politics is to want something

tirsdag, januar 24, 2006

too bad it's conservative...

...because the title is absolutely wonderful. A rightous and rightfully sniggering voice for Santa Barbara conservatism has emerged with the new blog "hippie-free Santa Barbara". I have my own uncomfortable relationship with SB hippies and certain parts of the environmental community here in Santa Barbara. However, I'd rather deal with them than Republicans, even with the occasional short-term thinking and not-so-occasional below the surface racism. At any rate, it will be nice to check up on what the handful of actual Republicans in this town think, in addition to the pseudo-Republicans who wield so much power in our fair city.

Also, the author seems to be afraid of political repression at the hands of said hippie establishment. Like blogabarbara's honchos, he's hiding behind a psuedonymn. Poor Republicans. So beaten down.

mandag, januar 23, 2006

actually, they are gone because you killed them all

This is the strangest thing I have seen in a long, long time. The business section of today’s Los Angeles times included a unsigned, cryptic 2/3 page announcement/ advertisement that I just can’t get my head around. The ad, as well as the short faux-news broadcast clip that appears on the associated website, assert that California bears, including the symbols on our flag, are leaving the state because of “high taxes, and high business costs.” Yes, that’s right, some PR hack for the business forces who failed in this years special election has started an ad campaign stating that bears (as well as our famous cheese-producing happy cows) are leaving the state because of the lack of progress on worker’s comp reform. Check it out. I didn’t make this up.

torsdag, januar 19, 2006

the ralph nader of mexico

Chile’s historic election, in which the center-left coalition led by Salvador Allende’s Socialist Party retained power is another step forward in a progressive sweep throughout Latin America. While the Che Guevara set tend to focus on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, a former military coup leader turned “socialist”, and the populist but exciting Evo Morales in Bolivia, my interest is pulled toward the left governments in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Michelle Bachelet’s victory, becoming Chile’s first female President, is a tremendously exciting prospect for the region. Together, the reemergence of social democracy in the Southern Cone and the “Bolivarian revolution” are a resounding rejection of the neoliberal project in our hemisphere. However, the frustrating constraints of the global economy, as well as the strength of a fickle and skittish middle class mean that the way forward will be tricky.
Next up is Mexico, where a general election is set for July 2nd. The three way race between the oligarchical and populist PRI, the conservative-reformist PAN and the social democratic and labor-backed PRD will be closely watched. Just as Brazil’s Lula has been assailed from his left flank, PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has become a target of the Zapatista movement, which has launched a nation-wide tour meant to influence national debate. I’m all for this brilliant example of political theater, and the Zapatistas have long shown an ability to highlight the perspectives and needs of populations long marginalized by Mexico’s corrupt political elites. However, some of Subcommandante Marcos’ rhetoric leaves me worried. It is one thing to force a discussion of the broader implications of neoliberalism, and to mobilize a base that is interested in radically shifting the terrain of the global economy. However, as is the case in Brazil, Argentina and indeed in the United States, losing sight of the real differences between mainstream political actors is a deadly mistake.
The EZLN and its allied organizations have, for the most part, chosen not to formally participate in the election, though Marcos has taken to calling himself “Delegate Zero.” Instead, they argue that the tour and related mass events will raise the profile of indigenous concerns and force the heavy questions of Mexico’s place in the global economic order. However, when Lopez Obrador is excoriated as a traitor and it is argued that only non-electoral civil society organizations are “truly” left, the somewhat puritanical and overly-theorized nature of Zapatista politics comes to the surface. Obrador’s election will make a serious difference to millions of working-class and poor Mexicans. It will make a difference in Mexico’s and Latin America’s relationship to the United States. It won’t bring about a global autonomist-feminist agrarian revolution, but that shouldn’t be the litmus test for a candidate in 2006.
It’s easy, of course, for me to sit in Santa Barbara, USA, and critique the Zapatista’s political strategy. I’m not an indigenous farmer in Chiapas. (To be fair, nor is Marcos.) However, many grassroots mass organizations have not taken the same abolitionist stance toward politics as the EZLN is taking today- which is exactly why progressive candidates continue to sweep the polls throughout Latin America. If people listen to Marcos, the results could be disastrous. What’s exciting about what is happening throughout the hemisphere is that both the parliamentary center-left and a more inchoate and radical populist movement are increasingly successful at mobilizing popular support. Let’s hope the Bolivarian revolution doesn’t end at San Cristobal de las Casas.

tirsdag, januar 17, 2006

politics anonymous

“This is the same, tired, old story, centering around a tax-and-spend approach to relief of poverty. If most of the north County poor population would learn English and stop getting pregnant before age 20, then they might deserve some more tax money from south County.” –Anonymous, posted on “Blogabarbara”

“It is so clear that Das (Williams) cares about Das and nothing else.”
-Anonymous, posted on “Blogabarbara”

Many months back, a group of political junkies and insiders here in Santa Barbara threw up a blog and started posting snarky, sometimes funny and sometimes insightful missives about local politics. Titled “blogabarbara”, the site quickly gained a huge readership and a vibrant coterie of commenters. Hiding behind clever, street-name pseudonyms, the blogmasters railed against our often less than stellar local press, and some of the less principled members of the local political establishment. The politics of the blog is centrish Santa Barbara Democrat, hostile to rampant growth, but also hostile to any real progress on economic justice.
It’s great that such a thing exists. Despite my political differences with the hosts, and the fact that they’ve taken a few swipes at yours truly, I think that we need just such a forum. I don’t, however, think that it should be anonymous.
Don’t get me wrong. Anonymity is a fun thing. It allows you to call names and spew vitriol with no accountability. You can hide any interests you have in the topic, and never seem self-serving. It’s like the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut. You get to put on a mask and screw whoever you want to without any consequences. However, in a town as small as ours, when a good portion of the political elites is thrilled to read an ongoing commentary about themselves, a forum which encourages anonymous mudslinging is irresponsible.
It’s also frustrating for people who put themselves in the public eye in order to move a political agenda forward. There are always armchair pundits out there who spread gossip and talk trash, I’ve been known to talk a little myself down at my local. However, putting that low level of discourse up on the web is no good for anyone, and allowing people to post anonymously does just that.
Why provide a forum for someone to hurl invective like the examples above and not even sign it? More importantly, how can someone respond to personal attacks, like the one leveled against County Supervisor candidate Das Williams, when the attacker is unidentified. Poor Das keeps valiantly and politely wading into the online crapstorms, only to be followed up by anonymous post after anonymous post attacking his character. Why do people deserve a forum to attack people anonymously? Of course, they have the –right- to, but is it a good thing for the polity? We don’t have to do everything that the internet makes possible.
Any Santa Barbarans or Blogabarbarans care to weigh in?

on suicide

UCSB recently hosted a debate between Eric Alterman and Tucker Carlson. The topic of the debate was to be media bias, though there was a lot more agreeing than disagreeing. However, one interesting moment came as the two journalists discussed the crisis of ideas facing American liberalism. Interestingly, they both agreed on a general narrative- that movement conservatism has flourished while liberalism has withered. Alterman, who is working on a book about the prospects of American liberalism sought to encapsulate it’s position by arguing that “American liberals essentially want to live in Europe”. He cited Finnish health care and education programs, and while his choice of Finland as an example of a universal welfare state was somewhat odd, his overall point was well taken. Social Democracy, for all its flaws, is still a compelling counter model to Reagan-Thatcher-Bush style Social Darwinism. It is, perhaps the “maximal program” that the American left should orient itself around, even defending the gains of the New Deal serve as our day to day priority.
At this point, Carlson, who was cordial, even conciliatory in the main, busted out the old conservative saw that there was somehow a link between equitable social provision and the desire to take one’s own life. “If things are so great in Finland, someone forgot to tell the Finns,” he said, stating that “Finland has the second highest rate of suicide in the world, after Cuba.” Nice. In one sentence, he lumped democratic Finland and authoritarian Cuba together while insinuating that state intervention leads to suicide. Interesting, if true. Unfortunately for Carlson, it is not.
Setting aside the dubious notion that suicide rates are linked directly to free education, let’s look at available data. As of 2003, the most recent global survey, Finland’s rate, while disturbingly high, was lower than that of Japan, Sri Lanka and almost the entire former Eastern Bloc, including neighbors Russia and Estonia. Some of this data is old, as countries are often slow to report indicators like this one. However, a 2004 report stated that suicide rates in Finland are declining, while South Korea, Mexico and Japan continue to see annual increases. South Korea, in fact, has the fastest growing rate in the OECD. China leads in female suicide, while Southern India tops youth suicide statistics. The United States has mid-level suicide rates, while, surprisingly, sunny and laid-back Australia is in the top tier. While Cuba’s is not the highest, Tucker was on to something, as the island nation boasts the highest rate in Latin America. Theirs is still lower, however, than Japan’s.
Serious medical personnel point to job losses, loneliness, high rates of alcohol abuse and other depressive factors as conditions leading to spikes in suicides. No doubt major economic downturns are important causes here, as well. This would certainly explain the high rates in Warsaw Pact countries as well as Cuba and Japan. There doesn’t, however, seem to be any correlation between suicide and generosity of welfare states. Within Europe, rates go down as you get warmer and sunnier...Greece is lowest, Finland highest. Hmm...
Domestically, the coasts have lower rates than the west- New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Colorado are all at the top of the list. Would Carlson argue that voting Republican is related to suicidal tendencies?
In researching this post, I found that Tucker is not alone in his attempt to politicize suicide. The Chinese government points to high Japanese rates, anti-choice activists claim that abortion leads to suicide, and, of course, Miami Cubans rejoiced when they heard that suicide rates in Cuba have been skyrocketing.
I questioned Carlson after the debate, and he was remarkably friendly and willing to research his claim a bit more. We talked a bit about Finnish winters and the Nordic penchant for drinking home-made liquor. Alterman also took issue with his suicide theory, and challenged him to back it up on AlterCation, Alterman’s blog. Carlson promised to look up the stats on the UN’s website. I emailed them to him as well.