Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 14, 2016
Here’s an illustration of how right-wing orthodoxy forces Republican candidates not only to ignore facts, deny scientific opinion and invite ecological disaster, but risk political self-destruction and even personal loss. Marco Rubio represents, and needs the votes of, Floridians; he lives in South Florida, threatened by rising sea level. Last October, fifty-five mayors and business leaders wrote to Rubio, along with the rest of the Florida congressional delegation. "We believe," they said, that "it is time for Congress to acknowledge what we in South Florida already know: that the escalating costs of sea level rise and other climate impacts now pose a serious threat to the economic stability and future habitability of South Florida."[24] 
On January 21, fifteen Florida mayors — including Miami’s mayor, Tomás Regaldo, a Republican who has endorsed Rubio — sent an open letter to the Senator, calling on him "to acknowledge the reality and urgency of climate change and to address the upcoming crisis it presents our communities." It pointed out that "We are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate. Sea levels off the coast of South Florida rose about eight inches in the twentieth century. As a result, we have seen more tidal flooding, more severe storm surges, and more saltwater intrusion into aquifers."

One would think that such appeals would resonate with a Senator from that region, and would give the necessary cover to admit that something must be done.  He lives in West Miami, which will be impacted by sea level rise, so not only does he know the problem at first hand, he may be directly affected by it.   
At the debate on March 10, the moderator quoted another request from Mayor Regaldo: "Will you, as president, acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus about climate change and, as president, will you pledge to do something about it?" The Senator merely recited a litany of denial and evasion. Climate change is no big deal: "the climate has always been changing." Yes, there are higher sea levels, "or whatever is happening," but flooding is South Florida’s fault for building on a swamp. Legislation is useless or worse: "as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there's no such thing," and the laws which have been proposed to reduce emissions "would be devastating for our economy," and would have "zero" impact on the environment.[25]  (As he put it in a debate in September, "We're not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government we're under wants to do.")[26]

Senator Rubio wasn’t always so reactionary. The mayors, in their letter in January, reminded him of that: "[In] 2006, you acknowledged the reality of climate change and promoted solutions including energy efficiency measures, tax incentives for renewable energy, and alternative fuels. You supported hybrid vehicles because they save money ‘while reducing emissions and helping to curb global warming.’ " That was then: "However, you have since reversed course and claimed that you ‘don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate.’ " They pointed out that, in October, he "dismissed efforts to develop renewable energy and called climate action ‘trying to change the weather.’ "
The March audience apparently approved of his change of heart, and applauded his evasions. That debate was held in Miami, so perhaps he knows his constituents, and they fear the government more than climate change. However, even the faithful might begin to wonder as the waters rise, and remember who told them nothing could or should be done. 
The foregoing was written, as the date shows, before the Florida primary on March 15. Senator Rubio has dropped out of the presidential race, having lost the Florida vote. Whether that loss can be traced to his views on climate change is doubtful, but at least it is clear that pandering to the troglodytes wasn’t enough.

24.http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/marco-rubio-climate-change- florida
25. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/10/the-cnn-miami-republican-debate-transcript-annotated/ 
Video at: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/03/marco-rubio-had-some-really-dumb-things-say-about-climate-change-last-nigh
26. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/09/16/annotated-transcript- September-16-gop-debate/

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 9, 2016
The term "neoliberal" always has puzzled me. "Neoconservative" also can be confusing in that second-generation neocons, unlike their elders, are not former liberals, are more rigidly conservative, and focus on an imperial foreign policy, but in each generation we have known pretty much where they stand. "Neoliberal" is more elusive in meaning, describes people in different parts of the political spectrum, and seems to have variations within variations.
A long, erudite article on Wikipedia [21] defines neoliberalism "primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism." The roots of that attitude lie in the eighteenth century. In that sense, it has a different meaning and implies different policies than modern political liberalism, and so is misleading. The original neoconservatives were, literally, new conservatives; Ronald Reagan, identified as a practitioner of one branch of this form of neoliberalism, hardly qualifies as a new liberal. His beliefs were not a new liberalism, but an old conservatism: reducing government spending, cutting taxes, deregulation, fighting inflation.
The article refers to another form of neoliberalism, one which more properly could be described as such. However, the use is accurate not because the adherents were new liberals, but because they espoused what they considered to be a new style of liberalism. It was advocated by Bill Bradley, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas and others in the 80s and adopted by Bill Clinton. A book devoted to the phenomenon attempted, without success, to define it; the closest approach was a description by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a critic: "[Neoliberals] have joined in the clamor against ‘big government,’ found great merit in the unregulated marketplace, opposed structural change in the economy and gone along with swollen military budgets and the nuclear arms race. Far from rejecting the Reagan frameworks, they would at most rejigger priorities here and there."[22]  That may be too harsh, but certainly Clinton’s campaign promise to end welfare as we know it (and signing a Republican reform bill), his declaration that the era of big government is over, and his approval of the repeal of Glass-Steagall fit the description. Whatever the precise formula, some variation on this centrist stance still influences Democratic economic philosophy.
That philosophy has been challenged by Bernie Sanders. It’s unfortunate that he is a socialist, not only because that term confuses and frightens so many, but because a challenge to economic centrism might be more effective from within. However, his critique is enough to make some nervous; take the columnist Thomas Friedman, a self-identified neolib, as an example. On February 17, he went on at length about entrepreneurship and asserted that "we're not socialists." He would, he said, "take Sanders more seriously if he would stop bleating about breaking up the big banks and instead breathed life into what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers." He seems to think that Senator Sanders doesn’t know where employees come from. "They come from employers — risk-takers, people ready to take a second mortgage to start a business." No doubt, with a little deregulation, they all would succeed and employ thousands.
Friedman advised Sanders to consult a study which allegedly would tell him this: "The identity of America is intrinsically entrepreneurial [enshrined] by the founders, popularized by Horatio Alger, embodied by Henry Ford." The source actually said: "The identity of America is intrinsically entrepreneurial. It is an indelible part of our collective history—sown by the Founders, popularized by Horatio Alger, embodied by Henry Ford." The original is silly enough — the founders spent little time nurturing startups, and the notion that anyone can become rich if he shows a little pluck might embarrass the Chamber of Commerce — but Friedman found it necessary to substitute "enshrined" for "sown," thereby adding a semireligious aspect to the admiration of business.[23]   Friedman also quoted, accurately, from the same paragraph in the original: "With enough hard work anyone can use entrepreneurship to pave their own way to prosperity and strengthen their communities by creating jobs and growing their local economy." A factory worker whose job has been shipped overseas needn’t worry; he can launch a high-tech business. This naïve tale is the delight of conservatives. Flirtation with it by Democrats may be one reason they have lost the votes of working people.


. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

Ronald Rothenberg, The Neoliberals (1984); quote on p. 19.

Friedman referred to an article, "Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship and Middle-Class Jobs," which in turn refers to a report, "Can Startups Save the American Dream?" from which his mangled quotation is taken: http://web1.millercenter.org/conferences/milstein/MilsteinReport-AmericanDream.pdf

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March 3, 2016
I think that we are beyond the point of wondering whether there is something seriously wrong with contemporary American politics. Doing something about it might be facilitated by understanding the factors which make up the picture. An excellent history of political philosophy offered an analysis of the ills of a certain time and place. Because the time was a century ago, and the place Europe, it isn’t strictly relevant, but it may be suggestive nonetheless: "Several decisive elements came together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . . . . They are racism, nationalism, irrationalism, and antiliberalism."[14]
Applied to the United States, those elements have had a mixed history. Irrationalism, in the sense of a refusal to respect facts and to think analytically, probably never is far below the surface in politics, but it is more prominent now than a few decades ago.
Racism, while it never disappeared, was exposed and weakened in the civil rights era, but has revived. One of its milder but obvious manifestations has been the attitude of many toward President Obama. Seattle has just contributed to the epidemic of killings of blacks by police; it’s difficult not to see racism in that pattern.
Antiliberalism — not true conservatism, but hostility to anything progressive or egalitarian — has been a focus of negativism and obstruction at least since the New Deal, but has swelled recently, aided by reactionary media and by the massive political spending by those whose interests would be threatened by liberal programs. The very words "liberal" and "progressive" have become pejoratives. "The liberal establishment" is a vehicle for blaming the condition of the country on liberals, even though Congress and most states are ruled by conservatives, and at least some of the problems are the result of their policies.
"Nationalism" is used in several ways. In the period to which the quotation above relates, it often referred to a desire for an independent homeland, defined ethnically or linguistically; various parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire fit that model. In that sense, it also implies fragmentation, the breaking away of parts of the Empire. At the present day, a different sort of fragmentation, the resistance of some members of the European Union to common measures, also has been labeled nationalism. Thomas Piketty, in a recent New York Review of Books, refers to "the hateful nationalistic impulses that now threaten all Europe."
In this country, nationalism is a confused concept. It has had aggressive aspects, amounting to imperialism, economic or military. In that sense it may be, manipulatively, uniting at home. Although exceptionalism is a core concept in American nationalism, and would seem to be a unifying idea, those who boast of it often, ironically, also complain of the country’s dire condition. The way around is to speak of the country’s basic or former exceptionalism, corrupted by, of course, liberalism.
However, "nationalism" may as easily imply fragmentation here as well. "White nationalism" is the label for racial and ethnic separatism; according to one source, "Whites may need to create a separate nation [within the U.S.] as a means of defending themselves."[15] Fragmentation also is envisioned by secessionist groups such as the League of the South, which "advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic."[16]  It does this in the name of "Southern Nationalism." It defines the Southern People as the "the descendants of European, Christian peoples who settled the Southern region of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries,"[17] thereby working in racism.
The condition of the Republican Party illustrates the growth of irrationalism: Ronald Reagan looks good in retrospect, as do Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and even Richard Nixon and George W. Bush in their better moments. Dwight Eisenhower looks like a saint. Donald Trump, very possibly the Republican nominee, bloviates a mixture of arrogance, resentment, bias and sheer nonsense. Only a suspension of thinking, a burst of irrationalism, could make people follow him, but they do.
The Trump campaign may do a service by shining a light on that factor, as well as on the others. Racism certainly is present in the anti-Mexican rhetoric, and he has attracted support from white nationalists such as David Duke. His "Make America Great Again" slogan is an appeal to nationalism. His antiliberalism, though, is selective, so that he is accused by the other Republican candidates of being a liberal, which illustrates how that has become a term of derision.
What can be done? The Supreme Court has pushed things in the wrong direction: Citizens United facilitated the flood of political spending, and Shelby County maimed the Voting Rights Act and encouraged a flood of voter-suppression laws. The replacement of Justice Scalia is a critical factor which means, if the Senate has its way this year, that a good outcome depends on electing a Democratic president.
Irrationalism will remain a major problem so long as the GOP panders to it, but it would be comforting to think that a Democratic president would have a positive influence on the other three tendencies. Part of the problem is that the likely Democratic nominee is not terribly liberal, so we may have a rerun of the Obama administration, accusations of liberalism with little of the substance. Mrs. Clinton does have strong black support, which bodes well for issues involving race, but she’s too fond of military intervention to be comforting as to nationalism.
I hate to put down my generation, but the best hope for solving these problems lies in younger voters whom Bernie Sanders has inspired. I hope that, assuming their candidate loses in the primaries, they will turn their attention to Congress and the state legislatures.



Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day