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Left In Lowell » Liberal Philosophy

Left In Lowell

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July 17, 2012


by at 8:43 am.

Nothing brings out the community like a neighborhood disaster.

A backup of traffic, and a lot of sirens going by, got me to leave my TV (where I was actually keenly interested in one of the last new episodes of “The Closer”) to go see what was up. A neighbor pointed to the twilight sky, where a column of smoke was rising. Heart in my throat hoping it wasn’t some family’s house, or apartment, I headed down the street. Admittedly, I was not being an intrepid reporter, and didn’t take my smartphone with me for vid or photo or tweeting, but in a way, I was more a neighbor in this case than a blogger.

Hiking down Main St (Lincoln was seriously backed up both ways by rubbernecking and street cutoffs), I think every single neighbor was outside trying to make out what was going on. I gleamed some rumors and such from people I passed, but largely what I was told turned out to be actually correct according to the Sun. It was a commercial storage shed, not a residence, and that gave me some relief.

It was a pretty tough looking fire, where something inside there was burning pretty bad. Even once they seemed to have some control, the fire kept coming back, only to be doused again, and then back.

Our city’s finest did a great job protecting nearby property. At one point I saw a few adjacent tree limbs on fire, and given how dry our state is right now (if my lawn is any indication), that could have spelled disaster. Luckily no homes were in danger.

Over and over in my head, I thanked the stars I live in a state, and city, that believes in the Common Good, and not that we’re all on our own. Unlike some states and counties, we have striven not to gut our fire and police services, nor to force families to watch their homes burn to the ground with their pets inside for forgetting to pay a specific fee. Examples of why paying for our Common Good should not be voluntary or optional. Whether a $75 fee forgotten or not paid (or not affordable), or a corporation or very wealthy person paying zero dollars in taxes, it amounts to the same thing.

We’re all in this country together, and in many things, we’re better together than apart, and we should not punish the good people willing to donate to charity or service organizations, but consider it one’s duty as a citizen to pay into the pot so that we can all flourish. After all, a healthy society is actually better for even the most fortunate among us, in the end.

And above all, I’m grateful for the fact there are some brave people out there willing to put themselves in danger to help others. Grateful to the firefighters who are here to protect us, whether it’s a non-occupied commercial building, or a home where lives need saving. Thanks guys.

November 20, 2011

Liz Warren: Elvis? Obama?

by at 10:03 am.

Yesterday, I was talking with Corey Sciuto about the potential for the music industry to create pinnacle artists, like The Beatles or Elvis. The question hinged on the music moguls shattered hegemony of music consumers. That the intertubes had diffracted marketing and delivery of music, making the base wider of “the next big thing,” but the peak lower.

Over to politics, if you will.

November 15, 2011

Warren’s First Ad

by at 10:47 am.

Goal ThermometerAnother opportunity for you to see Elizabeth Warren, and another opportunity to donate to her campaign. Small donations are key to a campaign like Elizabeth’s because people power, all of us (the 99%) speaking in one voice can fight the “rigged game” as she put it in this first TV ad, despite the money and the power stacked against us. Please, go donate! Remember, my goal is $500 by December! Can we get to $100 by this weekend?

This is a “bio ad” - the usual introductory ad candidates put out there, but it also showcases two other things: Elizabeth’s heartfelt belief that we should be able, as a country, to provide a level playing field (also her words), and that contrary to the accusations in the silly Karl Rove ad still running on our airwaves, she’s actually quite down to earth and accessible.

(To give Brown some credit, he denounced ads from “all outside groups” - but then, there’s been ads from the League of Conservation Voters against him on TV as well - talking about his actual record, rather than a Scary Voice Lady telling lies and exaggerations about the Occupy movement and calling his likely opponent “radical” and “elitist,” mind you. If he doesn’t like people talking about his actual record, maybe he oughtn’t have voted the way he did…and Brown sure didn’t go out of his way to denounce Karl Rove and the American Crossroads group, specifically, did he?)

October 16, 2011

Occupation: To Be or Not To Be…Coopted

by at 1:58 pm.

I spent most of Friday during the day in Boston, at Dewey Square, taking in OccupyBoston. I brought all the donations I could scrounge up (for instance, my entire adult history in mothballed bed comforters and towels) and hoped to hang around and get some video interviews and stories I could tell. Instead I wound up volunteering for a web project they needed - I thought my time would be better spent utilizing my skills as a developer rather than working on Occupy content and publicity for a small, local blog.

I haven’t written much here on the Occupy movement in the last few weeks, though I’ve been more than keenly following it online. There are so many thoughts swirling around in my head that I’ve been paralyzed from writing an essay-length post about it, although if you follow my Twitter account, the Facebook page which features many of the tweets, or keep up with @leftinlowell on the left sidebar here, you’ll know that I’ve been a very active author about OccupyBoston and OWS in the 140-character arena.

I could write a lot (and may yet) about what I found at Dewey Square on Friday - the strong sense of community, amazing solidarity, the organic means of organizing they employ - but many others have written about that already and you can find reams of pixels devoted to covering the news and day to day life of Occupiers.

But this afternoon, I found the 140 character limit failing me, and as I said in a direct response to an inquiry, needed a full blog post to explain my feelings and thoughts, specifically regarding the pressures that the Occupy movement is and will face in the coming weeks and months. Via @BostonPhoenix, I found this short description (and full video) of a Harvard political panel hastily formed to facilitate a discussion of the Occupy movement, including visiting fellow Ed Rendell, former Governor of Pennsylvania.

A far greater percentage of the audience than of the panel had actually spent signiicant time at an Occupation — Williamson has spent time at #OccupyBoston — but that didn’t stop anyone from speculating or projecting.

Rendell is not alone — especially and not surprisingly among Democratic politicians — in wishing that some of the enthusiasm of Occupy would carry over to the ballot box. What Democratic politicians have been very slow to acknowledge is that many Occupiers are as sick of Democrats as they are with banks — and are not enthusiastic about the possibilities of a two-party system they see as being hopelessly corrupted by corporate campaign contributions.

As a thoroughly committed progressive electoral political activist, I have, and will continue to, volunteer my time to electing good candidates at all levels of government, turning out the vote, encouraging voter participation, and going to the polls myself. It’s the least I can do for my democracy. But as an electoral activist, one who also has some experience in movement politics (the anti-war Bush era) I want to caution the Occupation against giving in too much to the powerful forces that would love to squeeze out this amazing energy for their own use.

There are so many pieces of evidence I could use to back that up. The most obvious is to look at what happened to the Tea Party movement. Although I am in total opposition to just about everything the TP stands for, the movement at its inception was grassroots at its core, expressing anger at the status quo. (I don’t argue about the need for such anger, but the TP is, at least in its current incarnation, gravely wrong on who was to blame.) Even one of its founders, a conservative blogger, now repudiates what it’s become - a front group for the financial backers of the Republican party and its politicians.

Or look at the Obama 2008 campaign. The enthusiasm of young volunteers and voters was part of the reason he was propelled to such heights of popularity. They were fired up, ready to go. And when they got there…they got some of what they wanted, sure. At least a modicum of health care reform. A half-measures stimulus package for jobs that turned out to be only partly effective - because the downturn was steeper than anyone knew, and because a third or more of the stimulus was ineffective tax cuts instead of direct stimulus spending. He has had a weak stomach for the fight…the opposite of a firm, demanding executive branch leader that we so need…instead, “capitulating” and “pre-compromising” are the catchphrases that come to mind about Obama’s first term.

Obama also put Wall Street execs into his economic brain trust. Wall St certainly doesn’t love this president, but if you were looking for them to enact policies against greed and corruption, you were sorely disappointed…besides the Elizabeth Warren-driven Consumer Protection Agency, we extracted no price from the financiers - not jail time pursued where possible, nor reigning their excess in, or asking them to pay their fair share of their own ridiculous bailouts.

The last of which, along with prolonged unemployment woes, prompted the Occupation movement to begin with.

If I have any advice for the burgeoning Occupy movement - if I could make any appeal at all to them that would matter (and by them, I do mean us, since I will continue to do what I can to support it), it would be this: if you allow yourselves to be coopted and pressured to work on elections, driven by the necessarily short-term thinking of electoral activism, you will be distracted from your larger goal, and you will be disappointed, time and again.

There are a few reasons for this, some inevitable in any circumstance, like the fact that we cannot all agree, even with those we agree, 100% of the time. I eased out of the anti-war movement because of the 2006 campaign for Governor Deval Patrick, swept up in the enthusiasm of what he was trying to accomplish, and believing that I could be more effective as an electoral activist than trying to change the stubborn mind of the Bush administration on its war policies. Choose between bashing my head on a wall repeatedly, or use a hammer to break through? Give me that hammer!

And in some ways, in some campaigns, you can be more effective as an electoral activist; ask for, and receive, real and lasting change. I am largely proud of my Governor, and the work I did to elect him. He has been an effective economic leader to say the least, nevermind his progressive support for gay rights, and for most social programs (your mileage may vary). But even I have had my enthusiasm for his tenure brutally dampened at times, especially now, that he, who should be smart enough to know better, has been on the forefront of the impending legalization of casinos. I have been disappointed, even in the best of our leaders, enough to distract me from more far-reaching goals.

If I can be disappointed in someone like Deval Patrick, just imagine the disappointment around a second term of Obama.

You can’t take on everything. Neither individuals, nor movements, can afford to be divided in their efforts or their aims. And in the end, electing more and better leaders will not change the system. That system is so broken, electing a Patrick or a Warren or this or that individual is like a plank trying to hold back a tide. The system needs fundamental uprooting and replanting, and no amount of progressive electoral politics (save the entire corps of incumbents being ousted and replaced wholesale at once by a massive grassroots effort of small donors and volunteers) will truly address the core problem at hand.

Electoral politics is about fraying the cloth of the “system” at the edges; Occupation should be about reweaving the entire bolt.

I have some ideas to propose (well one overarching, giant idea, really) of how Occupy can do this, for once, and for all. It’s an uphill battle so massive, so stacked against us, so big of an effort that just to think it makes me shiver in fear and excitement. But it is the only inevitable conclusion I can come to when thinking about the future of our country and how to right all the wrongs. I am talking about a constitutional amendment to rescind corporate personhood and the ruling of the Supreme Court that money equals speech.

All of what is broken with our system is about money and influence in our politics. Global climate change cannot be addressed because of the massive amount of money being pumped into stopping the regulation, and reversal of, carbon dependence. Economic justice is being thwarted by financial contributions from banks and Wall Street, so that the concept of going back to Clinton-era taxes on the wealthy and capital gains (money making money, as opposed to work making money) is nigh impossible to argue. And so on, and so on, and so on. If in a democracy being elected depends on monetary support, and people with more money can support more heavily than the rest of the 99%, then who will ever listen to the 99%?

A constitutional amendment is a big hill to climb. It’s a long-term hill, it could take a decade. It could take more. The money arrayed against such an act would be astounding - if you think Wall Street spends money on politics now, wait until you try this out.

However, no amount of cash is going to convince the American people that the system is working as it is, or that Citizens United was a good idea, or that corporations should have rights as though they were people. If lasting change is what Occupy seeks, than the moment is now.

But whatever form, and eventual goal, this movement takes on (if indeed it does not peter out after we see the economy rebound after some new temporary economic bandaid that puts off the inevitable real crash that I feel is coming) it needs to think beyond 2012. Beyond 2014, or 2016. Beyond the cyclical electoral process.

If that means fighting the pressure from Democratic politicians to elect them, as well as ignoring the temptation to help enact near-term policy bandaids, then as a staunch Democrat, I say, so be it. What you lose in short term gain is far exceeded by the long term possibilities.

I can’t help thinking that much of our future is dependent on what this nascent movement called Occupation does next (but no pressure!). And, I would love to be able to say at the end of all of this, “Our Democracy is dead…long live our Democracy.”

October 6, 2011

Open Thread: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs Edition

by at 1:27 pm.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.


October 2, 2011

From Quirky, to Movement…

by at 10:56 am.

I’ve been following (mostly online) the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston protests since nearly the beginning. They got traction and coverage on blogs and Twitter long before the media was covering it - in fact, before the unprovoked pepper spray incidents that made the news, the only place to read about what was happening was online.

The media complained that they weren’t cohesive enough and there wasn’t news to cover. Well, that has quickly changed and evolved. For starters, there were some very bad decisions from the NYPD - both institutionally, and by some idiot individuals - which put the protests on the map for the media, and solidified the motivation of participants and supporters. What’s more, it seems the organic sort of organizing that has sprung up has - and I have to use the word evolved again - to meet the challenges of running a protest, dealing with the media, finding a set of demands to articulate why they are angry and not going to take it any more. OWS has spokespeople and media tents and a strong online presence - all while being relatively leadersless in the traditional sense.

In some ways, my personal cynicism alert flag is up. (Yeah, I know, I’m too young to be truly cynical…) I spent years organizing with the peace movement against the Iraq war, butting my head up against the sheer stubbornness of the Bush administration and, later, Obama’s. After all, GitMo is still open, the USA PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and is being used to spy on Americans without due process, we’re still in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan though with some troop drawdown, and Obama even unilaterally bombed, for right or wrong, Libya, without the consent of Congress.

The only satisfaction we got out of our fight was that most of the American public got on our side after a while. But it still reelected Bush and let itself be lied to about Kerry’s war record and ability to lead, and we never got a truly different kind of leader to replace him in 2008, either. Obama put Wall St executives in charge of the economy even after it was evident they were full of shit.

But there is something really interesting happening with Occupy[America]. For one thing, it’s just average citizens (not diehard liberals or extremely informed people like me) who are protesting. Photo after photo, interview after interview, this is very evident.

There are so many people in this country who have been foreclosed on, laid off, unable to move forward, that a segment of them, with nothing left to lose, are truly taking the fight to the streets. Since they have nothing left to lose - no middle class lifestyle, no prospects - they have a lot to fight for. I always said the worst part about being an anti-war protester is that most of our citizens, even when sympathetic (and the majority was by the time I left that movement) are busy with their lives, making their livings, feeding their families, going to soccer games, and being generally content that things aren’t that bad for them, personally. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s totally human, and what’s more, a legacy of the last century of American progress. We built the middle class. A country with a middle class able to make ends meet is a relatively politically stable country. It’s a good thing.

Which is why I think there is something different in the air.

Gradually, we’ve seen the erosion of the buying power and the salaries of the middle class. For so many decades before, our children did at least a little better than their parents. Then, since the Reagan era, we started to see the slide. We began to only tread water…then occasionally swallowed some. Then we began drowning, but we as a people were the last to see it happen.

Even in the 2008 economic meltdown, we failed to notice our lungs filling with something other than air.

This generation of young people really are the first who truly believe - nay, who know - they are not destined to do better than their parents. Unlike the spoiled kids of my generation (raised largely in the 80s and coming of age in the 90s), they see the coming tide sweeping over them and pulling them under the water before they even get a chance to begin. They are left behind. And they know that if they do nothing, it will only get worse. They have nothing left to lose.

They join every one of their older siblings, parents, grandparents who have lost a house, a job, a future, despite being of the generations born with more promise. For some of us older ones, we’ve experienced firsthand how it’s gonna be going forward if there are no changes. For the rest of us older ones, we are beginning to understand how fragile our position of comfort is. The OccupyWallSt movement presents this to us in bas-relief - the notion that the middle class is under siege and has been for quite some time.

The thing that is different from now from these previous movements is that the situation that has caused these long term problems is not going to be alleviated by last generation’s leaders. Obama is cut off at the knees to even patch a pathetic temporary band-aid (the jobs bill) on our economic slide by Republican intransigence. And even Obama’s half-measures would probably only prove to elongate the stagnation, not solve the underlying problem. We’re now seeing the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us reach the levels seen right before the 1929 crash. Eventually, this was going to get noticed by someone. By everyone.

Even the Tea Party movement, while misguided to the extreme, is an expression of this loss of power by the average person. Why did they catch fire? Despite being such a minority of even the Republican party? Because poor and middle class Republicans too are suffering in this economic climate, this class warfare on us by the super-wealthy. They just aren’t right on who to blame for this.

Most of America, on the other hand, already knows what and who is to blame. They already overwhelmingly want to see taxes raised back up on the uberwealthy. They know that Wall St needs taking down a peg or three, and that we need to go back to regulating our economic system so that the playing field becomes level again. They just need the energy to look up from their day to day struggles against the tide, to look up, and see that horizon again.

I don’t know where the Occupy movement is going to go. It seems to change and swell bigger by the day, though it could have an upper limit, I suppose. But if this truly is the moment where the American people reach the tipping point, if this is the straw that, finally, after 30 years of straws, breaks the camel’s back, then maybe we can make the changes without the economic crash that I have been foreseeing for years. That crash (which will make 2008 look like cakewalk) could still be coming. But if we organize enough in advance, if we can offer an alternative to the American people now, perhaps we will not lose a decade like they did in the Great Depression. After all, we have history to inform us how best to rebuild the American middle class and spread prosperity around to everyone.

So, occupy on! There may not be an immediate result, but it could offer a long term solution. Hats off to the most powerless among us.

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” - V

December 22, 2009

Perhaps, Signs of Optimism

by at 12:43 pm.

The news is reporting that MA home sales last month were up incredibly from last November, by a whopping 59% for single family homes. Of course, November 2008 was a terrible month for home sales, but that is still a very good trend. This is in addition to the encouraging, though fragile news that the state’s revenues are also on the rise, beyond previous gloomy projections.

The conservatives have attempted to label the stimulus efforts of the last year as more than fruitless - they state it has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. For instance, they constantly cite their favorite sets of numbers with regards to the Cash for Clunkers program - that each “clunker” cost far too much to be useful as a stimulus.

But here’s what I know. I know a family member of mine who works in the auto parts industry went from a dismal reduction in hours a year ago, to working full time again in the last few months. I know his company is now working on electric car technology, partly due to a bigger emphasis on green transportation and getting ourselves rid of “clunkers.” I know that my own brother proudly purchased his first home to take advantage of the first-time buyers program last summer, one more notch in the stabilization of home prices. He has a good steady job and was a perfect candidate for someone who just needed a little incentive take the plunge to being a home owner.

I also know that I myself have expanded my business as a direct result of stimulus money which is going to a program intending to help people gain the skills necessary to become more financially responsible. My business is doing so well I have less time for blogging. :)

I know there’s construction going on around the state and I know that the Hamilton Canal District’s Appleton artist live-work rentals had their groundbreaking and is keeping people employed for 18 months. I know that MA’s unemployment numbers are looking better every month, and I know that our schools have dodged a huge bullet when it comes to losing budget in the last year, thanks largely to the priorities of our Governor.

Maybe today’s just a glass half full day because my Christmas shopping is done and mostly wrapped and we’re headed for a three day weekend and I get to watch my excited nieces unwrap gifts, but I’m feeling that 2010 is definitely looking up, and I think that the policies enacted to deal with the Main Street worries, such as the stimulus bill and the incentive programs, did what they were supposed to do. Could they have been more efficient? Sure. For instance, we wasted a 1/3 of the stimulus in pointless tax breaks for special interests and big business. It’s well known* that you do not get back the same economic activity from tax cuts as you do direct spending.

But overall, I think we’re in better shape than we could have been, and averted a worse economic crisis. Now we need to fix what was broken, namely, the regulation of industries in which greed played and still plays such a powerful roll. We need to go back to having a firewall between lending activity and investing, among other things.

I’m not optimistic about health care reform (in that I think that the Senate bill subsides for Big Insurance are just going to become tomorrow’s boondoggle) but at least restricting the ability of insurers to deny you care for a preexisting condition or kicking you off care is a good step (we do that in MA by the way). We need fast action on carbon reduction, and though Copenhagen was a tough nut I hope people are not done fighting for it. If we can build these three pillars - economic reform, heath care reform, and environmental reform - we will have gone a long way towards transforming our country to thrive for the next 9 decades of this century.

* Known except to those who cannot let facts get in the way of their theory binkie called “trickle down.”

March 19, 2008

The Best In Us

by at 11:33 am.

I finally had a moment to watch Obama’s speech just now. No matter if you are white, or black, or brown, or any other hue; no matter if you are conservative, or liberal, or moderate; no matter who you are, you are doing yourself a disservice not to watch this speech. Written by Obama in an age where no politician ever seems to speak his own words without a cadre of speechwriters, taking, head on, the criticisms of both “sides” of the race debate, it is arguably one of the best speeches on race ever, and stands next to such historic moments as we hold these truths to be self-evident or I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, or give me liberty, or give me death! You may think that’s over hyped rhetoric. I only tell you to listen to it and then judge.

I quoted some of the most powerful paragraphs and thoughts from the speech (I’ve bolded a few telling phrases). Click on the link to read further. (more…)

May 2, 2007

A Must-Read On Trade

by at 11:15 am.

My husband just sent me this link, describing why free trade is not only morally wrong, but bad for America:

DM thinks we should not apply a different set of standards to exchanges involving international trade than we do to those that are purely domestic. I agree! What I think he overlooks is that in fact we do encumber domestic exchanges with a lot of restrictions, and in some cases even outright prohibitions. […] The point is that restrictions do exist in domestic exchanges as well. Individuals are never completely free to sign certain contracts.
The reasons that we routinely restrict and regulate domestic exchanges are manifold. Sometimes we do so to uphold deeply held norms and values (as with anti-slavery laws). Sometimes we want to redress bargaining imbalances (as with a lot of labor legislation). Sometimes we worry about informational shortcomings (as with health and safety standards). When we try to disassociate international trade from such concerns, we in fact create a double standard: it is not OK for me to displace American workers by employing child labor at home, but it becomes OK for me to do the same by employing child labor abroad.

Right on. That is just the perfect explanation of why fair but open trade, not free trade, is the correct course of action.

February 26, 2007

Rejecting NeoLiberal Economic Policy

by at 11:14 am.

At last. Someone who talks like a real populist and progressive. John Edwards has come out and unequivocally rejected neoliberalism (which mostly was a disguised corporatist conservatism).

John Edwards is doing something important. It’s so important that it’s eluded the attention of the political press. While pundits handicap the horserace and assess hairstyles, Edwards is quietly yet thoroughly rejecting the economic philosophy that’s dominated the Democratic Party for the last fifteen years.

More important, he’s rejecting it in favor of a bold progressive populism, the likes of which haven’t been advanced by a serious contender for the White House in a long time. Ezra Klein in Raising the Bar in the latest American Prospect, a publication not prone to hyperbole, says Edwards is “the most populist presidential candidate we’ve seen in many decades.”

So what is neoliberalism? It’s the Democratic Leadership Council’s fevered brainchild of the 90’s, a sort of if-you-build-it-everyone-wins attitude on trade. Its favored phrase? “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Of course, the end result of so-called “free” trade is that without restrictions on overseas corporate conduct, there’s no rising tide. And for our pains, we lose American jobs in waves that has come to include even high-paying white collar jobs like computer programming.

The fact remains that it is in the multinational corporations’ best interest to keep the people in their cheap-labor countries from ever lifting their own boats. This same principle is the reason for the 19th century’s great muckrakers decrying the terrible conditions of the American worker. This is the reason we have US laws against dumping heavy metals into rivers; why we have child labor laws; and safety laws to prevent death and maiming of our workforce. It is the reason for minimum wage. When we export our jobs to other countries, should we not export our hard-fought American work values with it? Why should we be privileged to have protections while allowing these amoral corporations to commit human rights violations elsewhere? If you want to really know why we can’t compete with China or Indonesia, it’s because we let our corporations do terrible things in the name of chasing a dollar.

It’s an idea that has inevitably failed. It didn’t lift the boats of Mexican workers; instead, we have a worsening situation of poverty and lack of opportunity there evidenced by the increasing stream of illegal immigrants. It has not equalized the poor countries with the rich. It has only impoverished our own citizens. It’s time to move to a sane and fair trade policy. Our middle class - and the future middle class of emerging nations - will thank us for it.

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