Somalia’s ‘Coast Guard’

Attention anarchist revolutionaries!  Salute a new role model: the energetic members of the Somali Coast Guard!  These AK-47 and RPG wielding versions of Calico Jack patrol the seas, keeping illegal weapons from war torn regions and preventing millions of barrels of oil from being combusted into the atmosphere.  They fight for the little man: the destitute Somali fisherman who watched large international fishing vessels illegally rape their tuna-rich coastal waters while Somalia’s central government is too weak to assert it’s sovereignty.  “Our fish were all eradicated so… we’re going to fish whatever passes through our sea” says a ‘coast guard’ leader.

The coast guard (you might be more familiar with the mainstream media title of ‘pirates’)  began as small groups of armed fishermen fending off illegal fishing in Somalia’s coastal waters after their central government collapsed in 1991.  Soon after, the pirates (pirates are cooler anyway) began to capture these illegal fishing vessels and sell them back to their owners.  Since then the pirates have grown in number and capacity.  It is estimated there are now well over a thousand pirates operating off the coast of Somalia and they capture and ransom everything from foreign fishing boats to luxury yachts and super size oil tankers.  2008 has been a record year for the pirates: they’ve more than quadrupled the amount of ships captured from last years record of 23.  Their ransoms range from about $100,000 to $2,000,000, and are paid in cash filled burlap sacks often dropped from helicopters. Since Somalia is still engulfed in a never ending civil war between Islamic radicals and the ‘transitional’ central government, the pirate industry is one of Somalia’s largest.

The Somali pirates, like the pirates of yesteryear, are entirely motivated by personal profit; but that doesn’t mean their actions haven’t produced some semblance of societal benefit.  In October they captured a ship filled with heavy weapons, artillery and tanks that were supposedly purchased by the Kenyan military but a variety of reports (here, here, here) claim their ultimate destination was war torn southern Sudan. The pirates are asking for $20 million.  When asked whether they planned to sell some of the weapons in the lucrative arms markets of Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, the New York Times reports the pirate leader said: “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons.  We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”

Some readers of this blog may remember a situation last summer when an NGO was tracking a large shipment of weapons being sent to Robert Mugabe’s oppressive regime in Zimbabwe.  At the time, Zimbabwe was going through a highly contested and violent election.  The international community failed to stop or delay the shipment and the weapons arrived safely, allowing Mugabe to use his military strength to continue his autocratic rule over a crumbling Zimbabwe.  Maybe the NGO should have hired some Somali pirates to take over the ship instead of asking governments for assistance.

This past month the pirates captured a Saudi oil tanker with two million barrels of oil worth an estimated $100+ million.  This tanker is one size below the largest tankers in the world and is by far the largest boat the Somali’s have ever captured.  This high profile capture will increase the price of oil as insurance rates for such ships is now certain to increase as the Telegraph reports: “The greatest knock on effect is likely to be in the cost of insurance, which had already soared earlier this year as the number of hijackings escalated.  Higher oil prices means less carbon released into the atmosphere.   Al Gore take note!  They’re ransoming the ship for $25 million.

The prolific actions this year of the pirates will likely lead to their demise.  Capturing cargo ships is one thing, but when people interrupt the supply of guns and oil the power that be have a tendency to take notice. The international community is already beginning to mobilize a larger force of military vessels to patrol the Somali coast.  Predator drones that patrol the region under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’ might soon find some pirate captains in their cross hairs.  This doesn’t frighten the pirate captain controlling took the Saudi ship who briskly stated that “you only die once.”

Of course, the pirates luck may change if they can successfully make the jump to privateers. While pirates are the equivalent of thieves, privateers are thieves with support from a foreign government expressed via a letter of marquis.  Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution gives Congress the power to create such letters.  I wonder what would happened if America provided Letters of Marquis to Somali pirates who intercept weapons en route to brutal African dictators…

You can further explore pirate culture by translating your Facebook interface into pirate English.

Californian Jurisprudence To The Rescue?

Every morning I drive down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, past the largest Mormon Church in Southern California.  Before Proposition 8 – the state referendum functionally banning gay marriage – passed, I felt fairly ambivalent towards the looming concrete structure, anointed by the large gold figurine of a man pointing east towards Jerusalem.  Other than this golden calf, the building itself has few defining features; a bland assault on architectural curiosity.  Its wrought-iron fence and large, uphill lawn are marked only by an attractive black family on a billboard that proclaims, “I wanted to know how to keep my family together.”

Since November 4th, however, each time I drive by I want to yell, “Fuck you!” out the window.  I want to drive up onto the sidewalk and take a hammer to the metal divide and charge up the grass like it is Normandy Beach.  I want to scream to the utterly deaf walls, “Don’t you see the irony in infringing on another minority’s marriage rights? Does the word polygamy ring a bell?  How many soccer practices do your parents have to miss before one becomes intolerant and submissive enough to join or remain a part of this institution? Is it more or less than a woman who decides to become a porn star?  Have you seen that episode of South Park? You know, the one that makes it patently obvious that your beliefs are absurd?”  I know it is entirely childish, but I cannot help it.  It certainly does not help that I’ve never actually seen anyone – ever – enter or leave the building.  Who are these faceless, nameless oppressors?  It’s infuriating.

From week to week, there is an occasional smattering of protesters in front of the church. My favorite dissident so far was a twenty-something guy, flamboyantly dressed in rainbow garb, holding a sign that read: “Honk if you support love!”  Is this guy the threat to Californian families?  The hilarity of his dissent stood in stark contrast to the seriousness of the situation. He danced up and down Wilshire in front of the silent building, by himself, drawing dozens of honks and cheers from the rolled down windows of passersby.  The outright public relations victory of the jovial protester is not surprising considering the liberalism of Los Angeles.  West Hollywood, an enclave of gay and lesbian culture, is only fifteen minutes northeast of the Mormon Church.  To put it bluntly, the repressive and backwards religiousity of Mor-Mania is entirely out of place in a city that lives and dies by the entertainment industry.  My girlfriend works at a prominent talent agency and, if its employees and clients are any indication, television, music and film would almost definitely shut down without the participation of gay people.  Religious fundamentalists still watch TV and go to the movies, right?

I have had many discussions about gay marriage since the campaign to pass Proposition 8 started to crystallize a few months ago.  Many of my liberal cohorts have argued that it is not really necessary for gay culture to participate in religious marriage, because they view civil unions as enabling of the same rights, privileges and throw-your-shit-around screaming matches inherent to most marriages.  In my opinion, this perspective, while informed, is not cognizant of the social and legal realities that a gay marriage ban brings with it, particularly in California.  There is a degree of historical amnesia that this civil unions argument engages with respect to the civil rights struggles of blacks and the failure of the ‘separate but equal doctrine’ of the pre-Brown v. Board world.  Like ‘whites only’ and ‘colored’ schools and water fountains, civil unions exist only for gay people.  It is another, more sophisticated ‘separate but equal’ legal instrument that serves only one purpose – to exclude gays from state-recognized marriage.  That the church and state should be exclusive in American society, contrary to many claims, only reinforces the unfair duality of the marriage/civil union distinction.  What constitues marriage should be up to the people getting married, not the state.  Christianity and Mormonism do not have exclusive rights on the right to marry or its definition.  Many religious zealots from these camps seem to forget that marriage was not the product of their faith.  Plato, in his many dialogues, argued that marriage is “the ideal institution.”  Indeed, religious and social definitions of marriage precede Christianity by many millenia throughout the world.

When studying the history of black civil rights in my earlier education, I always liked to think that I would have been one of those white kids marching and boycotting alongside the blacks.  In returning to that sentiment, I have realized that the current struggle for gay civil rights is exactly equivalent. Sure, gays were never owned as physical property, but that does not take away from the fact that they are also and still excluded and marginalized. As a straight guy, I have the same desire to “speak for the other” that is gay culture.  Not that gay people are an ‘other’ to me, but that the highest exercise of political and social participation comes from protecting minority rights.  True representative democracy and deliberative justice requires the absolute equality of its citizens.  Fortunately, there is good news amidst the maelstrom of anti-equality raging in the United States against its gay and lesbian citizens.

The California Supreme Court, the same higher court that initially legalized gay marriage in California, ruled this week, 6 to 1, that it would hear the case brought by gay rights lawyers to overturn Proposition 8.  I reviewed the proposed Writ of Mandate and I think that there is a very good chance that the court will rule to either overturn the ban or embrace a via media to allow existing marriages to remain intact, while preventing new marriages from occurring.  Their legal argument is fairly brilliant and entirely necessary.  Gay rights lawyers from San Francisco and Los Angeles have contended that a “bare majority” of California citizens cannot vote, even through referendum, to restrict the rights of an unpopular minority, because that would undermine the purpose of the courts and their obligation to uphold minority protections.  Only an “amendment” to the California constitution could allow such a “tyranny of the majority” to come to pass, not a “revision” like Proposition 8.  In my own legal opinion, I think that is a very compelling case for a variety of reasons.

The historical role of the American court system has been to protect minority rights, whether racial, sexual or class-based.  If a majority of citizens could simply vote to restrict the rights of an unpopular minority, the worst aspects of democracy would come to fruition.  The greatest accomplishment of the court system in America has not been to check the power of Congress and the President, but to ensure the constitutional obligations of equal rights apply to all citizens.  California has stood at the forefront of that heightened sense of jurisprudence, particularly the 10th District Court of Appeals, which is routinely criticized for its “judicial activism.”  The idea that, by ensuring equal rights, a court is functioning without regard to the Constitution is absurd.  It is not activist or prejudicial to fulfill the intent of our experiment in republican governance – to create power by the people for the people.  Referenda may be democratic in most instances, but not when they act to delegitimate unpopular minorities.  The court system’s true value comes from overruling those tendencies and keeping republicanism intact.

As the California Supreme Court begins deliberation on this sensitive issue, I hope that their informed jurisprudence comes to the rescue of minority rights once again and brings our progressive state back to the forefront of sociopolitical thought. Anything less would guarantee a return to the world of ‘separate but equal’ – and that is entirely unacceptable.

Tomorrow’s Republican (or Yellow) Coalition

The “red” coalition that brought Reagan, Bush I and II to power has fractured under the weight of their success because they did not properly serve their constituents.  After 8 years of Bush, the traditionalists (Christian conservatives) are still upset about the lack of socially conservative progress, the nationalists (hawks and ‘security’ voters) are frustrated by an increasingly unpopular quagmire  and the libertarians (small government folks) have watched Bush and the Republicans continue the expansion of the Federal Government.  At the end of the day, the only people served by the GOP was the multinational corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater, Exxon-Mobile and other upstanding corporate citizens.  Now, the Republican party is in the uncomfortable position of having to chose which subgroups to serve, which to grow and which to drop.  In my opinion they don’t have many options if they want to remain relevant.

The Republican party has a dearth of leaders.  Let’s take a quick look at their current roster.

Sarah Palin is a beautiful maverick for whom the Lord has been providing open doors to a serious political career.  There are many questions surrounding her qualifications to lead her party, her family life and, most importantly, her political platform.  While she has the ability to garner support from traditionalists and nationalists, McCain’s defeat displayed how limited that coalition has become.  She needs to reengage the small government people by becoming more belligerent towards the mainstream media and going through an extensive education on some serious issues: (1) she needs to understand the Constitution and that it is a document wary of government.  Her principles must be rooted in that document and condemn the Patriot Act.

She needs to begin a national debate about monetary policy and advocate a radically different tax policy like the Fair Tax.  She must also stand up against the hawkish members of her party and advocate non-interventionism: hawks have no place in the next Republican party.  There is a lot of room to maneuver, but if she doesn’t appear genuinely concerned with the size of government and have a plan to radically reduce it, her coalition will crumble like a deer hit by 180 grain soft points.

Mike Huckabee has been replaced (at least temporarily) by Sarah Palin as the defacto leader of the traditionalists-nationalists coalition.  Like Palin, he needs to stand firmly against big government conservatism and corruption.  He has already publicly advocated the Fair Tax and I think that’s an ingenious move.  If he and Palin can tone down the culture war and imperialist rhetoric and adopt principled small government policies, either (or both together) might have a chance in 2012.

Bobby Jindal, the Indian (subcontinent) governor of Louisiana is often cited as a possible leader of the Republican party.  His socially conservative Catholic doctrine might serve him well enough to make it to the mainstream GOP’s floor.  If the Republicans chose to become a follow the Democrats towards the center, he is a good choice, but I think that is a losing strategy.  Jindal has made a variety of socially conservative stands that turn off small government folks and aside from great anti-corruption rhetoric, he’s seemed too mainstream on tax and Constitution issues.

Mitt Romney was a perfect mainstream GOP candidate: a competent, pro-corporate hawk.  Unfortunately for his career, Obama is probably going to hold the purple center of American politics for many years to come.  This leaves Romney with an extremely weak coalition: some moderates, nationalists and portions of the traditionalists who don’t think Mormonism is blasphemous.  Not a winning coalition.

Ron Paul is the future of the Republican party because the internet is the future of politics.  Howard Dean’s unlikely rise to the top of the Democratic establishment (DNC chairman) was built upon his campaign’s use of the netroots.  Tens of millions of Americans connected by the internet and engaged with politics.  The netroots allowed Barack Obama to defeat the Clinton political machine and the John McCain campaign.

Ron Paul didn’t know much about the internet when he ran for the Republican nomination this year but his supporters did and they created a decentralized network of websites and online support communities that raised over $30 million.  This launched him into the national spotlight, albeit a dim one.  The energy from his campaign has transformed into the formation of a web-powered political coalition called the Campaign for Liberty.

The most interesting thing about the Campaign for Liberty and the Ron Paul phenomenon is that it has attracted some of the most ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ factions of American politics.  Indeed, Ralph Nader, the uber liberal, and Ron Paul, the uber conservative, agree with other third party candidates Bobb Barr (Libertarian candidate) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party) on a number of issues: (1) a non-interventionist foreign policy, (2) the sanctity of America’s Constitutionally protected rights to privacy and due process, (3) balancing the federal budget and (4) a reevaluation of monetary policy and the role of the Federal Reserve System.  These four issues are the foundation of a winning coalition.

This coalition has many subgroups: Marxists liberals and right wing militias, libertarian intellectuals and anti-corporate activists, environmentalists and oilmen.  In my opinion the wide range of eclectic supporters of this coalition are calling for a more decentralized governing system like the ones Founding Father and Milton Freedman would fantasize about.  A government of layers, each of which is best adapted to the community it serves.  Local, regional, national, global ensuring peace within the community and it’s representation to the greater whole.  Social programs are not run from far away capitals, but within community partnerships between business and non-profit entities.  This fundamental decentralization is worthy of a political platform because it is the root of conservatism: it is Edmund Burke shifting his weight to balance the ship of society.

Barack Obama’s great innovation was his centrist approach to politics during a time of extreme political divisiveness.  The Republicans must figure out the next great innovation if they want to remain relevant.  That innovation is decentralization and it’s where the third parties are currently coalescing.  If the Republicans can’t brand Obama as a big government politician determined to centralize power and take away community’s rights, and then brand themselves as upholders of those rights, then some crafty people are going form another (Yellow?) party and take the Republican’s spot at the dance.

On the Failure and the Future of the US Automobile Industry

The American automobile industry was once a national source of pride; now it is a national disgrace.  When the Ford Mustang launched in 1964 (and 1/2) it seemed like Detroit could do no wrong.  They were making money hand over first, their innovations were celebrated by the press and consumers had big cars and big smiles.  Hardly anyone noticed when the VW Beetle was introduced to the US market in the 1950s.  By 1968 it was selling 400,000 cars a year in the US.  Instead of taking a hard look at this phenomenal seller, US industry executives effectively ignored it, instead patting themselves on the back for their most recent (and much cooler) muscle cars.

The VW Beetle and first Toyota Corolla were completely different than anything coming from Detroit.  Indeed, Big Three executives laughed at their meager proportions, anemic engines and functional style.  The laughter ended in 1973 when the first major fuel crises forced Americans to consider that silly little mpg number.  Suddenly, the American public realized that these foreign cars made sense and they never stopped buying them.

By the mid 1970s, the Big Three automakers realized they were unprepared for this new marketplace that valued fuel efficiency over horsepower, functional design over superficial styling, reliability over new gadgets.  After three decades of building cars (and car companies) for the booming post war marketplace, they were unprepared for a belt tightening future.  They panicked because the task ahead seemed too frightening.  Indeed, it would have required admitting their competitors were producing better products, it would have required reorganizing their entire companies around new objectives and purging a large portion of their executive management to make room for new people who could change the company.

By 1980, Toyota was producing cars with 90% less defects than American manufacturers.  (I’ll provide citations on Monday.)  This wasn’t because the Japanese were superior car makers: it was because they had a superior car making process. The Toyota Production System (TPS) deindividualized the manufacturing process: allowing teams of workers to be responsible for and solve problems concerning a section of a car instead of having each individual simply perform the next step in the manufacturing process.  By the mid-1980s the Big Three realized they needed to adapt lean production principles and retool or they would actually die.  At great embarrassment and expense, Big Three executives traveled to Japan to learn this new process.  By the time they implemented it so had nearly every other manufacturer of first world consumer goods.  In other words: too little, too late.

…I could continue on this history of the collapse of the US auto industry (and I may continue later) but the real question of the day is what do we do about GM?

The fact of the matter is that the US automobile industry is different than the airline industry because it plays a significant role in our national security.  Cars are weapons of war.  Thus, we cannot simply let free market forces destroy our capacity to create them.  However, if the government wants to get involved with GM, it shouldn’t throw good money after bad and invest in a team of people who cannot produce a decent car.  They should buy the company outright and commit to investing an exact amount of money into it’s revival: no more, no less.  Obama should get the smartest people possible to evaluate GM’s assets and create the paradigm of 21st century automobile manufacturing.  Indeed, they should pioneer a cooperative automobile company that builds good military vehicles (economical, reliable and green) and sells them to civilians.  That’s more or less how the VW Beetle was birthed.

Turn Detroit Into Cape Canaveral

On Monday, General Motors spooked the entire economics community, financial and academic, when it reported that it was hemorraging $2 billion a month and might be forced to declare bankruptcy.  If their cash reserves dip below $10 billion, the company said it will be unable to pay its health care obligations or even finance its dealerships.  Shares in General Motors (GM) plummeted to $2.92 the next day, their lowest price since 1946.  As an employer of over one million people, a failure would have a horrendous domino effect on the economy.  Not surprisingly, it’s bad when an American corporation with the word “General” in its name goes under.

Although General Motors already received a $25 billion bailout from the government in September, the reality of the situation is that only further state intervention will save the troubled giant.  Democratic congressional leaders are pushing the Bush Administration to give additional funds to GM, but they have been unable to gain ground on the issue.  Barack Obama also fought for the additional bailout and pressured President Bush to that effect during their White House rendezvous.  Without altering course, the Bush Administration plans to let GM fail, much like Lehman Brothers.  It does not yet appear as though Obama has enough of a bully pulpit to substantially influence Treasury policy.  Congressional Republicans also refuse to support a bailout, on the grounds that bankruptcy arbitration will be positive for the flailing company.

The Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans are not likely to change their minds on the issue and General Motors will most likely declare bankruptcy in the next quarter or two.  In my opinion, GM deserves to fail, as their painful lack of innovation and horrendous corporate management structure is a death-knell for any company.  While Congressional Democrats are trying to get in good with Detroit, saving GM in its current incarnation would only stagnate American business culture.  It is very unfortunate that GM’s poor business practice will result in many thousands of layoffs, but it would be better to tear the band-aid off now and spare taxpayers the bill of future bailouts.  It should be noted that a large portion of GM’s fiscal instabilities have come from their extremely expensive health care plan.  As Thomas Friedman already noted in his most recent opinion column in the New York Times, “spare me”.  Universal health care probably would have saved them, but GM has previously denied support for any such measure.  In other words, they asked for it.

While certainly dire economic news, this situation also presents a major opportunity for the incoming Obama Administration.  If and when GM goes into bankruptcy, only then should the federal government present a bailout to them.  This bailout, far from the unsupervised check-cutting of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, should come with strict and unconditional terms that require GM to manufacture environmentally friendly and energy efficient automobiles within a reasonable amount of time. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, that damn San Francisco liberal, has already voiced her intentions to make those environmental reforms a stringest component to any automotive bailout. GM should be forced to cut its production of all fuel inefficient trucks and SUVs, whose sales have tanked anyway, in order to form the manufacturing base for Obama’s energy infrastructure revolution.  GM would be highly subsidized by the government and would bear little risk in the structured venture.

John F. Kennedy gave NASA ten years to get to the moon, Mr. Obama should give GM five.  The technology is already here, GM simply has to implement it within their production structure.  Indeed, GM, through their Chevrolet line, already plans to introduce an electric car, the Volt, by 2010.  If cars like the Volt and Prius-like hybrids were to fill GM’s production schedule in post-bankruptcy restructuring, an American car company could finally compete with the foreign operations like ‘recession-proof’ Honda, which just opened another fuel-efficient automobile manufacturing plant in Canada.  Once the immediate effects of the recession have ceased and consumers start spending again, albeit at probably lower levels than before, GM will have access to a huge market share.  It could revitalize Detroit and, if the other members of the Big Three followed suit and were equally successful, the entire Rust Belt.  Ford Motors already produces the fuel-efficient hybrid Prius, but continues to engage in poor investments with trucks and SUVs.

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor and former colleague of Mr. Obama at the University of Chicago, recently published a book with behavioral economist Richard Thaler called Nudge.  The book advocates that the government engage in a form of soft coercion with both the public and private spheres in order to gently shape behavior in a positive and progressive fashion.  For instance, they recommend legislation that auto-enrolls employees in a retirement account with the option to drop out at any time.  Because retirement accounts are unquestionably good investments, coercing people, by shifting the default option to the economically beneficial side, can have tremendously positive effects.  As long as the option to drop out is ubiquitous, there is no real mark left on our freedom of choice.  So, why do I bring this up?

Mr. Obama, already aware of the theories behind Nudge and the book itself, could use GM as a significant test case for soft coercion.  By giving GM the option to either collapse or take loans from the government in bankruptcy court with serious fuel efficiency conditions, the US could softly coerce the first stage of a multi-pronged energy revolution in the United States.  Consumers, instead of being given the default choice of gas guzzlers, would have the initial opportunity to purchase “green” automobiles.  If we were able to cut our dependency on foreign oil through the measure, in conjunction with infrastructural innovations like wind, solar and geothermal technologies to produce carbon-free electricity, there would be a chain reaction in the global political economy.  Indeed, there is a perfect storm brewing.

With the international economy is a tailspin, global demand for oil has drastically fallen off.  China and the United States have driven down consumption and forced OPEC to reduce production by as many as 1 million barrels per day in each member country. Oil prices on commodities markets plummeted to a 22-month low yesterday, hitting $52 per barrel. OPEC states, many of which are hostile to the United States and its allies, have specific requirements for the price of oil in order to balance their national budgets.  According to PF Consulting, a wholly owned subsidiary of Deutsche Bank, this fiscal year Venezuela needs oil to be priced at $97 per barrel in order to balance its budget.  Iran requires a price of $58, Saudi Arabia $62, Kuwait $48 and United Arab Emirates $51.  For the next fiscal year, Russia requires the price of oil to stay above $70 per barrel.  With oil at $52, Hugo Chavez, Vladmir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are freaking out. Each rely on massive social programs, financed with petro-dollars, to maintain their hold on power.  Putin and fake-Russian President Medvedev are so worried that they told European Union member countries at an economic summit this week that Russia and Europe, together, “speak with one voice.”  Russia and its stock market have been rocked by the financial crisis, occasionally suspending trading to keep volatility down. Ahmedinejad has already written Mr. Obama to express congratulatory sentiments.  Every state with a large stake in oil prices has gotten quite friendly all of a sudden.  Mr. Obama will never need preconditions for diplomatic meetings with any of these leaders, as long as he keeps the price of oil down.  That price sanction, issued at the consumer level, would speak for itself.

Economic interconnectedness is a double-edged sword.  OPEC may have sway over us when oil prices are high, but man do we have sway over them when oil prices are low.  Oligarchies only work when you can fund them.  Considering our immense opportunity to permanently diminish OPEC’s resource returns with a restructuring of Detroit, globalization is looking pretty good right now.  In one fell swoop, the Obama Administration could improve environmental conditions by creating a profitable, competitive and job-producing green manufacturing base, while simultaneously draining the capital from our self-declared enemies and increasing our national security.  That’s a win-win-win-win situation.

Let’s turn Detroit into Cape Canaveral.  The Green Revolution might blow up on the launch pad a few times, but eventually, it’ll get us to the moon.

Today’s Purple Coalition

American consciousness shifted to a different political value system and we can call it purple.  It’s going to ripple through the American perception like a drop into a bucket.  The changes won’t be imminent but they’ll be inevitable.  You could call it a shift to collectivism but (hopefully) it could transcends that and becomes a celebration of autonomous achievement.  A celebration of scale.  We can operate a peaceful, humane society not just within a closed house, but in our closed neighborhood, our closed town, our closed region and also in our closed world.

The beauty of a closed community is that it is by definition open within.  This requires a certain faith in tolerance.  A faith that the current power structure did not have.  John McCain was, at the end of the day, the old power structure and Barack Obama was the change.

This election was a rejection of intolerance. Not intolerance of gays, but intolerance of opposing points of view.  Bush was a closed leader and closed leaders have opened up to their inner circle but not to the outside.  They naturally dislike dissent. Ask Leo Strauss, the hidden godfather of neoliberal/conservativism.  (It can be called both neoconservative and neoliberal because it is, essentially, neoism.)  David Harvey’s “A Brief History of Neoliberalism” defines it as a political-economic system that  “proposes that human well-being can be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.  The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.” (Harvey, 2)

Neoliberalism, as a philosophy, has a glaring omission in the realm of foreign policy.  Neoconservatism fills the void with an aggressive, interventionist one.   Neoconservatives do not deny advocating American power projection.

Whether you want to call it “neoism“, neoliberalism or neoconservatism, that was the power structure of America and, with less direct influence, the world.

Of course, the vast majority of Americans don’t know this.  They know that things have been very unnatural for a while.  Living around farmland and buying food at Walmart? Living around towns with no stores?  Seeing a bunch of people on TV that don’t?

Since the 60s-70s we’ve been living in a reactionary world, a closing world built under the specter of communism.  The quicker we realize that our closed system is geared towards the wrong struggle, the quicker we can neutralize the next threat.  The Republican Party followed the old fear too far and now they’ll suffer.  The Republican party has not been the conservative party since Barry Goldwater in the 60s.  He couldn’t buid a coalition in 1962 and he was left in the dust and his principled followers scattered.  Hilary went to the Democrats and a gaggle went into the Republican party.  Ask Ron Paul how many friends he has and you’ll see how solidly Goldwater‘s vision was scattered: except for his furious anti-communism.  (He later rejected his aggressive foreign policy stance.)  That scattering never got to see their vision fulfilled but there is always the next generation.

Is Barack Obama that leader?  Yes: not because he’s so special, but because the times are special and he was selected by the mass for his amazing narrative, clarity and calm.  He is a void: he isn’t closed to anything and that makes him a centrist: ready to listen to and rule all.

The Purple Coalition is a group of Americans who said no to closed systems and yes to an open ones.  The New York Times tells us that this is a collection of people whom the closed system didn’t work.  It’s a collection of marginalized people: women (53%), 18-29 years old (66%), racial minorities including with Hispanics at 67%, single people and alternatively sexual, people who didn’t graduate high school (63%), urban residents (70%) and Jews (78%).  We all know that when the Jews pick ’em, they either succeed or don’t.

This coalition isn’t as easy to break down as yesterday’s Republican coalition of traditionalists, nationalists and libertarians: it’s a bunch of Americans who decided to agree with each other so they could create change.  This means that Obama isn’t going to rule for his party but for ALL Americans because when you’re selling ‘change’ to people, you’re selling to anyone might like it.  When you sell fear you’re removing ‘scary’ people from your audience.

Obama is going to frame his change for as many types of people as possible.  He is going to try and convince us all that his change is great and it’s going to get better.  That is fundamentally different than Bush and his closed political environment where he was trying to convince his constituency that change was to be feared.  Terrorism and pessimism are the tools of closed worldviews, celebration and optimism are the tools of open ones. Nationalism and Traditionalism are, by definition, closed.  Libertarianism is not.  It’s newest iteration could escape it’s current closed iteration and advocate a layered system of governance: an onion of natural jurisdictions.  This is the path forward for the Republican party, and what I’ll discuss in Part 3 of the Purple America Series: Tomorrow’s Republican (or Yellow) Coalition.

Yesterday’s Republican Coalition

To understand why Americans chose to unite under Barack Obama and shed their ‘red’ and ‘blue’ identities,  one must look at where our deepest contemporary fissure began: the Vietnam War.  It’s hard for our younger generation to imagine how the struggle over Vietnam divided this country.  Nixon articulated the division well by describing the Silent Majority: the group of Americans who did not protest Vietnam or engage in progressive politics during the 1960s and 1970s.  This majority witnessed the cultural turmoil of the 60s and 70s via traditional media (radio, TV and newspaper) and from Vietnam.  They saw the most sensational aspects: anti-war demonstrations, civil rights marches, student uprisings, Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, Charles Manson, Roman Polanski.  The far left defined the cultural political environment with their actions and the Silent Majority responded en mass during the 1970s: first unorganized and indignant, and then organized and confident.  The Silent Majority was a predecessor to the socially conservative coalition that delivered five elections to conservatives over the last 30 years.  This coalition had three main subgroups, nationalists, traditionalists and libertarians, each of which existed in American politics since (at least) the New Deal.

  • Nationalists believe that their countrymen deserve more than other people.  Historically, nationalists were rabidly anti-communist.  When the USSR fell, the neo-con doctrine of using American military power to impose its economic interests on other nations became more apparent and nationalism became a less significant issue for most Americans.  9/11 brought it back with a vengeance.  These hawkish ‘patriots’ are distributed throughout socioeconomic brackets and are well represented among urban intellectuals (the neo-con variety), as well as more traditionally ‘conservative’ populations in inland America.  The ’security mom’ subgroup of suburbanite parents who were unconcerned about national security before 9/11  bolstered the nationalist coalition significantly.
  • Traditionalists could also be called Christian Conservatives.  Their ideology has developed from an unspecific anger at the Federal government for imposing ‘liberal’ programs on small towns.  Forced school integration, evolution, sex education, abortion, gay rights, media culture and other issues were used by Republicans to whip traditionalists into a culture war frenzy and united Christians together to fight liberal social objectives.  Unfortunately for this grouping, the Republican party could do little to advance their objectives.  Abortion remains legal in America, despite much conflict schools have changed little about their curricula, our culture has become more accepting of gays and the ‘culture war’ has fizzled.  In short, traditionalists put a lot of effort into getting their Republican candidates elected and have little to show for it.
  • Libertarians have been a force in US politics since the anti-federalists fought the ratification of the Constitution.  These people (and this author considers himself some type of libertarian) believe that government should be as small and as inexpensive as possible.  Libertarians found friends among the traditionalists who disliked how the government was imposing ‘liberal’ values on their communities and were a natural ally of any American who wanted lower taxes.  The guns rights debate both attracted more people to libertarianism and redefined libertarianism as a populist opinion.

Each of these groups became more active during the Vietnam era as a response to liberal cultural progress.  The nationalists grew more anti-communist so they could spar with the anti-war left.  The traditionalists tried harder to insulate their communities from outside progressives.  The libertarians fractured: the moderates rallied behind Republican tax cuts while the small government core became dejected and isolated as neither party offered a real small government program.

This coalition solidified under Reagan and it proved to be much more useful than the Democrat’s hodgepodge of interest groups: labor, leftists, minorities, college educated ‘liberals’ and others.  Due to the stability of the Republican coalition of the 80s, the Democrats responded by embracing more centrist policies and rhetoric.  In response to this centrist threat, the Republicans created the ‘culture war’ of the 1990s, a political crow bar that forced Americans apart and into either ‘red’ or ‘blue’ values communities.  This was done to obscure the centrist nature of the post Reagan Democrats and the increasing similarities between the two parties.

The culture war was a red herring because there was little anyone in the political sphere could do to influence the primary culture war issues (abortion, gun rights, federal education guidelines, gay rights.)  Abortion is a judicial issue that will be resolved through slow progress via judicial channels.  Abortion in cases of rape and incest will not be criminalized and late-term abortions will not be mandated legal.  Gun rights is another red herring: the issue is deeply entrenched in complex state and community rights issues.  Guns will never be illegal to own in less dense areas and assault weapons will always be restricted.  Our federal education system is broken but the debate surrounding schools has been one of content, not structure.  The content debate has not prevented evolution from being taught to another generation of students, nor have this new generation been taught about the amazing diversity of world religions and worldviews.  Watch the film Philadelphia and you’ll be shocked at how much more tolerant our society is of homosexuals than we were just 15 years ago.  There is little politicians can do to stop our mainstream culture from continuing on it’s increasingly tolerant trajectory.

Despite these relatively simple facts, the ‘culture war’ propelled a generation of cultural conservatives into office, George W Bush being the most prominent.  These men and women were savvy politicians but were also incompetent leaders.  Their obvious and undeniable failures left America fractured and angry with it’s political class.  During Bush’s second term pop-political science authors were writing books about a second civil war.  More astute political observers noticed the growing and unsatiated demand for a truly centrist leader.  Enter Barack Obama and the emerging purple America coalition.

And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Prestige

David Blaine, watch your back.  Despite your impressive resume of awe-inspiring street magic and death-defying physical exploits, a far better illusionist is attempting to complete his last and most astonishing trick.  A vanishing act, so incredibly unbelievable, that it will forever be considered one of the greatest acts of deception ever displayed to an audience.  No, I am not talking about Criss Angel hovering across the stage in his Las Vegas smash success, “BeLIEve”.  The performer of which I speak is none other than the sitting President of the United States, George W. Bush, who successfully made both the United States and, now, himself utterly invisible. Allow me to explain his grand illusion.

Like the exceptional film “The Prestige” tells us, a magic trick consists of three parts.  First, there is ‘the pledge’.  You show the audience something completely ordinary, in this case a seemingly traditional conservative president presiding over the United States during peacetime.  Next, there is ‘the turn’.  Here, Mr. Bush earned his universal reputation as a skilled magician by making the America we knew and loved completely disappear.  It was one hell of a turn.  Through war profiteering, the torture of prisoners in secret military prisons, the corruption of domestic civil liberties and a collapsed economy, Mr. Bush succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.  But, as Michael Cain so pleasantly narrated, to make something disappear is not enough.  You have to bring it back.  Otherwise, the audience is simply confused and disappointed.  The remedy to this disillusionment, the final part of the trick, is quite appropriately entitled ‘the prestige’.  Mr. Bush, however, encountered a serious problem.  He has, in more ways than one, no prestige to give.  So, to pull off the greatest trick of all – to disappear America and then return it – Mr. Bush has engineered a great and final vanishing act.  He has convinced the world that Mr. Obama is already the President.  For then, we might be able to have the prestige everyone so desires.

Although the President still has until January 20th to preside over our much besieged Union, it has become remarkably clear that he no longer believes he has any duty to lead.  I cannot say that I am entirely surprised by this development, as it perfectly coincides with the empirical record.  Nonetheless, the degree to which everyone is comfortable with Mr. Bush’s prestige, or lack thereof, is remarkable.  Having only won the presidential election days earlier, Mr. Obama has already begun talking with foreign leaders, conferring with top business executives about the financial crisis, recruiting a crack team of advisers, receiving invitations to direct diplomacy from our enemies and affecting the outcome of our military adventure in Iraq.  No President-Elect in modern history has had so great a burden forced onto his lap months before assuming office.

We the people, the shocked and horrified audience of the greatest magic trick ever performed, demand our prestige.  Whether or not Mr. Obama can pull off the final act of President Bush’s grand illusion remains to be seen.  If he does not, we will be left with a dead bird called America, crushed by the collapsing cage of neoconservatism.

Idealism On Trial

On Tuesday night, with the resounding selection of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, the latest test case in the trial of idealism successfully earned a place back on the American docket.

It was a moment of emotional catharsis for idealism’s often denigrated liberal clerks, whose flowing tears and unrelenting exclamations of joy were on full display for all civilization to witness. For the first time since the collapse of the credit markets, international capital poured back into the United States, albeit of a different kind than expected.  The smiles we grinned were grinned right back – from Baghdad to New Delhi, from Tokyo to Nairobi, from Moscow to Tehran.  One of the darkest testimonies given in American history, ideologically defined by ruthless self-interest and brought to bear by the barbaric realpolitik of the Bush Administration, had finally lost its appeal.  That the victory was carried by the eloquence of a former-constitutional law professor over the deteriorating grandeur of an old soldier presents a symbolism that should be lost on nobody.  It certainly has not been lost to the international community.

After two years of partisan electoral chicanery, idealism prevailed. It survived the discursive barbs hurled by the Old Guard on both the Left (Hilary Clinton’s matter-of-fact statement to Democratic superdelegates, “He can’t win.”) and the Right (John McCain’s sad rhetorical decline into invocations of “Who is the real Barack Obama?”). Its opening arguments, spoken so mellifluously by Obama, were sometimes hard to pin down, resisting clear appropriation in favor of unrestrained creative potential and post-partisan unity. Idealism’s lack of ideological clarity has made Obama’s critics genuinely fearful of what could come to fruition if it reclaimed the reigns of American power.

Idealism, the hopeful pursuit of what-should-be instead of the cynical acceptance of what-is, spat upon by princes and presidents, has been granted another chance to triumph over the realism that has dominated the sad and lonely exceptionalism we have grown accustomed to.  Idealism is hungry for renewable energy independence.  Idealism is hungry for affordable health care.  Idealism is hungry for international law and multilateralism.  Idealism is hungry for proper regulation and equality.  Above all else, idealism is hungry for change.

We have seen idealism, channeled by Obama’s discourse, confront the same indictments it always has.  You just don’t understand how the world really works.  You just don’t understand, threats are everywhere. You just don’t understand. That idealism has been wholly rejected by the Kenneth Waltz’s and George Wallace’s of our time is neither a surprise nor a deterrent. We knew that they would not come around so quickly. We have to prove it to them.

The irony is that idealism’s detractors don’t realize the power of their own discourse. The world is exactly what you say it is and what you do about it. And idealism is ready to say and do something left unspoken and undone for what seems an eternity. For the last two years, Obama’s painstakingly confident and steady-as-he-goes approach won over the votes of nearly 70 million Americans.  Enough to win a presidential election, but not enough to permanently enact our liberal ideals.

Indeed, it has been a long time since anyone let idealism near the nukes.  In its lengthy absence from power, however, we have not forgotten the brilliant stewards that have steered idealism to reality – Kennedy, FDR, Wilson, Lincoln, Jefferson.  Obama is poised to add his name to that list and push forwards past their successes and failures.  They all faced tremendous challenges. They succeeded and failed. They all tried.  So, too, will Obama.  So, too, will we.

As a longtime student of idealism, Obama has brought the knowledge of history with him.  It speaks volumes.  History tells us that we must use what is at our disposal to make our ideals a reality, not just what we wish we had.  Our current shortcomings – a recession, two wars and declining American social capital – reinforce the necessity of the partnership between idealism and pragmatism.  Obama’s hero, another Illinois law professor turned President of the United States, understood that fact better than any that have followed him.  His challenge was the battle between reality and ideal.  Between a fractured and a more perfect union. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Idealism has acquired another test case. This time its lawyer’s name is Barack Obama. We must be his devoted clerks, for the trial has only just begun.  It is time to win the case and make our idealism the law.  I am hopeful for the first time in my life that we might be able to do it.

Who Wins? (See Comments For Updates)

Tonight, everything is up for grabs.

Who loses in that type of situation?  The status quo. Existing worldviews.

Who’s playing?

Insurers, universities, health care organizations, foreclosure markets, and more health care organizations.

To the media players, desperate to keep this election interesting and watchable, McCain is currently “winning”, but everyone knows he’s going to lose.  Who is going to spill the beans?

The geography.  The demographics. The makers of cool signage software. CNN is very confident with their technology, while Fox looks like they are working with Powerpoint.  Wolf Blitzer talked to a hologram of

The democrats are going to take everything, and they don’t deserve any of it.  Everyone in the media knows this.  Obama is going to win and we might find out in the next hour.  Who is going to tell us first?

Will the Bradley effect be reversed?  Racism is celebrated by a community of people in less integrated areas.  If you asked my friend Joe from suburban Cleveland when his friends were around, he’d say he can’t trust Obama, but if you get him into a secret ballot, he’ll tell you what he actually thinks. Tom Friedman calls it the “Buffett Effect.”

Barack is outperforming any of the old red and blue candidates, because he is a purple candidate.

Meanwhile, CNN is projecting South Carolina with under 1% reporting…