Sunday, June 25, 2006

Our very own NRA

It has been obvious to me for some time that the further right and the further left one goes in the political spectrum, the more alike conservatives and liberals become. They don't think the same things, but they begin thinking the same way: rigid, dogmatic and intolerant. They just don't see themselves that way: "You must mean those people."

Got an education in that last night after posting my previous piece on Daily Kos to see what reaction it would get.

It was discouraging, to say the least.

I was tired. Normally, I avoid using pro-life and pro-choice (both loaded terms of spin) in favor of pro-abortion and anti-abortion. Spin it as you will, it's not about choice and it's not about life. It's about abortion. And the thread quickly devolved from the topic of whether Democrats are living up to their rhetoric about welcoming minority viewpoints under the "big tent," to finger pointing over the "intolerance" of the anti-abortion faction.

Many of the commenters in the thread as much as insisted that Democrats are the "pro-choice" party -- like they own it -- and anyone who thinks otherwise can either sit in the back of the bus or find a party they like better. It confirmed the complaints I'd heard earlier from anti-abortion Democrats.

This comment set the tone for the evening:
If you'll admit that a pregnant woman's right to life is always more important than a fetus's "right to life", and you'll follow that principle consistently, you're welcome in the tent.

Otherwise, get the hell away from me, you nutter.
And this:
If you can't acknowledge that your personal answer on this issue is not the only possible legitimate view point you have no business in the Democratic party.
I pointed out that what anti-abortion Democrats had asked for was just that. They asked that the party platform acknowledge that the pro-abortion "answer on this issue is not the only possible legitimate view point."

And this:
Do they believe it is a choice between a woman and her doctor or not?

If they don't, good riddance.
The party of Martin Luther King.

It's like Democrats having their own version of NRA "slippery slope" politics, with lifetime members who never saw a gun they didn't like or a gun law they did. "They can have my choice when they pry it ..."

The further left and the further right you go, the more alike they get.

The encouraging part was seeing comments from people -- call them moderates or progressives or pragmatists -- who saw the need for Democrats to focus on broader themes, and start by listening:
Listening isn't ratifying or legitimizing any perspective they may have, but it respects their dignity as human beings, and their right to have their own opinions. I am not talking about any single issue here, at all. I am just talking about dialogue and respect.
Respect is something you both have to earn and show to enjoy. For now, I choose to believe that the such people will be the ones to save Democrats from the curse of the single-issue groups.

There is much work to do. Note to self: brush up on Aristotle.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

You're gonna need a bigger tent.

At the North Carolina Democratic state convention today, the platform approval process was contentious as usual, with several last-minute additions, deletions and replacements. And that was before the resolutions came to the floor.

State chair Jerry Meek runs a political convention like an accomplished auctioneer, moving proceedings along with a breathless, rapid-fire cadence. He goes from “For what purpose does the delegate rise?” to the closing “In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it” so swiftly one expects to hear, “Sold! To the gentleman from Catawba County.”

“This Party shall provide an avenue for the free and open expression of diverse ideas and opinions, including the right of every person to dissent,” the platform’s preamble reads in part. But at the first opportunity to put that principle into practice, tolerance for dissenting voices was selective. As much as Democrats think of themselves as the big tent party, there’s one camel’s nose many activists wish to keep from getting under the tent: pro-life Democrats.

What pro-life Democrats wanted Saturday was some accommodation, a sop to their concerns, an acknowledgement in the platform that North Carolina’s big tent party includes people with significant disagreements on the abortion issue (40% pro-choice, they claim). And they no longer wish to ride in the back of the bus.

They received a chilly reception at the convention in High Point.

Pro-life Democrats from several counties complained they were unrepresented on the platform committee and offered preamble language acknowledging the party’s significant disagreements over abortion. They were roundly shot down.

Later, in an effort to make the “Health and Human Services - Women” section more “abortion neutral,” they sought to include the same significant disagreements verbiage. There were impassioned speeches (some by ministers) about Democrats living up to their promises of inclusiveness. If “big tenters” are going to talk the talk, they need to walk the walk.

This time (by my estimate) the voice vote was only about 60/40 against. Not the accommodation pro-life Dems had hoped for, but a sign they’d gained some real ground.

“You just don’t get it,” one pro-life delegate told me. Too many party activists are largely from urban centers, she explained. They don’t deal with rural voters who say they won’t vote for Democrats because they’re the party of abortion. It’s not just about an issue she feels strongly about. It’s about hard-nosed, practical politics.

Earlier this week Democrats in Congress proposed several amendments for ending the Iraq occupation. While ABC’s The Note thought this a sign of weakness, Paul Begala at TPM CafĂ© and mcjoan of Daily Kos cited the competing proposals as a sign of strength. Democrats are actively debating solutions to ending the cycle of violence Iraq, as opposed to the Republicans’ “more of the same” policy.

It’s just that admitting to having a similar debate about abortion isn’t seen as healthy, but a sign of weakness. One convention speaker objected to the platform’s acknowledging pro-choice Democrat’s concerns. The party needs to speak with one voice, he said, and not present an image of equivocation.

But as long as the party’s pro-choice activists refuse to make room under the tent, in the front of the bus, and in their hearts for pro-life Democrats who otherwise agree with them on most every other issue, they’ll continue to lose elections. They’ll continue to lose elections to users who are expert at convincing conservative voters they actually care about the abortion issue – by listening to and including them.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Democrats' six-point plan for losing

Today's New York Daily News column, "Dems turn to the home front" talks about Nancy Pelosi's Saturday radio address and the Democrats' six-point plan for winning this fall's elections. The master plan? Don't mention Iraq.
The party is pushing higher wages, lower gas prices and cheaper college loans in its "New Direction for America" platform, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday.

While she said the U.S. should start pulling out troops from Iraq "at the earliest practicable time," the platform is all about domestic policies, like bringing down drug prices, keeping Social Security as a government-run program and balancing the budget.
While Bush's Saturday address focused on the latest "turning points" in Iraq, Democrats want to talk about gas prices. That's nice.
The Democrats' new platform will help the party counter critics who say they have no plan, but won't help them win seats in Congress, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said yesterday.
It's not just that they are conflicted over what to do to solve the problems in Iraq. (They are.) It's not just that Democrats think that domestic issues are their strength. (They are.) And it's not just that their polling is telling them to stick with their strong suit. It's that, like religion, when they refuse to engage on the issue, they leave the Republicans to play to what they believe is their strong suit.

Too many Democrats overlook the military the way the GOP tends to overlook the poor. So when polling Democrats, military concerns may not pop out as a core Democrat issue.

It's not a flaw in the polling, but a blind spot, and one Democrats lose points over more than the GOP takes hits for shunning the poor. And because it is a blind spot, they don't even notice the glaring omission, especially when the polling says they should focus on domestic policy.

The electorate perceives that omission as weakness. Rest assured, Karl Rove and Co. will not miss an opportunity to exploit that weakness again this year. Democrats cannot let them.

They cannot come off reactive, saying, "We do too support the troops." If they expect to succeed, the party must engage on defense generally, display active concern for our military, their treatment, their equipment and homeland security, plus display resolve against terrorists as a counterpoint to Republican fear tactics. Republicans think they own the defense issue. Democrats must take their candy away from them.

That doesn't necessarily mean having to have a concensus solution to the Iraq issue first. (The GOP doesn't even have one. Their "plan" is to run up the body count, recite more vacuous slogans, and do more of what everyone can see isn't working.) It means projecting strength, command presence. It means Democrats place their focus on military and security issues up front rather than hiding them in the background.

They must also spotlight weakness on the part of the GOP leadership. Weakness is the one thing Republicans and Reagan Democrats cannot abide in their leaders. GOP leaders want us to be afraid? Perhaps because they are too? In trading e-mails with conservatives over some recent editorials, suggesting their leaders are weak makes conservatives' skin crawl. They become defensive. You know you've hit a soft spot.

Democrats cannot rely on their comfort with and fondness for their traditional domestic issues to carry this election. Rove comes straight at his opponents' perceived strengths. Democrats must do the same with Republicans and not wait to react to being branded first.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Life Forms

[It's been nearly a sixty hour week and little time for blogging, so an entry from the archives.]

Column first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times July 30, 2005:
“The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

How many movies start with some clever guy inventing/discovering something extraordinary? So many that you don’t have to be Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park”) or Mary Shelley (“Frankenstein”) to know where this is heading. Halfway through the film that something is threatening the hero, his girlfriend and the world. And a pair of cute kids.

In real life these out-of-control somethings are neither biological nor technological, but legal. They are corporations.

Public corporations are systematically corrupting democracy, spending vast sums exercising their rights as “persons” to remake America a nation of, by and for the corporation. They write the laws governing them — the recent bankruptcy bill, for one — secure federal handouts, and with the recent United Airlines bankruptcy ruling, are positioning to cheat employees out of billions of dollars in underfunded pensions by erasing their obligations in court. Stockholder risk is being socialized, subsidized by employees and taxpayers.

Conceived in law and born on paper, corporations grow, consume resources and generate waste — even mate and spawn offspring. They need not die. Ever. They are intelligent (some more than others) and have personalities (some nicer than others). Corporate behavior is, well, businesslike. Not unlike another cold-blooded beast.

In “Jaws,” Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) explained the shark to the town’s mayor as “a perfect engine … an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks. And that’s all.”

The corporation is not so well rounded. All this machine does is generate profits for shareholders. And that’s all. Team building, recycling, and charitable donations give corporations a human face, but are ultimately window dressing. Employees who start hearing “shareholder value” had better update their resumes.

Thousands have done so lately. True, some factories had outlived their time. Yet many corporations simply desert America to evade taxes and to seek “greater efficiency” (cheap labor) overseas. The newly unemployed shrug, shed tears, pack their belongings, and go looking for their next opportunity to be treated as chattel. That’s just the way things are, right?

Well, something is wrong with the way things are. You might not be able to put a name to it, but you sense it. You feel it. And you know it when you experience it firsthand.

We easily spot the really bad apples: Enron, WorldCom, Tyco. But daily we tolerate common indecency and rule bending as acceptable — even desirable — as long as it feeds our portfolios (and campaign coffers). We learn to view the world through a corporate lens. Competition. Risk and reward. The bottom line. The big fish eat the little ones. What could be more natural?

Except there’s nothing natural about the corporation. It’s an artificial life form engineered to relentlessly pursue profit. As actor Michael Biehn said of “The Terminator,” that’s what it does. That’s all it does.

There’s the rub. Incorporation grants privileges and immunities unavailable to flesh-and-blood citizens. In return for special treatment — save for paying taxes when it’s unavoidable — corporate persons owe employees, communities and their country nothing. Especially loyalty. Loyalty is a one-way street.

Decisions that void workers’ American Dreams typically have little to do with unethical corporate boards (most are honest, to be sure) or dire economic necessity, but arise from the statutory requirement that corporations maximize profits. Period.

Everyone and everything else, including democracy, becomes fodder. What kind of “persons” have we created? The problem is the corporation was badly designed … by us.

Privileges are not without obligations, and these artificial persons have conveniently forgotten theirs. The growth in offshore tax shelters and the disappearance of America’s strategic manufacturing base reveal corporate patriotism as simply more window dressing.

President Calvin Coolidge said, “The chief business of the American people is business.”

But for corporate persons, the business of business is not America. The Bush administration dreams of reinventing the tort system, the tax system, and Social Security. But if the president truly puts America’s security and her working families ahead of political contributions, he should support reinventing the corporation. All it lacks is a soul.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Crashing the studio

An interview yesterday on Terry Gross' Fresh Air illustrated the conflict between progressives and old-guard Democrat apparatchiks.

John Lasseter, chief creative executive of Pixar, Inc, was the director and animator of Toy Story, Toy Story II and A Bug's Life. He spoke about his background in animation and his former jobs with Disney (which now owns Pixar). In college he worked on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland and later for Disney's animation group, from which he was fired.
I was a young animator working there straight out of CalArts. It was a time when the Disney animation studio was being run by kind of animators that were the second-tier animators during Walt's time. They were creatively in charge through attrition as opposed to talent, really.

And all these young people were coming in from CalArts and we were on fire. We had seen ... Star Wars had come out, Close Encounters, you know, the work of Scorsese and Coppola and they ... the cinema was changing, you know, and I just like, we were just so excited about what we could do in animation. And these guys were threatened by us.

I mean, classmates of mine were Tim Burton, Brad Bird, John Musker. I could just go on and on. Leaders in the industry today were all my classmates. We just wanted to do cool things.

And I never stopped. I kept suggesting things right and left and trying things out. And I literally had one of the guys tell me, "You know if we want your ideas, we will ask you. Just sit down and do what ... just do what you're told. If you don't want to do it, there's a line of people outside the door that will do it."

And I thought to myself, whenever I am in charge, I am never going to say that to a young person who is so excited and trying to make the product better. And it's interesting, because so much of my management style at Pixar is made up of what I learned not to do during that time.

And so I never shut up and that's why eventually they fired me. And I went off to northern California and worked with Ed Campbell and Lucasfilm, and the rest is history.
Today, mainline Democrats had best figure out, there isn't a line of "other" people outside the door. Progressives are the line.

Those Democrats threatened by progressives' enthusiasm had best take a lesson from Lasseter's experience, and from his successes. The smart ones, like Walt Disney himself, will recognize talent among the "new guard" when they see it and be visionary enough to let it develop, for now and for the future. "Second-tier" political operatives will be too busy defending their turf to notice they have a dwindling amount of turf left to defend.

Too many party organizations are in danger of dinosauring out for lack of new blood, new ideas and new technologies. They fear change and loss of control more than they fear Republicans and losing elections. They shouldn't. Renewal is the Democrats' future. There is no other option.

But progressives should also take a lesson. The pushback they're seeing from traditional Democrats is typical of human nature, not uniquely pathological. It won't be much better elsewhere. Try getting anywhere quickly with a committed single-issue ideologue.

It will take building trust to overcome resistance, and the patience needed for that is one of the things most lacking among progressives. Given the state the country is in, the sense of urgency is natural, as is the frustration that comes with the pushback. Learning to recognize resistance, understanding it, and learning either to work with it or work around it is the challenge.

Because unless progressives plan to expend themselves building a third party from scratch (not recommended), there is no "northern California" to escape to. We make our stand here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers

Matt. 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
From the Los Angeles Times
Army Manual to Skip Geneva Detainee Rule

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.


The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.


Derek P. Jinks, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Law and the author of a forthcoming book on Geneva called "The Rules of War," said the decision to remove the Geneva reference from the directive showed the administration still intended to push the envelope on interrogation.

"We are walking the line on the prohibition on cruel treatment," Jinks said. "But are we really in search of the boundary between the cruel and the acceptable?"

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Obi-Ken Layobi speaks

(with a slow wave of his hand)

You don’t need to jail corporate executives

We aren’t the criminals you’re looking for

Greed is a catalyst for competition, not a “deadly sin”

Corporations have no soul; they cannot sin

Your outdated morality is no match for the

M * A * R * K * E * T * P * L * A * C * E

Crony capitalism is good and will be with you … always

Democracy exists now to serve only us

But look …

Cheap, plastic crap from China

Big box stores full

See, pretty, pretty

Move along