Spitballing a New Left Politics

I've been somewhat out of pocket the past couple of months, avoiding politics and current events to a great degree. Have had a few changes in my work life as well, which will give me a little more time for my family and my thoughts. I've been doing some reading here at C99 and at a few other places, but mostly stepping back. As a result, I've found my political views evolving somewhat beyond the direction they were taking around the time of the November election. A little slow to the table, but this essay is an attempt to begin sorting my thoughts.

It's clear to most of us that the Democratic party has outlived its usefulness as a vehicle for our political aspirations. The Sanders campaign outed it as primarily a veal pen intended to catch and neuter the left, delivering it to the same oligarchic interests that run the Republican party and the corporate media. I've read some thinking lately that debates the virtues of this politician or that, or the pros and cons of founding a new political party vs. trying once again to reform the Democrats. This all misses the point, as I now see it.

One of my favorite political observations is the famous one from Frederick Douglass:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.

An essay by the wonderful maggid today, Mom and Dad are getting divorced: A family dynamics analogy, provides another meaty quote, from Slavoj Zizek:

The marriage between democracy and capitalism is over.

Both of these quotes point toward a new direction in politics, it seems to me, away from a focus on electoral results and toward an issues-based, activist political era. The best result of the already-disastrous Trump presidency could be a new era of activism analogous to the 1960's, when millions demonstrated and held their politicians of both parties to account for their actions on the most burning issues of the day, civil rights and the Vietnam war. Today we have no-less burning issues, climate change and economic inequality. Neither political party has any significant interest in addressing either, so the people must make demands. What should those demands be?

Given the scale of our challenges, I'm currently thinking we need two central demands:

1. Removing carbon from the atmosphere.

2. Creating an economy that works for all of us, rather than one that we work for.

To create a carbon-negative human world, we need several uncompromising policies:

  • Phase out the internal combustion engine.
  • Phase out carbon fuels for electricity generation.
  • Reduce beef and other livestock production, focusing on sustainable animal protein sources.
  • Heavily tax fossil fuels commodities.
  • Punitively tax corporations that extract fossil fuels.
  • Invest in reforestation, soil and marine carbon sequestration, and combating desertification.

Reorienting our economy away from predatory capitalism to serving the people is even more complicated, and will be more heavily resisted in the US. I believe the most important steps in beginning this process would be to focus on one issue: a guaranteed living income for all Americans. Economic inequality has produced a profoundly cruel and unjust economy in America, in which some have wealth far in excess of any good it might do for themselves, and most have far too little to see to their needs in anything approaching a humane way. We have chosen to live in this kind of a country; we should strongly advocate a different choice.

A guaranteed annual income would insure food, shelter, health care, educational opportunity, and basic dignity to all. It has been proposed occasionally by Republicans and Democrats in recent decades, but never taken seriously. I believe it should be a bedrock principle for a new leftist politics, a non-negotiable demand.

Other issues which would help reorient our economy in a democratic direction:

  • A guaranteed jobs program for those who can work, with income augmenting the basic income guarantee.
  • A revised income tax exempting the guaranteed income, and starting with a low rate at the 50th income percentile. It should rise first gradually, then very steeply at high incomes, reaching perhaps 90% above $10 million.
  • An annual wealth tax on the order of 1% of in-country or expatriated assets above $10 million, 3% above $100 million, 5% above $1 billion and 8% above $5 billion.
  • Laws and tax policies that promote domestic employment and severely penalize offshoring to reduce labor costs or evade environmental regulation.
  • Revision of corporation law to reorient corporate obligations: highest priorities to avoid adding carbon to the atmosphere or seas, and to bring economic benefit to communities in which they operate. Shareholder value would be statutorily secondary.
  • Medicare for All healthcare program, providing comprehensive health and dental care for all citizens, including elder care expenses.
  • Public financing of daycare, primary and secondary education, and college or technical school. Severe restrictions on for-profit educational alternatives.

Other issues are also vital to a new leftist politics, including public financing of campaigns, nonpartisan redistricting, universal voter registration, expanding anti-discrimination protections, making the criminal justice system accountable, etc. But any new politics must have a clear focus on one or two issues, ideally of greatest importance to young people.

Bernie Sanders' campaign gave us a peek at what might work. His campaign made the perhaps fatal error of joining the Democratic party, which made good tactical sense but was a poor strategic decision. Our new politics must follow the 1960's model, appealing directly to the people without the intermediation of politicians or parties. If we can create a strong movement, the political parties can either come to it or die and be replaced. That question is of secondary importance at this time. How to build the new movement, identifying who's already doing it, helping them build their strength and create interconnections are far more critical for us now.

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Not much original here, but I've put it down to begin organizing my thoughts. Many in this community have thought far more deeply than I have, and I will look forward to your critiques and suggestions.

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WaterLily's picture

@Dallasdoc And thanks for the organized outline. You sense, as many of us do, the current difficulty in herding the cats into a coherent movement. Yours could be the rallying cry we all need.

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sojourns's picture

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"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."
John Cage

@sojourns It sort of feels like I'm starting over, as so many of the contributions I've made in the past belong in a political world that feels dead. I don't know what comes next -- don't know if anybody does. But one great thing about this community is that it's interested in thinking and talking about such questions. It's nice to read and write here.

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sojourns's picture

@Dallasdoc A undeniable malaise has cursed the land! The result of untenable people in office. People that should be exiled to some barren isle in a cold climate.

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"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."
John Cage

Steven D's picture

@sojourns where Satan is frozen in ice, then yes, you are correct.

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

sojourns's picture

@Steven D Now where is my copy of Tchaikovsky's rendering of Dante's Inferno? It has to be here somewhere.

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"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."
John Cage

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

we're not facing a policy crisis, no matter how much it seems we are. We're facing a political crisis. I guess I'm going back to your first quotation: Power concedes nothing without a demand. For it to be a demand, rather than a request, there have to be some consequences if the answer is no. @sojourns

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

Alligator Ed's picture

@WaterLily @Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal Yesterday, Robert Reich, in the name of MoveOn said that we should pressure spineless Dems (i.e., almost the entire upper echelon) of course by mounting a campaign (please donate, please /s) to tell them to grow a spine. Bull. If the campaign doesn't involve primarying the bastards it will never work. If you wanna get better Dems, throw out the current lot. I don't think that will work but do support anyone willing to make the effort.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@Alligator Ed I guess he's running for the office of First Pleader Before the Emperor if the Dems ever win an election again.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@sojourns Frankly, I'd be OK with them just taking their blood money and retiring to some gorgeous tropical island they own, and leaving us to repair their fucking damage.

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@sojourns Not that I wouldn't like some just punishment for these bastards, but really, at this point, all I want is for them to get out of my fucking way.

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

Which would also take them out of their purportedly-feared pitchfork-range. Why the heck don't they go to those 'emergency escape' places in New Zealand now, rather than polishing off the rest of civilization and any chance of planetary life surviving first? Why are they so intent on draining everyone else of every last cent they have, to the point of globally placing everyone's money exclusively in the hands of financial institutions, via a 'cashless society' scheme rendering everyone penniless, starving and helpless at any major power-outage/hack/'lost electronic records' claim by banks/the US-'legalized' bank robbery of their own depositors money if they ever run short by recklessly crashing or whatever, as they're soon expected to do?

How much, I wonder, does it cost to buy into the 'immortality tech' which various billionaires have been suckered into investing in for some time, and which the White House-integrated Google is working on?

Apparently a few of the very wealthiest and would-be very wealthiest do-anything-for-money types want to live forever in the hell-on-Earth they're creating in the process, substituting 'Virtual Reality' for the reality they anyway refuse to accept, and I'm seriously wondering how much this has to do with the current lunacy.

Googled: Billionaires invest immortality research - maybe try it and see what you get?

If possible, these are best read in full at source, should whatever device used be able to manage it.

Please note names and occupations involved and especially the emphasis on surrendering life in order to 'live forever' as a machine/computer program with their characteristics realistically reproduced, apparently under the notion that they themselves will not still die with their bodies, even though a recording of their personalities may continue to play while power lasts.

Obama has suggested that he's interested in joining other politicians from the Bush Admin and elsewhere as a hedge fund manager in Silicone Valley, because this matches his interest in genome research and (magical) science.

But this does nothing to improve human life-spans, rather it's eliminating life to be replaced with 'better-than-life' robots/computers. The ultimate meritocracy, in which life simply does not deserve to exist because robots/computers 'can do anything better than humans can'.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/20/the-immortality-financi...

The Immortality Financiers: The Billionaires Who Want to Live Forever

We all want to live forever, but some of us have the means to actually do something about it. Adam Gollner, author of The Book of Immortality, profiles five billionaires pouring money into longevity research.
Adam Leith Gollner
08.20.13 3:45 AM ET

... To this day, gerontology pitchmen assure us that we’re about to solve aging—an opportunity, they inevitably add, we should seriously consider from a business standpoint. This same narrative keeps repeating itself. ...

... Death isn’t easy to contend with. Imagining that we’ll live forever—whether physically or spiritually—is an elemental solace. No matter how wealthy we may be, we still can’t bribe our way out of dying. But that isn’t stopping the these five ultra-rich immortality financiers.

Larry Ellison

“Death makes me very angry,” admits Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corporation and the fifth-richest person in the world (his net worth is $43 billion, according to Forbes). ... With that in mind, Ellison has set up a foundation dedicated to ending mortality, or at least to “understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities.” They spend real money, too: the Ellison Medical Foundation gives out more than $40 million a year. Ellison’s biographer Mark Wilson notes that Ellison sees death as “just another kind of corporate opponent he can outfox.” It’s a Silicon Valley take on The Seventh Seal, with Ellison as the crusading knight and the grim reaper cast as a pasty, wan CEO at a rival software company.

Paul F. Glenn

Santa Barbara–based venture capitalist and investor Paul F. Glenn is the bank account behind a nine-figure endowment that supports laboratory research at institutions like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and more. Alongside the five-year, $5 million grants the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research gives out to their consortium of labs, they also regularly award unsolicited $60,000 prizes to individual scientists doing peer-reviewed work that they believe deserve support. ... Alongside his donations to Ivy League institutions, he’s also made contributions to the Methuselah Foundation, whose cofounder Aubrey de Grey claims that “the first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today.”

Dmitry Itskov

Thirty-two-year-old Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov started the 2045 Initiative with the goal of helping humans achieve physical immortality within the next three decades. According to his manifesto (at www.2045.com), Itskov’s main aims are “to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality.” For us to evolve into neo-humans, he says we’ll need to give up on biological bodies and make a leap into artificial, machine bodies as soon as possible. Once our minds are backed up in cyberspace, we’ll just download ourselves into bionic avatars whenever we get a hankering for the thrills of materiality. How seriously does he want to become a cyborg? Itskov, a transhumanist, says he is “100 percent certain” that humans will attain immortality by the year 2045.

Peter Thiel

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” That’s the motto of Founder’s Fund, the hedge-fund managed by PayPal cofounder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel. The future was supposed to be more tricked-out than this, and well-known libertarian “wackaloon” Thiel wants to use his $1.6 billion to do something about it. He’s throwing his fortune behind a number of obsessions, as The New Yorker reported in their 2011 profile of Thiel. First, he’s against higher education, and his 20 Under 20 fellowships are dedicated to keeping promising youngsters out of universities. Then there’s his support for seasteading communities, floating city-states in international waters, and hence not subject to governmental laws and regulations. Most important, Thiel has invested heavily in enterprises dedicated to physical immortality, such as the SENS Foundation. How successful have his efforts been thus far? After he sank millions into a Silicon Valley nanotechnology start-up called Halcyon Molecular, its founder, William Andregg, told TechCrunch.com he plans to live for “millions, billions, hundreds of billions of years.” Halcyon Molecular quietly went out of business last summer.

Sergey Brin

Of all the moneybags encouraging immortality research, there’s one in particular who has the strongest chance of lending legitimacy to the quest for eternal life: Google cofounder Sergey Brin. While his partner Larry Page has focused more on the business side of things, Brin’s role has been to explore technology opportunities he deems to be “on the cusp of viability.” This means backing everything from synthetic test-tube burgers to prototypes of Google Glass, robotic eyewear permanently synched to the Internet. Under Brin’s aegis, Google has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Singularity University, where executives pay five figures for weeklong seminars about technology’s capacity to solve “humanity’s grand challenges” (including aging and death). Google recently hired the radical futurist Ray Kurzweil to be their director of engineering: he famously claims humans will merge with computers over the next few decades to become immortal superbeings. ...

Why would anyone want to outlive their bodies by nano-teching their brains, experimentally messing with what makes each of us human individuals? Sponsoring the Zombie Revolution for real?

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-04-12/billionaires-scramble-immortali...

Billionaires Scramble For Immortality (Literally)
by Tyler Durden
Apr 12, 2015

Money can't buy me love... happiness... or class; but, as The Washington Post reports, the billionaire chase for the fountain of youth may just mean that money can buy immortality. For example, "death has never made any sense to me," stated Oracle founder Larry Ellison who has donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research and has proclaimed his wish to live forever. And doctors seem to be a step closer to performing the ultimate breakthrough surgery in anti-aging (nicknamed HEAVEN): transplanting a human head onto another body.

Peter Thiel and the tech titans who founded Google, Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape are using their billions to rewrite the nation’s science agenda and transform biomedical research. As The Washington Post reports, their objective is to use the tools of technology — the chips, software programs, algorithms and big data they used in creating an information revolution — to understand and upgrade what they consider to be the most complicated piece of machinery in existence: the human body.

While most are rightly skeptical about achieving immortality; science and technology could help us live longer, to, say, 150 years?

The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better. The work they are funding includes hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives, engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out, figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with, and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires.

“I believe that evolution is a true account of nature,” as Thiel put it. “But I think we should try to escape it or transcend it in our society.”

Oracle founder Larry Ellison has proclaimed his wish to live forever and donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research. “Death has never made any sense to me,” he told his biographer, Mike Wilson. “How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there?”

And now, as RT reports, perhaps the ultimate 'fix' for an ailing body is about to come true...

Doctors seem to be a step closer to performing a breakthrough surgery: transplanting a human head onto another body. A Russian man with a rare genetic muscle-wasting disorder has volunteered to be the first to try the procedure.

“I’m very interested in technology, and anything progressive that might change people’s lives for the better,” Valery Spiridonov from the Russian city of Vladimir, told RT. ...

A major problem with their theories is that - as is typical in the branch of the petrochemical/GMO/nanotech industry we term Big Pharma - they prefer to ignore biology. I've heard what we think of as aging described as being the result of insults which the body has been unable to heal - and 'cost-cutting' industrial pollution, inadequate nutrition (such as that supplied by profitable factory-farmed/GMO/petrochemically affected foods, such as with pesticides which prevent the uptake/function of essential dietary minerals) are indeed major impediments to optimized cellular-and-up biological function, to say the least. But these are so profitable to the few - the only thing to do is to ignore reality and create more 'virtual reality' to substitute for real reality and science, the latter involving the study of the former and how it works in reality. What could possibly go wrong?

Another is that these life-despising personalities are to be programmed into theoretically immortal machines forming the Singularity - what could possibly go wrong there, either? I suppose that 1984 wasn't enough of a text for them...

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/03/13/silicon-valley-trying-make-humans-imm...

Tech & Science
Silicon Valley Is Trying to Make Humans Immortal—and Finding Some Success
By Betsy Isaacson

Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, plans to live to be 120. Compared with some other tech billionaires, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. Dmitry Itskov, the “godfather” of the Russian Internet, says his goal is to live to 10,000; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, finds the notion of accepting mortality “incomprehensible,” and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, hopes to someday “cure death.”
These titans of tech aren’t being ridiculous, or even vainglorious; their quests are based on real, emerging science that could fundamentally change what we know about life and about death. It’s hard to believe, though, since the human quest for immortality is both ancient and littered with catastrophic failures. ...

...But historical precedent hasn’t dissuaded some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley. Thiel, for example, has given $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation. Aubrey de Grey, Methuselah's co-founder, says the nonprofit’s main research initiative, Strategies for