Friday, May 17, 2013

Whither Progressivism?

by Fred Drumlevitch

(cross-posted from

Why do we blog? Do progressive political bloggers and the more structured progressive information sources matter, in the context of contemporary mainstream media’s massive footprint? What is the nature of mainstream media’s betrayal of democracy? How are mathematical models of infection relevant to dissent? Most important, what is to be done to advance progressivism? Those seemingly diverse questions are in fact intimately related, and can provide useful guidance as we strive to reverse the decades-long deterioration of the national social compact.

Bloggers: Pissed Is Prologue

It is apparent that serious political bloggers (and online commenters, as well) do so for a wide variety of reasons that may include the honing of one’s thoughts that hopefully results from formally presenting them, the desire for full control over their exposition, and the benefits of dialogue with like-minded individuals and rational opponents who may be quite dispersed geographically. Some old-fashioned idealism, a dash of ego, a hogshead of outrage, and a visceral appreciation for that old A. J. Liebling quip that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” might also be involved! We believe that we have an inalienable right to make our voices heard with regard to the governance of this country, and that right includes frequent and detailed expression if desired, not simply a largely co-optive vote every few years. We hope, in bits and bytes, for at least a modicum of influence with regard to the future of the nation.

Truth be told, though, the average independent blogger/commenter’s audience is minuscule, and even those that are most widely read reach an audience orders of magnitude smaller than that influenced by mass media’s “news” coverage and pundits. Worse yet, we are often “preaching to the choir”, addressing a self-selected group of generally similar-thinking people; much the same might be said about the more traditional progressive sources. In the parlance of an infectious disease political analogy, our contact rate is low, and mostly with those already “infected” with our political opinions — and that will not do much to further the spread of progressivism.

An aside: While the analogy of dissent in general and progressivism in particular as a communicable infection may initially be a bit off-putting, it ultimately should not be. A related metaphor is already in common use, the rapid spread of information being labeled “viral”. If an “infection”, progressivism is a beneficial one that immunizes people against the pustulant selfishness currently widespread among American right-wingers, much as cowpox protects against smallpox. If progressivism is an infection, I’m thankful to be infected. I assert that such a model is analytically useful even when the spread is not rapid, and has not — yet — produced an “epidemic” of rebellion.

Mass Media: Memory Holes and Burial Mounds

Moving on, well, what about the mainstream media as vector for progressivism? Here, we encounter other issues relevant to the control of information flow, and therefore to the control of dissent: unwarranted trust, and the low signal-to-noise ratio and high structural biases of modern Western mass media.

Despite the wide availability of alternative information sources in the Western democracies, the relative influence of accurate, bona fide alternative sources, measured across the still-important broad political middle of the population, may not be that much greater here than under authoritarian regimes. This occurs because some of the alternatives are not what they seem, and because the mainstream media in the democracies, inadequate though it may be, retains enough credibility with the bulk of the populace to maintain its dominance despite the many alternatives available.

That dominance comes at great cost to our society. Certainly, it is obvious to the thoughtful citizen that adequate coverage by the mass media of important problems and progressive solutions does not occur; the scant reporting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposals and of Senator Bernie Sanders’ trenchant analyses — even by the New York Times, the supposed U.S. “newspaper of record” — stand as clear examples. Even Paul Krugman, avowed liberal columnist for that paper, admitted on April 22, 2011 in his NYT “The Conscience of a Liberal” blog to inadequate coverage of the Progressive Caucus “People’s Budget”; he did mention it favorably two days later in his regular column at the paper, but never again referred to it by name within the Times. Nancy Folbre, of the University of Massachusetts, writing July 18, 2011 in the NYT “Economix” blog also noted the poor coverage of it by the Times, and elsewhere.

More recent coverage remains similarly deficient. The Progressive Caucus’ subsequent budget proposal, the fiscal year 2013 “Budget for All”, was released March 26, 2012. According to my own searches, done May 12, 2013 using LexisNexis, Google, and site-specific search tools, this moderately-progressive budget alternative has in the more than a year since its release received no formal news coverage or analysis whatsoever from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, or USA Today, all “top-ten” newspapers based on U.S. circulation data. Upon release, it was superficially looked at in the Washington Post’s “2Chambers” blog of March 26, 2012. As commenter “kwilson4” succinctly noted there on April 1, 2012: “Ryan's budget got news stories in this paper. This budget is mentioned in a blog. Hardly balanced coverage. What gives?” There would be neither answer nor improved coverage from the Post. The only other (and very brief) mention of the “Budget for All” in that paper was in their “Wonkblog” of November 21, 2012. The CPC’s later and more limited “Deal for All”, House Resolution 733, was the subject of an August 1, 2012 photo and caption, and an op-ed piece by Congressman Keith Ellison on November 18, 2012, both in USA Today (and neither indexed by LexisNexis). An online column by Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post on December 31, 2012 made passing reference to that “Deal for All”. And Greg Sargent penned a WaPo opinion column February 5, 2013 on the CPC’s more recent “The Balancing Act” proposal, H.R. 505 (summary, full bill). Then, on March 14, 2013, the CPC’s just-released FY2014 “Back to Work” budget was referred to briefly by Paul Krugman in his NYT column and in more detail by Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein in two blogs at the Washington Post — with Klein beginning favorably, but pivoting to deride it as a “fantasyland” … “analogue to Ryan’s budget”. The New York Times editorial board gave this latest CPC budget a one-sentence derogatory reference in a March 15, 2013 editorial, columnist David Brooks devoted his March 18 NYT opinion column to lambasting it, and the Times referred to it in a March 20 article focused on House of Representatives budgetary polemics — all three assiduously avoiding mention of the CPC budget’s actual name. A Washington Post opinion column by Katrina vanden Heuvel on March 19 did a good job of advocating for it, while the Post’s Plum Line blog of March 19 references that vanden Heuvel column and adds one sentence of comment. And an article in the Los Angeles Times on March 20 (not indexed by LexisNexis) gave it one sentence of superficial description after its defeat in the House. These citations constitute the full extent of more than thirteen and a half months “coverage” by the above-referenced “journalistic” enterprises of all CPC budget proposals released since March 26, 2012. In contrast, a Lexis-Nexis search for co-occurrences of “budget” and (“Paul Ryan” or “Paul D. Ryan”) at those same four publications during the same March 26, 2012 – May 12, 2013 period produces a total of 1285 hits. And the Obama budget released April 10, 2013, which violates basic principles of progressivism (and morality), has already received extensive favorable coverage from those newspapers. Lastly, let us not forget the 2012 presidential election, where Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, and all other third-party candidates were barred from the televised debates, and virtually ignored by the mainstream media not only during the campaign but even in defeat. My November 7 examination of the web sites for the New York Times, the PBS NewsHour, and the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, found national vote totals for the third-party presidential candidates only at CBS News.

The conclusion is inescapable: For the majority of the populace that does not take the initiative to actively seek out reputable alternative information sources, mainstream media’s minimal to non-existent coverage of progressive thought effectively equates to suppression. In our “kinder-and-gentler” megacorporation-run, advertising-sponsored information tyranny, no “ministry of information” directives prohibit certain coverage. No reporters are brutally “disappeared”. But the effect of the invisible hand is much the same.

In fact, mass media’s poor coverage of politics and other issues of great importance is, in some ways, worse than nothing. The trivial is abundant, and the most absurd far-right claptrap is presented with a frequency and deference unwarranted by any objective standard — while actually being fully explainable. Much of it may be understood as part deliberate noise component that obscures the signal of rational and moral solutions, part strongly-repeated Social-Darwinistic/ pro-business/ authoritarian/ militaristic/ jingoistic/ xenophobic content that seeks to phase-lock the populace to its reactionary paradigms. In 1956, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ranted at the West “We will bury you”. He did not succeed, but the mainstream media of our modern so-called democracies has. That mainstream media, in its service to corporate, plutocratic, military, and governmental interests, has adopted a highly effective interment strategy with regard to progressive solutions to national problems, burying them under a never-ending flow of distracting rubbish and manipulative falsehoods. (For an in-depth look at this process, see the classic “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media”, 2002 updated edition, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky). Progressivism has been thoroughly marginalized via domination, distraction, dilution, and distortion, the four horsemen of a disinformation apocalypse. Returning to the communicable infection analogy, both the absolute amount and relative strength of the infectious progressivist agent have been much reduced, thus greatly reducing the rate of transmission.

Under those conditions, waiting for progressive thought to passively spread to the majority of the American people is as futile as waiting for Reagan-inspired economic trickle-down to occur. The megacorporate mainstream media will not voluntarily assist — indeed, as I have argued, it is often an impediment — though profit considerations and fear of audience desertion may push them to anemically follow once a trend becomes too big to ignore. And the universe of progressive bloggers, websites, and traditional alternative press, alone or together, cannot solve the problem. In the United States, these elements have managed to communicate to a significant minority of the populace the ideological foundations for progressive opposition, plus important news and encouragement, but they have not remade the political landscape.

What Is To Be Done: Overall Strategy

A rational analysis suggests that a multi-pronged strategy is necessary, the first part of which is that progressivism should be actively communicated to all potentially receptive citizens. And one size does not fit all. We need a wide spectrum of information dissemination and involvement, ranging from modern electronic methods to old-fashioned leafleting and broadsides, picketing, marches, direct co-worker and neighbor engagement, broader organization, satire, and yes, even the theatrical absurdity, carnival-barkery of the late-1960s Yippie movement. We have begun to see those things episodically, and hopefully they will grow; in any season, the nation would certainly benefit from an “American Spring” rebuttal to the authorities’ anti-democratic efforts to quash visible protest.

But for the progressive message to be considered relevant by the broader target audience, it must be coupled with substantial progressive actions — serious electoral challenges by authentically-progressive candidates, unrelenting pressure by progressives on core issues such as adequate and fair taxation, proper national spending priorities, a livable minimum wage, the protection of civil liberties, and restraints on U.S. militarism both abroad and as expressed in corollary form by domestic law enforcement. We also need a broad range of other actions including the development of non-governmental institutions beneficial to the people and the movement (as suggested in Michael Kazin’s September 25, 2011 New York Times op-ed “Whatever Happened to the American Left?”). The breadth and depth of the national systemic rot necessitates a wide diversity of nonviolent actions both inside and outside of the system, vigorously pursued irrespective of which persons or parties hold political power.

Yet in all of that strategizing, there exists a significant paradox, game theory 101: A logical plan and extensive groundwork may well be a recipe for defeat, for the movement does not operate in a political vacuum, and every day the reactionary right acts in a multitude of venues to consolidate and extend its multi-decade dominance and looting of the nation. The seemingly-beneficial strategy of strengthening progressive foundations will actually be counterproductive if we excessively delay the actions that should arise from the foundations, or if enhanced foundations can be easily neutralized. We need to act accordingly.

Therein lay the genius of “Occupy”: finally, dramatic popular democratic action that hadn’t been expected, accompanied by a narrative at least part of which resonated quite broadly — a currency of protest, made current. Occupy melded action, education, consciousness-raising, solidarity, resistance to co-optation, unpredictability, and media spectacle. Even that combination, however, is insufficient to guarantee victory, particularly in the context of a mass media that shirks its duty to investigate and inform and an American public that has been extensively brainwashed into the meme of unfettered capitalism. As noted by Chris Hedges a year and a half ago (“Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent”, at Truthdig, October 24, 2011), the bulk of the American people do not consider themselves to be even liberal, let alone leftist; they often view those political philosophies as alien by reason of style and ideology, or discredited by past accommodation and ineffectiveness. But one must be careful to not take away an incorrect conclusion from that. While a better political education of the public in the value of true progressivism would be desirable, it should never be forgotten that to act is semantically implicit in the word activism, and that to delay action until some supposed necessary fraction of the populace has first been thoroughly schooled in progressivism is simply a prescription for permanent impotence. Drawing upon an old metaphor, I would say that the workers of the world aren’t much impressed to hear yet again that they have nothing to lose but their chains; they could, however, be responsive to clear evidence of timely actions to help free them. Or to put matters in a more modern way (and as any salesperson can attest): Interest in a product is not sustainable if there are no signs that the product will be available within a reasonable time frame. We need to bring some examples of the product to market now. The most impressive argument for progressivism would be progressivism’s dynamic, determined, contemporary actions in support of the people — and there are countless ways that such desired actions could find expression.

What Is To Be Done: Let’s Get Specific

“Occupy” made a good start, and showed that strategy and tactics should include an amorphous and unpredictable component. However, I believe that achieving progressivism’s ultimate goal of an equitable, just, and humane society requires a greater current focus on a strategically-chosen set of more proximate goals, plus crystal-clear relevance, a broader permanent base, a diversity and flexibility of tactics yet resolute firmness with regard to goals large or small. None of that should surprise — it was the playbook of the African-American Civil Rights Movement during the time of its greatest gains, and such a strategy is needed once again, this time in the service of broader public needs, as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others envisioned. If social justice and economic justice are fundamental human rights as we claim, surely they merit, right now, specific substantive widely-supportable truly-non-negotiable demands, and concerted nonviolent action in furtherance of those demands, not merely the expression of anger or general yearnings that history indicates will likely permit continued co-optation and suppression by the traditional power structure.

In the near term, the most pressing item on the agenda must be to block all moves by the wealth-lackey Social-Darwinist Republicans and spineless complicit Democrats to cut social spending as even a partial response to the contrived crisis of the “fiscal cliff” and its sequelae. Members of the poor and middle classes have for decades been losing ground not only relative to the wealthy but also in comparison to their same-class historical peers, particularly when costs such as higher education, health care, and retirement are included. Note, though, that with regard to the poor, the argument needn’t — shouldn’t — be based solely upon a relative decline. By absolute measures, many in this country live under conditions of appalling deprivation that should shame the well-off who clamor for reduced taxes and cuts to government-funded social services. The bottom line is that our less-fortunate citizens bear little or no responsibility for our national economic problems, and it is patently unjust — actually, immoral — for them to be expected to bear any of the burden of economic remedies.

We must also effect a transformation of the very nature of the U.S. national economy, both governmental spending as well as the spending that comprises the rest of our economy.

Substantial cuts to our bloated military spending should be front and center in any attempts to reform U.S. governmental finances. It is often stated by progressives that U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next fifteen or so countries combined. Less well publicized is what that military spending would buy for this country and its people if applied to more rational and moral uses. The tradeoff is astounding, far in excess of the even-then high costs that President Eisenhower cited in his April 16, 1953 “The Chance for Peace” speech. At that time, Eisenhower equated the cost of one fighter plane to one-half million bushels of wheat. (Note: Eisenhower’s reference to one-half million bushels of wheat could not have been the lower flyaway cost (marginal cost), which for the F-86D, the most expensive F-86 variant/derivative operational at the time of his speech, was at 1953 prices the equivalent of only about 183,000 bushels of wheat. So he was probably referencing full life-cycle costs). Now, the procurement cost of the modern F-35B/C is an estimated $237 million per planenearly thirty-four million bushels of wheat (at May 10, 2013 closing prices for May futures) — with the estimated life-cycle cost even higher, $618 millionmore than 88 million bushels — per plane, and $1.51 trillion for the entire F-35 program216 BILLION bushels of wheat at current prices! (Time Magazine in its U.S. December 3, 2012 issue incorrectly reported the F-35B cost at $160 million apiece, and $400 billion for the whole program; the New York Times in a November 29 article incorrectly reported cost per plane as $137 million, and total program cost as $396 billion. All those lower (but still massive) costs appear to be based on outdated and/or optimistic estimates of both the flyaway cost and R&D costs, both of which have already ballooned far more than the GAO and the Pentagon have been willing to admit. Most important, though, is that the vast majority of mainstream media references have grossly under-stated the true cost by ignoring all operating costs).  Calculate some relevant equivalencies — in health care, education, physical infrastructure, social services, environmental preservation and restoration — and then talk up — no, shout, scream — all the various numbers, as loudly and as often as possible, so that the obscene opportunity costs of our national militarism can be brought to the forefront of public consciousness. U.S. military spending should be significantly reduced, and it can be, without harm to either our national security or economy. The military spending reductions mandated by “sequestration” are actually only a tiny fraction of the much more substantial military cuts that should begin now and continue over at least several years. Worth noting is that an 89% cut in U.S. military spending occurred post-WWII, 1948 vs. 1945, and that very large cut, even at a time when military spending comprised a much greater percentage of our GDP than it does now, did not cause our economy to collapse. Rather, it heralded an era when our industry would greatly increase output of products that our populace needed and wanted.

As to the non-governmental portion of our economy, much of it has failed both the nation and the people. While so-called conservatives continually denounce the government for its supposed distortions of what they see as an otherwise wondrous free market, the truth of the matter is that our most damaging systemic distortions originate with inadequately-regulated capitalism itself, and include: reckless financial system speculation and other misuses of capital; unfair advantage resulting from information differentials; anti-competitive domination by a small number of large corporations in many economic sectors; subjugation of labor leading to the exploitation, endangerment, and even deaths of workers; off-shoring and outsourcing destructive of individuals and communities; sophisticated manipulation of consumer demand via advertising; and countless instances of environmental damage, the costs of which are not borne by the perpetrators. All of this is greatly exacerbated by business’ subversion of democratic political processes through undue influence over politicians and by concurrent marginalization of opposition viewpoints. Not only are fundamental global, national, and human needs not being beneficially addressed by contemporary capitalism, they are often very much worsened by it. As FDR understood (but many contemporary capitalists do not), governmental policies and regulations reining in the excesses of capitalism and promoting basic social and economic justice do not harm capitalism, they assist its survival.

Fundamental changes to that non-governmental segment are necessary. The excessive political influence of corporations effected through advertising and political contributions must be ended; corporations are not people, and artificial economic constructs should not have the free speech or other rights of individuals. An increase of the minimum wage to living levels would permit those at the bottom of our economy to live with a measure of dignity. Progressive import tariffs based on the degree to which trans-border businesses negatively externalize costs would partially counter the current “race to the bottom” in worker compensation and environmental degradation caused by so-called “free trade”. Our present tax revenues being wholly inadequate to correcting the well-documented needs in this nation, particularly in the context of American capitalism’s inherent dedication to maximizing its own profit regardless of societal costs, we need a much more progressive domestic tax structure with some significant (but certainly bearable) tax increases on the well-off, on capital gains, on corporate profits, and most of all, on financial system transactions (especially for short-term holdings, which cannot with any honesty be called socially-useful investments). This would not only help fund government-directed infrastructure and social programs, it would also discourage the non-productive speculation that has become rampant in modern capitalism. The stick can be accompanied by carrots: a concomitant expansion of tax credits and subsidies for individual and business activities that responsibly address true needs could provide a modest financial incentive to “do the right thing”, as well as promote a competitive diversity of approaches to remedy our problems. (Caveat: Strong controls are absolutely essential to prevent inter-governmental “bidding wars” and other abusive manipulations by business of governmental incentives such as were detailed in New York Times articles in-print December 2, 3, and 4, 2012). A further benefit of an economic restructuring that increases our focus on true needs and genuine desires is that such an economy would be more resistant to recession.

For the long term, none of these issues should even require debate. Our fundamental human rights, as well as the obligations of government, the corporations, and the wealthy, to both the nation and the people, should all be legally codified via new Constitutional foundations — a twenty-first century Bill of Rights that establishes a framework for a rational and moral social contract. However, the degree to which our older Bill of Rights has been shredded during the past decade by deceptive or demagogic politicians aided by reactionary courts and a complicit mainstream press suggests that serious sociopolitical activism will always be necessary.

The great mass of ordinary Americans must escape the abattoir of mainstream-media-assisted co-optive American politics — where we are first herded to a place of individual and collective paralysis; then drained of our hopes, dreams, and future; carved up into manipulable political-demographic chunks; and finally rendered completely powerless. Genuinely-liberating transformative action is essential, and time is short.

Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch
Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at

He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)

(Fred asks that Sardonicky readers also leave comments at his blog.) 


James F Traynor said...

All fine and good, but there is no political will for such reforms within the Democratic Party or the electorate as a whole, even among the reasonably educated. Most people couldn't tell you the difference between the House and the Senate, never mind differentiate between a stock and a bond. And they've been propagandized so much that, even if they did know the score, would consider it a worthwhile price in order to 'keep their guns', 'go hunting with Jesus', 'keep them from coming over here', 'save us from socialism and godless communism', etc, etc.

And those of us who know the score also know there is no chance, none, nada of even reforming the existing system. But when the spark comes the following boom will be awesome, deadly destructive and will leave this country in a shambles. There really is very little hope. Or we'll fade away into a third world country. Our destination is inevitable, how we get there a tossup.

Will said...

Fascinating and unbelievably thorough piece, Fred. Thanks a million for your enduring efforts in support of progressivism. Unfortunately I agree with James on the prospects for successful reform. That shouldn't stop us from fighting, though. (I'd search for that cool quote from Howard Zinn on the subject, but I gotta fly. Pearl? Denis?)

Have a great weekend and thanks again. :)

Pearl said...

I will say once more that I believe that now that the right wingers are
having their toes stepped on the reactions are becoming quite noticeable.
Even the Repugs chant is becoming more widespread and strident and their attacks are exposing the weaknesses of the current administration right or
wrong. The other possibility along with them is that things will get so out of hand for most of us that the results which are already showing up are a warning to the right wingers that their golden days are being diminished.

Either way, it will take time, unless a real bubble will break once more and rain on the whole parade stirring up real reaction all around. We have
almost run out of other countries to attack to distract from things going on at home but who knows? Maybe another war will really begin to stir the populace negatively.

It is obvious that reason will not prevail especially with more and more
threats and silencing of the reporters and other whistleblowers to come. So while we are kvetching to the few publications that print us, we will have to watch and wait. If there is real in the streets protests from the right, we will have a chance to join in.
Whatever administration is in power will not be moved by we progressives but will be forced to respond to the money interests who control their

Meanwhile, continue to write and speak out wherever possible even if a small number of people are influenced. And although Krugman is afraid to go beyond his economic box, he does occasionally make a comment on the other issues.
At any rate he prints the reader comments coming in with Karen always making it to the top which I am sure he is influenced by.

I don`t know whether or not I am right about this. Time will tell and
hopefully some sense will prevail with the newer generations coming up.

Denis Neville said...

"Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est" / “Knowledge is power.” ― Francis Bacon

Fred said…”For the majority of the populace that does not take the initiative to actively seek out reputable alternative information sources, mainstream media’s minimal to non-existent coverage of progressive thought effectively equates to suppression.”

"The concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase amongst democratic nations in the same proportion as their ignorance." - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840

James Madison believed that the very basis for government's responsiveness was the assurance that its citizens would have sufficient knowledge to direct it. If citizens are to govern their own affairs, either directly or through representative government, they must be informed about how best to determine their affairs and how best to represent and execute them. If they are not well informed…

"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." - James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822

Sadly, “As many as six out of ten American adults have never read a book of any kind, and the bulletins from the nation’s educational frontiers read like the casualty reports from a lost war.” ― Lewis Lapham, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy

Lapham about the White House press corps: "I could never escape the impression of a flock of ducks -plump and well-kept ducks, ducks worthy of an emperor's garden - waddling back and forth to the pond on which the emperor's gamekeepers cast the bread crumbs of the news."

Their drug is war. Glenn Greenwald writes today, “Washington gets explicit: its 'war on terror' is permanent. Senior Obama officials tell the US Senate: the 'war', in limitless form, will continue for 'at least' another decade - or two.”

“The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.” - George Orwell, 1984

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“How often the priest had heard the same confession--Man was so limited: he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization--it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” ― Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Fred, what you have written needs to be further chewed and digested. Thank you for your thoughtful effort.

Charles D said...

Not only is there no political will for such reforms, there is no viable route to creating that political will and good reason to doubt that even in the presence of the will there would be a way.

Reform is a dead end. Protest is hard to organize and easily ignored. Occupy is the only example of a left wing protest that actually was noticed by the media and therefore some portion of the public. Obviously it had to be brutally crushed to preserve the status quo.

As James said, our destination is inevitable.

spreadoption said...

Thanks, Fred, for your highly-researched and beautifully-written work. It's an excellent summation of where we are in this country and how we got here, and your outline of the changes needed is on the money. But I'm reminded of the visitor who asks the old Vermonter for directions. "Well, ya see, you can't get the-ah from he-ah."

Occupy was wonderful... while it lasted. As I often say, I remember Kent State at times like this. In effect, we live in a brutal dictatorship.

Pearl mentioned her hope for "the newer generations coming up." Whatever changes we get will occur with them, long after we're done. But I don't have any sense that their world will be much like the one we current progressives have in mind. For one thing, they are all post-Reagan, meaning they have no concept of our American good years from 1945 to 1970, our Happy Days. They have no experience with a booming economy when the American Dream was truly possible (though never guaranteed, of course, nor for all citizens).

My son, graduate of a Little Ivy college, is adamant with me that I waste my time trying to fight the Money-Power. He's a solo start-up entrepreneur with a global territory, hoping to make enough money soon to fund a career in alternate and self-sustaining living arrangements around the world. Meanwhile he's living on the floor of his mom's condo (literally! For some reason he prefers sleeping on the floor). His friends and former classmates are mostly all in a similar boat, working for low pay in dead-end jobs. None seem much interested in trying to change anything; it's more about doing the best you can with "what it is." None share my son's vision for something bigger and better.

But is that any different from our generation? How many of us fought to do something really important, and how many mostly just went along day-to-day? I, for one, was so dedicated to my career, and then family as well, that I was totally oblivious to Vietnam and the whole Nixon-thing. I did think Reagan was an idiot-bastard, but that was as far as it went.

Since 2008 I've been expecting an L-shaped recovery. The discouraging thing is, we haven't hit bottom yet. For now, each of us is going to have to deal with “what it is.”

As for the visions we progressives hold? I often run thought-experiments, trying out different strategies, and I always run up against the same conclusion: I can't see how we get there from here.

Anonymous said...


I think that I will send you a few remarks within a week via e-mail. There are too many length (and time) constraints associated with commenting here on your well-thought out essay.

Look for something with "Subject: From Zee." If you don't see anything within the week, well, check your "Junk" or "Spam" folders, which I am sure some will consider an appropriate place to look for thoughts from me.

Zee said...


It probably goes without saying, but "Anonymous" is "Zee."

Pearl said...

Part 1:

I find all your responses to Fred`s well thought out column most interesting and sad that you feel rather hopeless about the possibility for improvement.
However, Spreadoption brought up some interesting comments about his own son
and friends not being overly concerned about their having to take low paying jobs and living off the largesse of their parents by sleeping on a floor, etc. They will begin to think more seriously about their plight when their parents will no longer be able to offer them sustenance (and shouldn`t) and
they will want to marry and have a family and get tired of getting up each morning to work at a crummy job and not have proper health coverage or enjoy vacations, especially as they age. The dreams of having a good income by joining the Wall Street mentality is not going to happen since by that time
Wall Street may be in bankruptcy.

Reality will be forced on them and I hope the Spreadoptions of the world
have tried to bring up their children with the truth about what is ahead.
The next generation(s) may not have parents that can help, in fact may have to help them as well and recognize that the hopes for the future we all dreamed about no longer exist.That is when push for change may happen especially when the wealthier heads of families can no longer keep their children and or grandchildren in the lifestyle they expected.

Pearl said...

Part 2:

If the progressives want to see change, they have to create it in their own progeny. I have relatives and friends who are still raising their kids and grandkids with the old value system- if you work hard you can succeed and then get mortgages to pay for their college educations for jobs that may pay well. What are kids today really learning at university and how are they planning to make use of what they may be learning. I read about lots of partying still going on, cheating by students even in the elite universities with serious students working alongside others playing the same old games of
avoiding reality. Watching the levels of movies, TV, news reporting is a
real dumbing down, but this is where parents or grandparents like ourselves
have to be doubly responsible. I have loaned my 3 grandaughters their
college tutitions to be paid back to my favorite cancer charity within a
certain time frame and talk to them about the political work I do and why. I hope it takes but regardless, I have tried and I think it will bear fruit for the future. So even within a small framework we can be influential with relatives and friends. My husband who was highly knowledgeable in the
political sphere was always very effective when colleagues made ignorant remarks and he knew how to disarm them with humor and interesting facts that turned their comments around against them. He was never afraid to speak up
about matters that no one wanted to tackle.

We all have an important role to play even though we are aware that we will
probably spend the rest of our lives in the shadow of the misery and
ignorance going on. You all inspire me with your thoughts, even when they
seem to diverge but basically you are in agreement because you all hate the
suffering people have to undergo under the administration of people in power who do not care about their fellow beings as long as they have what they want and I admire you all for that.

Here is the quote from Howard Zinn - wish he was still around.

TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Howard Zinn

Denis Neville said...

@ Pearl – that is a terrific quote by Howard Zinn and your comment that “We all have an important role to play” is spot on!!!

Hopelessness? Or, The White Rose?

When I lived in Germany, I visited Dachau on the 25th anniversary of its liberation. A survivor’s recounting of his experience remains with me today. How had he survived? How could that have ever happened?

William L. Shirer in his famous book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich wrote about how easily it was to be taken in by the lies in a totalitarian state and how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for the truth, said they were.

Hopeless? Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.

“No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler. The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it. ” ― William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

Hopeless? The White Rose stands for courage, bravery and political responsibility.

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct…if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall…”- from The First Leaflet of The White Rose

“For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this “government” which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all!…”- from The Second Leaflet of The White Rose

“Why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks?…” - Excerpt from The Third Leaflet of The White Rose

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” ― Sophie Scholl

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams, speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776

Jay - Ottawa said...

Fred, you’ve summed up very nicely (with a wealth of references at every turn) what’s been going on; and you’ve gone down the full list of what must happen for the country to get back on the road to liberty and justice for all, starting with putting the Pentagon beast on a strict diet.

Last November I was astounded by the poor showing of third parties. If there ever was a time when third parties should have surged, it was 2012. Reason told us voters would turn away from the Duopoly and place their hope in third parties. But the people have become wet wood; no Progressive match can set them ablaze. People cheated by the Duopoly continue to vote for the Duopoly. Critical thinking is disappearing like our civil liberties.

By now, people ‘ought’ to have found a way around the media’s news blockers and fakes. Fair-minded citizens ‘ought’ to agree with your assessment and ‘ought’ to agree with the solutions you recommend. Society ‘ought’ to get itself sorted out along the course you map out. And those corrections ‘ought’ to break out into action soon, as you say, even before an ideal critical mass of people becomes informed and energized.

However, like others here, I come away saying: BUT HOW? Become an activist – HOW? Doing what, exactly? And if we ever solve the HOW, where do we find the WILL, in sufficient numbers, to carry through on the HOW for as long as it takes to unseat the plutocrats and their authoritarian lieutenants? The progressive cadre has been stumped on these two questions for decades. We keep circling back to the ‘oughts,’ not the hows.

I have only one suggestion on the how: boycotts, the targeted corporations to be designated centrally by a wise progressive panel that knows how to avoid the legal traps. Boycott one of the banks that screw us. Boycott one of the networks that propagandize. Boycott the myriads of products of one offending corporation. Give them a taste of austerity. But only one corporation at a time.

A serious boycott means we will go without and live more frugally. Recall Gandhi’s spinning and salt campaigns. At least it will be OUR agency in the driver’s seat, for a change. Watch a stock plummet in the market because of a boycott. Send CEOs into a panic one by one. Starve the corporate beasts one by one until we can drown them one by one in the bathtub.

Some corporations are odious to the devil himself. Properly informed, you can convince family and friends to boycott one targeted corporation faster than you could ever change their politics or change their moral foundation.

Progressive chieftains, whom should we tag first? Then let the boycott go viral.

Pearl said...

Denis: After skimming (couldn't read it too closely) your article about the liberation of Dachau recalling your visit there on its 25th anniversary, I thought about Anne Frank whose book and short life had such an influence on me.
She was 6 years younger than me and there but for the grace of god, I could have gone.

She was one voice, but what a voice!

From Wikipedia:

Frank aspired to become a journalist, writing in her diary on Wednesday, 5
April 1944:

I finally realized that I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant,to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want! I know I can write ..., but it remains to be seen whether I really have talent
And if I don't have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can't imagine living like Mother, Mrs. van Daan and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! ...

I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that's inside me!

When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?

- Anne Frank

She continued writing regularly until her last entry of 1 August 1944. She
died at the age of 15 of typhus at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp

Will said...


Here's an article about a brand new smartphone app which helps consumers avoid putting their money in the pockets of assholes like the Koch brothers and Monsanto. Hey, it's a start, right?


Thanks for the Howard Zinn quote. I'm gonna save it for whenever the world gets me too down. In other words, I'll be reading it right after watching the headlines from Democracy Now every weekday. :)

spreadoption said...

While many of us (with good cause) are feeling pretty hopeless, many others are trying to understand the realities we face so that we can prepare for whatever lies ahead. No, I’m not referring to the so-called “preppers” who are today’s bomb-shelter builders, the lone survivalists. Rather, this is the power of negative thinking, which we all can (and maybe should) engage in. It’s about imagining Black Swans and preparing for their arrival. It’s about understanding and accepting the truth of what’s going on in our government and doing the best we can, like David versus Goliath. It’s about rejecting what Barbara Ehrenreich called being “bright-sided” - the American inclination toward feeling exceptional and ever-optimistic, through the power of positive thinking, hope, and prayer, as reinforced by decades of government and corporate propaganda. It’s about understanding our opponent’s game and finding ways to strengthen ourselves to oppose it and turn the game in our favor.

To me, hope is not good enough, it’s insufficient... and hopelessness never sits well for more than a few minutes. Our problem, as I see it, is that we haven’t yet found a viable, realistic strategy to fight the overwhelming tyranny and stupidity we face. But I do see signs that in a decentralized way we’re working on it, and that in itself is reassuring... well, thrilling actually. Here’s an update from Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on what are among the first actions in our revolution:

Fred Drumlevitch said...

A public thanks, @Karen, for running my piece as a cross-post at Sardonicky, and thanks also to everyone who commented here.

The points made by commenters about the difficulty of a workable strategy in the face of entrenched institutional forces and public ignorance and apathy are certainly true; i.e. @spreadadoption's points about many Americans having grown up with Reagan or after, and thus having no personal experience with better times for the lower- and middle-classes, or governments that operate with that as a driving principle.

But as I see it, that only means that we need to diversify our strategies and increase our game. Though contemporary conditions differ, @Denis Neville's quotes from The White Rose remain relevant. Above all else, I think that we must remember that the modern "softer and gentler" tyrannies control their populace not with massive physical repression, but rather, mostly psychologically. That indeed includes some outright intimidation, but, more often, relies on the more subtle methods of the propaganda model, coupled with --- and this is very important --- widespread discouragement of those who might otherwise mount challenges to the status quo. So I think it is incumbent on anyone who wants proper and substantive change to resist those feelings of discouragement, and to continue on with acts of opposition, which will vary from person to person, but have the potential to grow into a concerted movement that will eventually prevail. As that lottery slogan goes: "You can't win if you don't play!" --- and that's no less true of political opposition.

Thanks, @Pearl for that Howard Zinn quote, and your comments, which look at the problem from yet other perspectives.

And @Jay - Ottawa properly brings up the subject of economic boycotts (which I've advocated in the past). Yes, in a capitalistic economy, I do think that stands as one of the people's strongest weapons. @Jay says "But only one corporation at a time." I mostly agree. For those old enough to recall, that singling-out of one corporation at a time is what striking auto workers very effectively did for years. In today's dog-eat-dog world where "market share" has taken on even greater importance than in the past, no company wants to lose market share to a competitor. Boycotts must also be enduring enough to immediately switch boycott targets to a different competitor when a settlement with the original target is reached --- otherwise that settlement puts the settler at a competitive disadvantage, and serves as motivation against settling. We can, however, take on multiple different economic sectors at the same time --- i.e. one fast-food corporation, one clothing manufacturer, one meat packer, one hotel chain (and that is not necessarily at odds with what @Jay might have meant strategically).

@Zee: I haven't yet checked my email. I'll look forward to hearing from you --- but I'll also look forward to you continuing to make your points at Sardonicky.