State of the Left: 12/11/12

Welcome to State of the Left, a regular, carefully curated collection of reading recommendations in search of the big picture for progressives interested in reading less and doing more.

2012′S MOST LOOKED UP WORDS WERE “CAPITALISM” AND “SOCIALISM.” Merriam-Webster reports that its website’s most looked-up words of 2012 are capitalism and socialism, for which traffic doubled from the year before. “Socialism was looked up more frequently than was capitalism, ‘but since the trend pattern of capitalism so closely matches the moments when socialism was spiking, they form a natural pair.’” This phenomenon drives home the openness people have to systemic thinking during times of crisis, and it’s tragic to think of the total failure that progressives and the left have experienced in fundamentally reorienting public thinking about how we understand economic life. Read.

OBAMACARE ARCHITECT LEAVES WHITE HOUSE FOR BIG PHARMA. For some people there isn’t even a revolving door; there’s just a massive hole in the wall that one can walk through as he or she pleases. Elizabeth Fowler once worked at the nation’s largest health insurance provider, then served as Sen. Max Baucus’s chief health policy counsel where she drafted the Obamacare legislation, oversaw its implementation while working for the Obama administration, and is now returning to the private health care industry. Read.

WHY ISRAEL DIDN’T WIN. An excellent broad overview of the consequences of the latest flare-up in Gaza that extend throughout the region. “Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel.” Read.

PAYING TUITION TO A GIANT HEDGE FUND. “Harvard’s own endowment has annually grown by five or ten or even twenty times [the rate of its increase in tuition], rendering net tuition from those thousands of students a mere financial bagatelle, having almost no impact on the university’s cash-flow or balance-sheet position. If all the students disappeared tomorrow—or were forced to pay double their current tuition—the impact would be negligible compared to the crucial fluctuations in the mortgage-derivatives market or the international cost-of-funds index.” Read.

ROLLING JUBILEE. Perhaps the biggest Occupy-related policy initiative to gain traction across the Internet in the past year. The basic idea is to raise money from supporters and use their money to buy debt from collection agents and then abolishing it. The official website, with basic explanation, is here. Doug Henwood’s widely circulated critique of the project asks: rolling where?. Finance blogger Felix Salmon likes it. Naked Capitalism has called it well-intentioned but criticized it as inferior to distributing the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual and argues it puts borrowers at risk.

WALMART & MCDONALD’S UPRISINGS. Josh Eidelson has been covering labor unrest with great speed and dexterity as of late. His explains how on Black Friday, “for about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world.” Read. After the Black Friday actions at Wal-Mart, New York City fast-food workers walked out of the workplace, challenging a nearly union-free industry. Read. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains how these unprecedented actions are intimately linked to all the concern about the fiscal cliff in Washington.

THE PETRAEUS LEGACY: A PARAMILITARY CIA A few weeks ago there was a great deal of fuss over Gen. David Petraeus’s sexual relationship with his biographer, the kind of story that many in the media fantasize about because they don’t have to make up excuses for rendering politics as a soap opera. But of course there are bigger things to pay attention to, as Jeremy Scahill points out: Petraeus, an instrumental player in the power struggle between the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, leaves behind a CIA that has strayed from intelligence to paramilitary-type activities. “A considerable part of the CIA budget is now no longer spying; it’s supporting paramilitaries who work closely with JSOC to kill terrorists, and to run the drone program,” Philip Giraldi, a retired career CIA case officer, told The Nation. One current State Department liaison who has also worked extensively with JSOC describes the CIA as becoming “a mini-Special Operations Command that purports to be an intelligence agency.” For all the praise Petraeus won for his counterinsurgency strategy and the “surge” in Iraq, he says, his real legacy is as a “political tool,” an enabler of those within the national security apparatus who want to see a continuation of covert global mini-wars. Read.

IF YOU’RE 27 OR YOUNGER, YOU’VE NEVER EXPERIENCED A COLDER-THAN-AVERAGE MONTH. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes October 2012: ‘The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature.’” Read.

MOVEON UNDERGOES RADICAL STRATEGIC OVERHAUL. Move-On is attempting to move away from its inside game strategy and distributing more of its power to its activist base. It seems to be interested in becoming more decentralized, locally-oriented, and going beyond the online petition model, which has been widely replicated. Read.