Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Angry With America’s Political Dysfunction (revised 10/03/2010)

Well, I for one will be happy when November 2nd is behind us. Like Joan Dowlin’s expressions of anger in her Huffington Post column, “Tea Partiers Aren't The Only Angry Ones,” I too am angry.

I am angry with overstated, oversimplified, treading on the edge of distortion political discourse that accomplishes nothing; one that only accuses the other side with mismanagement or some misdeed. It’s disingenuously manipulative partisan politics where the priority is to be elected rather than to be a straight shooter who fairly and honestly presents the issues and how they may be cost-effectively and resourcefully resolved. Instead, candidates end up defending themselves, talking about their past and not America’s future.

Angry with those who seem not to realize that we all want less government spending and minimal taxation, but what cuts are going to be made and just what is an appropriate level of taxation; we all want smaller government, but the question is: how small?; we all want to stop the backroom deals, but such perceived shenanigans are fundamental to politics; we all want job creation, improved education, and enforced immigration laws. We all seem to want the same things but at whose expense. This was exemplified in the most recent Massachusetts gubernatorial debate when Deval Patrick said, “I see government as about helping people not kicking people to the curb when times are tough. I don't see the budget as a math problem. I see the faces behind those line items,” In response, Charlie Baker said, “There are plenty of faces behind a lot of the businesses that are dealing with the tax increases that have gone through over the course of the last four years under your watch.”

Angry with those who fall for political histrionics, who peddle misinformation and deception, with those who wallow in exploiting crudity, and the print and electronic media who present issues hyperbolically and entertainingly rather than with any genuine intention to shed light on very demanding and complex issues.

Angry with the tea party’s claim of diversity. When tea party supporters have been polled, it has been shown that they have conservative views; they are predominantly white and certainly not poor.

Angry with one of the tea party’s favorite mantras, “I Want My Country Back,” which is exploited in opposition to illegal immigration and anti-government angst. It is addressed at Salon.com by David Sirota, who writes, “Cloaked in the proud patois of patriotism and protest, the refrain has become a dog whistle to a Caucasian population that feels threatened by impending demographic and public policy changes. Tea Party activists have resorted to declaring that there can only be one kind of country — theirs.” “Theirs” is a narcissistically uncompassionate corporate welfare state, one that rejects a social agenda that addresses the fundamental needs of all people. As Deval Patrick said, “We are still part of America,” adding he was interested in “lifting the whole of America.” The tea party’s anger and frustration should be directed at corporations and Wall Street, and at government for embracing corporate hegemony. The forces of corporate power are undermining our system of government and are the undercurrent that is creating our political dissatisfaction and polarization, that’s where our problems essentially lie.

Joan Dowlin writes, “One thing we can all agree on is that we are all angry and we all have good cause to be upset. But how about we put our anger to good use and channel the energy into bringing about real change that benefits us all? We can if we put aside our differences and work together for the greater good.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blockade Corporate Hegemony

The common people do not govern American institutions. They are controlled by corporate money. They “abet and perpetuate mounting inequality,” and, “ignore suffering or sacrifice human lives for profit.” “They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of democracy.” So says Chris Hedges in his latest column for TruthDigg.com, “Do Not Pity the Democrat.”

Hedges states, and I agree, that the real threat to an authentic representative democracy is corporate power of the fourth estate and mass media and the executive and legislative branches of government, who we have believed were there to protect democracy. The money of American corporate power corrupts government and molds American thought and consequently the decisions they make. As a consequence, Americans have embraced ignorance and crudity as exemplified by the popularity of right-wing talk radio, and in particular, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck, who present issues hyperbolically and entertainingly rather than an intention to authentically throw light on an issue.

His column states “Resistance means a radical break with the formal structures of American society.” It’s here where our perspectives differ. The real power lies with the collective acts of the American people. The only way to viably confront and overcome corporate power is in denying them that which gives them power, which is targeting specific sales of the products and services they peddle, which will, in the end, severely restrict their stranglehold on government and individuals. Exercising political extremism is not the way. I agree with Ralph Nader, who Hedges refers to in his column that “The corporate state, whose interests are being championed by tea party leaders [(“Most of the participants in the tea party rallies are not poor”)] such as Palin and Dick Armey, is working hard to make sure the anger of the movement is directed toward government rather than corporations and Wall Street. And if these corporate apologists succeed, a more overt form of corporate fascism will emerge without a socialist counterweight. The more we expand community credit unions, community health clinics and food cooperatives and build alternative energy systems, the more empowered we will become.”

The emphasis of Hedges’ column is not to pity “Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. They will get what they deserve. They sold the citizens out for cash and power. They lied. They manipulated and deceived the public, from the bailouts to the abandonment of universal health care, to serve corporate interests.”

I suppose this is to an extent true, but more to the pressures of bipartisanship. However, the other side of the aisle always seems to sell-out for cash and power. It seems to me that Democrats more often than not will attempt to “foster the common good and the tangible needs of housing, health care, jobs, education and food.” He states, “If we again prove compliant we will discredit the socialism we should be offering as an alternative to a perverted Christian and corporate fascism.” You see, as Nader, according to Hedges, said, “’Poor people do not organize. They never have. It has always been people who have fairly good jobs.’”

Hedges, quoting Ralph Nader, said, “The corporate state is the ultimate maturation of American-type fascism. They leave wide areas of personal freedom so that people can confuse personal freedom with civic freedom—the freedom to go where you want, eat where you want, associate with who you want, buy what you want, work where you want, sleep when you want, play when you want [and only if you have the personal and financial wherewithal to do any of this]. If people have given up on any civic or political role for themselves there is a sufficient amount of elbow room to get through the day. They do not have the freedom to participate in the decisions about war, foreign policy, domestic health and safety issues, taxes or transportation. That is its genius. But one of its Achilles’ heels is that the price of the corporate state is a deteriorating political economy. They can’t stop their greed from getting the next morsel. The question is, at what point are enough people going to have a breaking point in terms of their own economic plight? At what point will they say enough is enough?”

At what point will America put up a blockade against corporate power.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Education should not be for sale

For a long time, I have championed the concept of a worldwide resource-based system to replace the world’s money-based economic system.

One such concept is The Venus Project, created by Jacques Fresco in 1975. It’s an organization that proposes a plan of action that works towards a peaceful and sustainable global civilization. It outlines an alternative to strive toward where human rights are a way of life. It’s a moneyless system in which all goods and services are available without debt or servitude. All material and human resources become the common heritage of all inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is an abundant and plentiful resource, and that our practice of monetarily rationing resources is counterproductive to our survival.

Some will say that what is being proposed is communism or socialism; but it’s not, since both are money-based systems employed for the control and rationing of resources. The project’s plan is one that brings us out of the horrifying aspects of poverty and war. It’s one that eliminates politics, which, despite the rhetoric, at the end of the day is controlled by money, and where wealthy nations control limited resources.

So, whenever a money-based issue comes up, which never involves the simple exchange of money but always the profit that can be derived from such an exchange, I ask myself the question: Could this be resolved under a resource-based system of economics? So far, the answer has been an unequivocal yes on every issue.

Currently, the issue du jour is education. Over the last few days, I have read reviews based on the documentary film, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” by Davis Guggenheim, but particularly “Steal This Movie, Too,” by Tom Friedman, and the education based articles’ “Why We’re Failing Our Schools,” by Joe Klein, and “The Case Against Summer Vacation,” by David Von Drehle. In each case, money is the central obstacle.

The prevailing question: Are we putting kids and their education first? We are not. We are putting money and profit first -- essentially putting our future and progress up for sale.

The issues:

We are underpaying our teachers, compensating them instead by giving them union perquisites, and not holding our teachers accountable. The proposed system would eliminate a need for unionization. Under a resource-based system, there would still be a need for accountability. However, if we still have a need for teachers to teach (advances in computerized technologies may replace teachers), a teacher would be teaching because of their passion for teaching and not for pay.

We have a need to extend the school year, and to offer summer and after school education programs. The restrictions here are all money-based. All levels of education would be available all year.

The problem of latchkey kids would be significantly reduced. Arranging times to be home with children could be easily managed.

It would end the drive for charter schools in which individual entrepreneurs are chartered by states to create their own schools, and the drive to end public education through some sort of other privatization scheme would be off the table.

Such programs as Obama’s “Race to the Top” and Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” programs would also be off the table, since there would be freedom for children and every adult to pursue an education. All education, including college and beyond would not be limited by money, and children would be motivated to learn.

This plan is “Futuristic,” it is a plan for the future, it cannot happen overnight, but not impossible or utopian. To accomplish this goal, our world must move progressively over time to eliminate the need for money, and, actively and passionately, work to achieve greater knowledge. In the mean time, there is a need to take profit out of education. It should not be for sale.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carlos’s belated realization that a “Good Soldier” kills (revised and updated, September 18)

On September 1, 2010, President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq.

Even so, Bush’s war can hardly be declared "Mission Accomplished.” Iraq has not delivered the outcome envisioned by the Bush administration, or by those who supported the war.

And, as expressed by Political Animal’s Steve Benen, “There's still, obviously, a precarious environment on the ground. Iraqi politicians are still struggling badly to form a government; deadly violence is not uncommon; and no one is quite sure what will unfold in the absence of U.S. combat brigades. With tens of thousands of troops, and many more private contractors, still in Iraq, anyone who thinks this is ‘over’ is mistaken.”

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 lives were lost. After the collapse of the World Trade Center, workers were exposed to toxic dust and fumes. People who breathed harmful air on their way to work were affected. There is an indeterminate number for those injured and who will have lifelong physical and mental health disabilities.

Unquestionably, 9/11 was a horrific attack. However, Operation Iraqi Freedom produced 4,736 combatant casualties, an estimated 97,814 – 106,752 civilians were killed, and an indeterminate number of lifelong combatant and non-combatant traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, other mental ailments, and physical wounds. Long-term societal effects on the lives of combatants and non-combatants, and their families, also are indeterminate. How about the children of Iraq who have only examples of violence in their lives, long-term, how is this war’s grief going to affect them? As adults, what will their disposition be? Will it be alienation? What will be the total cost of our retribution?

A case in point of how war affects families is the heartbreaking story of Carlos Arredondo of Jamaica Plain as told in “They Kill Alex,” by Chris Hedges. Carlos lost a son, Alex, a 20-year-old Marine who was in the first units to invade Iraq was killed in action on his second tour of duty in An Najaf, Iraq on August 25, 2004.

When Carlos was advised of his son's death, he called out “Mama! They are telling me Alex got killed! Alex got killed! They kill Alex! His mother crumbled in grief. Carlos went to the large picture of his son in the living room and held it.” Out of anguish and grief, he set afire the Marine Corp van of those who brought him such devastating news. Carlos burned 26% of his body in the process. It’s the ultimate anguish of a father who lost his son in war.

Chris Hedges writes in his column, “Alex usually asked his father not to ‘forget’ him, but now, increasingly in the final days of his life, another word was taking the place of forget. It was forgive. He felt his father should not forgive him for what he was doing in Iraq. Don’t forgive me, Dad.” The sentence bewildered him, until, as Carlos says, “I thought, when he died, my God, he has killed somebody.”

Carlos’s belated realization is one that Americans ignore as well. Too many Americans fail to have the fundamental comprehension that war is all about death and destruction. They “prefer to keep war sanitized and wrapped in the patriotic slogans of glory, honor and heroism.” However, as depicted in the documentary film, “The Good Soldier,” the brutal reality is that a soldier is taught to kill. It’s their job.

Carlos says, “This is what happens every week to some family in America. This is what war does. And this is the grief and pain the government does not want people to see.” "Operation New Dawn," the Iraq mission’s new phase, will not change that fact.

On September 15th, two American Soldiers were killed in Iraq and two more American families are now facing Carlos’s realization.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Some Things Never Seem To Change

The 1934 Chicago Tribune political cartoon, “Planned Economy or Planned Destruction?” has resurfaced again (apparently an annual event). It again brings to mind the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The similarities between then and now certainly are uncanny and thought provoking.

Duncan K. Foley, Department of Economics, New School for Social Research, says, “Many of the debates and controversies over the causes and cures of financial economic crisis of 2007-8 that continues to plague the world economy in 2010 echo ideas put forth in the 1930s by John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich von Hayek, and Joseph Schumpeter.”

Although those ideas and controversies may be expressed differently today, essentially the debate is the same, and the fear mongering tactics that were prevalent in the 1930s have not changed either. As exemplified in the cartoon, the same national debt arguments have not changed -- “Plan of action for the U.S. Spend! Spend! Spend under the guise of recovery – bust the government – blame the capitalists for the failure – Junk the constitution and decree a dictatorship” -- except today, “dictatorship” is replaced by the label Hitler, and instead of Stalin, the label now is Marxist and communist.

As an aside, it is also interesting to note that the national debt, except during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, have never been paid off. Moreover, even today, the political talk is about reducing the national debt; not eliminating it.

Although not depicted in the cartoon, the same old argument of burdening future generations with today’s debt continues to be the same political tactic today as it was then.

It appears we have not evolved. Rather we are going around in circles/cycles, returning to the same failures over and over again. Nothing has changed! It’s the consequence of looking backward and not forward, of not “thinking outside of the box.”

It certainly makes one wonder just how noteworthy today’s arguments are. What can an American “hang their hat on?”

It is clear that new changes in thinking are desperately needed. Not that I expect that we would get change anytime soon. The wealthy, who essentially deny economic freedom from the majority through the monetary power and control they wield, will not let any kind of systemic change happen that will interfere with those perks or their exorbitant lifestyle. Nevertheless, replacing the world’s money-based system with a resource-based system – creating moneyless societies -- it seems to me would be the answer to almost all of today’s economic and societal problems. No doubt, a moneyless system would bring with it a different set of challenges, but certainly not the chaos and calamity we have experienced within our current system and it would solve the problems of class supremacy, aristocracy, and many other things the current system has failed to correct. And we could finally shed forever those things that seemingly never change and move forward with things that we can change.

For the world can change, over time, but there will need to be significant paradigm shifts in thinking. It means more than a shift away from a money-orientated and a profit-oriented society, but shifts in thinking and actions taken that will inevitably invert the typical organization structure from top-down to bottom-up, and to heterarchical organizational paradigms.