living a lie need a place to go where they will find acceptance and help.  Imagine Jinger Duggar trying to escape her captors and looking for a safe mental haven.  That’s what Dewitt is trying to provide.  So, if you are looking for a place to make a charitable contribution this year, consider donating to Recovering from Religion.  For every person who comes out of the spell, there is one more American who can help set the country back on the right track.  I think this is a mission that is worthy of our support and may even cough up a few bucks myself from income tax return.

By the way, I am astonished by the number of freethought meetings and organizations there are in the reddest states of the union.  I’m talking about Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska.  These people are very active and they are posting their meetings and media podcasts all over youtube.  Here in NJ?  Ehhhhh, not so much.  I guess that’s because New Jerseyans already feel comfortable as godless heathens and don’t feel the need to organize. I think they’re wrong.  The suburbs of central Jersey are sometimes indistinguishable from the bible belt.

OccupyWallStreet: American Exodus

The Israelites were the original Occupiers

OccupyWallStreet is befuddling the “experts”.  It defies categorization.  Are they Democrats?  Radical Marxists?  A new generation of hippies?  Naive?  Or the true brilliant 11 dimensional chess players that Obama could only dream to be? What?  WHAT??

While the pollsters and pundits try to figure that out by using their standard questionnaires that neatly files the subject into bins that can be mined later, Mike Konzal at Rortybomb took a different approach and analyzed what the 99% had to say about themselves without the filter.  He wrote a script to parse the data from the “We Are the 99%” tumblr entries.  I think you can do this using python, regular expressions and the natural language tool kit (NLTK) if any enterprising Conflucians want to do it themselves (I might ask the kid to teach me).  Then he tallied up the most frequently appearing words, minus the promiscuous ones, and peered at the entrails.  What he found was a bit of a shock because we joke around about how the country has changed but when you see it in the data, it’s not so funny anymore.  Here are his initial findings:

So if the 99% Tumblr was a PAC, what would its demands look like, and what ideology would it presuppose?  Freddie DeBoer is discouraged after reading the 99% tumblr. He’s concerned it reflects a desire for restoration of the glory days of the 90s-00s, which concerns him because “this country cannot be fixed by wishing to go back to the economics of 2005.”  Concerned that the solidarity is one that, at most, is a I-got-mine-you-go-get-yours form of neoliberalism (as he imagines it, “I went to college and I don’t have the job and the car and the lifestyle I was promised”), DeBoer is worried that We Are the 99% isn’t “a rejection of our failing order. It is an embrace of it in the most cynical terms.”

With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.

Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here.  Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.”  And think through these cases.  The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land).  In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.

The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent.  There isn’t the affluenza of Freddie’s worries, no demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical ”Ownership Society” banner.  The demands are broadly health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

It’s awful that it has come to this, but it also is an opportunity.  As was discussed in the monetary debate from earlier, creditors aren’t bosses; their power is less coercive and much more obviously based on socially-constructed fictions, laws and ideas.  As Peter Frase pointed out:

Indeed, widespread and large debt loads are one of the most important ways in which my generation differs from those that immediately preceded it…This has direct implications for the left: more than once, older comrades have noted to me that it has become much more difficult to live in the kind of bohemian poverty that sustained an earlier generation of young radicals and activists…

And there may be some advantages to a politics centered around debt rather than wage labor. The problem confronting the wage laborer is that they are, in fact, dependent on the boss for their sustenance, unless they can solve the collective action problem of getting everyone together to expropriate the expropriators. Debt, on the other hand, is just an agreed-upon social fiction denoting an obligation for some act of consumption that has already occurred. The only way to make people respect debt is through some combination of brute force and ideological legitimacy–a legitimacy that we can only hope is starting to slip away.

Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are.  There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health.  There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net.  Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%.

So, how will OccupyWallStreet and the 99% turn these problems into policies that will address the reality of day to day life for the average American serf beaten down by debt?  This is a good question and, in part, also relates to the insistent demands from the naysayers and right wing noise machine that OccupyWallStreet define itself, right this very minute!  And put together a list of demands that you want fulfilled so we can tell you how unrealistic they are and make you go back to your sorry little lives, you losers.  Isn’t that right, you Tea Party lurkers and Glenn Beck fans?  You want instant answers so you can shoot them down.

Which brings me to George Lakoff.  Lakoff has also been studying the movement’s language and asking himself why it resonates so well with the American public.  What he sees is a conflict between two moralities:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Though OWS concerns go well beyond financial issues, your target is right: the application of these principles in Wall Street is central, since that is where the money comes from for elections, for media, and for right-wing policy-making institutions of all sorts on all issues.

I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific policy demands. If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed.

It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature, that occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail.

We Love America. We’re Here to Fix It

I see OWS as a patriotic movement, based on a deep and abiding love of country – a patriotism that it is not just about the self-interests of individuals, but about what the country is and is to be. Do Americans care about other citizens, or mainly just about themselves? That’s what love of America is about. I therefore think it is important to be positive, to be clear about loving America, seeing it in need of fixing, and not just being willing to fix it, but being willing to take to the streets to fix it. A populist movement starts with the people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.

This sounds pretty close to what we’re seeing, I think.  It also explains why Elizabeth Warren, while sorting through the data on why Americans go bankrupt, was converted from a Republican to a Democrat earlier in her career.  Well, that’s back when Democrats actually gave a shit.  She says that when she first starting sifting through the cases from bankruptcy courts, she had a built in confirmation bias and was sure she was going to find people who lived the high life and spent too much or lazy people or hedonists or whatever the Glenn Beck types think.  But what she found was that many of these people were undone by sudden unemployment, changes to their family lives or chronic and severe illnesses.  They hadn’t done anything differently than millions of their fellow Americans.  They had just hit a patch of really bad luck and found that there was no real safety net for them.  They got sick, they lost their jobs because they got sick, they lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs, they lost their savings because they had to pay for their healthcare, they lost their houses because they lost their savings.

When Elizabeth Warren speaks to people, they know that she understands what they’re dealing with because she’s seen their lives in detail.  It also explains why Barack Obama is so completely unsuited for his role right now.  If this is a battle between two moralities, then using the approach of compromise is doomed to failure.

As Lakoff says, “A populist movement starts with people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.”

The 99% are all of us who just a few years ago were living what the right would consider righteous lives.  We are good citizens, we are taxpayers, we are loving parents, we are dedicated employees.  And through no fault of our own but the speculation and moral failures of the financial sector and the politicians that serve it, we are thrust back into a subsistence kind of existence that was familiar to our ancient ancestors.  We are burdened with debt, servants to a moneyed class, beaten down, tired and looking for a break from the endless cycle of always having to sell ourselves to make next month’s rent or COBRA payment, heating bill or food for our kids.  Now that the pain has bubbled up to the middle class, where professionals with advanced degrees and years of experience find themselves working far from home on contracts with low pay and no benefits, the chant, “We are the 99″ has real meaning.  We are all in the same boat and we must take on the oligarchs.

Which reminds me of Exodus.  The bible tells us how Moses lead his people out of Egypt but archeology tells us a different story.  Back in the day, in 13th century BC or so, Egypt was a superpower whose reach stretched over the Levant area.  The ruling class in the Canaanite cities was Egyptian ruling over the locals and using them as slaves and the artisan underclass.  At some point, the underclass decided it had had enough and a rebellion ensued, ending Egyptian reign and,  with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, plunging most of the Mediterranean into a dark age.  There may have been a Moses but what the archeological record looks like is a spontaneous and leaderless uprising that spread from city to city.  Egyptian rule ended in Canaan and, along with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, the Mediterranean region plunged into a dark age. When the Israelites took up their pens a few centuries later, they were writing from a culture where the former slaves had made the laws.

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