Monday, August 2, 2010

Why (almost) totally ignoring national politics is the only sane course

I pay just enough attention to the national scene to know why not to pay any more than that. Here's a case in point, as reported by the LA Times:
Driven by increasing anger at Democratic policies and by recent Supreme Court decisions unshackling corporate contributions, business and conservative groups are preparing a flood of campaign money to try to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest collection point for corporate contributions, has increased its spending for the congressional election in November from $35 million in 2008 to a projected $75 million this year. Officials say it may go even higher.

The chamber has been joined by new conservative fundraising organizations — such as American Crossroads, affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove — that have committed to raising tens of millions of dollars. One report circulating among Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill last week estimated that more than $300 million has been budgeted for the campaign by a group of 15 conservative tax-exempt organizations.

"A commitment of $300 million from just 15 organizations is a huge amount, putting them in record territory for groups on the right or left," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. "With control of Congress hanging in the balance, this kind of spending could have a major impact." The money's power is magnified because it will be concentrated in a relatively small number of swing states and districts. Of the 435 House and 37 Senate seats at issue in November, about 100 House seats and 18 in the Senate are considered competitive.[..]

Two recent Supreme Court decisions have encouraged corporate and union participation in political advertising campaigns. This year, the court decided in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations and unions could spend directly on elections, overturning a century of laws limiting such spending.

Chamber of Commerce officials say a more significant ruling was the 2007 decision in Federal Election Commission vs. Wisconsin Right to Life that lifted the ban on political issue advertising close to an election, allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on these ads at the last minute. The rulings have given all sides powerful tools to influence the outcome of elections.

Business leaders see high stakes in the midterm election. They were concerned about the sweeping healthcare overhaul passed this year and a far-reaching bill passed last month to establish greater federal monitoring and regulation of the financial system. Energy firms are particularly concerned about how Democratic-dominated Washington will regulate their businesses after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott Talbott of the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group for major financial firms, said banks and investment houses were participating in fundraising and lobbying at an unprecedented pace, partly because of concern over thousands of pages of new regulations that will be written to implement the laws, as well as who will be picked to head new government entities, such as the consumer protection agency for banking and securities.

President Obama's sagging approval ratings, which have dropped to 44% in some polls, have created an opportunity that could allow Republicans to gain control of the House and cut into the Democrats' majority in the Senate.
What's clear from the above, if it wasn't already blindingly obvious, is that we've got the best democracy™ money can buy, where it's one dollar, one vote. For those of us with any political sentiments whatsoever, we are basically left with two choices: try to raise more funny-money than our political competitors (and that amount is apparently doubling or more ever two years, which is the definition of exponential growth), or give up on national politics altogether and spend our time more productively. E.g., building skills and knowledge (and relationships with those who have complimentary skills and knowledge) that are useful on planet Eaarth. And doing it all locally.

The politicians, corporatists, and talking heads, having had no education in the physical sciences, are locked into a paradigm wherein it is believed that the global economy, located as it is in three physical dimensions of space and one of time, can grow infinitely -- into apparently non-physical dimensions. They're so sick in the head that they refer to the entirely expected condition of GDP contraction as "negative growth." I prefer to think of it as reality asserting itself. We've got just one planet, and acting like we have more than that is what's turned the Earth into the Eaarth. If we keep on this track much longer, we may as well begin calling it Mars Junior.


itsonlyme said...

well tony - i certainly understand your problems with our current state of the union. my approach is to keep one pinky finger in the process - because i have some loyalty to the founding citizens. and to use the rest of the fingers to make relationship with my local community.
there's an interesting fellow,patrick o'keefe who is running as a democrat for state legislature - very tuned into reform in harrisburg.
we have recently put a solar installation on our garage roof that is tied into the grid. we've been pleased to watch how many kilowatts we generate - even on overcast days. we will have an open house here on 10/10/10.

Dan said...

Hi Tony,
Im excited to learn more about TL, being a local citizen, and preparing in a positive way for a post peak oil society. I have two comments.

1.- I tend to believe that the decline will be gradual, not cataclysmic. Why?

1a. Because of how markets work to adjust for scarcity ... as oil becomes more scarce, the price will go up and drive gradual change to use other alternatives. Supply of oil will not dry up drastically. And even if they did, as the did with the OPEC embargos of the 70s, it forced some change, but not monumental change.

1b. Human's inability to react to change. We think that the past (even if it's only been 150 years of fossil fuel expansion) is how the future will be. This means humans will sacrifice many other principles before they will sacrifice a change in their lifestyle.

You may argue that human nature is going to ultimately force a more cataclysmic events - climate disasters. It may, but I feel that humans will adapt to that far better than they will voluntarily jetison a lifestyle that allows them to externalize and procrastinate changes that directly affects their lifestyle.

2nd comment: I think it is dangerous to ignore global, political, media machine. I'm sure I don't have a good solution to it, but I'm also sure that if we allow our ship (Eaarth) to be led by those who care only about profit and corporate welfare, it will end up hurting all humans. It's like being on an airplane, sectioning off rows 45-50 for the Transition Movement folks, and hoping the guys in the cockpit don't crash the plane because they are focused on selling sandwiches to the passengers. Yes, we feel good about TL while the plane is still flying, but that doesn't mean a thing if we all burn up in a spectacular fireball. There will be no survivors.

Got to run ... your meeting is now.


An Eaarthly Planner said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for coming to the meeting last night (every Third Tuesday, Lancaster's Downtown Isaac's, 5-7pm). I hope you enjoyed it.

For your first comment, that is certainly a worthy debate to have. I myself frequently waffle back and forth between "will it be fast, or slow? And on whose time scale?" I think the prudent thing to do is to prepare enough to feel (somewhat) personally secure against a fast collapse so that you can continue doing what you're doing, all the while hoping for something more gradual.

In addition to that, I'd recommend reading Dmitry Orlov's book Reinventing Collapse, which examines American prospects in the light of the post-Soviet experience. It's full of dark humor and startling insights into what makes empires fall. Beyond the Soviet experience, there are innumerable examples throughout history of collapsed empires. Having never lived through such a process, I couldn't say whether those who did felt it happened "fast" or "slow", although I've written some accounts of people startled -- and horrified -- by the speed with which things fell apart.

As for your second comment, it brings to mind a quote: "all politics is local." When I say we should "(almost) totally ignore national politics", I am basically acknowledging my almost total lack of ability to affect things, directly, on the national scene. To suggest otherwise is to have delusions of grandeur. Take the Transition movement as an example. Although it is intensely local in nature, it is a meme in the best sense of the word, and has spread virally to every inhabited continent, presumably catalyzing change wherever it goes. In that way, local people effect local change -- the only place they can -- and inspire others to do likewise. And that's how national and global change happen: the intense efforts of thousands and millions of people, working to make their homes better.

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