Are conservatives mean, greedy, and stupid? Or just different? A response to Lakoff

In a recent article The “New Centrism” and Its Discontents, George Lakoff wrote

Progressives have to get over the idea that conservatives are either stupid, or mean, or greedy – or all three. Conservatives are mostly people who have a different moral system from progressives.

That statement irked me, because it seems to me that there are plenty of powerful, mean, and greedy conservatives, and plenty of uninformed and gullible — if not stupid — voters.

For example, how about the infamous Koch brothers? Aren’t they greedy? And how about wealthy Senators pushing for tax cuts for the rich? (See this page.) Plenty of rich corporations and individuals (e.g., insurance company executives and even doctors) donate handsomely to conservative causes partly in hope of keeping taxes and regulations low. Surely, that’s based largely on greed. Military contractors who support (neo)conservative policies are another example.

Whether these people are mean is harder to say. I’m sure many conservatives are loving parents. George Bush is probably a likable fellow in person. And the vast majority of middle and lower class conservatives are good people too, I’m sure.

But, damn, it sure seems that sending young men to fight and die for lies is mean. Actively deceiving the populace and the Congress about the evidence for going to war is about as mean as you can get. Same with supporting torture. (See Defenders of Torture Unite.) Cutting taxes for the super-rich when millions of people are struggling to survive and the country is in debt sure seems mean. Conservative corruption, privatization, and indifference to corporate malfeasance (e.g., toxic pollution) are also mean. Perhaps the meanness is impersonal and bureaucratic — banal, in Hannah Arendt’s verbiage. But it’s still mean.

So, it’s a gross simplification to say that conservatives aren’t greedy and mean, in my opinion.

Perhaps some conservatives actually think they’re doing the right thing for the nation and the world. No excuse. They’re still mean.

As for the whether conservatives are stupid, I admit: rich conservatives aren’t usually stupid. They’re smart enough to protect their own interests. Karl Rove wasn’t stupid.

The conservatives who appear to be stupid are the middle and lower class people who vote against their own (economic) self-interest by supporting candidates who will ship their jobs overseas, send their sons off to immoral wars, slash government services, defund their pensions (including Social Security), and cut taxes and regulations on the rich.

It’s unwise and elitist to call such voters “stupid”. (In fact, calling people whose support we need “stupid” is pretty darn stupid.) But the point remains, why are people voting against their own self-interest? Are they dupes?

Perhaps some of them sincerely value the wedge issues (guns, gays, abortion, and religion) more than they value their economic well-being. In that case, they’re not stupid, they just have different values, right?


But perhaps some of these people need to be trained to have the right values and beliefs. (Yeah, call me elitist.) Like valuing peace and empathy and non-violence. And believing in more science and less superstition.

On this issue, Lakoff argues that conservatives’ values are based on a strict paternal morality, while progressives’ values are based on a morality of ethics (“maternal morality”, I presume, though Lakoff didn’t use that phrase). In fact, I think it’s a sexist to say that men are inherently and significantly less empathetic than women, but it’s an informative generalization nonetheless.

Lakoff states his standard case about not using conservative language and talking points. “If you start adopting conservative language and/or positions, you become conservative-lite, or worse. ” Lakoff criticizes President Obama for often using conservative language, and (implicitly) for being too centrist:

Obama’s message in his warm-up video to his supporters said that the economy can be rebuilt only if we put aside our differences, work together, find common ground, and so on. It’s the E Pluribus Unum message – no red states or blue states, just red, white, and blue states message. It’s a message that resonates with a majority of Americans. And so his poll numbers have risen.

Such centrism will be the death of the New Deal.

As Lakoff says, “A well funded and tightly organized right wing has been pulling American politics to the right for three decades now. And with a few instructive exceptions, Democrats who respond by calling for a new centrism are just acting as the right’s enablers.”

I think that by insisting that conservatives are neither mean, greedy, or stupid, Lakoff too is enabling the right.

If Democrats and progressives don’t fight the right, we’re screwed. The best defense is a good offense. Right now, the right is kicking our butts.

Cameron Peters charts the path into – and out of – Washington state’s budget morass

(Originally published here.  Reprinted by permission of Economic Opportunity Institute)

When you’re lost, it’s best to figure out where you are before trying to get to where you want to go. So if you’re finding it difficult to get a clear handle on what’s going on with the state budget, try reading these two succinct and accessible columns by Cameron Peters in the Kitsap Sun.


Peters’ first column, written just after the November 2010 elections, examines the campaign rhetoric surrounding the state budget. He finds much of it wanting:

Locally, the refrain from nearly all of the challengers for the state Legislature concerned government overspending. If only our representatives were more frugal and responsible, we wouldn’t have had a multi-billion-dollar gap to close for the 2009-2011 biennium budget. But is the assertion of overspending true? What evidence exists to support such a claim?

As it turns out, there is no significant evidence to support that claim. But there are three underlying factors that do explain the state’s current budget woes – and none of them have to do with spending. They are: inflation, population growth, and most importantly: a severe recession that caused a massive drop in state revenue. In other words, while the rhetoric about government spending may be loud, it rings hollow.

But combine those factors with November’s election results, writes Peters, and you have a recipe for an all cuts budget that will hit education, health care and human services – which make up most general fund expenditures.

And that is, unfortunately, exactly what has happened. As Peters writes in his second column, the true costs of those cuts are now becoming clear:

Those who believe that the state government was bloated and spending on programs unrelated to government’s perceived role should be pleased. Programs and commissions have been eliminated. Most departments have seen budget cuts. Personnel are being cut, positions consolidated.

In the end, balancing the budget may be a Pyrrhic victory. Our neediest citizens, devastated by a recession that was not their fault, will fall through the cracks without the support they need. More families will find themselves unable to send their kids to our state colleges. Our park lands and environmental resources will continue to be degraded without the ability to maintain and improve them. Schools will continue to have to do more with less.

Peters calls for a “21st century solution” for the state budget. That means examining the usefulness and necessity of the 500+ tax exemptions and preferences now on the books (which EOI has documented here and here). And it means changing the fundamentals of Washington’s tax structure, so the poorest residents of Washington no longer pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes, while the richest pay a tiny share.

Follow these links to read the full text of Peters’ columns:

Voters Want Services, But Don’t Want to Pay »

Seeking a 21st-century solution to today’s problems »


Is Roger Ailes About to Be Indicted?

That is the story making the rounds.

Here are some links to that story:

Courtesy Spud of Inside Cable news and Wiki Commons

Off to work for a few hours. Then over to Centralia to shoot some video of a Roller Derby Benefit Event to raise funds for Human Response Network, the domestic violence and sexual assault response agency in Lewis County.

Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote Propaganda

I have posted about this before, but I think the story and its importance have not gotten any traction yet. I am not sure why that is the case because this is a pretty amazing revelation about the automation of propaganda and disinformation by the intelligence community against the American people.

Darlene Storm over at Computerworld has now taken up the story. Here is Darlene’s lead:

By Darlene Storm, Computerworld Feb 23, 2011 2:03 pm

It’s recently been revealed that the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn’t like. It could then potentially have their “fake” people run smear campaigns against those “real” people. As disturbing as this is, it’s not really new for U.S. intelligence or private intelligence firms to do the dirty work behind closed doors.

It’s not a big surprise that the U.S. military also wants to use social media to its benefit. Last year, Public Intelligence published the U.S. Air Force social media guide which gave 10 tips for social media such as, “The enemy is engaged in this battlespace and you must engage there as well.” Number three was “DON’T LIE. Credibility is critical, without it, no one cares what you have to say…it’s also punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement.” The Air Force used the chart below to show how social media influences public opinion. Click on the link to jump to the Air Force website

The 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base sought the development of Persona Management Software which could be used for creating and managing fake profiles on social media sites to distort the truth and make it appear as if there was a generally accepted agreement on controversial issues. “Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.” What happened to don’t lie and the Uniform Code of Military Justice?

Everything revealed after Anonymous leaked emails from private security firm HBGary Federal is disturbing on many levels. However, the Daily Kos said with the Persona Management Software it would take very few people to create “an army of sockpuppets” which could distort the truth while appearing to be “an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.”

So again I ask, what happened to number three . . . the rule about not lying that was also “punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement”?

I think the problem is that it is theoretically possible to be punished for breaking laws or giving a false statement. The application of law and punishment is tilted heavily in favor of getting away with law breaking within the context of maintaining the status quo. Bernie Madoff goes to jail, but he’s the exception. He went off the deep-end and simply fabricated financial statements instead of making a fortune creating hyper-inflated derivatives to sell off to the rubes, the pension boards, the 401k patrons in the manner of more mainstream Wall Street raiders. Bradley Manning is in solitary for months as the military and government use their tools and playbook to torture Manning in this way that leaves no fingerprints, but clearly breaks human beings who are clearly social creatures. Deprive us of all social contact and context for months and we come apart. This is hardly news, yet it continues to happen.

You tell me, is the government and the military committing crimes when they engage in lying and propaganda to manipulate public opinion using social media? Is it or should it be a crime to hold any human being in social isolation? and the really big question, is there any way that we can level the playing field and encourage the prosecutorial powers to ply their trade against the insiders who are breaking laws or is the justice system primarily reserved for harassing the enemies of the status quo?

Thousands rally in Olympia

In solidarity with Wisconsin citizens protesting the hostile takeover of public sector jobs and unregulated privatization of public works contracts proposed by WI Gov. Scott Walker, thousands of people here in Washington rallied at the state capitol  in Olympia yesterday. Amid chants of “What’s disgusting…union busting” and “Hey, hey,  ho, ho, Scott Walker’s got to go”, workers from IBEW, the Teamsters, SEIU and other unions carried signs defending the right to organize and bargain collectively that is under attack in Wisconsin. Other signs warned of the growing disparity between rich and poor in the US that is being exacerbated by unbridled privatization that puts tax dollars collected from the working class into the hands of corporations  driven by the profit motive rather than the common good. A large display created by Movement for the People contrasts the actual preamble of the Constitution, beginning with the familiar words, “We the People of the United States,” with a preamble recast as “We the Corporations, Transcending the boundaries of Nations, In order to protect us from the People, Insure our right to Extract and Exploit, Provide the Defense of Profit with Impunity, and Secure the Blessings of Wealth and Privilege for those who have it already, Do ordain and appropriat­e this Constituti­on of the United States of America.”

Because that what this is folks…a fight for our human rights as outlined by FDR in his Second Bill of Rights in 1944. Make no mistake: we can have a democracy or a plutocracy, but not both.

Ecology and the Economy

When I was about seven (1952), my mother, brother, and I travelled by train from Dallas, Texas to Buffalo, New York. We left the blue sky and bright sunshine of Dallas and ran through the night to St. Louis. In the morning I looked down, as we crossed the Mississippi River, and noted the character of this wide and brown river with its dense river traffic and smoke stacks lining the river banks. Then a strange smell began to permeate the atmosphere in the train. It became extremely irritating. It was, I was told, the normal atmosphere of East St. Louis, Illinois.

We were still somewhat elevated as we entered the city. The place itself lay like a gray cemetery below and to the north of us, and there was a brown pall above it. I was glad when we were leaving the city and the smell behind us, as we headed into the Illinois countryside.

I don’t remember much more of the trip, until we reached the Buffalo area. Buffalo itself was as red-brown as East St. Louis was gray. It was like a patina on the brick buildings. The smells were comparatively subdued and very varied. As we headed north through Lackawanna, there was an almost metallic smell in the air; as we reached the Buffalo harbor area, there was the smell of grain, both fresh and roasting.

Eight years later, we were living in the Buffalo area. Elmwood Avenue, Delaware Avenue, Linwood Avenue were relatively wide boulevards overhung with 70-feet-tall Elm trees. They were tunnels of cool green for at least six months of the year. Lake Erie was a recreational focus – fishing, swimming, boating. Everybody in the town was busy and working hard – except, of course, the county road crews.

In 1966 I stayed in the area for six months. I went to work for the South Buffalo Railway, which was a captive service for the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna. One of our jobs was to pull the big slag pots from the back of the converters and dump the slag. The slag pots were inverted bells, hung by trunnions, one per short railcar. We would push them up a long, sloping hill – of slag – to the top, where a very large track-type crane would smack the slag pots with a wrecking ball, until they tipped over. The red-hot slag would tumble down the side of this slag hill into Lake Erie. It was quite a nice show at night.

Five years later, I came back for awhile. The Elms were two-thirds gone due to Dutch Elm disease; the Lombardy Poplars were dying en masse; fishermen were saying that the fish were disappearing from Lake Erie; the city was turning gray; the sky was turning gray-brown; and the county-crew-syndrome was spreading to many other segments of the workforce.

About that time, the federal Environmental Protection Agency was initiated. Studies were begun, and pretty soon we were hearing that: yes, Lake Erie is “dying”; yes, the local air quality is bad for people; yes, Bethlehem Steel is polluting the lake. Not too long after that, they “discovered” a huge toxic dump under a housing development up toward Niagara Falls, called Love Canal.

By the time that I left in 1979, there was hardly an Elm or a Lombardy Poplar to be found; the Sugar Maples were starting to die; Lake Erie was called “dead”; the population was declining; the sky was brown; and the county crews – among others – were being laid off permanently. That was my main environmental-destruction history, and I’m sure that most of you have experienced your own. One of the most amazing features to me was the speed of deterioration. It seemed that, if you blinked, something else was declining, dying, or dead.

There have been improvements in the Western New York area since then. Some fish species have re-established themselves in Lake Erie; the Sugar Maples have survived; the streams in the Northeast U.S.A. are not as choked with crud and algae and dead fish; the remaining population has found more employment; and the sky is not quite as brown as it was in 1979. More broadly, many species of trees are well established as replacements for the American Elms; songbirds and waterfowl are increasing in many areas; and most Rust-belt cities’ atmospheres are not laden with levels of noxious exhaust fumes as high as those of the late 1970s.

Of course, much of the basis for these improvements is the facts that: U.S. Steel in Gary, Bethlehem Steel in Buffalo, and Republic Steel in Cleveland are gone; many industries have moved manufacturing operations to foreign plants; exploitation of natural resources has declined within the contiguous 48 states; and international competition has caused improvement in the fuel-efficiency of cars and trucks. (Are these good developments? Yes and no.)

Other important factors mostly derive from regulation by government agency. Laws and regulations promulgated by the EPA (established in 1970), state environmental/ecological agencies, and some local authorities have protected species and habitat, promoted recycling, and mandated mitigation – both by device and by remediation. (Are these all good developments? Almost without exception.)

Where are we now in this situation? Just looking at the Pacific Northwest, there are tons of PCBs in and out of drums buried in Hamilton Island just below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. There are many tons of radioactive waste water – and who knows what else – leaking into the water table under the Hanford reservation. The old Portland harbor area is a Superfund site (essentially inactive due to lack of funds). And the list continues ….

Where could we be, given the right spending and legislative priorities? We can:

1) Finish remediation of the 375 Superfund sites that are known to “degrade or threaten either groundwater or human health”;

2) Require increases in fuel efficiency in new vehicles to the best levels currently available (e.g., VW’s TDI diesel for predominantly highway driving and Toyota Prius for city driving);

3) Nationalize (socialize) the railroads and begin to build two-way, high-speed track systems for inter-city public and freight transportation to alleviate car and truck traffic;

4) Increase the promotion of solar, wave, and wind-based power systems via increased tax credits, low-interest loans, and net-metering (at a minimum, the California model);

5) Research nuclear fuel recycling, as done in France, Japan, and elsewhere;

6) Replace all applicable lighting with fluorescent systems or, better yet, LEDs (and establish local recycling sites for these devices);

7) Promote ground-source heat pump systems for new residential or commercial construction.

This is a short list. It is merely one possible (beginning) set of projects. We have much more that we can and must do. Exciting, isn’t it – and eminently doable.

One overlying question requires discussion: Is it necessary to virtually eliminate manufacturing and resource extraction to regain ecological balance? My answer is “definitely not”. Much of the current adversarial relations between environmentalists (in the organized, committed sense of the word) and industry (read primarily “corporations”) is due to the dynamics of negotiation-of-position in a market context. Simply put, the average environmentalists’ position (not the preservationists’ wishlist) is the reasonable position. Having said that, there are sustainable levels and methods of logging, mining, grazing, road-building, irrigation, dam-building, wind-farm development, etc. to be encouraged and protected. Ecological concern must include the ability of people to build a reasonably secure and comfortable life – albeit in the context of decreasing the stress on the rest of the ecosystem. We human beings are part of the environment, too.

John Birch Society anyone? Connections between JBS and the Koch brothers?

Thanks to Carol Davidek-Waller for this information.

Here is a list of Koch Industries products you might like to avoid.
Koch Industries Gasoline:
Union 76

Koch Industries¡©/Georgia-P¡©acific Products:
Angel Soft toilet paper
Brawny paper towels
Dixie plates, bowls, napkins and cups
Mardi Gras napkins and towels
Quilted Northern toilet paper
Soft ‘n Gentle toilet paper
Sparkle napkins
Vanity fair napkins
Zee napkins

Watch the Republicans Govern in Wisconsin

The long term political story in Wisconsin is not that of a right-wing state. Wisconsin is not Arizona or Utah or Idaho. The State has a large scandinavian immigrant tradition that has liberal traditions, a tradition that understands the benefits of a state that values domestic services over the extension of military force beyond its borders. The large metropolitan areas have been dependably democratic. The State has produced and elected both Joe McCarthyand Russ Feingold, so the story is mixed. The 2010 State elections produced a Republican governor and republican majorities in both legislative bodies and the result is what we are seeing.

Wisconsin feels like ground zero in the class wars, the assault on democracy that was the predictable result of the Citizens United decision by a partisan, activist Supreme Court. This Supreme Court is the triumph, the legacy of a generation of largely republican presidents. Progressives face a perfect storm today. We have a federal judiciary that is a minefield of partisan operatives who are appointed for life. We face a patchwork of black-box vote counting systems around the country that are demonstrably insecure and subject to hacking. We operate in the shadow of a corporate media and mainstream news system that is at best, largely useless as a check on political power, and at worst, is a mouthpiece and propaganda system for monied interests.

Wisconsin, David Koch is on the line. Do you really want to take that call?

Come Together, Right Now

Tomorrow is a big day. It’s going to be cold in the Northwest, but there are a lot of calls for turnout and solidarity with the unions of Wisconsin and elsewhere that are under attack. If you have feet, down, below your knees, you should plant them in solidarity tomorrow.

Marylea and I are over to Shelton mid morning to shoot some video footage for a biomass documentary that we are working on. The solidarity event in Olympia is noon at the Tivoli Fountain. Bundle up.

Come together, right now. See you in the streets.