If you've ever wondered how the Supreme Court, in its great wisdom, came to the proposition that corporations are persons, with all the rights thereof, you might try Millhiser's book. There is plenty of precedent for that body making law out of whole cloth. Basically two forces are at work in the court, as in our great land, sometimes in the same justice, one dissenting, one dominating. A pro-democracy strand of fairness based in the written constitution and the people's right to govern themselves via the congress struggles against a commitment to business owners (or one could say the 1%) and a distrust of democracy. This latter faction parces the constitution where it can but doesn't hesitate to invent, where needed, to advance those interests. Today's court obviously has stood mostly in this camp, and given the current congress and executive, stands poised to wade still deeper into that unsavory swamp.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
A conference on February 4th in Decatur, GA featured “rock star” panelists, knowledgeable, articulate, even entertaining on a subject that doesn't readily lend itself to such. Awakening Our Hearts and Minds: A Critical Perspective on Israel/Palestine and Syria. This is not a thorough review of the conference but more a collection of impressions. A talk on Syria by journalist Reese Erlich, a week later added further to my notes. My attendance at these events was motivated by a lack of knowledge about the situation in Syria. I'm more confident in my sense of what's happening in Israel/Palestine. This conference and talk confirmed much of that and added more detail.
Injustice, death and destruction are hardly cheerful subjects. As the biblical phrase has it, “We who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow” (edited slightly for patriarchal language). Plenty of that to go around at this gathering. The idea that Israeli strategy is to make life so miserable for Palestinians that they will give up and leave, all while stealing the best of their land, pretty much sums up the Israel/Palestine part of the meetup, what one participant termed, systemic “structural violence”. The Syrian is more difficult to summarize but the conclusion that outside forces cannot, should not, focus on regime change, that this task is for the Syrian people and that the evolution of democracy in this troubled area needs to be nurtured not force fed, particularly by those whose democratic credentials are far from bonafide, ie, Russia and the United States.
More than one of the panelists used the term “narrative”, how stories that support various factions are put forth to undermine resistance, the most powerful of course dominating discourse. Critical thinking is the tool that can sort through all this, the dominators obviously preferring simple adoption of their story. One example was the “savior” narrative of MLK which undermines resistance by promoting waiting for the savior as opposed to doing something, acting. MLK was a figurehead but he certainly didn't act alone. There were thousands of ordinary but heroic citizens laying the ground for and supporting his leadership. Who benefits from the story? That is the question that dissecting the narrative should answer. Racism, oppression and militarism are strengthened when they are not dissected nor resisted. Ella Baker is cited as a woman of color who broke with the NAACP over its exclusion of women and young people from the microphone. The Black Panthers evolved out of SNNC and Black Lives Matter learned from the Palestinian struggle. This latter group's manifesto is well worth reading, one of the panelists insisted. https://policy.m4bl.org/platform/
The racist narrative is one of presumed white superiority and inferiority of the dark-skinned, violent, threatening, less intelligent etc; Blacks in the U.S. and Palestinians in Israel are the frequent victims of this narrative. Instances of the many injustices in both places were given by people with personal experience, from the routine racism in Ferguson, Missouri to the separate laws and enforcement for Israelis and Palestinians and the complete lack of rights for Palestinians in the occupied territories. The so-called security wall that Israel has constructed, as President Carter pointed out in his book Peace or Apartheid, has far more to do with land confiscation than with security. 85% of the wall is on Palestinian land. The international court has concluded that Israel is perfectly entitled to build a wall on its borders but to extend that wall over Palestinian land and resources is a violation of international law. Jews who have immigrated from dark skinned countries find that white privilege is operant in Israel as in the U.S. The wall is a separation wall aimed, in part, to reduce the “threat” of Palestinian unity. The West Bank and Gaza are kept separate for this same reason. What Israel is accomplishing by law in the West Bank, it is accomplishing by war in Gaza. A historical outline was laid out in support of this assertion, obviously at odds with the official Israeli narrative. This included the Israeli take-over in the late 40s, the various wars, how Gaza came under Israel's occupation, the several Intifadas, their genesis and brutal Israeli reaction.
Israel was founded on inequality by religion, segregation, supremacy. Palestinians who live in Israel proper(!) are second class citizens with a separate set of discriminatory laws written for them. Four hundred Palestinian children are imprisoned by Israel. Israel routinely violates treaties to which it is a signatory. Their military courts have a 99% conviction rate. Specious arguments are carefully concocted to claim that international law does not apply to the occupied territories. U.N. Reports document routine torture and disproportionate punishment, like breaking the arms of children who throw stones. Indefinite detention without charge is also routine. The non-violent resistance as embodied in the BDS (Boycott, disinvestment and sanctions) movement is under attack in the U.S. with attempts to make it illegal in some states.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
One of the challenges Bertram Gross' book, Friendly Fascism, presents the reader with is this: if your views coincide with those that a major, long-term, well-funded propaganda campaign has aimed to instill, wouldn't it be prudent to reconsider those views? We don't come into this world armed with disinformation detectors. We tend to trust those around us and more or less uncritically adopt their values. Born into a Muslim world, chances are you'll be Muslim. Born into a Catholic family in Italy? Guess what religion you'll probably embrace? Born into a capitalist country with a highly effective indoctrination system chances are...
Monday, December 5, 2016
To many, the following outline might seem self-evident but given U.S. presidential election results, a review is apparently in order:
- The elite (1%) rule for the benefit of themselves, their agenda consisting always of the task of maintaining and expanding their power, privilege and profits.
- To this end they propagate the general population, masking their rule, encouraging patriotism - meaning unquestioning obedience to authority, facilitated by their control/ownership of the mainstream media. Public radio and television must be kept too intimidated, even though capturing only a small slice of audience-share, to deviate more than slightly from the party line. Corporate funding works well here as well as right-wingers on the board and as back-up in congress who periodically threaten to cut all funding.Identify with the state and any criticism of it is taken personally. The authoritarian, hierarchical organization of business, especially anti-unionism, confirms that democracy rhetoric is just that. They are careful to associate the words capitalism and democracy to lend legitimacy to capitalism but, again, they do not organize their businesses democratically. Clearly capitalism is their value, democracy their spin.
- A central concern is to demonize socialism, equating it with the very worst aspects of established Communism – torture, oppression, secret police etc; all while hypocritically supporting those same evils in nations that buy into “free market capitalism”, demonstrating that their stated objections are transparently false, their real objections being to equality and sharing, government programs aimed at the general population rather than the elite.
- Government is to be obeyed yet also used as the scapecoat for popular unrest. As the 1% whittles away at worker rights and share in the bounty the inevitable disatisfaction must be directed at the “liberal” end of politics, never the conservative end, the actual source of the attack. The “liberal” faction must also be constantly shifted rightward keeping discourse within comfortable boundaries. This is reflected in the mainstream media as well. Only exceptional persons will think outside the parameters of discourse when that is all they've ever encountered.
- Divide and Conqueor of course, Us versus Them, standard strategy for any tyranny since Machiavelli, will be utilized, exploiting racial, ethnic, gender, sexual preference differences... anything that works will do ie, abortion, religion, flag burning, supporting the troops, standing for the national anthem etc;
- Religion is to be promoted to the degree that it fosters obedience, and discouraged where it fosters questioning. The resistance to elite rule manifests in most institutions and must be vigorously beaten back wherever possible. The new Pope, for example, has become something of a problem but there are many ways to counteract such deviation from the “norm”. Fundamentalism is ideal as it promotes authoritarianism that does not threaten the elite and easily associates “America” with its foolishness, falsely and insultingly attributing their beliefs to the founders, “We're a Christian nation!” etc;
- This is also true of education, a more or less constant monitoring kept here. The tightening of strings attached to both government and private funding has evolved since the 60s, a response to that little rebellion. Benefits of these developments for the 1% include a more exclusive higher education climate accompanied by post-graduate debt that will keep students preoccupied well beyond their youth. As with government, the University is doubly portrayed, as leftist bastion and confirmation of capitalism. Studies have shown that there is in fact an ideological gradiant on campus, a few lefties, a somewhat larger (and growing) contingent from the right, with the largest number of faculty self-identifying as moderates, presumably Clinton democrats, republican lite. Critical thinking tends to correlate with education making for a difficult challenge for what Chomsky calls the commissars, those tasked with keeping dialogue within the proper bounds.
- Foreign Policy and Militarism: the danger of a successful democratic socialist state “infecting” other countries, even the U.S., must be fought with any means available, in this case secret, usually CIA, projects to undermine democratic movements and strengthen totalitarian capitalist systems. In these arrangements, U.S. aid props up an elite which rules and benefits, the majority excluded often to the point of malnutrition and poverty, usually necessitating military aid and severe measures to suppress resistance and criticism. So the “rabble” in the U.S., more and more the class that pays taxes, ironically funds the means to violently suppress their counterparts in those countries, victims who would obviously object to this arrangement. Not only does this help prevent the spread of the terrible virus of equality, it is profitable for arms manufacturers and merchants back home. It also drains limited treasury reducing what is available to address serious issues of justice and environment. These policies, smugly enacted, seem to be producing blowback, at least in the middle east. The social democracies in western Europe and Scandinavia are tolerated though probably the targets of more subtle interventions. The home country peasantry though must be kept ignorant of social democratic accomplishments, the successful healthcare systems, working conditions, wages, leave and vacation policies etc; Undermine where possible, misrepresent always.
- Campaign funding is important for, as Molly Ivins wittily remarked, “You dance with who brung ya.” Public financing of elections would go a long way toward promoting democracy since who “brung ya” would now be the people. Obviously this must be opposed and portrayed as more government big spending. The term big spending liberal was created for these kind of projects. This is government in the bad sense as opposed to the government-to-be-obeyed-not- questioned that goes to war – a frequent necessity to retain elite dominance, keep the machine oiled and put out a message to nations considering alternative directions, of what might happen. Chomsky likes to compare this behavior to the Mafia and, really, it's hardly an exaggeration.
- Other institutional domination examples are the “right” people sitting on boards of universities, heading up thinktanks, news organizations, non-profits, church groups etc; Billionaire funding of non-profits is another tool to maintain conformity or push further right. In so far as possible, anywhere a citizen turns, the same pro-capitalist narrative should be confirmed, with its variations to be sure, running from extreme whacko right, to republican lite. Bernie was an exception recently, a measure of just how far the project has come, how transparent it is to a fair number. Trump supporters, many intuitively aware of the game but without the analytic skills or information to penetrate the con, found their disenchantment exploited to the full.
- Range of opinion among the 1%. Not all, maybe not even a majority, are fully behind a complete return to Feudalism but a politically active segment are enthusiastically with that program and it is they running the show currently. As Jane Mayer stated in her book, Dark Money, in their vision, the only survivors of the bill of rights should be the right to own property and have it protected.
- Consequences and summary: our species and civilization is threatened on three main interrelated fronts: pollution; overpopulation; and nuclear warheads. The trajectories of these three interrelated issues are in an unsustainable direction, urgently with climate change but obviously when the planet adds a new San Francisco to the population every two days there's trouble ahead, and the nuclear arsenals, some on hair-trigger alert, are subject to deliberate or accidental launch, ushering in what Einstein tried to warn us against - unparalleled catastrophe. The very bad news is that in what very well may have been a last opportunity for humanity to address these looming, life-threatening problems, the most powerful nation on earth elects an advocate of full-steam-ahead business-as-usual who promptly sets about solidifying this “victory” by Neanderthal cabinet selections and, apparently, plans for even tighter voter suppression to insure that their denial goes unchallenged right up to the collapse. This is global suicide.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
A Coca Cola executive once told me that he had to throw an underling out of his office. Why? The guy attempted to ingratiate himself by proposing that Coke pump up the bottom line big-time with accounting practices that would locate profits off-shore, beyond the reach of the IRS. If your fondness for money exceeds your sense of civic responsibility, as say, in the case of our illegitimate president-elect, you would not throw this person out but rather promote them.
The New York Review of Books has a two-part examination (10/27, 11/10/16) by Alan Rusbridger of the whistleblower release of what have come to be called The Panama Papers. Investigative reporters Bastian Obermajer and Frederick Obermaier of the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, were contacted by a disgruntled source somewhere deep in the off-shore world of a Panamanian law firm called Mossfon. The source was weary of seeing wealthy people getting away with outrageous behavior. He, or she, fed the reporters a massive trove of documents that exposed heads of states, oligarchs, defense contractors, mafia dons, gamblers, fraudsters, drug and arms dealers, prominent families and individuals to embarrassing disclosures about their tax avoidance schemes, money laundering, corporate shells etc; The power of this class (who else needs financial management experts?), being in the cat bird's seat when it comes to influencing legislation, means that much of what they did was perfectly legal. Russian President Putin was one of these and was quick to point out that it broke no laws. Also of note, several news organizations the whistleblower contacted were not interested, probably part of their knee-jerk shielding of the 1% who of course own the mainstream media. You want to keep your job you don't investigate the boss. As it turned out the cache was so overwhelming that the newspaper decided to share with an international investigative reporter organization. There's safety in numbers, at least in the nations that have constitutional protections.