A brief definitional note.

March 5, 2010

Dear everybody,

It seems like there is some confusion coming in from all reaches of the political spectrum as to what it means to be a progressive liberal, so here’s my view in brief.

Liberalism is not a lifestyle.  It’s an ideology.  It’s based on humanistic principles – liberty and equality.  If you stick a “neo” in front of it or qualify it in some other way, it stops being liberal.  A politician who disavows being a liberal is probably telling the truth.  It’s not a club.  It’s not about winning the competition on who can be the most politically correct.  It’s not new.  It’s what free democratic societies are founded on.  It’s not nationalist, but if your country merits it, it is patriotic.

Progressivism is not a cult.  It’s a political orientation.  It’s an effort to reflect liberal principles to political outcomes.  It’s not communism.  It’s practical, but it doesn’t compromise its principles, ally with whoever is in power, or constantly settle for the easy only-slightly-less-evil outcome, because progressivism seeks positive movement – it doesn’t settle for the status quo.
It’s not partisan, except to the extent that a particular party is progressive.  Progressivism isn’t monolithic; it’s not about adhering to a political doctrine – it’s about leveraging common ground.  It’s not about weakness, or being nice to people whose agenda harms others.  It’s not about staying above the fray, keeping one’s hands clean and staying on the sidewalk while getting nothing done.  It’s not about meekly accepting whatever the future might bring.  It’s about shaping the future together.  Progressivism pushes forward deliberately.  It’s aim is to improve society.

That’s all.



Joe Stack IRS Suicide Attack and Political Fallout – Take Back Talking Points episode 11

February 25, 2010

Who was Joseph Stack, and more importantly, how will he be viewed by the people? Will he be viewed as a hero, a villain, a terrorist, a freedom fighter, a left-wing liberal progressive, or a right-wing conservative teabagger?

In this episode of our progressive talk show Take Back Talking Points, we earnestly analyze Joseph Stack’s suicide attack on the IRS building in Austin, Texas. Having had some run-ins with the tax system in the past, and seemingly having had domestic problems as well, he burned down the house he shared with his wife and daughter, and attacked the IRS office in his airplane.

With his political views more complex and nuanced than the left/right paradigm, this man does not fit in on one side or the other. The immediate reaction from both sides has been mixed, a combination of trying to underplay the importance of this incident, and trying to pin the opposition’s flag on this man’s corpse and his crime.

Will others follow Joe Stack’s example? How do people react when they feel the system is designed to push the elites higher up and pull the common man down?

View the entire episode in playlist format here, download the mp3 audio podcast version here, or view the rest of the embedded videos after the jump.

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Will Climategate Drive a Wedge in Alternative Politics? One from the Vault

February 24, 2010

This is Take Back Talking Points Episode 6, originally recorded in November.

Today’s episode, featuring Zach, FeelFreeToArgue, and KazukiSeirei, we discuss the Climategate scandal, how real it is and what it means, and whether it will drive a wedge between the people who need to work together to make real change, those on both the right and the left who are tired of corruption in Washington and favors for Wall Street.

View the entire episode in YouTube playlist format here, or view the rest of the video segments after the jump.

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Joe Stack and Self-Determination, & The Difference Between Obama’s Lies and Bush’s Lies

February 19, 2010

A word on the breaking news, Joseph Stack attacks an IRS office in an airplane, seemingly because he felt like he had no voice in a corrupt government which served the rich and not the people. People lash out when they have no hope or feeling of self-determination and control over their lives, and this is just a particularly explosive example.

The main story, Obama lies vs. Bush lies, and why Bush can lie and break the law and destroy the Constitution with no reaction from his party, his base, or conservatives in general, while Obama can’t afford to run that kind of show because progressives actually care about that stuff.
In other words, Bush got away with lying because he was lying “for us”, from the conservative perspective. When what we progressives want is a more accountable and transparent government which serves the people, Obama can’t claim to be on our side when he lies and makes backroom deals.

Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Win Revisited

February 14, 2010

An example of how political frames blind us to obvious explanations.

Ever since the Massachusetts upset, the excuses have poured in fast and furious.  It was Coakley’s fault for not trying hard enough.  She phoned it in.  It’s just not as liberal a state as everybody thought.  Or maybe the voters are okay with Scott Brown because he’s not THAT conservative.  Nate Silver thinks it was because voters thought health care was moving forward too fast, although he uncharacteristically bases this opinion on anecdote.  Or it was a protest vote – the peasants are revolting against their new masters!  The small-minded proles insist that their Senator be well-versed in baseball!

None of these explanations seem quite correct to me.  Yes, as a campaigner, Coakley was no Obama, but neither was Brown.  Brown is moderate, but not more so than your standard New England Republican.  And Massachusetts as a whole?  More liberal than Martha Coakley I reckon.  Health care moving too fast?  Could it possibly move any slower!  Protest votes go to third parties and Santa Claus – people mostly don’t vote for the Republican unless they really truly prefer the Republican to the Democrat.

So I was mystified until one Sunday morning in the middle TBTP, Alex/Capitalocracy puts it on the table.  Possibly, probably, some voters were voting for Brown to kill the bill – the Senate version of the health care bill.  And not just conservative voters, but moderates and progressives too – ones who were presumed to be safely in Coakley’s pocket.  It’s obvious.  Massachusetts already has a health care system on par with if not better than what is likely to pass out of Congress, so the Massachusetts voting public reaps no benefit if the Senate’s lame excuse for comprehensive health care reform passes, and they have first-hand experience to tell them that the mandate/subsidy combo of coverage expansion won’t exactly be the holy grail of health care for the nation at large.  And presumably, many of them are aware that without a public option, collective negotiating power, and meaningful competition in pharma and insurance industries, the long-term problem of skyrocketing costs crippling our economy remains.  Add to that the political fall-out that will occur when the American public discovers just how they’ve been forced to shell out thousands to insurers without even being guaranteed a reasonable standard of coverage, and a sensible progressive might conclude that the best course of action is to vote for the candidate who will kill the bill, or just stay home altogether.

So why hasn’t the kill-the-bill been put forth as a possible explanation for Scott Brown’s win?  Especially when there is polling data of Obama voters who in the Senate election either stayed home or voted for Scott Brown that shows overwhelming support for a strong public option, along with a significant amount of sentiment that the Senate bill “doesn’t go far enough’?

Easy.  The right wing wants you to think that everybody who voted for Scott Brown is on their side, and the establishment left wants you to believe that they are the loyal standard-bearers for the progressive agenda.  A kill-the-bill explanation undermines both of those narratives, and the purveyors of those narratives are the ones who control the messages the media puts out.  They set the terms of debate.  They craft the frame.  Explanations such as the one put forth in this post can’t be expressed in the frame’s terms.

A broader example of a political frame blinding people to obvious possibilities is the Democratic Party’s general failure to pursue its platform, let alone halt or reverse regressive policies and law implemented over the past decade, despite controlling the legislative and executive branches of the US government.  The typical progressive Democrat will struggle to explain the general lack of change since 2008, overlooking the obvious answer which is blocked by the assumptions of his or her political frame of reference.  The assumption is that, in general, people who espouse a left-leaning platform must be well-intentioned, since anybody smart enough to articulate a progressive line of reasoning will necessarily take it to heart, while those who espouse a conservative platform are likely to be crooks and liars, since conservatism is so irrational that any thinking person spouting that drivel must be doing it just to get votes.  However, the most likely explanation for the Democrat’s lack of action contradicts this, because the most likely explanation is that Democratic politicians’ actions are largely dictated by moneyed interests.  Lobbyists ask for compromise, and they get it.  Lobbyists ask for delay, and they get it.  Lobbyists ask for Democrats to stick to “bipartisan” tactics to ensure that progressive legislation is derailed and gutted, and then blame Republicans so they can maintain power in the face of a progressive majority.  And they get it.

Want to do something about it?  Identify the assumptions inherent in your worldview.  Question them.  Ask others to do the same.  The future of your country relies on it.

Gov. Palin A Liberal? Sarah Joins Progressive Movement

February 13, 2010

In a surprising political about-face, Sarah Palin has decided to join the progressive movement. Apparently, someone showed her the polls and she realized that’s where the real populism was and she wanted to be a part of it. Interestingly, she offers some very strong advice for how progressives in America can organize to enact real change.

This video is in two parts, second part after the jump.

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Freedom & Your Fantasy Sex Life

February 11, 2010

Sarah Palin asked the question right the beginning of her speech at the Teabagger Convention – “Do you love your freedom?”

It got the expected roar of response. This softball was itself a lead in to her call for the attendees to thank the veterans present, making the implicit link between our freedoms and the military might to defend them.

But the more I think of freedom, I wonder what most people know of it. Aside from being something that clearly needs to be defended with an enormous amount of weaponry, how does it manifest itself in our society? When people say they love freedom, what are they are loving?

I would contend most people love freedom in the same way they would love a picture of a beautiful person of the opposite sex. I can gaze adoringly at a picture of Miss March 1998, and imagine the totally hot sex I would have with her. And I can cling to that fantasy right up to the point where I run into her and am forced to confront the reality that I’m a middle aged man who grosses her out and I love my wife anyway. But in any event, any encounter with reality ruins the fantasy – immediately.

That’s a large part of the reason why I protested at the last Republican National Convention, to find out how much of what I thought about freedom was a fantasy. It was quite the bucket of cold water, both in terms of my own experiences and the stories I was told by more seasoned protesters. Since then, I’ve tried to be more vigilant, to pay attention to how the protest landscape is changing.

What I’ve found is an alarming set of forces, all pointing in the direction of decreased freedom, decreased democracy. One of the most important is the criminalization of dissent. From the institution of the noxious and oxymoronic “free speech zones,” to the largescale infiltration of peace and justice groups (esp. those with histories of civil disobedience) by government agents,  and the rise of fusion centers to coordinate regional spying on Americans, many things are converging to entrench existing power structures at the precise moment when they’re establishing their inability to self-correct.

Which brings us to our fantasy relationship with Lady Liberty. It’s easy to love L.L. from afar. Listening to people talk pretty about your girl on the 4th of July and Veteran’s Day – not to mention the towering heights politicos ascend during election seasons. Yeah, Land of the Fucking Free, that’s MY gal.

But like my relationship with Mrs. March, it will not survive you actually meeting the object of your ardor. The state I watched surround an under-attended family “Peace Picnic” across the river from the RNC with troopers in riot gear is very confident, and it has every reason to be. It has vast resources, advanced weapons and spy equipment, and debased privacy laws. In St Paul, protesters were gassed at the end of the Poor People’s March while doing their best to disperse. They were making every attempt to leave peacefully and were faced with lines of advancing cops shooting tear gas every direction they turned. It was shoot first ask questions later – just gas this time.

At the recent G20 summit, a protester was arrested for tweeting orders to disperse  the police were shouting through a bullhorn.  It’s hard to imagine more public information. The police later raided the vicious tweeter’s apartment and carted away numerous personal possessions for examination – including an afghan a family member had knitted him.

The CIA is investing heavily in companies that do data mining on social sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Our constitutional lawyer president shows no interest in overturning the FISA legislation he once promised Russ Feingold he’d help filibuster, but then later voted for. We also have recent reassurances that our extra-judicial assassination program is alive and well, as well as our torture program, though transported to Afghanistan now and decentralized for additional secrecy.

No wonder this administration is not going after Bush era officials for torture,  since they surely know the current administration is continuing their policies. Heard Cheney growl about this topic lately? It’s as  dead as Michael Jackson.

But most people are unaware of all this. They’re too busy trying to hang on to their shitty job with minimal benefits. They wouldn’t protest even if they had the time because modern families have no resiliency. Most families are now budgeted for 2 paychecks each week all year long. Neither earner can be out of work for any substantial amount of time, or the family unit starts to go under. Also, people have fewer and fewer rights at the workplace. For these and other reasons (like the current high unemployment rate) people are very risk averse.

They’ve also heard little bits and pieces of the things I’ve mentioned, or different things, like the building the size of the Superdome the NSA is constructing to house all the information they’re gathering on…well, who the fuck knows? They’re the NSA, good luck finding out.

Everyone’s seen some coverage, maybe a  protest march dissolving into tear gas and running people, or people lined up on the ground with zipwire handcuffs – bits and pieces. Not enough to make them lose faith in the system, but certainly enough to make them a little afraid. And a little fear can be a powerful thing. It can be a powerful persuader; it can break ties.

Let’s go back to our fantasy. Miss March comes to my town promoting her new book, “Spreading Sugar: A Metatextual Analysis of Strindberg.” Unfortunately, while clicking on articles about her (mostly to find new pictures) I also find out that she’s…well…not very nice. Selfish, nasty, demeaning – basically, nobody has anything nice to say about her. Am I more likely to go to her booksigning and confront her with my true feelings, or stay at home with my increasingly tattered Playboy and my fantasy of the life we’d have together?

Have you tried telling Lady Liberty that gown makes her butt look big? If you did, you might find out she’s not the forgiving dame you always imagined she was. The point is, until you tell her something she doesn’t want to hear, it’s pointless to say you know how she’s going to react. Put more plainly: Until you’re in the street saying something power doesn’t want to hear, until you actually use your freedoms, you can’t say you know what the state of freedom in this country is.

Zach Elliott