Thursday, August 10, 2006

Connecticut the Dots....

I still get Truthout emails and pay some attention, but they have been low priority for me, because I believe the proper way to reclaim the American Enlightenment is not by dogma-driven oversimplification... even from the side that I mostly agree-with.

I prefer another approach -- a radically militant centrism that abjures the loopy and meaningless “left-right political axis.” (What does it even mean anymore, with liberals transforming into “waste-not” puritans, efficiency preachers, budget-balancers, free-market defenders and promoters of states-rights... while the so-called right now stands for the most prodigious expansion of a secretive, spendthrift and meddlesomely corrupt federal establishment? Can left and right even begin to cover such ironies?)

What we need is a centrist doctrine that is not pallid or compromising -- firmly demanding accountability, social justice and due diligence to the needs of our planetary descendants -- but also appealing to sincere “classic” American conservatives, with the shared theme of can-do, problem-solving and a spirit of eclectic negotiation. Indeed, the best way to win this “culture war” is to wage a ferocious fight AGAINST Culture War itself! We can do this by creating a big tent, offering home to a new US consensus of the middle.

A consensus that is unafraid of tomorrow.

Now, just in time, Truthout seems to be getting it, at least partly. For example, I have been surprised to see them -- and a number of other pundits -- give the right spin on Joe Lieberman’s recent defeat in the Connecticut senatorial primary. At least they had the sense to push the following riff from a New York Times editorial: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/080906K.shtml

Mr. Lieberman's supporters have tried to depict Mr. Lamont and his backers as wild-eyed radicals who want to punish the senator for working with Republicans and to force the Democratic Party into a disastrous turn toward extremism. It's hard to imagine Connecticut, which likes to be called the Land of Steady Habits, as an encampment of left-wing isolationists, and it's hard to imagine Mr. Lamont, who worked happily with the Republicans in Greenwich politics, leading that kind of revolution.

The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction. A war that began at the president's choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration's contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.

Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person's right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative.



Last time, I spoke despairingly of our chance of reclaiming the government of the United States for the people. Indeed, is it even possible to turn things around right now? Can you believe that even with GOP popularity down around their ankles, the pollsters perceive them having an even chance of retaining both houses of Congress?

(The thing they desperately need, of course. Their hegemony is frail. If either house ever resumed performing its function of advice and consent and supervision, issuing subpoenas to real hearings, the flood of resulting indictments could trigger a coup. Rent the old Costa Gravas film “Z”. (Much better than “V”!)

Of course things could change. Especially if the forces in opposition to Bush & co are willing to do some serious re-evaluating. A re-evaluation the folks at New Politics claim they want to foster.

Next time I want to discuss the most suicidal aspect of today’s liberalism. The aspect that Karl Rove has been able to use to his advantage for 14 years.

His worst nightmare is that Blue America - the Union - will wake up and stop handing him victories on a silver platter.

My nightmare is that we will keep doing exactly that.

28 comments:

Mark said...

It's a tricky game for moderates right now. In general, I think both Air America and Rush Limbaugh are bad for America, but Rush without Air America is infinitely worse. I'd prefer the Democrats not to be hyper-partisan, but pretending the hyper-partisanship of the Republicans doesn't exist just plays into their hands. I used to be an independent who happened to vote (D) most of the time, today I'm a partisan Democrat.

You are correct about the "culture war". The right has done a wonderful job screaming "Class Warfare" every time someone brings up rich versus poor issues; they know they can't actually say the are for the rich and powerful old-money lobby so they don't try. It is time we do the same for the culture war.

brother Doug said...

Kind of funny watching the Wall Street Journal try to attack Lamont, who I understand is a millionare bisnessman, who probably reads that paper and proablay agrees with a lot of what is writen in it.

palliard said...

Dr. Brin, please check that red/blue histogram again. There is a real culture war going on, I think, but it's not really about abortion or gun control or the other wedge issues that get cynically massaged every election cycle. It is, rather, about how you deal with neighbors. Urban folks HAVE to do it differently than rural folks, if for no other reason than simple proximity. So things that make sense to one group don't make any sense to the other.

Which is the problem with national politics. One size does NOT fit all. A really successful centrist party is going to have to focus on issues that appeal to both groups while relegating issues that don't to LOCAL politics. That may mean abandoning some of those "wedge issues" in pursuit of the higher goal of unseating the current kleptocracy.

But I can't really see that, first because those wedge issues do make very handy fulcrums to pry voters in your direction, and second because they're things that a lot of people do care very deeply about and want everyone to see how right they are about them.

David Brin said...

Actually, I am all in favor of wedge issues that work in OUR favor.

The stupendous waste of the finest economy, military and research capabilities the world has ever seen... how about that?

Pry moderate conservatives out of their Big Tent by showing that these draft-dodging nerdy morons have meddled more in an Asian land war than Robert Macnamara ever did.

Wedge issues abound that would cause rifts in our society where Karl Rove DOESN"T want them.

Battling over HIS wedge issues is positively insane. He planted his wedges so that dingbats get a 50:50 break! How'd we let THAT happen?

Actually, you have a good point about how urban people have to accommodate diversity that rural people don't.

Still, I see the real underlying rift as something else. Whether or not you are terrified by horizons.

In fact radicals of ALL kinds are people who frantically clutch at certainty. The left rants pherases that sound hyper-toplerant. But as people, their radicals are among the least tolerant people you will ever meet. Their insane need to keep the coalition tent narrow is part of that.

Again, it has been (unwittingly) key to Rove's success.

Anonymous said...

I think there are a few centrist issues that this country might be able to rally around:

1. ending the war in Irag in a way that doesn't lead to world chaos

2. fiscal conservatism

3. energy conservation and innovation

4. stem cell research

5. restoring integrity to the executive branch and the FDA in particular

6. Ensuring a balanced supreme court in the coming decades.

7. One non centrist issue I'd like to think the country might embrace is the fair tax as a way to fix a lot of things at one time but I don't know if we have a leader charasmatic enough to pull it off (we'd probably pay more tax this way, but we'd pay it in little increments and so it would be less painful). The poor however, could buy used goods with their monthly rebate and avoid taxation all together. We could build in a tax hike and shrink the deficit, pay down social security and do some good in terms of safety net programs. Best of all, economists believe by abolishing the income tax, it would boost the economy.

On a differnt topic, I think we're more likely to find a centrist in the repulican party (McCain) than in the Democratic Party. I for one am hoping for loss of republican control in one or both of the houses with the expectation that Hillary will be the democratic presidential candidate and that McCain will make it to nomination this time for Republicans. Whatever happens, I don't want either party to ever control it all again in my lifetime. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Ex Utero

Anonymous said...

I think there are a few centrist issues that this country might be able to rally around:

1. ending the war in Irag in a way that doesn't lead to world chaos

2. fiscal conservatism

3. energy conservation and innovation

4. stem cell research

5. restoring integrity to the executive branch and the FDA in particular

6. Ensuring a balanced supreme court in the coming decades.

7. One non centrist issue I'd like to think the country might embrace is the fair tax as a way to fix a lot of things at one time but I don't know if we have a leader charasmatic enough to pull it off (we'd probably pay more tax this way, but we'd pay it in little increments and so it would be less painful). The poor however, could buy used goods with their monthly rebate and avoid taxation all together. We could build in a tax hike and shrink the deficit, pay down social security and do some good in terms of safety net programs. Best of all, economists believe by abolishing the income tax, it would boost the economy.

On a differnt topic, I think we're more likely to find a centrist in the repulican party (McCain) than in the Democratic Party. I for one am hoping for loss of republican control in one or both of the houses with the expectation that Hillary will be the democratic presidential candidate and that McCain will make it to nomination this time for Republicans. Whatever happens, I don't want either party to ever control it all again in my lifetime. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Ex Utero

Anonymous said...

Apparently my clone just popped out of the kiln and sat down at the computer at the same time I did. Sorry about the duplicate text, I'll try and retask him.

Damn greenie.

Ex Utero

Mark said...

1. ending the war in Irag in a way that doesn't lead to world chaos

Agreed. We all have to realize the country is in a three way civil war and it is our responsibility to minimize the damage. But this is how Iraq is very much not like Vietnam, Vietnam was a civil war between two sides where we chose sides. In Iraq we haven't chosen a side nor should we.

2. fiscal conservatism

I think I agree with what you mean, but I wouldn't use this term. While fiscal conservatism used to mean the same as fiscal responsibility, that no longer is true. Also, we really do need some form of single-payer health coverage in this country and that, at least, is fiscal liberalism basically any way you cut it.

Still, I'm with fiscal responsibility all the way.

3. energy conservation and innovation

Agreed.

4. stem cell research

Agreed, but let's be honest for a moment. This is really a wedge issue (our wedge issue, so a good one). Yes, it is important, but not nearly as much as advertised. What it represents, though, is hugely important.

5. restoring integrity to the executive branch and the FDA in particular

I agree with the first half and the next quarter, but "in particular"? FDA may be a problem, but it is only one of many right now.

6. Ensuring a balanced supreme court in the coming decades.

Agreed, one that believes in checks and balances. Personally, I think we should require some huge percentage of Senators to approve of each one. (Or more easily, the filibuster should be used, eh, liberally on lifetime appointments.) We want them all to be good solid legal minds of moderate persuasion.

For number 7, how about a 50%/50% flat tax. All earned dollars up to the 50th percentile are tax free. All dollars earned after that, from any source (labor, investment, inheritance) is taxed at 50%. Zero tax deductions other than charity. Businesses aren't taxed (directly) at all, though their investors obviously are. Probably a bad idea, but it has a really nice symmetry to it.

reason said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tangent said...

Here's one thing I've felt should be a law for a loooong time. Or an Amendment. I'm not sure which would be required.

Bills can no longer have riders attached.

Seriously. Each bill should pass or fail on its own strengths and weakneses. By attaching a bill onto the coattails of another one that is more likely to pass, we've had thousands of laws passed that would ordinarily never see the light of day, but which get through because the politicians don't dare veto something important.

-------------

For that matter, we should rewrite the laws in the books. Have a grace period of one year in which new laws must be passed, at which point the existing laws are now null and void. Start with the serious ones (kidnapping, murder across state lines, other felonies) and then work downward. We can toss out hundreds of unnecessary and wasteful laws and acts of Congress and have a lean, more effective government once again.

Rob H.

reason said...

I'm a bit puzzled about why ex utero thinks it is more likely he will find a centrist in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. Does he mean the current loony GOP? I have seen plenty of discussion describing McCain as an extreme right-winger in disguise, but also as a moderate in disguise. That just says to me he spins a lot. I come from a scientific culture, I like honesty.

Maybe he should clarify his position on inheritance tax. I'll go with him on a fair tax (what is that exactly), with a substantial safety net if he agrees to a high inheritance tax.

reason said...

Tangent,
I like the thrust of your argument, but is it really practical? The problem is of course that the law is not just legislated it is also interpreted. What you are proposing would create an awful lot of uncertainty. Not only that, but the sheer volume of law would make reviewing it all, probably impossible.

I once proposed that there should be a maximum amount of law, so if new laws are passed old ones would need to be retired. Maybe you would settle for that?

As regards the shameless way laws are drafted in the US Congress, well I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but it could be that you could have in the constitution a clause stating that the law must have a purpose that can be described in a single sentence and every clause must pertain to that purpose (otherwise the law is invalid). I'm not sure if other countries have something similar, but I am not aware of the problem being so great elsewhere. But maybe it is more a cultural than a legal problem.

Nate said...

If by "the fair tax," you mean the thing from the "Fair Tax Book," oh hell no. Their idea of getting rid of the IRS and replacing it with a what, 23% sales tax on everything is ridiculous. Firstly, it's not a "fair tax". It's completely regressive and hits the poor the hardest. Well, not even just the poor. Anybody who spends most of their income, which these days includes most of the middle class. They pay a 23% tax on everything they buy, while people rich enough to invest and not spend most of their income pay much less than 23% of the money they make. It's a completely regressive tax. And I don't know enough to do the numbers, but I bet the percentage required would be higher than 23%. It's a bad, regressive tax, that would screw most of society, and the economy, too. But it'd have the side benefit for the anti-tax crusaders like Norquist of placing the "blame" for everything going up in price 25%+ on that darn federal government, which would make it easier for them to demagouge. Which we really don't need.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but bristle at the use of the term "centrist" these days. When used in the context of how people view the issues facing our country, that's fine and valid. However it seems this term is more often used to describe a viewpoint which falls somewhere between today's Democrats and Republicans. In that sense, the term is useless.

I say that because over the past 30 or 40 years, the political landscape has shifted so much that most of today's Democrats are to the right of Nixon, and most of today's Republicans are off-the-chart fascist authoritarians (using Mussolini's definition of fascist here).

The DLC does nearly as much damage to the Democratic party as Republicans do.

Andrew Smith said...

Heh. A single sentence?

Legalese produces sentences long enough to put Kafka to shame.

Ex Utero said...

To Nate,

that's what I first thought when I started reading the book too, but what you're describing is either a VAT tax or a flat tax (depending on how you spin it). If they were to inact a fair tax as described, it would include a monthly rebate to ensure we all were reimbursed for the tax we paid on items of necessity. In a sense, it has a new social safety net built in (except that every one gets it, period - because no should have to pay tax on essential items). I forget how much it is but it's substantial and it's adjusted periodically to an index to rise with inflation. Also the poor can avoid the tax by buying used and vintage goods (only retail items are taxed). Additionally, luxery items are taxed the same as every thing else, so if you buy big you pay big. If you build a brand new 30 million dollar home you pay a lot of taxes. If you buy a yacht you pay 23% tax on it. If you buy a used one, you pay none. And by the way, I don't have strong feelings one way or the other about estate taxes. It's just not that big a part of the nations tax revenue to be worth fighting over. Truly wealth individuals use trusts to avoid it anyway.

You're right that wealthy individuals who make money on dividends won't get taxed on them with the fair tax. NONE OF US WILL GET TAXED ON OUR INCOME!

Now here is the argument I like best about the fair tax. What is the main reason lobbyists exist? To lobby for all the details about tax lax. The fair tax would eliminate the IRS and income tax because it would be collected as a sales tax. It would drastically hamstring the pot of gold that lobbyist dip out of. That is the argument that finally sold me on the idea. We can clean up the lobbying crap in washington by cutting off their source of cash.

Anonymous said...

To ex utero,

Moving to a VAT would have little impact on lobbyying. First, almost all that tax code lobbying is for business tax law, which would be independent of this scheme for personal income tax.

Second, there's still plenty of avenues for lobbying. Should you pay VAT on college education? Start making exceptions like that and other groiups jump in. Maybe a car is a necessity, Detroit could argue that it's "good policy" to except one car purchase/5 years from VAT, etc. It just shifts the lobbying.

Third, it's a dreadfully bad idea imported from old Europe. If you want simple, why not just tax everyone the same rate on ALL their income. 10% of your cashflow would easily replace our current income tax system (and that % of cashflow could be extended to simplify corporate taxes). Our landed aristocracy would never go for it though because they are using to paying far less than 10% on their income (since it's not payroll).

Fourth, it's a dreadfully bad idea. Many tax "loopholes" like retirement savings, education deductions, mortgage interest deduction are key to creating and growing the middle class. It's good that we encourage people to buy and not rent. And thankfully the "homeowner lobby" is strong enough that VAT is probably a non-starter.

Start talking about a fair tax on cashflow and it's an interesting discussion, but the VAT replacing income tax is really a brainded feudal policy relic. Not that I agree (I think), but there's even a cogent argument for getting entirely rid of consumption taxes.

-RW

Stefan Jones said...

John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey snarks eloquently about the shameless use of fear and uncertainty by our leaders in the War on Terror. Comparing the public attitude of past and present leaders:

"FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US, NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!"

golob said...

Dr. Brin and others,

I'm looking for ways, as a young American research scientist, to help sway things back towards the modernist middle.

Mostly, I've focused on outreach to the public, giving speeches about embryonic stem cell research (my current field) to moderate religious groups, high school students and teachers.

Living in Seattle, I am close to the Wa-08 swing district. I'd like to help the Democrat challenger, but am worried that I could end up being counterproductive.

What formats are the most interesting? What would you show up to?

HawkerHurricane said...

It would appear that not 48 hours after the dismantled terror attack in England, the GOP is using it for fundraising...

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2301861

Class Warfare: What the Upper Class calls it when the Lower Classes start shooting BACK.

monkyboy said...

Hmmm.

This thread reminds me of a joke Bill Maher used in his act back in the early 80s:

The meek shall inherit the Earth!

Who cares...they're just a bunch of meeks...we'll just take it back from them.

Ba dum dum

Stefan Jones said...

Oh, for CRIPES SAKE . . .

Source: U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests

British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says

"LONDON - NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case."

Later in the article, we learn that some of the guys in the "liquid explosives" ring were under surveillance for over a year. There was no immediate threat; there was no way they could make a serious move without being arrested.

The timing of release of this story was pure politics.

We've been PLAYED.

Ex Utero said...

To RW,

I think you might want toread my comments again. I wasn't advocating for a VAT tax, I was suggesting that Nate had the VAT and fair tax concepts confused.

I'm pro the fair tax concept. That is actually the problem though, too much of the american public simply won't invest the time to learn about the different alternative tax strategies to become knowledgable as to what might be the optimal system for the greatest number of americans (both as tax payers and a benificiaries of goverment expeditures).

David Brin said...

I have studied both FAIR and VAT and find them deeply wanting.

Let me point out that the income tax helped to create the most dynamic and flattest social order the world ever saw -- from 1950 to 1980 -- without squelching market dynamism. That is a helluva record to claim.

Indeed, the very notion of "class" within society almost vanished. There were "most of us" and "the poor". That was IT!

Now I am not saying reform of the IRS and income tax aren't desperately needed. I have my own ideas how the tax code could be simplified by 50% without much political fighting OR any winners-losers. INdeed, much of the current system has been gamed by the lords and should be tossed out.

But the backers of FAIR are (if you dig deep) the neo-feudalists. There is NOTHING in FAIR that would apply pressure vs the perpetual danger of entrenching inherited aristocracy, for example.

Beyond all doubt, the best tax is the Inheritance Tax. IT NEED NEVER BE PAID! A rich person has a choice: either let society choose what projects to apply 50% of the accumulated capital toward.... or pre-empt society and make that decision for yourself, with a foundation!

Haters of the IT scream that "IT'S MY MONEY, I EARNED IT AND SHOULD BE ABLE TO LEAVE IT TO MY KIDS!"

I reply that market capitalism owed you rich rewards for delivering better goods and services. (And very little if you got it all by cheating.) One of those rewards is to be the one who picks what good purpose the capital will be applied toward, so a new generation will honor your name.

That is not the same thing as leaving it all to whelps who never delivered a good or a service, and just want to be our feudal lords by virtue of who daddy was. We have TRIED that approach. On a purely pragmatic basis, it ALWAYS has very very bad consequences.

Hence, I don't give a #$%#%*! damn how self-righteously you indignantly defend your "natural rights." Words words words. I care about effects! If you win this fight, then we WILL have lords again. Pure and simple. And I do not plan to put up with that. (Nor will the portion of the rich who "get it.")

Now the goppers are trying desperately to axe the IT. Holding hostage a rise in the minimum wage. Even more outrageously, they are REFUSING to let the Dems raise the IT cutoff above 5 million$ (the amount that would exempt small businesses and farms. Because then they would have no horror stories to tout.

This is their BIG goal, far outweighing abortion or even outright theft. ANd one more reason they should not be called neocons, but neofeudalists.

Mark said...

In inheritance tax is by far the fairest of all taxes. Imagine an ideal society where everyone was free to accumulate as much wealth as they could during their lives without a cent going to the government, but when they die, because you can't take it with you, it all goes back to society. This would be the fairest of all societies.

There are plenty of reasons why that wouldn't work, but fairness is not one of them.

monkyboy said...

Sam Walton put a lot of small businessmen in the poorhouse on his way to the top....it's silly for his children to try to avoid paying the inheritance tax on Sam's wealth by claiming it would hurt "small businessmen."

Tony Fisk said...

Stefan:

It wouldn't be the first time. Howard played the 'fear the immininent terrorist attack' card just prior to sledging through Australia's anti-terrorist legislation with minimal debate last November. An utterly cynical ploy that actually *hindered* an ongoing police investigation (see my remarks and referrals to articles of the time here)

So what's the smokescreen for this time?

(And what's all this about 'liquid explosives' in babies' milk? I haven't researched it yet but, if it's that flexible, all the bang boys need to do is ingest it prior to boarding!)

(BTW Howard's 'fear the brown illegal immigrant's' bill got through the lower house (albeit with *three* liberals crossing the floor to vote against it) but it's even money as to whether it'll get through the senate tomorrow.)

monkyboy said...

Excellent reading here(via Sadly, No!):

http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality

by Sara Robinson

The first part is below the second one (duh)....