Posts Tagged 'PACs'

This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein

The One Book

If you are planning to read a book this year I strongly suggest Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Climate change and global warming are real, tangible, and undeniable, the evidence is concrete, and it is planet wide. The only serious question remaining is whether or not something can be done to slow or otherwise mitigate it in the face of powerful political opposition. This book reminds me of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed. The sounding of an alarm reflexively resisted by vested interests but of vital interest and value to everyone else.

The international climate goal for some time now had been to hold warming to a 2°C rise in temperature. This number was developed and agreed upon as far back as 2009 by several international environmental organizations and scientists. Alarmingly 2°C is no longer deemed sufficient and 1.5°C is now believed to be the critical limit. This new limit was agreed on by a UN climate group in 2014 as being necessary to avoid melting most of the Arctic ice to keep sea level rise below 2 feet. Rise is a measurement across time of movement from a lower position to a higher one. In the case of climate change and global warming this means that globally the overall temperature of the earth and its atmosphere cannot become more than 1.5° to 2°C than it is presently and sustain life as we know it. Controlling temperature in a dynamical system as complex as this planet is naturally, with no help from humans, is in and of itself an awesome challenge on many levels.

The book deftly takes you through the history and politics of climate change, the awareness of its extent and effects, and the well organized, well financed denial of its reality. Klein also details the hare-brained schemes to cool things down such as a plan called Solar Radiation Management which sounds innocuous enough but is a scheme to spray chemicals into the upper atmosphere to dim the sun.

If you like numbers, concrete examples, and statistics This Changes Everything will satisfy. The writing is clear, concise, and non-technical, the arguments are well documented. Beyond the numbers the narrative is conversational, insightful, and oftentimes witty as well as startling. Good guys and bad guys (and some in between) are identified and numerous specious proposals for remediation called out. Klein’s skilled writing makes the complex issues readable and, more important, understandable in non-technical language. Her thesis is, I think, best summed up thus: “… our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth.” Klein deftly demonstrates how everything is connected to everything else from ecosystems to economic systems and the dangers of ignoring this fundamental principle.

Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott made himself into a world class laughing stock forbidding Florida state employees to use the term climate change or global warming. Scott is now followed by Louisianna’s Jindal and Wisconsin’s Walker, two leading lights of contemporary right-wing political leadership. One has to wonder and be concerned when politicians dissemble and deny, and ask who is paying them to perform. Denial seems to be as contagious as it is profitable. When the phrase “money is the root of all evil” was coined they hadn’t yet heard of PACs, ALEC, or the Koch boys numerous political organizations to funnel money into politics. Climate change has, until recently, been below the general public’s awareness and now, for good measure, it is being denied, suppressed, and politicized. This Changes Everything carefully details the players and the plays.

Nowadays it is extremely difficult to avoid being cynical as we witness the political, and not in the least, moral compromises, and betrayal of public trust even with matters of such universal import as climate change. Both for the amusement and the ensuing disbelief I suggest you direct your web browser to the following URL: <http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/florida-official-climate-change-video>. The right-wing response to the difficult issues at hand seems to be, don’t talk about it and it will go away. Well, it won’t. Denial of the obvious seldom gets very far though it is, nevertheless, a favorite ploy of politicians of every stripe as long as they have an audience wanting to hear only what they want to hear. Politicizing science as Klein well illustrates is a dangerous road to travel and she has provided an eloquent and thoroughly documented counter argument with This Changes Everything.

   

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein

Simon & Schuster

2014

“… 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.

Crossroads: Reality For Beginners

 

I vividly recall watching a CBS Walter Cronkite evening news broadcast soon after I left active duty. A reporter was interviewing an Army captain during an attack on a Vietnamese village. The scene was shot from a low angle; both the captain and the reporter were lying below the rim of a ditch, and in the distance, through smoke and explosions, the village could be seen. Various types of aircraft were dropping ordnance, firing rockets, and machine-gunning this group of huts— hell had broken loose. With every explosion the cameraman jerked a bit in response.

The reporter asked the Captain what was going on—yes, he did ask that. The Captain explained that the village had some Vietcong in it and added (I swear this is true!), “We’re having to destroy this village in order to save it.” That was very many years ago, and here we are still at it—destroying people, places, ideas, beliefs, trust in government, society, and justice—destroying in order to “save” them. That scene from Vietnam comes to mind often these days as we see one news story after another about politicians, right-wing organizations like ALEC, and powerful oligarchs engaging in serious destruction of our now-fragile social contract. So many politicians are today more notable for deceitful and rent-seeking behavior than for their intelligence and devotion to public service—or even their country.

What do you suppose the consequences will be if the Oligarchy-sponsored right-wing assault on the social contract is successful? Their stated targets to cut or eliminate include these vital elements of the social contract:

  • unemployment benefits
  • dismantling social security
  • health care
  • food stamps
  • elder care
  • veterans’ programs and benefits

Will we live in a better world or a worse one if they succeed?

All societies, polities, and civilizations are complex systems; no part acts independently of the others—push something here and something pops up over there, ad infinitum. This accords with Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, wherein individuals acting out of self-interest ultimately deplete the finite resources of the commons, resulting in loss for all, especially those least able to fight back. As, for example, the US being 26th out of 29 countries in child welfare, or that one American in two is low-income poor. The resources of the commons include trust in government, belief in equality, equal opportunity and social justice. These are the “glue” of a humane and just society and have been a hallmark of this country since the Great Depression. Failing the cohesive “glue” of belief, societal collapse inevitably follows; it presages the death of hope. What are those people thinking? Do they really believe there will be no consequences, or do they trust that the relentless militarization of police forces will contain any outbursts or rebellion? Will we have to see the society destroyed before it can be saved?

Hypocrisy is become high fashion, thoroughly rationalized and the Constitution be damned, all for our own good, 1984 has arrived. Over the years the United States has, with high moral dudgeon, condemned the Soviet bloc countries, Nazi Germany, and several other countries for domestic spying and is now itself engaged in the same behavior. Who cares, so long as we have assurances that we are made safe? Of course it never occurs that we might be better made safe if we would change our behavior in the world, mind our own business, let other countries settle their internal problems on their own, but would the world then be safe for the oil, mineral, and financial oligarchies? To the extent that the relentless pursuit of profit directs American foreign policy so too will the resentment, distrust, and anger we suffer continue to grow, even amongst our allies, and not only because we spy on them as well as our designated enemies.

What demagogues of all stripes fail to remember is that there has always been a price to be paid when a critical mass of disbelief is breached. Lies have lasting effect and are inevitably found out, either by disclosure or by turn of events, and there are always consequences. “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs,” is how Harry G. Frankfurt puts it in his charming and insightful book, On Truth. What would a world without truth be like? How could citizens trust their government? Why would they trust? How just can society be when, for example, even lawyers lie in court with the tacit approval of regulating bodies, which are supposed to regulate their behavior?

If it is true, as social philosopher, Philippa Foot, cast it, “… it makes sense to speak of those who are lovers of justice—as of those who are lovers of truth.” So now consider that many if not most legislators, national and state, are lawyers. Consider further that at the national level it is commonplace that campaign coffers in the form of PACs are filled with money “donated” by lobbyists for every sort of interest group. We must, on evidence, then conclude that the lawyering industry has a questionable relationship to both truth and justice if their standards for truth are a moveable feast of fabrication to suit the circumstances. If the motto is “winning is everything,” the corollary is inescapably, “Society be damned.”

If that doesn’t sound like double jeopardy, I can’t imagine what would. And just what is it that is in jeopardy? Well, for openers, how about trust followed by justice, followed by the public’s interests. There are many more to list, but these are enough to paint the sorry picture. Then there is the matter of the recent financial crisis buy-outs and the enormous loss of savings the public suffered while the financial industry was, by contrast, largely spared with infusions of public money.  Who wins and who loses in this game? The social contract doesn’t have a chance—will it have to be destroyed in order to “save” it?

Midnight in the Land of Fear and Greed

In his 1896, “The Law Of Civilization And Decay,” Brooks Adams states: “Thought is one of the manifestations of human energy, and among the earlier and simpler phases of thought, two stand conspicuous – Fear and Greed. Fear, which, by stimulating the imagination, creates a belief in an invisible world, and ultimately develops a priesthood: and Greed which dissipates energy in war and trade.”  I wonder what Adams’ take would have been on today’s United States, driven by both fear and greed.

Scores of Americans are willing, out of Fear, to surrender freedom for the illusion of safety. Greed manifests in the relentless pursuit of profit by corporations, bankers and individuals through tax-evasion strategies and manipulation enabled by legislators gifted with PAC “donations.” The population dominating the economy promotes deregulation and tax relief for themselves, claiming “trickle-down” economics, which Kenneth Galbraith once characterized as allowing a horse to gorge on oats such that something will go through for the sparrows.

Corporations like Apple Computer utilize cleverly rationalized off-shore tax dodges, squirreling millions out of reach of the American tax system, thus withdrawing the energy represented by that money from the very society from which they derive their profits. The end result of this behavior is that the burden of taxes falls on an ever-diminished middle-class struggling to keep its head above water. Unless people believe in the fairness of the social contract as they live it on a daily basis it will be undermined.

The “priesthood” of the CIA, NSA, FBI, FISA, and IRS cite an “invisible world” they can’t tell us about but which they are a part of. Sounds like a religion, doesn’t it? Tapping your phones, reading, recording and storing your private e-mails and internet searches, photographing your mail, recording your book purchases, making “unintentional mistakes,” and storing all of this indefinitely without your knowledge or your permission, they are making you “safe” in the land of the free and the home of the brave. According to the Washington Post, “The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy.” We have descended into the same domestic spying we condemn elsewhere.

From the moment the first buckled shoe set foot on this continent, the United States has been a racist, classist, religiously bigoted  country dominated by business interests. Could it ever be different? This is a Darwinian world, and so long as there is a “getting ahead” or “having more” there will be people stepping on others to get their “more.” For their part, the polity would rather blame others – however characterized by disability, poverty, skin color, birthplace, intellect, or any quality that distinguishes them as “other” – instead of their own unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for social and economic equality, and they are encouraged in this behavior by the insatiable 1% and their puppet politicians.

What will our country look like if the sociopaths succeed? Will we be back to soup kitchens? People languishing in the streets and gutters? Will our world resemble the Middle Ages? Will there be rampant disease and lack of sufficient food, cleanliness, and health care? Is this the vision the oligarchs financing the assaults on social services, schools, and society in general have in mind?

Because, in Ronald Wright’s words, “… all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures there can never be enough to go around,” all civilizations throughout history have ascended and declined, evolved and devolved through a process of similar dynamics. This is not a new idea. Polybius, a 2nd-century BC Greek historian, noted the cycle of states as being growth, maturity and decay. This “rule” applied to sophisticated and primitive societies alike, especially those that invested heavily in their militaries and engaged in endless warfare, the Roman Empire being a good example.

The list of failed societies is long and extends to the furthest reaches of human history, and destructive energies of Fear and Greed drove those ancient societies to their collapse. They were, to paraphrase Shelley, the greatest nations that ever were. Beyond the boast, their greatness, subject to the resources of their commons, ultimately served them no further purpose; the wages of hubris.

Civilization is a recent development, something on the order of a mere six thousand years or so, consequently civilization remains, by any measure, an experiment. As with all experiments, there are no right or wrong answers—only results. The United States’ experiment is clearly at a crossroads in its history, the outcome of which is uncertain only to the extent of our collective ability to conquer fear and greed, to imagine, create, and maintain a just society. No small task.

 

Creating a Corpse

Graph 2

As every bureaucrat knows, if you want to kill any public process or project the preferred method is to starve it, and starving public education they are. If you want make a corpse of public education simply starve it to death by underfunding it. Doing things this way kills your target softly, which avoids confrontation and rancorous public discussion. The by-word is stealth.

It is no coincidence that the two worst states in the US when it comes to cuts in per student spending are the two states where the most ambitious wanna-be Republican governors have declared war on public education and public school teachers; two governors who have overweaning national political ambitions. They are, of course, Scott Walker and Susana Martinez.

The accompanying chart, created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, vividly tells the sad tale. Read it and weep, New Mexico – we are leading the country in starving public education out of existence. Wisconsin and New Mexico lead the country, with New Mexico taking first-place honors cutting per student spending by $707.00 from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012. Yes, New Mexico leads the nation in something besides great enchiladas, and by a fair margin. Wisconsin is in the game with minus $625.00. West Virginia, on the other hand, spent $504.00 more per student during the same period. West Virginia!

“Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are prepared to pay their share of the costs.” Thus begins a recent editorial in the Economist, “The Missing 20 trillion,” about the amount of non-taxed money generated by individuals and corporations through one dodge or another that are secured in various countries, off-shore shelters and the like. Essentially it is an article on sociopathy in the form of capitalism. The editors could have beneficially stopped with the above quotation but, ever the defenders of capitalist ways, went on to rationalize the underlying causes and ignore the moral issues.

This is not to say the editors didn’t suggest fair and honest ways to tax the money; what they failed to do was address the core problem. Where they dropped the ball, so to speak, was to not address first principles, their own assumptions about the social contract and the underlying causality. What is missing is a frank discussion of the missing moral commitment to a social contract that includes the rest of us. But this is both typical of these kinds of economic analysis, which ply the reader with platitudes about capitalism while they ignore its fundamental and deadly flaws.

Nowhere do we find a better and more telling example than the ongoing war on public education in the United States by the wealthy and the politicians they have purchased with campaign financing and generous PACs. The selling of America, indeed.

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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