Posts Tagged 'Citizens United'

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.”

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 2

The intent of this series of essays is to demonstrate the American social contract is under attack, who is behind it and what their motives are. There are many actors in the drama and very many schemes, all of which are directed at undermining what has been the American social contract and the beliefs which underlie that contract. The first essay of the series was a general overview of the many ways and the many influences, from politicians to religious leaders to billionaires, all with an agenda undermining the social arrangements and expectations that have been quintessentially American since the Declaration of Independence and have reflected the hopes and aspirations of civilized people throughout history.

We are, in the United States, at a turning point in the history of our politics and social organization. Wealth and the power it buys are in the hands of a few who use their wealth to control media and the propaganda money buys. Among the general public a culture of “me-first,” “whatever-it-takes,” celebrity worship, mindless and often violent entertainment are all standard fare and easily play into the hands of the media manipulators. Observed from a dispassionate distance, we appear a civilization rapidly becoming decadent and clearly in decline. Truth has become a fungible commodity and is generally absent from public debate, absent even in courtrooms controlled by insurance conglomerates and their lawyer lackeys.

In politics one has to ask what kind of moral leadership could possibly be expected from an individual who made his fortune putting people out of work. Or another who has never done real work. Voting has devolved into an exercise in which voters must decide who among the candidates is the lesser evil. It has become, it would seem, more materially and politically rewarding to be pragmatic than honorable, to take or not take a position calculated on the basis of whether or not it offends the fewest potential voters; in other words, not principled but expedient. Whatever it takes becomes the order of the day, the moral and ethical standard. What sort of social leadership can be expected from a candidate whose wife refers to the American public as ”you people”? Could we expect empathy, feeling with you, mutual respect, shared sacrifice? We the people have become an inconvenient but necessary rabble.

We must ask ourselves how this country can sustain itself politically when wallowing in blatant corruption at levels that would embarrass even a banana republic. Even political movements have become a parody as, for example, Tea Party activists in Founding Father costumes act out their frustrations by attacking immigrants in a country founded by immigrants or cheering when assured an impoverished uninsured person could die from illness without public health care. It is important to note here that the role of immigrants isn’t the same as that of the Wall Street Banksters who caused the economic collapse that resulted in foreclosures and loss of middle-class savings. Then we have labor leaders turning against their rank-and-file, thwarting elections when the results don’t meet their expectations, and union members voting for an anti-labor candidate.

The list of embraced contradictions and self-defeating behavior ascends the scale of incredulity as people vote and agitate against their own best interests, against members of their own social class. This last brings to mind the current speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, declaring there are no social classes in the U.S. Oh, really? Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University economist puts it this way, saying, in fact we do have a tiered society where, “While there may be underlying economic forces at play, politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” Why isn’t the Tea Party beating its drums on Wall Street?

The political landscape across the country is infested with phony “Foundations” and “Institutes,” bought and paid for by millionaires and billionaires using these tax-exempt front organizations to propagandize local and national issues. The American Legislative Exchange Council is the corporate sponsored mother-ship for many of these organizations. ALEC sponsors week-end “seminars” for legislators and their guests at fancy seaside resorts where they get to play golf and meet and mingle with corporate money-bags and lobbyists. Enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, front organizations give large sums of money to influence elections, governors and legislators. In New Mexico we have one of these entities that has over the past year opposed, among other things, mass transit, art in public places and public education. In each instance the alternative proposed was privatization.

We are descending a slippery slope with a rent-seeking “whatever-works-for-you” fantasy mentality. Politicians, playing fast and loose with the truth, make a big thing of “sharing your values” as they woo voters but say nothing about personal character, the sense of right and wrong, and the truth-telling which constitute an individual’s character and which cannot be substituted for  with wholesale community values. Values have nothing to do with personal character because truth and integrity, the foundation stones of character, issue first and foremost from individuals and thus require personal conviction and commitment. It is not an overstatement to say that when truth, integrity and personal character are undermined, so too is the civilized society. James Davison Hunter in “The Death of Character” states it bluntly: “ Character matters, we believe, because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” There can be no such thing as community in a “me-first” world populated and obsessed with morally empty “personalities.”

The American Taliban

The recent news story (7/9/12) about the Taliban executing a young Afghan woman was revolting. The woman was shown in the accompanying video seated on the ground as the executioner fired his Kalashnikov nine times into her back. Aside from the abject cowardliness of the executioner and his colleagues, there was a crowd of about 100 villagers sitting on a nearby hillside cheering. No matter what her offense, it was a brutal event. A person’s life was taken in a direct and brutish manner, a despicable violation of human decency and civilized behavior.

In the US we don’t drag people into the streets and shoot them (yet). What we do is deny them health care, unemployment benefits, food stamps, living wages, and access to the political process on an equal footing with the wealthy via the Citizens United decision.

In the state of mind that is the State of Texas there are some 6.2 million people without health insurance. The Republican governor, Rick Perry, has rejected expansion of Medicaid and the creation of a health care insurance exchange. Consider that those 6.2 million people represent nearly a quarter of the population of Texas. This brings to mind the cheering at a Republican primary debate last year when a candidate explained that an ill person with no health insurance could die. Brutish, inhumane, and uncivilized behavior? You bet it is.

Texas Republicans recently revealed a key plank of their platform for the upcoming elections, their opposition to teaching critical thinking skills in public schools. This is unsurprising of course when your purpose is to create a stupidized general population that will go along with denying health care to poor people and other similar dehumanizing policies. What we have here is a Republican Tea Party agenda to de-legitimize the idea of community—to undermine and ultimately destroy the civil society. Following the Texas model, they want to create a gun-toting, everyone-for-themselves, don’t-tread-on-me world. They, like the Taliban, are anti-social, un-American, and they are dangerous sociopaths.

While philosophers like Max Weber and Marcel Gauchet thought that religion was the main influence on the development of Western social contracts, that influence is now distorted and deformed; it has become a weapon. The new religious influences on the social contract are exemplified by popular Christian preachers with national audiences, one of whom, in the solemn presence of Republican Presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, screamed that all immigrants should be sent back to where they came from. The other called for a national policy to create internment camps for homosexuals. Catholic bishops have been stiffed by US Congressmen professing the same faith as theirs because bishops forfeited their moral authority covering for child-abusing priests. Religion is no longer the humanizing influence it once was and has become, more than ever, polarizing, compartmentalizing, and more importantly, hypocritical.

Women are also under attack. Georgia Republican state legislator, Terry England, supported a bill to force women to carry a still-born or dying fetus to term because cows and pigs do, he said, so why not women. Tea Party activists cheering at the death of the elderly and the infirm, represent the new social contract. The Republican conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court that defines corporations as people with equal rights as human beings rends the fabric of rationality as well as the social contract. Money talks in America, and if you don’t have it you are mute, and your constitutional rights, just like your mortgage, have been foreclosed by big money. If you are not rich you exist to provide votes for whichever party can scare you the most about your fellow Americans. Capitalist cannibalism and nihilism are the new social contract replacing community, shared values, and common interest. Trade unions are being marginalized by politicians, business interests and their own inability to see a bigger picture than their internecine politics. In the mid-1950s close to 40 percent of American workers were covered by union contracts; today only 12 percent are. In the recent gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin union members voted against the union-endorsed candidate.

Public-sector unions are being attacked and eviscerated, not just by Republican governors but by Democrats as well. Eleven Democrat governors are blaming public-sector unions for budget deficits, demanding wage and benefit concessions. In all of that, neither the governors nor the affected unions have effectively pointed out the predatory role of big banks and the recession they caused. At this moment in time, corporate profits are at an all-time high and wages, calculated as a percent of the economy, are at an all-time low.

In Colorado Springs, the location of recent wildfires, public employees had been laid off or their jobs eliminated by elected officials who took Grover Norquist’s no new taxes pledge and rejected property tax increases. With the ranks of firefighters and police reduced, the city had 39 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer policemen to face the crisis. A few years ago the city even had to turn off a third of the town’s street lights. Many homes that weren’t consumed by the fire were looted or vandalized and dozens of automobiles broken into. The classic irony is that in the aftermath the city has shamelessly applied for Federal grants and aid. Where’s Grover? Maybe he has some ideas on how to reconcile this contradiction.

In the past few days it was revealed that traders at JPMorgan-Chase lost approximately $5.8 billion in bad gambles. How many firemen, cops, teachers, health clinics, and other more humane possibilities would that bundle have paid for? In the meantime the Republican Taliban, with public support, are going after the poor and disadvantaged; they are rampant and smelling victory.

This post first appeared at: http://www.grass-roots-press.com/

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.

 


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