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April 26, 2006

Re: The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal

Although I have strongly disagreed with some of Peter Beinart’s national security positions in the past, I think his The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal in the Sunday New York Times Magazine is an excellent foundational piece on how progressives can rebuild a cohernet international policy. 

He recommends a policy founded on the liberal cold-war era twin pillars of promoting democracy and increasing economic opportunity.  Key to developing strategy to implement this is recognizing the importance of not exercising our power to impose on people but instead to work with others while increasing economic security at home and abroad.

This is a good fit since the progressive/liberal tradition is always  founded more on ensuring opportunity for all, rather than the privileged and the use of persuasion instead of raw power unless threatened in consequential ways.

One centerpiece example of this twin pillars internationalist view is the liberal policy of containment & deterrence during the cold war, where “the Marshall Plan's premise was that the survival of European democracy depended on its ability to deliver economic opportunity.”

Some excerpts:

In the late 1940's and 1950's, [liberals] described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently.... Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world.
....The world's increased integration has left the United States more vulnerable to pathologies bred in other nations. So more than ever before, American security requires economic, political and even military interventions in the internal affairs of other nations: to stop bird flu from spreading in rural China, corruption from sparking a banking collapse in Thailand or jihadists from plotting in Pakistan.
....America's power to intervene effectively overseas depends on its power to persuade and not merely coerce. The power to persuade depends on a willingness to be persuaded.
....liberals have traditionally distinguished themselves from conservatives by insisting that to promote liberty, America must promote opportunity as well.
.... Between 1947 and 1973, family income roughly doubled, and significantly, it grew even faster for the poor and working class than for the rich.

Since the 1970's, blue-collar families have seen their incomes stagnate.... Facing harsher international competition, employers have reduced health benefits and eliminated defined-benefit pensions. And rather than fill the gap, the federal government has retreated as well. Unemployment insurance and food stamps have become less generous, and taxes have become markedly less progressive.

....for the liberals of the early cold war, the [economic] security of average Americans was essential to America's security in the world.
....A government that leaves its people to fend for themselves in the face of rising economic insecurity will face grave difficulty asking them to support enlightened policies aimed at helping people in other corners of the globe. That is the hidden backdrop to the great popular revolt against the Dubai ports deal earlier this year — an isolationist, nationalist spasm by a public that feels the government is more concerned with the interests of foreigners than with its own.

Rejecting the conservative's claim that moral relativism is the weakness of America (a position which leads the conservatives to be easily baited into over-reacting and over-reaching), he recognizes that what has actually weakened America is conservatives moral imperialism.  He concludes, in a slight twist on Socrates (concluding “that he was wise only in so far as he knew that he knew nothing”), that

America can be the greatest nation on earth, as long as Americans remember that they are inherently no better than anyone else.

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Re: Everything you wanted to know about Vote By Mail

[Posted to DaliyKos re: Everything you wanted to know about Vote By Mail]

In 2004, I got to compare Oregon’s vote-by-mail with New Mexico’s system when I assisted Election Protection in New Mexico.

As an Oregon voter, I had always liked vote-by-mail for its convenience and for increasing turnout.  What I hadn’t appreciated was how much it simplifies and professionalizes the election system -- from hundreds of precincts with possibly thousands of (amateur) officials, we have just one counting place per county, all overseen by people, like the county clerk, that do this for a living.  It makes oversight for the parties easier as well since there are fewer locations.  In addition, there is just one method: paper ballots, for absentee, local voters, etc.  Signatures are compared electronically, and if the ballot arrives early enough, the voter will be  contacted if there is any question about the signature match, allowing a correction.

For more, see my letter to The Nation re: Abolish Election Day also posted here.

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April 13, 2006

Re: John Yoo's Tortured Logic (The Nation)

Stephen Holmes' John Yoo's Tortured Logic in The Nation does an analysis of why John Yoo invented the extreme, and grossly false and unconstitutional (as consistent with my own analysis), notion of Bush's unilateral presidency outside of oversight and laws passed by congress and enacted by past presidents.

One of his key conclusions:

By dismantling checks and balances, along the lines idealized and celebrated by Yoo, the Administration has certainly gained flexibility in the “war in terror.” It has gained the flexibility, in particular, to shoot first and aim afterward. It has acted on disinformation and crackpot theories and utopian expectations that could perhaps have been corrected or moderated if traditional decision-making protocols had been respected and key policy-makers had not silenced dissident voices and sequestered themselves in an echo chamber.

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April 12, 2006

Re: George Bush - Failed Christian, Failed CEO (Huffington Post)

[Slightly edited comment re: George Bush - Failed Christian, Failed CEO (Huffington  Post) 4/12/2006]

Of course, Bush has never been very concerned about comparing his plans or results to reality....

But his model of a CEO is pretty straightforward (in part because it is so simplistic):
  1 - loyalty is more important than qualifications
  2 - hire “good people” (for definition, see #1) and let them do their work
  3 - only make the “big decisions” and don’t micromanage (per #2)
  4 - destroy the opposition since by definition they violate rule #1
  5 - announce decision and repeat message until done

There are important strengths to parts of this model, but it depends on good judgement and in particular being a good judge of people, unfortunately Bush places loyalty as #1 instead of quality of the people.  But then again, he isn’t a good judge of people, so it would be foolish of him to put that first.

And of course there are myriad weaknesses to this model.

Since the lack of engaging in details (perception of violating #3 in his mind) and not talking to sources closer to information (perception of violating #2 and #3 in his mind), provides no means to calibrate the quality of the information.  In a bureaucracy, this can be critical since there are so many layers of filtering and shading in between.

By destroying the opposition, you instill fear and timidity that prevents honest debate, causing everything to converge on the prevailing view of the people in #2.  And combined with #5 creates an organization focused on not listening and getting feedback (since providing that information destroys your career).  Things that don’t accord with the leaders view are considered opposition to be destroyed, not an opportunity to examine assumptions or evaluate results.

Bush is extremely unlikely to change his model, so we've got a pretty clear idea of how things will play out in the rest of his term.

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April 10, 2006

Re: Outside Advice on Boss's Pay May Not Be So Independent

[Submitted to The New York Times re: Re: Outside Advice on Boss's Pay May Not Be So Independent on 4/10/2006]

One way to put excess executive pay in perspective, is to recognize that every $10 million dollars paid to executives could have funded a 100-person R&D lab to create competitive next-generation products that will build shareholder value.

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April 09, 2006

Book: Crashing the Gate

Armstrong & Moulitsas: Crashing the Gate Armstrong & Moulitsas: Crashing the Gate

An energizing book that puts the cultural and strategic shift of progressives and the Democratic party into nice perspective: as a group that is moving in the right directions to act like an out-of-power group hungry to recapture its voice and political power by renewing itself.

One key to this is the transition (well underway) from a political-majority party consisting of a coalition of single-issue groups to a more coherent multi-issue philosophy.  As they point out, almost all new progressive organizations in the last decade were multi-issue organizations, not special-interest -- Center for American Progress, Progressive Majority, Democracy for America, American’s Coming Together, MoveOn, etc.

The give good coverage to the changing landscape:

  • things that have changed: new donors, new organizations, the building of a (multi-issue) progressive movement outside the Democratic Party
  • things that need more change: accountability from the Washington-based consultancy culture, beltway demos, renewed thinking about reaching all America not just segments, of understanding and reaching people at their belief level not just their demographics

They also did a good job encapsulting some of the big transitions for the right, which one could summarize as:

  • 1964 - Goldwater, fueling the right-wing anger at Republicans that were “Democrat-lite” and motivating action to build thinktanks, leadership institutes, etc.
  • 1980 - Reagan, an appealing message vehicle for core principles, leading to a right-wing hunger for and hope to also capture the congress and courts
  • 1994 - Gingrich, the first “affirmative vision” of what could be done, by selecting from a huge menu of actions from the right-wing thinktanks
  • 2000 - Bush (this is my own), pathological extreme of the party leading to overreach

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April 06, 2006

Re: Bringing God Into It, by Rabbi Michael Lerner (The Nation)

[Submitted to The Nation Re: Bringing God Into It, by Michael Lerner, in the Nation on 4/6/2006]

Michael Lerner’s analysis of the right is right on.  And his prescription for the left to address people’s yearning for meaning appropriate.  But his deconstruction of the ills of the left is confused and wrong.

Some 80+% of Americans identify themselves with a religion, and polls report that just 3-5% of Americans are Atheists.  So the left consists not primarily of anti-religious folks at all as he asserts.  Yet Lerner attacks “the left” as succoming to “scientism” that leads (although he uses different words) free-market-ism and materialism.  So, how does he explain that most on the left are religious and take their religion's values seriously?  (John Kerry and Ted Kennedy are Catholics for heaven’s sake!).

It is the right that are the free market fundamentalists promoting vouchers to eliminate public schools, to allow polluters to pollute more, to out-source jobs under the banner of free trade rather than what the left promotes, which is fair trade where envionrmental and labor practices would require some normalizatiion across countries.

It is the right that promotes social darwinism and that “validates money and power” as exemplified by Bush tax give-aways to the rich and letting business write the regulations that are supposed to constrain their excesses.

Whereas it is the left that is fighting that to ensure opportunity for all, not just the few and powerful.

Nobody on the left is any more enthusiastic about the “coarsening” and sexualization of popular culture than those on the right.  The left and right watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music and watch the same movies and sports -- this is American culture and not  the left's.

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April 05, 2006

Better than you portray

[Posted comment to David Sirota's blog post Wall Street Dems unveil plans to undermine the progressive movement regarding the recently announced Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute 4/4/2006]

After reading some of their materials, as well as your excerpt, I find the Hamilton Project's overall goals actually very aligned with progressives. 

The teacher's union in Oregon has fought for seniority over meritocracy -- that's not a good thing for our kids educations, so if that is the sort of thing the Hamilton Project are willing to go up against at the teachers unions, that is a good thing.  There are plenty of good things the union fights for, and ought to fight for, but the lack of accountability of a seniority-based rather than  meritocracy-based advancement system is <em>not</em> something to support.

The glaring “error of omission” in the Hamilton Project is that although they propose addressing the issues of dislocation from globalization, they appear to take no stand for “fair trade” against “free trade”.  The right-wing “free markets” dogma needs to be replaced with the more reasoned democratic capitalism (which they refer to) which is the real, and even Hamiltonian, American economic model. 

To me, for example, this means also not allowing a global system in which we out-source our pollution or labor exploitation with the jobs, thus “externalizing” public “bads” ... all the way to another country unequiped to deal with it.

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April 03, 2006

Soul of the neighborhood community

A  friend concerned with school closures planned in Portland, penned an email to a few ;-) of his closest friends.  I helped edit down to this, then again down another 400 words to the 500 words published in the Oregonian as Finding our soul in neighborhood schools.  One of the reasons I found it interesting is that find it interesting is as a progressive counterpoint to the conservative “cut taxes, be more efficient” mantra (that has no defined stopping point) -- and the importance of community and where we find it (which is not only where we worship).

Finding community soul in an elementary school
            Prashant Dubey

My friends have wondered why a fellow like me, who is usually pretty good about maintaining balance, is so worked up about the Portland Public Schools closure plans.

Let me explain.

I was born in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio and then moved to Bombay, India, then to St. Louis, Missouri, then back to Bombay, then to Chicago, and finally to here to Portland.

When I arrived in Portland, I was absolutely bewildered by the level of “contentment” amidst Portlanders. I was enthralled by the feeling of community I experienced, despite the fact that I was a newcomer.  I couldn’t really put my finger on it.  Since then, my wife and I have bought a home together in the Grant Park neighborhood -- 2 blocks from Hollyrood elementary school.  We are now blessed with school-age children.

I have never felt so “at home,” so much a part of a community. And I had never realized how much my local elementary school contributes to this.

I walk my son to school through the park. As we meander through the trees on the gravel path, I see neighbors concluding their morning dog walk and we wave to each other. I see other parents with their kids on scooters approaching the school. I enter the school and see the kids lined up, eager to dash to their classrooms, competing for whom will enter their class first. I wonder about the last time I ran to be the first one at school. I see parents who are professional colleagues. I see parents who are next door neighbors. I see parents who I ran into at the local Mexican restaurant over the weekend. I see parents who join me at the edge of the baseball field during Friday practices. I see parents who worked on the school garden on the south side of the school. I see parents who organized the Halloween extravaganza. I see parents who volunteer in my son’s classroom during writers workshop. I see parents who help with art projects. I see parents who indefatigably organized the school auction.

I realize I know every face in the school involved with our 216 students. I walk out of the school, having bid farewell to my son for the day and exchange glances and smiles with parents – we have dropped off our children in a safe place. We can now go earn a living.

As I walk home, I see neighbors whose children have grown up and have kids of their own. They smile as they reminisce about the memories created at the school. I pass by the pediatric dentists office and recognize it as a sponsor of our recent school auction.  I feel a sense of pride that my neighborhood school is not just an exceptional achievement school, but is full to the brim and is efficient to operate. It feels good. Really good.

A school building is a public asset. It is a community gathering place. It is the nucleus of the local business community. It is the soul of a neighborhood. I never knew this. I never imagined that I would care so much about a building. Public spaces, especially houses of learning, have a way of creating community and connections unlike any other mechanism. These spaces inspire the community to involve themselves in the betterment of the school. Play structures are installed. Playgrounds are cleaned up. School gardens are weeded and vegetables are planted. On weekends, children play on the play structure of their school and feel a sense of belonging themselves. Children are tangible manifestations of hope.

Widespread school closures are planned -- and the creation of larger schools -- purportedly as a means of achieving “better educational outcomes” despite the limited body of evidence to support this and despite the outcry by those with the greatest stake in the educational outcome: the childrens parents.

There is no substantive acknowledgement of the contribution of a (public) school building to the soul of a community. Closing performing neighborhood schools that are community anchors will irreversibly change the landscape of our great city. Once a public asset is relinquished, it is next to impossible to re-claim it. The walks to and from school will be more anonymous. The march to the classrooms will be increasingly mechanical. The school garden will rapidly disappear. The rush to drop off and abscond to the day gig will become routine. The meandering in the hallways will be replaced with elbowing for position in the parking lot. Families will be disillusioned. The urban public school fabric will wear thin. The net loss of soul will be measurable but largely unaccounted for.

I have waited for 40 years to feel like I belong. I believe very, very strongly that closing schools in the name of a uniform curriculum and (alleged) efficiency fundamentally ignores a true value of a school building -- to be a tangible manifestation of the soul of a community.

While I have been discouraged by the fatigue of the body politic in Portland, for me this is about the soul.  The collective souls of communities are the primary means of enhancing the livability of a city. And it is of great and deep concern to me that value of our civic soul is not being acknowledged.  Our individual souls are the means of guiding our beliefs.  I will measure my success by my journey as much as my destination. I will show my children that even if the odds seem stacked against you, your belief system should always be your guide.

We need to keep our performing neighborhood schools, the soul of our community.

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