Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, January 19, 2012

OWS, XL, SOPA/PIPA And Other Letters

Rage on against the dying of the light.

"What does the Occupy movement really want?" asked the millionaire pundits on the TeeVee.  And I guess there was some merit in the question.  OWS wanted several things: economic opportunities for the 99%, justice for Wall Street con artists, drum circles.  But it was a fractured movement with roots in left wing anarchism.  It tapped into a mood rather than articulated a platform.

OWS has changed the national conversation, and for the better.  Economic inequality leads to economic instability.  It removes the necessary demand from the economy to keep it moving forward.

But recently, I think the lesson is that protests, to be successful, need to be focused.  The XL Pipeline project that would bring incredibly toxic tar sands right through the heart of America's most important aquifer appears to be dead.  Of course, the GOP are pitching a hissy fit over this because... well, in many ways simply because Obama killed it, and "Drill, baby, drill" and Federalism only applies when we want it to.  The fact is that the Real Muricans of Nebraska are just as capable of playing the NIMBY card as anyone else.  Also, too, the GOP overplayed its hand here, forcing the issue in ways that almost assured its defeat.

Similarly, the internet protests over SOPA/PIPA have been focused and directed and seemingly very effective.  I am sympathetic for the need of content creators (less so content providers) to benefit from their work.  I do not listen to pirated music or films.  I do watch the Falcons on a hijacked streaming feed, but the ads are there just like regular TV, so I don't feel I'm depriving anyone of anything.  Plus, the NFL monopoly on which games you get to watch is unreasonable and deleterious to being a fan.  MLB is only slightly better, as you can pay to stream every game if you want.

But SOPA/PIPA is poorly written and conceived.  It would prevent me from using, perhaps, the pictures or graphs that I run with my posts, or the snippets of other people's writing.  It would allow large corporations the ability to shut down various sites with almost no check or balance on this power.

It's a bad law in service of a plausible idea, and the kick-back from the Wired Generation has clearly unsettled DC.

As OWS morphs into something else, perhaps it needs to splinter.  Let the Vegan Anarchists have their movement, while the people who want Mitt Romney to pay more than 15% in taxes can have their own movement.

The problem our democracy has faced, from the People's Party of the 1890s until today, is that it is exceedingly difficult to mobilize the 99% on behalf of their economic interests.  There are too many diffuse issues, too many separate axes to grind.  Yet motivated minorities - from gun rights zealots to an alliance of Nebraska farmers and tree hugging Greenies - can change policy.

Most historical figures who focus on One Big Idea from Utopians like John Noyes to Silverites like William Jennings Bryan to social engineers like Dr. Francis Townsend, turn out to be cranks.  But they can change things.  Bryan failed with silver, but we do have a managed inflationary currency.  The Townsend plan led to Social Security.

Those who would fight for the 99% need to find their One Big Idea.  Maybe it's the Buffett Rule (soon to be relabeled the Romney Rule), maybe it's simply raising that top rate, maybe it's some form of student loan forgiveness.

Whatever it is, OWS needs to look at what the opponents of the XL Pipeline and SOPA/PIPA have done if they really want to change this country.

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