Monthly Archives: October 2011

5 posts

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 10/23

Brett Cline, President

The OWS protest are drawing an even more diverse group of people together as former soliders join in.

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President

Chris Hedges, a former reporter for the New York Times and prominent progressive thinker, fully encapsulates the sentiment driving the Occupy Wall Street protests in this editorial. Much of his criticism lands at the feet of traditional “liberal institutions” which he chastises for not having had the will and courage to stand up to conventional wisdom over the years. He applauds the protesters for taking on this task, and notes that these liberal institutions – unions, the Democratic Party, MoveOn.org, etc. – have no choice at this point but to voice their support for the movement. He believes the left has betrayed the principles it once stood for – skepticism of unfettered free markets, support for universal health care, a demand to the return of our civil liberties – and is at the point of no return. For now, Hedges maintains, our hope lies with the protesters around the world who have those in the establishment shaking in their boots.

A Movement Too Big to Fail

Matt Seyer, Secretary

In the midst of massive problems in the economy, the Republican Congress has repeatedly attempted to steer the national conversation towards abortion, their supposed safe issue.  Many have voiced support for a constitutional amendment that would declare life to begin at conception.  As a woman pointed out to Mitt Romney, however, this is impractical at best and nonsensical at worst, since such legislation would make many popular forms of birth control illegal.  Rachel Maddow invites us to the Man Cave to discuss this.

Rachel Maddow

Alex Witt, Webmaster

One of the primary complaints of Occupy Wall Street participants is the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling. After the emergence of Super PACs that followed recent court cases, political donors are nearly free to give as they choose, with their decisions guided mainly by how they want to direct their money. The New York Times offers a sample of donation goals and the options for achieving them.

A Guide to Political Donations

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 10/16

Brett Cline, President

For those of you looking for more background information on the recent plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in the United States , this article describes how Iran and Saudi Arabia view each other in terms of foreign policy and how the U.S. should react to this Development.

The Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President

The Occupy Wall Street protesters faced a new challenge over the weekend as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, threatened to kick everyone out so the city could clean the park. Instead of packing up camp and conceding to the powers that be, the protesters huddled all of their gear together, shoved it to the sides of the downtown NYC park, and cleaned it themselves (through methods of sweeping, mopping, picking up litter, power-washing, etc.) In the end, the city withdrew its threat, and the protesters were allowed to continue exercising their First Amendment rights. In the above link, Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, breaks down the story.

Occupy Wall Street Earns an Epic Win

In a show of continued protest by the Occupy Wall Street crowd, several protesters entered a branch Citi Bank in downtown New York City and requested to withdraw their money from their accounts. When the bank refused, they asked the protesters to vacate the premises, but many protesters refused. The police then showed up and began arresting them, even the ones who voluntarily left the bank. The movement is nowhere near dying, and it is now starting to spread to cities in other countries, including London, Madrid, and Rome.

NY Citibank Customers Arrested for Closing Accounts

Matt Seyer, Secretary

For those who found “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science” interesting, here’s a nice follow-up.  Dan Kahan, of Yale Law School, is doing some of the most cutting edge work on how our deep-seated values determine which experts, and consequently what information, we trust.  In this interview, conducted by Chris Mooney (the author of the aforementioned article), Kahan discusses his research on what he has dubbed “The American Culture War of Fact.”

The American Culture War of Fact

Occupy Wall Street is a growing movement that is only just now focusing its message: frustration at the extreme power and influence of the Wall Street banks.  But the banks are by no means the sole monopolistic corporate entity.  Tom Philpott draws our attention to the parallels in the food industry and builds a case that the food industry has a similar grip on public policy.

Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street

Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator

This is yet another take on the Occupy Wall Street movement. It brings back down to Earth those liberals who had been waiting for a progressive populist movement and saw in OWS a promising campaign, one that would affect serious change and exact justice on the greedy capitalists who foster inequity. Most importantly, the article is a rebuttal to the “counterbalance” argument: that liberals needed an equally vociferous populist movement to challenge the conservative Tea Party movement. The author avers that the gap between the strength of conservative and liberals voters is not due to a lack of passion. Liberals must instead seize the middle ground: they must persuade moderate voters instead of wooing the far fringes of their party. The movement needs to convince the middle-ground voters that government can work effectively and that partisan cant ultimately leads nowhere.

How Occupy Wall Street will Hurt Liberals

Alex Witt, Webmaster

North Carolina implements an interesting approach to education reform that all college students should consider.

A State Grooms Its Best Students to Be Good Teachers

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 10/9

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President
On Bill Maher’s Friday (10/7) show, former congressman Alan Grayson (D – Florida) spoke up for the Occupy Wall Street Crowd against an all-conservative guest panel.
A few weeks ago, the White House launched a petition campaign (found here: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions) which allowed for citizens to start an issue drive for anything they care about. The goal was for petitions to garner about 5,000 signatures within one month; the policy area of “decriminalizing marijuana” had over 30,000 signatures within the first two days (also in those first two days, within the top 10 most supported petitions on the website, there were 4 different ones promoting the decriminalization of marijuana). This is a very significant step forward for reforming drug policy.
During each of the last two years, YouTube held a town hall with President Obama, and viewers were asked to submit questions. Each year the number one question/concern was the public’s wish for Obama to address marijuana decriminalization policies. The first year the president quickly laughed off the notion. When it hit the number one slot again the next year, he approached it with a more serious tone, but yet again held firm on a continuing policy of prohibition. This petition drive, couple with the recent report stating the failure of the U.S.-backed “War on Drugs,” the White House will have no choice but to reevaluate our country’s policy toward marijuana.
Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator
This New York Times staff editorial succinctly and clearly delineates the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Responding to critics who say the movement lacks coherence and clear objectives, the author points out that the movement is actually the populist expression of very real inequality. The accumulation of wealth by a sliver of the population can lead to poorer national health and the formation of an idle, low-skilled underclass. Such a status quo will not help this economy rebound.
Matt Seyer, Secretary
One of the most pressing problems facing America today, income inequality, has also been one of the least frequently-discussed.  With Wall Street currently occupied, now is our best chance to spread awareness.
Alex Witt, Webmaster
Technological tactics used by members of Occupy Wall Street mimic those used by Arab Spring participants.

In GOP We Trust: How Americans Voted Against their Own Interests

Written by: Michael Baharaeen

In the 2010 midterm elections, the country held a national referendum on the policies of President Obama and the Democrats, or rather how Republicans characterized these policies. There is no other way to explain it because the GOP’s percolating campaign message was anything that sounded anti-Obama or anti-Pelosi. This message had a ripple effect through every level of government, from Congress to state house races to governorships. How did the Democrats combat this message?  As Jon Stewart said, when challenging DNC Chair Tim Kaine on his show, the only argument from Obama and the Democrats seemed to be, “Don’t vote for the other guys. They suck…worse?1

In fact, the national dialogue from Washington at the time had become so obfuscated with mistrust and misinformation – no thanks to the endless surfeit of special interest monies to Super PACs – that voters had given up and were willing to throw out whoever was in power.  We have a two-party system, the Democrats happened to be in the majority, and the economic recovery had not been quick enough for the liking of most voters.  These circumstances working in tandem led to an influx of Republicans in political offices across the country. Unfortunately, the majority of voters – those in the lower and middle class – who cast their ballot for Republicans were unknowingly voting against their own interests.

When Republicans took over in January, they made the claim that the budget deficit was the source of all of our woes and thus began cutting social programs right and left. They did this despite the fact that most respectable economists were saying that in times as economically depressed as these, the deficit, while important in the long run, should take a provisional back seat to spending and investing in job creation – i.e. taking a short-term hit in order to facilitate long-term growth. But the Republicans took this newfound power and began cutting many programs for the middle and lower classes from the federal budget.

Planned Parenthood was one of the first institutions targeted for funding cuts. They receive federal funds to help poorer women with a wide array of issues: prenatal care, postnatal care, the dissemination of contraceptives, and information campaigns to help protect women from STDs. They also offer, at about 3% of their services2, abortions to women in need of them. By law, federal funds are not allowed to support this service. But this did not stop Republicans from decrying the agency and voting to strip their funding. It didn’t matter that Planned Parenthood provides the services it does with the hope that it would prevent the need for abortions. And it didn’t matter that cutting their funding would make only a microscopic dent in the deficit. If it had not been for Senate Democrats stopping this measure, this very important service would have become obsolete for many Americans who desperately need it.

Then came the union busting. Unions, which serve to enhance workers’ rights and to ensure fair wages and worker treatment, were one of the cornerstones of America’s “Golden Years.” From the 1930s, with the introduction of the New Deal, to the 1970s, unions were thriving, as was the country. They secured better working conditions for all workers, won the five-day work week, and helped bring about the concepts of paid vacations, sick leave and maternity leave. However, due to state budget cuts, public sector union pensions and health benefits were put on the table in states like Wisconsin. This may have actually seemed a reasonable proposal had the state government not just given corporations huge tax breaks3, which helped create the deficit that the state was now attempting to shore up on the backs of middle class union workers. The Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, was not looking for shared sacrifice when pushing this initiative; instead, he was going after an institution which was vital in developing and maintaining a strong middle class.

After the pensions and health benefits were on the table, Governor Walker decided to go one step further and take away the right of union members to bargain collectively. The concept of collective bargaining is central to a union; it allows all members of a union to have one united voice when negotiating the terms of their contracts, benefits, etc. Once it was obvious that the governor’s intentions had far surpassed attempting to balance the budget and had shifted to dismantling the strength of unions completely, many Wisconsinites began to wonder whether their vote to install Governor Walker and a Republican-controlled state legislature in 2010 had been the right one. (In fact, shortly after the Wisconsin controversy, Public Policy Polling released a poll which showed that if a recall election were held for the governor, the majority of voters would have voted for his Democratic opponent4).

One of the best recent examples of how Republican austerity measures have awakened a sleeping beast in the body politic is the high number of large-scale disasters that have struck our country, from flooding to hurricanes to tornadoes. Instead of providing disaster relief immediately, Republicans withheld funds until they were offset by cuts somewhere else in the budget. This has never been how the United States operates in times of emergency. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire…I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it.’… I don’t want $15 – I want my garden hose back after the fire is over.” (On a side note, many of the same GOP politicians voting against disaster relief then turn around and claim that we should do nothing to combat climate change, which many scientists and scholars have stated has contributed to our recent tragedies5).

As a reminder to the American public of just how much the spending cuts have impacted everyday citizens, particularly those hurt by the recent disasters, the New York Times published a heart-wrenching, front-page story on September 26, entitled ‘Flood Victims Who Are Fed Up with Congress.’6 At first glance, I thought that people were finally waking up to the reality that the policies of the most recent Congress have been nothing but devastating to those least fortunate among us. But upon reading into it, some of those questioned in the piece actually believed that everyone in an elected position was to blame with the deteriorating conditions around the country, and one even suggested voting out every single incumbent: “If they are in, they should be out.”

This merits some consideration. Why have Democrats been drawn into this? As has been shown, the only reason disparaged areas are having difficulty obtaining the resources they need to recover is because the Republican-controlled House will not provide any emergency funds. One can only guess that the blaming of the government as a whole is a direct result of what people hear on the news.  To be frank, the mainstream media has not been doing its job very well. When people blame both Democrats – the party trying to rush emergency aid to ravaged areas because, well, it’s an emergency – and Republicans – the party that is withholding funding until someone pays for it now – it should be clear that the proper message is not being conveyed to the public. Lately, it seems the main news outlets have succumbed to the conventional wisdom in Washington that real reporting consists of, “One side says this; the other says that,” and never challenges incorrect claims or the spreading of mistruths.

Norman Ornstein recently admonished the Washington Post for its coverage of the ongoing debate over the funding of natural disasters7. In the article to which he refers, the Post columnists insinuate that both sides are at fault for our current predicament. As the piece’s authors put it, “Democrats decided to pick a fight over a side issue: an insistence by the GOP to pay for more disaster relief funding by cutting a popular auto-industry loan program. Republicans refused to back down.8” Ornstein rebukes this approach by correctly stating that in the past, when disaster relief funds have run out and more are requested, Congress has always provided supplemental funding and worried about offsetting the costs later.

Ornstein’s admonition of the Post article raises important questions: how many times have the Republicans threatened to hold the country hostage, during times of great distress, until they got what they wanted? How does this fit into the description of politics as the art of compromise? Moreover, what policies are Republicans advocating that are in the best interests of the average voter in this country? Voters bought into the notion that the people who just got done turning President Clinton’s budget surplus into a skyrocketing deficit – through two rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy, two unfunded wars, and a very costly Medicare prescription drug program – were now somehow serious about addressing that same deficit and that they could fix the economy by implementing the exact same policies as before.

What is involved in this approach? Instead of shared sacrifice, their policies asked the lower, middle and working classes to bear most of the brunt. They then turned right around and demand that more tax cuts be given to the rich, or as Republicans call them, the “job creators.” It doesn’t matter that the reason for asking the rich to pay more in taxes is because they own such a disproportionate share of the wealth9. It doesn’t matter that the “job creators” in Corporate America are sitting on $2,000,000,000,000 in unused funds and yet are still not hiring any workers or providing people with loans (and, incredulously, the economic proposals of every serious contender for the GOP nominee for president includes even more corporate tax breaks10). No, according to Republican officials and most people who have been schooled in the thought of “Washington Conventional Wisdom,” all that matters is that government is evil, and those affluent enough to make campaign donations are in dire need of more tax breaks. (Then they might decide to hire more workers.)

People should be wary of the claim that government cannot do any good. If it were not for liberals in government, society would not enjoy the social safety nets that we have today (such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), social safety nets which protect the vast majority of low and middle-class Americans. As I have asserted in the past,11, 12 Democrats, for whatever reason, seem to be having a very difficult time making their case. The Democratic Party’s platform – comprising policies centered on strengthening the middle class and attending to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised – is inherently in the best interests of the vast majority of Americans. The Republicans stand up for the richest one percent13; the Democrats stand up for the other 99. Democrats concern themselves with the plight of the poor, and they decry the growing inequality between the rich and everyone else. Yet Americans continue to vote for the party whose elected officials have created a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. It may be said officials have constructed a narrative in which support of higher taxes is deemed unpatriotic because it “punishes success.” Or it may be that many Americans still believe in the American Dream: that they will one day be in that top income bracket.

As the cliché goes, elections have consequences. For the sake of moving our country forward, building a stronger middle class, and putting us back on sound economic footing, it is vital that voters remedy the results of last election. The 2012 election will give them a chance to do just that. If a frank distinction between the two parties is not made clear to voters sometime soon, they will continue to vote against their own interests without even realizing it. Only after receiving an unfortunate wake-up call might they want to change their ways. And by then, I’m afraid it will be too late.

Bibliography

1 http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-september-8-2010/tim-kaine

2 http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/

3 http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/unions_arent_to_blame_for_wisc.html

4 http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2011/02/do-over.html

5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-link-between-climate-change-and-joplin-tornadoes-never/2011/05/23/AFrVC49G_story.html

6 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/us/flood-victims-getting-fed-up-with-congress.html

7 http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/95331/washington-post-government-shutdown-eric-cantor

8 http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/partisanship-flares-again-thwarts-passage-of-stopgap-funding-bill/2011/09/23/gIQA2jPmrK_story.html

9 http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

10 http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/feb/10/barack-obama/obama-says-companies-have-nearly-2-trillion-sittin/

11 http://tsudems.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/the-misinformation-permeating-the-national-dialogue-and-what-president-obama-can-do-about-it/

12 http://tsudems.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/the-power-of-ideas-a-progressive-critique-of-president-obama/

13 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjDkm47U5jQ&feature=related

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 10/2

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explains how Israel’s stalwart intransigence throughout the peace process is only further isolating them in an already very unfriendly part of the world.

Adrift at Sea Alone

At a town hall meeting with Linked-In, an unidentified wealthy man (later found to be one of the founders of Google) implores the president to “please raise [his] taxes.”

Rich Guy to Obama: Raise My Taxes, Please

Matt Seyer, Secretary

One of the best ways to master the cognitive biases inherent to the structures of our belief systems is to learn about them in detail.  When we understand why we shun certain pieces of information while we elevate others, when we recognize that our brains trick us in subtle yet potent ways, we can take the necessary steps to avoid these biases, thereby becoming more careful consumers of information and more effective decision-makers.  Here, Chris Mooney details a few of the more pervasive biases and uses them to explain some popular areas of science denial (e.g., climate change-denial).

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator

The story of the Democratic Party in the latter half of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st grants the reader and the follower little hope. Marked by dissension, confusion, and a lack of a coherent and congruous message, the Party has struggled to express its principles and find leaders who are willing to convey them lucidly. The Republicans’ mandate on simple and persuasive rhetoric has limited the Democrats’ ability to convince moderate voters that they can properly exercise the prerogatives of government. This article offers a nostalgic and illuminating look at one of the Democratic Party’s most inspiring and thoughtful leaders: President Bill Clinton. Using the legacy of FDR and the New Deal, he forged a more centrist politics that could embrace both sides of the floundering, dichotomous party. Today, now that we are struggling once again to define ourselves, we can look back to our own paragons for hope and advice.

20 Years Later: How Bill Clinton Saved Liberalism From Itself

Alex Witt, Webmaster

In the face of obtuse political argument, it is necessary to reiterate the importance of logical reasoning.

Are Your Political Opponents Crazy?