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The American Dilemma in Egypt

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Should the people of a given country be allowed to vote in free and fair elections, even if the people they elect are fundamentally hostile to the United States?

That is the great question which is facing America today, as protests have toppled the leader of Tunisia and now threaten the presidency of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

More below.

Almost everybody agrees that Mr. Mubarak is a dictator who does not respect human rights or promote democracy. He is a typical example of the authoritarian leader, whose values are fundamentally at odds with those of the United States. It is quite conceivable that the current protests will end in bloodshed, with the military firing upon civilians in a Bloody Sunday-style massacre.

In a perfect world, a peaceful revolution would topple Mr. Mubarak and install a new democratic government. Said government would be moderate, friendly to the West, and firmly against Islamic extremism.

Unfortunately, the truth is that Mr. Mubarak’s strongest political opponents are the Muslim Brotherhood, a proudly Islamist movement with broad popular support. If the protests in Egypt succeed in toppling the dictator, the most likely situation is the formation (through free and fair elections) of an Islamist government hostile to the United States.

Therein lies America’s dilemma – betray its ideals and support an “ally,” or keep its ideals and allow an anti-American government to take power.

Historically, the United States has chosen the former option. During the Cold War, dictators were always perceived as better than popularly elected Communist governments. Today replace Communism with Islamism, and one gets the same idea.

Yet think about this: why do the people of Egypt so dislike the United States? Why would they most likely elect, if given a choice, an anti-American government?

The answer, of course, is because the United States keeps on supporting dictators like Mr. Mubarak! In fact, that is why Osama bin Laden attacked the United States – because it continues allying with dictators in the Middle East, in direct contradiction of its democratic values.

Why does the United States support these dictators? Because it knows free democratic elections will result in anti-American governments. Why would elections result in anti-American governments? Because the United States keeps on supporting dictators who oppress the people. And on and on the cycle goes.

The problem is that dictators may not stay in power forever. A U.S.-supported dictator, if unpopular enough, may fall. Iran and Vietnam are just two examples in which this happened. Today Iran is a determined foe of the United States. On the other hand, the communist government in Vietnam is quite friendly to America.

In the short term supporting friendly dictators might benefit American interests. In the long run, however, supporting those who oppress their people probably does more harm than good to America – and more importantly, to the cause of freedom and democracy.

Lasting impressions…

March 19, 2009. Gchat:

Stoller: Does Forrest Brown work for you?
Me: ??? who?
Stoller: Someone at PCCC.

New GChat window with my Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor:

Me: Do we have someone named Forrest working with us?
Stephanie: Yes! He just volunteered to do a research project about how various congressional campaigns spent their money in 2008. He's researching Grayson first.
Me: ah!

I relayed the news to Stoller, who had recently left OpenLeft to work for Rep. Alan Grayson — letting him know that this guy poking around asking probing questions was legit.

Subequent Gchat conversation with Forrest:

Me: how'd you join the PCCC list?
Forrest: i think i read a post by Bowers about it
Me: he wrote some nice stuff 
Forrest: i read almost everything on openleft

Forrest (who makes a cameo at the front of this recent PCCC video) was a 17 year old prodigy at the time. Today, he's a 19 year old prodigy, deferring Harvard for a year and doing all sorts of talented, mind-blowing things as our Senior Fellow in DC. 

This line of conversation has always stayed in my memory — and has special significance on this bittersweet day of transition for OpenLeft.

It's a reminder of who you — the person reading this blog post right now — are. You are not just a “reader” or “commenter” or some random person browsing the Internet. The OpenLeft community is comprised of some REALLY smart and talented people — people who have gone through an experience together. We've struggled together, had victories together, mourned losses together, and had resurgences together. 

And despite this site shutting down (for now), our journey of fighting together to beat back the ridiculous conventional wisdom that flows from DC, give voice to a more accurate narrative of the world, fight hard for a progressive agenda that helps regular people, and build long-term progressive power will go on…together.

Some enterprising folks have set up an OpenLeft Survivor's blog. Forrest just set up an OpenLeft Survivor's Facebook page. The PCCC — which thousands of people have joined through OpenLeft — will keep marching forward (and you are formally invited to join if you haven't already). Chris, myself, and others will keep blogging at Daily Kos and other places. Digby, John Amato, and others will keep the narrative flowing at their awesome blogs. And Matt will keep the ideas flowing at his own new perch consulting for MSNBC and doing some other fun progressive stuff in the near future.

Speaking of which, back to the sappiness…

Matt Stoller is brilliant. I'll never forget the first time I met him in person.

I was in my home state of New Jersey at a Jon Corzine campaign rally. Matt was on leave from MyDD to work on Corzine's Internet team. A friend of mine said, “That's Matt Stoller.”

I didn't really read the blogs yet, but had heard Matt's name, so I said hi. We started talking and it was instantly interesting. We left the indoor rally and went outside where it was more quiet.

Something Matt said reminded me of something brilliant that I had just heard on a netroots'y conference call that I was on because I worked for MoveOn. I told Matt about this call and went on and on about this great point that somebody made. I explained it the best that I could, butchering the details along the way. Matt nodded along. Eventually, I stopped talking.

Matt looked at me and said, “That was me.”

If you've ever met Matt, you know he's a tall guy. I think he's like 7 foot 2 — I once saw him hit his head on a basketball rim. But at that moment, I felt about 3 feet tall. Looking back, it was kind of awesome.

That was the first of many times that I experienced Matt's towering mind. Matt is like a crystal ball. Countless times he's said things or written things at MyDD and OpenLeft that just seemed so…not my where mind was. Alarmist-sounding stuff about completely random-sounding issues. Stuff that upset the ebb and flow of my day-to-day thinking. My instinct at those moments was to put Matt's thoughts in my “duly noted” mental folder and move on with my life. But then, sure enough, weeks or months later, whatever Matt talked about became hauntingly relevant…and hauntingly true.

(Those of you who asked “Where's Matt Stoller now?” in the comments today know all this already.)

Matt predicted parts of the Net Neutrality fight well before they ever happened. He talked about how congressional “bipartisanship” was a bad thing long before it became a piece of the progressive narrative. (I've been trying forever to find a piece Matt wrote, I believe titled “Bipartisanship,” that showed all the bad policies that the two parties conspired to pass. Matt can't find it either. If you happen to have the link, please send it to me! adam [at] BoldProgressives.org or Tweet it @AdamGreenOnline.)

Matt told me after the 2008 election — as I was getting into a taxi and trying to get off my cell phone — that he was thinking about leaving OpenLeft to work for “a guy named Alan Grayson.” “Who?” 

His July 2008 post, during the heat of Obama lovefest'ism — entitled “Why It's Important to Note that Obama is NOT Liberal or Progressive” — was particularly prescient:

Over the past few days, I've been pushing out an idea through the media that Obama is not a liberal or progressive…

As a liberal, I believe that if Obama comes in and implements a bunch of muddled centrist policies, proposing tax cuts to deal with poverty and an expanded military and entitlement reform along with a weird convoluted health care reform, he will fail because basic liberal ideas like accountability, oversight, and integrity in leadership will not be embedded into our institutions.  The rich have left us with a massive bill in the form of an intractable trade deficit, national debt, and oil addiction, and someone's going to pay it.  If it's the public instead of the people who ran up the country's credit cards (take a look at the nation's billionaires), it's going to make a lot of people much angrier than they are right now.   

This anger will go somewhere; right now anger is going against Bush, but he's out of the picture come 2009, though we can kick his corpse for a few years or so if Democrats act smartly (which they won't). If Obama's centrist policies fail, and he is considered a big government liberal or progressive, the public will reject liberalism and progressivism, as it has for the last forty years.  But this will not be a result of disliking progressive ideas, but as a result of believing that bad centrist ideas are progressive ideas. 

If you played a drinking game, and took a shot for every accurate prediction Matt made in that one post, you'd be one drunk bastard right now. If Matt comes out publicly with a SuperBowl pick, I suggest you bet big.

(What's scary is to hear Matt's views of the future of Wall Street irresponsibility and our economy. Not to sound too much like Glenn Beck but…buy gold!) 

There was one other prescient thing Matt said to me that stands out right now…”Do you know Chris Bowers? He's a really smart guy. You guys should meet.”

Later via cell…”Remember I told you about Chris Bowers? He's here right now. We were just talking about this guy Ned Lamont who may decide to run in a primary against Lieberman. Here, you should talk to Chris.”

“Um, hello?”

“Um, hello.”

[Imagine two at-times awkward people unexpectedly talking to each other. Insert that here…]

I quickly became a big Chris fan.

We collaborated on several blog-meets-email-activism campaigns since then, but I think a favorite of both of ours was “Use it Or Lose It” — where we mobilized MyDD and MoveOn volunteers around Chris's idea of pushing Democratic members of Congress who were unopposed and sitting on giant warchests into giving up some of that money to help Democrats retake the House in 2006. It worked. To the tune of a couple million dollars, not bad!

The long list of “Open Left Campaigns” that will live in perpetuity on the right side of this site, which Adam Bink referenced in his post today, follow in that tradition of really innovative activism…helping to lift blogging from commenting about the news to making the news. (That said, Chris's commenting about the news — and his number-crunching analysis of the campaign and policy landscape — remain legendary.)

As you know, part of the reason for this site shutting down (ahem, for now) is that the success of OpenLeft has catapulted several of its original founders to bigger platforms.

Chris's experimentation with turning a blog community into a community of online activists at OpenLeft has earned the (very tough to achieve) trust of Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos, who recently hired Chris to be the first online organizing director for the Kos community. Matt Stoller is consulting some major media players, helping to mold the news that millions of people get each week. Adam Bink is going to help lead the fantastic Courage Campaign, after blogging at OpenLeft and serving under the mentorship of Mike Lux for years. Mike is continually moving forward in doing what he always does — serving as one of the sage wisemen of the progressive movement, bringing together the true believers among the old guard that he met during his Clinton days and the new guard that he became part of with his blogging days, and continuing to mentor young talent.

Having shared some thoughts on what this OpenLeft community and the OpenLeft founders mean to me on this day of transition, there are two final thoughts that I'll move from the inner sanctum of my mind to the front page of OpenLeft, if you'll indulge me.

One, which I'll keep super-quick, is my favorite posts among those I've ever posted on OpenLeft. I don't need to go on and on explaining them, I'll just list them:

Avenging Amanda Terkel — Turning the Tables on FOX

Is the Chamber of Commerce Using Bailout Money to Attack Workers?

Chamber of Commerce Admits They Accept Bailout Money To Fund Anti-Worker Ads

Ceci Connolly — Ridiculous Reporter

Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence: Journalism Without Facts

Who supports Third Way? Not the public.

How would defunding Third Way work?

Third Way's Jon Cowan Needs To Account For Anne Kim and David Kendall

Profiles in Bad Online Organizing: Part 1 (DSCC) — I'll comment on this one, and some of you may have heard me speak publicly about this in the past. Applying Back To The Future thinking, I think it's safe to say that if OpenLeft didn't exist, and this post never happened, one of the formative campaigns in PCCC's growth (“Dollar a Day”) never would have happened. And the course of events which led to PCCC later growing to 700,000 members, raising $3 million online last cycle to support progressive candidates and issues, having a wonderful partner in Democracy for America on so many future projects, and being able to hire a great team of 14 folks…never would have happened.

(Apologies to Jill Lawrence and Cici Connolly for unintentionally triggering their boss's Google Alerts — and to Jon Cowan and his colleague Jim Kessler for unintentionally triggering their Third Way board members' and donors' Google Alerts.)

My final memory, about one of my fellow bloggers here at OpenLeft, is one that I've never really said publicly before but now seems like a good time.

I'll never forget my official transition point from “Democratic press hack” to “progressive movement person.” It was in December 2004, during my months of unemployment after working as the DNC's press secretary in Oregon for John Kerry.

There was a wonderfully vibrant debate about the future of the Democratic Party happening back and forth in progressive media publications like The American Prospect and The Nation among a bunch of really smart people who I didn't know.

I may have heard the names Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein for the first time during this period. But one piece had an especially profound impact on me. It was called “The Democrats' Da Vinci Code” and was published in The American Prospect by a guy named David Sirota. It went a little something like this

As the Democratic Party goes through its quadrennial self-flagellation process, the same tired old consultants and insiders are once again complaining that Democratic elected officials have no national agenda and no message.

Yet encrypted within the 2004 election map is a clear national economic platform to build a lasting majority…Where, for instance, does a Democrat get off using a progressive message to become governor of Montana? How does an economic populist Democrat keep winning a congressional seat in what is arguably America's most Republican district? Why do culturally conservative rural Wisconsin voters keep sending a Vietnam-era anti-war Democrat back to Congress? What does a self-described socialist do to win support from conservative working-class voters in northern New England?

The answers to these and other questions are the Democrats' very own Da Vinci Code — a road map to political divinity. It is the path Karl Rove fears. He knows his GOP is vulnerable to Democrats who finally follow leaders who have translated a populist economic agenda into powerful cultural and values messages. It also threatens groups like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has pushed the Democratic Party to give up on its working-class roots and embrace big business' agenda. These New Democrats, backed by huge corporate contributions, say that the party must reduce corporate regulation and embrace a free-trade policy that is wiping out local economies throughout the heartland. They have the nerve to call this agenda “centrist” even though poll after poll shows it is far out of the mainstream. Yet these centrists get slaughtered at the ballot box, and their counterparts — the progressive economic populists — are racking up wins and relegating the DLC argument to the scrap heap.

[A lot more here.]

I still get inspired reading that. It's motivated my work to this day.

Along with my campaign hackery in the “red” state of South Dakota in 2002 (which, in retrospect, confirms everything David wrote about) and Stephanie Taylor's work organizing workers for the SEIU in some deep “red” states, the principles in David's think piece have influenced much of the economic populism work that PCCC focuses on each day.

(And the polling still backs up David's message — from the public option to tax cuts to Social Security, a progressive economic-populist vision is where the “center” of the country is. Corporatists who the DC crowd calls “centrist” are actually way out on the fringe. Hello, Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe…)

David wasn't originally a front page blogger here at OpenLeft, and neither was I — but we were both part of the OpenLeft community since the beginning. And for me to eventually blog in the same place as David was quite the honor.

Which brings me back to my original point about Forrest Brown. OpenLeft brought people together. Folks who may not have found each other, thought together, or fought together were part of this vibrant and thoughtful OpenLeft community.

So, this is a bittersweet moment. Along with great progress for folks like Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers and Adam Bink comes the end (for now) of daily OpenLeft conversation.

But the community goes on

Thank you and a sort of goodbye…

Thanks for being part of this community, and thank you for letting me develop my voice and ideas in concert with your voice and your ideas.  In 2007, Chris, Mike, and I started OpenLeft based on the idea that there was a new ideologically left-wing yet open set of actors on stage.  I still think this is true, and perhaps, there’s some of that going on right now in the uprisings in the Middle East.  Though it’s in fashion, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Egypt, except to note that Facebook will totally set everyone free.  Thanks, Zuck!

The signs of a world undergoing profound change are everywhere.  Wikileaks is a genuine social innovation, a new form of collaborative media that scales what Daniel Ellsberg did.  The political blogosphere, and then the financial blogs, have sketched an open counter-elite that can truly challenge the existing financial oligarchs’ intellectual stronghold on our social order.  Much of the world is overthrowing the Washington consensus, and our elites are naked to the world in terms of their own incompetence and ignorance.

After OpenLeft, I worked for Congressman Alan Grayson, in what was the best job of my life.  He used to joke when he hired me that most Congressmen have staffers, while I had a Congressman.  Man did we have a good time, fighting the good fight.  And we accomplished a whole lot – the first audit of the Federal Reserve in history is being done right now, in part because of Grayson.  And actually, as I think about it right now, working for Grayson was a lot like blogging.  Blogging is its own form of writing, at once conversational and collaborative.  You aren’t in a room, with the door closed, trying to think up the brilliant phrase that will turn the world on its head.  You’re riding the wave.  You’re interacting with thousands.  You’re getting steamed by commenters, the flame wars and the critics, and your friends gone right and gone wrong.  At its best, blogging is a democratic space, a necessary ingredient of what Lawrence Goodwyn pointed out was a predicate to the great social movements in American history.  

OpenLeft was such a space, which is why many of us are sad about today.  It was a space to which all of us contributed.  It’s not that bloggers, commenters, and audience are going away, never to be heard from again.  I’m still around, you can find me at @matthewstoller on Twitter, stirring up trouble and ideas.  The rest of the gang is going to be on the internets as well.  But there’s a mixture that will be missing.  I know this because of the people who called me when I worked for Grayson, some of my coworkers and interns, who were part of the OpenLeft world.  There was a very specific, I don’t know what to call it, but flavor, a code, perhaps, a way of seeing the world that we all shared, and share.  When we got together at Netroots Nation, or in the comments sections, or when I meet a reader, we had and have a bond.

We can create that space again.  I suspect it will be created, in much larger forums than we ever imagined.  Humans can accomplish profoundly incredible feats when challenged.  I keep seeing Egyptians saying that they never dreamed these days would come, when their people would rise up.  I cannot right now imagine such a day for Americans, but that does not mean it won’t happen.  It means that it will happen in a way that I will not expect.  Perhaps some of you will lead such a consciousness raising moment.  The great social movements in American history worked that way, with generations passing down memories of dissent, until there was a disruptive break-out social innovation, like the farmer’s cooperatives of the 1880s, the sit-down strikes of the 1930s, or the boycotts and marches of the 1960s.  In Poland, Solidarity came from the memories of worker strikes in the 1950s, and I suspect that we will discover the roots of what is happening in Egypt come from something similar.  Like Facebook!  Zuck is so dreamy, did you see the Social Network?  It was awesome!  Oscars here we come!

We’re in a darkening period in history, there’s no doubt about that.  And I’m not a believer in progress as an inherent fact of life, I’m more of a stuff just happens kind of guy.  Before the Civil War, American slaves didn’t believe in progress.  And why should they have believed in progress?  Many of them died in chains, their lives used purely as profit generators for the “owners” who often whipped and raped them.  But they believed in dignity, and righteousness.  That attitude comes closer to what I believe, than the frustratingly callous narrative which says that life in America always gets better, and if you don’t see that, then you don’t belong.  Suffering and pain is real and inherent to life, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you to feel those emotions.  In fact there’s something wrong with you if you don’t feel them.  “Winning” or being on top isn’t meaning, meaning is meaning.  

During Grayson’s (and my) fight to audit the Federal Reserve, I had a conversation with William Greider, one of my heroes.  Greider wrote a book you should all read called The Secrets of the Temple, about the people who really run America.  He was appalled at the secret bailout run through the Fed, and worried that this was the final nail in the coffin of any sort of democratic impulse in America.  I responded with, the financial oligarchs have certainly taken a bunch of wealth and power, but they have also made their position explicit.  We run the world, they said, you don’t.  Making such an explicit statement about your own power reveals profound weakness.  And we’re seeing a catastrophic loss of legitimacy across all of our cultural institutions as a result, both liberal and illiberal alike.  That loss is reasonable, and we should go with it, not hold onto dying political entities that succeed only through deception and raw power.  We should innovative into the changes, take advantage of them to create new spaces like that created by Wikileaks, rather than throw good money after bad.

And so, I say a kind of goodbye, and a thank you for the collaborative work we’ve done together.  Change is what happens.  It’s sad, but I would be worried if we didn’t change after this experiment.  America is poorer and weaker than it was when we started this site, as is the Democratic Party.  Wealth stratification is higher, and the policies of the Bush administration on endless war and financial market-rigging are now openly embraced by the elites of both parties.  But none of that changes that OpenLeft is and was a great community, and an important experience for all of us.  It is now our task to spread the values that we shared, that flavor, into much bigger forums.  I hope all of you try to do that.  Maybe, some of us will succeed, but certainly, all of us will find meaning and righteousness in our lives and in the lives we touch.

Goodbye isn’t a very good title because I hope it won’t be.

This has been a wonderful community to be a very small part of. When Matt and Chris said they were leaving MyDD, I knew I would be following them to wherever they were going. I thought they were full of wild and crazy ideas, but ones that could be implemented.

They knew that principles mattered because they set the course of events.  Principles told you when you were veering off course.  

My identifier on this site was this quote from a Matt Stoller piece during the 2008 election cycle

“Incrementalism isn’t a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place”

I have been doing politics in different ways at different levels for many years. From being one of the founders of the first women’s “liberation” group in Boston, to marching in the streets against war and for equality, to helping to make films about the history of the left and its repression in America, to being involved organizationally with the abortion rights movement.  Being a liberal, one who thought we should be loud about our liberalism….Well, it was often a very lonely place for an unreconstructed liberal like me.

You know that hackneyed phrase.  “I haven’t changed, I haven’t left the Demcoratic party, the Democratic party left me,”?  It is always used by right wingers to justify themselves…for whatever heinous betrayal of principles they have just engaged in. However for me, it’s also true.  I haven’t changed, I am just the liberal I always was. It’s just that the Democratic party has become less so.  However, I keep refusing to accept that that is to be the final outcome, a constant drift rightward.  So I try mightily to pull it back to where it once was

The community on the internet and on the blogs, alleviated that sense of loneliness.  Actually it made me realize I wasn’t the only one who was crazy.  Crazy for freedom and equality and all those words everyone uses and abuses. To me the truest and most fundamental expression of freedom and equality are to be found in that space known as progressivism now and liberalism then.  

Matt was very right about the dangers of incrementalism.  If the arc of change is too long and too curvy, it gets diverted from its final object. Diverted by corruption, diverted by fatigue, diverted by a misplaced sense of comity, diverted by money and the distortion in power that money creates, and diverted by the idea that if change doesn’t come now it will come later.  Well it may, but it won’t,  by then be the change that is needed and that we liberals have fought for. It won;t be the change people NEED.  The more it gets diverted, the less power real people have to make the change that is best for themselves.  It is a downward spiral instead of an upward one. Patience is not always a virtue.

FDR made big change and he made it fast. It has had a lasting effect.  We are still trying to fill in the gaps in the vision he brought for.

I want to thank Matt and Chris for the oppurtunity they gave me to write for this wonderful blog. When Matt asked me to write here, I replied I wasn;t a good enough writer.  But he said I stuff to write about, that I was passionate about…so I did.  I hope I got better.  

I want to thank Paul Rosenberg for all his wonderful posts and the help he has extended to me since he’s been editor.  And to Mike Lux for being himself, smart, left but centered.  And to Adam Bink for being himself as well and fixing my techno screw ups. ( Adam say hi to your mom for me)

I have been asked to write about abortion, choice and women at Crooks and Liars.  I am thrilled to do so.

And I want to thank my colleagues here at Open Left when we won the Pub Quiz at Netroots Nation when we were in Pittsburgh in 2009. I never had more fun at a conference in my life.  Maybe that’s why John asked me to write for C&L!

To the commenters on this site, I want to say that this is smartest, most insightful and most courteous group of commenters on the internet. I thank you for letting me write for you.  

Farewell thought: Conservatism is still the enemy

Please see the end for my thanks yous and where to find me after today. I have opted to close with an attempt to describe the field of play -D

Shortly after Kerry’s loss in 2004, at MyDD, Chris wrote “Conservatism is our enemy” which I think is the first time I ever encountered a direct ideological assault on conservatism itself.  Along with Phil Agre’s rightly famous essay on the subject, it began me on a road and mission to better understanding this beast.  Everything I have learned to date from then continues to bolster Chris’ original thesis.  Conservativism is still the primary enemy of progress, justice, fairness and widespread happiness for humanity.  It remains a destructive and corrosive force on the institutions of democracy and the single biggest obstacle to world peace.

If I have had a broad meta thesis here at Open Left, it is that the true fight is one of ideas and thus ideology.  We must reject the mushy centrist claim that ideology is necessarily an evil.  Not only is it not necessarily evil, ideology is necessary period.  The fights over parties, the media, particular policies and tactics are important, but my read on the broad sweep of history is that when the dominant ideas are bad, the parties will behave stupidly, the media will fail to correct them and the policies will be destructive.  There is a reason Canada, the UK and the US all elected right wing governments in the 80s.  There is a reason Obama’s team could not even consider a new WPA or even ask for a big-enough stimulus.  Bad ideas are still dominant.  I see no refuge in any 3rd party, because I see no reason such a party would not itself be quickly co-opted by the same bad ideas upon attaining power or in order to attain power.  I want to fight bad ideas directly.

America (and the world) needs more liberals and less conservatives.   Conservatives are not an immutable force of nature.  The number of them can be reduced, the extremity of their beliefs can be dampened and the sternness of the opposition to them can be bolstered.  I never really could decide if America really is a “center-right” nation (because “center” is bereft of meaning) but I do know one of the few things Villagers get right is the basic point that liberals cannot win many political fights when they are outnumbered by self-identified conservatives 2:1 or 3:2.  I started here writing about unstacking the deck, analyzing how the institutions themselves too often favour conservative outcomes, but the ideology demographic is a deck badly in need of restacking too.

I have taken a few shots at answering some of the questions that surround ideology which are almost completely ignored in the American media outside of a few blogs.  What is conservatism?  What is liberalism?  These are not trivial questions but they are essential to understanding the core of what drives the political debate.  Why do most people who are pro-life usually want lower taxes and less regulation?  Why do people who love capital punishment tend to detest environmentalism?  These issues appear randomly allocated but they’re really not.  The left-right divide is not, contra some claims, arbitrary or meaningless.

It’s a complicated subject and the debate often loses the thread because of isolated individuals who can break any ideological spectrum or model I’ve yet seen proposed.  Instead of a line with two end points maybe we need 4 quadrants on 2 dimensions.   Maybe it is 8 octrants on 3 dimensions?  No matter what taxonomy you propose, where do you put people who never think politically and claim no ideology?  They’re not necessarily centrists just because they haven’t picked a label.  It can quickly lose comprehensibility which makes the analysis meaningless through burdensome complexity.  For most purposes the left-right line actually serves pretty well, imperfect but a good shorthand since the great mass of people tend to fall on it.  There’s little point using a model that includes things like ‘communitarians’ and ‘libertarians’ when they usually aren’t any appreciable impact to the debate.  Sure, they’re out there, but they’re more or less a rounding error.  Even rare exceptions from these groups that do matter, like Ayn Rand only matter because one of the big groups adopted them.  Rand may fit better to be understood as a libertarian (or one of the 31 flavours thereof) but she’s only notable because conservatives swallowed up her economic model.  They don’t advocate her bohemian lifestyle or atheism.  Just the whole “eat the poor because we can” thing.

Unfortunately, the liberal consensus has not come along far enough that we have generally agreed “consevativism is the primary problem” in order to move the next step which is “how do we make there be less of them and more of us?”  Putting aside the problem of “too many neoliberals” too (and whether they should be understood as conservatives) there’s simply too many people on the left who think the fight is really about the media, or party politics.  Even the simple dictum “more and better Democrats” isn’t truly a consensus since every effort to make “better” (which means liberal) Democrats is fraught with controversy and finger pointing if it doesn’t go perfectly.  The burden is still very much on liberals to make the case for primarying Joe Liberman or Blanche Lincoln and that case depends not on the moral and ethical analysis of their voting records and behaviour, but on a Democrat winning the general election for those seats.  The onus should really be on the pragmatists as to why we should tolerate the occasional right wing Democrat and the blame owned by them when such people sabotage liberal governing priorities if we had passed on a decent chance of replacing them.

Yet another problem are the so-called pragmatists who have an incoherent ideology of rejecting ideology and think they are somehow above the fray of ideas, that somehow there is some notion of “workable solutions” that is independent of an ideology which tells you what constitutes problems needing solving, and what an acceptable solution looks like.

These fights will have to go on.  Conservatism is a destructive system of hierarchy and zero-sum power seeking that has no place in the running of a modern society.  It is some kind of evolutionary anachronism, the ingrained desire to accumulate power and resources to the exclusion of “the other” against times of need in Hobbes’ jungle.  Since about 1850 we (in the West at least) have lived in the world of surplus resources where there really is enough stuff for everyone to go around, but still we live with about half the population intuitively working the politics of a Malthusian state where every hamburger you eat is one of my kids going hungry.  Even today in the shadow of the Great Recession, world GDP per capita (PPP) stands at over $10,000 per year.  About 1 billion live on less than $400 a year.  Another billion live on less than $750 a year.  Clearly there is enough to go around, we just suck at distribution.  Is it really so crazy to imagine we could get those bottom 2 billion up to $1000 or $2000 a year?

In the field of hard science, humanity languished in darkness for most of its history with only the occasional bright flash of discovery in such moments where stability and resources allowed such things as “scholars” to exist, and prevailing norms allowed them to pursue truth without fear of offending some deity.  This all really changed not because of some particular hard factual discovery like calculus, gravity or optics, but because science developed a reliable method for seeking and identifying truth.  Today we have no name for this, it is simply “the scientific method.”  It doesn’t need a name because there is no competing model.  Certainly there are people who reject the model, but they aren’t practicing science and any correct answers they produce are nothing but fluke.

In the field of pursuing the ideal human society, liberalism is the science of pursuing human well being.  It combines the empiricism and rationalism of science with the goal of maximizing human happiness.  The process is iterative and the specific means change as well meaning ideas are found wanting, and as science improves our understanding of humans themselves and what it takes to make them happy.  There is no other school of thought that both seeks to improve the lot of all, and actually can do it.  The ultimate goal of liberalism is that we should not need the word “liberalism” because no one would need a special word to describe the self-evident way people determine solutions to societal problems.  That’s what liberalism is, and why it must win or all humanity will fall back into ruin, scarcity, ignorance and fear.  We live in a world with plenty of those things, but also a world where solutions to them are in reach, which was never true any time before.  Apr

I’m not very good at goodbyes, so…

How about, “See you around”?  I don’t know where, exactly, though I do have some good ideas.  More on that at the end.

While that may suffice for us individually, though, it certainly can’t for us as a community. And that’s what I will miss most of all about Open Left.  Of course I’m grateful to Chris, Matt & Mike for creating this place, and then giving me the opportunity to write here.  But I’ve always craved online writing because of the immediacy of hearing what people think of what you’ve written, because there is so much to be learned.  It’s axiomatic, really, that the group mind is orders of magnitude smarter than the individual mind, so the smartest thing the individual mind can do is find the best way to benefit from the group mind.

It’s not just about intelligence, of course.  It’s also about wisdom, compassion, humor, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, resilience… and on, and on, and on.  In a word, it’s about community.  Because we are social creatures, made so by millions of year of evolution, this is the highest and deepest thing it can be about.  

It’s messy as hell, though, because we’re also individuals with strong ideas and the ability to articulate and defend them.  So counterpoint, more than harmony, is the ideal ideal for a place like this.  Of course the ideal isn’t always realized. In fact, it’s usually not.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be an ideal.  But we come close enough often enough to keep the ideal alive in the flesh, and not just some abstraction that all can agree on, because it’s never real.

I wish I could mention everyone by name, and acknowledge the sorts of things I’ve learned from them, the things I will miss.  I wish this especially, because if I start with just mentioning one or two, then where do I stop?  There are a few of you I’d especially like to single out by name… but then that would unintentionally slight others, and that’s the last thing I’d want to do.  So, I wish I could mention you all by name… even though I know I cannot.  And so, instead, I’m going to do the incredibly lame thing, and just say, “You know who you are.”  But I will try to elevate it just a smidgen by adding, “And so do all the rest of us.”  You’ve made this a truly wonderful place to write, a place that always made me want to do better next time.  A place that kept me wanting to grow.  And I hope, above all, that it was that sort of place for all of you as well.

I will continue writing, of course.  Above all, I have a backlog of ideas for books I want to write, and I’m determined to focus on getting one of them done. But I also want to keep writing online–although at a lest all-consuming pace.  Unfortunately, I’ve got things in the works, but not finalized yet.

That’s why God invented search engines.  With date ranges.  You’ll be able to find me, I’m sure of it.  I should be popping up somewhere within a couple of weeks or so.

Oh, and one more thing. Well, two, actually: The last Chatty Cathies contest was won by sTiVo’s nomination of Joe Nocera, NY Times Business Writer.  The last Idiot Wind was won by jeffbinnc’s nomination of Michelle Bachman’s Tea Party “rebuttal” against the State of the Union speech.  

Click the links and savor what your fellow OL’ers had to say about the follies of the day.  The last word is theirs, not mine. Or yours, in comments. Good-bye.

Weekly Mulch: The Dirty Truth about Natural Gas and Energy Innovation

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The argument against natural gas got a boost this week, when a congressional investigation turned up evidence that oil and gas companies were using diesel gas to extract gas from the ground.

Natural gas companies have insisted that their newly popular hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) techniques are safe, but as Care2’s Kristina Chew reports, “environmentalists and regulators have become increasingly concerned that the fracking chemicals-including toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, which are all from diesel gas—are seeping out into underground sources of drinking water, in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.”

The mix-up

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an inquiry into the environmental impacts of fracking, and some states are considering more stringent regulations of the practice, including disclosure of the chemicals that go into fracking fluid. Gas companies have argued that the blend of chemicals is a trade secret and must be kept private, but the findings of the congressional investigation suggest otherwise. Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, “In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson… Reps. Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and  Diana DeGette reported that although the EPA requires permits for hydraulic  fracturing that involves diesel none of the companies that admitted  using diesel have sought or received permits.”

And, as Melzer reports, diesel is the only chemical used in fracking that’s currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That companies have been sneaking it into the ground does not strengthen the industry’s case for independence.

Ensuring that natural gas companies do their work without threatening water supplies is becoming ever more crucial, as the fuel becomes one of the go-to replacements for coal. In Massachusetts, for instance, some legislators are pushing for a coal plant in Holyoke to start using natural gas or renewable energy, rather than being shut down, as Nikki Gloudeman reports at Change.org.

Supporting renewables

And although renewables are thrown in there as an option, right now the clearest way to replace the amount of energy generated by coal is natural gas. This year’s line on energy policy from Washington, however, is that the country should support innovations in clean energy.

Will Obama’s new direction on this issue go anywhere? Grist’s David Roberts has been arguing that any energy policy that leaves out climate change is missing the point.

However, Teryn Norris and Daniel Goldfarb (also at Grist), of Americans for Energy Leadership, a California-based non-profit, have a smart rebuttal. They argue that clean energy needs the boost in research and development that Obama is promising. Ultimately, they, write, “these investments will drive down the price of low-carbon energy and  pave the way for stronger deployment efforts – perhaps even including a  strong carbon price at some point – both here and in the developing  world, where the vast majority of future emissions will originate.”

But, about climate change!

And to be fair, the federal government is trying to lead the way on investing in renewables. As Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, the Department of Energy is working on a $2.3 million solar energy project that would power its Germantown, Md., location.

Not every one is willing to wait for investments to take hold, however. On the National Radio Project’s show, “Making Contact”, Andrew Stelzer examines what climate activists are doing, post-Cancun, to push forward debates on climate change. Ananda Lee Tan, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alterantives argues, for instance, “Community-led climate justice in the U.S. has been winning. The largest amount of industrial carbon that has been prevented in this country has been prevented  by community-led groups, grassroots groups fighting coal, oil and incinerators.”

Cause and effect

Whether the solution comes from industry, government, or grassroots groups, the country’s energy policy will change over the next few decades. And what’s troubling is that it’s not clear what the impact will be. Take natural gas: Washington favors it right now because it’s thought to have lower carbon emission than coal. But any time humans introduce new factors into the environment, they can have unexpected consequences.

That’s not only true for the energy industry, too. In Texas, for instance, the government is trying to eradicate an invasive plant species, a type of giant cane called Arundo that is growing all over the Rio Grande Valley. As Saul Elbein reports for The Texas Observer, it’s been hard to eradicate:

There are three primary ways to control invasive plant species: Kill  them with herbicides, clear them with bulldozers and machetes, or  attempt to introduce a new predator. The least controversial approach,  clearing the cane, is not going to work. There are thousands of square  miles of the stuff, and Arundo cane is nearly impossible to cut out.  Each stalk has a thick taproot that sends shoots in every direction. You  can bulldoze or chop the cane down, and it will grow right back. Worse,  any stress on the plant-say a machete blow-causes it to send out more  root stalks. Every chopped-up joint of cane that floats downstream can  sprout another stand.

But, Elbein reports, scientists have come up with a different solution: They’ve bred wasps that originate in the same region as the cane to come in and eat it. They’ve also taken precautions that the wasps won’t have their own adverse impact on the environment by ensuring that they can only survive on this particular type of plant. But even then, it’s a tricky business.

“The wasps have to survive,” John Adamczyk, an entomologist running the project, told Elbein.  “They have to not all get eaten. Then it  becomes a question of whether they can keep the cane in check.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of   The Media  Consortium.   It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of  articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The   Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network  of leading independent media outlets.