Category: Practice (Page 2 of 3)

The US Left: A Short Introduction

by Victor Wallis
October 2016

Is there a US Left? More specifically, is there a popular movement for socialism in the United States? And what chance does such a movement have for affecting national policy any time soon?

There have been several promising signs. The first was a national survey conducted in May 2012 which found that, among people under 30, there were slightly more who had a positive view of socialism than had a positive view of capitalism [1]. This is quite remarkable considering the endlessly negative evocations of socialism by politicians and the mass media. The second hopeful sign was the election to the Seattle City Council, in December 2013, of Kshama Sawant, representing a group called Socialist Alternative; she received an absolute majority against an incumbent Democrat [2]. Perhaps even more striking, she overcame a massively financed campaign against her to win reelection in 2015. Third, of course, is the popularity of the presidential campaign of “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders. Although Sanders’ conception of socialism corresponds to 1930s policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a Democrat), his acceptance of the socialist label removes a stigma that had long been attached to it as a result of the ideological repression that has plagued the US Left through much of its history [3].

Underlying this new openness to socialism is a broader public awareness, especially since the economic collapse of 2008, that capitalism is incapable of satisfying the basic needs of the majority. This awareness is indirect but unambiguous. It is manifested in overwhelmingly hostile attitudes toward politicians and, more importantly, toward big corporations. These attitudes became sharply visible during the Occupy movement of 2011. More recent expressions have included nationwide demonstrations and strikes by low-wage workers against fast-food companies and against the mega-store Wal-Mart.

Still, there is an enormous gap between these developments and the emergence of a solid and coherent national political force with a capacity to grow. To understand this gap – and why it has been so persistent – we must return to a question that has been posed about the United States for more than a century: Why is the US so difficult for the Left? Deep structural factors are at work, and we need to take these into account before returning to the question of what can now be done.

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The Back of Atlas: How restructuring the American military can revitalize American cities and create middle-class jobs

By: Mercer May

The professionalization of public policy has led to an era in which experts rule the field – each individual seeking to stake out their own niche and claim ownership over it. Because of this, in depth analysis of specific topics is rampant. Policy prescriptions carry down to the tiniest of details.  While in some cases this may be viewed as a positive, it has also led to the dangerous norm of viewing policy in isolation and not as an interconnected, holistic practice.

For far too long now, experts have been attempting to solve public policy questions as though they exist in a vacuum. This article plans to serve as a template to how we can approach public policy as an interconnected ecosystem, looking from one area to the next for positive changes that will effect a plethora of other areas. In this case, how a revamping of the military in America could solve a myriad of issues, including the economy, our declining cities, and national security.

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Georgetown and Slavery: Catholic Redemption in Contemporary Political Time

By: Justin R. Harbour, ALM

Georgetown University is currently engaged in an attempt to research, understand, and repair its role in the perpetuation of slavery in 19th century America. Georgetown University is not the first American university to undertake such an uncomfortable and disheartening reflection. Some of these institutions preceding Georgetown, Harvard and Brown University included, arrived at such a reflective moment through a natural desire to confront their relationship to this most sordid institution of American history. Others have been delivered to this moment through student demands (Yale, Princeton, and Oxford, for example). Georgetown’s deliverance is more of the former than the latter. As MIT historian of slavery Craig Steven Wilder recently observed to the New York Times, Georgetown’s attempt at reconciliation “recognize[s] the humanity of the problem they’re dealing with, [and are treating] it as more than a public relations problem.”  Yet the fact that Georgetown has gone further than any of its peers with respect to research and suggestions for repairs should not be surprising. In the foregoing I will argue that Georgetown’s reconciliation with its relationship to slavery today is the result of a historical development of Catholic Jesuits at a unique place in historical time that makes their contemporary institutions of higher learning an obvious and predictable introspective exemplar amongst its secular peers, and one that should be celebrated.

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Antithesis in Federalist Number One

By: Nicholas Napolio

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Number One” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”16″]It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.[/perfectpullquote]

This is how Alexander Hamilton poses the great question of what kind of government is best to the people of the newly formed United States.  Federalist Number One, the first of eighty-five essays written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, is the introductory essay in which Hamilton frames the debate surrounding the ratification of a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, which the nation saw as ineffective.  Hamilton frames the debate in favor of ratification and introduces several ideas important to ensure the prosperity of the United States—ideas that are still discussed and debated today, such as federalism, individual liberty, and the separation of powers.  Much contemporary commentary on The Federalist Papers analyzes the authors’ political theories, critiques the ideas they present, or seeks to apply their ideas to current issues. Fewer commentators analyze the ways in which the authors’ ideas are presented and of their rhetorical strategies, which is the focus of this article. The Federalist Papers will be seen here less as a work of doctrinal political theory, and primarily as a rhetorician’s political attempt to persuade its contemporaneous readers of the rightness of its cause.

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Perfidious Albion Shrugs

Howl of the Day: Jun 27, 2016

On June 23rd, Britons voted that the UK should leave the European Union. This is a momentous decision. But the lead up to it was more remarkable for a lack of moment than it was for anything else.

There had been no preceding crisis, economic or otherwise. There was no great fury of campaigning between the respective sides; the leaders of the Tories and of Labour did not act as if their fates or those of their parties were on the line. Even the vote itself was hardly overwhelming in its proportions – 51.9% voted to leave and 48.1% voted to remain. The future of the EU, a massive institutional undertaking that has dominated European political life, in one form or another, since the end of World War II, might have been decided by this less than 4% of the 70% of eligible voters in Britain that actually went out to the polls. That is about 0.15% of the population of Europe. That is the number it took to shake the great edifice, and it did not even require much effort from them.

On the day following the vote, it almost seemed as if Britons and the rest of the world had woken up to an unanticipated outcome, and one with absolutely unclear consequences. Britain had shrugged the day before, as the result of an almost latent and unconscious national instinct, a political instinct, and the world had been sent reeling in its wake.

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What Fascism Is Not, What It Is, and Why It Matters

Howl of the Day: May 31, 2016

Fascism, as a term, has become almost synonymous with injustice. And this common view of fascism is a good place to begin understanding the phenomenon. Once the term is scrutinized just a bit, however, fascism becomes a more difficult thing to understand. This is despite the fact (and to certain extent, because of the fact) that the media is saturated with loud speeches and vivid images on the subject.

Fascism is so familiar to us as a shorthand for injustice that it is hard to see beyond that surface impression. But fascism cannot simply be the same as injustice. However objectionable it is, there are surely other political ills.

For example, the use of force to implement political policies is often referred to as fascistic. The same with political commonplaces, such as declarations of war and the existence of inequity. But force is employed in every type of regime, both good and bad, and inequities of some kind are ubiquitous. Without recourse to some standard of justice, there is no way to distinguish fascism from liberalism, or tyranny from democracy.

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Iceland as a Model for Popular Mobilization in a Post-2008 World

By: Hayden Eric Godfrey

Fellow Icelanders,

The task of the authorities over the coming days is clear: to make sure that chaos does not ensue if the Icelandic banks become to some extent non-operational. For this the authorities have many options and they will be used. Both in politics and elsewhere it will be important to sheathe our swords. It is very important that we display both calm and consideration during the difficult days ahead, that we do not lose courage and support each other as well as we can. Thus with Icelandic optimism, fortitude and solidarity as weapons, we will ride out the storm.  

God bless Iceland [1] Prime Minister Geir Haarde, 6 October 2008

The connection between political corruption and popular mobilization against a small cadre of rulers is a tale as old as the concept of government itself. From the French Revolution of 1789, in which mobs of starving peasants took to the streets in a revolt against the ancient political order that took the blame for their destitution, to the age of extremist politics that emerged out of the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s in Europe, this relationship rears its head in frequently dramatic fashions that reorient the power dynamics within society. In recent times, however, this revolutionary spirit has been absent in the majority Western societies, in which oligarchic domination of the political systems has created paradigmatic complacency in regard to a corrupted, broken status quo within their political economies.

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Israel in Europe: How Extreme Voices Come to Dominate the Conversation

By: Joshua Goodman

It was a vivid and shocking image: American musician Matisyahu performing on the main stage of a 2015 festival in Spain, the very one that disinvited him just a week prior for refusing to condemn Israeli war crimes, with 20 or so Palestinian flags staring right back at him. The intent was to intimidate; the message was one of hatred.

The treatment of Israel, its supporters, and Jews overall in the political realm can conjure similar imagery. From the virulent attacks against the existence of the Jewish State – contentions that extend well beyond the pale of acceptable criticism – to the outright bigotry towards the Jews. The recent revelations of at least 50 suspensions within the British Labour party, long the political home for many within the Jewish communities of the UK, underscores the prevalence and mainstream nature of the problem.

The Jewish experience in Europe can accordingly be perceived as grave. Speaking after the incident at the festival in Spain, Matisyahu said that he “never had the experience of anything like that, as a Jew or anything in my life.” Indeed, Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee decried the “bigotry and bias” inherently found in the initial boycott and subsequent protest. Others went further, calling the incident a harsh reminder of the endemic anti-Semitism within European society. It is difficult to dismiss the claim off hand. The challenge against Matisyahu, an artist who professes to not take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was grounded in one fact: he is Jewish.

It is also not an isolated incident of “bigotry” or “bias” within the music industry, whether the mainstream or more niche sectors. There are countless examples, from former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters’ vocal support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to British electronic duo Orbital including a graphic of a missile fluidly morphing into the Star of David on the screen behind. It is a troubling picture overall.

Yet one can also point to myriad counter-examples that tell a different story, one of inclusion and acceptance. Israeli-French singer/songwriter Yael Naim, most famous for the song “New Soul” and its use in a MacBook ad, has enjoyed widespread success in Europe. Within the more niche electronic music scene, Israeli-born and Berlin-based Moscoman has a residency at the hugely popular club, Salon zur wilden Renate, and his music is played (and revered) widely by others in the industry. In a world where anti-Semitic discrimination is so pervasive within society, surely such achievements would be more sparing, if not impossible.

An analogous paradigm exists when one examines the perceptions of Israel within the European political establishment. A perception of bias is routinely evident: whether it be the EU’s voting record at the United Nations or its inability to critique the Palestinians in European Council conclusions without also levying blame on Israel. It is undeniable that within the overall development of the anti-Israel bias in Europe, anti-Semitic voices and opinions play a role in its construction.

But to use anti-Semitism as a blanket characterisation of political motivation ignores countless examples to the contrary. Trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel continues to grow, with the latter now participating in the former’s Horizon 2020 initiative. During the 2014 Gaza war, the EU’s common position was, for the most part, supportive of Israeli actions against Hamas – waning only as the Palestinian death toll rose significantly. Political leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speak out forcefully against BDS. Again, if anti-Semitism were so endemic, such accomplishments and integration would seem unlikely.

So how does one explain the often-tolerated presence and occasional prominence of the vitriol and overt prejudice that contributes to that overall anti-Israel bias in Europe? The suggestion of a predominant, nascent anti-Semitism within Europe is impossible to quantify or prove with any degree of clarity. It doesn’t deny its existence: there are certainly individuals within all strands of the European political establishment whose criticism of Israel is rooted in hatred. But I would contend that while anti-Semitism is clear and present, and while the mainstream’s opposition to the growing prevalence of these hateful sentiments is often muted, there are reasons to believe that these voices are not reflective of Europe as a whole.

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Ulysses S. Grant, Trump, and Fascism

Howl of the Day: May 10, 2016

On December 17th, 1862, Ulysses S. Grant, then a Major-General in the Union Army, ordered the expulsion of all Jews in the military district under his authority. The now infamous General Order No. 11, very quickly became controversial. Jewish groups and others protested it, Grant’s own staff in the military objected to it (noting, amongst other things, that there were Jews serving in their own ranks), Congress raised a stink, the press had a field day at Grant’s expense, and President Lincoln insisted that the order be revoked.

Fast-forward about 150 years into the future, and we see Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, vowing to create a “deportation force” to round up and expel illegal immigrants from the United States and musing aloud as to whether a database should be created to track Americans of the Muslim faith. There is a school of thought which holds that Trump’s plans are not so different from Grant’s General Order No. 11. The horrified response from the press, political establishment, and many public interest groups, is certainly analogous to what followed in the earlier case.

Comparing Trump to Grant is an instructive exercise.

On an optimistic note, Grant’s example offers some reason to hope that a President Trump, should he be elected, may not be as bigoted as Candidate Trump has been.

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Sullivan, Trump, and Tyranny in America

Howl of the Day: May 3, 2016

Veteran political commentator and online media all-star, Andrew Sullivan, emerged from semi-retirement yesterday, firing broadsides. In an article for New York Magazine, Sullivan mounted an impassioned defense of elitism in America, arguing that the ever-greater democratization of American society and politics has made the nation ripe for tyranny.

Beginning with a reading of Plato and culminating in an assault on Trump, Sullivan warns against the rise of populist anti-establishment politics. To him, Trump is a demagogue, a tyrant-in-waiting of the type that Plato identified as particularly likely to emerge in excessively democratic regimes.

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