Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Archive for May 17th, 2007

Good News, Bad News

Posted by MEC on May 17, 2007

(illustration from Punch, volume 1, 1841)

The Good News: Wolfowitz to resign from World Bank

The Bad News: George W. Bush gets to nominate his successor.

It is traditional in the Bush regime to replace a bad choice (e.g. John Ashcroft) with a much worse choice (e.g. Alberto Gonzales).

Since we’re talking about Paul Wolfowitz here, “a much worse choice” will have to be very bad indeed. My money’s on Ahmed Chalabi.

Posted in BushCo malfeasance, Busheviks, corruption, Paul Wolfowitz, PNAC Platoon, Wolfowitz | 13 Comments »

Back to the Future: a comment on Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason

Posted by Charles II on May 17, 2007

Al Gore:

“So the remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way—a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.” (via Atrios)

I doubt that many of the readers of this book excerpt will understand what it really means. Perhaps Al Gore doesn’t either.

I recently did a personal project which led me back through the 1960s and what happened in the domestic political scene. To oversimplify a lot, the Democratic coalition was comprised of liberals and populists. Financial interests, large and small, attached themselves to one party or another. Democratic policies, which emphasized middle class growth, were advantageous for consumer, technology, and export industries, while Republican policies, which emphasized jiggering tax and finance, were favored by other industries. On a local level, real estate and development interests were often attached to whoever was in power. In cities and in the South, that usually meant Democrats.

The civil rights movement, demanded by liberals, put deep strains on the Democratic coalition. But the decisive factor in ending Democratic dominance and ushering in the Republican period of dominance that began with Nixon appears to have been, ironically, an obscure element of LBJ’s War on Poverty called the the Community Action Programs. and the associated impact of Legal Services.

“The program that generated the most intense controversies and came to dominate the politics of the early War on Poverty was the Community Action Program. Envisioned as a foundation of the War on Poverty in 1964, the CAP offered the most promise for reform, but also the most potential for turmoil. Administered by the idealistic and aggressive new OEO, the implementation of the program proved to be the most contentious part of the War on Poverty. Most controversies involved the distribution of power to poor people that often bypassed traditional federal, state, and local bureaucracies. By requiring the “maximum feasible participation of the poor” in Community Action Agencies, the Economic Opportunity Act substantially elevated the role of marginalized people and set off a daring policy experiment.”

CAPs were very uneven. Some were total boondoggles, in which local power politicians aggrandized themselves. But others created a space in which poor people could train themselves in the arts of independence and self-assertion that the middle class takes for granted. For example, CAPs might train people in shopping for value and organize people to go together to the supermarket, bypassing slum markets that charged high prices.  The poor learned to read leases and challenge unfair seizures of security deposits. They learned to challenge police excesses against the marginalized that continue to this day, as witness the anti-immigrant police riots in Los Angeles. Women learned to stand up to abuse, including how to file for divorce. And free or low cost Legal Services made it possible to go to court and win.

These were profoundly threatening to economic interests, especially predators on the poor such as slumlords. The poor are very important–vital– to the American economy. They are the people who pick up the trash, put up the drywall, take care of the elderly and the very young, pick the fruits and vegetables. Most important, they provide a visible person versus whom the other Americans can feel better. When employers threaten employees with dismissal, it is the face of poverty that generates the fear to keep people in line. When the middle class family finds itself underwater financially, they can point to “the less fortunate” and breathe a sigh of relief. If the poor did not exist, America as we know it would cease to exist.

And what a great day that would be, when people would no longer be afraid to speak truth to power.  

Now, this is a sketch of what was going on in the War on Poverty. There were parts of it that were dysfunctional or, at least, not optimal. Second, CAPs still exist. They simply lack the resources to do what they were doing in the 1960s. Further, the attack on CAPs and, in a broader sense, on the 1960s was not purely an economic phenomenon. Social conservatives were frightened by the idea of equality for African Americans, Latinos, women, and gays (who were not discussed openly, but for whom the hippies stood as proxies). But the revolt of the social conservatives would have failed if economic interests had not also opposed or co-opted the War on Poverty by diverting funds intended for community development into the pockets of developers.

To understand what it means to, as Gore suggests, have “a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response,” one must understand the 1960s and the extraordinary phenomenon that organization of poor neighborhoods represented. The Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party, joined with opportunistic financial interests, bought another half century of residential segregation, unequal application of the law, and keeping the poor in line.

The cost was destroying the American Republic.

Now even the middle class of this country has a slave mentality: drowning in debt, working and recreating compulsively, ignorant of the basic facts needed to make good decisions, disengaged politically. To the top of the ladder have risen effete aristocrats like George W. Bush.

With the energy of the society diverted off into media frenzies like the Anna Nichole Smith paternity extravaganza and into Endtimes fantasies and into the culture wars, there is no energy left over to innovate, build, and compassionately rationalize economic activity. When we are running a current account deficit nearing 1 Trillon dollars per year, we are the careless grasshopper and the rest of the world the industrious ant. Like the mythic beast of Babylon, the United States and all its power is falling and there is nothing that the wealthy and powerful can do to stop it.

Except one thing.

Bring back the 1960s (without Vietnam).

Posted in Al Gore | 19 Comments »

Thursday Morning Comin’ Down

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 17, 2007

Lots to talk about, so little time:

  • And just because I feel like it, here’s a pretty picture of a bridge.

Posted in abuse of power, big money, BushCo malfeasance, judicial rulings, Just for fun, media, megachurches, Sun Myung Moon, theocrats, WTF? | 3 Comments »

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