For my Social Media class

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I need to put this to bed.

First, the outcome of my project is my new social networking site based on Drupal, an open source project. Being anti-capitalist, it’s a lot easier for me to institute a real privacy policy. You all should have received invitations to join; so far, in this class, only Howard actually has.

This site incorporates notions about friendship and privacy in social media which have been topics in this class. It is also a platform from which my earlier project idea–setting up an economic system which is not based on exchange–can be implemented. For this, there is exactly one thing missing, a system for recognizing when participants actually do something that fulfills needs. Other parts, a points and karma system, are present, so what’s missing is a way for the recipient of a service to acknowledge it by awarding points. It would still be an exchange of a sort, but people would have a means of getting their needs met without having initial capital.

This site was informed by results from a social networking survey which I conducted of my on line “friends,” “connections,” and “followers.” I know at least two people in this class participated in that survey. But from such a group, one would expect a higher response rate than I got. Yes, that says something. On the other hand, it probably also means I won’t need to upgrade my virtual server right away–that would be expensive. [As promised, the data and results from this survey are being kept private.]

Howard, I did consider the Kaltura Community Edition–for which there is a Drupal module–for presenting these results that I saw crop up on your Diigo feed, but was concerned about the resources that would be required on my rather minimal virtual server, particularly as I got into some real trouble with site performance while I was bringing it up. There is also the one-month trial using their server, but I seem to have real problems remembering to cancel these subscriptions and I already have to remember to cancel the Surveymonkey upgrade–which I had to do in order to download the survey results.

The principal innovation with the new site is a recognition of multifaceted relationships. I recognize friends, acquaintances, colleagues, students, teachers, professors, significant others, and supervisors. I was hoping it would be possible to control content sharing on the site so that only people with particular relationships could see certain content. That way, your boss wouldn’t be able to see the evidence of your true personality unless you choose to reveal it. A facility called “user relationships node access” makes this possible.

This site has a long ways to go before it would be anything like Facebook. Facebook has been getting a lot of attention lately for its eroding privacy protections. In the privacy policy, which is accessible via a prominent link at the top of the page, I quote both Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt saying problematic things about privacy, and the fact is that their revenue models depend on these compromises. Applications such as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and many, many others aren’t created just for fun but as back doors to personal information–not just your own, but that of all your Facebook friends.

And in the name of the so-called “war on terror” (yes, I know, we aren’t supposed to call it that, anymore), many governments are attempting to gather ever more information on their citizens. Naomi Wolf (2007), in The End of America, highlights these efforts:

If our government’s only goal were to fight terror, most Americans would have no major problem with this kind of surveillance. They would feel that the benefit of being spared another 9/11 outweighs the discomfort of being listened in upon. Whitfield says that people often remark, “If I am not doing anything wrong, why should I worry about it?”

That faith presupposes that no one can get away with using your words or actions against you unfairly. This is a good assumption in a working democracy–but disastrous naïveté in a fascist shift. (pp. 84-85).

In the present environment, all information held by any corporation about you can be assumed to be in government hands. That worries me about Facebook, and in creating my new site, I have opened up an avenue for people to continue to interact with me via social networking should I choose to close my my Facebook account.

But the site does offer the possibility of a gathering place for people who share my interests. I have news feeds updated every fifteen minutes, so it is becoming a pretty decent place to find news. And of course it has forums where all this can be discussed.

“Judicial Activism” and the rights of minorities: Obama does it again.

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Last night, Barack Obama argued against–as if anyone was arguing for–what conservatives have been more recently famous for railing against: “judicial activism.” According to the New York Times,

“It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically,” Mr. Obama said.

“And in the ’60s and ’70s, the feeling was — is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach. What you’re now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error.”

He added, “The concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways.”

Tellingly, the Times observes, “Mr. Obama, who formerly taught constitutional law, did not cite any specific decisions. He has long been a supporter of abortion rights, and repeatedly defended the court’s interventionist stance during the civil rights movement because minorities were cut out of the political process, even while saying that such a role would be inappropriate today.”

Apparently, no one questioned Obama about this. And his statement is clearly intended for public consumption rather than as a serious constitutional argument. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison argues against a democracy and in favor of a republic in order to protect minority rights.

Madison was writing not of the rights of any stigmatized or disadvantaged group, but rather the property rights of wealthy white males. And, it should be noted, one of his co-authors in the Federalist Papers, John Jay, went on to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Yet Obama charged–the Times here quotes from his book, The Audacity of Hope–that “in our reliance on the courts to vindicate not only our rights but also our values, progressives had lost too much faith in democracy.” First, it is not a democracy we are talking about, but a republic, as Madison was at pains to explain. Second, where Madison was correct was in his enunciation that minority rights require protection from majorities. In structure, this is the same argument that people of color, Catholics, Jews, and gays have made in pursuit of their own claims to civil rights. And this is an argument which is well understood amongst civil libertarians.

The point is precisely that no one, least of all members of oppressed groups, should trust in any democracy to protect their liberties. And Obama is surely aware of this. After all, it is a white majority country that enslaved African-Americans, treated women as chattel, pursued genocide against Indians, and continues today what David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel recognize in Peace and Conflict Studies as systemic violence against the working class, against the poor, and against people of color. It is in a white majority country that children hurl the term “fag,” ostensibly referring to sexual orientation (but see C. J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School), as an epithet and in which persons suspected of homosexuality may be dragged from the tailgate of a pickup truck. It is in such a country that bigotry masquerades as “justice” in imprisonment rates.

Obama’s remarks, apparently made “in an impromptu conversation with reporters on a flight to Washington from the Midwest,” are therefore disingenuous. They follow Obama’s at first admirable, then subsequently dismal performance in the wake of an arrest of a Cambridge professor. They are a betrayal of anyone in this country who seeks a justice long denied.

I can see clearly now, Ron Paul has spoken!

Originally published at Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself. I just received a Daily Bell newsletter which addresses me as a “free market thinker.”

Ahem. I’m not supposed to ask here for whom the market would be “free.” It certainly isn’t free for ordinary people whose jobs are shipped overseas, to be replaced, if at all, by Wal-Mart jobs that pay a fraction of what their old jobs paid. And while big corporations can relocate jobs where ever they can get the best deal, I can’t buy gasoline in Venezuela or Kuwait at under 50 cents a gallon either; I have to pay upwards of $3.00 per gallon here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But I’m supposed to compete with workers in impoverished parts of the world where there is much less environmental and labor regulation.

So anyway, the Daily Bell was criticizing Barack Obama, who apparently “called on Congress to pass the most wide-ranging changes to oversight of the financial market since the Great Depression and said the changes would help revive the economy and ‘put an end to the cycles of boom and bust.'” They focus on the illusion of ending what in my economics class way back when they called the “business cycle.”

As the Daily Bell put it,

It illustrates a fundamental rhetorical dishonesty, because even the socialist economist John Maynard Keynes did not directly associate regulatory policy with ending the business cycle. For Keynes, a recession was merely an indicator of lagging demand, which could be rectified having central banks rev up the printing presses. For free-market economists, recessions were an inevitable outcome of central bank manipulations of the money supply.

I don’t know about Keynes or these “free-market economists.” What I notice about the business cycle is that big corporations benefit from the downside in two ways. First, inevitably, some of their smaller competitors fail, reducing the competition they face. Second, there’s nothing like unemployment to moderate wage demands. Or to bolster arguments against regulation, like an initiative to appear on California’s ballot “to suspend Assembly Bill 32, which requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Many firms did not support that change four years ago because they feared higher costs and now sense a chance to derail it as California struggles with a 12.6 percent unemployment rate.”

Elsewhere in the newsletter is a link for Ron Paul’s guest editorial on the difference between corporatism and socialism. He begins by writing,

Lately many have characterized this administration as socialist, or having strong socialist leanings. I differ with this characterization. This is not to say Mr. Obama believes in free-markets by any means. On the contrary, he has done and said much that demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding and hostility towards the truly free market. But a closer, honest examination of his policies and actions in office reveals that, much like the previous administration, he is very much a corporatist. This in many ways can be more insidious and worse than being an outright socialist.

Socialism is a system where the government directly owns and manages businesses. Corporatism is a system where businesses are nominally in private hands, but are in fact controlled by the government. In a corporatist state, government officials often act in collusion with their favored business interests to design polices that give those interests a monopoly position, to the detriment of both competitors and consumers.

Wow. So maybe Obama promoted a giveaway to health insurance companies and made a backroom deal with pharmaceutical companies and escalated the war in Afghanistan for the military-industrial complex because the government controls and favors those corporations. But, according to the Washington Post, “President Barack Obama has no plans to reconsider his proposal for new offshore oil drilling in the aftermath of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House said on Friday” because, I am to understand, the U.S. government controls British Petroleum, which leased the drilling platform that “exploded and sunk [and now] spews oil at 42,000 gallons per day,” as well–I would assume–as all the other multinational oil companies.

It’s just so much simpler to understand it all Ron Paul’s way than to try to understand all those campaign contributions and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Isn’t it?

Live at the new site

So this is weird. I’m actually back on my old blog putting in an entry here, rather than on my new blog. LiveJournal has been great, but something that has really annoyed me is that I can’t search all my entries going back quite some number of years.

And the new blog, on my Linode (which needs upgrading), isn’t just a blog but a social network and content management system. It runs on Drupal, which offers a lot of capability that never really got off the ground here.

The old blog will continue to be updated. There are modules for that. But–and I’ve discovered I actually have readers (besides my mother)–the real action will be at the new place. It’s intended to be a community; you can create an account or log in with an OpenID. I don’t have Facebook or LinkedIn connectivity because I wasn’t able to get it working; that might be just as well, for privacy reasons.

So why am I putting this entry here? I’m trying to complete the synchronization of this blog to the new, so all the content is there. I’m hoping this entry will tickle it. I had some problems when I tried this before and the synchronization process got interrupted midstream. So now I’ve got some of the old blog entries copied but not all. I doubt it will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Banner images

Originally published at Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

If you're wondering about the banner images in use on this site, I'll be keeping this page up to date with all of them.

22 April 2010, west Sonoma County:

This is a house at the corner of Guerneville and Vine Hill Roads, northeast of Graton.  It is surrounded by vineyards and there appears to be a winery to the right, well below road level.


This picture was taken from Piezzi Road near Occidental Road, east of Graton.


This is the Laguna de Santa Rosa, north of Sebastopol.  I'm told this entire plain was once a lake.  The area here is now seasonal wetland.


This was taken at Bodega Bay, from Lucas Wharf, looking towards Doran Beach.  The beach is actually on the other side of those trees.


These boats were docked at Lucas Wharf.  Once upon a time, they would have been commercial fishing boats, but the salmon fishery in this area is now nearly exhausted.


This was taken from one of a series of beaches north of Bodega Bay.


This is Jenner, shot from Goat Rock Beach, looking across the Russian River.


This is another view of the Russian River, shot from very nearly the same location as the shot of Jenner above.


This was at Goat Rock Beach.


These rocks are at the mouth of the Russian River in the Pacific Ocean.  This picture was taken from Goat Rock Beach.

27 April 2010, west Marin County:

This is Nicasio Reservoir, taken from Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road.

A meadow on the west side of Highway One, between Olema and Bolinas.

A sandpiper on Wharf Road Beach, Bolinas.

Looking up the Coast Range from Wharf Road Beach.

A meadow off of Brighton Road, Bolinas.

Highway One, looking south from Red Rock Beach parking lot (the road surface is obscured).

Most likely a Red-Tail Hawk, taken from the Red Rock Beach parking lot.

Clouds taken from the Red Rock Beach parking lot as the sun was setting.

Sunset over Bolinas, taken from Red Rock Beach parking lot.

Notes on an economic system

Marketing is not about a supposed “consumer’s” need but about a purveyor’s need to sell.

That statement should be self-evident, but if one senses a certain cognitive dissonance on reading it, that is for very good reason. We live in a society that values individual achievement and self-reliance. Working with others is seen as a sign of inadequacy, that one cannot do it all by him- or herself.

Marketing constitutes an admission of dependence upon others to buy whatever one is selling, really quite regardless of their need. It is a statement of inadequacy. And this is why I sense that even criminals have greater honor than marketers.

Of course, individual self-reliance is an illusion. One drives upon the roads that others build; relies upon the water, sewage, and other utility systems that others build; and eats the food that others grow, harvest, and in our omnivorous society, the animals that others slaughter and butcher. Humans are members of a social species that has survived and prospered through cooperation.

But we reward not the people who work with others, building buildings, manufacturing automobiles and appliances, or laboring in the fields, but rather the people who have appropriated unto themselves the resources of this planet which Proudhon saw as our common birthright, and who “invest” these resources in the means of production. Somehow, as Marx and Engels observed, we came to value the “investor” of appropriated resources more than laborers, though the worker offers what is truly his or hers to offer, and the “investor” offers that which he or she has deprived others of.

And those who possess these purloined resources and agree to exchange them for the honest labor of others inevitably begin with an advantage. Their toil is not required. And with their advantage, they have a greater freedom to decline any “deal,” for they can easily take their money, which facilitates this theft, and “invest” it elsewhere, while a laborer has quite a larger problem to move where jobs are offered. Having stolen so much, the rich then profit again by devaluing others, offering jobs where “labor costs” are lowest. Any system of exchange thus inherently privileges the wealthy and magnifies the gap between rich and poor. Yet we assume that nothing can happen without members of a privileged class to direct us. Somehow, these “gifted” individuals have impressed upon the rest of us that they are indispensable, that we cannot direct our own labors.

This discrepancy is particularly apparent with the labor of those who care for others, as Riane Eisler notes, particularly in The Real Wealth of Nations. Teachers, child care workers, and hospice workers are all paid poorly. The domestic labors of full-time parents and housekeepers are not rewarded at all; rather we see them as dependents upon those who “bring home the bacon.” So our social values have been perverted. Society is no longer for the protection and development of human beings but for the profit of a few who have stolen from others.

One might wonder why sales people are the ones driving flashy cars, and are the ones who see the glass as half-full. It is because they do what the rich do; and we reward them at the expense of honest labor.

You’re being robbed, but please don’t raise a fuss

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Remembering the occasion,

[Former President Bill] Clinton said his intent was not to stifle debate or muzzle critics of the government but to encourage them to consider what repercussions could follow. He acknowledged that drawing the line between acceptable discourse and that which goes too far is difficult but that lawmakers and other officials should try.

“Have at it,” he said. “You can attack the politics. Criticize their policies. Don’t demonize them, and don’t say things that will encourage violent opposition.”

But in a subsequent interview with ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, Clinton evaded blame for legislative changes that enabled the financial crisis:

Well, I think on the derivatives before the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, it had been breached. There was already a total merger practically of commercial and investment banking, and really the main thing that the Glass-Steagall Act did was to give us some power to regulate it the repeal.

And also to give old fashion traditional banks in all over America the right to take an investment interest if they wanted to forestall bankruptcy. Sadly none of them did that. Mostly it was just the continued blurring of the lines, but only about a third of all the money loaned today is loaned through traditional banking channels and that was well underway before that legislation was signed. So I don’t feel the same way about that.

I think what happened was the SEC and the whole regulatory apparatus after I left office was just let go. I think if Arthur Levitt had been on the job at the SEC, my last SEC commissioner, an enormous percentage of what we’ve been through in the last eight or nine years would not have happened.

I feel very strongly about it. I think it’s important to have vigorous oversight. Now, on derivatives, yeah I think [then-Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and then-Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers] were wrong and I think I was wrong to take [their advice], because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them.

And they don’t need any extra protection, and any extra transparency. The money they’re putting up guarantees them transparency. And the flaw in that argument was that first of all sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.

And secondly, the most important flaw was even if less than 1 percent of the total investment community is involved in derivative exchanges. So much money was involved that if they went bad, they could affect a 100 percent of the investments, and indeed a 100 percent of the citizens in countries not investors, and I was wrong about that. I’ve said that all along. Now, I think if I had tried to regulate them because the Republicans were the majority in the Congress, they would have stopped it. But I wish I should have been caught trying. I mean, that was a mistake I made.

So even when Clinton accepts bad advice from his own advisors, he blames the Republicans. And even when many say repealing the Glass-Steagall Act was a mistake, he claims the law was already ineffective. But if Glass-Steagall was ineffective, that’s either because it wasn’t being enforced or because it failed to restrain institutions that needed regulating. If it wasn’t being enforced, we can only blame the regulators whom Clinton subsequently blames for not doing their jobs leading up to the financial crisis. And if insurance companies needed to be kept out of high-risk banking, that’s reason to bring them into the Glass-Steagall Act, not to repeal the act altogether. Now here’s New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson on the cost of the crisis that Clinton enabled:

It is understandable, of course, that Treasury might want to transmit good news about bailouts the same week Americans were rushing to meet the I.R.S.’s tax deadline. And given that Treasury is run by Timothy F. Geithner, the man who doled out bailout billions as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, his current minions certainly have an interest in peddling the view that the price of these rescues has become less onerous.

But before we break out the Champagne, let’s look at the costs this estimate included — as well as those it left out.

Morgenson points to several omitted costs. First, she sees near-zero interest rates as a vast transfer of wealth to the banks, who continued charging much higher interest on what little lending–including credit cards–they were still doing, at the cost of savers and investors. But it’s worse than that. At those interest rates, even government bonds provided an attractive rate of return. That means that interest rates were effectively negative, that taxpayers were paying banks to borrow money to buy government bonds.

And as Christina Romer of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors conceded,

“although banks have largely stopped tightening their lending standards, they have not yet begun to loosen them. In addition, many small businesses report difficulty in obtaining credit. This is a development that makes it harder for businesses to hire and invest.

Romer left out that small businesses remain pessimistic about the economy. A survey indicates that “with sales and earnings weak, few are ready to hire. Over the next three months, slightly more said they planned to cut workers than add jobs, on a seasonally adjusted basis.” It’s hard to blame anyone for being downbeat about the economy. Foreclosures hit a new high in March, bankruptcies were the highest since bankruptcy “reform” passed in 2005, and the International Monetary Fund predicts unemployment will remain high for two more years.

Meanwhile, banks are back at the same games that led us into the financial crisis in the first place, with an increased assurance that they are “too big to fail,” and with self-righteous compensation packages.

But when it comes to unemployment, Barack Obama says, “There are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times.”

Morgenson also points to the cost of FDIC bailouts of failed banks. There have already been 50 of these this year and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair has said the 2010 total may well exceed the total for 2009. It is unclear how much the government will have to pay in “loss-sharing arrangements the F.D.I.C. set up with healthy banks to persuade them to take on the assets of failing ones.”

As for the banks that are supposedly still healthy, Morgenson quotes Christopher Whalen, editor of the Institutional Risk Analyst, pointing to policies that allow banks to “keep bad loans valued on their books at unrealistic levels.” These prolong the pain as banks try to cover inevitable losses.

All this for a recovery that may well be a chimera. Apart from fears of a possible double-dip recession, Romer tucked this little nugget in with her recent remarks:

Now, to be fair, the unemployment rate has risen somewhat more during this recession than conventional estimates of the relationship between GDP and unemployment would lead one to expect. In this year’s Economic Report of the President, we presented estimates that suggest that the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2009 was perhaps 1.7 percentage points higher than the behavior of GDP would lead one to expect. Some of that unexpected rise goes away when one takes a more sophisticated view of GDP behavior. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates GDP in two ways — one by adding up everything that is produced in the economy and the other by adding up all of the income received. These two measures should be identical. But in this recession, the income-side estimates have fallen substantially more than the product-side ones. Therefore some, but not all, of the anomalous rise in unemployment may be due to the fact that the true decline in GDP may have been deeper than the conventional estimates suggest.

Romer’s remarks suggest a challenge to present practices of measuring GDP, a statistic which figures prominently in how economists recognize recessions. Hers are not the first. Neil Irwin, writing in the Washington Post, argued that a portion of gross supposedly-domestic product actually reflects overseas production. With big companies shipping as many jobs, but not the workers who used to hold them, to cheaper and less regulated locales as possible, even during the current recession, I suspect that Irwin’s “elephant in the room” is more the size of a blue whale. Former South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings recently wrote,

An important part of the job fraud is to make the people feel like the loss of jobs is due to the recession, not off-shoring. Long before the recession, South Carolina lost its textile industry; North Carolina lost its furniture industry; Detroit its automobile industry, and California its computer industry, etc. President Obama wants to increase exports, but we have nothing to export.

Hollings exaggerates and simplifies. Increased food exports enabled under the North American Free Trade Agreement–also a Clinton-era accomplishmentdevastated Latin American farms and have led to a desperate migration north that conservatives decry as “illegal immigration” and that nativists claim deprives “Americans” of jobs. In truth, employers love “illegal immigration” for its seemingly endless supply of easily exploitable workers who can be used as leverage against “legal” workers, forcing all to accept lower pay and poorer working conditions. Workers pay a high price for so-called “free” trade, trade that is “free” only for the wealthy and that is now enshrined in our national ideology.

Clinton addressed his remarks on civil discourse to “lawmakers and other officials.” He wants them not to provoke another domestic terrorist incident such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

So the corporate and political elites are ripping people off blind, but Clinton wants us to continue to believe that they mean well when clearly they couldn’t care less. We’re supposed to remain civil while we are deprived of our livelihoods and our homes and while we stand in lines to sign up for food stamps so we can eat.

Bill, it must be awfully comfortable where you are.

Well off angry white males support Tea Party

Much is being made of a New York Times story yesterday describing self-identified Tea Party supporters as “wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and [as] no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class.” Republicans interested in being elected (rather than in a violent uprising) have grounds for some cautious optimism from these results, which appear to indicate the usual delusions common to substantial portions of the U.S. population and a fairly mainstream conservativism. This survey presents an image of relatively well-off (56 percent making $50,000 per year or more) but angry or dissatisfied (94 percent) at Washington, D.C., white (89 percent) males (59 percent) who are nonetheless content with their own finances (78 percent). They may be losing their grip on politics and on their world, but they still see political choices as a dichotomy: while only 54 percent express a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, only 54 percent identify as Republicans, and 61 percent see some difference between the Tea Party and the Republican Party, 52 percent oppose creating a third party to challenge Democrats and Republicans. They aren’t voting Democrat and they aren’t advocating violence: 92 percent have a “not favorable” impression of the Democratic Party and 71 percent believe it is “[never] justified for citizens to take violent action against the government.”

Only partly belying the pundits who lampoon them for opposing government spending while collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, of the 92 percent of Tea Party supporters who want a smaller government offering fewer services, 74 percent would accept cuts to Medicare, Social Security, education, or defense, even though 62 percent feel “the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs for taxpayers.” 56 percent said neither they nor a member of their immediate families were covered by Medicare. 51 percent said the same of Social Security retirement benefits.

57 percent hold a favorable opinion of George W. Bush, 59 percent said the same of Glenn Beck. 66 percent have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin but 47 percent believe she lacks “the ability to be an effective president.” But 52 percent believe they are paying a fair–as opposed to unfair–share of taxes.

In contrast to portrayals of Tea Partiers as gun nuts, 65 percent of their supporters said businesses should be permitted to forbid “customers from openly carrying guns in their establishments.” 31 percent of them personally own firearms, 12 percent live with someone else who owns firearms, 15 percent both personally own firearms and live someone else who does, but 32 percent live in non-firearms owning households.

They aren’t all “birthers.” While 30 percent believe Obama was born in another country, 41 percent believe he was born in the United States. While much is made of Tea Partiers’ visible racism, 65 percent of supporters said Obama’s policies were treating blacks and whites the same. Indeed, their views might be described as post-racial: 73 percent believe blacks and whites have an “equal chance of getting ahead [in today’s society]” and 52 percent believe “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” 42 percent said “legal immigration” should be decreased, but 39 percent said it should be kept the same. Such views might be expected given that they are 89 percent white and 95 percent not Hispanic. Only one percent said they were black. I don’t know where’s David Jarman is getting this, but he points out, via Joan Walsh, that

People who think that “the U.S. government has done too much to support blacks” were 36 percent more likely to support the Tea Party than those who didn’t think so. Among whites who approve of the Tea Party, only 35 percent said they believe blacks are hard-working, only 45 percent believe blacks are intelligent, and just 41 percent believe that they’re trustworthy.

Here’s what was not surprising: The results show that 88 percent of Tea Party supporters disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance, that these supporters don’t like much of anything about him, but that they were also hard put to explain just what they disliked about him. Disapproval of the direction the country is headed in, of Obama’s job performance, of every aspect of Obama’s performance, and of Congress’ performance all polled over 90 percent among Tea Party supporters, and they were most likely to name the economy (23 percent) and jobs (22 percent) as the “most important problem facing the country today but they seem unclear as to whom they blame: 5 percent blame the Bush administration, 10 percent blame the Obama administration, 15 percent blame Wall Street and financial institutions, and 28 percent blame Congress. 88 percent said the stimulus had either made no difference or had made things worse. 93 percent chose “fairly bad” or “very bad” options to describe the condition of the economy and they were split at 42 percent each either saying the economy was staying the same or getting worse. 58 percent agreed that “America’s best years are behind us” on the availability of good jobs. 89 percent feel Obama has expanded government “too much” in “trying to solve economic problems facing the country.”

84 percent had a “not favorable” impression of Obama. Despite relative satisfaction (49 percent) with their own congressional Representatives, 94 percent advocate throwing most incumbent members of Congress out and 94 percent (without access to the original data, I can’t tell if it is the same 94 percent) said they trusted government to do the right thing only some of the time or never. 94 percent also said they were dissatisfied or angry about what was happening in Washington, D.C.; but of the 53 percent who described themselves as angry, they were again diffuse in their responses as to what they were most angry about.

61 percent blame the Obama administration or Congress for the budget deficit while only six percent blamed the Bush administration, five percent blamed “someone else,” and 16 percent chose some combination of these choices or all of them.

Presented with a long list of names, Tea Partiers appear to lack “admirable political figures.” 10 percent named Newt Gingrich, 20 percent chose “Other,” and 24 percent either didn’t answer or said they didn’t know. They were close to split in their opinions of John McCain, with 35 percent describing their opinions of him as favorable and 37 percent saying not favorable. 73 percent said Obama did not understand their needs and problems, 75 percent doubt he shares “the values most Americans try to live by,” 77 percent described him as very liberal, 92 percent believe he is moving the country towards socialism (49 percent understand that to mean government ownership), and 56 percent believe his policies favor the poor. 64 percent believe (incorrectly) he has “increased taxes for most Americans.” 63 percent rely on Fox News and 53 percent consider shows like those of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity as news more than as entertainment.

73 percent believe “providing government benefits for poor people encourages them to remain poor.” 82 percent consider “illegal immigration” to be a serious problem. 51 percent doubt that global warming will have a serious impact now or in the future. 85 percent oppose a health insurance mandate even if financial aid is offered for those who can’t afford it and they oppose raising taxes even on households making more than $250,000 per year to pay for it. 74 percent believe the economy would have improved without the financial system bailout.

Suffice it to say, some of this is hard to reconcile this with previous depictions of the Tea Party. Some of the difference may lie here: while 50 percent said they had “heard or read [a lot] about the Tea Party movement,” 43 percent answered that they had only “heard or read [some] about the Tea Party movement.” Supposedly,

The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll is based on telephone interviews conducted April 5 through April 12 with 1,580 adults throughout the United States, including 881 who said they were “supporters of the Tea Party movement.”

The sample of land-line telephone exchanges called was randomly selected by a computer from a complete list of more than 69,000 active residential exchanges across the country. The exchanges were chosen so as to ensure that each region of the country was represented in proportion to its population.

Within each exchange, random digits were added to form a complete telephone number, thus permitting access to listed and unlisted numbers alike. Within each household, one adult was designated by a random procedure to be the respondent.

To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers. The two samples were then combined.

So if this is indeed a random sample, generalizable to the general population, what is the basis of their claim that only 18 percent of the general public support the Tea Party?

For purposes of analysis, people who said they supported the Tea Party movement were oversampled in this poll. Several thousand random phone numbers were screened for Tea Party supporters and qualifying adults were interviewed as part of the April national poll, along with callbacks to Tea Party supporters from a February poll, yielding a total of 881 respondents. They were weighted to their proper proportion of the population (about 18 percent) as determined in the February and April surveys.

There’s a level of abstraction here that arouses my suspicion. In my reviews of quantitative studies generally, I have seen so many statistical methods that I didn’t encounter in the two statistics classes I did take, that I can’t help but think of stereotypically teen-aged boys and their cars; as the boys might put in a particular fancy carburetor to achieve a certain level of performance, I can’t help but wonder if these researchers aren’t choosing methods to achieve certain results. They aren’t supposed to do that. Their methods should be appropriate to their problems rather than being tailored to produce particular solutions. But not being a statistician, while I may scrutinize everything else about a study, I can only trust that these researchers are doing what they should. Sometimes, I feel I should be less trusting. And sometimes, frankly, I wonder if researchers don’t outsmart themselves.

There are other eye-catching results in this survey: while 55 percent said the recession had been difficult, 70 percent “rate[d] the financial situation in [their] household[s]” as fairly good. 50 percent described themselves as middle class and, 58 percent expressed confidence they would remain in their present social class. Of those who have children, only 20 percent have children under eighteen and 53 percent have children over eighteen. 26 percent have no children at all. Of those who have children under 18, 65 percent said they were enrolled in public schools. 46 percent are in the 45-64 year old age group; 29 percent are over 64. 97 percent are registered to vote.

There are a few points I would suggest about these results:

  • There is likely a considerable difference between people who identify themselves as supporters of the Tea Party and those who are activists. 78 percent of these “supporters” had neither donated money nor participated in meetings or rallies. While previous New York Times coverage suggests that many activists are unemployed, 44 percent of their “supporters” in these results are not at all concerned that they or someone in their households would “be out of work and looking for a job.” Joan Walsh overlooks these discrepancies when she writes that she

    find[s] it galling when the wealthy, white Pat Buchanan (who by the way spent much of his adult life on government health insurance) lectures me about being “condescending” to the Tea Partiers, as though they’re a grass-roots uprising of the vulnerable against the elites. That’s garbage: They are a well-funded uprising of the elites against the vulnerable. And they’d be nowhere if their mission wasn’t largely supported by the top of corporate America (and the GOP shadow government in waiting).

  • While these results are in many ways consistent with those of an earlier Winston Group poll of Tea Partiers, the Winston Group found Tea Partiers slightly more concerned about unemployment than about the deficit. The New York Times/CBS News results indicate that 76 percent of Tea Party “supporters” prioritize reducing the budget deficit over job creation. But this may be a matter of phrasing and of a means to an end. The Winston Group said, “In the abstract, the deficit is a serious concern to Tea Party members. Yet when Tea Party members are asked to choose between two desirable outcomes — a balanced budget or a 5% unemployment rate — their choice is no different from the electorate as a whole.” 63 percent of respondents in the Winston Group survey preferred five percent unemployment to a balanced budget and the Group argues that Tea Partiers believe that deficit reduction and tax cuts for small businesses will create more jobs.

  • Walsh also notes that “the idea that the Obama administration’s policies somehow favor black people will come as a surprise to many in the black community who are concerned that the president hasn’t done enough to directly address the crisis of unemployment, especially among black men.” Here, she has a point.

But what I think will come back to haunt some pundits is a tendency to view the Tea Party movement monolithically. A lot of the incoherence in these results arises from a spectrum of views and we’re starting to see fault lines that may ultimately undermine the movement. We have a Tea Party movement in the military, an association with right wing militia, and a Tea Party-run state government. The culture divide I have associated with a split between conservatives and progressives appears in subdued form even among Tea Party supporters: Only 16 percent approve of legalized same sex marriage, but 41 percent would allow civil unions, while 40 percent opposed any legal recognition of same sex relationships. While 45 percent want abortion legal but with stricter limits, 32 percent support a ban. 40 percent support the Roe v. Wade decision while 53 percent consider it a “bad thing.” While only 16 percent said they never attend church, only 39 percent said they were born again or evangelical Christians; 58 percent said they were not. For now, 78 percent are more concerned about the economy than about social issues, but I’m guessing that might last only until Republicans regain power.

Electoral forecasts based on a special election in New York’s 23rd District last year appear especially problematic. A diverse view of the Tea Party movement suggests that plays like the campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may backfire by splitting the anti-incumbent vote. For now, Reid remains clearly vulnerable. But an ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests the enthusiasm gap, indicating the likelihood of each party’s supporters to vote as affecting their respective party’s electoral chances, has narrowed considerably; while this improvement in Democratic Party fortunes looks to me like it might be a bounce from passage of health care legislation, I’m wondering if it might also reflect a reaction to increased mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party movement.

All I know for sure is that this year I’m glad I’m not in the election forecast business.

UPDATES: The New York Times has published a follow up to this survey which includes a few quotations from respondents. On a quantitative level, of course there’s very little new in it, but on a qualitative level, this article allows one to read the sentiments that lie behind these numbers.

In addition, a Pew survey shows widespread dissatisfaction with and distrust of government that appears to tilt in favor of Republicans.

A special place in hell

At one point in The Power of Partnership, Riane Eisler echoes Peter Kropotkin. She writes,

People will tell you that talking about caring and empathic relations is all well and good, but totally unrealistic. Isn’t evolution about the survival of the fittest — about ruthless competition and strife? Isn’t this our evolutionary heritage from which there is no escape? . . . A simple response is that survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the meanest.

Kropotkin wrote of Darwin’s Descent of Man at length in Mutual Aid,

[Charles Darwin] pointed out how in numberless animal societies, the struggle between separate individuals for the means of existence disappears, how struggle is replaced by co-operation, and how that substitution results in the development of intellectual and moral faculties which secure to the species the best conditions for survival. He intimated that in such cases the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community. [emphasis in original]

But in our present society, at least in ways indistinguishable from the turn of the twentieth century when Kropotkin wrote that book,

They came to conceive the animal world as a world of perpetual struggle among half-starved individuals, thirsting for one another’s blood. They made modern literature resound with the war-cry of woe to the vanquished as if it were the last word of modern biology. They raised the “pitiless” struggle for personal advantages to the height of a biological principle which man must submit to as well, under the menace of otherwise succumbing in a world based upon mutual extermination.

And Kropotkin perhaps sums the argument best when he asks, “Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?” (And he devotes the remainder of the book to an exposition of how animals and humans have lived in cooperation, with the latter even in Europe into the second millenium.)

Eisler goes on to describe how dominator relations are part of our socialization and she praises the parents who seek to escape this pattern. But I remember in the public speaking classes I taught, that when the subject of corporal punishment arose, many of my students considered it essential; it was beyond their conception that it could be possible to raise children without it.

In The Real Wealth of Nations, Eisler writes,

The belief that human beings are essentially evil and selfish–and hence the necessity for their strict control through hierarchies of domination–is a cornerstone of dominator mythology. It’s embedded in religious ideas of “original sin” and sociobiological theories about “selfish genes.”

This view of human nature is integral to popular free market capitalist theories, which are based on the premise that if each person acts only in their own selfish interest the result will be an economic system that benefits all. Of course nobody would think of telling a child that if we’re all selfish everything will turn out fine. [emphasis added]

And indeed in The Chalice and the Blade, Eisler described how humans in fact lived much more cooperatively until about 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. And she describes how far off that path we’ve strayed, particularly in The Real Wealth of Nations, where caring is devalued even at the cost of profitability.

Eisler and Kropotkin agree that humans are not naturally selfish, that we can live cooperatively. Somewhere, and I now fail to find the passage where she writes it, Eisler writes of a belief that there are no evil people, only those who have become enmeshed in an exploitive economic system and who see no other way of ordering our society.

I will accept that people are not born evil. But there is too much selfishness in a widening of the gap between rich and poor that makes no sense now even for the short term, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains:

Given how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed, it’s hard to see where we get sufficient demand to support a vigorous recovery. Outlays from the federal stimulus have already passed their peak, and the Federal Reserve won’t keep interest rates near zero for very long. Although consumers are beginning to come out of their holes, it will be many years before they can return to their pre-recession levels of spending. Most households rely on two wage earners, of whom at least one is now likely to be unemployed, underemployed or in danger of losing a job. And even households whose incomes have returned are likely to be residing in houses whose values haven’t—which means they can’t turn their homes into cash machines as they did before the recession.

Vi Ransel writes,

“According to the United Nations Gini Coefficient, which measures the national distribution of family income, the US had the highest level of inequality of the highly industrialized countries, based on the data available in 2008. It was ranked slightly more unequal than Sri Lanka, and on a par with Ghana and Turkmenistan. (1)

In the 70s, US economic global supremacy was waning, in large part, due to increasing competition from Europe and Japan as they recovered from the devastation of World War II. This made the “opulent minority” rethink the New Deal-bone they’d tossed to the majority of Americans, and they brought in Ronald Reagan to put in force a Raw Deal that began a cascade of deregulation, privatization and consolidation that put America back astride the global economy by putting America’s wealth gap on the way back to the Gilded Age. Today the “opulent minority” appropriates everything it can get its hands on – “legally” – while the middle class holds on by its fingernails and the rest of us go over an economic Niagara Falls without a barrel into “Third” World-style poverty. Government is no longer the referee that promotes the general welfare. Government is the facilitator for the “opulent minority,” ensuring that they can extract every last penny from the people they impoverish.

Since 1980, the richest Americans have seen their incomes quadruple, while for the “lowest” 90% of us, incomes fell. The average wage is lower today than it was in the 1970s, while productivity has risen almost 50%. (2) In 1983 middle class debt held at 67% of income. In 2007, middle class debt had gone over the falls to 157% of income. (3) In 1950 the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s was about 30 to 1. Since 2000 that average has ranged from 300 to 500 to one. (4)

“As of late 2009, the number of billionaires soared from 793 to 1,011, and their total fortunes from $2.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion. …Despite the crisis, the list of billionaires has grown by 200 people and their aggregate capital has expanded by 50%. This may seem paradoxical but only at first glance. This result was predictable, if we recall how governments all over the world have dealt with the economic crisis.” (5)

This is the result of a deliberate strategy, one Washington has executed many, many times, though usually in “Third” World nations, by using “Free” Trade Agreements (FTAs) and its front groups, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Purchased politicians plunge their countries into unsustainable debt. Under Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), national industries are sold to transnational corporations and privatized. Social programs are cut to the bone or eliminated altogether. Interest rates are ratcheted up and the economy collapses on itself like the World Trade Center while banks and corporate buzzards fight each other to pick the carcass clean.

Indeed, David DeGraw quotes Noam Chomsky as saying, “The war against working people should be understood to be a real war…. Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class…. And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.”

The rape and pillage of society and of the environment that Eisler describes in The Real Wealth of Nations and that we see in the sheer callousness in the increasing gap between rich and poor and toward the unemployed even under present economic conditions remove any doubt about the goodness–or lack thereof–in the elite in this country. They who accept as collateral damage the toll of unemployment and poverty deserve a special place where their dominator religions consign sinners, the sooner the better, and preferably in this life and in full public view.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter this existence

Near the end of The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (1987/1995) writes,

Human evolution is now at a crossroads.  Stripped to its essentials, the central human task is how to organize society to promote the survival of our species and the development of our unique potentials.  In the course of this book we have seen that androcracy cannot meet this requirement because of its inbuilt emphasis on technologies of destruction, its dependence on violence for social control, and the tensions chronically engendered by the dominator-dominated human relations model upon which it is based.  We have also seen that a gylanic or partnership society, symbolized by the life-sustaining and enhancing Chalice rather than the lethal Blade, offers us a viable alternative. (p. 186)

It is probably fair to say that since writing these words, Eisler has made it her life’s work, in several books and in the Center for Partnership Studies, to promote this alternative, an alternative I have recognized as humanity’s only hope for survival, particularly as threats posed by climate change manifest.  And so it was with high hopes that I began a class with Riane Eisler and Susan Carter in the spring semester of 2010.

Eisler (2002) offers ways to implement partnership in one’s own life which require resources that a prolonged period of unemployment suffered by many has deprived me of; the response of elites to the pain of so many and the failure of the left to effectively challenge policies that have favored the wealthy darkens my outlook (Reich, March 12, 2010; Sahadi, November 12, 2009; Singer, January 1, 2010). Eisler (2007) does argue for a more caring economic system and systematically critiques the measure (gross domestic product) of the present economic system most heavily relied upon by elites. But Philip Slater (2009), in The Chrysalis Effect, probably does as good a job as any in detailing the recent failings of the hierarchical dominator system, which he refers to as Control Culture.

Slater (2009) nonetheless expresses an optimism best understood in light of complexity theory as described by Fritjof Capra (1996) in The Web of Life.  To summarize complexity theory, begin with the Big Bang, the beginning of the universe as we know it.  I have not seen a description of what “order” existed before the Big Bang, but only of the Big Bang itself as an explosion.  Now, explosions are not things we associate with the creation of order; rather, we see them as catastrophic and as destructive of any forms of order which precede them.

Yet out of the Big Bang, this massive explosion that destroyed whatever came before it, we find stars and galaxies.  And circling around many of those stars, there are planets.  And on at least one of those planets, there is life.  And among the life forms on that planet, there is at least one that regards itself as intelligent.  But Capra (1996) does not argue for “creation science” or intelligent design.  An “intelligent designer” is not needed for the eddies that form in rivers flowing to the sea, nor for the swirling whirlpool of water draining from a sink.  Indeed, as Capra compellingly explains, patterns form in any dissipation.  These patterns take on attributes, called emergent phenomena, that are not seen in the components that precede them, but which are as fundamental to our existence as the elements from which we are made.  These patterns coalesce, creating ever higher orders of complexity, each with emergent phenomena.

And so it follows that there are patterns of which we are a part, with attributes we can at best dimly perceive, in increasing orders of complexity “above” us.  In this light, it becomes possible to comprehend, if not necessarily to agree with, the hierarchies of existence described by Allan Combs (2002) in The Radiance of Being.  Slater (2009) uses the metaphor of a caterpillar, eventually overcome by linked imaginal cells that ultimately dissolve the old body and from its materials, create a butterfly.  In this metaphor, the imaginal cells symbolize partnership-oriented people, whom Slater calls Integrators.  But where Eisler (1987/1995) cites Erwin Laszlo to the effect that “we ‘cannot leave the selection of the next step in the evolution of human society and culture to chance’” (p. 187), Slater argues against any attempt to impose a grand scheme (pp. 183-197). Slater is optimistic of an Integral outcome, but given an understanding of emergent phenomena and of our limited abilities to perceive them, the best we can truly say is that the outcome is unknown.  And indeed, quite in contrast to Slater, Eisler suggests that “modern totalitarianism is the logical culmination for a cultural evolution based on the dominator model of social organization” (p. 180).

Even more pessimistically, it is possible to suppose that, just as an eddy current itself may eventually dissipate as surrounding conditions change, the pattern that is forming, in which human-induced climate change is a component, may offer no accommodation for humans or for many of our fellow species on this planet .  The particulars of our extinction, be it from nuclear holocaust, mass starvation, plague, or some other cause, do not particularly matter.  And as Slater (2009) argues, our present social order is powerless to avert this outcome.

Slater (2009) derives hope from his caterpillar metaphor, in the overwhelming of an immune system that preserves the status quo, which results in its subsequent collapse, I see the dominator system not as the caterpillar about to be subsumed, but rather as a predatory wasp that lays its eggs within the caterpillar and whose larvae consume the caterpillar from within.  Humans have until now survived this, outbreeding its catastrophic effects, but we are about to exhaust the resources that have enabled us to do so.  This wasp will now overcome us.

For in the end, it is the Controller characteristics that predominate even in those whom Slater (2009) sees as Integrators, that lead us for example, to insist that the United States must remain a single country, even as its relatively small share of the world’s population consumes a grossly disproportionate share of the planet’s resources.  The experience of President Barack Obama’s first year in office has shown that we insist on dragging those who oppose us where they would not go because we insist so stridently on going there.  And vice versa, when our opponents are in power.  Obama has finally managed to pass his health care plan, and as far removed as it may be from the single-payer system to be found in most other developed countries, it is nonetheless demonized by its opponents as “socialist.”

To even the extremely limited extent that we may regard this health care plan as a step towards a partnership society, it is absurd, and indicative of a dominator society, that we impose it and its high costs on those who cannot afford it and on those who so strongly oppose it; and that we impose it with a restoration of funds for abstinence-only education and with restrictions that will further stigmatize and degrade women’s access to abortion. I see it instead as an affirmation of dominator values, both in the manner in which it was passed and in its regard for reproductive health (Allen & Young, March 21, 2010; Greenwald, December 22, 2010; Hamsher, March 19, 2010; Stein, March 27, 2010; Wheeler, September 8, 2009; YoGo, March 19, 2010).

If I am left to Slater’s (2009) caterpillar, I am to hope that somehow in all this tumult a new Integrator or partnership order will arise.  Instead, I see an uprising not from the left but from the right, in a conservative populist backlash, the Tea Party movement, which bears more than a trace of racism (Koppelman, September 16, 2009; MacAskill, September 16, 2009).  And why the right?

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die. (Hedges, March 29, 2010)

I see no evidence that Slater’s imaginal cells are coming together to effect change; even the movement that coalesced to elect Obama is riven between those who accept politics as “the art of the possible,” and by those who are flabbergasted by how little change their toil has produced and by Obama’s full-body embrace of the status quo (Greenwald, December 18, 2009; Swanson, September 1, 2009; Walsh, December 22, 2009).

And so I see the fate of our species left to an unpredictable outcome of emergent phenomena in a higher level of complexity.  And I simply cannot find grounds for optimism in chance.


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