Posts Tagged 'US Supreme Court'

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.

 

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

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


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