Waiting for conservatives to take capitalism and personal responsibility seriously – fracking edition

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Photo by Tim Evanson. https://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/9287130523/

Today we get a report from Reuters on new research from Oklahoma that the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling into underground wells is likely linked to earthquakes in that state.

Hey, conservatives, listen up.

You often claim to oppose socialism. But this is a kind of socialism – the BAD kind. The oil and gas companies get their profits, while outsourcing a huge cost – earthquakes – to the people of Oklahoma.

And you often claim to support capitalism. This is not capitalism, and it’s not good economics. Capitalism requires that you are responsible for the entire cost of your product. That’s the only way we can properly price a product. That’s the only way we get efficient markets. Etc., etc. Normally this is the kind of stuff conservative economists would tell you, but instead what we usually get from that crowd is opposition to “burdensome” government regulations. Well, sometimes, regulations are just designed to make sure costs are privatized, not socialized. We certainly need some sort of regulation in this case – or maybe just really, really expansive and expensive insurance policies.

Also normally, conservatives, you go on and on about personal responsibility. But where is the personal responsibility of these oil and gas drillers if they allow the costs of earthquakes to be spread to everyone else? This is a basic moral issue, and I don’t hear many conservatives jumping up and down about this one.

Either way, look, fracking is a bad idea for many reasons – water quality, air quality, methane leaks that increase global warming among them. And I have found this assessment to be shared by liberal and conservative people I know. So, opposing fracking and this kind of wastewater disposal shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for many people.

But when a multi-billion dollar industry gets it’s head wrapped around an idea – and then gets to freely use its billions to legally corrupt our democracy and influence our legislators – well, bad things ensue.

Bad for our democratic republic. Bad morally. Bad capitalism.

Elizabeth Warren for Senate Majority Leader, Not President

warrenI don’t have much interest in electing Democrats as such. I’m interested in electing progressives. But in our two-party-dominated system, you do the best you can. And in that light, I found this article by Eric Laursen to be hopeful. In it he describes how the Congressional Progressive Caucus – a group of left-leaning House and Senate Democrats – is beginning to change the conversation in Washington, D.C. Now, maybe the hope in this article is false hope. The change really isn’t significant yet, and Republicans representing the plutocrats and religious right remain thoroughly in charge.

But allowing myself to believe for a moment that there’s a chance of progressives having a real influence, let me reflect on the current possibilities for federal progressive leaders.

First, the presidency. I share the skepticism of many on the left about Hillary Clinton. I believe that she is far too indebted to wealthy interests to be counted on to reliably represent the other 99%. However, I do think she is perhaps the Democrats – and progressives – best choice for president, but only because I believe that she would put up Supreme Court nominees that are friendlier to progressive viewpoints than any Republican.

But how do we keep a President Clinton the Deuce from straying too far? By having a progressive Congress. I realize that might sound ludicrous after the Republican congressional victories last year, but according to some reports, it does not seem out of reach to win back a Democratic Senate in 2016. If that were to happen, then the battle could be on to get Elizabeth Warren elected majority leader, which would be quite a coup if successful. Outgoing minority leader Harry Reid has already admitted that his heir apparent, Chuck Schumer, needs Warren and Bernie Sanders to keep him on the progressive track. Why not just eliminate the middle man? As for harassing Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary, I think Sanders is the right person for that role.

Regarding the House, well, that might take longer to turn around. As has been pointed out, the future of the House is really up to whether Democrats can win back statehouses across the country and take charge of the redistricting process. (Incidentally, that process should be in the hands of independent commissions and not any political party.)

Yes, much of this amounts to a bunch of long shots. But I think progressives would benefit from thinking more about the long game of securing progressive legislatures and a progressive Congress, rather than thinking that a single president – even ones that come to office with a lot of hope – will turn things around all on her or his own.

Come on, progressives, it’s time to talk freedom!

Image by HARRIS.news on Wikimedia Commons

We have had four presidential announcements now – three Republican (Paul, Cruz, Rubio) and one Democratic (Clinton).

Of the three Republican announcements, the word “freedom” rings out twelve times. You hear “liberty” 26 times.

How many times do you hear the words freedom and liberty in Clinton’s announcement? Zero, zilch, nada.


As I’ve written before, come on, progressives, we have got to own the concept of freedom!

Freedom and liberty are THE central animating ideas of America. Yes, the concept of equality matters, too. But what is it people want equality of? Freedom!

We cannot keep ceding the ground of freedom and liberty to the right. That’s partly for rhetorical reasons. Many Americans define themselves by their love of freedom and liberty. We’re foolish not to talk those people in terms they understand. But we also have to claim that ground because progressive morals, attitudes, and policies actually DELIVER more freedom and liberty.

Why do we want expanded and guaranteed voting rights? Because in a democratic republic, people should be as free as possible to have the opportunity to choose their leaders.

Why do we want money out of elections? Because all people should be free to have their voices heard by their government, not just those of great wealth.

Why do we oppose discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and sexual orientation? Because we believe people should be free to live their lives and judged by their qualities and actions, not the accidents of their birth.

Why do we work to ensure that people have enough food, a quality education, affordable health care, and financial security? So that they can be free by having the resources and capabilities necessary to pursue their dreams and achieve their aims.

I could go on. The point is that we progressives have to frame our values and goals in terms of freedom and liberty. It’s sweet justice that, unlike conservatives, our framing also matches the reality of our beliefs.

Just sayin’ – Iowa caucuses edition

Let’s take it as a given that the United States is the world’s preeminent nation state and that the U.S. president matters a great deal to international affairs.

That said, there are three BILLION people in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore (where I live now) that likely don’t care what the three MILLION people in Iowa think will make a good president.

And for that matter, I don’t think I do, either. Well, not more so than any other group of Americans.

Let’s play the generational politics blame game – just for fun

As a good liberal, I prefer to see people as individuals rather than groups. I like to judge people by the content of the character and their actions, rather than characteristics they were simply born into.

But let me take a moment and play the generational blame game in politics. This is going to sound a bit harsh, I suppose. But indulge me – just for fun.

See, I’m 45, so I’ve been labeled “Gen X” for my entire adult life, and my generation has been accused of being a bunch of listless, lazy, directionless, aloof, disconnected slackers – especially when it came to politics. And who was saying those things? Baby boomers, for the most part. After all, they were the ones writing the stories before we came of age. And we, as a group, could only seem dim compared to the energetic glow of the generation that preceded us, with all of its social consciousness, moral superiority, and whatnot.

But where did baby boomer politics get us? The rise of plutocratic right. The rise of the religious right. Inaction on global warming. A stagnating standard of living for the vast majority of Americans. The war in Iraq. A rightward drifting Democratic Party, especially on economic policy. The rise of the Tea Party. Bill Clinton. GEORGE W. BUSH.

No, really, as a member of the much-derided Gen X, I can’t say thank you enough.

And now my generation is coming of political age. We’re starting to enter positions of leadership. But thanks to spending a childhood and early adulthood steeped in the right-wing resurgence, who are our leading lights? Paul Ryan. Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio. Yep, we’re changing things now.

And who are the leading national Gen X progressive political leaders?

<Sound of crickets.>

No, really, help me out here. Maybe I’m missing something.

So, again, thanks, baby boomers. We really appreciate helpful advice over the years and for leaving us in such great political shape. It’s almost enough to get me off the couch.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, where we forget generational politics and set about making the world a better place.

As ready as I’ll ever be for Hillary

As ready as I’m supposed to be for Hillary Clinton, I have to admit that I find it hard to trust her – at least on the issues I care about most when it comes to the presidency.

Let me be clear: I think she is one of the most qualified people to be president that the nation has seen in a long time. Certainly her long record of public service in so many different roles will have given her the skills to be an effective president.

And that’s what worries me. What would she apply that effectiveness to achieve?

For many progressives, the vital distinguishing feature in 2008 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was her vote in favor of war with Iraq. Obama proved to be the more prescient and principled in criticizing the rush to war, and that counted for a lot. Times have changed as the decade-plus of wars have dragged out, so maybe she would make different decisions now. But seeing as we always have Republicans clamoring for war somewhere all the time, I worry if she would push back well enough. While I oppose how Barack Obama has used our military across the globe – especially the drone war – at least he has resisted the calls to bomb Iran. More of that kind of resistance would be welcome.

Also, I have virtually no confidence that she’s willing to stand up to wealthy interests. She – and Bill, for that matter – have a long history of cozying up to wealth. It’s a central concern of mine that we find more effective and comprehensive ways to guarantee that everyone gets the necessities of life – food, shelter, education, medical care, etc. While the arc of history has bent this way (most recently with the Affordable Care Act), it’s always a hard slog. It’s that much sloggier when our leaders seem to buy into what I see as one of the central myths of our time: just take care of the wealthy and powerful, and they’ll take care of you. I’m not sure she would be a “champion”, so much as a go-between.

Of course, Hillary Clinton is likely to be far better than any candidate the Republicans would put forward on these issues. And in voicing these concerns, I fully realize that I mark myself as part of the left wing that Clinton seemingly has no need to please.

So where does that leave me right now, a ridiculously long way from the actual election? Would I or would I not vote for her?

Yes, probably – but not mainly because of her or her policies. Mostly I would want to make sure we get the kind of Supreme Court nominees that would come from a Democratic administration rather than a Republican one. A sad state of affairs indeed.

As always, having nothing but bad choices always makes me yearn for a different electoral system that would  make other voices competitive. Under a different system, she might win the Democratic nomination – and general election – regardless. But at least she’d be forced to confront a more credible threat to the seeming inevitability of her victories.

Gimme more of that big one world government

I do my level best to ignore Rand Paul, but since he’s now running for president, we have seemingly endless coverage. So, we get this piece in the Washington Post that concludes at one point:

The Paul political brand is not personality-based. It’s all about the ideas. And the key idea is that liberty cannot easily coexist with big government.

If this is an accurate presentation of his thought – and I’m guessing it’s pretty close given his libertarian background – it is utter crap. In fact, in the modern world, big government is the best friend liberty has.

There are two kinds of liberty. One is the right to be left alone – the right to use your own moral judgment and do as you see fit. The limit on this kind of liberty is that you can’t harm others while exercising your liberty. This is liberty in the classical sense, and it’s all well and good.

But there’s a second kind of liberty. It’s the liberty that comes from having the resources and capacities to achieve your aims. It’s the liberty that comes from having enough food and water, decent housing, a quality education, needed medical care, and financial security. One interesting thing about this second kind of liberty is that it can be measured – in dollars. The fewer dollars you have, the less of this freedom you can purchase. If you’re a billionaire, you’re very free indeed.

We live, in part, in a capitalist society. We allow markets to play a significant role in how our lives are organized. And it is a fact of markets that they tend toward concentrations of money. The few – be it individual billionaires or corporations (which are really just fronts for billionaires) – end up with most of the dollars, and therefore have most of the liberty.

And that’s where big government comes in.

As a society in the U.S., we have precious few tools to push back against concentrated money and ensure that its liberty does not unfairly impinge on everyone else’s liberty – that big money’s relatively enormous resources and capacities to not tread on the rest of us.

Unions are one such tool, but for many reasons, they have declined in significance. Really the only one left standing is democratic government. And to push back against big money, you need a big government. Local governments are helpless. How many towns have been destroyed by the departure of the community’s major employer? State governments aren’t in a much better position. How often have we heard the feuding between state governments as they grow desperate to lure big economic actors to relocate? No, only the federal government – the biggest government of all in the U.S. – has enough resources – has enough raw power – to go toe-to-toe with the biggest concentrations of money and preserve our liberty by ensuring that all of us get enough resources to live as free and autonomous human beings.

But even the federal government might not be enough. I would argue that we need to make an even bigger big government. We need to create real and powerful liberal republican international institutions that answer to the People. Some right-wingers like to wring their hands about a coming One World Government and lament the existence of the United Nations. Little do they realize that One World Government is already upon them, but it’s all tilted toward protecting the liberty of concentrated wealth. Through an increasing number of one-sided trade deals, big money is gaining the right to exercise its liberty across the globe, but without the hassle of countervailing democratic institutions. There is no Congress of the World with any real power to push back against globe-striding economic actors who would use their freedom at the expense of ours. The United Nations doesn’t have these kind of teeth.

Most certainly liberty and government – and even big government – can coexist. In fact, if the majority of us want to remain free, we have to ignore people like Rand Paul and take an active role in ensuring that our government works to preserve our liberty.