Thursday, 16 April 2009

Socialism - By Request

Christine asked me to say a few words about the right's constant cries of "socialism" any time a Democrat dares to speak. Good idea!

Personally, I have two complementary theories about why this is not only silly but counterproductive for the Republicans.

Theory one is based around this fact: I am 35 years old. When the Berlin wall fell, I was a freshman in High School. So I've been a voting citizen for 5 presidential elections now and for my entire voting life, and for the four formative years before that the Soviet Union was over.

And yet, it seems to me like the Right uses the word "Socialism" in exactly the same way that it was used during the Cold War - that is, not only as a description of an economic system but as a shorthand way of saying "the enemies of America". But even though I was raised a cold war kid, I just don't see it that way. "Socialism" is no longer synonymous for me with just doesn't mean much of anything at all to me in terms of modern day threats, or even like a relevant argument to be having. No major force in the US is advocating Socialism right now, nor have they ever, nor is there an external force that goes by that name that sets me quaking in my boots.

So the whole thing seems antiquated to me, like the echoes of an old argument. If I feel that way, I'm guessing that most folks younger than me feel even more baffled by this argument - like some old codger jumping up and shouting "Gold standard! Gold standard!" The old All Hail Capitalism, Down With Socialism debate is done.

But on the other hand, maybe not.

Because theory two is based upon the fact that the Republicans appear to be inadvertantly mainstreaming the socialist terminology. It turns out, all the young folks know about socialism these days is that the Right Wing Looneys really hate it. And that makes it... rather appealing.

The young may now disdain Wall Street -- but what do they know of socialism, past and present? Who even speaks of socialism in America today? The answer, of course, is the demagogic right. According to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and their ilk, Obama is taking America down the Socialist Road. As Benjamin Sarlin has noted on the Web site the Daily Beast, the talkmeisters of the right have linked a doctrine that never commanded much support in America to a president whose approval rating hovers around 60 percent and much higher than that among the young.

Rush and his boys are doing what Gene Debs and his comrades never really could. In tandem with Wall Street, they are building socialism in America.

One must take a moment to admire the irony.

Of course, I'm sure lots of my Labour party readers will pop up to say that Socialism never was such a bad thing anyway. Fair enough. But that's the funny thing - I was never a Socialist. Apart from Bernie Sanders (bless his little cotton socks) none of us were in my lifetime. But now, the rhetoric of the right has actually perversely caused an entire generation to give the term (if not the ideology) a second look.

Personally, I still say it's a dead debate - classical laissez faire economics is dead, has been for generations, and pure Socialism has likewise snuffed it, expired, shuffled off this mortal coil.

No I am Not Gordon Brown, Nor Was Meant to Be...

If, like most sensible human beings, you haven't been following the Derek Draper/Guido Fawkes/Damian McBride story, I can hardly blame you. The Guardian has a useful summary and timeline here: A while back, though, I promised to write a little bit about the Labour party - so this seems like a good chance.

On some levels, I feel a certain amount of pity for Draper and McBride here - after all, the (trulyoffensive and wrong-headed) e-mails were intended to be private. They were batting around ideas the stupidity and suicidal nature of which must have become eminently clear to them long before the leak, since the "Red Rag" site was never created and the false rumors never circulated.

Why, then has the media and the opposition clamped their jaws around this incident like determined pit bulls?

Well for two reasons - the same to reasons that Labour looks increasingly unlikely to win the next general election.

1) No one seems to know what principles Labour stands for anymore.
2) No one seems to be leading Labour as a party.

If I told you nothing other than those two facts, plus the inevitability of a general election next year, by a process of scientific deduction you could surely distill the likelihood that the party would revert to attack politics in the hopes that might get them through. (And incdientally, the argument that "Right Wing Bloggers Say Mean Things About Labour" will not earn you a get out of jail free card on this. If you don't know why, go away and think about it, then come back to me.)

The media had already diagnosed the disease, so they were on the lookout for the symptom - so many of the stories dominating the headlines right now are really thinly disguised fin de siecle stories.

Expenses fiddling? It's about forgetting what you stand for.
Infighting? It's about leaderlessness.

And the rot goes deep - it's deeply felt in the party's most loyal activists, who are angry, disillusioned, frustrated and desperate for leadership. For many, it was the war in Iraq that first gave them that hollow feeling - the empty sense that their party no longer stands for them. For others, it's been the steady erosion of civil liberties. For some, the disastrous decision to scrap the 10P tax rate (if Labour's for raising taxes on the poorest workers it's hard to think of a core principle left).

Is it too late to pull out of these doldrums, this morass, this deadly lethargy?

Maybe not. There's only one certain cure I know for such catastrophic flailing.

Leadership. Specifically, bold leadership. Someone needs to draw a firm, clear line under all these petty failings and launch the ship towards some uncharted waters.

Gordon Brown, that's your cue.

If I were you, I'd start with an apology. It would might go a little bit like this:

"I didn't write the e-mails in question, I didn't receive them, and I didn't even know about them until the rest of the world did. But I can't say that personally I did nothing wrong here.

I was in the wrong. I was wrong, as the leader of this Party, to allow anyone in my employment for one moment to believe that we would want to win in this way.

Let me correct that error right now. This Party cares about this country. We seek to maintain our majority in the next election, of course. But even more than that we seek to deserve it.

Personal attacks, smears, lies, and innuendo have no place in this Party. They have no place in our politics. The challenges that we face are too great, the moment is too important, for pettiness, viciousness or games.

To every member of this party, those who canvass in rain and cold, those who have kept faith with us through the darkest days, I apologise that your leaders have not always lived up to the example that you set for us.

And to all Britons, I promise you this: that in the coming year we will never again forget that your needs are more important than ours."

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tea Parties

In America yesterday, there were all these folks hanging around doing something or other with tea. I'm not really clear on the details - not sure they were either. Was looking around for some clear statement of what the whole things was all about and the closest I could find was this:

Thanks for clarifying, guys. Statistically, does this mean that a 6% increase would have been 200% tyranny? And how would that work in practice?

Cannons to right of me! Cannons to Left of me!

So I happen to be of the view that anyone who takes the time to care about politics deserves a fair hearing and a reasonable dialog. Even if you may disagree with them quite a lot. So I thought it would be worth posting a couple of recent discussion I've been having with some friends - both to the right and to the left of me and/or the President.

First up, here's a stimulating dialog I had with Clayton Trapp - who has been an activist and an e-mail correspondent of mine for some time.

Clayton was initiall writing in response to my posts about why the Obama buget makes me hopeful. Here's his initial e-mail:

Top 10 Reasons I'm Concerned about Obama

(1) Willing to let AIC goofs take $100K bonuses at the expense of me
(2) wasting cache on defending the right of AIG contortionists to take $100K bonuses for running their fucking company into the dirt, and then having the gall to demand that the rest of us, working hard and doing better, bail their sorry fucking ass out
(3) merit pay. does he realise that it goes to whoever doesn't bitch? (i.e. accepts the sorry state)?
(4) Does He understand that he is tacitly endorsing bonuses, for the same clowns who run their businesses into the ground and then WHINE for help... we don't make that in a year, man. He told L.A. he doesn't play. We dont' whine. But we do vote, ane he of all people should know that. We deserve better. We will vote again.
(5) I saw what he said in Wisconsin. That was rad. THIS is BULLSHIT. And it's not long until he gets called on it. The liberal press waited on Clinton, I have no idea why.
(6) I didn't vote for a friend to be moved around by Wall Street. I voted for a President to lead. If this is it, I'm still looking
(7) the historic transfer of wealth from everyone else to the elite, as noted by (Republican) Kevin Jarvis, is apparently not only to continue but to be encouraged. NO thank you. Might as well have voted for Hillary or anyone else.
(8) Nope. Those are the only seven. But they're very real. And this Bill Clintonesqe corporate ass kissing ain't gonna result in any support when we get another chance.

SO GET OFF THE FUCKING HOOF AND STAND FOR SOMETHING (like the election rhetoric)!!!!!




Well at least he said it respectfully. And with love. (Kidding.)

Here's my initial response:

Hi Clayton,

With respect, I have to disagree - especially with point number 7. In economic terms, Barack has already been the most progressive President since FDR - the stimulus plan alone has given hundreds of billions of dollars to the poorest Americans, and by abolishing the Bush tax cuts and making further targetted tax hikes to the very wealthy, Obama has already put his money where his mouth is in terms of economic redistribution. His budget is ten times more money on, for example, early childhood education for the poor as AIG is paying out in bonuses.

Am I angry that those AIG Assholes are getting this money? Hell yes - they should be fired, right now, not rewarded. I am still inclined to hope they will be. But there was some reason to believe that these assholes' contracts, if broken, would have wound up with lawsuits resulting in triple the initial amount paid. I think Geithner, rightly or wrongly, calculated that it wasn't worth that risk.

Still, in terms of the scale of the things - the extraordinary investment that Obamam is making in our national infrastructure simply isn't comparable to things like these bonuses.

And finally, in terms of the overall financial bailout package - including AIG's - I hate giving the bosses of these companies one thin dime (the don't deserve it, I agree). But Obama has his finger in the dyke right now trying to prevent the entire US economy from literally collapsing overnight. I don't know yet whether he and his team are doing the right thing here, but I don't actually believe you know that for sure yet either - I can't even get my head around what would happen if the US financial system collapsed entirely - the consequences are simply beyond my comprehension. But I don't believe it would only, or even mainly, be fat cats and wall street types who would suffer. I'm willing to cut him a little bit of slack here.

In any case, the budget is a separate issue - and the budget is unabashedly a progressive vision. All progressives should get behind it - the Right would love to distract us from our progressive goals by ginning up populist outrage, but I am not going to let it happen.

With very best wishes and kind regards,


His response:

Hey Karin,

Thank you for your thoughtful and immediate response. I take it that we're both venting! So I would add:

> point number 7. In economic terms, Barack has already been
> the most progressive President since FDR

this is a really nice line (I'm going to get friendlier on other responses, I promise)...but the reality is that President Obama's standing is yet to be determined. He is currently tacking towards Big Business, which got us into this mess and fails to distinguish him from Reagan, Bushes, Clintons...

He has thrown the lower 98 percent of the economic pyramid some bones already, which is either nice or disingenuous, but doesn't distinguish him from Bill Clinton. (oh thanks for my $3k back)

> poorest Americans, and by abolishing the Bush tax cuts and

with all due respect I don't believe that many people voted for President Obama based on the limited belief that he might roll back Bush W. tax cuts to Bush H.W. levels, and at the same time kick cash down to any multi-billionaire who had a bad quarter and can't see how to sustain his/her profits

> Obama has already put his money where his mouth is in terms
> of economic redistribution.

I would just ask you to reconsider this sentence, particularly in light of AIG redistribution, which everyone understands.

> rewarded. I am still inclined to hope they will be. But
> there was some reason to believe that these assholes'
> contracts, if broken, would have wound up with lawsuits

I'm guessing that we've both been around the block enough times to understand that whenever anything changes, and a cash flow is interrupted, there will be lawsuits. I've never been afraid of them if I thought I was doing the right thing. Why should President Obama? Tim is a different question, he's never had credibility on the left. When he offers lame-ass explanations like this it just brands him a Clinton wannabe.

They want money? They don't deserve it and didn't earn it and effectively stole it? Our policy is to back down because we're afraid of their lawyers? I don't think so. I KNOW I didn't vote for that.

> Still, in terms of the scale of the things - the
> extraordinary investment that Obamam is making in our
> national infrastructure simply isn't comparable to
> things like these bonuses.

It's not separable because it's part of the same movement. That being said, and repeated, the move to renewable energy and improve education at the same time as healing the economy is breathtaking in ambition and scope.

The economy, though: is the necessary and inevitable re-settling of a monolith where too much cash went up too fast, repeatedly and for nearly 30 years... If someone was worth 45 million at lunch time and is now worth 32 million it's really just a market correction in terms of 1980 value. When they fire ten thousand people to maintain their profit margin there's a problem. We need to fix the second one, not the first.

> literally collapsing overnight. I don't know yet whether
> he and his team are doing the right thing here, but I
> don't actually believe you know that for sure
> yet either - I can't even get my head around what would
> happen if the US financial system collapsed entirely

I hear some dumb clod Republican candidate saying the same thing in four years. And that we've been paying corporate CEOs to rip us off, and that he wouldn't have done it (Newt Gringrich very wisely, I think, urged McCain to denounce bailouts and turn it into the Bush/Obama Bailout...of course Mr Gringrich's problem was that he also effectively urged no one to ever question a corporate strategy in public ever again...that was a moment and this is a moment. I expect us to do better than Gingrich/McCain)

I'm with the President, but I'm afraid I've plummeted to B+ and falling. We need fundamental economic reform, and we need it at the expense of those to whom the President is aggressively and immediately currying favour.....there will not be a better opportunity than this, they will not hand over cash on their own, they do not give a fuck about healthcare for you or me, and the president is killing the wave that could make it happen.

I really appreciate your taking the time to respond, though. I know that we're all in this together. My only point is that there are a lot of us unwilling to go the wrong way.



And finally, here's me again:

Hey Clayton,

I guess my overall point is that you can argue the rights and wrongs of things like the AIG bonuses issue, and I'm perfectly prepared to believe that Obama may have made a mistake there (I'm not sure he did, but there are things I would have done differently).

But my larger point is that we have a President who has already (in the stimulus package) passed a $750Billion+ progressive package that is making massive investments in services to the poor, education, transport infrastructure... just tons of great stuff that redistributes wealth from wealthy taxpayers straight to poor and working people. And the budget is based on the same principle, boldly taking a big chunk out of our need to invest for the future and lining up exactly with his campaign pledges in this area.

But this scares the conventional Washington types - because if this progam happens and stays popular it's the end of the conservative era in American politics. So better to gin up anger over things like executive bonuses - it's the same "demonise immigrants and gay marriage" strategy these people have been using to win elections for years, and it's a great big distraction exercise. "Oooohhh... look over here, rich people are getting money! Don't look over there where the country's problems are getting solved." I'm not fooled.

I meant what I said about Obama already being the most progressive President since Roosevelt, and I stand by my statement abotu redistribution. Hundreds of billions are going to help the poor and working class whose wages have stagnated for a decade (or who are out of work right now). Even the financial bailout money is going to keep tens of thousands of working class people in jobs - not just in the banks themselves bit in the companies they finance. Alternatively, you can let these companies go under and then you have to pay welfare and unemployment for their workers later on - I don't see how that's better for the taxpayer, and it sure isn't better for the workers.

Anyway, enough rambling. But I am highlighting the budgt stuff because I'm truly excited about it, and I think all of us who voted for a progressive vision of America should be.

All best wishes,


So tell me - who's right? Diatribes, defences, indignation and indifference all welcome in comments.

And stay tuned for an e-mail dialog with an old friend from the right.