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May. 23 2010 - 12:51 pm | 1,789 views | 2 recommendations | 42 comments

Gulf Oil Disaster of 2010: Where progressives behave like birthers


Image by uscgd8 via Flickr


This morning, the poet Mark Doty declared on his Facebook page that he no longer supports Barack Obama. The final straw? BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

It’s clear that power in Louisiana rests not with any government, but with BP, while the response of the Obama administration is lame and late. Sound familiar? And the administration has just won a court case allowing for indefinite detention of suspects in Afghanistan without charges, no right of appeal. I expected centrist politics from the President. I didn’t expect Bush II. I’m done. End of support.

Although he gets paid to think–Doty is a professor at Rutgers University–the poet is just serving as a wind sock in this debate, turning with the tide of public opinion, as well as with a spill, a gusher–one might even say a blowout–of progressive thinkers condemning the Obama Administration because of BP’s accident in the Gulf.

What Doty doesn’t seem to know is that the Oil Pollution Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, restricts government involvement in oil spills to a supervisory role. The law was designed to avoid the situation that followed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, in which the government was left to clean up a private company’s mess and then had to sue the company to recover costs.

The same act restricts the liability of oil companies to $75 million, although they remain fully responsible for completing the clean up. That’s why BP is required to clean up its own mess. As the White House pointed out in a blog post yesterday, they’re also the ones who have the equipment.

As for “late and lame,” a reference to Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, actual analyses of the government’s oil-spill response have found that it is neither:

While the Obama administration has faced second-guessing about the speed and effectiveness of some of its actions, a narrative pieced together by The Associated Press, based on documents, interviews and public statements, shows little resemblance to Katrina in either the characterization of the threat or the federal government’s response….

The AP review found that the administration — aware of the political scars left on the Bush White House over Katrina — moved early with rescue efforts. Also, the government knew within days that while no leak had been found, the potential for environmental harm existed.

From day to day, as the situation evolved from devastating fire and dramatic rescue to a possible environmental hazard, the response activities changed, too, according to documents and interviews.

via Associated Press

Doty, like untold thousands of progressives frustrated by the continuing disaster in the Gulf, interprets his own lack of knowledge as a lack of action by Obama. One could actually investigate the facts, but it’s easier to cling to them to justify participation in this wave of misplaced populist anger.

I’ve written to Mark Doty and posted some of these facts on his Facebook page, but he has not responded. If he follows the pattern of other progressives, however, the facts won’t matter.

Here’s Doty’s response: “That’s a twenty year old law that clearly is inadequate to the moment. Are we supposed to sit back and think that’s a good idea? While the Gulf dies?”

No, we don’t want to do that, and now Doty and I are arguing about when it’s correct for the president to break the law, and according to whose values. We believe it’s clearly right in this case, just as clearly as Bush believed it was right when he broke the law to imprison people without due process at Guantanamo.

Earlier this weekend another poet wrote “Oil Spill… Spill!? It’s a Freakin Mother Geiser- Gusher!! When are you going to move on this Travesty Mr. President!??” Her demand, and the demand of other commenters, has been that the government should step in and “stop the spill.”

Informed about the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, she wrote, “I believe there are exceptions to every rule (law) and in this instance justified. Otherwise, we continue to stand on the sidelines fanning, not squelching the flames!!”

Populist anger inspired and perpetuated by ignorance of the facts, remaining undeterred by the facts: it’s not terribly different from those who believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya and who continue to believe it even when shown his birth certificate. The certificate is probably a forgery, they insist.

One respondent to Doty’s declaration insists it’s time to “rebuild our government from the ground up starting on a local level. I think Andrew Cuomo, candidate for NY Governor, has some excellent ideas as does Jerry Brown of California; Mike Gravel and the national initiative for direct democracy is an invaluable idea that bears attention; Ralph Nader is always spot on; the Green Party of the United States has ideas and actions….”

Substitute those names with the likes of Rand Paul or Mark Williams, substitute “Tea Party” for “Green Party” and you’ve got yourself a nice right-wing rant.

It’s not a bad idea to put pressure on the government. It will probably be met with more attention to the Gulf and more vigor from the White House, if only in the form of better management of information. But it goes too far to categorically withdraw support for Obama based on BP’s disaster.

What no progressive seems to consider is that a weakened Obama probably will not be replaced by Ralph Nader or Jerry Brown. Only two years ago, we had a White House full of oil company executives, who are far more likely to return to power than the “Uncompromising Man” or “Governor Moonbeam.”

If Bush’s men do surf back into power, it will be on a wave of populist anger.

UPDATED with more information on Oil Pollution Act:

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires oil companies to draft response plans to oil spills. The very point of that requirement is to force the “responsible parties” to conduct the cleanup themselves, with government oversight.

Here’s Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, who is supervising the spill response, in the AP: “As simple as it may seem, the law prevents the government from just taking over, Allen said. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents — including paying for all cleanup — with oversight by federal agencies.”

Here’s Roy Hann, director of the Center for Oil Spill technology, on the Oil Pollution Act: “OPA relies on private resources to mitigate or remove spills.”

The extensive federal regulations that flowed from the Oil Pollution Act require government officials–if they conclude the responsible party is acting with malfeasance–to advise the responsible party of that fact, then to inform the responsible party of potential federal expenses, and at all times to strive to maintain the responsible party’s role in mitigation and removal. And before the government could sensibly oust the responsible party from its role in mitigation and removal, it would have to possess the resources to do the job itself.

“What makes this an unprecedented anomalous event is access to the discharge site is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector,” Allen said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They have the eyes and ears that are down there. They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved.”


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  1. collapse expand

    another nice piece. reminds me of something Bérubé recently linked about folks believing in lies. one of many worthy points to emphasize:

    This is why the rumor doesn’t really need to be plausible or believable. It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.

    Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave.

    Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us.

  2. collapse expand

    I don’t know that this is the right way to frame the administration’s response. They aren’t standing back because of the 1990 act; they aren’t standing back at all and are, in fact, mobilizing every relevant power of every relevant Federal agency to try to stop the leak and mitigate the damage it’s caused and has yet to cause. This response is documented daily on a site set up by the Coast Guard – http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/

    The Federal command in this case has been extremely responsive to Federal demands, going so far as to organize Q&A sessions with bloggers and forming a flow rate estimation group in response to public inquiries on that issue.

    Apparently, folks would be happier if Obama came right out and took ownership of the problem and said that we were doing all of this. It would do absolutely zilch to change the facts on the ground, however. This disaster’s going to wind up costing a billion dollars or so for every day the leak continues; it’s in everyone’s interest to stop it as soon as possible.

  3. collapse expand

    Mr. McMahon,

    What makes this really complicated is that the Clean Water Act, the nearest thing to a relevant statue. The CWS only applies to “navigable waters” (means the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas. The term “territorial seas” means the belt of the seas measured from the line of ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters, and extending seaward a distance of *three miles*) [emphasis added]).

    The oil platform in question is more than three miles away from the low tide mark in Louisiana, thus it is outside of the jurisdiction of the CWA and the USEPA. Now it is within the Exclusive Ecomonic Zone (EEZ) which extends out to 200 miles but just what that means from a regulatory point of view is anything but clear. Just how much power the Federal Government actually has in open ocean but within the EEZ is not well established.

    This is probably the reason Mr. Obama has been so feeble in his response, he is not the sheriff in that town.

  4. collapse expand

    Is there anything that Obama could possibly do that would cause you to no longer support him, or are you just a blind loyalist? Maybe his handling of the BP spill is a fairly small straw to be breaking any camel’s back, but there’s plenty of other, larger issues to excoriate him about, from his record on constitutional law and essential freedoms, to his handling of the economy, to his handling of health care, to his expansion of our wars of aggression overseas. He can in no way be called a progressive, and if you honestly consider yourself a progressive, then you cannot in good faith support his actions as president. The man guts freedoms, he panders to big business, and he ignores the economic needs of ordinary Americans for the benefit of a tiny minority. The man is almost single-handedly creating room for the tea party to build support, and it’s because you’d have to be an utter fool to believe Obama would ever do anything to help America if it didn’t immediately serve the needs of corporate interests. He has lost his populist edge completely. He’s a fraud, who sailed into office with a mandate from the people to implement the populist change we need, and then immediately sold out as soon as he moved in. He led us to believe he would be something he is not: a liberal. He lied to us, and it is not unreasonable to withdraw support because of it.

    The tea party may be 100% wrong about their ideas for policy. But I’ll tell you one thing they’re not wrong about: our country has indeed gotten away from us. You absolutely cannot trust the establishment to govern us effectively, whether you’re talking the legislature, the president, the federal reserve, or the big banks on wall st. They’re all absolutely corrupt, and we need a REAL change if we’re going to preserve our nation.

    • collapse expand

      Uriah, I would like to retain the flexibility to support Obama or withdraw support on individual issues, not on categorical terms and certainly not on misperceptions. That, to me, is blindness. For example, you say Obama “led us to believe he would be something he is not: a liberal. He lied to us.” But Obama did not say he was a liberal; he said he was a centrist. And now you’re positing a new misperception of Obama based on his non-compliance with a prior misperception. Meanwhile, this post is about people blaming Obama for their misperceptions.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        ‘Centrist’ is shorthand for someone who attempts to believe and act in a way both parties can accept. In today’s political climate, that is pretty much synonymous with corporatism. After decades of polarizing acrimony, the only thing both parties agree on is that they need the support of their rich, corporate contributors.

        The real problem is that many people have a skewed idea of politics, where paying lip service to labor, the environment and basic social safety nets makes a politician a Liberal or Progressive, and paying lip service to xenophobia, gun rights and Chrisitanity makes a conservative. We are expected to line up behind our candidates based on their expressed ideologies, the government never takes that ideology past lip service.

        In times passed, the Republicans would move business interest forward and make sure social change didn’t come too fast for society to adapt, and the Democrats would move forward societal progress and reign in business excesses. Thus we had a stable society for decades, where the exchanges of power kept America strong. We were at political equilibrium.

        In the last few decades, both parties have completely internalized the need for campaign contributions above all else. The actions taken and laws passed by both parties are nearly universally geared towards increasing campaign contribuitions. Since those campaign contributions all come from the same group of people and corporations with large ammounts of lobbying money, the parties talk different, but more and more they act the same, and serve the same select group of very rich people. Democracy is being neutered in favor of oligarchy.

        The more savy (or dispossessed) among us are recognizing this paradigm shift away from right versus left and towards extreme corporate/governmental power versus citizens’ protections and rights. So the Tea Partiers and the Obama Haters on the left are both examples of these new politics. The tea partiers simply haven’t reached the conclusion that the erosion of their living standards and rights is done at the behest of large campaign contributors – the wealthy businessmen are still pulling their strings.

        So there are a lot of us on the left screaming about how terrible Obama is, and we are having trouble making ourselves understood by old-guard thinkers like you who still stand on the principle of lesser-evilism that has brought us to this current climate – where the sole acheivement of the administration is almost identical to what the Republicans wanted less than 10 years ago. If voting Democrat just means voting for 10 year old Republican positions just to keep the current abominable Republicans out of office, we are on a very slippery slope. Is ten years worth of difference in how far the government is willing to bend to make polluting corporations happy going to make much of a difference in the end state of the environment?

        Yes, undercutting the President on the left may result in the Republicans returning to power, but if the Democrats just govern like the Republicans, does it really matter? Are we reaching a point where building a populist counterbalance to raw corporate power is more important than which team the current puppet-in-chief is playing for?

        Populism is a dirty word, but are we ever going to get the power players in the Democratic party to pay attention to us if they can count on our votes no matter what actions they take?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Congratulations, I think you’ve just proven what most leftists do not want to admit: They can be just as strident as the right.

    I sympathize with this president because there really isn’t much he can do. The US government doesn’t have a few spare oil rigs laying around that we can use to plug this well. That seems to be the only thing that could put a stop to this environmental nightmare.

    Too many self styled experts and second guessers have emerged from the woodwork. They blast the president for not being as smart as they are. This is exactly the sort of harangue that the previous presidency had to endure.

    Mind you, I did not vote for this president, but I can still sympathize with him for a situation he really had very little to do with.

    • collapse expand

      “Congratulations, I think you’ve just proven what most leftists do not want to admit: They can be just as strident as the right.”

      Yeah, Jake, but the beauty of it is that we act that way in a pro-people spirit, not a let-business-do-whatever-it-wants kind of way. We expect a Democratic President to object to the business-first status quo put in place by Bush and Cheney–such an expectation is neither extreme nor unwarranted. Nor is it remotely the equivalent of asking Obama to grab a spoon and clean up the slick himself.

      We who ask Obama to behave like a Democrat are not behaving irrationally. Why, you ask? Because Obama is a Democrat. No, really.

      See what I’m saying? It’s complicated, but I have faith you can navigate the nuances.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        You have just proven my point by making a straw-man argument and then mowing it down.

        Presidents may campaign on party lines, but when they get in to office they have to address things in a pragmatic fashion. Bush 43 drew the ire of many conservatives for bailing out Wall Street instead of letting them fail. And believe me, that wasn’t the only thing he did that gave the GOP heartburn.

        Asking a President to behave like the parties that elected them is nothing but a straw man argument. Clinton didn’t do that. Bush 43 and Bush 41 didn’t do that.

        A president has to shed the dogmatic stuff that got him elected, and then deal with the situation as he sees it. I don’t envy whoever has the task of getting things done in that office. I don’t like many other policies that President Obama has pushed. His dealings with Israel, for example, leave me wondering how he perceives the last century of Middle Eastern history.

        Nevertheless, I can’t fault him too much for what happened to BP in the gulf. That would be like faulting GWB for Hurricane Katrina.

        Oh, well, I think I see a pattern here. Shall I draw up a straw man and mow it down for you?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Your piece is kind of a T/S staple–a personal attack framed as a call for rationality. If I thought for one moment you wanted an honest discussion about the many, many reasons why progressives lack faith in Obama, I’d cite some, but why bother–if you’ve been watching his performance, you know what they are. I suspect that, by comparing progressive anger to populist anger, the intention is to insult progressives, but try to imagine that not everyone shares your class problems. Or harbors such an inflated faith in our own wisdom. T/S is a poster child for the hazards of out of control intellectual self-evaluation.

    • collapse expand

      Actually, Savio, my point is not to insult progressives, but to show them that they are behaving just like the people they love to loathe, in the hope that they will stop behaving like birthers, stop dividing amongst themselves, stop facilitating the next rise of the right, and start arming themselves with facts, tactics, and strategies. And in fact I’ve found, pretty much without exception, that when progressives actually consider the facts and the necessities of Obama’s performance, they have a much harder time criticizing it. It’s much easier to turn your back on someone if you don’t listen. You know, if you say, “that birth certificate is probably a forgery.”

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Maybe it’s you? You seem to associate anyone who dares criticize the president with irrational partisans who want to destroy American Democracy. That sounds an awful lot like the rabid Bush supporters who believed their president could do no wrong, and that his opponents must be part of some kind of conspiracy – those people who now claim the Democratically elected President is an illigitimate pretender. You know, the BIRTHERS.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        “And in fact I’ve found, pretty much without exception, that when progressives actually consider the facts and the necessities of Obama’s performance, they have a much harder time criticizing it.”

        I’m afraid I’m discovering the opposite. I voted for the guy and had high hopes (admittedly, mixed with genuine doubts), and so I’ve been giving Obama every last benefit of the doubt. This, I think, is one of the reasons progressive annoyance at O. may sound so strident or tea-party-esque (I’ve always wanted to type that)–it’s the depth of disappointment, and the delayed expression of it. In the interest of bad but timely analogies, an oil slick of disappointment, sort of.

        I understand your basic comparison, but a couple things occur to me–one, the government-corruption theme is a staple of the libertarian point of view, but not so for progressives, who have fairly recently (and gradually) come to the unpleasant conclusion that things are way out of whack, that our institutions have become considerably corrupted. If this were the gist of our complaint, then maybe we’d be on the same page as those bearers of misspelled signs, but progressives hate the thought of a corrupt and incompetent govt., whereas teabaggers LIVE on it. Two, our complaints (by now) have a fairly long history and are happening *across* party lines (from Bush to Obama), whereas the “bring back our country” folks somehow didn’t think to make noise until a President of color was elected.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Regarding the complaints relevant to the oil spill and this post: Obama not reacting fast enough, BP bribing coastal residents, and BP/Obama covering up the true magnitude of the spill; all of these flashpoints of anti-Obama angst from the left have roughly as much basis in reality as Obama’s birth certificate being forged. A cursory look at the response in the immediate aftermath of the spill and since makes all of those claims extremely unlikely, yet they’re being parroted by progressives as absolute truth.

          In that respect, the birther/anti-Obama analogy is crude (and not one I’d use), but accurate in type if not degree. Opposition to Obama’s various global-war-on-terror policies (UAV strikes, detention, Mirana, GTMO, expanding Afghan ops, etc, etc), opposition to the how progressive the health bill was, and other policy-related concerns are much different. In most cases, I agree with the criticism but recognize the political impossibility the administration’s up against. For example, closing GTMO by the deadline and trying KSM in Manhattan would’ve been stopped legislatively if Obama attempted to enforce those decisions against public & congressional opinion.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Are you an apologist for BP? It has been reported that reckless behavior caused the spill; it has been reported that BP didn’t do the necessary research and preparation for the failed operation; it has been reported that Big Oil has been allowed to just about whatever the funk it wants to do since Bush and Cheney came into office, and that Obama has not only NOT gone against that status quo but contributed to it. Examples have been given on TV and in print. Just to let you know.

            Maybe you consider, for instance, Rachel Maddow untruthful. Dunno. I don’t. I believe her before I believe the kind of propaganda coming from you and others, wherein no one knows the facts, and everything is progressing smoothly, and BP and Obama are simply misunderstood victims of dumb-dork liberals who can’t tell a right-winger from a centrist or who don’t have the sense to mistrust the liberal media, which is not, has never been, and never will be the liberal media.

            Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard it a zillion times. But it comes down to a simple choice–believing you or believing sources like Rachel Maddow. No offense, but I wouldn’t even call that choice.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            “Are you an apologist for BP?”

            I trust Occam’s Razor, which suggests that hundreds of scientists, engineers, and other professionals looking at this in every relevant Federal agency are not conspiring to keep the truth from Rachel Maddow. I think she does a good job, but jumps the gun on occasion. I don’t think she lies, though.

            Not defending BP’s efforts to prevent a spill or their plan of action in the event of a spill or the state of regulation during the past two Presidential administrations or mismanagement & shenanigans at MMS in any way. There’s bad policy that led to this (for one, allowing first-of-their kind drilling efforts less than a hundred miles off shore… probably not a good idea in general), and then there’s the facts about what’s going on now.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    Wind sock? Birther? Thanks a lot, Jeff. I guess there’s not much room for anger in your analysis; if I am outraged by BP and the lack of an effective federal response, then I seem to be squarely in the camp of the Tea Party. Is it just me, or is there a logic problem in there somewhere? You seem to be substituting a rh…etorical move for substantive argument — but then what should I expect from a writer who’s taking an exchange of messages with me on Facebook, on a day when I’m feeling heartbroken by the images we’re seeing of ruined southern Louisana wetlands — and using such an exchange to brand me as another liberal rapidly spinning out into a rabid conservative. Sigh. It seems to me that a bit of heartbreak is utterly appropriate just now, and maybe that’s something to which a poet might be expected to give voice.

    • collapse expand

      Mark, I told you in our Facebook email exchange that I was writing about this, as you know, and asked you how you’d like to be quoted. It’s true that I’m citing you as an example of a general trend I’m seeing, but you’re a very popular poet, with almost 5,000 friends on Facebook, and the page is open to everyone… so you made a very public unendorsement this morning. I’m heartbroken by the images coming out of Louisiana, too. I just think it’s a mistake to turn the anger against Obama without at least knowing the parameters of and restrictions on the federal role.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Yes, my “unendorsement” was quite public, and remains so. I don’t mind being quoted, but I regret that you weren’t willing to portray my response to this crisis with any more complexity; I listed several reasons for my disenchantment. However, you already had a thesis, and my comments simply fit the bill — an unfortunate example of using a writer’s words simply to demonstrate what you already think. I believe I will find rather a lot of company in anger against both a virulent, tyrannical polluter and an impotent government — and it’s absurd to contend that being angry with either automatically aligns me with the membership of the tea party. I believe they’d have a little trouble with my same-sex marriage, for instance. But then nuance or complexity isn’t what you’re looking for here, is it?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Mark, nuance and complexity really are what I’m looking for here. Instead of BP’s disaster being Obama’s final straw, I believe there ought to be some consideration of both the government’s role and its restrictions. You didn’t know about the Oil Pollution Act governing the federal role. You didn’t know the Coast Guard was supervising the cleanup. Now that you do, shouldn’t those facts influence, in some way, your very public proclamation?

          The several reasons you listed for your disenchantment are in your quote at the very top of the page. What you added in our later conversation on facebook, as our conversation continued, after we had agreed on the content of your quote, mostly reiterated those reasons:

          “I said that the reaction to the oil disaster was late and lame, and that I was appalled by the perpetuation of Bush-era policies on detention that erase human rights, and that I was disappointed by continued dithering over don’t ask/don’t tell.”

          I’m happy to post anything else you said or to post, in fact, our entire exchange from facebook. I didn’t say that being angry aligns you with the Tea Party. I said that continuing to cling to a position after you’ve discovered it’s wrong is what we criticize the birthers for.

          I’m sorry that I’ve made you more angry than you already were. Anger does it make it hard to hear, and it goes looking for targets. Beneath the anger, I think there’s a useful conversation and a mutual hope that we can end this disaster and attain many other measures of progress for human beings and for the environment.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Sorry that you’ve made me angry? Jeff, your piece is snide and insulting, which was plainly your intent — and now your comments are all reasonable apology. As my mother used to say, Butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth. You won’t be having a “useful conversation” with me, I don’t think – though I can certainly imagine that you’d like to continue giving me a lecture about your point of view. I have not discovered that my position is wrong; to the contrary, I feel strengthened in my outrage about the situation in the Gulf, and as each day passes it becomes more and more clear that BP is incapable of addressing a mounting catastrophe. That leaves a governmental response as the next, and only hope.

            I won’t write back to you further.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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            @Mark Doty – Regardless of how you feel about this stuff, it’s worth checking out what the government’s actually doing – http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/

            In my opinion, the government’s response was immediate and appropriately massive; there were ROVs on the sea floor and assessments of possible damage scenarios produced while the search and rescue operation was still underway and the rig had not yet sunk.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    Horse hockey.

    There’s probably not a whole lot that can be done in an immediate timeframe to solve the oil rig disaster in the Gulf. It will take time to fix.

    No, what pisses off the Progressives is that Obama is not using the general outrage of this moment to make some serious headway on an alternative energy plan to get this country well on its way toward viable non-petroleum solutions. If not now, when?

  9. collapse expand

    I’m a leftist and I’m certainly not afraid to be strident. This is not religion. Ideology is not necessary, and opinion is a matter of working out the details. This is about right and wrong. And there is a right and a wrong. The difference between the left and the right is that we are telling the truth and they are not. We seek to improve this world, and they seek to protect their private interests. We do a world a disservice by pretending that the truth lies between two opposing poles, when the entire discussion is perverted by generations of propaganda to always favor a fundamentally radical ideology. Things are not alright. Things are not okay. Our entire civilization is on the brink, and literally billions may die of starvation and war this century. That is reality. It’s not idealism to want to fight against the very real forces of evil, against ignorance and lies. It’s not foolish to demand truth and justice and freedom. Bending to the political reality of this nation when that reality is insufferable corruption and tyranny is cowardly. Bowing to ‘bipartisanship’ when the right is fundamentally wrong, and based in lies, and fed by lies, and sustained by ignorance and indifference, that is shameful. Centrism is a lie: it is right-wing ideology with the thinnest of veneers of liberalism, meant to distract and disrupt the feelings of righteous indignation on the part of the people, and convince people that the best they can hope for is the lesser of two evils. Why on earth should we accept that?

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      You’re my hero. And absolutely correct.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Pot, meet kettle. You’re both black as night.

      Calling the opinions of those on the right “lies” and “wrong” shows that you do not understand what valid opinions on the right are saying.

      Both the left and the right have their strident voices and both the left and the right have people working on less than reliable information. The very nature of politics is that it is the lens through which we view the world. Taken to extremes, it colors the facts we choose to give credence to.

      The reality of “bipartisanship” is that to get much of anything done, you’ll need concurring opinions on both sides of the equation. That’s life. It doesn’t matter if you think the other side is filled with lies. So is yours. Both sides are political forces and they’re trying to motivate their bases to push legislation along.

      What scares me is when one party or the other dominates all three houses of government. That’s when corruption takes hold. Without the competition for ideas in government, there is no balancing force to help keep the other parties honest.

      And lest you ascribe evil to the other party, I have a surprise for you: When you scratch the surface, you’ll find people like none other than Newt Gingrich, who in his book “A Contract With the Earth” strongly advocates conservation. However, he doesn’t say it in ways that leftists think appropriate: Instead, he advocates a market based approaches as being more effective, more efficient, and more stable in the long run.

      My response to your stridency: Get real. Stridency of political views is not a productive response to a disaster. Save it for the debates when the facts are reasonably well known.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        I have two books for you to read: “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”, by now Senator Al Franken. He wrote it while he was a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. This is not just political satire, it’s a commentary on how political spin on the right is not at all concerned with facts and truth. The second is Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason”, which attempts to explain the breakdown of political discourse and the absence of fact-based debate.

        There’s a difference between inaction on the left for political expediency (pretty much what’s happening now re: the Gulf spill)and inventing things out of whole cloth (climate deniers, the Texas textbook fiasco) to push a Christian conservative agenda.

        So, I’m willing to compromise as long as the people across the table are educated, rational, reasonable people who don’t make shit up to get elected.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        As I said before, I am not at all coming down hard on Obama over BP. I think he very clearly could have handled it better, but it is his policies as President and failure to measure up to his rhetoric on the environment and corporate responsibility that have brought us to this point. Whether that was done for the sake of ‘political reality’ or not, those are the facts of the case. I am coming down on Obama because of his policies and his actions, not just in the matter of this single case, but looking at his presidency as a whole. He is not worthy of my support, or the support of anyone who cherishes freedom. He has proven it.

        And what does it matter if every single one of our elected officials knows what the reality actually is if they are unwilling to do what it takes to defend our freedom, to defend our planet and our way of life, if they barter their souls for money and power, given by agents of evil, feed the public comfortable lies in hopes of reelection? And who could possibly care if Newt thinks conservation is a good idea? He’d still vote against any climate bill the Democrats shoveled down the pipe, no matter how conservative and ‘market-based’ it was. It’s a ridiculous argument. A handful of valid opinions does not make it a valid platform, and it does not make a liar into an honest man.

        I am not a left-wing extremist. A communist is an extremist. An anarchist is an extremist. A libertarian is an extremist. Personally, I believe in government, within reasonable boundaries. I believe that money is not inherently a source of evil. I believe that business can be a source of good. I believe in the principles for which our founding fathers built this nation, freedom and justice and opportunity for all who live here. Freedom from tyranny, and prosperity for all who desire it.

        I don’t expect people’s opinions to change: I want to make it clear that when it comes to matters of opinion, you are more than welcome to yours. However, there is still the matter of facts. Of verifiable realities. Of measured and reasoned expertise, which is not swayed by political posturing and reality distortion fields, which attempts with great seriousness to avoid the problems of proving only what you expect to see. And that entire mindset, of seeking valid and honest information regarding policy decisions is an area that has come under attack by the right wing of both parties. It has come under attack by the 24-hour news cycle of inane corporatist bullshit, amplifying an empty dichotomy between two parties that are not meaningfully dissimilar on any matter of economy or foreign policy. You can worry about the dominance of one party over another all you want: I worry that both parties are serving one set of masters at the expense of the people and our entire world. That’s not propaganda, that’s not posturing, that’s the simple, verifiable truth. That is reality, and recognizing basic realities is not a matter for opinion.

        More than that, pretending that political posturing has the intellectual equivalency of expert opinion and verifiable truth is preposterous and dishonest, and frankly, everyone with a brain already knows it, even the ones who’ve bought into it in hopes of profiting by it. Your entire centrist conception of the world is fading; the dream is crumbling around the edges, and it’s all falling apart, and the only people still believing are those who are too afraid to see the world for what it is. I’m telling you to wake up, Jake. We have been lied to our entire lives.

        You say I’m just as dirty, as filled with lies and posturing nonsense as anyone else. You’re wrong. This is not propaganda. It’s not a matter of perspective. What we do about it, where we go from here, that’s a matter of opinion, that’s a matter for debate, but this is just the truth. Plain and unvarnished, unlike anything you’re likely to get from a television.

        There’s a lot more down the rabbit hole, if you’re willing to look. Open your eyes and look around you.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    Great insight, Jeff. So many progressives love to absolve themselves of their own complicity and huffily flee in their Priuses to the high moral ground. THERE IS NO HIGH MORAL GROUND! Every issue must be slogged out on its own merits in a capitalist, profligate nation that is right-center.
    Also, it is this sort of powerlessness that leaves the playing field to what Laurie Essig calls “Daddy”. Finally, we have a humanist rather than a patriarch in power, and so many people just can’t see the good in the man.
    I remember hearing a guest lecture by S.P.R Charter in an ecology class many years ago. His plaint: (In not producing a positive vision of the future) The poets have failed us.

    • collapse expand

      Merits have nothing to do with deciding issues. The slog of the political process you’re talking about is simply trying to thread through the minefield of systemic corruption that grips our entire nation in fearful subjugation.

      Also, while Obama makes certainly makes beautiful platitudes to humanism, his actions belie those empty words, however well delivered. Humanists do not torture. We do not assassinate Americans. We do not put chains on liberty. We do not pursue war or sit idly by while injustice and suffering goes on around us. What use is Obama’s ‘goodness’ when he does evil? Judge him by his actions, not by his words.

      There’s no moral high ground, huh? Sounds to me like you’re the one who’s complicit. Like you’re desperately trying to make yourself feel better, because you can’t bring yourself to do what you know is right. There is a moral high ground, and you’re just afraid to join us there.

      If you believe you can only have power by subjecting your will to the demands of the rich and powerful, then really, what power do you have? You may be a docile slave who gets to live in the house and wear nice clothes instead of picking cotton in the field in between whippings, but you’re still a fucking slave.

      It is foolish to believe that making overtures to the opposition can ever achieve half as much as standing up for what’s right. The right wing understands that: they manipulate people into believing that’s what they’re doing (along religious moral lines), even as they’re pulling the rug out from under our economic future. They are bold, and they capture the masses’ attention despite their blindingly obvious wrongness on almost all matters. The fact that stridency is how you get votes from the grass roots cannot possibly escape the Democrats. They don’t waste time on bipartisanship because it’s good political strategy– they do it because they are predominantly a right wing organization that only makes minor, periodical overtures to reality as needed to suppress the opposition. Obama is their poster child in that regard.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Jeff — Thanks for the clarifying post, and for addressing various aspects of what is rapidly becoming a maddeningly complex problem. Among the various fruits of your post is the comment: “T/S is a poster child for the hazards of out of control intellectual self-evaluation [sic].”

    That should be a new selling point: “True/Slant: news, opinion, and totally out-of-control intellectual self-evaluation. Join us.”

  12. collapse expand

    Say not the Struggle Naught availeth

    SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
    The labour and the wounds are vain,
    The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
    And as things have been they remain.

    If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
    It may be, in yon smoke conceal’d,
    Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
    And, but for you, possess the field.

    —Arthur Hugh Clough (1 January 1819 – 13 November 1861

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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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    Contributor Since: April 2009
    Location:Chicago, South Side

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