Archive of category "politics"

by Jacob Corvidae

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to urge you to not show any strong support for the democratic uprisings occurring in the Middle East right now.  This appears to be your approach so far anyway, and I’m here to bolster it.

These uprisings are significant.  People across Arab lands are making important history right now.  The depth of this importance still remains to be seen, but it could possibly change the face of the globe for the coming century.  Better yet, they may usher in a new era of democratic achievement, possibly even new models for the great democratic experiment that our own country helped start in the new era and still struggles with today.

Given your values and your position as President of the United States, you’d be a fool to not support these efforts. Yet many people have criticized your action on this topic because you have offered words of encouragement but little else. And while I can only guess at your reasons for this, I personally think it’s the right move.

I’ve intentionally been ambiguous about whether I’m being sarcastic up to this point. But I’m not. Here’s why:

If America came on strong right now as a huge ally and supporter of these efforts it could be the single biggest threat to their success.  People are striving for democracy and a voice in their governments, and they are doing it right next to strong regimes, cultural movements and people who would like to stop them. If America came swooping in and appeared to be a major backing force in these efforts, it could easily be a death knell for the pro-democracy movement.

Furthermore, America likes to swagger a bit with our claim to Defenders of Democracy. But the victories in the middle east are not ours to claim. It belongs to the people who’ve been working in the streets, in meetings and over the years. It is their victory and must belong to them.

We will find ways to support their efforts over time, but for now let us mostly watch with curiosity and wonder at the power and beauty of this movement.  First, let us learn. Then, we can help.

by Tony Sirna

To say that the recent election was disheartening for those on the left is a broad understatement. I wish that we could just blame the Democratic Party’s incompetence or the evil corporations deep pockets but I think alas, too many Americans really believe the shit they see on Fox and end up wanting to be led by Tea Party wack-jobs.

So what can someone on the left do now? What should Obama do?

1. Keep the Tea Party wackos in the fight – Focus on the populist issue of Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and get both Michael Moore and the Tea Party out there screaming at politicians, both Democrat and Republican, to do something about it, Now! “Main Street not Wall Street!” “No Jobs – No Votes!” If we don’t see progress on the economy then we’ll vote this batch of yahoos out too. That will keep the Republicans from just hunkering down as the party of gridlock and force them to engage on the issue. And if the economy improves, Obama can take credit. If it doesn’t, he’d probably get voted out anyway because people blame the President no matter whose fault it is.

2. Extend the Tax Cuts but Give It All to the Middle Class – The Republicans want to extend the Bush Tax cuts because they claim tax cuts are good for the economy (mostly its a ‘starve the beast’ philosophy but its the spin that matters in elections). Obama already wants to extend them for those making under $250,000/year. He should compromise with the Republicans and say, “Fine you want that money back in people’s pockets. We’ll take the total amount of the Bush tax cuts and extend em, but still give it to people making under $250,000/year.” They will of course respond with “socialism”, “class warfare”, etc. but if the Dems and the left get out there and scream “Main Street not Wall Street” and “No handouts to the Rich” louder it just might work. I never have understood how the right can get the masses rallying around programs that only benefit the very wealthy while also claiming that the left are elitist. We’ve got to stop letting them get away with that.

3. Health Care Reform – The Republicans want to repeal or defund Health Care Reform. Progressives need to get out there and protest in person at their representatives offices. Remember how much press those Tea Party screamers got? This is our turn. “Hands off our Health Care!” Show up waving hospital bills and insurance denials. Get in their faces and don’t back down. Remember that a majority of American’s want health care reform – make sure that the Republicans don’t forget that fact.

4. Climate Change – OK we are probably just screwed here as far as any comprehensive action. The best we can hope for is to avoid having a Republican hosted circus of congressional hearings where they trot out all the denialists. If they try – go back to #1 and tell them to quit wasting our time and focus on Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! In the mean time maybe Obama can push through some bill that gets some support for renewables, a smart-grid, and energy independence that will help create some Jobs. The rest will have to be done at the EPA and State level.

5. Bailout Money - First step – get it all back. I’m not sure how but by the next campaign season, Obama’s got to get every penny of that bailout repaid to the Government. Then make sure that everyone knows that it was Bush and the Republicans who got us into the mess and then bailed out Wall Street, while its Obama who cleaned things up and got our money back. If that doesn’t play well in Peoria I don’t know what will.

I could go on about foreclosures, education reform, wall street regulation, and the deficit, but frankly its all about the economy and jobs and then whatever spin gets the most airtime.

Now is the time to get out there and get our voices heard and make sure the politicians know that the left has screaming wack-jobs too and we know how to use them.

If you need some motivation just think “President Palin”.

by Jeffrey Harris

It took me days to get around to it, because it’s so damn long, but Paul Krugman’s piece in the New York Times magazine on climate change economics filled me with hope, unexpectedly.

There are many parts of the well-written article that I liked, in general it does a good job of listing the economic arguments about climate change, and ultimately wholeheartedly agreeing we need a carbon price, the real debate is how fast we should raise the price to rational levels. That in itself deserves a few cheers.

But what most lightened my mood was the passing note that the WTO recently published a missive that a carbon tariff (essential to get US industry and labor on board with a carbon pricing mechanism) would probably pass muster under WTO rules. Everything else I’ve read on the subject suggested we’d need to change WTO rules (or withdraw, which would have economic consequences vastly preferable to avoiding a carbon price, but still probably unacceptable to the average US voter).

So three cheers for the possibility, however slim, that Congress could, if it had the balls, actually pass both cap and trade and a carbon tariff some time this decade!

by Jeffrey Harris

It’s probably about time for me to stop being delighted that the subset of the Economist’s staff who blog at Democracy in America sound like rational environmentalists, but still I am.

In this post, they make the eminently reasonable argument that while drilling offshore probably makes sense politically, it’s ridiculous from the perspective of global atmospheric carbon. The only societies with the wherewithal to conserve are those, like ours, with a strong enough state to enforce such restrictions. If we can’t do it, we’re pretty much screwed.

by Jeffrey Harris

I really wish The Economist would discover the religion of human-readable URLs, in addition to the religion of free-markets-are-always-better. But I’m thrilled that they’ve written such a thorough and readable explanation of the actual high level agreements and controversy on climate change, I haven’t seen better (realclimate.org came close for a while, but lately they’ve gotten more shrill and they’ve always been too technical for me, much less your average non-physics-major. Their wiki still kicks ass as the definitive source for helping rebut most climate skeptic canards, though).

And as an aside, happy progressives-actually-passed-big-progressive-legislation week! First time in my lifetime, maybe since LBJ! Did you see that David Frum of all people is saying the Republicans should strive to replace the income-tax provisions of the health care bill with other taxes perhaps a carbon tax? Who knew passing health care would get Republicans agreeing with Al Gore! I would actually support all the legislation he’s proposing, I think.

by Tony Sirna

At Dancing Rabbit we have been using consensus to make decisions since our inception. In consensus, decisions must be agreed to by all members of the group, with any member being able to block a decision. In practice, we now delegate a lot of decisions to committees and managers, such that the group is only called upon to make larger policy decisions.

We are at a stage where we are considering moving away from consensus to some other form of decision making. Discussions are in the preliminary stages, but one of the desires for a new system is to allow for better delegation and more streamlined management (at least some people express this desire).

It’s gotten me thinking about delegation and management and what it means to make good decisions on behalf of the group. I’ve started to realize that their are deep questions embedded here that touch on what it means to have good governance in almost any system.

How then do we define a good decision, or good management?

In a consensus organization, I would propose that a manager makes a good decision when she or he makes a decision that is essentially in line with what the group would have made if it had used its full consensus process. Another way to say this is that, if given a review by the membership, no-one would block that decision from moving forward.

Making such decisions is not always easy. It involves not just having good judgment on the topic at hand but also a strong sense of the group’s values and how to weigh them when making a decision. In a group that is functioning well, and with a manager who engenders trust from the group, the group will generally give them the benefit of the doubt as it takes a lot of effort and spending of social capital to object to a manager’s decision. So the manager does not need to be perfect, just make sure their decisions are within the threshold of the groups tolerance and/or passivity.

In a hierarchical system, I suppose that a manager is trying to make the decisions their boss would make if they were making them, or at least getting close enough to that target to avoid a decision being overturned by a boss or some other form of reprimand. Managers with people under them also have to “manage down” meaning that they must consider how their decisions will affect their staff. Hopefully, these two interested parties are not in dissent or you can be in trouble. But in such a case the manager would usually side with their boss as the bottom line and the staff can take it or leave it. (At least that’s how I remember hierarchies working – its been awhile :-) )

For those at the top of the hierarchy, its gets a little more confusing. For a CEO, a good decision is probably defined as one that will maximize the (long-term?) profitability of their company (though might, in fact, be tailored to maximize their bonus). For a non-profit, you might say the goal is to maximize the achievement of the organization’s goals.

But what of the mayor of a town or the president of a country or any representative in a democratic system. How do we measure their success or the quality of their decisions?

One could say that, it is again more like consensus, in that the goal is to make the decisions that the people would have made themselves, if it were practical to make decisions that way. Some might argue that this isn’t true – that a leader is sometimes expected to make better decisions than the people would make themselves. My gut says this is true, but what then defines “better”?

I suppose one could say that if there were an accepted measure of the prosperity of a city, nation, etc. then decision-makers could work to optimize for that metric. This could take the form of something like the Genuine Progress Indicator but its hard for any such metric to take all factors into account.

One could argue that in a functioning democracy a leader will know if they are making good decisions (or at least good enough) if they can get re-elected. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that most democratic systems of any large scale are functioning so well as to make sure that leaders are evaluated by the quality of their governance and not by their ability to raise funds, campaign, etc.

Going back to Dancing Rabbit, what guidance should we give to committees and managers whom we delegate power to? How should their decisions be evaluated? When should they be overturned? How much leeway do you give someone to diverge from what the group would decide?

In some ways, it puts the membership in the position of trying to be good at “managing down”. If the group wants to best achieve its goals there is a balance between finding the optimal decision and making a decision efficiently. When managing down, it is often best to give people a fair bit of leeway to use their own judgment even if its not exactly what the “boss” would decide, because otherwise you will likely have some very unhappy staff muttering a lot about micro-managing. It is not that different when “the boss” is the whole group. They must give people enough guidance and autonomy to do their jobs in a way that they will help them feel satisfied, while still expecting decisions to be reasonably in line with group values.

But how do you tell when a manager should be given the leeway and when they are going rogue, or just doing a bad job? How do you know when to ask that decisions be run by “the boss” and when do you just let them decide? When do you overturn a decision? When do you fire someone? When is the boss (group) micro-managing or being a (collective) control-freak?

I will say that finding that proper balance seems like a tricky task for a large group to execute well using consensus. I look forward to the day when DR delegates that task to a small group (call it a Town Council if you will). I think if you then choose the Town Council to have decent management skills they can more easily make those tough calls. They will still have to answer to the whole group in some way, but then you have simplified the groups management task to whether the Town Council is doing its job well, not whether each manager or committee is doing their job well. Not trivial, but hopefully something that is actually doable (I was going to say manageable but I couldn’t stand the pun!).

by Tony Sirna

This started as a comment on Jacob’s Obama post but became so long I thought it deserved its own post.

I too have been noting the left’s frustration with Obama and I too feel some frustration but I imagine it is for different reasons.

First, some background. In the general election, I voted for Obama for a number of reasons:

1. I felt he was a better choice than McCain, by far — both in terms of policies and ability to govern.

2. He was not a Republican. Some may not see much difference between Democrats and Republicans but I feel like on a million little things it makes a big difference. Look at how differently the EPA is, or who gets appointed to the Supreme Court, or things like the Global Gag Rule. The stuff might seem minor but I actually think who fills the cabinet positions and makes executive orders makes a big difference.

3. I actually like Obama and think that he and I would agree on a lot of issues (not that he’ll be able to implement them as policy though).

4. He is an amazing orator and does a great job of inspiring people. I think these are positive traits in and of themselves but I’m also saying that I too got caught up a bit in his charisma and at times had high expectations.

In some ways though, a better question is why I voted for Obama over Hillary in the primaries. Aside  from the toss up question of which was more of a cultural step, electing a woman or an African American, my main reason for voting for Obama was that his style fit my values more.

Hillary was known for being polarizing, which is probably the media’s and the Republican’s fault more than hers, but its certainly a factor. She was also being portrayed as someone who would be “tough” and “fight” the Republicans. Some of this was probably the need for her to brand herself that way to overcome people’s gender biases but I do think she would have done things differently than Obama.

For me, it felt like Obama was actually coming from a place of seeking consensus, and not just the mainstream meaning of a majority of people generally agreeing on something. Instead, he actually seemed to be trying to incorporate differing viewpoints and finding common ground. He spoke of trying to transcend the partisan divide and get past the “Blue America / Red America” notion. Not that, I expected the government to reach consensus on many things, but I felt like someone was finally speaking to a value I hold dearly — cooperation rather than antagonism.

So, while I never had any high expectations of Obama ushering in an era of progressive bliss, I did have hopes that, just maybe, he could change the culture of Washington and actually create a sense of working together instead of fighting each other tooth and nail.

As part of this, I expected centrist policies, concessions, and compromises. I did not expect single payer health care, though I thought a public option was possible. I did not expect a sufficient carbon tax but was hopeful for cap and trade. I did not expect an end to all of our wars but was hopeful for some shifts, if nothing else in the belligerent face the US presented to the world.

So while I still feel frustrated that our culture is destroying the planet, fighting two wars, and may not even pass the pathetic health care bill that we have on the table, the truth is I never expected that much and so I am not that disappointed.

But where I feel most let down is in Obama’s failure to shift the partisan culture of Washington. My frustration of course is not just with Obama but with the Republicans in congress and their cries of “socialism” and “death panels”, who wanted more for Obama to lose than for the country to prosper. And Joe Lieberman who seemed like he just wanted revenge or attention or maybe more money from the Insurance Industry. And with the polarizing media that cares more about ratings and entertainment and thus resorts to yelling and escalating conflict. And with the people of America who watch that crap and soak it in and then spit it back out in blogs and emails and everyday conversation. With the Tea Party who won the day by shouting people down and getting angry rather than with any sort of persuasive content.

Ironically, one of the things that lessened the chance for cooperation was the Democrats getting their 60th vote in the Senate with a motley crew including Nelson, Lieberman, and any number of Senators right of center.  One, I think this gave the perception that things would now be easy for the Dems, when in fact, getting a unanimous vote of those Senators was like herding cats and then pulling their teeth. It also allowed the Democrats to abandon the notion of working with Republicans. And it gave Republican’s the ability to opt out of any real process of finding common ground and they could blame the Dems for whatever resulted. And it allowed Obama to sit back and let congress drag itself and Health Care Reform through the mud for months (why he let that I happen I have no idea).

So, was I deluded to think that Obama could somehow change the culture of Washington and of America into one where we dialog instead of shouting,  where we look for common goals and values rather than trying to undercut our opponents. Yes. It seems I most certainly was. Not because, Obama wasn’t our best bet, but maybe because that kind of change doesn’t come from the top or from the left or right, but from the ground up. Only once we are teaching our kids to resolve conflicts cooperatively will we see grown ups doing so. Until then I expect we’ll keep acting like children.

While we wait for our children to save us what can we do? Start by asking someone who disagrees with you, why they think what they think and really listen. Turn off Fox News, not just in your homes but in every waiting room and cafe. And I don’t mean just switch it to MSNBC, instead try talking to the person next to you about what they think. And don’t rely on Jon Stewart for all your news. Its still fine to watch comedy and satire, just don’t think that you get the whole picture from a half hour comedy show. Write a letter to your newspaper suggesting a compromise solution rather than just expressing your views.  Ask your congress people to listen to each other and govern well. Thank them when they make a tough choice, even if you didn’t agree with them.

So despite my delusions, am I glad I voted for Obama? Yes. I still think he is the best choice and is doing a better jobs than any of the alternatives would have.

Will I keep writing Obama and the congress and register my desire for progressive policies. Yes.

Will I campaign for the Democrats this year. Yes, because I’d rather have a Senator (Robin Carnahan vs Kit Bond) and Representative who at least voted how I would prefer some of the times instead of almost never.

by Jacob Corvidae

Many on the left are fed up with Obama. The left needs to stay vigilant and active and continue to push the political conversation in America, but I find that many of the left’s critiques of Obama miss the mark. I’d like to offer the following framework for assessing the Obama administration.

First, let’s hit my starting assumption: the left is more morally developed than the right. Exceptions abound and this actually says very little about the moral development of any one individual regardless of their political affiliations. But the overall policies and guiding visions of the left tend to be farther along and include a circle of compassion for more people than the right. This opening concept could and should be discussed, argued and debated a fair amount, but I’m guessing that since most of our readers are lefty’s that I don’t actually need to elaborate further for now. We’ll start with that as a given.

Shortly before the presidential election of 2008, I heard neoconservative analyst Bill Kristol tell Jon Stewart that Barak Obama was not going to represent some dramatic change in government. Rather, he predicted that Obama would be a moderate democratic president following his past voting record as a moderate democratic senator. And “moderate democrat” is the same phrase of damnation that some disappointed lefties toss out. Same old politics we’ve seen before. Old story, new face. Boredom and frustration both take hold.

But Kristol was wrong. And the frustrated lefties are as well. And I think they’d better realize it before they attack one of their most important allies.

When we bring in the idea that the spectrum from right to left tends to incorporate greater moral development, then we can see that the far left tends to show an even greater moral development than moderate lefties, who are further along than middle-of-the-road dems. This doesn’t mean their personal lives, intelligence, work ethic or any of those things are also better. It just means that their morality includes more people and takes more information into view and strives to come up with solutions should serve a greater and greater good. In this light, the left is understandably frustrated with most moderate democrats who are falling short on delivering a better world.

So most mod dems are just not as advanced along that moral road and they haven’t caught up to the insights of the far left. That does not describe Obama. How are we to understand his more “moderate” actions then? Having been to the far left, having “seen the light” and fully understood the moral vision there, Obama works closer to the center of American politics because that’s where America is! The far left has an important job pushing the envelope, but they can only really affect the mid-left, not the whole of America. Obama seems to be working on a longer-term vision. If he had simply walked in and pushed more extreme left actions faster than he did, the pushback would have been even worse than it has been and he would have lost all ability to enact any change.

I once told someone that the president who would really represent my views should never be elected because we live in a democracy and my views do not represent America. But Obama has managed to understand the concepts of the far left and also respect the important concerns of the right and then articulate how they can be wed. This is not a mere posturing of “reaching across the aisle”, but rather a way to bring the nation forward into a more progressive agenda more effectively. Obama’s success at this still remains to be seen, but understanding where he’s coming from changes how we should examine and criticize his work. We must still examine it and we must still criticize it (and to his credit, he even asked us to), but it changes what the conversation is about.

While many on the left are busy criticising Obama for things he’s always said he’d do (pursue the war in Afghanistan) or for including voices from the right (Rick Warren at the inauguration), let us look at his work (including these same controversial moves) from the perspective of someone who is aiming higher than a 4-year glory ride for the left that only digs a deeper divide in this country.

I pitched this idea to a friend shortly after the election. She said, “It sounds like a nice theory, but if someone votes or acts like a moderate dem, then how can we actually tell the difference?” I replied, “I think we’ll have to wait and see, but I suspect that a post-left moderate will manage to accomplish more of the left’s agenda than the left has accomplished on it’s own.” Then it hit me. With the results of the election, he’d already done just that.

– image by Jacob Corvidae (based on Fairey based on Garcia)

by Tony Sirna

How left and right are Democrats and Republicans?I was reading fivethirtyeight and saw this interesting graph showing how liberal and conservative the democrats and republicans were in each state legislature.  (Dems are blue and left is more liberal.)

It was interesting, but not at all surprising that where I live  in Missouri the Democrats are fairly right leaning but I was surprised to see that the Republicans were the 4th most conservative in the country.

Even more surprising is that the most conservative republicans are found in California! Talk about polarized – they have the most liberal Dems and the most conservative GOP. No wonder they can never pass a budget.

And whats up with Rhode Island where both parties are left of center and only a hairs breadth apart. There must be a story there.