Category Archives: Politics

Politics in modern America: A users guide for journalists and reformers

Summary:  The posts this week mark a conclusion to years of analysis on the FM website, as I struggle to understand what’s happening to America. The last piece of the puzzle came with my absurdly slow realization that Fox News is the model news provider for our New America. This is the fourth and last in a series briefly describing where we are, and what I personally am attempting to do about it. These posts rarely speak in the first person, but this is the exception.

American Power

 

Contents

  1. A look at America’s classes
  2. The mass market for information
  3. Another path
  4. For More Information

 

(1)  A look at America’s classes

Many American do not know the strength of the class system in America during the Gilded Age, before its disruption by WWII and the creation afterwards of a large middle class. For an entertaining introduction, I recommend watching Stella Dallas, with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role (1937). It describes the powerful role of class in our past, and perhaps in our future.

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. George Orwell gives us an updated model of a class structure that fits our America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly-paid senior leadership of our political and corporate institutions. There is the outer party of managers and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers and its underclass.

The bourgeois and inner party are the insiders. They have a common interest with their peers in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They desire tinkering with the details, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes.

Continue reading

The riots in Baltimore teach us much about America. They’re dark insights.

Summary: Political violence is a flare over society illuminating aspects of America about which we could otherwise only guess. This post attempts to describe things obvious but unstated in the flood of words about the riots in Baltimore and relate them to the quiet revolution now in progress.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Martin Luther King on nonviolence

What can we learn from the riots in Baltimore? The most obvious lesson: they demonstrate our amnesia and inability to learn. We could send America’s journalists and the chattering classes on vacation and just rerun articles from the late 1960’s about their race riots. That would also show our limited progress from that dark time.

These riots are wonderful for the news media (“if it bleeds, it leads”). They’re fodder for America’s thumb-sucking intelligentsia (see examples below). They provide us with some dark humor.  For example, the NY Times drolly reported that “… {new attorney general} Lynch’s aides said that improving police morale and finding common ground between law enforcement and minority communities would be among her top priorities”  (Salon’s Elias Isquith reasonably replied “As the chaos in Baltimore has shown, it’s far too soon to shift our attention to the grievances of cops.”)

But the problem of weaponized police transcends partisan lines, as shown by the NY Times’ description of how Obama’s “Justice Dept. Routinely Backs Officers’ Use of Force“:

At the Supreme Court, where the limits of police power are established, Mr. Holder’s Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way to arguments. Even as it has opened more than 20 civil rights investigations into local law enforcement practices, the Justice Department has staked out positions that make it harder for people to sue the police and that give officers more discretion about when to fire their guns.

… “There is an inherent conflict between people at the Justice Department trying to stop police abuses and other people at the Justice Department convincing the Supreme Court that police abuses should be excused,” said Ronald L. Kuby, a Manhattan civil rights lawyer.

More pointedly, these riots provide a teachable moment for the Left. William Teach at Right Wing News points out the evidence about the political failure which Baltimore’s flames illuminate. Increasing political participation of minorities was a solution to the 1960s race riots.

Continue reading

Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.

Summary: This is the second post giving a summary of my ideas about how to reform America’s politics. That is, ideas about starting the process. The people involved will have their own visions of reform. Yesterday’s post gave an overview; this post gives details about how a reform movement might begin, looking at the mechanics. We’re at the earliest stage of the process, before stage one (the most difficult stage). This is a bleak view, but reformers must have clear vision if they’re to have any chance at success.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Out of small acorns grow mighty oaks.”
— Ancient English proverb.

America is choice

Contents

  1. The only path to reform for a democracy.
  2. How do we build organizations to reform America?
  3. What comes next for early reform groups?
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information

(1)  The path to reform for a democracy

‘Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we’ll do more, Sempronius,—
We’ll deserve it.

— From Joseph Addison’s Cato A Tragedy (1713).

America will be what we will it to be. A political reform movement requires people with a shared viewpoint and commitment to action, capable of building organizations that convince a large body of Americas to share their goals. The specific steps on that road will depend on the circumstances, and I doubt we today can reliably guess what those will be — nor need we concern ourselves with those details now. Taking the first step poses enough of a challenge for today.

Do we have such a group of people today? The people of the Occupy movement agreed only upon the need for change — which created an organization capable of street theater but not meaningful action.

The Tea Party Movement was in many ways a near-perfect nucleus around which a substantial challenge to the ruling elites could have been mounted (even if born as astroturf).  But they were proud individualists, refused leadership and so were quickly and easily co-opted to become shock troops for the GOP (born as rebels against a bank-bailout government becoming supporters for one of the more bank-friendly Congresses since the 1930s). Their evolution shows the power of the 1%, and the need to build a strong organization rather than a constellation of easily manipulated small groups).

(2)  How do we build organizations to reform America?

How does one design an electric motor? Would you attach a bathtub to it, simply because one was available? Would a bouquet of flowers help? A heap of rocks? No, you would use just those elements necessary to its purpose and make it no larger than needed … {People} will share {your views} when the time comes, or you’ve misjudged the moment in history.

— From Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

We’ve been losing for a long time. The balance of power between the 1% and us has swung far against us, so we will continue to lose for the foreseeable future.

Don’t compare the needed organization to the great organizations that brought victory to the abolitionists, suffragettes, and American civil rights movement. Instead compare our situation to the beginnings of those movements. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded in April 1775 by 24 men. The Testonites, one of Britain’s first antislavery societies, was founded in the early 1780s by a small group of people. The Committees of Correspondence were small groups in each colony. That’s where we are today. Recruiting people for a long program against long odds — it’s not the phase at which mass recruitment is possible.

Where can such people be found? Let’s not be narrow in our visions. It’s possible that a nucleus of people might form inside existing organizations and spread within it. Or among neighbors, co-workers, among strangers brought together on the internet. Hundreds or thousands of such groups will form, from which a few will have the right mixture of ideas, people, resources, and luck that allows them to grow.

(3)  What comes next for the early reform groups?

The great successful political reform movements of our past spent years or decades laying a foundation for growth.  They prepared answers to the vital questions.  Why was change needed?  Change towards what goal?  And they built the basic machinery: organizing, collecting petitions, developing leaders, fund-raising, etc. They built alliances with other groups having broadly similar goals.

We have the same need. I believe the same solution will work, as they’ve been refined by each generation. Look at the abundant raw material! We have hundreds of groups, dozens of coalitions — mostly special interest groups (with focused goals, hence unable to gain broad support). The internet has thousands of websites about politics with millions of readers in the outer party (i.e., the managers and professional classes). These are tinder awaiting a spark.

Today these people are either apolitical or focused on influencing the two major parties (on a local, State, or national level) on narrow goals. This is similar to conditions in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Their reform movements were able to knit their groups into a larger whole. We should be able to do so as well.

The best we can hope for is a long trek (the alternative is a quick defeat).

Please post in the comments pointers to others writing about the steps to reforming America. That is, writing about the mechanics of doing so — not visions of what might be. I’ve found very few, which is a symptom of our problem (as described yesterday).

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

— From “Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson (1842).

(4)  Other Posts in this Series

  1. What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?
  2. Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter.
  3. Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?
  4. We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.
  5. Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See the links to the pages About the quiet coup in America and Reforming America: steps to new politics.

Look at immigration policy to see our government respond to its masters

Summary: Immigration has been one of the most fascinating issues in American politics, revealing the influence of our elites over not just the government but also the experts and media that guide public policy. A new report shows past trends — revealing hidden causes of our problems — and points to a new future for America.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

Immigrants as fraction of US population

Graph of US Census data, prepared by the Center for Immigration Studies, April 2015. See Census graphs here.

Using data from US Census reports, the Center for Immigration Studies reveals some powerful trends (see their report for sources and methodology) …

  • Total net immigration (the difference between the number coming and going) will increase steadily over the next 45 years, totaling 64 million.
  • Absent a change in current policy, the Census Bureau projects that in 2023 the nation’s immigrant population (legal and illegal) will reach 14.8% (51 million) of the total U.S. population — the highest share ever recorded in American history.
  • The bureau also projects that the immigrant population will grow nearly four times faster than the native-born population, reaching 15.8% (57 million) of the nation’s population in 2030, 17.1% (65 million) in 2040, and 18.8% (78 million) in 2060.
  • To place these numbers into historical context, as recently as 1990, immigrants were 7.9% (20 million) of the total U.S. population.
  • The nation’s total population will grow to 417 million by 2060 — 108 million more than in 2010. This increase is roughly equivalent to adding the combined populations of California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts to the country.
  • The new projections indicate that, absent a change in immigration policy, immigrants who will arrive in the future plus their descendants will account for roughly three-fourths of future U.S. population increase.

What effect will this have on America?

“{this body of excess workers} forms a disposable industrial reserve army …  a mass of human material always ready for exploitation.”
— Marx’s Das Kapital, expanding upon Friedrich Engels’ insight. They got a few things right.

A four-fold increase in immigrants as a fraction of the total population creates a severe shock to America, even when occurring over 90 years. That would take us beyond the point at which massive popular opposition forced “closing the door” in the early 20th century: the Immigration Act of 1917, the Emergency Quota Act (1921), and the Immigration Act of 1924. FDR reduced immigration to trickle during the Great Depression.

With the supply of cheap labor restricted, the foundation for a large middle class was laid. Unions were able to gain traction and wages began the long rise. Of course corporations immediately began to undermine these accomplishments. By 1970 their efforts began to bear fruit: unions were weakening, immigrants began to grow as a fraction of the population, and wages stagnated. By 1990 unions were crushed, immigrants flooded in with few limitations, and real wages for the unskilled plummeted.  Supply rising faster than demand.

We can expect more of all three trends as the 1% continues to gain power.

Continue reading

Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

Summary: So many posts on the FM website have discussed our problems in depressing detail. Today let’s discuss solutions. How can we reform American’s politics? This post summarizes my dozens of posts on the subject. See tomorrow’s post “Organizing for successful political reform.” {1st of 2 posts today}

“Everything is very simple in politics, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen politics.”
— Chapter VII of On War by Clausewitz, slightly paraphrased.

Fire of the Soul

Contents

  1. Our problem
  2. The path to a better America
  3. Where we are today
  4. The road ahead
  5. Building an organization
  6. When do we get to do protests?
  7. For More Information

(1) Our problem

Strictly speaking, there is no problem with America’s political regime. The American people have the right to choose how they are governed. If we choose to be passive, allowing power to pass into the hands of the 1%, that’s our inalienable right.

So our challenge is to reawaken our fellow citizens. We want rights and liberty, but lack a willingness to work for it — and to carry the burdens of self-government that accompany rights and liberty. For more about this, see How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors? and Can we reignite the spirit of America?

(2)  The path to a better America

My series about America has sparked many comments, mostly elaborate reasons why surrender and apathy are our best options (see some examples). My opinion about ways to reform America is simple. The formula is deliberately non-partisan. Left or Right, I believe more citizen activism will put us back on our true path.

  • We are in this together.  America is a ship; we are its crew (not passengers).
  • Individually we are weak.  Collectively we are strong.
  • Our reluctance to take personal responsibility for the Republic is our greatest problem.
  • What are the odds of success at fixing America?  It does not matter; nobody cares about the odds. Our forefathers didn’t. Our descendants won’t listen to our excuses.

Continue reading

America slides to the right, faster. Why? What you can do about it!

Summary: Today’s post gives excerpts from some of the best political analysis of the year, concluding with suggestions for those people who care to do something about it.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

El Reagan: viva revolucion

Contents

  1. The best political analysis of the year.
  2. Excerpt #1: The Problem.
  3. Excerpt #2: The real problem, part one.
  4. Excerpt #3: The real problem, part two.
  5. What you can do about all this.
  6. For More Information.

 

(1)  The best political analysis you’ll read this year

A slow-mo revolution has been running in America since 1980. We have entered the steep part of the “S” curve, when laboriously built political machinery of the Right reaches maturity and exerts its full power.

There have been hundreds of articles about this. Pulling all this together is “No Cost for Extremism” in The American Prospect — “Why the GOP hasn’t (yet) paid for its march to the right.” The authors are professors of political science: Jacob Hacker at Yale, Paul Pierson at Berkeley. If not stopped it will shape a new America for the 21st century. I recommend that you read it in full.

On the other hand, why bother unless you’ll do something about it? See the last section for some ideas.

(2)  Excerpt #1: The Problem

According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.”

There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. … based on voting records, the current Republican majority in the Senate is far more conservative than the last Republican majority in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the incoming House majority is unquestionably the most conservative in modern history, continuing the virtually uninterrupted 40-year march of the House Republican caucus to the hard right.

The GOP’s great right migration is the biggest story in American politics of the past 40 years. And it’s not just limited to Congress: GOP presidents have gotten steadily more conservative, too; conservative Republicans increasingly dominate state politics; and the current Republican appointees on the Supreme Court are among the most conservative in the Court’s modern history.

Continue reading

Will we be better off ruled by the 1%?

Summary: This post asks if the project to reform America is not just futile but misguided. Yesterday’s post explained how American’s political system has become dysfunctional from the conflict for control between the upper middle class (the professional and managerial classes I call the “outer party”) and the 1% and its allies (especially the wealthy and leadership classes I call the “inner party”). Today we follow this reasoning to its surprising but logical conclusions. Leave your reaction in the comments. {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. … The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”

— Peter Thiel (Silicon Valley billionaire) in “The Education of a Libertarian“, CATO Unbound, 13 April 2009. You’ll seldom here the voice of the 1% more clearly.

We are the future

(1)  What happens if the 1% wins?

The great challenge of the 1% will be maintaining social cohesion under their rule. We must feel that their rule is legitimate even if runs against our interests. Medieval kings did this with the support of the Church, convincing the people of the divine right of kings.

I suspect they will rely on two pillars of popular support. The social conservatives are the equivalent of the European right-wing parties’ “throne and altar” alliance, who give their support in exchange for mostly symbolic support. Libertarians provide a second pillar, who will cheer as the 1% strip mine America and social mobility declines from its already low level — and give their support to the 1% in exchange for almost nothing.

Life will continue under their rule, with few changes. It will be more difficult and insecure for us; it will be more fun for the 1% (i.e., they’ll have more power). We of the outer party will still read the news, cheering our tribe and booing the others — staying well-informed, although eventually we’ll no longer remember why we bother.

They will eliminate much of the regulations on people’s behavior, for good or ill, because they don’t care what the masses do. Their rule could be stable for a long term.

Continue reading