8 01 2012

Please note:  I’m going to drop a lot of f-bombs in this segment and the next.  In politics, however, the f-word that is not spoken in polite society has nothing to do with plowing or the union of male and female.  In politics, the f-word that should never be uttered is “fascism.”  I’m going to utter it frequently over the next couple of segments, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

For the first time in a while, I’ve got a “truth in strange places” award to mention,  but first, I want to give a “truth tellers in strange places” award–to Bradley Manning, for showing the world the dirty linen of the American Empire, sowing the seeds of Arab Spring, and spawning the “Occupy” movement here in America, a movement that has only begun to come into its stride.  The mills of the gods grind slow, but exceeding fine, and have only just barely caught the shirt-tails of the elite in their inexorable grasp.  As William Kunstler likes to say, “it’s going to be a great show from the cheap seats.” And here we are, and no wonder the gummint is so mad at the man.

So yes, Bradley Manning gets the “Truth-Tellers in Strange Places” award.  Corporal Manning should be up for a Nobel Peace Prize, but instead, he has spent nearly a year and a half in prison before even having any charges brought against him.  During this time, he has been repeatedly humiliated, kept in solitary confinement, and probably drugged .  Two thoughts come to mind:  one is that if this is what our government will do without the recent detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, what will it feel emboldened to do with that permission?

The other thought is that the government wants to make damn sure nobody else gets any noble ideas about following the path blazed by Daniel Ellsburg, who became a folk hero for leaking “The Pentagon Papers,” which, like Mr. Manning’s alleged gifts to Wikileaks, gave the lie to America’s loudly proclaimed noble intentions. Sibel Edmonds is another great American whistle blower, but, unlike Ellsberg and Manning’s cases, her revelations were largely ignored by the complacent mass media of the early aughts.  Since then, the internet’s ability to spread a story widely without benefit of the so-called mainstream media has grown exponentially, so that, even though the U.S. can hobble Wikileaks financially, it has been unable to shut it down or stop the truth from being told. For all his campaign promises about hope, change, and openness, Obama has been even harsher than his predecessors when it comes to prosecuting whistle blowers instead of listening to them.

Here’s hoping 2012 is the year when Bradley Manning soon receives the hero’s welcome he deserves.

Our “Truth in Strange Places” award goes to Dr. Ron Paul, who should need no introduction.  No matter what you think of the full spectrum of his politics, no matter whether or not you trust that he has moved beyond the simple-minded racism published in his name twenty years ago, he is the only Presidential candidate who actually challenges the status quo in any way.  His ad asking people to imagine the American response to a Chinese or Russian military base in Texas puts the shoe on the other foot in a way that nobody else in the race had the vision, brains, or nerve to do, and it’s too bad that it, and the warning it carries about blowback from American imperialism, will likely not be appreciated until foreign drones cruise American skies and Americans are “specially rendered” for crimes against the Chinese or Russian state. Paul’s willingness to admit that the “War on Drugs” is an extremely costly failure is another breath of fresh air, but, beyond that, Paul actually turns out to be cut from the same cloth as the rest of the Republican pack, whom he joins in calling for the radical downsizing of the U.S. government and the unleashing of corporate power.

Downsizing and muzzling the U.S. government is not actually an issue between the Dems and Repubs, although both like to pretend it is.  The Democratic leadership, just as much as the Republicans, is committed to serving corporate interests first, and the public second.  That is why nobody central has been prosecuted for the Wall Street meltdown, why banks have gotten trillions in relief while foreclosed homeowners and the unemployed have received only table scraps, why, instead of a genuine overhaul of our so-called health care system, we got a law mandating that we buy health insurance from the companies who have helped make the U.S. health care system the most expensive and dysfunctional in the world, not to mention one of the chief conduits for channeling the wealth of the American middle class into corporate coffers.  Corporatism is the latest evolution of the political “F-word”: fascism.  In a corporatist/ fascist political system, the government exists to serve the needs of corporations, to encourage the people to be submissive, because, “What is good for General Motors” (or any other “too-big-to-fail” corporation) is good for America.”  You know, “the trickle-down theory.”

So, what is the likely choice the Democrats and Republicans will give American voters this year?  In the words of Glenn Greenwald, an Obama supporter will have to think:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

We can choose the lesser of two evils–or refuse to choose evil at all.  That’s why the Green Party runs Presidential candidates, at this point–not because we have any hope of winning, but to give people of conscience a real choice.  I have many friends who tell me it is pragmatic, even principled, to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Maybe it’s right for them.  I just know that I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I knew I had voluntarily supported evil, lesser or not.

The Clash, “Spanish Bombs

Let’s have an “Alice in Wonderland” moment:

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master      that’s all.”

Now, let’s jump about a hundred and thirty years closer to the present with this quote from political writer Ron Suskind.  Formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he is certainly no flaming radical, and unlikely to have made this up:

The aide(probably Karl Rove) said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” 

Am I alone in seeing a parallel between the words of Humpty Dumpty and the words of Karl Rove?

Let’s talk for a while about this business of shrinking the government and letting private industry grow, to which the Dems and Repubs both seem committed. It ties in with the Republican assault on labor unions.  The purpose of unions and the purpose of democratic government are the same—a way for people to join together to deal with something bigger than an individual human, whether the bigger thing is an invasion, a natural disaster, a need to maintain the commons—or a large, possibly multi-national, corporation. Those who call for the shrinking of the state and the destruction of labor unions, but do not at the same time call for diminishing the power of the corporate sector, are not populists, as they like to style themselves. They are fascists.  Fascism always seeks, in the name of the people, to shrink the power of the people and grow the power of the elite.

In the words of FDR,

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

As I understand Roosevelt’s words, and as I understand what’s going on in America today, we have slid far down the road to fascism.

Another front on which the GOP has pushed inequality has been their sometimes successful attempts to disempower women by limiting their access to health care, contraception, and abortion, even in the context of rape and incest.  I don’t have enough time tonight to give you the nasty details of this, but you can read the whole rap sheet at this link.  This is a rich subject, and I may do a whole story on in next month.

Here’s my take on the contest for the Republican nomination:  The GOP’s kingmakers will never, ever let Ron Paul anywhere near the Presidency, and, indeed, most Republicans are far too hypnotized to ever accept him.  Mitt Romney will likely be the nominee.  Because Romney’s Mormon faith is so distasteful to the party’s evangelical wing, who largely consider Mormonism a pagan religion, Rick Santorum or someone like him will get the VP slot, so as to bring in the faithful, just as Sarah Palin served John McCain in the last round.

This ticket is still extremely problematic.  First of all, Romney carries the baggage of having designed the program Republicans now revile as “Obamacare,” and it will be funny to watch him try and shake that one off.  Second, for all the GOP’s touting of the uber-wealthy as “job creators,” Romney made a whole lot of his uber-wealth in the 80’s running a firm, Bain Capital,  that bought American companies and slimmed or shut them down, or moved them overseas, reaping enormous benefits for CEO’s and investors, and disaster for working Americans.

And Santorum?  Back in the 1930’s, Sinclair Lewis said, ” “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  Rick Santorum is the guy wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.  In his own words:

We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold—Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you—this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family….. society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.

Another example of Rick’s rhetoric:

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country.  Many of the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception is okay.’ It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Folks, this kind of talk is straight out of the Nazi playbook.  He wants to put the government in your bedroom to make sure you don’t use birth control or do anything he thinks is kinky, because sex is for reproductive purposes only, dammit.  Why is it so much fun, then?  That’s the Devil tempting you to self -indulgence!

bUT….while Santorum makes pronouncements that warm the hearts of conservative evangelical Christians, he himself is actually a Catholic.  Will evangelicals give it up for a pagan and a papist?  Or dredge up the just-as-batshit-crazy/sexually repressed. but thoroughly Protestant, Michelle Bachman?  Or find some other Stepford wife/husband?

So that’s the choice America faces in 2012–between Obama, a whore for the corporatists, and Romney/Santorum or his equivalent, a corporatist pimp and a narrow-minded, repressed bigot.  Or, there’s kicking over the table, which may become more and more likely as more and more Americans realize, with Tim DeChristopher,

Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future, there’s no hope for me to have anything my parents or grandparents would have considered a normal future—of a career and a retirement and all that stuff—I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back. Because it was all going to be lost anyway.

But he worked through his despair:

“How the hell could people accept this? This is outrageous.” And I think that’s one of the things that the wilderness does for us, you know, it allows us to live the way we actually want to live for a while. It puts things in the perspective of, “Wait, this isn’t inevitable. It doesn’t actually have to be this way. And this isn’t the way I want to live. It’s not okay.” I think activism at its best is refusing to accept things. Saying that this is unacceptable.

With or without access to the wilderness that healed and nurtured Tim DeChristopher, he is far from the only person coming to the twin realizations that the current situation is totally unacceptable, and he has nothing to lose in opposing the corporatocracy–or creating something different that meets genuine human–and planetary–needs.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


10 09 2011

Here’s my response to that “Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategy” group’s response to the Obama indictment.  I’ve added links, and changed it a little for greater clarity and because, when I took a little more time for fact-checking, I didn’t have all my details right–but this is substantially the same post.

As I was considering how to respond to the many comments my post elicited, I read the following quote from Susan Sontag in Yes!:

Acting on principle is, we’re told, a good in itself. But it is still a political act, in the sense that you’re not doing it for yourself. You don’t do it just to be in the right, or to appease your own conscience; much less because you are confident your action will achieve its aim. You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and the disobedient: here, elsewhere. In the present. In the future…..

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting.”

So, with that to set the tone, here is my response to the different objections that were raised to my bill of particulars against the strategy of aligning with Obama and the Democratic Party.

I cannot support him or the Democrat Party because they are war criminals. Obama has not only declined to prosecute any Cheney administration officials for war crimes, he has continued and actually expanded Cheney’s criminal policies. It should be obvious, at this point, that he went into the Presidential race knowing full well that he would be doing that, throwaway lines like “close Guantanamo” (which never happened) not withstanding. To vote for him, or anyone who, like Jim Cooper, continues to support war crimes and war criminals is to be complicit in those crimes, just like the “good Germans” of the last century. And, like Germany and Italy, America has become a fascist state, defined as one in which the government is run in collusion with, and for the benefit of, big business.

Of course, 21st century American fascism has learned a thing or two about how to be “kinder and gentler”–nobody’s getting sent to the gas chamber–but Gaza and Palestine, and the now-60-year old Palestinian refugee camps are the 21st century equivalent of concentration camps—and they are maintained with U.S. aid. And, likewise, this fascism is sure enough of its hold on power that it won’t send us to the camps just for making accusations like this. It’s much cheaper (and better PR) to simply ignore us, dismiss tax protests as “frivolous filings” to be dealt with administratively, and save the legal big guns for those who actually do things that throw a monkey wrench in the gears of power, like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Tim DeChristopher.

As for the charge that I am not “dealing with the realities of America politics,” those “realities” are insanely out of touch with real-deal reality. The real-deal reality is that our government’s willful ignor-ance of the seriousness of climate change is a serious threat to the ability of this planet to continue to support higher life forms such as ourselves. The grim difference between the late 20th century’s bane, “Mutual Assured Destruction,” and our current situation is that, while Mutual Assured Destruction turned out to be a threat that never materialized (except to the extent that military expenditures stole from our ability to make the planet a better place for everyone), every day that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels sinks us deeper into the tar pit of runaway climate change, while our “leaders” babble about “growth” and “job creation.” This kind of unconscious commitment to the idea that the way it’s been is the way it’s going to be is a planetary suicide pact, and, weak old man that I am, it makes me want to kick and scream and raise hell to wake people from the sleepwalk of politics as usual in America.

“I” can’t do a whole lot about this, but “we” can. Vaclav Havel started out as a lonely dissident, and was ground under the heel of the Soviet empire—but he persisted, and eventually enough people came around to his point of view that the whole sorry reality of “Communist” totalitarianism crumbled–not through confrontation, but by decay from within, as an overwhelming majority withdrew their consent from the system. You can bet that he got plenty of well-intentioned advice along the way about how he needed to be more realistic and accept “Communist” domination! Something similar has to happen here. There are two ways the two-party duopoly could come undone: either an East-bloc-style revolution of belief, or the total collapse of America as we’ve known it. As a guy who would like to die peacefully of old age, I would much prefer the former, but, as it stands, I’m deeply concerned that we’re heading for the latter.

As it stands, “progressives” (a term whose definition is a whole other subject) in the Democratic Party are in the position of a woman who stays with her abusive husband, hoping she can change him. As with individual cases, that’s unlikely to happen, especially as long as he (the corporate-oriented Democratic Party, in this case) thinks he can take your support for granted, no matter what he does, because you view him as your only option. Here’s the reality: he’s too addicted to corporate money to ever listen to “progressives” again, and it’s been that way for at least 30 years. There have been some truly noble “progressive Democrats” like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Cynthia McKinney, but they have been seriously mistreated by the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  Well, OK, Barbara Lee has not been harassed by her own party–she pulls 85% of the vote without even trying.  It’s pretty hard to harass somebody who’s that popular at home.

Cynthia McKinney had the good sense to jump to the Green Party, which could really take off if all the people who “hold their nose and vote for Democrats” screwed up their courage instead of holding their noses, and walked out on the Democrats instead of voting for the stinkers. One commenter said he thought the American electorate was trending rightward. I disagree. My understanding of the results of the 2010 election is not that a whole lot more people voted Republican, but that a whole lot fewer people voted Democrat, due to feeling burned by the party’s failure to deliver on their expectations of it. I am also aware of repeated polling that shows that Americans overall are much more “progressive” than the choices that are allowed in our corporate-run political system, and that the” Tea Party” is, when all is said and done, a minority voice. The fact that 50-60% of potential voters don’t vote in most of our elections means that the “Republican majority” is really only about 20-25% of the electorate, and tells me that there is enormous potential for a new political movement in this country that will actually listen to–and speak for–the real concerns of real people. The Green Party was created to do just that.  We do not take corporate money. Those of us who have been keeping it going in this state for the last ten years would love to be supplanted by “progressives” who got disgruntled with the major parties and came on over. In Canada, the New Democrats, who were a “third party” for years, have now supplanted the Liberals as the country’s main opposition party. Change can happen, but only if enough people are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Oh, and “scary Perry”? The blustering bully from Texas and the smooth-talking con-man from Chicago are working for the same masters. Choosing between them amounts to, do you want to be railroaded by the good cop (Obama) or by the bad cop (Perry, Bachman, etc.)? My response is, I haven’t done anything wrong. They have, and I’m not giving them my power. Obama’s a war criminal, Perry’s a murderer who aspires to be a war criminal. The proper response to people like them is to step away, not to try and reform them or work with their political supporters in hopes of creating substantive social change. It ain’t gonna happen, any more than the Mafia is going to become a model civic organization if we reach out to it and try to work to change it.

There are those who say that it’s too late for politics, that the only thing left to do is duck and cover and create our own community survival networks.  To me, that’s a worst-case scenario–not so far out as to be ignored, but not yet inevitable.  I believe it is still possible for the people of this country to wake up, shake off the whores who pass for politicians, and take this country back, and that’s what keeps me, as Susan Sontag put it, “acting on principle.”  Whether it has wider results or not, it’s the only way I can live with myself.

Music:  Richard Thompson, “Borrowed Time


12 02 2011

Last month, in a post entitled “Dude, where’s my $30K?,” I tried to shed some light on the magnitude of income inequality here in “the land of the free” by pointing out that our country’s per-capita spending on bank bailouts and our military apparatus, plus corporate profits, comes to $30,000 per person.  Yes, that’s $120 thou for a a family of four.  And they say we don’t have money for unemployment benefits, a national health care system, or social security.  Go figure!

That money, all $7.5 trillion of it, is not coming out of our tax dollars, at least not yet.  Mostly, it’s being created out of thin air by “quantitative easing” and/or being borrowed from the Chinese and the Saudis.  It’s not being created by the classic route of taking raw materials, conceiving a use for them, modifying them, and selling a product at a “profit”–profit being both the difference between what workers are paid and the true value of their work, and what we keep for ourselves instead of repairing (if possible) the damage to the environment that our extraction of raw materials has caused.  That paradigm as a road to wealth is obsolete, although it’s obviously what we are going to need to relearn how to do, minus the profit and plus the environmental repair–just to get by, as international trade implodes under the weight of the end of cheap fuel and other raw materials.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of the labor movement.  My early heroes were the IWW martyrs and all those who fought for the poor in the class war that runs through the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  These were epic struggles for justice.  Workers fought for fair treatment by their employers, and, for a time, prevailed.  The result was the blossoming of the American middle class in the thirty years between the end of World War II and the mid-seventies, which we are starting to realize was America’s “golden age.”

But several things were wrong with that superficially happy picture .

The most obvious, and widely commented on, was the spiritual emptiness of our material paradise, noted by commentators as disparate as Jack Kerouac (who, I hope, needs no introduction!) and Sayyid Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood and, along with the CIA, a major inspiration to the founders of Al Qaeda.  But that’s a whole other story.  Back to “work,” as it were.

Another thing that is wrong with the struggle of the American labor movement is that, after the marginalization of the IWW and the Socialist Party, the labor movement never questioned capitalism as an economic arrangement.  That has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, and certainly has a great deal to do with how the ruling class has been able to dump the American working class and its unions into that famous, even cliched, “dustbin of history.”

But there’s something else the labor movement never questioned, something that has rarely even been noted:  the labor movement, even the Socialists and “radical” anarchists of the IWW, never questioned whether the work they were doing was, in the long run, worth doing.  The forests of America were clearcut, Appalachia was despoiled, and General Motors destroyed America’s interurban railroad system so it could sell more cars–and all the unions wanted was a bigger piece of the pie.  Nobody in the labor movement questioned the wisdom of these moves.

That last one, GM’s dismantling of mass transit in America, is especially worth examining, because shifting from mass transit to personal motorized vehicles has had such a massive, destructive, and likely unintended effect on not only America, but the world.

Because individual automobile ownership has become the norm in this country, our population dispersed over a far wider area than would have been the case had we remained dependent on mass transit.  Suburbia became possible.  Urban sprawl sucked up millions of acres of woodland and farmland adjacent to cities, undermining local self-sufficiency.  In the name of boosting automobile and gasoline sales, our country’s intercity highway system was improved.  Thus subsidized, trucking and automobile travel undermined the country’s long-distance railroad system, once the best in the world.  Now, like the much of the rest of the country’s infrastructure, our railroads are struggling not to fall into third world status.  The net result of this is that now, as petroleum production slips into decline, we are tied to the most petroleum-dependent and inefficient methods of transport–road and air, and our automobile-addicted population is too scattered to be served by mass transit, even if we had the money left to build it.

Wait, there’s more!

The psychological effects of America’s transition to individual automobile transportation are likewise manifold.  Travelers no longer need to deal with railway schedules; we can leave whenever we want to, travel by any route we choose, stop where we feel like stopping, and we don’t have to share our space with anybody else and negotiate whatever compromises that might entail.  We do not sit on benches in train stations waiting for connections.  The primacy of individual preference has been enshrined, from our individual psyches to our lifestyle expectations to our national foreign policy.   It’s all me, all all the time, all splendid isolation, from our far-flung suburban homes to our daily commutes…oops, fewer and fewer of us have a job or the resulting daily commute.

And that is where it all starts falling apart.  I have commented before on the fascistic nature of American society–how our government increasingly exists solely to promote corporate interests.  It’s not just about health care or the right of corporations to spread GMOs for fun and profit. Full participation in American society, if you live outside a few urban areas, requires that automobile ownership.  For most people, that means an investment of twenty to forty thousand dollars or more–hundreds of dollars in monthly payments to a private corporation for an object that, ironically, does nothing but lose value from the moment you drive it off the lot.

Think about how much money is tied up in automobiles.  Five relatively new vehicles are easily worth a hundred thousand dollars.  How many cars do you encounter on a typical drive around town?  Five hundred?  ten million dollars.  Five thousand?  A hundred million dollars worth of automobiles, all stuck in rush hour traffic.

But, as I said, fewer and fewer of us are stuck in rush hour traffic, because fewer and fewer of us have jobs, nor are we going to have “jobs,” at ;east not in the traditional meaning of that term.  As I pointed out last month, it would take 630 businesses with 35,000 employees each just to absorb people who are currently “unemployed,” let alone create cubicles for all those who are, as they say, “just entering the labor market.”  There are no buyers in the labor market, not in America.

But that’s not the same as there being nothing to do.  On the contrary, there is everything to do.  Somewhere along the line in its drive to monetize everything, the official economy of America has largely ceased to do the things that really matter to people.  There is food to grow for people who want something besides sugar, starch, fat, and salt.  There are young people, old people, and sick or handicapped people who need care that is truly caring rather than being motivated by the promise of a paycheck.  Increasingly, there will be a need to manufacture and use basic tools, a need and the skills to sift through America’s trash middens and waste stream to find what can be reused or repurposed.

Our profit-crazed, out-of-touch formal economy now places a higher value on putting people out of their homes than it does on keeping them in those homes.  There are currently eighteen million unoccupied houses in this country, many of them foreclosures, and about 700,000 homeless people.  Do the math.  Many of the unoccupied houses have been stripped of wiring and copper pipes and anything else that could be recycled.  Many homes, unoccupied or occupied, are poorly insulated and inefficiently heated,  These are all jobs screaming out for someone to do them, but there is no money to be had, because housing the poor is of no value to the rich.

Soon enough, it won’t matter.  Our system has stoutly resisted reform, which means that the only alternative left is collapse, and a rebuild from the ground up.  The web of car payments, college loans, and credit card debts that keeps so many ensnared in a world a few removes from reality, running on a paycheck treadmill, will melt away like a bad dream, and we will find ourselves in a different world altogether.  All together, indeed.  That will be the only way to succeed at surviving.  And there will be plenty of work for everyone.

music: Burning Times, “The Only Green World”


9 02 2010

We tried, Goddess knows, we tried.  After the ignominy of the Supreme Court anointing Cheney and Dubya as the rightful rulers of the realm, we begged and pleaded with the Democrats in Congress to block Bush from stuffing the court with further fascist nominees, but they wouldn’t listen.  Were they dumb, trusting suckers, or cons who were in on the game?  Or a mixture of both?

So Roberts and (Muss)Alito were confirmed as Supreme Court Justices, and now it’s blowback time.  In spite of all the right wing rhetoric against “activist judges,” our right-wing Supreme Court has made law out of whole cloth, in a decision that basically hands our government over to the corporatocracy.  And yeah, the government was pretty much at the service of the corporatocracy before, but this decision is a bald-faced attempt to make it official.  The ruling allows not just US corporations, but foreign corporations and foreign governments (think China and Saudi Arabia) to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence politics in this country.  Sure, they can’t give directly to candidates–yet.  How long will that prohibition last in the new “gimme” climate?

Like about 2/3 of all Americans, I had a basic gut reaction against this decision from the moment I heard about it, but it took a series of letters from “The Pen,” a social activist website, to really spell it out for me.  I could just do the easy thing by cutting and pasting those three letters and reading them to you, but it will help me understand it better if, instead, I do my non-lawyerly best to tell you the tale in my own words, so here goes:

It appears that the Supreme Court violated legal procedure in its ruling, because the question of whether corporations have the right to make unlimited campaign contributions was not the question that was actually before the court.  The question that was actually before the court was whether a Hillary Clinton-bashing movie funded by corporate interests through an astroturf group had violated the McCain-Finegold Act.

The astroturf group, “Citizens United,” had not disputed whether corporations may make unlimited financial contributions to political causes.  They were merely disputing whether the Federal Election Commission could keep their film, “Hillary:  The Movie,” from being shown on television at times and in places where it might influence the vote in Democratic primaries.

The way the appeal process ordinarily works in our judicial system is that, to get a ruling on a certain point, the appealing party must have disputed it in the original lawsuit.  Countless legal appeals have been thrown out by higher courts for failing to follow this rule, but in this case, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling on the question of corporate financial participation in election campaigns even though that had not been disputed by “Citizens United.” When we consider how much of a fuss the right wing has made about “activist judges making law from the bench instead of through the legislature,” and how solemnly these guys promised to be strict Constitutionalists and to observe the “stare decisis”  (let precedent stand) rule, we find that these Supreme Court judges have been extraordinarily disingenuous, to be kind.  To be unkind, they have been flat-out liars, and all the right-wing pundits who are vigorously defending their decision, and who have helped generate the noise about “activist judges,” are even more hypocritical than ever.

Even the speed of this ruling is significant.  The court heard the case at a time when they are normally on vacation, and gave attorneys barely a month to prepare for it.  Why were they in such a hurry?  Did some judges have their minds made up in advance?

Just to back up what I’m telling you, here is a quote from Justice Stephens’ dissent:

Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.

Of course,this is not the first time they have made law out of whole cloth in the interest of serving the corporate community.  This has been going on ever since Ronald Reagan and Bush I started stacking the court with conservative ideologues–with the consent of the Democrats, let us not forget.

Antonin Scalia:  98-0 confirmation vote

Clarence Thomas 52-48 confirmation vote, with 11 Democrats voting with the Republican minority to approve him

Anthony Kennedy 97-0 confirmation vote (and it was Kennedy who delivered the majority opinion in the case we are talking about here)

John Roberts 78-22 confirmation vote

Samuel J. Alito 58-42–at this point the Repugs had a majority anyway, but it took Democratic co-operation to keep John Kerry from filibustering the nomination….bless his heart, someplace down in there he wants to do the right thing….

So, while we are hearing a lot from the Democrats about the necessity of “Doing something” about this ruling, the only thing we have seen so far is a law that will prevent corporations from spending money on political campaigns without the consent of their stockholders….but who owns stock?  For the most part, it’s the wealthy, so this law won’t really solve anything.  I’m not sure if it’s laughable or pathetic or both.  Hey, the Dems don’t want to alienate all that corporate money!

But some Democrats see the writing on the wall:

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (House Majority Whip; Democrat, South Carolina): If corporations that have deep pockets come to these campaigns and make it uncomfortable for elected officials to oppose some of their habits, then I think that you’ve got a problem. It is the first step towards fascism, and I think it’s a dangerous escalation of corporate monopoly.

Please note, you just heard a Democrat from South Carolina use the f-word.  I believe that indicates that we really are in deep doo-doo here, folks.

What many attempts to debate this question (not to mention the Supreme Court ruling itself) ignore is the validity of the central assertion:  that corporations are persons just like flesh and blood human beings (and, quite likely, some other animals whose brains are complicated enough to allow self-referentiality, but I digress….).

Corporations are not “persons” in the same sense that human beings are “persons.”  I could delve into the technicalities of the flawed, but still standing, Supreme Court ruling of 1886, but I’d rather pitch it this way:  aside from the rather central matter of not having a physical body, corporations have a different central motivating factor:  they are legally compelled to focus on self-aggrandizement.  When a human being’s central purpose is self-aggrandizement, that person is often regarded as a sociopath or criminal and deprived of his constitutional rights in the interests of public safety, in order to protect those of us who have, presumably, overcome our infantile narcissism in favor of more altruistic goals.

Another big difference between corporations and natural persons is that corporations do not naturally die, nor are they subject to the death penalty for crimes they commit.  (I am, of course, against the death penalty for human beings.  Corporations, however, are another matter.)  With their long lifespans and ability to consolidate the intelligence of large numbers of humans to accomplish their selfish goal–the accumulation of wealth–corporations are well positioned to prevail over natural human beings in the struggle for political power and influence. Besides, the cost of political campaigns, compared to the normal cost of advertising, is chump change to a corporation, as NPR pointed out,  the $2.5 million that a corporation drops on a thirty-second Superbowl ad is enough to flood several local elections. Politicians will stand up to corporations at their peril.

We love to read fantasy stories about heroes struggling with superhuman demons…in case you didn’t notice, typical corporate activity is pretty demonic.  The reasons we do not have the kind of environmental protection, health care, social services, and foreign policies that simple human compassion demands is–it’s bad for the corporations.

By the way, the Green Party has always refused on principle to take corporate donations….but of course the corporations have refused on principle to donate to the Green Party.  They know who their enemies are.

Do the people of this country have the political will to make our government overturn this gross miscarriage of justice?  Or will it be yet another successful power play on the sinking Titanic?  Stay tuned…..

music: James McMurtry, “God Bless America”


11 08 2006

I’ve been saying for quite some time that the United States has as much right to be in Iraq as the Nazis had to be in Poland. I’d like to take this opportunity to look through the lens of World War II and reframe more of the tragedy now unfolding in what was once the fertile crescent.

Israel’s destruction of Lebanon is a blitzkreig, a “lightning war,” waged against people who do not have the technology to deflect Israel’s strength. And Gaza is the moral equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto. Our proxy state, Israel, has just as surely become the new Nazis as America has.

Think of it this way: “Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto captured two German soldiers and have held them hostage, demanding that all Jewish women and children held by the Germans be released. In response, the Germans have unleashed an aerial bombardment of the ghetto, leveling not only Jewish homes and businesses but those of non-Jewish Poles whom they suspect of sympathizing with the Jews.”

Of course, the Israelis have learned a few lessons from their Nazi tormentors, most importantly—no concentration camps. No point giving bleeding heart types anything to concentrate on, eh? Just keep the ragheads where they are and build walls around them, destroy their communities, homes, gardens, farms, schools, hospitals, water sources, communications routes. Make sure there’s plenty of lebensraum for God’s chosen people—us Jews. It’s not a policy that will ever win Israel any Muslim hearts and minds. They must know this. If they’re obviously not committed to reconciliation, what is the long-term goal of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians? What is Israel’s “final solution to the Palestinian question?”

The conflict is not new, nor is it simple. The Old Testament is, among other things, a record of struggles over the narrow band of wet, fertile ground between the Mediterranean sea and the Arabian desert. The Palestinian people have been protesting for over a hundred years, often violently, against the influx of European Jews into their fragile ecology. In many ways, the story of Israel is the same story of Europeans vs. native people that has been played out all over the globe. I got a lot of insight into this by reading Starhawk’s dispatches from Palestine. I strongly suggest you look them up at her website, www.starhawk.org, for an eye-opening, positive picture of the Palestinian people, written by a Jew–like me.

So, when George Bush fires off lines about “fighting Islamic Fascism,” he is, as usual, about 180 degrees from the truth. Fascism is, in the words of fascist founding father Benito Mussolini, the marriage of corporate and state interests for their mutual benefit. Mussolini said that a synonym for “fascism” could be “corporatism.”

Hmm. That makes George Bush the fascist, not Hezbollah. The new order in the Middle East that Bush and his junta envision is a Middle East dominated not just by Shell, Mobil, and Halliburton, but by Coca-Cola, Col. Sanders, Walmart, and their ilk. The Muslim people of the Middle East are fighting to stay free of fascism, not to establish it. They may be fanatical, authoritarian, repressed, violent misogynists, but they are very strongly committed to their native cultures, and opposed to the corporatist/fascist business state model Mr. Bush and his cronies would like to impose on them. No, no, no, Hezbollah and friends are not fascists. It is you, Mr. Bush, who is the fascist. Your words and actions have demonstrated that over and over again.

You wish to fight terrorism, Mr. Bush? What you call terrorism is warfare fought by those who are too poor to afford armies. The way to stop terrorism is to stop the kind of military and cultural arrogance that leaves people feeling that they have no other option than a violent attack on their oppressors, and then reroute the resources that have been used to enforce oppression into improving the lot of the oppressed.

From Palestine up through Lebanon and Syria, then down the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, stretches the cradle of our civilization, an area still occasionally referred to as “The Fertile Crescent,” though it is hardly that any more. Its hills have been denuded by the demands of goatherds and wood-cutters; its fields and pastures have blown away in the wind or been saturated with salt from too much irrigation and not enough rainfall; its rivers are running dry, squeezed between emptying aquifers and burgeoning populations, choked with sewage and agricultural runoff. All of it has been trampled by too many marching armies. This once-fertile crescent, between the deserts of Arabia and the steep, rocky mountains of the Caucasus, does not need more wars, more bombs, more destruction. The Israeli campaign against Lebanon, like the American campaign in Iraq, is breaking something it cannot fix. A complete change of direction is needed to bring peace to the Middle East.

I can call it a Green proposal, but it comes from the Old Testament, that testament of sorrows, from the Prophet Micah, who suggested that if everyone could sit beneath their own vine and fig tree, there would be peace and happiness. The Old Testament also famously references the cedars of Lebanon, but there are hardly any of them left. Evidence from such primeval sources as The Epic of Gilgamesh suggests that, when civilization first arose, there was extensive forest cover (and its corollaries, regular rainfall and year-round streams) throughout the area we now think of as borderline desert. Is it possible to reclaim this devastated land? Such a massive bioremediation project would employ thousands, possibly millions of people, in a project that would demonstrate fairly immediate benefits to them. It would include ecological education as well as hands-on projects, and would be structured to give local people control over projects in their vicinity. That is the way to create a democratic Middle East—not by holding staged elections for a powerless government, but by giving people control over their lives.

But—but—you ask—what about this terrible plot that was just uncovered—they were going to blow up a bunch of airplanes full of tourists!?

Here’s what I think about the latest so-called “terrorist threat”: a great many of the so-called “terrorist threats” that have been revealed have turned out to be more hot air than substance; the timing of such announcements, I believe, usually has more to do with political calculations than with protecting the public. The war party needed some kind of shibboleth to wave in the face of growing awareness of their short-sighted stupidity, and so now they are confiscating perfume and toothpaste instead of scissors and nail clippers. None of these alleged plotters had even bought an airline ticket yet. We need to pull our attention out of this kind of nonsense and put it back into positive actions to save the planet—like recreating the Mideast’s devasted ecosystem. Vines and fig trees for everyone! Olive trees, too! Pomegranates! Dates! Oranges! Kif! Yes!

This does not directly address tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites, or between Muslims and Jews; but I think that a greener, wetter, softer, more bountiful environment (notice how feminine those adjectives are!) will enable everyone to relax, share some grapes, figs, olives, a puff of kif or two, and figure out their differences– which are, beneath all the ideological trappings, squabbles over scarce and diminishing resources. Let’s, as Mr. Bush said,” make the pie higher.”

Doesn’t that beat dropping bombs?

Music:  Steve Earle, “Jerusalem”


9 10 2005

John Roberts, a fascist, is now leading the United States Supreme Court, and two of the Democrats that I still had some respect for—Pat Leahy and Howard Feingold—helped put him there. Thanks, guys…So much for the two-party system.

Fascist? ! Fascist?! What do you mean, calling him a fascist? Didn’t we fight World War Two to stamp out fascism? No, sweetie, we fought World War Two to stamp out German/Italian/Japanese fascism and make sure American fascism would prevail. Sure, “fascism” is a loaded word—but it was Mussolini himself who defined it as the collaboration of government and big business for their mutual benefit—and that’s what’s going on in America today, and that ‘s what John Roberts and Harriet Miers are all about. Sure, they’re both anti-abortion (unless it’s for one of their kids, I’d bet), but that’s just a subset of their belief that people need to be tightly controlled and predictable for the sake of a better business climate. Gay rights? Hey, if that’s what it takes to keep you a satisfied citizen of the corporatocracy, they’ll give you that. Don’t be fooled.

A lot of people are wondering why on earth Mr. Bush has asked Ms. Miers to be on the court. They must be blind. As criminal investigations unravel the administration, as the Valery Plame affair points more and more at Rove, Cheney, and Bush, any potential felon who could would put his lawyer on the bench that might judge him.

The Republicans like to talk about the importance of impartial judges—but they’ve got a funny definition of “impartial.” To them it means, “someone who agrees with us.” Just look at the Native American Trust lawsuit, which I reported on in an earlier show. Judge Royce Lamberth is being taken off the case because it seemed likely that he would find for the plaintiffs—the Native Americans who have been ripped off by the U.S. government, which would result in the government having to pay billions to the tribes, who overall are some of the poorest people in America. But I digress.

And the Democrats? What are they doing about unindicted co-conspirator Bush stacking the courts in his favor? The Democrats are just playing along. Harry Reid even suggested Miers for the court! Not a word about impeachable offenses, not a word about war crimes, give the man what he wants. I am disgusted. I am glad I have a Green Party to turn to—but I sure hope we grow up fast.

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