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Some thoughts on “System Failure” and the Redistributive Spirit

By: cbsunglass Tuesday February 9, 2010 1:03 pm

In his recent article, "System Failure," Chris Hayes has cobbled together an amazingly perceptive description of the dilemma we face now in the Obama times. It is crystalized most effectively in his last three paragraphs:

What the country needs more than higher growth and lower unemployment, greater income equality, a new energy economy and drastically reduced carbon emissions is a redistribution of power, a society-wide epidemic of re-democratization. The crucial moments of American reform and progress have achieved this: from the direct election of senators to the National Labor Relations Act, from the breakup of the trusts to the end of Jim Crow.

So in this new year, while the White House focuses on playing within the existing rules, it’s our job as citizens and activists to press constantly for changes to those rules: public financing, an end to the filibuster, the breakup of the banks, legalization for undocumented workers and the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to name just a few of the measures that would alter the balance of power and expand the frontiers of the possible.

If I had to bet, I’d say that not of one of these will be won this year. The White House won’t be of much help, and on some issues, like breaking up the banks, it will represent the opposition. Always searching and never quite finding is grueling and often dispiriting work. But there is simply no alternative other than to give in and let the field turn hard and barren.

Unfortunately, his solution is to keep the faith, continue plowing and pay the protection money for the time being. That won’t cut it. Because, as he himself observes, what the country needs above all else is a redistribution of power and the re-democratization of America. You don’t get that by strengthening the thugs and pushing on ahead, barely surviving until your next payment is due. Our time is now, the forces of thuggery will only get stronger with each passing day and the methods that will be necessary to extract our freedom will only become more desperate and violent.

The problem, however, is how do we press forward? That has been the topic of huge numbers of diaries at fdl ever since our communal awareness came to the tipping point as we saw that the Obama Administration and the Democratic congress were not going to stand up to these forces. Rather they were fashioning a protection payout scheme to make things a little better for the people who could keep their heads above water, while at the same time they were willingly going to lock us into the craven corporatist system for years and years to come. And along with it they were going to allow the seeds of our own destruction to grow into a choking field of vines, the middle class dream descending into a cesspool of spiraling insurance costs, mortgage foreclosures, bankster usury crimes, perpetual war and civil liberties atrocities.

Its a long way down from Camelot to Orwell’s 1984, but it ain’t that far away any more. That is without doubt the most stunningly discouraging aspect of Obama’s ascendency. He had such a golden opportunity to restore America to its former greatness. Rather than taking on the corporate powers like FDR, however, we see Obama caste in the image of Neville Chamberlain: "[Change] in our times." When a bully sees weakness he doesn’t bargain in earnest, he prepares to roll over his opposition without regret or remorse.

Obviously our options for action as an opposition are limited. We talk of third parties, reverse voting, withdrawal of our support and contributions to the Democratic Party. Any and all of these things are a start. But, for now, our most lethal weapon is the written word, spreading the message of our opposition to entrenched power. Chances are, we are a much longer way from reform than we thought back in January. But ideas are hard things to kill and we have seen through history that movements can triumph in the face of immeasurably small odds. Truth is a powerful tool and while we still have easy access to the internet it is our duty to spread it, no matter who gets hurt by the exposure. We must remember through all of our efforts that the enemy is the system. Any chance to create chaos in the system and to render it ineffective, even in a small way, is a battle won.


“Through a Glass Darkly”: The legacy of Ralph Nader then and now

By: cbsunglass Monday January 18, 2010 11:38 am

In order to get a true measure of the man that so many Democratic Party operatives have credited with the demise of their party, consider this excerpt from his interview on Front Line in their story entitled Nuclear Reaction: Why Do American Fear Nuclear Power? From April 1977 on Earth Day:

Q: In the early 1970s, you became active in your opposition to nuclear power. Why was that?

A: Well, it became clear that nuclear power was too hazardous, too costly, and unnecessary to provide electricity for our country. This was a time of maximum energy waste in the early ’70s before the so-called oil embargo. And we thought the mere investment in energy efficiency would replace far more than the megawatts that could be supplied by risky nuclear power.

Q: Back then, the early ’70s, public perceptions of nuclear power were fairly positive. How did you go about it from the strategic point of view?

A: Well, first of all we raised the issues that weren’t resolved. Where do you put the radioactive waste? The industry and the government said, well, we don’t know where. And then we said, why do you have to have evacuation plans for miles around. Well, it could be, there’s a real problem. And why do you have to have limited liability protecting the nuclear power plants in case of disaster from having to pay full compensation. Well, because there might be a risk. So this began to generate a public debate and flush out more information.

Q: And you started to get a reasonable amount of exposure from the ’70s. Why do you think the media responded to this as an issue?

A: In part, because some critical scientists put out reports saying that the risks of nuclear disasters were not as improbably as the official line was. And two of these scientists worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, and they were out in one of the national laboratories in California: Dr. Goffman and Dr. Taplin. And that gave real credibility to the emerging critique. And it wasn’t long after that when several General Electric nuclear engineers quit in protest over the lack of safeguards. And as more and more plants began to be built, the question was where do you put the waste, how do you transport the waste, how do you develop the security around the plant, why does it cost so much?

Q: Now, the nuclear industry, the DOE, the NRC, what kind of a job did they do in trying to reassure the public? What were they like as adversaries?

A: Well, the Atomic Energy Commission, which regulated the nuclear industry, was secretive. It was as if they were engaged in a national defense subject. The utilities were relying on this government research that was given to them free about nuclear plants, the kind of research that was done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They didn’t have to worry about unlimited liability. So that let their guard down even more. And the vendors, the sellers of the nuclear plants, were very, very reassuring: Westinghouse, General Electric. And it was only when the Union of Concerned Scientists, a new scientific group, formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began to really dig into this that we started to get more information.

Q: Why didn’t they do a better job? You think they were caught sort of on the hook…. explaining their case and sort of putting their point of view forward?

A: Well, it’s really very simple. You had three players here. You had the government regulatory agency, whose job was to promote nuclear power and get more nuclear plants, using the taxpayers’ money. You had the electric utilities, who were originally reluctant, but they were given limited liability and free government research for their plants. And then you had the vendors, General Electric and Westinghouse, who were selling. And there was no one else. The press wasn’t critical. The Congress bought into the Atomic Energy Commission party line. There was a huge tax payer funded propaganda for how good nuclear power was, going right into the high schools and elementary schools in our country, with traveling road shows. The scientific community was part of the industry itself. And there was no outside critique, there was no government critique, and there was secrecy above it all. So it was a tailor-made precondition for technological suppression of the truth.

This is “an unreasonable man,” a man who generates perfect explanations of how the federal government and corporations, in tandem and through conspiracy, subvert the democratic process and science to produce outcomes that serve only their own narrow vested interests and opportunities for profit, most often to the detriment of the health of the citizenry and the environment. Over the years Ralph Nader has forged this battle time and again, and has achieved great victories for Americans. He and his activist corps (Nader’s Raiders), through their critiques and writings and pressure tactics, were the primary force behind the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Air Pollution Control Administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Consumer Product Safety Administration. And when corporate interests captured these agencies, like the FDA, he was there to bring facts to light and to educate the public about the harm being done in their name.

I could go on, and there is much more to discuss in Nader’s legacy, like his important role in slowing down the march toward nuclear power generation, but for now I want to address the reasons that this man, who stands so far above the craven interests of the corporatist cabal that has now captured our democracy, should have become the single most odious scapegoat for the Democratic leadership to point to when any ultra-leftist movement emerges that might threaten their tenacious grip on the party apparatus. I have become increasingly sensitized to this character assassination over the past several months when I read the dire warnings of “progressive” commentators, editorialists and bloggers wherein “Naderism” is given almost unanimous credit for why the Democratic Party could not and cannot remain in power long enough to deliver us all those flowery liberal changes they so eagerly promise us in the party platform every four years. In the last several days I hear the familiar scapegoating constantly repeated in the “sad” story of general Coakley’s potential defeat in the MA special senate election coming up on Tuesday.

Clearly, according to the Democratic Leadership, Ralph stepped over the line in 2000 when he became a presidential candidate. As the meme goes, he split the Democratic vote just enough to allow George Bush to be appointed president and we all know how horrible that turned out. I will confess, I was pulled into that meme. Forgive me Ralph, for I knew not what I did. But like many liberals at the time, we were “looking through a glass darkly,” seeing only what was so obvious on the surface. Many of us have now fallen through the rabbit hole so artfully concealed from our view for years by the DLC, the DCCC and the DSCC, and we emerged in 2009 with the realization that there is indeed very little difference between the two parties and that corporate interests rule the Democrats ever so much as they do the Republicans. How else could a large majority of the country favor a strong public option, but not see even a weak one in the apparent final HCR bill? How else could we also have a bill without drug re-importation to lower pharmaceutical costs to the public? Well, the reason, as we know now, is that the Obama Administration, with the approval of the Democratic leadership, fashioned a series of deals with Big PHarma and AHIP to scuttle these pro-middle class measures in order to sustain and strengthen the interests of the health industry stakeholders and their own re-election status through corporate sponsorship. This is all being done with the aid of the FDA, which is actively generating propaganda warnings of great safety hazards associated with importing and reimporting drugs (see Gilbert Ross’s article in the WSJ for a neo-liberal but rightwing take on the virtues of drug-reimportation cost savings: yes it would reduce costs but the drug companies should not be stuck with funding their own research).

But this is just not a case of some shady deals with the stakeholders in the Health Care industry, the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership have launched an all out crusade to preserve the corporate stranglehold on the American Public in multifarious ways. The financial industry has been bailed out, but not reigned in. The stimulus package was too timid and never really structured to generate good middle class jobs. Instead it is the Frankenstein monster of trickle-down economics. There has been a continuing, disrespectful disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution over torture, rendition, telecom-immunity and the politicization of the Justice Department. The credit card issuers have been slapped on the wrist, but are allowed to continue their obvious violation of usury principles. Few have received significant help with maintaining their mortgages and avoiding bankruptcy, unless of course you are rich. Given this track record, what do we really believe will come of global warming legislation? Well, no, not much will get done because that would disrupt the cozy relationship between the Democratic leadership and the food, mining and oil industries. In short, Ralph was right. There is less than a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, and in our current economy a dime just ain’t worth much.

So, why is it that so many liberals and progressives still excoriate Ralph Nader for his imagined heresy? Well, for one thing, they tend to be more concerned with insuring the survival of the Democratic Party than they are with taking an objectively hard look at the policies that the party actually produces. And the leadership peddles this fear to blind us to just how outrageous their actual policies are. Steve Skrovan, co-director of An Unreasonable Man, in his open letter to Eric Alterman in HuffPo in 2007 summed up the Democratic leadership’s case against Nader thusly: “In our postmortem of the 2000 election, we wanted to explore four questions or accusations. One: Nader should have dropped out. Two: He should have worked within the Democratic Party. Three: He shouldn’t have said that there wasn’t a "dime’s worth of difference" between the two parties. Four: He spent all of his time in swing states in an effort to punish the Democrats. That was the conventional wisdom, and we wanted to give Nader and his people a chance to answer those charges. Remember, you speak for the dominant theory out there that Nader is an egomaniacal spoiler. It’s Nader who hasn’t had the chance to tell his side of the story.”

Barry Burden of Harvard has rejected the veracity of the fourth accusation. Burden found that Nader, in fact, did not spend the bulk of his time in swing states but rather mined for votes in strongly liberal states such as California and New York to strengthen the Green party’s claim to federal election funds, which in Burden’s view supported the 5% hypothesis and clearly refuted the spoiler hypothesis. As to the dime’s worth of difference, you be the judge after the Democrats performance in 2009. Of course, the Florida recount looms fairly large in the leadership critique as well. The cry is often heard, that Nader cost Gore Florida. I will grant them it was probably as great a factor as the Butterfly Ballot in Palm Beach, but the real reason Gore lost Florida was that the campaign faltered from insisting on first principles. Instead of maintaining that every vote be counted so that the legitimate winner of the Florida election could be ascertained, they started playing a game in which they cherry picked a small number of counties for recount that they thought would increase their chances for victory. This of course, stripped them of the moral high ground and paved the way for the Supreme Court to stop the recount and select Bush. Unfortunately, this is just the way the Democratic leadership plays all their games. They are focused on wining at all costs, not on what is ultimately good for the public according to their progressive values.

So, now we are looking at a close senatorial race, in of all places Massachusetts, and of all seats, Teddy Kennedy’s. How could this happen, especially after the landslide victory in 2008? Well, lets see, the Democratic leadership has already leaked the real reason: Coakley is a horrible and lazy campaigner. That’s what Bob Shrum says. In addition, the base has become complacent, expecting an easy victory. Finally, please wakeup and vote so we don’t have a repeat of the 2000 presidential election you lazy-basers who don’t show up when we really need you. Does this sound like a good enough explanation for failure to you? But the loyal Democrat Ed Schultz may have the best strategy, that is, if you are a DLCer: "I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I’d try to vote 10 times. I don’t know if they’d let me or not, but I’d try to. Yeah, that’s right. I’d cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. ‘Cause that’s exactly what they are." Sounds pretty desperate.

Yeah Ed, they are bastards and why shouldn’t this election be a cakewalk for a bunch of moral and fine upstanding people like the Democrats? I will submit to the reader that the real reason that the Democrats find themselves in such a jam is because they have not followed through on their campaign promises and in the process they have been so tone deaf to the suffering of the American people that they don’t even realize just how transparently hypocritical and craven their political deals with corporations look. A significant impact has been made in the ultra-liberal branch of the base, but also the labor unions. These people aren’t lazy and they aren’t complacent, they are enraged. But the bleeding doesn’t stop there. In Coakley’s case a huge fraction of independents favor the Republican candidate. Here is a short excerpt from the Public policy Poll findings freshly out today:

-Brown is up 64-32 with independents and is winning 20% of the vote from people who supported Barack Obama in 2008 while Coakley is getting just 4% of the McCain vote.

-Brown’s voters continue to be much more enthusiastic than Coakley’s. 80% of his say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting Tuesday while only 60% of hers express that sentiment. But the likely electorate now reports having voted for Barack Obama by 19 points, up from 16 a week ago, and a much smaller drop from his 26 point victory in the state than was seen in Virginia.

-Those planning to turn out continue to be skeptical of the Democratic health care plan, saying they oppose it by a 48/40 margin.

-Coakley’s favorability dropped from 50% to 44% after a week filled with perceived missteps. Brown’s negatives went up a lot but his positives only actually went from 57% to 56%, an indication that attacks against him may have been most effective with voters already planning to support Coakley but ambivalent toward Brown.

-56% of voters in the state think Brown has made a strong case for why he should be elected while just 41% say the same of Coakley. Even among Coakley’s supporters only 73% think she’s made the argument for herself, while 94% of Brown’s supporters think he has.

It stretches credulity to think that these sentiments are a reaction only to Coakley’s poor skills. This is the kind of result that issues from a deep dissatisfaction with the performance of the Democratic Party. So, I ask you, who is responsible for the MA senate race: (A) Nader, (B) liberal Naderites, (C) Coakley, (D) the leadership of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama, (E) Some C, but mostly D? You decide. One more question: Is Ralph Nader: (A) a traitor to the Democratic Party, (B) a great American, (C) right about the Democrats, or (D) Both B and C? The answers to these questions will reveal where you sit on the continuum of opinion in the Democratic Party as of Jan. 18, 2010. My answers? E and D respectively, but you knew that, right? Finally: If Coakley loses her Senate race, should the Democratic leadership be replaced for graft, corruption and incompetence? Had we listened to Ralph in 2004, we would be much farther along in returning integrity and the moral high ground to our government and maybe even to the Democratic Party.