Friday, September 28, 2007

The Time for Radical Change is NOW

I want to make a frank admission today: I'm beginning to lose faith in the power of political change. I'm beginning to lose faith in the power of activism. I don't feel like blogging, or supporting candidates, or uncovering the latest Republican scandal (though there seems to be a new one every day.) Attempting to shame the media once again into reporting some real news with regard for the actual truth, instead of serving yet again as a corporate infotainment venue, seems a notion so futile at this point it's almost quaint. I certainly don't see why I should bang my head against a wall hounding some braindead Democratic politician to support the most obvious, politically popular and strategically astute pieces of legislation.

I'm losing faith because the timelines even of progressive bloggers are too damn slow to make a difference. I'm losing faith because the minor changes being proposed to the way we do business as a nation are going to be utterly overpowered by the radical changes that will be forced upon us by external necessity. The time for demanding radical change, in short, is now--or there's little point in being politically engaged.

The principal reason for this goes to the very heart of why we have a government. The government exists for the purpose of long-term planning: primarily to protect its people from the byproducts of their own shortsighted ignorance, greed and stupidity, and to provide services that the people could never provide of their own accord without the benefit of long-term planning. Left alone and unregulated, the "free market" will accrue wealth and influence among the very few, whose shortsighted greed eventually causes a democratic system to collapse into oligarchy and tyranny--just as surely as the lack of an urban police force will cause the rise to power of criminal gangs and mafias. Without the influence reality-based, far-sighted thinkers, society is doomed to lurch from crisis to crisis, and entire civilizations to the cyclical rise and collapse that seems depressingly endemic to the human condition.

Today, any intelligent attempt at long-term planning for America and the world literally cries out for radical change. By any objective measure, the time for drastically changing the way we do business in this country is already well past due--and the gulf between what is seen as politically feasible, and what we need to do to save our skins, is simply enormous. Let's look at the issues, shall we?

The Climate Crisis

With every new emerging report, our deadline for acting to mitigate the climate crisis draws shorter and shorter--and the effects of failure to act become more and more severe. With every new report, the predictions of temperature increases and ice melts predicted for years or even decades from now are proving to be happening already. The latest report, published in the British paper The Independent (h/t to dkos diarist Barcelona for bringing this to our attention yesterday), put it in starkest terms yet:
A rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperatures – the point considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change which will expose millions to drought, hunger and flooding – is now "very unlikely" to be avoided, the world's leading climate scientists said yesterday...

Two years ago, an authoritative study predicted there could be as little as 10 years before this "tipping point" for global warming was reached ...

"Even if we achieve a cap at two degrees, there is a stock of major impacts out there already and that means adaptation. You cannot mitigate your way out of this problem... The choice (now)is between a damaged world or a future with a severely damaged world."

It's not just that the climate is changing increasingly for the worse: the rate of detrimental change is rapidly increasing. Even if we made major legislative changes today, it is unclear just how much effect we would be able to have on the problem by the time those changes in the law resulted in changes to corporate and popular behavior.

Certainly, if we wait until the expiry of George Bush's term in office, the effect will be that much more muted, and the problem that much more severe. If we wait over a decade until we have courageous progressives in office (and presuming that cyclical political winds haven't shifted back in conservative directions by then), the train will have already left the station with no hope of recall. And none of this even gets into the problem that controlling our own behavior is only the first step: putting pressure on China and other nations in Asia to do their part is also necessary to deal with the crisis--something that can only be done once we have the credibility and moral high ground on the issue to make any demands.

Meanwhile, our Democrats can't even put increased CAFE standards or a decent feebate system into their latest energy bill. Unbelievable.

The Economy

The Republican Party has so screwed over the American People that it is difficult to know where to begin, or even what measures to take in attempting to mitigate the problem. The upward redistribution of wealth in the United States has occurred at such a rapid pace over the last 25 years that it is genuinely surprising that there is a middle class left. Certainly, Bill Clinton was no economic saint, as he did less than nothing to stem the collapse of the American manufacturing sector or to close the increasing gap between rich and poor. Even so, he left us with a balanced budget and huge economic surpluses--in spite of the landmines and booby traps left for him by the Republican Congress.

Meanwhile, the economic surpluses and strengthened middle class left to us by Bill Clinton have been transformed by Reverse Midas Bush into massive deficits, a huge national debt, and an American Dollar now being sunk into an inflationary spiral in a vain attempt to mitigate the housing and liquidity crisis caused by (surprise!) a shortsighted and greedy lending, banking and finance industry. Not, of course, that America has an exporting sector left to take advantage of a weak Dollar. And, of course, the Republican Party, aided and abetted by spineless Democrats, have ensured that declaring bankruptcy is now next to impossible.

The only real economy left now is that of the Plutonomy: as long as the rich spend money like water and the American middle class goes deeper and deeper into debt, the GDP continues to hum along nicely even as the system itself hollows out like a rotted tree. As I stated in my post The Economy of the Rich, by the Rich and For the Rich, all the industries that cater to the wealthy are performing beautifully, even as the rest of us take the dregs of what they provide and struggle (usually underemployed) in recessionary conditions. It was difficult to know whether to laugh or the cry as I watched CNBC yesterday, and the commentators were expressing shock that rising energy prices didn't seem to be having a dampening effect on economic growth: the idiots who currently run the system don't seem to understand the economics of a Plutonomy--if only the rich are driving economic growth, little things like rising energy costs that don't affect them, won't affect economic growth.

What is required to even attempt to fix this situation is a far-sighted plan to reward work instead of wealth, to reverse the trend of income inequality, and to invest in the sorts of biological and energy technology fields that will provide the good jobs of the future.

Obama and Edwards have each come out with some good-looking plans to accomplish some of these things. The problem (beyond the fact that neither of them, unfortunately, looks set to win the Democratic nomination) is that by the time they take office and fight to pass some of these programs through Congress, it will already be late 2009 or 2010: far too late to undo the damage occurring to the American Economy at incraesingly rapid pace.

The War

It is obviously important to stand and fight to end the Occupation of Iraq as soon as possible. And yet, while the Senate and the President bicker over just how many American troops stay in Iraq and for how long, the bigger and much more important picture is going completely unaddressed. While progressives fight to end this war/occuaption, we are leaving ourselves completely vulnerable to going into the next war on the slightest pretext or excuse.

Progressives are failing to address how we got dragged into Iraq in the first place. Anyone who has read American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips and Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson knows that we are in Iraq for two reasons: 1) to protect oil resources, and 2) to help perpetuate the military-industrial complex.

As long as America continues to be hopelessly dependent on oil, and as long as America continues to increase the amount of money and the size of its economy dependent on warmaking (the film Why We Fight is a must-see on this topic), America will continue to wage oil wars overseas. It might be Iraq today, but it will be Iran tomorrow. Or maybe Venezuela. Or maybe a Caspian nation. Or perhaps an oil-rich nation in Africa. Heck, maybe even China a decade from now.

Until and unless we make the major structural changes and bold moves necessary to decrease military spending, create an Apollo Program for new energy, and devolve the military-industrial complex, Iraq will be just one in a long series of expensive and crippling oil wars that bring our nation to its knees just as surely as the overreaches of the Roman and British Empires destroyed their ability to thrive and function.

And yet, as things stand politically today, the popular move of withdrawing forces from Iraq is seen as too radical a goal to achieve, while reducing military spending is seen as political suicide. If that is truly the case, then there is little point in political advocacy on foreign policy: by the time we wait the decade or two we need for real progressive leadership, Americans will already have endured two or three more destructive oil wars. By then, it will be too late.


In short, the stepping-stone changes we as progressives are attempting to make in American politics are too little, too late. We don't have five, ten, twenty years to do something about global warming, about the hollow economy, about the oil-military-industrial complex.

The time for demanding radical change and serious guts from our politicians is now. Small-scale gains and trading out Republicans for Democrats on a case-by-case basis, election by election, isn't even close to enough. We need major, serious change--and quickly. We need the current crop of Democrats to stand up and fight; we can't wait another ten years.

Otherwise, the long-term planning required of government will be superfluous: the painful changes that are demanded of us now, will be forced upon us tomorrow or else we, as a democratic nation, will fall into the dustbin of history. Either way, it won't be pretty.

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Blogger Nils said...

Climate Change is already at our doorstep. We can't stop it anymore, we can only try not to accelerate it any further. We must understand what this means: That our way of life is over, and that we must find a new one. Most people on this planet will have to grow different crops, use different power sources, lead different lives than they used to. The changing climate will make us do so even if we don't want it.

We should better try to adapt to the changing climates all over this planet ASAP, and try to reduce CO2 emissions as best as we can in order to buy some more time to adapt.

7:59 AM  

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