Breaking Up is Hard to Do

2006-Nov-28

Not only empires but also political coalitions are breaking up into their tribal constituent parts. The Republican Party, an unlikely coalition of groups with very different values held together only by a period of mutual success, is now (due to public political failures) about to explode. And the Christian Right looks like it is doing likewise inside itself, and even the Christian Coalition is having growing…oops, shrinking pains. And the Christian Coalition has just lost its new President when he tried to go beyond its Theocratic roots of hatred of abortion and gays to try to expand to include the many “Lassie & the Waltons” Evangelicals who want to promote values that Jesus actually supported:

… such as easing poverty and saving the environment.

Sure, Reverend Hunter’s genuinely Christian ideas were rejected by the Christian Coalition, but this skirmish shows the war is starting. Fundamentalists are different from Mainline Christians, and they really do have different value systems. And anyone with any political wisdom at all will help hammer the wedge between the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals a bit deeper and start making connections with all of the Rev. Joel C. Hunter’s of the world. The Mainline Christians just might start finding out they had many values in common with the Progressives all along.


Empires Fall Apart

2006-Nov-24

In 1990, Yugoslavia fell apart into its tribal entities, and the Soviet Union broke up soon after. And now that we dumped Saddam from Iraq, it may well break up into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish areas. And even Canada is ever so slowly losing its grip on Quebec. Oh yeah, did I mention that some folks would like to break off parts of the USA?

All over the world empires are falling apart into their original tribal constituents. But the Neo-Conservatives would like to create a new world empire under the direction of the United States and its corporate backers.

The tide is against them, and they will fail to create a world empire. But how many millions (or billions) of people may die before the failure of empire becomes obvious?

At this point in history, the world is moving in the direction of tribalism. That could be a good thing if done right.


Thanksgiving

2006-Nov-23

Thanksgiving is one of the most important Pagan holidays in our American Civil Religion. Although the harvest festivals are now over, we are celebrating their success.

The central focus of Thanksgiving is the extended family. For hundreds of thousands of years there was no difference between extended family and family and no need to make a big deal out of it, but in America, our corporations needed to break apart the extended family into the nuclear family with only the breadwinner, his spouse, and his children, because that was the family unit that could be most easily moved to whatrever suburb served the factories that needed them. And so Thanksgiving arose to fulfil the need for nuclear families to re-establish contact with the wider family they had left.

And Thanksgiving gives us an excuse to have family reunions to give back to us for just one day just a little bit of the human contact we surrendered when we gave up the religion of the family and replaced it with the religion of Capitalism.

Of course there are constant attempts by competing religions to co-opt Thanksgiving, with the Christians wanting yet another Christian holiday, and the Capitalists trying to gut the four day weekend of family celebration by carving out Black Friday as another day for worshipping Mammon. But I urge you to use the day to remember we were not always isolated from the rest of our family by thousands of miles.

And some day when the oil runs out and the water runs out and the jobs run out, we may find ourselves returning to our extended families to find that emotional and physical support that the god Mammon will fail to provide us.


The L-Curve and Income Inequality

2006-Nov-21

“Them what has, gets.”

The more wealth and power you have, the more you can obtain…and the easier it is to stop others from attaining what you have. In other words, the higher you find yourself on the ladder of success, the easier it is to pull the ladder up after you. Inequality breeds even more inequality.

So how much inequality do we have in this country? Most measures of inequality divide people into “quintiles”, 20% each. That means when we are measuring how much money people make we are lumping those making $20 billion a year in with those making $60,000. And that makes it ever so much easier to lie with statistics–to say things that are literally true but are totally misleading.

David Chandler’s “L-Curve” makes it a bit easier to see what true reality is like. See the graph or the video for yourself, but I will at least give you the word picture:

The US population is represented along the length of the football field, arranged in order of income.

Median US family income (the family at the 50 yard line) is ~$40,000 (a stack of $100 bills 1.6 inches high.)

–The family on the 95 yard line earns about $100,000 per year, a stack of $100 bills about 4 inches high.

–At the 99 yard line the income is about $300,000, a stack of $100 bills about a foot high.

–The curve reaches $1 million (a 40 inch high stack of $100 bills) one foot from the goal line.

–From there it keeps going up…it goes up 50 km (~30 miles) on this scale!

And, as Chandler notes, wealth is even more unequal than income:

The statistics on billionaires are diluted by lumping them in with mere millionaires.

And our friend Paul Krugman spills the ugly truth that those at the bottom are no longer going , through pluck and luck, to find their way to the top:

The myth of income mobility has always exceeded the reality: As a general rule, once they’ve reached their 30s, people don’t move up and down the income ladder very much. … during the first thirty years or so after World War II, the American dream of upward mobility was a real experience for many people.

…[T]his number has dropped to only 10 percent. That is, over the past generation upward mobility has fallen drastically. Very few children of the lower class are making their way to even moderate affluence. This goes along with other studies indicating that rags-to-riches stories have become vanishingly rare, and that the correlation between fathers’ and sons’ incomes has risen in recent decades. In modern America, it seems, you’re quite likely to stay in the social and economic class into which you were born.

Goodbye, Horatio Alger. And goodbye, American Dream

There are now two Americas, the world of the top one tenth of one percent…and the rest of us. If you watch the news you can see it. You hear the newscasters tell us that we have the most wonderful economy. And they (making three million dollars a year or more) are absolutely right. This is the best of all possible worlds…if you are in the top tenth of one percent. In their world there are just two types of people, the Predators and the Prey. And guess which one YOU are…

And our political parties show the split. At the national level there is just one party, the Plutocratic Party, which consists of just about all the Republicans and Democrats who got their position by the contributions of the top one tenth of one percent.

The parties have been placed into power by the votes of the gullible and the toadies, sycophants, and suckups who believe they can do better than the rest of us by eagerly doing the bidding of the Elite.

But the coalition of the Predators and victims is fraying at the seams. Bush lost (big time) because one group of toadies, the Christian Right, stayed home after they finally realized they weren’t getting much.

And the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party is also slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to realize that Neo-Liberal is not the same as Liberal. But we may rebel more slowly because we can be even more gullible and easily led…

We shall see…


Dumpster Diving

2006-Nov-10

I wonder what you might find if you were to raid the dumpsters outside all the abandoned campaign headquarters of all the campaigns the day after the election… Do you think the minimally-paid staff spent the next several days shredding everything that might be valuable to an opposition researcher?


Canvassing, Phonebanking, Spam, Oh My!

2006-Nov-09

My daughter works for the Democratic Party back east, and when elections come around she spends a huge amount of time volunteering. For Democrats, volunteering almost inevitably means canvassing and phonebanking. During the last election they lost an election they expected to win, and when they went back and asked the voters why they voted against our candidate, the voters said they had rebelled against getting so many phone calls and literature drops.

And I got some 20 calls in one day. And in the campaign I was working on, we had several people tell us, “Ok, I’ll contribute, but only if you promise to stop calling.”

The double whammy is that we are inundated with advertisements and phone calls, but we see much of it as just inwanted spam rather than valuable information.

“When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer,
every problem looks like a nail.”

Problem is, campaigns just don’t know any better, spamming us is all they’ve been taught. They are doing what the campaign before them did, and by the time they got to work, everything was already in crisis mode, so they didn’t have time to try out new ideas. And if they received any training, such as Camp Carnahan, they were taught by those whose day job is to sell canvassing and phonebanking and similar forms of spam to the campaigns.

And much of it is just that: spam. The voters want hard information so they can distinguish what makes the candidates differ from each other so they can make in informed choice. And the campaigns all too often want to win just by name recognition or by emotion, so they send out tons of literature with family pictures, but too little about issues. And in this last campaign, many campaigns didn’t even want the voters to know which party the candidates belonged to. In the campaign I was with, our side sent out a flyer noting that our opponent never stated anywhere that he was a Republican (yet we weren’t much better…). (Same with Jim Talent…guess nobody wanted to say they were Republican this election…)

And if you check out all those organizations which ask candidates where they stand on the issues, the candidates very seldom respond.

So the vicious circle continues. Every election, the candidates spend more and more money to spam us with more and more non-information that tells us less and less about them.

Maybe if we start getting more involved with the campaigns, we can push from the inside to get them to give out more information rather than just more spam, and perhaps find ways to give people the information they want and need in ways they want to receive it.

Ideas?


Time for work

2006-Nov-08

It’s November 8, the day after. We won a lot of races. My candidate (the one I never identified so my occasionally radical and scandalous views would not be attributed to her) won by 54% to 46%, so I fulfilled my pledge to spend my unemployment working for someone whose Progressive credentials were unimpeachable.

And come election day, because so many of us chose to spend this year working for the greater good, we have fewer lesser evils to vote for than if we had just sat on our butts complaining.

But some very good Progressives lost. We still need them to be there for us as winners. We need to make them winners. The way to do that is not by waiting until a few months before a general election, but by starting to work for our folks right now.

One of the problems I found in the campaign I was working for (and I suspect for most of the rest) was that creating well-designed and implemented systems to make a campaign run smoothly cannot be done in the heat of the campaign, but absolutely must be done months (maybe years) before, while everyone can think calmly about what they need, and make good decisions.

So we need to start now to get ready for next time.

If you have been issues-oriented before, but haven’t connected with the party, start getting acquainted with your local township committee organization and see what they are up to, and how you can help. A few Progressives could have a provound effect on the small organizations that are typically starved for help. Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy (running a candidate for all major races and never let the other side get off easy) is likely the reason why we now have a majority in the House of Representatives. So connect up with Corey Dillon and Corey Platt, our permanent staffers for the Missouri Dems, and see what they will need for next time, and be ready to get started now while we have the leisure to brainstorm new ideas, now techniques, new technologies with enough time to fix mastakes before we are in campaign crisis mode.

So start now.