Monday, February 27, 2012

Robert Birgeneau Knew Of Baton Use By Campus Police And Made No Objection, Emails Reveal

Newly released emails show University of California, Berkeley officials did not initially object to the use of batons on nonviolent protesters during a November 2011 demonstration that ignited a national outrage.
Chancellor Robert Bigeneau not only knew batons were used against Occupy Cal protesters, but he encouraged officials "do not back down."

Birgeneau said at the time he was in "limited contact" with administration officials when students began an Occupy Cal protest at the UC Berkley campus on Nov. 9, 2011, while he was in Asia. Campus police were caught on video striking protesters who had linked arms and were standing still.

Emails sent to and from Birgeneau's account, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and shared with The Huffington Post, show Birgeneau was told that campus police had used batons, and that he did not call for a more passive approach in enforcing a "no encampments" policy.

Provost George Breslauer wrote to Birgeneau after the first round of baton blows from campus police: "Protestors locked arms to prevent police from getting to the tents. Police used batons to gain access to the tents." Breslauer told him hundreds of students and a number of reporters were present, and that he expected the protest would carry on for days.

"This is really unfortunate," Birgeneau wrote back using his BlackBerry. "However, our policies are absolutely clear. Obviously this group wanted exactly such a confrontation."

A short time later, Birgeneau wrote Breslauer again to say, "It is critical that we do not back down on our no encampment policy." Birgeneau then referenced the situation in which Oakland Mayor Jean Quan found herself consequent to her handling of Occupy Oakland, where protesters established a camp for a short time, then were kicked out.

Some UC students suffered injuries such as cracked ribs. A tenured UC English professor reported that police yanked her to the ground by her hair. The video sparked controversy, lawsuits, an online petition by instructors and faculty expressing "no confidence" in the administration, and multiple investigations.

Linda Lye, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, told HuffPost that the emails reveal it wasn't just a couple of "bad apples" on the police force.

"What this shows is [Birgeneau] was also responsible, in the additional sense of creating the environment," Lye said. "He set the tone, gave the directive ... This is a larger systemic problem."

On Nov. 28, 2011, Birgeneau told faculty at a meeting that he explicitly prohibited police from using tear gas or pepper spray, but that "unfortunately, we did not at the same time discuss the use of the baton."

UC Berkeley campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the emails didn't indicate what was authorized, but did tell HuffPost that "any authorization comes beforehand."

"His comments [in the emails] were neither an authorization for or a prohibition against future use," Mogulof said. "The policy itself [of no encampments] still stood without any entry into discussion of tactics."

Mogulof said "the track record since November is evidence" of how the administration has improved its handling of protests and of the chancellor's commitment to avoiding another clash.

Mogulof also said Birgeneau did offer an unqualified apology at the time, and the administration doesn't see any inconsistency between the emails and officials' public statements.

However, not everyone on campus is satisfied.

"No one believed Birgeneau at the time," insisted Wendy Brown, a UC Berkeley political science professor. "They have Internet, Skype and excellent cellphone connections in Asia. And chancellors are never out of contact with their other campus officers merely because they're on the road. The lameness of this claim only infuriated people more last November."

Full Text Of Emails Obtained By The ACLU of Northern California:

From: "George Breslauer"

 Date: Wed, 9 Nov 2011 16:28:52 -0800

 To: [redacted]

 Cc: Linda Williams; Claire Holmes


Bob, Just back from Sproul Plaza, where about 300-400 people tried to set up an encampment on the lawn off the northwest side of Sproul Hall. After assessing the situation, the police moved in to remove the tents, enforcing campus policy of "no encampments.” Protestors locked arms to prevent police from getting to the tents. Police used batons to gain access to the tents. There are still 200-300 people gathered, watching, and, in some cases, screaming at the police., who have established a perimeter. Harry and Gibor, perhaps also Linda, are speaking to the Graduate Assembly in Anthony Hall. Helicopters and reporters are around. This is likely to continue for days, I suspect. I don't know yet whether there have been arrests. George

George W. Breslauer

 Professor of Political Science


From: "Robert J. Birgeneau"

 Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2011 01:19:11 +0000

 To: George Breslauer

 ReplyTo: [redacted]

 Cc: Linda Williams; Claire Holmes

 Subject: Re:

This is really unfortunate. However, our policies are absolutely clear. Obviously this group wanted exactly such a confrontation.


 Sent via BlackBerry


From: Robert J. Birgeneau

 To: George Breslauer

 Cc: Linda Williams; Claire Holmes; Beata Fitzpatrick; Harry Le Grande

 Subject: Re:

 Date: Wednesday, November 09, 2011 5:36:18 PM


 It is critical that we do not back down on our no encampment policy. Otherwise, we will end up in Quan land.


 Sent via BlackBerry

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This Week in Poverty: James Q. Wilson Peddles Poverty Myths - Greg Kaufmann

James Q. Wilson’s January 29 op-ed in the Washington Post­­­­—“Angry about inequality? Don’t blame the rich”—is oh so polite, and oh so offensive, as it peddles myth after myth that essentially add up to this: the poor have no one but themselves to blame, they’re not that poor anyway, and taxing rich people won’t help them.

Wilson argues that for the poor to rise we must “encourage parental marriage” and “induce them to join the legitimate workforce.” He points out that the poor have things like plumbing and heat, “a telephone, a television set, and a clothes dryer,” and there are fewer malnourished children. He says improving low-income mobility “has nothing to do with taxing the rich” and “the problem facing the poor is not too little money.”

“He’s right, there are fewer malnourished children and less substandard housing—largely because of public policy, which costs money,” says Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman, who accompanied Senator Robert Kennedy on his poverty tour as an aide and is author of a forthcoming book, So Rich, So Poor. “Food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers, energy assistance—they all require resources, and they’ve all faced cuts.”

Wilson says ultimately the plight of the poor is about “too few skills and opportunities to advance themselves.”

“As though the hundreds of billions in high-income tax breaks couldn’t serve some useful purpose in that regard—for education, child care, subsidized jobs, infrastructure investment that would create jobs,” says Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs.

Here are just a few things made worse by tax breaks for the wealthy: unequal schools segregated by race, class and quality that are funded by property taxes. Hungry kids who aren’t ready to learn and early interventions that would significantly improve brain development are shortchanged. Parents working two or even three jobs who can’t pull their families out of poverty, afford childcare or take job training or community college courses to better themselves because those don’t count towards meeting their (low-wage) work requirement for welfare benefits.

And what of that push for marriage? It would be great if there were all kinds of marital opportunities out there for happy families, and one idea is to start looking at the cradle to prison pipeline if that’s a serious societal goal. Another important point noted by Half in Ten in its Restoring Shared Prosperity report is that marriage isn’t the only route to the antipoverty affect conservatives tout—it’s two incomes that are key. Only 4 percent of households with more than one earner are in poverty as compared to 24 percent with a single earner. So Wilson might consider calling for funding of summer and year-round programs aimed at connecting disadvantaged youth to education and work experience, or subsidized jobs that were supported by Democratic and Republican governors alike.

Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Appalachian Ohio, has been working with poor people for over thirty years.

“The right would have you believe that the poor are pretty well off and their plight is due entirely to their own character flaws,” Frech told me. “They don’t believe that poor parents have any incentive to work hard to make life better for their kids—as if there is a means test for loving your children. But the poor parents I know experience anguish watching their children go without basic necessities, and they suffer greatly from cuts in programs. The depth of their poverty and daily struggle to survive make the inadequately funded education programs available to them unlikely to succeed. On the other hand, the massive tax cuts granted to rich people at the federal and state levels haven’t been invested in jobs here but in offshore investments and new technologies that have increased their profits at the expense of people in this country.”

The dream is not a TV, a dryer and a coffee maker in every home. It’s equal opportunity regardless of race and class. And, Jimmy, that takes money.

GOP (and Dems?) to Poor Kids: Pony Up

In his State of the Union address one year ago, President Obama drew a clear line on deficit reduction when he said, “Let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”

A year later, he and his fellow Democrats have an opportunity to make good on that commitment, because House Republicans passed the “Refundable Child Tax Credit Eligibility Verification Reform Act” that would raise taxes on working poor families in order to (very) partially pay for a payroll tax cut extension. If the GOP has its way—and a House and Senate conference committee is considering it now—only taxpayers filing with a Social Security number would be eligible for refunds under the Child Tax Credit, not people using “individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs).”

Republicans are banking on anti-immigrant sentiment to win the day because many people using ITINs are undocumented workers—never mind that they are paying both income and payroll taxes.

Over 80 percent of impacted families are Latino. They earn on average about $21,000 annually, less than the poverty line for a family of four, and stand to lose $1800 on average. That’s money families need to survive, going towards food, rent, heat, clothing, childcare—which is exactly why the tax credit was created in the first place. In fact, it kept 1.3 million children out of poverty in 2009. According to the National Immigration Law Center, 5.5 million children would be affected by the new law, “4 million of whom are US citizens but all of whom are deserving of our support.”

All of this burden would be placed on the backs of what the President calls “our most vulnerable citizens”—children—for at most $24 billion in savings over ten years. The payroll tax extension is expected to cost $120 billion. Just a .2 percent surtax on millionaires could raise as much dough as the child tax increase—a 1.9 percent surtax on them would generate $155 billion over ten years. But what fun is that when you can demonize the poor, immigrants and undocumented workers in one fell swoop?

According to people close to House-Senate negotiations, this bill has a shot at becoming the law of the land. “It’s my sense that the Democratic Leadership is preparing to sell out on the issue to get a compromise,” one senior House staffer told me.

Stand up for kids in poverty, Latinos, immigrants, families and an America that doesn’t pile onto those already bearing the heaviest load—here.

Food for Learning

Extensive research demonstrates strong links between eating school breakfast and dietary, health, and education outcomes for children and adolescents. So a new report from Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) showing that less than half (48 percent) of low-income children receiving school lunch also receive school breakfast is worth paying attention to.

“This is as much an academic excellence program as it is an anti-hunger program,” said FRAC president Jim Weill. “And states and schools that want to get serious about increasing breakfast participation have to get serious about implementing breakfast in the classroom.”

A common factor for states with high participation rates—like New Mexico, South Carolina, Vermont and the District of Columbia which all serve breakfast to at least 60 percent of the students who receive school lunch—is that many of the schools in those states operate “breakfast in the classroom” programs. These programs allow students to eat breakfast in their classrooms at the beginning of the school day or early in the day. States not doing such a great job—and Nevada, home of Saturday’s Republican caucus, is the worst with just 33 percent of low-income kids who participate in the lunch program also receiving breakfast—don’t have strong breakfast in the classroom programs.

Traditional, cafeteria-served breakfast before school has a lot of problems: buses and cars arrive late—especially in urban transit; the thirty-cent co-payment is too high for some families; there is a stigma of heading to the cafeteria for a meal for “poor kids.” Breakfast in the classroom avoids these obstacles and can save money on cafeteria operations too boot.

If states could reach 60 percent participation, FRAC estimates 2.4 million more low-income children would be added to the breakfast program and states would receive an additional $583 million in child nutrition funding.

Who Will Benefit From the Recovery?

Los Angeles County transportation officials announced that for major transit and road projects, “project labor agreements” (PLAs) will ensure that 40 percent of the hours go to people who live in economically disadvantaged communities, and 10 percent of that work is reserved for people “suffering from homelessness, chronic unemployment, or other challenges.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, this will lead to “significant” opportunities for disadvantaged workers, since the plan is to spend “tens of billions of dollars in the years ahead” on subway, highway, light rail, and commuter rail projects. Supervisor Mark Ridley, board member of the LA County Metro Transit Authority, noted that these are “highly skilled union jobs that lead to a middle-class lifestyle” and the PLAs should be “a model for the rest of the nation.”

This good news comes none too soon for California construction workers who had a 27 percent unemployment rate in 2010.

Margaret Simms, Institute fellow and director of Urban Institute’s Low-Income Working Families project, praises the effort for trying to help construction workers and also economically disadvantaged people for whom “joblessness is a constant problem,” not just in a recession. She adds a word of caution, however.

“If these are union jobs, efforts need to be made to provide access to union membership for these potential workers,” she told me.

Fun With Mitt

Mitt reveals a problem he has with multi-tasking—“you can choose where to focus: you can focus on the rich, you can focus on the very poor, my focus is on middle-income Americans”—and also a problem with poor people.

Mitt equates concerns about economic inequality and social mobility with preferring China, Russia, Cuba or North Korea over America.

Mitt’s worst nightmare: the discussion of wealth distribution “in quiet rooms” is suddenly interrupted.

What will Mitt do next? Please offer your predictions in comments below.

GOP Contenders, on to Nevada

Child Poverty in Nevada:

144, 204 or 22% of all children are poor (less than $18,530 for a family of three).

65,642 or 10% of children live in extreme poverty (less than $9300 for family of three).

27,680 adults and children receive cash assistance (TANF).

$383 is maximum monthly TANF cash assistance for family of three.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Remarks of Thurgood Marshall At The Annual Seminar of the SAN FRANCISCO PATENT AND TRADEMARK LAW ASSOCIATION In Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

1987 marks the 200th anniversary of the United States Constitution. A Commission has been established to coordinate the celebration. The official meetings, essay contests, and festivities have begun.

The planned commemoration will span three years, and I am told 1987 is "dedicated to the memory of the Founders and the document they drafted in Philadelphia."   we are to "recall the achievements of our Founders and the knowledge and experience that inspired them, the nature of the government they established, its origins, its character, and its ends, and the rights and privileges of citizenship, as well as its attendant responsibilities." 

Like many anniversary celebrations, the plan for 1987 takes particular events and holds them up as the source of all the very best that has followed. Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunatenot the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the "more perfect Union" it is said we now enjoy.

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever "fixed" at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite "The Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

For a sense of the evolving nature of the Constitution we need look no further than the first three words of the document's preamble: 'We the People." When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America's citizens. "We the People" included, in the words of the Framers, "the whole Number of free Persons."   On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes  at threefifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years. 

These omissions were intentional. The record of the Framers' debates on the slave question is especially clear: The Southern States acceded to the demands of the New England States for giving Congress broad power to regulate commerce, in exchange for the right to continue the slave trade. The economic interests of the regions coalesced: New Englanders engaged in the "carrying trade" would profit from transporting slaves from Africa as well as goods produced in America by slave labor. The perpetuation of slavery ensured the primary source of wealth in the Southern States.

Despite this clear understanding of the role slavery would play in the new republic, use of the words "slaves" and "slavery" was carefully avoided in the original document. Political representation in the lower House of Congress was to be based on the population of "free Persons" in each State, plus threefifths of all "other Persons."   Moral principles against slavery, for those who had them, were compromised, with no explanation of the conflicting principles for which the American Revolutionary War had ostensibly been fought: the selfevident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

It was not the first such compromise. Even these ringing phrases from the Declaration of Independence are filled with irony, for an early draft of what became that Declaration assailed the King of England for suppressing legislative attempts to end the slave trade and for encouraging slave rebellions.   The final draft adopted in 1776 did not contain this criticism. And so again at the Constitutional Convention eloquent objections to the institution of slavery went unheeded, and its opponents eventually consented to a document which laid a foundation for the tragic events that were to follow.

Pennsylvania's Governor Morris provides an example. He opposed slavery and the counting of slaves in determining the basis for representation in Congress. At the Convention he objected that

"The inhabitant of Georgia [or] South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a Practice." 

And yet Governor Morris eventually accepted the threefifths accommodation. In fact, he wrote the final draft of the Constitution, the very document the bicentennial will commemorate.

As a result of compromise, the right of the southern States to continue importing slaves was extended, officially, at least until 1808. We know that it actually lasted a good deal longer, as the Framers possessed no monopoly on the ability to trade moral principles for selfinterest. But they nevertheless set an unfortunate example. Slaves could be imported, if the commercial interests of the North were protected. To make the compromise even more palatable, customs duties would be imposed at up to ten dollars per slave as a means of raising public revenues. 

No doubt it will be said, when the unpleasant truth of the history of slavery in America is mentioned during this bicentennial year, that the Constitution was a product of its times, and embodied a compromise which, under other circumstances, would not have been made. But the effects of the Framers' compromise have remained for generations. They arose from the contradiction between guaranteeing liberty and justice to all, and denying both to Negroes.

The original intent of the phrase, "We the People," was far too clear for any ameliorating construction. Writing for the Supreme Court in 1857, Chief Justice Taney penned the following passage in the Dred Scott case,   on the issue whether, in the eyes of the Framers, slaves were "constituent members of the sovereignty," and were to be included among "We the People":

"We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included.... They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race...; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.... [A]ccordingly, a Negro of the African race was regarded ... as an article of property, and held, and bought and sold as such.... [N]o one seems to have doubted the correctness of the prevailing opinion of the time."

And so, nearly seven decades after the Constitutional Convention, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the prevailing opinion of the Framers regarding the rights of Negroes in America. It took a bloody civil war before the l3th Amendment could be adopted to abolish slavery, though not the consequences slavery would have for future Americans.

While the Union survived the civil war, the Constitution did not. In its place arose a new, more promising basis for justice and equality, the 14th Amendment, ensuring protection of the life, liberty, and property of all persons against deprivations without due process, and guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. And yet almost another century would pass before any significant recognition was obtained of the rights of black Americans to share equally even in such basic opportunities as education, housing, and employment, and to have their votes counted, and counted equally. In the meantime, blacks joined America's military to fight its wars and invested untold hours working in its factories and on its farms, contributing to the development of this country's magnificent wealth and waiting to share in its prosperity.

What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America's history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue.

The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 could not have envisioned these changes. They could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendent of an African slave. We the People" no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of "liberty," "justice," and "equality," and who strived to better them.

And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives. If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution's inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the "Miracle at Philadelphia"   will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.

Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flagwaving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Where Have All the GOP Moderates Gone? - Elbert Ventura

Peter Beinart has a must-read in Time on the rise of what he calls “vicious-circle politics”: the Republican strategy of using government gridlock and failure to win control of government. Beinart points out that GOP obstructionism in the Obama era has its roots in the Gingrich Congress, when congressional Republicans turned into an art form the use of polarization to stymie government and make the case to a frustrated public that they needed to evict the party in power.

He tracks its origins to the “great sorting-out,” the post-’60s alignment of party, region, and ideology that purified both parties, with conservative Democrats from the South and moderate Republicans from the North gradually switching sides.

But it wasn’t until the Republicans were knocked out of power in the 1990s that vicious-circle politics became an active GOP strategy. Beinart writes:

In the Clinton years, Senate Republicans began a kind of permanent filibuster. “Whereas the filibusters of the past were mainly the weapon of last resort,” scholars Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky noted in 1997, “now filibusters are a part of daily life.” For a while, the remaining GOP moderates cried foul and joined with Democrats to break filibusters on things like campaign finance and voter registration. But in doing so, the moderates helped doom themselves. After moderates broke a 1993 filibuster on campaign finance, GOP conservatives publicly accused them of “stabbing us in the back.” Their pictures were taken off the wall at the offices of the Republican Senate campaign committee. “What do these so-called moderates have in common?” conservative bigwig Grover Norquist would later declare. “They’re 70 years old. They’re not running again. They’re gonna be dead soon. So while they’re annoying, within the Republican Party our problems are dying.”

In Clinton’s first two years in office, the Gingrich Republicans learned that the vicious circle works. While filibusters were occasionally broken, they also brought much of Clinton’s agenda to a halt, and they made Washington look pathetic. In one case, GOP Senators successfully filibustered changes to a 122-year-old mining act, thus forcing the government to sell roughly $10 billion worth of gold rights to a Canadian company for less than $10,000. In another, Republicans filibustered legislation that would have applied employment laws to members of Congress — a reform they had loudly demanded.

With these acts of legislative sabotage, Republicans tapped into a deep truth about the American people: they hate political squabbling, and they take out their anger on whoever is in charge. So when the Gingrich Republicans carried out a virtual sit-down strike during Clinton’s first two years, the public mood turned nasty. By 1994, trust in government was at an all-time low, which suited the Republicans fine, since their major line of attack against Clinton’s health care plan was that it would empower government. Clintoncare collapsed, Democrats lost Congress, and Republicans learned the secrets of vicious-circle politics: When the parties are polarized, it’s easy to keep anything from getting done. When nothing gets done, people turn against government. When you’re the party out of power and the party that reviles government, you win.

In the Obama era, with the congressional Republican caucus smaller and purer than it has been in a long time, the GOP has pursued vicious-circle politics on steroids. It’s a depressing — and depressingly familiar — picture that Beinart paints.

While Beinart acknowledges that Democrats might one day use the same strategy to stonewall a Republican administration, he notes correctly that the tactic fits better in the GOP playbook: “Winning elections by making government look foolish is a more natural strategy for the antigovernment party.” That observation raises another frightening prospect: absent filibuster-proof majorities, can major legislation only pass now with a Republican administration and Congress? Because all the moderates are now on the Democratic side, and because progressives — moderate or liberal — are less likely to see gumming up the works as a desirable end in itself, is it possible that only Republican-driven initiatives that could get moderate support will be the only way major legislation gets passed?

Beinart offers some solutions to break the vicious circle: opening more primaries to independents (like in New Hampshire); more Crossfire-style programs to counteract the ideological ghettoization on cable news; more Ross Perots who can light a fire under both parties to break the gridlock.

Whether you think them effective or not, those proposals will take years to enact. The Democrats need to govern now. And here’s the thing: they can. There are 18 more of them in the Senate, over 70 more of them in the House — not filibuster-proof, but certainly enough to get some things passed through reconciliation. Here’s what it all boils down to: In the face of a unified opposition bent on making sure they don’t get anything done, will Democrats band together, fight back, and govern proudly? Or will they shrink from the challenge and, in fact, get nothing done?

Elbert Ventura is the managing editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He formerly served as the managing editor of the Progressive Policy Institute.           

Scraping By, Economic Tyranny, and the American Dream - Preston Henry Andrew Scott (aka Isma'il ibn Bilal)

That very word freedom, in itself and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power. In 1776 we sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy-from the eighteenth-century royalists who held special privileges from the crown…Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Since that struggle, however, man’s inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution-all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free
-FDR, 1936 Democratic National Convention

In his book Scraping By, Seth Rockman identifies that the position held by contemporary Americans concerned with economic social justice is neither radical nor progressive. Rockman examines the history of the early Republic, in particular the City of Baltimore, thereby revealing the political-economic tension between those who controlled capital, those who contracted their labor or the labor of their slaves, and how said tension was mitigated. He exposes two widely-held myths perpetuated in the highly cultural and dominant American narrative: (1) that wage labor was merely a temporary condition in which one was compelled to engage a priori to eventual, inevitable financial independence; and (2) that the racial politics of the early Republic gave preferential consideration to white workers, at the expense of blacks, free or enslaved. Rockman provides analysis and the identification of the economic, political, and legal disenfranchisement of wage laborers in early Republic Baltimore. In his sixth chapter entitled, ‘The Hard Work of Being Poor’, he offers two sentences that describe the life of the American worker, both past and present. Rockman states, In Atlantic seaports from Boston to Baltimore, the cost of living far outstripped what a single worker could earn through the most diligent labor[1]and that finding a job did not secure men, women, and children from the pangs of hunger or the shivers of winter, though it might postpone the threat of real privation for a time[2]Our purpose here is to examine how the dominant theoretical narrative of America, its way of life, is so diametrically opposed from the practical reality offered by Rockman. As stated previously, the two sentences offered in the sixth chapter is a reality that has echoed throughout the United States via the Occupy movement. In short, they were relevant during the lives of the Founders as they are in our contemporary time. Since its inception, the United States of America has held a truly bipolar national character. Indeed, over its 236 years, it has taken and refused to imbibe the medicines of moderation, parrhesia, and practical wisdom into its body politic and thus its policies. In order for the American Dream to be restored in the minds of the People, economic tyranny must be conquered. Economic tyranny can only be conquered through Aristotelian practical wisdom. This is our purpose here.

Privation, or its threat, provides the preconditions of the Hobbesian state of nature. It has long been held that Thomas Hobbes created a mere theoretical concept, envisioned to offer some explanation as to the necessity of a social contract between ruler and ruled. For the political philosophers who have taught of the mythical nature of this concept, life through the command of birth have belonged to the social class of ease, wealth, and abundant political power. All too often it is the political philosopher who has been leading the process of acculturation which links his worldview to the canon he has learned, mastered, and taught. Most Americans in an academic position to encounter Rockman’s two, sixth chapter sentences would most likely respond with the notions of individualism, free enterprise, liberty, self-reliance, and again hard work. They have not known privation, and even more likely have incapacitated themselves in engaging in self-critical inquiry. Economic tyranny for these individuals is a political-economic impossibility. It is only a lack of capital or other form of necessity in which one can purchase food, clothing, shelter which creates, and continues to create, a practical reality where life isshort, brutish, nasty. Yet the American political philosopher has been acculturated to accept the theoretical concept of John Locke as truth. He idealizes his nation, stating that in the state of nature, a community of property owners, each and individually, saw the necessity of codified law in government-the social contract. Now there exist American political philosophers, historians, and other social scientists that have another perspective that challenges the dominant, American narrative. These individuals know that privation creates a climate that seemingly invalidates the very idea of a social contract.

These new voices speak of Rockman’s reality. They know the lengths men and women will extend, with an incredible and determined energy merely to earn enough money to reside in dilapidated, unsanitary housing. They know that human beings will work to feed themselves the worst, the cheapest, and/or most available food. They will seek solace in whiskey, beer, ale, and the human touch of those willing to offer a paid expression of love. Others will concern themselves with nothing save of acquiring the necessary capital to improve their conditions, and that of their descendants, by any means necessary. Men will travel from distant places and kill their unknown brothers in humanity in order to claim his lands as their own. They will travel over oceans to enslave other members of their human family, and then create myths of the savagery of the murdered and the innate inferiority of the slave. Women will encourage, indeed compel, their daughters to engage in the most tedious forms of work for the lowest rate of compensation. Children are hardened by life, learning that it is their needs that matter more than family or the Natural Laws of Morality. Rockman writes working households teetered on the brink of disaster when one prolonged illness, one spell of unemployment, one brush with the law, one encounter with a slave trader, one particularly cold week, one accidental fire could mean the difference between staying afloat and dissolution[3]And yet, with this being stated, far too many of this new perspective class of American political philosopher have found the correct answer to the wrong question, which subsequently leads to a true miscarriage of economic and political justice. As if man’s enterprising, resource accumulative nature is a product of the Enlightenment and in a truly sophomoric fashion, those of us from the humblest of origins, advocate the destruction of capitalism as a means of operating a political economy. A trend has developed that is often hateful of the United States in its entirety, which is merely a reaction that exacerbates our National Sickness.

Capitalism is not the great evil of the American society. It is the lack of the American Moral Economy, or as it is termed in our contemporary time, social democracy that lies at our societal ills. Rockman explores the methods within the early Republic that mitigated the tensions between capitalists and labor that are foreign to us today. For example, he states that it was the antithesis of Anglo-American culture for the market to set a ‘just price’ for necessities. It was the role of municipal governments to regulate the businesses that sold food, in particular that of bread.[4]Baltimore had a strictly regulated bread assize that ensured a fair profit to bakers, while ensuring that the poor would not be incapable of its purchase due to price. In another example, Rockman cites that in the harsh winter of 1805 wealthy citizens of Baltimore sent wagons into the countryside to be filled with wood, returned to the city, and distributed to the poor. Firewood was sold at the market price of five dollars per cord, yet due to it being one of the harshest winters; the wealthy understood it was their civic and religious duty to keep the less fortunate from freezing. The 21st century scholar could potentially view this as mere altruism or a veiled attempt at capitalists simply ensuring they’d have workers. Rockman dismisses these cynical ideas. He argues that a great many of wealthy citizens throughout the early Republic were concerned with the plight of those who could not realize the so-called American Dream. Men like Mathew Carey, Joseph Tuckerman, and others used philanthropic and religious rhetoric in a host of publications to highlight injustices created by the capitalist political economy of the United States of America, while simultaneously affecting the policy debate to ensure that the means to social uplift were available. There is a true lesson here.

For those concerned about economic social justice the realization that mankind has always sought to acquire wealth and power since the beginning of human civilization must be held as fact. In ancient times, three millennia before the birth of Christ, Plato wrote extensively about a great many of these issues in which we are compelled to grapple today. His Republic highlights issues of wealth and the access to political power it creates within a democratic system, regardless of its imperfections. Even within the democratic socialist republics of the recent Communist past, Milovan Djilas’ 1957 text The New Class and ideas espoused by Trotsky serve as evidence of socially-constructed inequality. Djilas and Trotsky realized that those with greater power and higher status within the Communist Party ate, lived, had their children educated at superior standards than their comrades who worked in the factories or farms of the nation. What those seeking economic social justice in the United States must comprehend is that critique is comparable to asking the wrong question, ripe with political cowardice, as to why; without the all more important and correct question being answered of what shall be done. Men are born equal, endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but almost instantaneously their positions on the social hierarchy of any and all nations make them either superior or inferior to others. Simply stated: men will forever remain unequal. What shall be done?

Rockman provides a method by which those of us concerned with economic social justice in an American political context can move closer to the goal of caring for the least of us, while protecting and ensuring the right of the most fortunate of us to acquire wealth within the capitalist political economy. The Moral Economy that is Social Democracy must be codified within the United States Constitution. The Conservative Christian must be reminded that he cannot serve two masters. He either prays to the alter of free market capitalism, while simultaneously creating myths that accuse his less fortunate brothers because they live on the brink of privation, or he truly embraces the politics of Jesus, takes the Gospel seriously[5], and creates a system by which social uplift becomes the responsibility of all Americans; the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, and atheist alike. For any American to merely scrap by is a reality detrimental to our supposed cherished principles of Republican government. Rockman reveals that in spite of the horrible reality that existed for millions of people in Baltimore, there is a true, American ideal founded in the early Republic, which seeks to improve the lives of its citizens. It therefore cannot be called ‘socialism’, ‘foreign’, or ‘un-American’, but merely a forgotten principle for the nation to remain intact.

[1] Rockman, Seth: Scraping By, pg. 158
[2] Ibid. 159
[3] Ibid p. 172
[4] Ibid p. 175

Preston H.A. Scott (aka Isma'il ibn Bilal)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making Modernity Work : The Reconciliation of Capitalism and Democracy - Gideon Rose

We are living, so we are told, through an ideological crisis. The United States is trapped in political deadlock and dysfunction, Europe is broke and breaking, authoritarian China is on the rise. Protesters take to the streets across the advanced industrial democracies; the high and mighty meet in Davos to search for “new models” as sober commentators ponder who and what will shape the future.

In historical perspective, however, the true narrative of the era is actually the reverse -- not ideological upheaval but stability. Today’s troubles are real enough, but they relate more to policies than to principles. The major battles about how to structure modern politics and economics were fought in the first half of the last century, and they ended with the emergence of the most successful system the world has ever seen.

Nine decades ago, in one of the first issues of this magazine, the political scientist Harold Laski noted that with “the mass of men” having come to political power, the challenge of modern demo­cratic government was providing enough “solid benefit” to ordinary citizens “to make its preservation a matter of urgency to themselves.” A generation and a half later, with the creation of the postwar order of mutually supporting liberal democracies with mixed economies, that challenge was being met, and as a result, more people in more places have lived longer, richer, freer lives than ever before. In ideological terms, at least, all the rest is commentary.

To commemorate Foreign Affairs’ 90th anniversary, we have thus decided to take readers on a magical history tour, tracing the evolution of the modern order as it played out in our pages. What follows is not a “greatest hits” collection of our most well-known or influential articles, nor is it a showcase for the most famous names to have appeared in the magazine. It is rather a package of 20 carefully culled selections from our archives, along with three new pieces, which collectively shed light on where the modern world has come from and where it is heading.


In the premodern era, political, economic, and social life was governed by a dense web of interlocking relationships inherited from the past and sanctified by religion. Limited personal freedom and material benefits existed alongside a mostly unquestioned social solidarity. Traditional local orders began to erode with the rise of capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the increasing prevalence and dominance of market relationships broke down existing hierarchies. The shift produced economic and social dynamism, an increase in material benefits and personal freedoms, and a decrease in communal feeling. As this process continued, the first modern political ideology, classical liberalism, emerged to celebrate and justify it.

Liberalism stressed the importance of the rule of law, limited government, and free commercial transactions. It highlighted the manifold rewards of moving to a world dominated by markets rather than traditional communities, a shift the economic historian Karl Polanyi would call “the great transformation.” But along with the gains came losses as well -- of a sense of place, of social and psychological stability, of traditional bulwarks against life’s vicissitudes.

Left to itself, capitalism produced long-term aggregate benefits along with great volatility and inequality. This combination resulted in what Polanyi called a “double movement,” a progressive expansion of both market society and reactions against it. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, therefore, liberalism was being challenged by reactionary nationalism and cosmopolitan socialism, with both the right and the left promising, in their own ways, relief from the turmoil and angst of modern life.

The catastrophic destruction of the Great War and the economic nightmare of the Great Depression brought the contradictions of modernity to a head, seemingly revealing the bankruptcy of the liberal order and the need for some other, better path. As democratic republics dithered and stumbled during the 1920s and 1930s, fascist and communist regimes seized control of their own destinies and appeared to offer compelling alternative models of modern political, economic, and social organization.

Over time, however, the problems with all these approaches became clear. Having discarded liberalism’s insistence on personal and political freedom, both fascism and communism quickly descended into organized barbarism. The vision of the future they offered, as George Orwell noted, was “a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.” Yet classical liberalism also proved unpalatable, since it contained no rationale for activist government and thus had no answer to an economic crisis that left vast swaths of society destitute and despairing.

Fascism flamed out in a second, even more destructive world war. Communism lost its appeal as its tyrannical nature revealed itself, then ultimately collapsed under its own weight as its nonmarket economic system could not generate sustained growth. And liberalism’s central principle of laissez faire was abandoned in the depths of the Depression.

What eventually emerged victorious from the wreckage was a hybrid system that combined political liberalism with a mixed economy. As the political scientist Sheri Berman has observed, “The postwar order represented something historically unusual: capitalism remained, but it was capitalism of a very different type from that which had existed before the war -- one tempered and limited by the power of the democratic state and often made subservient to the goals of social stability and solidarity, rather than the other way around.” Berman calls the mixture “social democracy.” Other scholars use other terms: Jan-Werner Müller prefers “Christian Democracy,” John Ruggie suggests “embedded liberalism,” Karl Dietrich Bracher talks of “democratic liberalism.” Francis Fukuyama wrote of “the end of History”; Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset saw it as “the end of ideology.” All refer to essentially the same thing. As Bell put it in 1960:

Few serious minds believe any longer that one can set down “blueprints” and through “social engineering” bring about a new utopia of social harmony. At the same time, the older “counter-beliefs” have lost their intellectual force as well. Few “classic” liberals insist that the State should play no role in the economy, and few serious conservatives, at least in England and on the Continent, believe that the Welfare State is “the road to serfdom.” In the Western world, therefore, there is today a rough consensus among intellectuals on political issues: the acceptance of a Welfare State; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism.

Reflecting the hangover of the interwar ideological binge, the system stressed not transcendence but compromise. It offered neither salvation nor utopia, only a framework within which citizens could pursue their personal betterment. It has never been as satisfying as the religions, sacred or secular, it replaced. And it remains a work in progress, requiring tinkering and modification as conditions and attitudes change. Yet its success has been manifest -- and reflecting that, its basic framework has remained remarkably intact.


The central question of modernity has been how to reconcile capitalism and mass democracy, and since the postwar order came up with a good answer, it has managed to weather all subsequent challenges. The upheavals of the late 1960s seemed poised to disrupt it. But despite what activists at the time thought, they had little to offer in terms of politics or economics, and so their lasting impact was on social life instead. This had the ironic effect of stabilizing the system rather than overturning it, helping it live up to its full potential by bringing previously subordinated or disenfranchised groups inside the castle walls. The neoliberal revolutionaries of the 1980s also had little luck, never managing to turn the clock back all that far.

All potential alternatives in the developing world, meanwhile, have proved to be either dead ends or temporary detours from the beaten path. The much-ballyhooed “rise of the rest” has involved not the discrediting of the postwar order of Western political economy but its reinforcement: the countries that have risen have done so by embracing global capitalism while keeping some of its destabilizing attributes in check, and have liberalized their polities and societies along the way (and will founder unless they continue to do so).

Although the structure still stands, however, it has seen better days. Poor management of public spending and fiscal policy has resulted in unsustainable levels of debt across the advanced industrial world, even as mature economies have found it difficult to generate dynamic growth and full employment in an ever more globalized environment. Lax regulation and oversight allowed reckless and predatory financial practices to drive leading economies to the brink of collapse. Economic inequality has increased as social mobility has declined. And a loss of broad-based social solidarity on both sides of the Atlantic has eroded public support for the active remedies needed to address these and other problems.

Renovating the structure will be a slow and difficult project, the cost and duration of which remain unclear, as do the contractors involved. Still, at root, this is not an ideological issue. The question is not what to do but how to do it -- how, under twenty-first-century conditions, to rise to the challenge Laski described, making the modern political economy provide enough solid benefit to the mass of men that they see its continuation as a matter of urgency to themselves.

The old and new articles that follow trace this story from the totalitarian challenge of the interwar years, through the crisis of liberalism and the emergence of the postwar order, to that order’s present difficulties and future prospects. Some of our authors are distinctly gloomy, and one need only glance at a newspaper to see why. But remembering the far greater obstacles that have been overcome in the past, optimism would seem the better long-term bet.