Posts Tagged 'Paul Ryan'

Sleep Walking Away From Democracy

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public have little influence over the policies our government adopts. … America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened”, concludes a recent Princeton study. Threatened by the Supreme Court, by Congress, by wealth, but even worse by apathy and indifference.

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, … Nature’s soft nurse …” so said Shakespeare. Nature’s soft nurse indeed. For many sleep is the best way out.  Look the other way, be numb, don’t notice – don’t identify with what is being done to others. It’s always “others” – not me, not us but “them”, those “others” are the ones affected, it won’t happen to me . Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, witnessed the Nazi round-ups first of Jews, then Communists, then trade unionists, then social democrats.  Niemoller said nothing until: “When they came for me there was no one left to speak out.” Can’t happen here. Can’t happen to you. That’s what you need to believe. George Carlin once said: “The American Dream [is] so called because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

How do we describe much less understand people like the Governor of Oklahoma who signed a law banning cities in that state from setting minimum wage laws? Not far behind, in Louisiana lawmakers banned consensual same sex activity but left legal necrophilia. In Nevada a rancher who has for years been using government land to pasture his cattle without paying has declared, as far as he is concerned, the US government doesn’t exist. Paul Ryan, an Ayn Rand fan, whose college education was paid for by his father’s social security death benefits now denounces those benefits as “socialist”. Not to be outdone, our Supreme Court has gifted corporations and money with human status creating a veritable United States of Money. How to explain these challenges to common sense?

The definition is psychopathy a condition in which people do not experience remorse or empathy, qualities associated with fully functioning human beings. Callousness, pathological lying, and superficial charm are part of the package. There are certain professions which attract people with these qualities lawyering being one and politics another which may be why so many politicians are also lawyers. In the 113th Congress, there are 128 lawyers in the House and 45 in the Senate.

  Unless people make their voices heard, especially at the ballot box, a plutocracy where money speaks more loudly than working people is here to stay. Republicans understand this very well and this is why they are creating ever greater barriers to voting wherever they have a majority vote in state houses.  These politicians stoop even to prohibiting people from using toilet facilities while having to stand in hours long lines waiting their turn to vote. Republican state house legislators, like their counterparts at the national level, are agents in the destruction of democracy and they don’t care who knows it.

Truth today depends on who has the money and who is willing to take it. So long as there is relentless rent-seeking at all levels of the social ladder the powerful will always have minions to do their bidding. Just ask Sheldon Adelson who spent $93 million in the 2012 election or the Koch boys’ $28 million expenditure to undermine Social Security. This is how plutocracy works and how democracy fails. 

This is not a naturally a “just world” it takes paying attention, hard work, and participation to make and sustain social justice. You can’t sleep through it.

Barbarians Within the Gates

From the start the human race has been at odds with itself struggling between two distinct polarities – barbarity and civilization, the Yin and Yang of of human nature and experience. This polarity has forever been the root struggle between evolution and devolution, between community and savagery, civilization and barbarity, decency and vulgarity. Naked apes evolved materially from stone axes to swords to nuclear weapons, from animal skins to three piece suits and private jets. Wardrobe styles and technology changed but not base instincts. We are simply well-dressed technologically advanced apes.

While Arizona legislators are busying themselves with prohibiting undocumented  persons from using public toilets, a Baptist pastor in Troy, New York, is giving away AR-15 semi-automatic rifles for church attendance saying: “This is exactly what we have always done for the last 2000 years since Jesus walked the shores of Galilee.” Baptists handing out rifles for 2000 years! Jesus walking the shores of Galilee with an AR-15! Even religion has been highjacked and far from ministering has served to exacerbate becoming itself an expression of barbariity. This kind of madness cannot be made up.

The polarities of the human condition have not changed. Barbarians are still among and within us starting wars of conquest, grabbing wealth, asserting social and political domination. Aggression takes the form of unrelenting insatiable greed. Daily life remains a struggle between the quest for a humane civilized world versus those whose quest is social control, accumulation of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and disregard for the human condition.  Virgil’s 1st C BCE observation that for some there is an unrelenting quest for “empire without end” remains as true today as it did then.

We must ask, where do today’s barbarians want to take the world? What kind of future do they envision? Do hungry children and sickly elders without health care populate Paul Ryan’s visions of the future? Is this the stuff his dreams are made of? The barbarians argue that government, which many of us believe to be of the people, for the people, and by the people, has no business helping people, even the least fortunate among us. What kind of unmitigated gall does it take to publicly assert income inequality does not lead to the destruction of a society when history is one story after another of civilizations falling to exactly that dynamic. In matters of civil liberty as defined by the Constitution and Bill of Rights and with no foreign nation threatening us, elected and not-elected officials cast aside the guarantees of our foundational documents with secret judicial tribunals to make us “safe” from ourselves, locking people up without due process. Our democracy is fast becoming illusion and delusion.

There’s more of course, the list could go on. We could examine the motives of the billionaires funding long lists of so-called foundations, institutes, think tanks, political action committees, ad nauseum functioning as destructive propaganda machines. A well funded all out assault on the American social contract is underway striking at voting rights as well as social programs. If the coalition of Koch funded organizations were a separate country we would have declared war on them a long time ago. Daddy Koch worked for Joe Stalin, one of the evil butchers of all time, and made a fortune doing so; his money is a gift that keeps on giving, a case of inherited moral infantile paralysis. The barbarians are at the gates with an abundant army of insecure moral cripples desperate for attention and recognition to do their bidding. But why? Why now? To what end?

This country is already in dire straits conducting endless purposeless wars around the globe, wars which will never yield “victory”. Purposeless because the underlying motives are never what is publicly declared. The obvious purposes lie in sustaining a powerful arms industry and petroleum interests. We intervene because we don’t “like” one side or the other, we violate the rights of the indigenous people to self-determination to further global ambitions of powerful economic interests, wasting our national treasure, sacrificing our young men and women while reducing our once thriving middle-class to servile and semi-servile status scraping by to make their monthly payments.

While the roles of the unemployed grow so does the number of lobbyists per legislator in the Nation’s capital – something on the order of 20 per legislator at last count. America is for sale in Washington DC where legislators and lobbyists can relive themselves without looking over their shoulders. There are many among us in positions of power who are morally still swinging through the trees.

Loonies On The Path ….

Remember the Pink Floyd tune, “Brain Damage”?

“And everyday the paperboy brings more.

  • Grant wealthy individuals more votes than the rest of us.
  • Tax the working poor at a higher rate than billionaires.
  • Put undocumented workers in jail for using public toilets.
  • Privatize Social Security, indeed, do away with all social safety nets.
  • Make teachers responsible for failing students.
  • Do away with health care.
  • Permit guns everywhere. South Carolina residents may now carry guns into restaurants. Wait for first shoot-out at a salad bar.

The lunatics are in my hall.”

  • In Chicago a Republican candidate for office told her base autism is punishment by the “almighty” for support of abortion and marriage equality.
  • In Texas, Republican Joe Barton, explained, as wind power is a “finite resource”, harnessing it “would slow the winds down” causing temperatures to go up.  You can’t make up stuff like this.
  • In Georgia a legislator equated women to cows and pigs when it comes to childbirth.

… if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes …”

  • Rick Santorum (Remember him?) declared that only “God” can mandate health care.
  • Republican governors led by none other than Mr. “Ooops” himself, Rick Perry, refused to implement Medicaid. As Rick put it, “I will not be a party to socialize health care.” It’s all about him isn’t it?
  • In Wisconsin a Catholic US Congressman criticized the Pope for speaking out against barbaric treatment of the poor and the “idolatry” of money.

 

The lunatic is on the grass.”

Day after day the news reports one outrageous assault after another against the social contract. Social body blows from politicians, billionaires, and the bankers who bankrupted thousands of small investors and savers with impunity. One of those bankers was recently rewarded with a multi-million dollar raise. Our Citizens United Supreme Court happily awarded a presidential election to the Republican candidate (They knew his Daddy.) and have granted political organizations status as human beings. The Court also decided that it’s perfectly OK for the police to strip search you for jay-walking. Drop your shorts America. Again – this stuff cannot be made up – it has happened, it is happening, and we are living with it. Let’s not even discuss Florida where it seems to be legal open season on black kids.

The lunatic is in my head.”

In light of all this it seems to me reasonable to ask what motivates people to act barbarically. Many of the politicians are self-identified “Christians” whom it is presumed are supposed to integrate the teachings of their deity into their own lives and actions. On evidence, however, nothing could be further from the truth. So, what’s going on here? Why would Paul Ryan object to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance? What moral authority informs his imagination?

Got to keep the loonies on the path.”

Human society has always oscillated between physical and moral challenges; between civilization and barbarity. This cycle has determined the course and ultimately, the fate of all societies. The entire thrust of social evolution we always hope has been about making a more secure, more equitable, and healthier world for more and more people. If that be the case, why the relentless assault on civilization and civilized behavior? Should we not be past that? Well, it seems obvious the barbarians have not gone away, they have not been truly assimilated, humanized, or integrated into the mainstream of human consciousness. The barbarians are still with us, it’s just that they now wear suits not animal skins.

James Davidson Hunter in, The Death of Character, said this: “History and philosophy both suggest to us that the flourishing of character rooted in elevated virtues is essential to justice in human affairs; its absence, a measure of corruption and a portent of social and political collapse, especially in a democracy. … Character matters, we believe, because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” Where lies the character of politicians who would deny school lunches to children? Many “great” societies have come and gone throughout history and when there have been great inequalities in the goods of life as Hunter has indicated, social collapse inevitably follows. What loyalty to the economic and social contract is expected when employees are reduced to poverty wages because entrepreneurs prefer to maximize profit? When employers prefer to provide information about welfare instead of paying a living wage, what are the possibilities?

Both Aristotle (Politics) and Plato (Laws) warned that too great a disparity in the goods of life lead to disruption of societies. We live in a time of unequal justice when people of color are still singled out for police abuse, when profit motives exceed any sense of economic justice defined as living wages, when the jobless are blamed for their joblessness by elected officials unconscionably neglecting to acknowledge that American jobs and industries have been relocated offshore to countries where a living wage is a fraction of what it is here. Can we escape this defection from civility? Probably not. So, everyday, when the paperboy or internet brings more news of lay-offs, food stamp cuts, denial of medical care and welfare for the disabled, disenfranchised, and the unemployed will “the dam break open many years too soon”? We’ll see.

The lunatics aren’t just on the grass – they’re in high places making decisions that determine the path and, ultimately, the fate of the country – our embattled democracy, our society. If Michelle Bachmann is correct declaring we are at the “end days” perhaps none of this matters. Perhaps the band was right, there’s someone in our heads, but it’s not us.

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”

Atlas Slugged

Poor Atlas. He never knew what hit him. There he was holding up the world wondering how he got involved in this train wreck of simplistic political social philosophy. Even that word, “philosophy”, was beggared, blind-sided, misappropriated, knocked for a loop. Where did it come from? How did it happen to him of all deities? “Give me a break!” he muttered struggling with his burden. “I’m supposed to be holding up the world, for Pete’s sake.” And so it was that poor Atlas got slugged into lending his good name to the title of a simple-minded fairy tale wherein there are easy answers to every complex problem, where working-class people are depicted as low life slugs looking for easy money. A veritable door stop of a book, a mighty tome glorifying greed to be ingested, digested, and regurgitated by right-wing makers and shakers; a fairy tale for wannabe Titans of the universe.

The book, Atlas Shrugged, lies somewhere between a right-wing bodice ripper and a biblical journey into a science fictionalized promised land; a 1668 page celebration of greed and selfishness ingested by  socially, morally, and intellectually challenged true believers living and hiding in their own magical secret valleys seeking justification and reinforcement for anti-social instincts. The lesson of the book seems to be, inequality is justice manifest for the self-appointed select few. The book, by the way, is required reading for Paul Ryan’s staffers. Makes you wonder.

Funded by such socially enlightened billionaires as Charles Koch, the Cato Institute generates essays similar to the novel’s manifesto. For example, “Thinking Clearly about Economic Inequality” in which it is claimed “There is little evidence that high levels of income inequality lead down a slippery slope to the destruction of democracy and rule by the rich.” That kind of intellectual rubbish falls under the rubric of preaching to the choir and could have come straight out of Atlas Shrugged. In this case the choir being the billionaire sponsors and a chorus of minions based on a score by Ayn Rand. It’s more fairy tale telling believers what they want to hear while collecting a fat paycheck for doing so. Opportunity equality is and has always been a foundation stone of the democratic social contract, of a free and equitable society.

When 1% of the population controls the economy, opportunity as a belief in the social contract disappears. Further, when the 1% works tirelessly at social control to limit voting rights, to undermine and destroy public education, limit access to social welfare such as food stamps and health care the slippery slope inevitably becomes increasingly steep and ever more slippery. There comes a moment, sooner or later, when people believe they have no stake in the society, no future, no faith, no loyalty, and no reason to maintain it.

The President has called inequality the “defining issue of our time” and indeed it is even if I’m not certain it was more than a good sound bite. The problem is, however, that speachifying without delivery engenders cynicism and cynicism is the most corrosive of all social dynamics. To those who are blind to this verity there will, sooner or later, come a reckoning. Increased police power and presence may forestall the inevitable but it will not, in the end, prevent it. Members of the police and military are, after all is said and done, part of the 99% as are the increasingly large numbers of people with guns.

As has been the case throughout the history of human civilization this same drama has played out time and again. Just like the US, Rome made war all over its known world extending its empire beyond its capacity to sustain its own civil society. Ultimately the Romans failed as did many civilizations before and after them. Why is this such a difficult lesson to learn? Is it hubris or stupidity? Or both? There are no magical valleys in which to hide in real life. As a wise person once cautioned, be careful what you wish for – you may get it. If seekers want to read something lengthy let me suggest Toynbee’s, A Study of History; when they get to the end they’ll actually know something, something of value with which to calibrate their moral compass.

“… and they all went to the beach”

As you may recall, the beach was where everyone went in Melina Mercouri’s, Ilya’s telling of Greek tragedy in the film “Never on Sunday”. In Ilya’s versions of Media and Oedipus, no one suffered they merely “went to the beach”. In the minds of some Americans no one is suffering, no one is involuntarily unemployed, no one is without adequate health care, and if you do have difficulties it’s your own fault and your’s to solve. There are those who, in some kind of fevered Tea Party fueled delirium, see Reaganesque “welfare queens” lolling about watching TV, driving Cadillacs; or in Mike Huckabee’s lascivious fantasy, women exercising their libidos at public expense. Apparently poor people in general are just having too much fun living off the rest of society. The view from the beach, a mirage, a delusion? In reality it’s everyone for themselves.

Unemployment Compensation barely puts food on the table for a family of any size but in the distorted imagination of some politicians relief in the form of food stamps is living high on the hog and leads to permanent dependency on government hand-outs. One has to wonder what people like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert and their colleagues see as the beneficial outcome of policies leaving 1.6 million people who used to have jobs until they were laid off left without help. Do begging bowls dance like lemon drops in their dreams? Do they relish seeing children in rags and people in soup lines?  Do they believe publicly supported charities and food banks can cover the loss? What is the future these guys so dearly covet? Where are the jobs the welfare addicted are supposed to be avoiding? Right now there are 3 people looking for work for every job open. Jobs have been and are being exported overseas to places where wages are low and workplace safety is nonexistent. Should all employers follow the lead of WalMart or McDonalds and provide advice on how to apply for welfare?

What are people like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin thinking when they characterize raising the minimum wage a “misguided political stunt” and “political grandstanding”? How does arguing against raising the minimum wage improve life for working Americans? Right now 85% of those earning minimum wage are 20 years of age and over, 26% are parents, 49% work full-time and there are 3 job seekers for every job available. Congressman Paul Ryan, at odds with the head of his church, apparently believes “Atlas Shrugged” is the bible and Ayn Rand a more reliable moral beacon than Pope Francis. On evidence it seems elected politicians have become storm commandos of class warfare leading the assault on our social contract being rewarded for their efforts by the multitude of “Institutes”, “Foundations”, and PACs underwritten by sociopathic billionaires. We are seeing the death throes of ethical behavior and public service by politicians being replaced by pandering and self-promotion.

Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do and they have been doing so for millennia and much for the same reasons. When societies become excessively extractive and economically exclusive, they have, across history, failed. When the arc of greed exceeded the arc of inclusiveness a downhill slide became irreversible. No matter how repressive, attempts at control ultimately failed. Restricting or denying voting rights for example will not protect the 85 people who have more wealth than half of the world’s population. It will not insulate them from the inevitable repercussions even if they generously “donate” to police departments as in New York City during the Occupy demonstrations. And this is why I find myself wondering:  What about all those guns people are encouraged to own and carry? What would happen if people, perceiving themselves as having nothing left to lose, decide to act out their frustrations and anger? When the constraints of shared community and mutual regard are shed I’ll suggest that we won’t be on our way to a beach party.

Larger Questions

Americans would do well to recall a caution from the great philosopher of democracy, Aristotle, that it is much easier to establish a Democracy than it is to preserve it. We are presently at a crossroads in our life as a democratic society, as a civilization, as a future. Our social contract, in place essentially since the Great Depression, is under attack by an over-reaching security apparatus, the very wealthy, politicians, and right-wing television networks. The plutocrats, as plutocrats are wont to do, act in service to their own wealth. Plutocrats serve themselves, politicians serve the plutocrats, and we, the American public, serve them all. The public in all of its disarray and confusion is managed and manipulated into smaller and smaller competing factions.

Separating people from a sense of community and identity with each other breaks the bonds of a civil society. It is clearly a barbaric and classic “divide and conquer” strategy for taking down a polity. This was a vision promoted by Lewis Powell in his infamous 1971, Powell Memo, a game plan commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Democratic social ideals are clearly under attack.

Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do. They have done so since the dawn of civilization and for much the same reasons. Recall, for instance, the Romans, Mayans, and Chacoans — large, complex societies, in business for hundreds of years. Gone! Disappeared. Judging from the torrents of political writing these days it is reasonable  to ask why so many writers and thinkers sense an impending collapse. To more than a few thoughtful observers the collapse of American society is an open question. As the collapse phenomenon has been historically frequent and persistent, calling out the concern contemporaneously isn’t exactly “Henny-Penny” panic. Is the sky falling now? Maybe – maybe not, but then, “See it – Say it” seems an appropriate and thoughtful response.

When 97% of a country’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population it is not a “rich” society as we are often told the US is. That is propaganda. And when the 1% isn’t satisfied with 97% of the wealth but actively engage in acquiring more the problem is even worse, it is no longer merely a matter of perception. It isn’t just that the 1% has so much of the wealth — it’s what they are doing with their wealth that is dangerous. Greed has never been recognized as conducive to a healthy social contract. It doesn’t matter if greed is for material wealth, public attention, notoriety, or power, it hoards the goods of a society away from the commons to a few.

While greed was’t invented last week it certainly seems to exist on an outlandish scale these days in a dangerous game of extractive overreach. Unless greed is a virtue, and it certainly is not, Capitalism has no recognizable moral order and I challenge any Nobel laureate economist to refute that. Capitalism and Democracy are not interchangeable terms. Something else is needed – populism perhaps?

Social corrosion is more than joblessness although that is significant enough. The taxonomy of greed extends to voting rights, health care, unemployment benefits, and public education to mention a few. An even more egregious example was the bailout in billions of dollars of the bankers who caused the financial collapse of 2008 and who, after causing financial ruin for millions, walked away richer than they were previously. Not one of the villains has been charged with a crime. If anything the miscreants have been lionized.

Meanwhile, on Main Street millions of Americans cannot find jobs to support themselves much less families. Many have dropped out of the workforce and out of the statistical reckoning of employment thus distorting unemployment statistics. Congressmen have added further injury by terminating extended unemployment benefits.

A larger question, I propose, is what became of the millions of jobs that have disappeared? The good paying jobs are not coming back because they have gone overseas. Unless Americans are willing to work for poverty wages such as those paid by McDonalds and WalMart or for what people in the Bangladesh sweat shops are paid there is no work. In another bit of irony, the government subsidizes McDonalds and WalMart providing corporate welfare in the form of food stamps and so forth for their underpaid employees.

So  here is a bottom line question: What kind of country do people like the Kochs, Steve Forbes, the Walton family, and others like them and their mouthpieces, Fox television commentators, and politicians like Ryan, Cantor, Boehner, and McConnell want to see? Is their fantasy something out of the 1930s with soup kitchens and families lined up for a hot meal?  Would they be amused perhaps to watch people of the lower classes fighting amongst themselves in some version of Hunger Games? There is little doubt we are at a defining moment in the history of this country, this society, and the egalitarian political philosophy it was founded on. Can it be preserved? I quote Alasdair MacIntyre: “ … the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.” We have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Crossroads – Questions Without Answers

Here are some questions that have been plaguing me for months: Why are people like the Koch boys and their wholly owned politicians on such a rampage to destroy the American social contract? What’s in it for them? After all, they and their friends have or control nearly all of the money and resources. And when they have it all then what? What is the point or purpose of such behavior? Does it even have a point or purpose? Is it a sickness? A mental disturbance? Why would anyone want to deprive other people of food and sustenance when they, themselves, have more than they need? What sort of gratification comes from denying health care to those who need it but can’t pay? As we follow this line of questioning we arrive at this:  Do we actually have core “American Values”? Have we ever?

What is even more disturbing is that the majority of those attacking the social contract are self-defined Christians. It is my understanding Christian teachings require compassion and identification with others. This is the so-called “Golden Rule” that one should treat others as one would want others to treat them. This “Rule” exists across history in nearly every religion around the world. So what kind of belief systems allow some people to act with complete disregard for others? Is it depravity? It certainly isn’t civilized. A suit and tie don’t confer civilized status – only behavior does that. The Pope, speaking out against the patent absence of moral standards that has created the current scenario was criticized by a right-wing radio show host who claimed the Pope to be a Communist. When the Pope comments about redistribution of wealth he is speaking as a moral being not as a politician.

If we cannot ask moral equations of ourselves or of our society without being labeled what does that say about us? Moral questions have been replaced by power, profit, and gain. It does’t seem to matter whether or not environmental safety questions are settled before fracking for oil and transporting it across oceans, prairies, or tundra. Safety is only a matter of whether or not litigation can be successfully defended against by your phalanx of lawyers and PR firms. This strategy is deemed cheaper than moral considerations of environmental, social, and human damages.

People lose their savings or lose their homes when the economy and markets tank. The government bails out bankers, “too big to fail”, who gambled away their depositors’ money with taxpayer money to the tune of billions of dollars. This is the taxonomy of greed in a society that once represented a shining shore of exceptionalism. Moral questions will not be asked here. Profit and loss take precedence over morality. This is what we have become.

A recent example of displacement of moral thought by legalism is one Barry Engle, a lawyer involved with off-shore trusts for people stashing their wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise, out of reach of the tax man. Engle made the following statement: “Lawyers can debate the morality of these trusts… My first duty is to my clients and my clients have a need.” Apparently “morality” is not Mr. Engle’s brief. (“Paradise of Untouchable Assets” Leslie Wayne, NYT 12/15/13) So, what is it that lawyers do if their “first duty” is to their clients and not to Justice? As I understand it, Justice serves the whole of society by protecting individuals from injustice. That Truth and Justice are held to be blind to social status is why Lady Justice is depicted as blindfolded and why lawyers supposedly have a sworn responsibility to serve that ideal.

If Justice has been undermined so too has religion been stripped of moral value. Case in point: Paul Ryan, the Republican, Alter Boy, Congressman who is working relentlessly to dismantle social safety nets, is a Catholic. My question is, to what extent has Ryan been informed by his religious beliefs? I don’t see a connection between the teachings of the Catholic prophet and Ryan’s behavior as a member of society. So far as I know, the prophet Jesus is nowhere depicted as a sociopath.

We will never have a just society without a sense of shared community. As Alasdair McIntyre put it: “In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community’s good for man, there can no longer be any very substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good.” The United States seems to no longer qualify as having a shared conception of what is good.

Using their offices as instruments in service to the wealthy politicians are creating  a destructive social fractiousness. We have a society of rent-seekers – asking, “what’s in in for me?”.  It’s all about price not value. Using power to selfish ends isn’t confined to politics it operates within religious entities, trade unions, businesses, police departments – organizations led by individuals with insatiable appetites for wealth, fame, and power. Is this our new measure of life?

As the world turns there are so many questions and few and fewer answers. Volver … volver….

Crossroads Series: Kneecapping Democracy

A common thread running through today’s perceived social threats has been otherness. Historically otherness is second only to fear as a means to political ascendency. Exploiting fear and otherness has been an instrument of social control for centuries not limited to nations, but  to almost any polity or organization from religious groups to labor unions. Otherness exploits fear and vulnerability in uncertain times. In a most literal sense it creates isolation and disintegration followed by the dissolution of a functional social contract. Shared sense of community is no longer on the map; it becomes an “everyone for themselves” dynamic that opens a community of common interests to exploitation. Whatever was the initial integrating factor(s) becomes lost and replaced by socially destructive forces which ultimately attain influence and domination. Political and social integrity are exchanged for safety or general affluence. Societies which control themselves, are replaced by systems, which are controlled by overseers. In the final analysis this story has always been about the underlying motive  of greed; the mentality of acquisition of whatever commodity, political or material, beyond the dreams of avarice. There is no “enough”.

 As it was at the time of the Revolution against England, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War 2, and Vietnam, the US is at another defining and evolutionary moment in its history. Each of those junctures set a definitive course in the evolution of the American social contact.  The Revolution inspired the Constitution and Bill of Rights, established our foundational social ideals about individual rights as citizens, as human beings. Those ideas had to be clarified by the Civil War and the Civil Rights movements and remain a challenge to this day. The Great Depression inspired national social programs and the notion that the Federal Government has a legitimate role in defining and underwriting a minimum quality of life for its citizens, another idea that is still being challenged. By itself World War 2 played an enormous role in the process of creating a middle-class through the GI Bill and other social programs. For a while it seemed that America was on its way to becoming an integrated and well educated society at all levels – it was the nascent “American Dream” coming true.

 Of course, the American Dream had limitations and blind spots that led to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war challenges mostly by middle-class kids in response to Vietnam. The Cuban Missile Crisis gave the nightmare of nuclear war its moment in the spotlight. American society, however, has demonstrated over and over again a short attention span and limited grasp of complex social issues. The latest ball game scores, a Dancing With the Stars contest, or a sociopathic TV series elicits more concentration, conversation, and attention from the public than civil-rights, homelessness, or hunger.  We continue to send young men and women abroad to fight wars in countries where we have no demonstrable legitimate national interests. Other than petroleum and supporting the arms industry in with wars the Middle East what else is there? Adding insult to injury, when these warriors return from the battlefield they are greeted by politicians like Paul Ryan who want to reduce and cut medical and other benefits for veterans. You may have also noticed, I hope, that in the absence of a national military draft anti-war protests have been virtually nil.  In place of “Hell no – we won’t go!” there has been conspicuous silence.

 We live in a country where 65% of adults cannot name one Supreme Court Justice but could very likely name the starting roster of their favorite ball club complete with “stats” for each player. This is a country where 30% of the adult population can’t name the Vice President but can tell you the latest gossip about Miley Cyrus. Then there is the 6% that is unable to find the 4th of July on a calendar but will eagerly give you an earful about why we shouldn’t have health care reform.  The foregoing tells you why billionaires are giving a great deal of money to politicians at the state level to privatize public education – a more gullible, more manipulable populace is in their best interests.

 At this crossroads I believe we must decide what it means to be an active participant in this society. We need to define what kind of country this will be for future generations. We must determine what the terms social justice and freedom mean or they will be happily defined for us by powerful financial and political interests. If we continue to allow the NSA to disregard the Constitution and monitor even our mundane conversations in the name of national security, political dissent and our still evolving democracy will be cut off at the knees – we will all have been redefined, not as citizens of a democracy but as a collection of others. If this sounds paranoid to you, you haven’t been paying attention – this is a lesson history has taught over and over again. Democracy must always, it would seem, be a work in progress. 

Crossroads Series / There Be Demons Out There

It is well understood, I hope, that no social problem is just one problem all by its lonesome. If you focus on only one aspect of a problem you will not understand it much less “solve” it. All social problems are complex, made up of many issues, attitudes, interests, hidden agendas, and more influential than any thing else – the demons of belief.  In order to at least try to understand these dynamics it is necessary to separate beliefs from knowledge and experience.  Beliefs are often difficult to identify because they are, but not always, buried and ineffable .  Fear, by itself, is one of the most powerful demons of belief.

Beliefs are the true “ghost in the machine” and are manifest in everyday life. Building on the work of Gilbert Ryle, Arthur Koestler explains in, “The Ghost in the Machine” (1967), that humanity has, throughout history, as much tended towards self-destruction as elevation at one level or another. The “ghost” has been with us a long long time, it has inhabited the human mind from the beginning, layer upon successive layer, exerting its powerful influence – beliefs ranging from the arrangement of the heavens, the supernatural and philosophy to rocket science and racial and ethnic prejudice. The “ghost” can be said to be the author of the human narrative in all of its humanistic grandeur as well as its appalling destructiveness. From art, and medical science to nuclear weapons and suicide bombings these are all the product of interior dialog made manifest. Beliefs are consequential; just think how long it took the Catholic Church to acknowledge Galileo’s truth and even today there remain people who question it.

Beliefs serve to maintain what we agree, in general, to call our consensual reality – the shared and necessary tacit agreement we call our social contract. While not everyone does agree, of course, in general most settle on something we can all work with, something we can all share in a contractual sense as to define a consensual reality, a social contract, a society, a civilization. That, of course, is normal sane behavior but the snakes of doubt, the demons, especially of Fear, have often been set loose in service to destructive agendas, racial and ethnic prejudice, economic control, and territorial conquest. Of the demons and ghosts, Fear directed against minorities, either religious or ethnic, has been one of the most powerful making it the weapon of choice for demagogues throughout history.

Today, in the United States, the consensual reality is under assault, and bit by bit, being destroyed in the name of social conservatism by Tea Party activists and oligarch sponsored politicians who are pandering to the most rabid anti-social elements in the country, the social jihadis who want to tear down the entire edifice of the social contract. Programs like Social Security, public education, and medical care for military veterans are being challenged and threatened. Like 10th C Norse “berserkers” who would use their own severed limbs as weapons, the Tea Party jihadis are on a rampage to savage the foundations of American civilization at any cost including to themselves. What do they believe? Do they see demons in social security, food stamps, health care, in the aged, or in the hungry and homeless? If they prevail will a social nuclear winter visit itself on the country? Will it be everyone for themselves with guns everywhere? Is it going to be back to the trees and caves? What a vision! Sociopathic instincts and self-promotion at the national level by Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Louie Gohmert, and others are driving the legislative agenda away from governance to chaos. Is that their dream, their fantasy world? What do they believe?

A polarized world has been created in the US mostly by pandering politicians supported by sociopathic billionaires funding an antithesis of community using phony “news” outlets and political commentators as propaganda machines addressing the willing gullible. Even the US Supreme Court has contributed to the destruction of the social contract through its Citizens United decision and the coronation of George W. Bush. Thanks to the Supreme Court political power can be bought with PAC funded political campaigns; corporations are now become people walking upon the earth – just like you and me except they have more money and no faces. Offices from governors and mayors on down to aldermen are ripe for the dystopian influence of plutocrats. We are in the midst of the most well financed, well organized attack on American democracy in history.

Throughout world history when belief in a social system was betrayed social collapse followed. It seems now belief in American democracy is being deliberately undermined. Beware, ladies and gentlemen of the Tea Party zealots, you are playing with fire. There be demons out there!

 

The American Taliban – Part 3

If you wanted to undermine a representative democracy where would you start? Would you attack the electoral process or perhaps the system of public education? Would it suit your purposes to put a lot of people out of work and then play one faction off on another? Each strategy and each tactic has its effect and purpose; some deliver short term effect while others, being strategic, emphasize long term results. Over the past several weeks there have been fatal attacks on American troops by Taliban assassins dressed as Afghan military or actual members of that military. Besides killing Americans the obvious intent of this is to undermine the relationship between Americans and Afghans. The assaults are tactics to create a situation where no one knows whom they can trust, cooperation and morale are displaced by mistrust and suspicion and chaos ensues. Chaos is the strategic outcome intended by the Taliban.

The same strategies and tactics of sowing mistrust and suspicion are at work in the United States. Hirelings of the American Taliban working under the guise of dozens of Foundations and Institutes funded by wealthy individuals and their organizations feed a willing press with opinion pieces and press releases opposing policies and programs that reflect community and promote social cooperation. Public schools and teachers have been the softest of targets along with public transportation, and public health care. If you control a major television network you can hire unscrupulous correspondents and commentators to slant, and plant stories about the sitting president created whole-cloth for the purpose of calling into question his motives and methods and even his birthplace.

Trust and Truth are the main targets of the American Taliban. They know that very few members of the public have the time or inclination to verify what is being reported. Recently on the Fox right-wing entertainment channel, Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter, with a straight face, accused the sitting president of serious national security failings. The expectation of this theater being her’s and her sponsor’s belief that the public will not recall Miller’s role in the full-court press to invade Iraq when she published misleading information about Sadam Hussein’s nuclear activities fed to her by Vice-President Cheney who then cited her as his source. You might recall also that Miller was also involved in the scandal outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. After “resigning” her position at the Times, Miller’s apparent reward for her part in the shuck and jive was to land a talking head gig on Fox. Which calls to mind the cold war chestnut that there was no news in Pravda and no truth in Izvestia. With Fox it seems, neither truth nor news can be found there.

Another tactic being employed by the American Taliban to keep potentially non-conservatively inclined voters from casting ballots in the coming presidential election are voter file purges and voter photo ID requirements. The tactic is simple – if you cannot win the hearts and minds of people with your ideas, keep them from voting. In New Mexico clumsy efforts by the Secretary of State to implement a federal mandate have resulted in one State Representative’s wife being challenged and a high profile get-out-the-vote activist as well. It should also be noted that this purging process could have been undertaken a year ago but then last year wasn’t an election year was it? Sowing chaos is the tactic. In Pennsylvania where a  tough voter ID law is being challenged in court the state has admitted the number of fraudulent voting attempts has been virtually non-existent. The same scenario has been repeated everywhere the ID laws are being promoted and challenged. As to voter registration keep in mind there is no requirement in the US Constitution that requires a person to continually re-register once they reach the age of majority nor does it require them to vote. In the US voting is a birth-right not a privilege to be taken away like a lollypop from naughty non-voters. Voting is of course a responsibility which far too many fail to take seriously.

The Republican Party is now in a state of delirium over the choice of Vice-Presidential running mate to Willard Mitt Romney. Why the joy one must ask? Well the VP choice is a chap who made his reputation by vigorously undermining the American social contract. Paul Ryan, the Republican VP designate, has proposed among other things ending Social Security, he has written budget proposals that would, for all practical purposes end Medicare, end Food Stamps, and defund Planned Parenthood which provides basic health care for 1 in 5 American women. Paul Ryan, is not a military veteran (neither is Romney) but he is proposing to severely limit veterans health care to levels not seen since the 1930s. Ryan’s proposed tax plan would tax the wealthy less and the poor more. Ryan’s budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs, drop Medicare coverage for more than 14 million people along with eliminating 17% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Posing with animals he has shot and catfish he has caught with his bare hands, this little boy is a right-wing center-fold pinup.

One also has to ask why two boys who chose not to serve in the military also chose to make the announcement of Ryan as the VP choice using a US Navy ship festooned with red, white, and blue bunting sprinkled with stars and stripes as their stage. Much about the two candidates’ lack of character is revealed in the hypocrisy and pandering of their military charade  including their lack of common decency and respect for those who have served or are serving the country. Character does matter folks. “Character matters, we believe,” says James Davison Hunter in “The Death of Character”, “because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” The American Taliban has a political plan and chaos is their objective.


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