Archive for June, 2012

Can We Change Human Nature?

“So what do you suggest for a “solution”?”

The above was a response from a thoughtful person who had read my last essay on politics, “Rough Times Ahead.” A fair question and my answer is thus:

My dear friend, it beats me. I have no ideal solutions solving problems such as general dishonesty and lack of basic humanity among social and political leaders and the general public. Changing human nature sounds to me like the only sufficient and necessary course of action, but is that even a possibility? Human nature, it seems to me, is hell bent on destroying what’s left of the social contract, a culture of “me firsters.”

I recently watched Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, “testifying” before the Senate Banking Committee about the $2 billion loss his company racked up on a hedge fund crap-shoot. You’ll remember Dimon, he’s the guy who last year gave the NYPD a $2 million tip for keeping the #occupywallstreet demonstrators away from his condominium door. As cynical as I confess I am, I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed. Senators Corker of Idaho, DeMint of South Carolina, Johans of Nebraska and Mike Crapo of Idaho gushed and smarmed, stopping just short of stepping off their dais to kiss Dimon’s ass. Dimon smiled approvingly, wallowing in the Olympian tributes to his financial prowess, and the warm encomiums. I later learned that these senators, Republicans all, were beneficiaries of very generous donations to the Republican PAC from Dimon’s company.

What does the foregoing say about human nature and, at the very least, the nature and character of those senators and the voters who elect and re-elect them? What do we do about these kinds of people? Run them out of office comes to mind, but how do you do that when most voters are uninformed and want to stay that way? As long as Senator Blowhard can claim to be pursuing welfare cheats, deporting illegal immigrants, stopping healthcare reform, and bringing jobs and prosperity to their district, everyone is happy. Why are we stirring things up by talking about integrity, honesty and the social contract? Salute the flag, my friend, and be happy, join in, the 4th of July is upon us. Let’s all be Yankee Doodle Dandies!

Can we change human nature? What can you say to a crowd of middle-class whites, mostly Tea Party activists and predominantly Christian, who cheered when a presidential candidate told them a poor person would probably die from a medical emergency without national health insurance? This is a view, by the way, supported by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, also a Catholic, who opposes the health care reforms promoted by President Obama. Scalia you might remember also approved of an innocent man being executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The author of an article about the health care case now before the Supreme Court, Ilyse Hogue,  titled her essay, “Healthcare and Scalia’s Broken Moral Compass.” I have news for you, Ilyse, Scalia doesn’t have a moral compass, and how can you fix that? If readers really want a thrill, I suggest you read the Comments section following her article to see what your fellow Americans think about health care for everyone.

<http://www.thenation.com/blog/168452/healthcare_and_scalias_broken_moral_compass >

What can you say to Rep. Paul Ryan who wants to cut medical benefits for injured and disabled veterans and who, along with Speaker of the House John Boehner—both Catholics by the way—“respectfully disagree” with a Catholic bishop who said it is not very Jesus-like to let poor people starve. Of course, had they chanted the doctrine of not allowing family-planning or equal rights for homosexuals they could have been on their way to sainthood. Hey, it’s all negotiable, it’s all fungible, just ask the nuns who are being reined in for being uppity, for promoting “radical feminist themes.” What can be done about all of this dystopian and sociopathic behavior and attitude? Where do we start? You tell me.

We certainly can’t tell the Pope. He has his hands full with a major banking fraud scandal in Rome and child molestation around the globe. Preachers are telling their flocks homosexuals should be interned in special camps and food dropped in from aircraft and immigrants removed from the country. Getting your chaplain card punched doesn’t seem to be an option these days. I’m not even going to deal with the attack on public education funded by neo-liberal right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys, who see privatized schools as profit centers and indoctrination camps. They also see needy seedy politicians as fair game, whose PACs are open for business.

Where do we start? For openers I suggest we start with ourselves and strive to engage and ultimately occupy the narrative. It’s going to be a long uphill slog to save public education from the profit mongers, to save public health, to save a public space where people can talk with each other in a civil manner. It’s going to be a long uphill slog to reverse the Citizens United weapon unleashed against our democracy by the current Supreme Court and it must be done.

We must constantly and consistently expose the divisiveness of those who place profit and personal gain over the common good in all areas of life, be they corporations, government, labor unions, professional organizations, anywhere and everywhere. Our civil society, our Democracy, and representative government are at risk, and if they are to be preserved it will require hard and persistent effort. That, in my opinion, is what we must do no matter the odds, no matter how long it takes, and no matter the price.

I hope you find this helpful.

 

Rough Times Ahead

The Koch boys won in Wisconsin and in the other places where they have been spreading their financial poison, planting paid operatives, and electing their puppets. The boys now own Wisconsin just as they have owned Scott Walker all along. The same game plan is underway in New Mexico via their friendly governor and in other states as well – money being the universal grease of political corruption particularly when it is in service to a social agenda. Mr. Walker received $63.5 million in funding from sources outside Wisconsin.

In the case of Wisconsin we also have to wonder about people voting against their own best interests, against their own social class, their neighbors, their public servants. Why? Among other factors, many Wisconsin citizens opposed the idea of a recall as though it was somehow un-American when in reality recall is an elegant expression of the very idea of American social democracy. This aversion was cleverly exploited by Walker and his backers among whom I count ALEC and the US Supreme Court with its fatuous anti-democracy Citizens United decision.

The Walker recall was rejected by a large number of working and middle-class Wisconsinites who no doubt had their own situations on their minds. In the US the term “middle-class” is in the process of being redefined downward. As recently reported by the Federal Reserve, the net worth of American middle-class families has now declined to 1990 levels. Walker exploited middle-class America’s financial desperation by demonizing labor unions particularly those representing public-sector workers like teachers depicting them as having health benefits and pensions paid for by taxpayers who are themselves doing without. The Republican presidential candidate, Romney, in a Marie Antoinette let them eat cake moment, summarized the “message of Wisconsin” as, America can do with fewer teachers, police, and firefighters. This, you can be certain, will be the theme, the neo-conservative game plan going into the 2012 elections, because it resonates with a diminished middle-class looking for answers to it’s own plight. Needless to say I suppose is that neither Romney himself nor his kids ever attended a public school.

Rough times lie ahead for intelligent caring people – especially for people who work for a living, and not just in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin outcome is going to embolden others like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who in a post-Wisconsin election interview on Fox “News” (there’s an oxymoron for you) stated that public sector unions are past their prime and should be abolished. Unions, private and public-sector, are in decline and, thus, in neo-conservative cross-hairs. Union membership has declined from 40% of American workers in the 1950s to 12% today. In the upcoming general election the Wisconsin story could easily be repeated across the country. What happened in Wisconsin in a nutshell was a general vote against unions by people who perceived union members getting a disproportionate share of public money in pay and benefits. Of course those who voted against the unions will ultimately share the losses caused by their vindictiveness in one way or another.

Pressure to limit wages and benefits are in place courtesy of ambitious politicians in hock to moneyed interests who will benefit from paying low wages and abolishing employee benefits. Young people who want a college education will be in for a lifetime of being in debt if they manage to graduate from the privatized public schools which are also a part of the conservative agenda. Among the other casualties will be labor unions which are already on the ropes, not just because the Kochs and their cohorts have been targeting them but because most Americans are indifferent and in some cases antagonistic.

Antagonism towards unions is of two sources, one being the unrelenting propaganda from the right as was demonstrated in Wisconsin. The campaign against working people and organized labor has had a long and oftentimes violent history as for example the Pullman Strike of 1894 which resulted in 13 workers killed, 57 wounded, and eventually put down by 12,000 federal troops. The other source of today’s antagonism is an apparent lack of critical awareness on the left. Children born into union families when unions were at their strongest – children whose college educations were made possible by their parent’s union membership – do not themselves identify with unions, seeing unions as antiquated, irrelevant, and with an “On The Waterfront” animus. Unions have failed to continually make their case even, apparently, to their own children.

If the general population believes labor unions are irrelevant unions have only themselves to blame and only they can right that perception and they must. In the Wisconsin recall election exit polls found that even family members of union workers voted for Walker. Walker didn’t win so much as organized labor lost and that, dear readers, was just the beginning. Rough times ahead.

This essay first appeared at: Grassrootspress and Light of New Mexico


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