Tag Archives: democratic party

Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)

Summary:  On Friday I said that we would torture again., despite the evidence in the Senate’s report.  This weekend former and current high officials of the US government confirmed that guess. Defenders of torture dispute the evidence, deny that torture was torture, and offer bold affirmations that they would torture again.

For I doubt not but, if it had been a thing contrary to any man’s right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, ‘that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square,’ that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

— Thomas Hobbs in The Leviathan

Shining City Upon a Hill

By Hawk862

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The Bush and Obama administrations have put torture into our national DNA.  In the past Americans supporting (or enjoying) torture spoke quietly, least they (rightly) get compared to torturers of the NAZI Gestapo, Soviet KGB, and the many lesser known secret police of 3rd world nations (many of whom learned their craft at the US Special Forces’ School of the Americas).

Now come the propos to convince the American people that this is business as usual, that we’re still an exceptional City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).

So closes the next chapter in America’s fall. We’ll use torture again. Read Republican’s justification of torture. Hear the echos from the past. As so many have said before, Hitler was just early (hence Godwin’s Law). Listen closely — their words justify torture of Americans (when designated as bad guys by the government). That shouldn’t surprise us after so many tools of the war on terror appear on America’s streets. (plus, of course, Obama’s assassination of American citizens).

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

His word salad clearly communicates that our rights mean nothing to him. CNN about Scalia’s interview on December 12 on Swiss National Radio:

The justice who’s been a mainstay of the high court’s conservative wing for 28 years condemned the “self-righteousness of European liberals” who oppose torture “so easily” Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.  “I don’t think it’s so clear at all,” Scalia said. “I think it is very facile for people to say ‘Oh, torture is terrible,'” he said. “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. “You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?”

… “What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they’ve gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are,” Scalia said.

“And therefore each society’s perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it’s very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that.”

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America swings to the Right. The Left loses. How has the Left dug itself into this hole?

Summary: Today we look at one of the defining political trends of our time — America’s movement to the Right. Like most political evolutions in our history, it’s bipartisan. Previous posts have examined how the Right has won. Today and tomorrow we look at how the Left has accomplished this (it didn’t just happen), and how they have responded to this long series of defeats. These are just sketches about vast and complex trends. At the end see links to other posts in this series.

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America has been moving to the Right since roughly 1980. Not in all things. The 1% cares about power and money; as a class it does not care who marries who. The US health care system’s decay, and the Right’s indifference to reform, allowed the Left to pass ObamaCare.

But the overall trend has been to the Right. A few examples…

  1. Defunding public colleges.
  2. Cutting taxes on the rich and businesses, shifting the tax burden down (as the GOP is doing in the States today).
  3. Reducing the safety net (e.g., . Reducing the minimum wage (in real terms), Clinton “ending welfare as we know it” in 1996).
  4. Crushing private sector unions.
  5. Deregulation of corporations, especially banks.
  6. Eroding away the 1970s reforms on the military and intelligence agencies.

We can debate the wisdom of these changes (I’m mostly against them all), but let’s leave that debate for another day. How has the Left responded? Today we’ll see how the Left has worked to gain public support — and failed. Tomorrow we’ll examine how they addressed the equally important (in an operational sense) task of maintaining internal cohesion during their long defeat.

The Left fights back

The Left responded its efforts on use of two tactics.

(a)  Legal leverage

The Left used its strength in the Courts to effect public policy measures they could not do through democratic means. Most notably, expansion of environmental protections, plus expanded rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. Although this produced some wins, the long-term effect has been catastrophic for the Left.

The focus on legalistic tactics led to an atrophy of grass-roots organizing, and a loss of legitimacy for the agenda. Legitimacy in the political sense, people’s acceptance of governmental authority. From bussing to abortion to closing logging in the NW to save the spotted owl, court-driven policy measures produce powerful backlashes unless supported with deep measures to gain public support — which step the Left has often skipped. An increasing fraction of the public believes the Left uses anti-democratic (even authoritarian) means to change public policy.

Now the real weakness of this strategy appears, as the increased strength of the Right results in more conservative judges at all levels. Judicial activism works just as well for the Right as the Left. Indeed for most of American history the Courts have been a conservative, even reactionary force. We might return to this old normal.

(b)  Gaining strength by sounding alarms

 

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Stand by for political realignment in America!

Summary:  I’ve long believed that our political system has rapidly accumulating strains, soon to rip the system apart so that new coalitions emerge, centered on new issues — political realignments (see Wikipedia), as has happened before in American history. Not the widely anticipated move to the “middle” (a two-dimensional line), but political reshuffling in multiple dimensions.

Perhaps we now have the first signs of it happening. On the other hand, just as the first Robin doesn’t mean Spring has begun, rising stress does not mean the realignment has begun.

American Extremists

On the Right

The Right, and especially its vanguard — the Tea Party movement — have become servants of the 1%. They’re helping the 1% build the New America described in scores of posts on the FM website. They are one possible future for America.

  1. A belligerent foreign policy, supporting a mad unprofitable empire.
  2. Political divisions between hostile races and religions.
  3. Growing inequality and falling social mobility (e.g., defunding public schools and universities).
  4. Tax burden shifted, as the GOP is doing in the States, from the rich to the middle class.

It’s a common pattern in history. It’s a change from the America-that-once-was. It’s a slow-motion revolution. It might push some into defecting from the Right to a new movement closer to their conservative principles.

Looking to the future, neither the GOP nor its Tea Party faction are all grey-hairs. As shown by this Pew Poll, published 16 October 2013. The Republicans are slightly light on Millennials (born after 1980, so age 18 – 33) and slightly heavy on Boomers. The Tea Party movement is catastrophically light on Millennials and over-weight on Boomers. The cutting edge of society in terms of youth and energy is not with the extreme Right.

Pew Poll of Tea Party Movement

Pew Poll, 16 October 2013

On the Left

There is no equivalent of the Tea Party on the Left. After decades of decay, the Left’s too decrepit to have a broadly political movement; all that remains are single-issue groups. Like the unions and the environmentalists. With an aging membership, and a slow loss of public support.

From an article by Paul Voosen in E&E Publishing, 13 April 2012 (unrelated to this post, which I highly recommend):

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A look into the GOP mind: untethered from reality and drifting in the wind

Summary: Scores of posts have documented the difficulty Americans have seeing the world. Of course this affects both Left and Right. But not equally. The Right has more fully exploited the powerful tools of propaganda developed during the past century, both to motivate the faithful and gain support. Unfortunately decades of shifting the Right’s viewpoint has broken its tether to reality, allowing a slide into delusions. Today we see some evidence of this in the polls.

No rejoicing by the Left, please. Schadenfreude, however natural, should be outweighed by the danger this creates for the Republic, that a large fraction of a major party has lost their bearings.

Alice when the Madness Returns

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Contents

  1. Poll #1
  2. Poll #2
  3. Poll #3
  4. Other posts about the Right in America
  5. For More Information

Poll #1

Democrats and Republicans differ on conspiracy theory beliefs, a survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP), 2 April 2013.

Q#1: Do you believe global warming is a hoax? — 58% of GOP say “yes”.

Poll: global warming by party

Public Policy Polling, April 2013

For more about Republicans’ views of global warming, see this Gallup report, this Pew Research report. And this Pew Poll:

Poll: global warming, by party

Contrast that with the consensus of climate scientists:

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I. For more about this consensus see these studies.

 PPP Question#8:  Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ? — 20% of the GOP say “yes”.

This is a disturbing next step from the “Is Obama not a US citizen” and “Is Obama a Muslim?” questions, whose weirdness we have become accustomed to.

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Look in the polls, as in a mirror, to see America drift to the Right

Summary:  How have the two major parties done in attracting and retaining the public’s confidence and allegiance, from February 2009 to now? The long slow recovery should have boosted the Democratic Party, who have controlled the Executive Branch and the Senate. It hasn’t. In fact the Democrat’s remain locked into the long decline of the Left, which they’ve ridden by following the public’s shift to the Right (Democratic leaders of the 1960’s would be considered radical commies if they ran today). This is interesting since so many Republicans have gone crazy.

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Poll by Hart Research Associates
Commissioned by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal
Done 22 – 25 January 2014.

Question #6:

“Now I’m going to read you the names of several public figures and groups and I’d like you to rate your feelings toward each one as very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative.”

Compare the results for February 2009 (soon after the inauguration) and January 2014 (% for each answer; the results are similar for December 2008). Political scientists have more sophisticated ways to measure people’s political alignment, but this is the bottom lines for elections.

One party running America

The Democratic Party:

Positive -12, Neutral +4, Negative +9, Don’t know -1

  • Very positive:………….20 vs 10…..10
  • Somewhat positive:….29 vs 27…..02
  • Neutral:………………….18 vs 22…..+04
  • Somewhat negative:…14 vs 20…..+06
  • Very negative:………….17 vs 20…..+03
  • Don’t know:…………….02 vs 01…..-01

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The achilles heel of both political parties, waiting to be exploited by reformers

Summary: The two parties in America stand as invincible barriers to political reform. They own the high ground; they control all the gates. No set of attractive policies will overcome them. Yet they have points of vulnerability exploitable by determined reformers who seek not just better doctrine but also organizational superiority. We can defeat giants, for they act stupid and slowly. Today we discuss one kind of advantage, part of a long series about ways to reform America (see links at the end). Not the fun of slogans and magic policies, but the specifics of building change.

Achilles

Democrats & Republicans: almost invincible


And every eye
Gazed as before some brother of the sky.
The Odyssey, Book VIII, line 17.

Contents

  1. Their weakness
  2. Lessons Learned
  3. For More Information

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(1)  Their weakness

Both Democrats and Republicans are “reality-based communities”, with a clear understanding — of each other. Both parties have in themselves the seeds of greatness, but are hobbled by their confidence in their beliefs, their preference for orthodoxy over truth, an unwillingness to hear criticism, and a disinterest in growth.

Epistemic closure” protects the members of each faction from learning. Information comes only from in-group sources, with heterodox thought discouraged by group norms. The Democrats see this clearly in the Republicans. The GOP sees this clearly in the Democrats. So each party understands that the other’s worldview has little credibility.

This is most often described as a problem of the Republicans. But the Democrats are equally afflicted. Perhaps the best-known example: their belief that its portfolio of Treasury bonds funds Social Security. Eminent economists, such as Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) and Paul Krugman confidently state this absurdity. As if a bond is an asset when held by the issuer. Federal government pays social security; it cannot fund one obligation with another obligation. You might as well write an IOU to yourself for a trillion dollars and ask to join the Fortune 500.

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Let’s learn from this inevitable crisis, which results from flaws in our system

Summary: While the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the similar crises that lie ahead. Failure to learn and respond to these might have ugly consequences during the next decade. Today we look at one of the two vital lessons. This is the second of a four part series.

Blasting caps

Just like the Tea Party Movement

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Contents

  1. Introduction to our problem
  2. A brilliant but superficial analysis
  3. A deeper analysis
  4. Another forecast
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

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(1)  Introduction

While the shutdown and debt crisis probably ends in days or a few weeks, the lessons we learn from it can help us better manage the many crises that lie ahead. The two great lessons:

  1. Our government’s structure is exceptional because it is flawed, and so copied by few other nations.
  2. The two Tea Party and Evangelical factions of the GOP have allied, becoming a powerful force in US politics. This crisis shows that they have become a disruptive due to their alienation and unwillingness to compromise.

Our Constitutional structure of a divided Executive and Legislature — with the Legislature further divided into two houses — allows potentially destabilizing political gridlock. The somewhat non-ideological basis of American parties for most of our history (with other strong divisions, such as regional) hid this. But now the parties have resorted themselves on more logical lines, sharpening the competition and making compromise more difficult.

Perhaps after two centuries we should worship the Founders less and strive to improve on their work. We can start by asking why most new nations adopt parliamentary systems, instead of copying ours.

The second factor is the maturation of US political system into ideologically coherent parties, with both having an extreme acting as shock troops. The Republicans, as usual, do this much better than the Democrats — building the Tea Party movement into a powerful grassroots activist network. It’s the logical evolution of our system, remarkable only in that it took two centuries.

The first is like dynamite (the subject of today’s post). Tomorrow we discuss the second, which is like a detonator. The combination can produce a ugly crisis, which the current one foreshadows. But the problem is structural. The Founders hated and feared “factions”, but made few provisions in the political system for their management. Its emergence seems inevitable during a crisis, eventually.

(2) A brilliant but superficial analysis

Shutdown’s roots lie in deeply embedded divisions in America’s politics“, Washington Post, 5 October 2013 — Excerpt:

The government shutdown did not happen by accident. It is the latest manifestation — an extreme one by any measure — of divisions long in the making and now deeply embedded in the country’s politics. At some point, presumably, the current standoff will end. The federal government will reopen, the ceiling on its borrowing power will be lifted and some stalled legislation could pass. Some sense of normalcy will return to official Washington.

But it also could be a new normal, as confrontation remains commonplace and true compromise rare. Meanwhile, the ideological, cultural and political differences that led to this moment of extreme governmental dysfunction are almost certain to shape elections and legislative battles in the near term.

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