Archive for February, 2016

Progressive! What Does It Mean?

Movements Populist & Progressive

Read this:  So what is a “progressive” anyway?  Today’s democratic primary has degraded into a fight over who is a progressive and who isn’t.  What happened to discussions of needed social policy changes? I must admit my own idea of a progressive is probably a bit more populist than I sometimes realize. Most of us have some type of preconception and are often unaware of how off that may be. Like Hillary and Bernie, that doesn’t stop us from plodding forward with those misconceptions.

In the article below a The Nation Magazine team (Kim Phillips-Fein, Charles Postel, Robert Greene II and Michael Kazin) combine to explore the progressive debate between Hillary and Bernie, trying to put it in a more comprehensive perspective. Terms need to be reviewed occasionally and this may allow us all to clarify our understanding of “progressive” since it appears to be such a weapon in this presidential race. I for one am very happy it has become a focal point in many discussions. A group called the American Values Project worked hard to come up with a comprehensive definition of “progressive” that many different groups could agree on, called Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions. The second link below describes this in detail, but basically says: “As the handbook states, the central progressive message is one of fairness and equality:

Our approach is simple to summarize and is built upon the ideas of generations of progressives from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama: everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. As progressives, we believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent, fulfilling, and economically secure life. We believe that everyone should do his or her fair share to build this life through education and hard work and through active participation in public life. And we believe that everyone should play by the same set of rules with no special privileges for the well-connected or wealthy.

The Nation article’s authors describe “progressivism” as a complex group of movements, often with a common thread, but sometimes including movements (Jim Crow laws of the South) that many of us don’t like being associated with. Different times saw different causes and sometimes different groups were the primary players. ” Today, the term mostly offers a way of talking about left politics without using the word “liberal” (with its unpopular top-down connotations, and its history of critique by the right) or—even worse—the word left.” Sometimes key players included actions in their movements we find apauling today. “The presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, showed why drawing boundaries around a Progressive tradition can be a hazardous undertaking. Roosevelt attacked the outsized role of corporate power, and called for a national system of health insurance and for pensions for retirees. Yet Roosevelt also had good friends on Wall Street, betrayed African Americans’ civil rights, and was an ardent imperialist and warmonger. Wilson presided over such watershed reforms as the income tax, the Federal Reserve Act, the direct election of senators, and the extension of suffrage to women. Yet Wilson was also a white supremacist who oversaw the segregation of government offices in Washington, and whose “war to make the world safe for democracy” did not accomplish its stated goal, to say the least.”

No, a static definition is not readily available and The Nation article gives many more examples. ” Both Sanders and Clinton have their Progressive Era heroes,” but where they actually fit is complicated. As evidenced by coverage of the Democratic primary and for some reason the south plays a very disproportional role in this. Michael Kazin sums things up for The Nation article like this (and I paraphrase here):

  • Hillary Clinton is best described as a liberal. Like liberals from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, Clinton wants to use the federal government to improve the lives of the majority of Americans … What she really cares about is shrewd, effective governance … she wants the United States to be the dominant power in the world, so she doesn’t question the massive sums spent on the military and on the other branches of the national-security state.”
  • Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a leftist … resembling his hero, Eugene V. Debs—the Socialist who ran five quixotic races for president, the last time, in 1920, from a prison cell … identifying with ‘revolution’ (as a movement) … but Bernie really means it. He is perpetually on the attack against undue power and misused privilege, armed with an unvarnished class-conscious message that, until the emergence of Occupy Wall Street, had long been absent from the public square. He advocates policies he knows even a Congress controlled by Democrats would be quite unlikely to implement. Except for increasing aid to veterans, he seems cold toward every part of the military establishment.”

The positive thing that has happened in this primary is that both Democratic candidates are discussing “progressive” ideas and professing to be a “progressive” (whatever they may mean by that).  Many of the right ideas (emphasizing fairness and equality) are being discussed and this hasn’t happened for a long time.  Read the entire article for a better feel for the different perspectives presented.

What it means to be a progressive


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Protect Big Pharma $ or Make Medicines for People, Not Profit

Pharma Cost Outrage

Read this: The subtitle in the article below notes an important critique of recent diversion in American priorities: “For most of human history, life-saving drugs were a public good. Now they’re only good for shareholders.”  Is this really true and if so why?  How did this happen?  Can it be changed?  The article in The Nation Magazine, by Fran Quigley looks at many perspectives on this issue.  It is a long read, but well worth the effort.

According to Quigley this and similar economic trends dates back to, and is an extension of, what is called “the English enclosure movement”.  It began “between the 15th and 19th centuries, (where) the rich and the powerful fenced off commonly held land and transformed it into private property. Land switched from a source of subsistence to a source of profit, and small farmers were relegated to wage laborers”. As British historian E.P. Thompson said, it was “a plain enough case of class robbery.”  So once again we are faced with a situation where the wealthy and powerful have managed to manipulate a system to maximize the extraction of wealth from the pockets of the weak (and middle class) into their own bulging reserves.  Here the “fenced-off commodity is life-saving medicine. Playing the role of modern-day lords of the manor are pharmaceutical corporations, which have taken a good that was once considered off-limits for private profiteering and turned it into an expensive commodity”.

If this bothers you, it should.  It is time, as Bernie Sanders insists, that we get real angry, but this time we need to do something about it.  As Quigley says “it’s time now to reclaim this commons, and reestablish medicines as a public good.”  She goes on to spend quite a bit of time explaining that “public goods are non-rivalrous and non-excludable in their consumption” and how these lead to “positive externalities”. Here she goes into the positives and negatives, that the existence or absence of this enclosure movement create.  To the dismay of our free market fans she points out that ” for nearly all of human history, societies have treated medicine as a commonly held benefit. Until well past the middle of the 20th century, few countries allowed individuals or companies to hold exclusive rights to produce medicines. And governments have long been involved early and often in the pharmaceutical industry, creating the very opposite of a laissez-faire market.”

So can this trend be changed?  Quigley points out that “when governments don’t take a sufficiently activist role in the field of medicines, public opinion pushes them further.” We can only hope that the pharmaceutical corporations are not already too big.  “Among governments and the public alike, medicines continue to be treated as a good quite distinct from consumer items like cell phones or flat-screen TVs. A human right to access essential medicines has found its way into international treaties and national constitutions.”

“Pharmaceutical corporations justify enclosure by claiming that patents are necessary to spur innovation.”  This is a difficult argument to swallow however.  They “justify enclosure by claiming that patents are necessary to spur innovation”.  History doesn’t actually support this argument pushing for the “evil of monopoly patents”. Quigley goes on to point out that actually “the history of pharmaceutical innovations, especially vaccine developments and life-saving treatments for infectious and chronic diseases, shows that the critical research behind these developments was created outside the patent system.”

Read the entire article. There is a lot more, but she ends with a call to action: ” A petition now circulating for a global research agreement calls on policymakers to “Make Medicines for People, Not Profit.” For that noble goal to be achieved, the fence surrounding essential medicines will need to be torn down once and for all.”

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Differences: We Can Choose To Confront Or We Can Build Trust

Arguing about politics

Read this:  Serious conversations often begin with or lead to conflict. Political or not, once we pass the bounds of the trivial anything can and often does happen.  A friend or acquaintance can all too quickly become an opponent or an enemy.  We are often not sure how we got into “that conversation” and thereafter may intentionally avoid the person or the topic.  How does this happen and can we do anything to make it better and still have worthwhile differences of opinion?

The attached article from The Daily KOS, by David Akadjian takes a brief, but well done look at our ability to have “inherently hostile attitudes towards each other”.  Evidently we, all too easily “create conflict by introducing competition … but … we can also resolve the conflict if we introduce a shared goal”.  Akadjian says: “one of the mistakes we often make in our personal (and political) conversations is that we start at the wrong point. We tend to start at confronting people instead of starting with building trust. We probably do this because this is the battle that’s played out for us on a day-to-day basis in the media.” We need to remember that conflict is a positive and makes a lot of money for our “reality based” media.  Not necessarily for our functioning in the real world, however.

The article takes a look at several examples of how to manage conflict and begin working with people:

  • In 1954, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif ran an experiment at the Robbers Cave Boy Scout camp, dividing a group of boys into two groups, separating them, introducing competition (which got out of hand) and then finding ways for them to develop trust by working together,
  • He talks about dealing with his personal nemesis,
  • He talks about fighting with Christians and evangelicals,
  • He talks about fighting with libertarians and conservatives,

This is a good article that makes you take stock of your own interactive tools and how you might improve them.  In the end Akadjian says “What might make good media strategy often makes for terrible, unproductive personal conversations. This is why it’s important to fight with people (not against them) on something.”


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Trade Deals: Magic Practiced By The Powerful and Slick

Free Trade & Globalization Machine

Read these:  Trade deals are good for everyone, or so the propaganda goes.  Beginning with George H.W. Bush, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, all of our presidents seem to love them.  We’ve had NAFTA, CAFTA and other less well know trade deals and are waiting for the mighty pen to drop, committing us to TPP.  Each one has been touted as a fix for workers, trade, corporations, investors, oh and don’t worry about labor protections, the environment, safety, etc.  It is all covered and will be good. So what do the American people and the leaders of smaller economies around the world do?  What can they do?  They resist a little, try to get the word out and then cross their fingers and sign.

What happens shortly after the ink dries has been a very well hidden but quite different story.  These trade deals, largely written by corporations, have led to massive reductions in trade for small farmers, greatly reduced wages, loss of local farms and industry, devastated local economies, environmental pollution, degradation in safety standards among other destructive effects.  They have been good for corporations, their investors and some others, so I guess that is what we call a win / win.

Understanding these trade deals is difficult and you will seldom see much on our beloved news/entertainment media.  Below are several links to well documented and detailed reports giving a “not so rosy” review of the existing trade deals and of course the impending TPP deal (what many are calling NAFTA on steroids).  There is a lot to read, so do it in pieces and at your own pace, but please read.  You / We need to understand these agreements and maybe begin to abstain from participating in these abusive endeavors to further the power and wealth of the few.

NAFTA, CAFTA & Other Trade Deals

Failed Trade Policy & Immigration

NAFTA Impact on Mexico

Free Trade and the Environment

NAFTA Report Warns Of Trade Deal Environmental Disasters

NAFTA, Twenty Years After: A Disaster



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Socialism: Can the US Learn From Scandinavia?

Learning Democracy - John Dewey

Read this:  At a recent democratic debate Bernie Sanders suggested “America should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”  That damned socialism thing again.  And of course Hillary Clinton seemed to dismiss Sanders’ view saying: “What Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America.”  I wonder what she means here.

Of course Sanders was emphasizing that he believes in “a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” I hope Hilary believes that as well although she doesn’t clarify.  The attached interview from Moyers and Company discusses these issues while referencing comments by journalist Ann Jones describes in another Moyers interview “After Living in Norway, America Seems Backward“. We must remember that many of our most treasured programs in the USA are very much socialistic.  Things like Social Security, Medicare, the VA, etc., and yet we cringe at the very mention of the word. Moyers article notes that one of the most liked Facebook comments related to this came from Beverly Dancy, who wrote: “Americans have this streak of false pride. We believe we have it better than everyone else, everywhere else and it just isn’t true. Why NOT look at what is working well in other places and apply it here…what is there to lose? Oh right, that false pride that, we are No.1!” As another user cynically said, “Yes, we are number one … Number one in military spending and the percentage of our population that we incarcerate.”  We should be so proud.

The article goes on asking is the USA a “Successful Democratic Experiment or Utopian Fantasy?”  Many agree with Sanders, “that the United States should consider adopting some of Europe’s economic policies. “The laboratory of Europe and Scandinavia has already proven that Democratic socialism works better in providing a better life with less stress, less crime, more financial security and more happiness than other democracy experiments, even the American one… People like Bernie Sanders are America’s only hope and therefore must be vigorously supported.”  You begin to “Feel the Bern”.

It really comes down to what kind of democracy we want, how much effort we are willing to invest and most of all who is to really be in charge – we the people or (as things are currently) the elite.  Sadly, we (and Bernie) must remember that the “US is NOT a social democracy, we have a Republican form of government based on a very unique Constitution focused on the value of the INDIVIDUAL” (often synonymous with the elite).  This is a major part of our difficulty, although many (Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand) are obviously very happy the way things are.

What do we really want?

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Don’t Let A Drop In Fossil Fuel Prices Disguise The Issue

Fuel Prices Drop

Read this:  One of the problems in staying on track to move away from fossil fuels is that they are a commodity and their price can and will fluctuate.  We tend to try to justify any changes we make by some financial means.  For some issues and policies this makes a lot of sense and may be the only way to move forward.  When it comes to climate change, the role of fossil fuel and their periodic fluctuations, their price can no longer be the driving justification.  If science is correct and somewhere near 97% of scientists think it is, then we must aggressively move away from fossil fuels as fast and aggressively as possible.  We may already be too late.

The article below by The Union of Concerned Scientists, says: “Fossil fuel prices will always fluctuate depending on supply and demand, and … low prices tend to lull consumers and policy makers into complacency. When gasoline costs as little as $2 a gallon, savings from driving a more efficient vehicle are reduced and it is harder for cleaner fuels to compete with fossil fuels.  (On the bright side, low gas prices have forced producers to abandon some of their most damaging fossil fuel projects, such as drilling in the Arctic Ocean and making further investments in tar sands.)”  The article goes on to emphasize that change must “establish strong standards that ensure progress on low-carbon fuels, zero-emissions vehicles, fuel economy and renewable electricity”.  State and federal clean fuels programs must “require producers to make transportation fuels cleaner every year” as is being done in California and Oregon. This must continue in spite of temporary reductions in the costs of fossil fuels. This will be difficult as those on the right try to justify only by fiscal means.  Our leaders must continually push the message that we are doing the right thing even when it may be less comfortable otherwise the only message we will hear will be the propaganda that flows from Big Fossil Fuel and Wall Street.  This is a real challenge of democracy and its’ ability to do the right thing when it is most difficult.

The article and Senior Scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles Program, Jeremy Martin focus on the impact of bio fuels and fuel policy, which are definitely important parts of the overall effort.  However, I must admit, I feel the article didn’t adequately emphasize the urgency in which change needs to occur. Like so many discussions of any kind of change, it seemed to assume a very gradual process.  That’s not acceptable as we annually shatter “hottest year ever” records world wide.

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We’re Flying Blind, Farming Water Mixed With Oil Waste Water

Oil in Irrigation water

Watch this:  Sometimes a short video can get a message across much faster than a more lengthy article.  Such is the case here where a crew from Spotlight CA investigates what happens when oil mixes with our water sources.  Now that oil drilling is taking place right in the middle of fields where farming is actively taking place and massive amounts of water are used to extract fossil fuels, some of that same water is ending up as the irrigation source for various crops.  What could go wrong?

Reporter Kiran Deol meets a “watchdog farmer, a maverick water scientist and a public health expert who are all taking action to ensure our safety.”  As they investigate the situation, a farmer named Frantz asks “An orange is 90 percent water when it gets to the consumer … where did that water come from? It’s the irrigation water. If the irrigation water is toxic even at very tiny amounts, is there a tiny amount of toxicity now in the fruit? Nobody has tested that yet.”  As the story says, we (and particularly the oil companies) could be doing a lot more to ensure the purity of the water, but they are simply not.  I guess they don’t have to so they probably won’t until that changes.

We, the consumers, need to wake up and be diligently, maybe radically, active.

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