Should progressives vote for Hillary if she wins the nomination?

My statement on the discussion of whether or not to vote for Clinton should Bernie not win the Democratic nomination and the many permutations of that discussion:

I support the values embodied in the Democratic Party’s Washington State Platform (and many other state and local platforms, and quite a bit of what winds up in the national platform, although small-d democracy in the party ends at the state lines.). I need to see more than a blue t-shirt with a “D” on it to support a candidate, I need to see CREDIBLE support (a track record, not just lip service) of those values from any candidate I work for or even vote for.

The primary problem with the party has been that we’ve not held our elected Dems accountable to those values and as a result working Americans have been sold out to the corporate tools of the wealthy power elite. (The GOP has always wanted to return us to the Gilded Age, they only started succeeding when many elected Dems stopped fighting back in the late 1970s.) An organized movement to change this started after the 2004 Democratic convention, Bernie’s candidacy sprang from it and has advanced it more than many thought possible.

This is a movement, and as such, it is more than one man. Bernie is incredibly principled and politically astute. But, as he repeatedly says, this is about US not him. In our system, political parties perform many valuable functions. That the Democratic Party has been slacking on upholding its values and performing interest aggregation among its members (among other things) and selling out working Americans is not an indictment of the party system, it is an indictment of the too many rank-and-file Democrats and others who share the values the party supposedly stands for thinking that someone else will do the work to make it accountable. As my friend Anita said in the thread this was written for— learn the rules and start playing. There are plenty of folks already inside the party who need your help and will hold the door open for you.

If Bernie is not on the general election ballot the pertinent question is not which sell out or no chance message candidate you will vote for, but what will you do to advance those values and ensure that 2016 is the last Presidential election where there is a Democratic candidate that does not support working class Americans. But not a single delegate has been committed at this point (super delegates are by definition uncommitted, so getting worked up over them is counter-productive), so at this point every ounce of effort should be going to ensure that Bernie wins the Democratic nomination.

Republican Talking Heads Claim Talk has no Power to Influence Beliefs and Behavior

Who incited Christian terrorism?  Not me.  Couldn’t be.

In what could be the greatest hypocrisy in a season of head-spinners, Christianist Republicans—from presidential candidates to congressmen to Fox News bimbos to sleazy video-splicers and wild-eyed sidewalk ranters-with-rosaries—are scrambling to deny that what they say actually matters.

Specifically they claim that they had nothing to do with a shooting rampage at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs.

Never mind that conservative Christians in high places have been fanning flames for months, calling women and care providers murderers, pretending to believe Planned Parenthood kills big-eyed babies and sells body parts for profit. Never mind that we call such language “incendiary” because it is incendiary. They are shocked-shocked-I-say, that some wingnut in Colorado actually took their becking at face value and opened fire in a family planning clinic.  Who could have possibly known that all that posturing and lying for political gain might affect someone’s behavior?!  Uh, I mean, it didn’t! It couldn’t. It was just talk!

Did anyone other than the guilty parties themselves fail to notice the bizarre irony here?  The people now hastening to assure us that talk doesn’t matter are people who earn big salaries talking. We refer to them as talking heads because that’s what they do, day in and day out, month in and month out.  Talk, talk, talk. Why?  Because like all bullies they (and the folks who bankroll them) are betting that words actually can hurt you.

Those most carefully denying any relation between talk and murder are politicians who spend years speechifying in order to change voter behavior, assisted by well-paid communications experts who the big bucks because tweaking words slightly might affect what voters do. They are pulpit pounders who siphon off 10 percent of churchgoer earnings on the premise that by talking to and for God they can influence beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Talk can save souls. In fact, in the Iron Age mythology of the Bible, it can bring whole worlds into existence.  In the beginning was the word. 

But a bloodbath incited by mere words? Stochastic terrorism? A crazy lone wolf who reacts predictably to the fear and fury of the pack? Words erupting into violent action and reaction? Words shattering into the staccato of gun fire, into screams of terror and anguish? Words slurring into the soft gurgle of the dying? Couldn’t be.

Someone should tell America’s politicians, ad men, preachers and campaign consultants to pack up and get jobs where they actually have some influence. If, as they claim, they’re not capable of getting one crazed wingnut among millions to pick up a gun and open fire after months of professionally crafted goading and millions of dollars of airtime, they don’t deserve their big salaries.

Originally published at ValerieTarico.com

Koch-powered lawmakers

Many Washington State legislators were elected courtesy of the Koch Brothers. In particular, Andy Hill and Steve Litzow squeaked by in 2010 via attack ads funded by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

The State Republican Party was later fined for violating election reporting requirements in that election.See
State Republicans fined for violating reporting requirements in 2010 elections.

Democracy for Sale, owned by Koch brothers

Obama saved the economy — and the GOP

Obama gave a priceless gift to the GOP: immunity from prosecution for war crimes, torture,  disastrous wars, politically motivated prosecutions by the Justice Department, widespread corruption, and other criminality.

In 2008, it appeared that the GOP was destined for many years of repudiation. They’d proven themselves corrupt, incompetent, and imperialistic.

But Obama nursed the GOP back to life by refusing to prosecute criminality, thereby hiding the wrongdoing from the American people.   Obama tried to be bipartisan. He compromised early and often. The GOP almost never compromised and often voted unanimously against the Democrats’ bills.

Obama had a chance to reorient America to a new paradigm of Democratic progressivism. Instead, he hid Bush-era criminality from the populace; surrounded himself with Bush holdovers and Wall Street cronies;  prosecuted the whistle blowers; expanded the power of the military, and governed as a centrist.  Obama didn’t fight.  As a result, in 2010 and 2014 the GOP roared back to life.   Americans were confused about who was to blame for the mess we’re in.

Indeed, Obama is a Wall Street Dem and a great friend of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.

In 2008 we needed an FDR or at least an LBJ.  Instead we got a centrist Dem who said of himself, “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies … back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”

No wonder people didn’t turn out to vote in 2014.

From 2009 onwards I tried to submit resolutions to local Democratic organizations critical of Obama’s sellouts.  As you can imagine, those resolutions didn’t go over very well. “Are you crazy? Are you trying to help the GOP?”

There are those who would say that impeachment of Bush, Cheney and others would have been too divisive and would have led to a backlash against Democrats similar to what happened in 1999 when Republicans impeached Bill Clinton. The analogy doesn’t hold. Clinton was impeached for (lying about) sex. Bush and Cheney could have been impeached for torture, deception about the grounds for invading Iraq, and other crimes. See Kucinich Introduces 35 Articles of Impeachment.

In 2007,   members of the Washington State legislature were working on bills calling for the impeachment of President Bush.  Senator Patty Murray ordered them to stop.  See D.C. Dems want to stop legislative impeachment talk.

During the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, there were women aside from Anita Hill who were willing to testify that Thomas had sexually harassed them.  Then Senator Joe Biden did not allow the women to testify. See The Injustice Of Clarence Thomas.

Well, the Democratic leadership got the shellacking they deserved.  They don’t fight the good fight.  Unfortunately, millions of grassroots Dems are truly progressive but repeatedly get sold out by the leadership.

It all makes me sick.

Hey, conservatives! YOU are responsible for torture, widespread death, and trillions of wasted dollars

As Americans, we have a fundamental right to vote and to support candidates, parties, and positions of our choosing.

But voting and political advocacy aren’t just a right. They’re also a weighty responsibility.   Sometimes we support candidates or positions that result in great harm.

For example, during the presidency of George W. Bush, our nation systematically tortured prisoners. This has been known for years, but only recently did the US Senate release a report enumerating the heinous acts performed under the direction of the highest officials in the US government.

Not only did our nation torture, it also initiated a fraudulent war against a nation, Iraq, that was unrelated to the attacks of 9/11. Moreover, that war was planned long before those attacks.  The war resulted in the loss of over 4000 US lives and of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Some reputable estimates are that over a million people died.  The war wasted trillions of dollars and incited anti-American hatred and jihadism.

People who voted for Bush & Cheney bear responsibility for those outcomes. (Not all conservative voted for Bush & Cheney, but most conservatives did, I’m sure.)  People who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004 are especially culpable, because by then the facts had become available about the fraudulence and recklessness of the war.

Do you conservatives apologize for your support of Bush & Cheney? Do you acknowledge the injustice of their acts?

In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama, thinking he’d be a transformative president who would turn a page on the corruption, class warfare, and war-mongering of his predecessors.  Things didn’t turn out that way. Obama  protected the torturers, the war criminals, and the crooks of the financial industry.  He prosecuted whistle blowers. He surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies.  He escalated the war in Afghanistan, instigated drone attacks in several nations, and meddled in the Ukraine and other countries.  He compromised early and often. He failed to lead.  The health care plan he chose as a centerpiece of his domestic policy was devised by the Heritage Foundation.  His passivism and centrism helped the Democrats to get a shellacking in 2010 and again in 2014.

Still, most of the responsibility for the shellacking is borne by Congressional Republicans who opposed every policy initiative Obama proposed, often with unanimity. Republican intransigence, and the opposition of conservative Democrats, resulted in the Affordable Care Act being as bad as it is.  Basically, Republicans forced a bad health care plan on the American people and then blamed the Democrats for problems with the plan.

But Obama can’t just blame the Republicans. He was a poor leader who chose many bad policies. And as Obama recently said of himself, “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies … back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”

This was clear to me by 2010.  So I did not vote for Obama in 2012. And now I regret having supported Obama in 2008.

But the choices in 2008 were not good. Hillary Clinton and John McCain were (and continue to be) more hawkish and more friendly to Wall Street than Obama.   At most I could have made a protest vote, for a candidate with no chance of winning.   Besides, om 2008 I was deceived by Obama’s speeches and campaign propaganda.

So, I apologize to the American people and the world for voting for Obama in 2008, though I plead naiveté and ignorance.   Had I supported Obama in 2012 I would have been more culpable — as were those who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004.

Perhaps many of the conservatives who voted for Bush & Cheney in 2004 knew that he wasn’t so good but figured that he was the lesser of two evils. Indeed, one day in 2006 a Republican coworker came into the office and said, “Yeah, Bush and Cheney have done a terrible job. ” He shook his head and thought for a moment. “But I still wouldn’t vote for a Democrat, because they’d be even worse.”     I really don’t understand that attitude, given how horrible Bush & Cheney were.

We live in a sick society, and our political system is nearly dysfunctional.  People have become so disillusioned with the system that they don’t bother to vote. Turnout in 2014 was the lowest in 70 years.   The candidates our political system delivers for national office are almost uniformly horrible.

Our health care system is insanely expensive and is less effective than that of many industrialized nations.

Our campaign financing system invites corruption, thanks in part to the five Supreme Court justices who voted in the Citizens United ruling that money is a form of speech.

Scientists tell us that global climate change threatens the health of the planet. But many Republicans in Congress think climate change is a liberal myth.

Concentration of wealth and the national debt continue to rise (though the rate of the rise of the debt has slowed down during the Obama administration).   Many corporations avoid taxes by stashing money overseas.   The tax rate for unearned income is lower than for earned income. But Republicans in the next Congress plan more tax cuts for rich people. Is that fiscally and morally responsible?

Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation, and the state Supreme Court has held the legislature in contempt for not adequately funding education.  But voters continue to elect Republicans who work to maintain tax breaks and to oppose progressive taxation that would benefit the middle class and the poor.

 

Obama gave a priceless gift to the GOP: Why aren't Dems furious?

Obama gave a priceless gift to the GOP: immunity from prosecution and accountability for war crimes, torture, and other criminality. Still, many Democrats treat him as a hero.

In 2008, it appeared that the GOP was destined for many years of repudiation. They’d proven themselves corrupt, incompetent, and imperialistic.

Obama had a chance to reorient America to a new paradigm of Democratic progressivism. Instead, he hid Bush-era criminality from the populace; surrounded himself with Bush holdovers and Wall Street cronies;  prosecuted the whistle blowers; and governed as a centrist.  As a result, in 2010 and 2014 the GOP roared back to life.   Americans were confused about who was to blame for the mess we’re in.

There are those who would say that impeachment of Bush, Cheney and others would have been too divisive and would have led to a backlash against Democrats similar to what happened in 1999 when Republicans impeached Bill Clinton. The analogy doesn’t hold. Clinton was impeached for (lying about) sex. Bush and Cheney could have been impeached for torture, deception about the grounds for invading Iraq, and other crimes. See Kucinich Introduces 35 Articles of Impeachment.

Survival of the friendliest: how cooperation plays a positive role in evolution

The dominant story about biological evolution is a bloody tale of competition and survival of the fittest. There’s no purpose or morality in nature.  There’s no Creator imposing an Intelligent Design.  Rather, random mutations during cell division result in offspring with a diversity of traits. Those offspring with fitter traits tend to survive and breed.  Weaker offspring die out.  Over many generations, beneficial traits accumulate, leading to evolution and the eventual creation of new species.

Kinda brutal. Just what libertarians would love.

Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed offers a more nuanced story about evolution.  The book presents recent research in biology and mathematical game theory that challenges the primacy of competition as a force in biological and cultural evolution.  According to the new paradigm, cooperation plays a much more significant role in the success of species in than in the dominant approach.

Nowak writes that natural selection is not a sufficient foundation for evolution.

I propose that “natural cooperation” be included as a fundamental principle to bolster those laid down by Darwin. Cooperation can draw living matter upward to higher levels of organization. It generates the possibility for greater diversity by new specializations, new niches, and new divisions of labor. Cooperation makes evolution constructive and open-ended.

An important point is that all this lofty talk is backed up by peer-reviewed science. Nowak published, in major journals, articles about mathematical game theory which explain under what conditions cooperation can evolve in communities of competing organisms.

This topic is of particular interest because of its implications for politics.    The political ideology of the conservative movement in America is based on opposition to government and cooperation, in favor of low taxes, deregulation, and laissez-faire capitalism.   Conservatives can point to evolution as a justification of their ideology, much as Herbert Spenser did in the 19th century. But if cooperation plays a much larger role in evolution than previously thought, then the biological argument becomes less persuasive.

Indeed, government-run health care in most countries provides higher quality care at a fraction of the cost of America’s inefficient market-based system.   Competition is useful in some areas, especially in high tech where innovation is important. But in other areas of an economy, including health care delivery, centralized control and planning make more sense, as they eliminate unproductive rent-seeking.

It’s a battle between selfishness and cooperation, between freedom (including freedom to cheat) and justice.

Super Cooperators is written in a lively style by Harvard professor of Biology and Mathematics, Martin A. Nowak, with science writer Roger Highfield as co-author. The book has few equations or diagrams but the exposition and prose are clear enough so that the educated reader, especially someone with a little background in biology or computer science, can imagine how to reproduce many of the experiments.

Since  the 19th century biologists (including Darwin) pointed to the success of the social insects (e.g., ants) as examples of how traits can evolve that favor the group over the individual.  Called “group selection” or “kin selection” or “multilevel selection” or “inclusive fitness”, these mechanisms represent a kind of higher level evolution, wherein groups that are better able to cooperate out-compete groups comprised by more selfish individuals.    But until recently, most biologists have thought that mechanisms such as group selection have limited effect.   On the other hand, it is obvious that evolution has resulted in highly cooperative species, such as ants and homo sapiens.    Nowak and others researchers have laid mathematical and evidential foundations that explain the origin of cooperation and that support a broader role for cooperation in evolution than previously thought.

Much of the book describes computer simulations of competition in which virtual individuals compete in a virtual ecology (economy).   Researchers have experimented with different strategies for competition.  Depending on the how the economy is set up, the best strategy may involve either selfish competition or cooperation.  Sacrificing one’s own short-term gain can lead to an outcome in which everybody benefits (as in the tragedy of the commons).  Research shows under which conditions one strategy (e.g., “cooperate if the other person cooperated in the past”) can make inroads against individuals using a different strategy (e.g., “always be selfish”).    The research paradigm appears under the name of “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.

In the new framework for evolution, not all is rosy. “There is a dark side to cooperation that comes in the form of parasites, cheats, defectors, and other lowlifes.”  In an ecology of cooperating individuals, a “defector” can exploit the kindness of strangers and disrupt the cooperative strategy.   Cancer cells in the body are an example of non-cooperators.  In a political economy, defectors can take the form of welfare queens who refuse to work. Alternatively, the defector can take the form of wealthy individuals who benefit from government contracts and protections but offload costs (e.g., pollution) to others, don’t pay their taxes, and subvert government laws and regulations to be in their own favor.

Nowak identifies five mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation: (1) direct reciprocity; (2) indirect reciprocity — reputation, via language; (3) spatial selection — organizing into small, local groups helps to protect against defectors and parasites and to increase mutual trust;  (4) multilevel selection — selection at the group level — e.g., tribes that cooperate better out-compete tribes consisting of selfish individuals; and (5) kin selection — people naturally cooperate with people related by blood. For each of the five mechanisms, Nowak presents simple mathematical formulas that describe under what conditions cooperation can out-compete selfishness. For example, if the product of the benefits deriving from cooperation times the probability that you’ll encounter the same person again exceeds the short-term cost of cooperation, then it pays to cooperate. This and other cases imply that cooperation works better if people divide into small groups and cooperate in such groups. The theory explains the prevalence of groups such as families, villages, gangs, cults, corporations, policies, and factions in human societies. It also implies that humans should organize politically at different levels of granularity.

In the final chapters Nowak makes a (somewhat sentimental and melodramatic) call for greater worldwide cooperation, especially on the issue of climate change. He says:

The story of humanity is one that rests on the never-ending creative tension between the dark pursuit of selfish short-term interests and the shining example of striving towards collective long-term goals. …. I have argued that evolution “needs” cooperation if she is to construct new levels of organization, driving genes to collaborate in chromosomes, chromosomes to collaborate in genomes, genomes to collaborate in cells, cells to collaborate in more complex cells, complex cells to collaborate in bodies, and bodies to collaborate in societies.

One can view this area of research as giving a naturalistic explanation for morality.

The research gives intellectual succor for progressive-minded people who want to push back against the regressive forces in American politics who wish to dismantle the New Deal and return the country to the small government, small-minded days of the Articles of Confederation.