A rare political post today, due to the media’s failure to notice the 800 pound gorilla sitting right next to them in the room. Tories in the UK think they can ride to victory over Labour’s choice of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party and in a rare bipartisan consensus, centrist Labour agrees wholeheartedly. Yet Corbyn won in a landslide, taking 59.5% of the Labour vote. In the United States, centrist Hillary Clinton is beginning to slip, with at least one poll putting Bernie Sanders in the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire, well outside the margin of error, please note. That particular poll may be an outlier, yet it confirms a long term trend in which Sanders has steadily eroded Clinton’s lead in the last weeks. Also in the US, Donald Trump creates quite the storm by leading, and leading, and continuing to lead the (admittedly weak) field of GOP hopefuls.
What Trump, Sanders and Corbyn, along with Alexis Tsipras in Greece and Pablo Iglesias in Spain, all have in common is that they’re outside political party mainstream establishments, which voters rightly conclude are captured by wealthy interests and voters are in rebellion.
So how does this play out? Well, let’s look at the alternatives. The right proposes that political systems change from one-person-one-vote to something more akin to one-dollar-one-vote. The left’s proposals are fuzzy, though even the mainstream “left” in the US agrees that a constitutional amendment is called for, but one thing is clear: they’re against an autocratic right wing agenda.
So where’s the political “center” in all this? Nowhere, of course. Where they always are. It’s time we recognize that the center has no ideology or agenda other than not rocking the boat, maintaining the status quo and offering excuses to do nothing. The center breaks right or left or both, depending on whose radical rhetoric they appropriate, but have nothing to offer themselves. In legislative and policy terms, this amounts to accepting the status quo as the “center” offers only its rejection of the policy preferences at the poles. I’m not saying this is never a viable position, but it is always a weakness, and one that the left (but not the right) has failed to exploit. Somehow, “we’re not as rabid as the right wing” fails to inspire.
So the body politic is polarizing and I am totally fine with this. While there’s ample evidence that rank and file working-class Americans are far from radicalized, political polarization brings the real debate to the surface, and that’s both a discussion we badly need to have as well as one I feel pretty confident the left can win.
Just to state the obvious, the power of information (as opposed to what amounts to the “noise” of op-eds, punditry, “research” emanating from pre-ordained conclusions and the like), it’s useful to note what the Information Age has recently wrought. This seemingly “DUH” title Citizen videos of police misconduct are eroding the presumption that police do not commit misconduct ought to be understood as a given, but the underlying assumption needs to be made explicit: people are hungry—starving—for real information (in a format they understand).
For a long time, I haven’t focused on unfolding election results like I zeroed in on last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Greece. SYRIZA’s significant not because it a leftist government, after all, socialists have ruled in Greece for a long time, but SYRIZA has posted the first anti-establishment party I can ever recall posting a win. If the definition of radical is anyone who demands structural change in the political economy, then SYRIZA qualifies. (Radical is frequently (mis)used as a synonym for militant, and most Americans haven’t grasped the difference, even though they have been electing right-wing radicals since 1980.)
Without indulging overmuch the impulse either to go all tribal and join hands in yet another warm and fuzzy celebration of Amerikan Patriotism or go the other way and exclaim that America Had It Coming! (both of which are valid points of view―and if you don’t like hearing that, feel free to leave right now), here’s my 9/11 remembrance.
At the time, my workday frequently stretched from late morning, through the swing shift right into the graveyard shift in the wee hours of the morning, so I was still at home getting ready to leave for work and as usual, watching CNBC’s Squawk Box, hosted by Mark Haines at the time. The CNBC studios which, if I recall correctly (I don’t bother with CNBC anymore), are located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. CNBC used to broadcast video of the New York City skyline regularly, especially as they cut to, or returned from, commercial breaks, if I recall correctly, so I believe they were the first to break the news..They didn’t quite realize that it was an attack until the second plane hit the south tower, though Joe Kernan was skeptical from the start that an airplane would have flown into the building accidentally under what were ideal flying conditions Much as I hate to grant him credit on anything, he was right.
Mark Haines led the coverage, along with David Faber and Kernan, Faber had just reported that Lehman had upgraded Goldman Sachs (with a hefty measure of “meh”) though apparently he had been working the phones trying to find out and report what was happening. Kernan, was going on and on about some guy’s haircut (now there’s some news you can trade on).
When they were ready to go, Haines had been in the midst of an interview with Oakmark Select Fund’s Bill Nygren.
Beginning at 4:10, here’s how I found out:
Needless to say, I was very late to work that day, though it was certainly a day (like the Kennedy assassination) where I still recall exactly where I was when I heard the news. In that vein, when I finally did get to work, I remember Dan’s, my immediate supervisor, words when I entered: “it fell,” as I walked in the door. I knew exactly what he meant. Shortly afterwards, I ran out to the nearest Staples to see if I could get ahold of a radio in order to keep up with breaking developments. The last one they had, a Sony clock radio, is sitting on my desk as I type this, a personal historical artifact, and yes, I fully realize how lucky I am that this clock is the only physical consequence of my 9/11 experience. I was two degrees of separation away.
Of the 8,276 injuries and fatalities from terror attacks on US soil in the period from 1970 to 2011, 2,977 of these (just the fatalities) resulted from the attacks in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington DC that day. In revenge,,however, America has directly and indirectly killed about one million people. The carnage continues to this day, 13 years later.
As I write this, negotiators from Israel and Hamas are in Cairo wrestling with yet another set of issues resulting from the colonialist view that treating weaker peoples however you like is OK―as long as you can get away with it. However, today Hamas in Gaza is out in force marching in support of their negotiators and their demands, while Netanyahu lines up US support to avoid being hauled before the ICC on war crimes charges. In the meantime, the negative fallout from Israel’s latest war on Palestinians continues to spread. Predictably, Operation Protective Edge looks to possibly be an even bigger political disaster for Israel than Cast Lead, though Israel may not care.