Archive for April, 2012

Worlds of Belief

In an odd paradox we live in a world which is simultaneously propelled and constrained by belief. More often than not, believing also means not seeing what is actually there. While it is said that “seeing is believing” that  isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, what is believed is taken to be true. True believers and other zealots of every stripe “see” the world in terms coinciding with their beliefs, refusing as unnecessary and irrelevant, any facts contradictory to what they believe; cognitive dissonance be damned. This conundrum is true across human experience whether about food, sexuality, education, race, religion, or politics; it’s a very long list, sometimes benign and sometimes dangerously destructive. Consequently this equation factors to what you believe is what you get and, perforce, what the rest of us get as well. This aspect of the human condition makes social progress, among other things, excruciatingly difficult and has been doing damage to social justice for millennia.

Belief systems are powerful and their effect on the social contract is both a phenomenon and a constant. Consider the common clichés in the pledge of allegiance mouthed by nearly everyone as they grow up in the United States, “ … one nation …, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Just what does that mean in light of the social behaviors we witness today and, for that matter, throughout the history of the United States? Is the declaration of justice for all merely a slogan and not a shared belief? Where does belief in justice for all fit into comparing women to pigs and cows or caterpillars? What does an seemingly senile congressman believe when he publicly declares the president “stupid”?

If President Obama were a white Caucasian, would Congressman Grassley of Iowa believe he could make such a remark publicly? In the case of the recent fatal shooting of a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in Florida by a self-ordained vigilante who was up to his ears in beliefs about wardrobe, black people, and his own role in society. would we have had the same scenario if the roles been reversed or would a lynch mob have been quickly formed?

As an example of political belief betrayed, voters in New Mexico, particularly business people, believed the Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez would be pro-New Mexico business. Yet as governor, she vetoed Senate Bill 9, the “Corporate Fair Tax Act”, a truly pro-New Mexico business law. Looking at the roster of donors to Republican political campaigns you will find out-of-state corporations such as Wal-Mart that will now continue to enjoy paying low wages and no taxes on their New Mexico income at the expense of New Mexico businesses. Obviously the belief that their campaign contributions would protect their profits was well founded.

Do you believe, as apparently the majority of US Supreme Court justices claim they do, that corporations are “people”? Are corporations called to jury duty? Of what gender are they? Can a corporation marry a woman or a man? Can corporations be drafted into military service? Do you believe the justices truly believe corporations are people? Of course they don’t, but they did believe they could get away with the outrageous ruling.

US Senate Republicans recently blocked what was called the “Buffett Rule” which would have disallowed loopholes permitting lower tax rates for the wealthy than those imposed on middle and lower class taxpayers. Why would they betray the majority of American taxpayers in such a blatant manner? Because they believe they can get away with it, that’s why. In Michigan, using a questionable and now legally challenged tactic to circumvent hearings on bills before passage, the Republican legislature repealed a law which provided health care for domestic partners. There is obviously an underlying autocratic belief system that emboldens these guys.

My favorite belief canard of late was when the Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, sounding a bit like a peeved Marie Antoinette, whined about “class warfare”. It was rather revolting to witness one of the leaders of, arguably, the most corrupt legislative body in the history of civilization complain to the press that the #occupywallstreet demonstrators were engaging in class warfare. Well, of course they are and why not? Class warfare has been going since time immemorial, Mr. Speaker, except it has been working in yours and your sponsors’ favor, which is why you wish the unwashed masses would’t notice and call attention to it. And you did believe you could get away with such a declaration, didn’t you?

When people’s beliefs and experience don’t add up they have nothing left to lose. As with any social revolution in history the populace becomes problematic for the status quo and consequently for the extant social contract. The #occupy activists apparently continue to believe in something resembling the propaganda of equal opportunity and justice for all and refuse to accept being drafted into a society of drones serving the 1%. Young people are refusing the status quo because they perceive they have nothing to lose but are defending their dignity as human beings by objecting, demonstrating, and forcing change. In their perception everything, including the future, is being gobbled up by greedy sponsors and politicians of the 1%. The propaganda of equal opportunity and equal social justice isn’t working because opportunity is perceived to be already owned, patented, and monopolized; reality and the promise don’t add up.

No social contract has ever been viable except when the beliefs and the experience of the society and individuals have been in accord. That’s a belief to live by.

This essay first appeared at: The Light of New Mexico

Occupying The Narrative – Part 2

As far back in social history as you care to look the pervasive social conflict has been between haves and have-nots. Kings and vassals, gentry and peasants, nobility and bourgeois, landed and serfs, rich and poor. We have not today early in the 21st century evolved much beyond that kind of social differentiation if at all with the 1% and the 99% gulf. In spite of a wide array of attempts to ensure political accountability and social equality the social contract has been and continues to be relentlessly undermined by greed. Greed for money, power, property, possessions, notoriety/fame, sanctimony – you name it and there are people hungry for it. There being no such thing as “enough” for some people it is, for them, an unremitting obsession. Since we live in a finite world it is a given that there is just so much of everything to go around; it follows then that the more some have the less there is for others to have. As Adam Smith, the 18th century Scot social philosopher, put it, “Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality … Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Obviously in a competitive world with limited resources there must be winners and losers and in this contemporary American society it seems losers worship winners and despise fellow losers. A neat trick of brainwashing in which losers more identify with winners and which, paradoxically, impels them to act against their own best interests. Winners take more and more leaving less and less for the majority and with disregard for the social consequences thereof. Sadly what is taken includes the future of young people. This then is the essence of the 1% / 99% conundrum, #occupywallstreet, and the basis for claims and denials of class warfare.

It used to be the case that the 1% didn’t seem to feel any need to be subtle or discreet but that seems to be changing as public awareness of the disparities increases. Conspicuous consumption seems to be on the wane, and is now increasingly replaced by denial of disparity, and that is all the more disingenuous and dangerous. Politicians who identify with and are themselves members of the 1% have stood before television cameras to bald-face declare there is no such thing as class warfare, as did the current speaker of the US House of Representatives not so long ago. Perhaps these folks sense something dangerous may be afoot. As an aside, one must wonder just who the House of “Representatives” represents; I’m certain it isn’t me or anyone I know. Contemporary American politics is probably the best worst-case example of how money and power are at the root of every civil law and regulation proposed and passed. It’s all about money and power and, increasingly, about religion – Christian religion.

 Is there a Republican war on the separation of church and state? The founders of our American democracy so cherished that freedom they left England in opposition to a state religion.  On March 26th, 2012, on the steps of the US Supreme Court, presidential candidate Rick Santorum declared,  “Rights come from our creator, they are protected by the Constitution of this country. Rights should not and cannot be created by a government because anytime a government creates a right, they can take that right away.” Now there’s a declaration for you and I’ll bet the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are rolling over in their graves. The framers, it is clear, were not deities, they were – guys and they created the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Santorum recently sat through a Louisiana Christian preacher’s sermon during which the preacher shouted out for anyone who wasn’t a Christian to “get out” of the country. We are truly on the outer fringes of sanity and civilization. We could be losing our balance and heading for an Inquisition if someone like Santorum becomes president.

Is there a Republican war on women? In Idaho, State Representative Chuck Winder questioned whether or not women understand that they have been raped. A woman in Texas described how she was required to listen to a physician describe a “gravely ill fetus” before she could abort it. Then we have Georgia State Representative Terry England who, in matters of abortion, compared women to pigs and cows before his legislature. England was speaking in favor of a bill that would require women to carry to term a dead or dying fetus. In Mississippi, Rennie Gibbs has become the first woman to be charged with murder following the stillbirth of her baby. In Arizona lawmakers are moving a bill through their legislature that would allow an employer to fire a woman using birth control as a contraceptive.

 Is there a Republican war on the poor and disadvantaged? Wisconsin Representative, Republican Paul Ryan is proposing a budget that would, in the words of The Huffington Post, ravage “programs for the poor, elderly, disabled, young, veterans, jobless, and students” because he says, programs such as food stamps, health insurance, Pell Grants, and veterans’ hospitals are “demeaning”. Incidentally, Ryan, himself, is not a veteran but he was an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile driver. Among the casualties of Ryan’s proposed reforms and budget cuts would be Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; in addition veterans care would be cut by 13%. Ryan’s claim is that a social safety net, “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.” When a veteran comes back from Afghanistan without his legs knowing of Ryan’s concern for his dignity will certainly make a difference. Half of the savings Ryan is claiming for his budget come from health insurance programs. Ryan himself, as a US congress person, has health care paid for by the taxpayers that exceeds any other government health program.

What about money and politics? David Koch, one of the two billionaire Koch brothers has stated publicly that he will spend $60 million, a bit more than chump change, to defeat President Obama in the 2012 elections. The Koch brothers also gave generously to the current governor of New Mexico during her election campaign in 2010. Another of their protégés, Scott Walker, current Governor of Wisconsin, is now facing a recall election following his first year in office. Walker recently stated rather disingenuously that he should have “anticipated there would be money and resources brought in from other places” to defeat him. Of course he didn’t mention where his own money comes from. Not to worry, bubby, the Koch boys have your back as their greatest fear, in David’s words, is that, “If unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Imagine that! One of Walker’s first acts as Governor was to disenfranchise public employee unions, including teachers. The same agenda has taken place in many other states as well.

So now what? We are, I believe, at a defining moment in the history of the United States. In all of my 74 years on the planet I cannot recall anything quite like what is going on now. Even during the most virulent period of the anti-Vietnam war protests there was a sense of one country, one people disagreeing. No, I’m not forgetting outrages like Kent State or the bombing of the Army Math building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Madison (I was there, I heard the blast.). We have certainly had our moments as a society, as a country, as a people. Somehow each moment segued into the next with a better situation than what preceded it. Those were times, however, when the media were not so entirely pervasive and when any nut case with an anti-social agenda could not so readily spew venomous hatred over the airwaves or internet as do Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox “News”. Glenn Beck in a recent internet post declared the possibility that the unarmed young man who was shot to death in Florida a few weeks ago was the attacker. Beck supports the claim of self-defense by the self-appointed vigilante who killed the young man. Beck used his web site to slime a dead kid with insinuations that the kid may have smoked marijuana at one time.

What can we do to stem this gruesome sociopathic red tide of hatred and disinformation? The narrative has been, as you can see from the foregoing, largely in the hands of right-wing sociopaths and political opportunists funded by billionaires with an anti-democratic dystopian agenda. With some politicians it seems not a matter of what will they say next but of what won’t they say next. The right-wing agitators are getting most of the media attention right now and it’s time for the voices of humanity, intelligence, and reason to speak up and occupy the narrative. This is a difficult assignment; it is too easy to get angry and vituperative in response to such outrage. Instead it is necessary to become quietly deliberate and persuasive without making people feel talked down to or patronized. It will take patience, and truthfulness. The future is being constrained by greed and when there is nothing attainable to aspire to but joblessness or  low-paying survival wages the future is foreclosed. A Las Cruces newspaper recently ran an opinion piece by a right-wing academic whose opinion was that New Mexico needs lower wages and lower taxes on corporations. This guy preached the gospel according to ALEC at a church in New Mexico and sponsored by the so-called Rio Grande Foundation. Nuff said!

The public must be educated. The public must understand we are all in this together, that the divide-and-conquer tactics being employed to pit social groups against each other is a deliberate, well-financed strategy. The opposition is wealthy, influential, and powerful. Right now they own the space we need to occupy. Occupying the narrative, you will be educators and skilled warriors whose task it will be to help the enemy destroy themselves. Teach about ALEC and its sponsors. Teach about legislators who introduce and pass legislation written for and by international corporations for their own benefit. Teach about the corrosive influence of money and religiosity in politics and the public space. Teach about politicians who will sell themselves for a trip to a vacation resort or even for a cheesy banquet. How cheap are they selling themselves for? Aren’t their constituents supposed to have first dibs on their loyalty? Did we elect ALEC or them? Do constituents have to ply their elected officials with resort trips and cheesy banquets to have public interests represented? These are the lessons you can teach, the questions you can ask. It’s a dialectic, it becomes a narrative joined by all who want an equitable political future – who want a future.

This essay appears in the April edition of Light of New Mexico

ON PARASITOIDS

The word parasite comes from the Greek  παράσιτος (parasitos), “one who eats at the table of another”. The Juniper parasite commonly known as Mistletoe Latin name is Phoradendron Juniperinum ,. There are many different kinds of parasites that infect animals and plants and this one is of the kind that eventually kills its host. Parasitoid is the name for parasites which kill or sterilize their hosts. As I was working at the heartbreaking task of pruning – butchering might be more apt – nearly all of the cedars and junipers at home infected with Mistletoe the similarity between what is happening to my trees and my country struck me. Parasitoids are eating away democracy, the economy, and polity – in short, the social contract as I have known it for all of my life and in the end they will kill the host and replace it with something like a police state.

What is most interesting about this is that the parasites are being assisted by the very people who are being hurt the most – the American middle class. Which leads me to the next interesting aspect that being the denial of class warfare. What do you imagine are the consequences when millionaire elected politicians write laws from “model legislation” provided to them by an organization funded by the largest corporations in the world? Is that not class warfare? The ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Counsel) is the unelected sponsor of a great deal of legislation from concealed carry of handguns to education and a universe in between. Whose interests are being represented first and foremost? Yours or theirs? Who did the public elect, ALEC or senator so-and-so? The role of legislators as minions of parasitoids is undeniable when they allow themselves to used as conduits for sociopathic legislation provided to them by ALEC. The legislation introduced and passed is not for the benefit of the electorate but solely for the benefit of the sponsors at the expense of the polity. In other words, they are dining at the expense of the public good – literally and figuratively.

A good example of how devolved the situation has become is the disagreement over health care. Early in the Republican primary during a debate about government sponsored health care an example of how a sick person without health insurance could be denied hospital care and die as a result, the audience cheered. Yes, that actually happened at a Republican presidential debate in September of last year. Ron Paul was asked by the moderator whether or not a person should be left to die if he didn’t have health insurance.  Paul ducked the question but responded that freedom means “taking your own risks”. And the audience cheered, “Yeah!”. Not unlike the Roman custom of thumbs down during a gladiatorial bout the audience thus indicating the vanquished opponent should be killed. Even Friedrich Hayek ultra-conservative intellectual icon knew better and supported “ a comprehensive system of social insurance”.

Concealed carry laws such as that which led to the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida come directly out of the ALEC menu of “model legislation” the Florida language being nearly identical to the ALEC template. There is hardly a day that goes by without another shooting reported somewhere in the country. Today, April 2, six people were shot and killed and three wounded at a California university. Last night a shooting in Las Cruces left one young man dead and another seriously wounded. Time and again people, innocent people, are shot down by someone exercising the right to own and carry a gun. ALEC templates provide the language and intent of the enabling legislation for gun laws sponsored by the Koch boys, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, At&T, UPS, Kraft Foods, State Farm, Bayer, Diageo, NRA, et al  – it’s a long long list.

Another example is the price of gasoline. It is generally known there is an international glut of petroleum the feed stock of gasoline and there is also a national reserve from which the president can draw if need be. The price of what has become life-blood of the American economy is controlled by a small group of multi-national corporations all of whom want to see a Republican outcome in the November elections; they are willing, it seems, to destroy the economy and the economic life of Americans to achieve that end.

The life blood of democracy is being sucked out of it for profit and in the end will destroy the American social contract just as the mistletoe is destroying my trees. Another  ALEC campaign, this to destroy public education for the purpose of privatizing it, will lead to under and un-educated citizens unable to think critically thus making them even more vulnerable to manipulation and with little or no commitment to a social contract – in other words they are creating a dystopian state at our expense. Already by age 23 as many as 41 percent of American young adults and adolescents have been arrested at least once. Will we, of necessity, live in a police state in what was once the land of the free and the home of the brave? How far will ALEC its sponsors and minions be willing to go in their parasitoid crusade against American democracy?

This essay was forst posted on: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/


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