Friday, March 17, 2017

Injustices, The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable... Ian Millhiser

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.

During the Civil War, when the Union army took New Orleans, that city was the least healthy in the country. Every summer thousands perished from the heat-stirred effluence polluting the water system from slaughter houses upstream. When the Union Army force-moved them inland the death-rate plummeted. After the war things went back to business-as-usual, including the toxicity. The reconstruction government decided to require reform of the nasty enterprise. Challenged by business, the supreme court eventually ruled in favor of the restrictions but a dissent by Justice Field gave hope to unbridled capitalism and in fact was cited, over the years, by many state supreme courts, as if the dissent were law, in knocking down other attempts to regulate business and protect workers and environment.

The Court played a part in a related story, the evisceration of that same post-war, reconstruction body, where freed slaves were voting and fully participating in the government itself. As you can imagine, this was not acceptable to the former slave owners whose rationalizations justifying slavery needed little tweaking to condone the violent subjugation and demonization of their brothers from across the sea. Black citizens were slaughtered in an incident defending the reconstruction government from vigilantes. The great court ruled that the plaintiffs had no federal remedy, they must rely on the state government (the vigilantes), the very body oppressing them. Needless to say, this ruling gave the south clear sailing. It may not have re-instituted slavery but it came close. To put the final nail in the coffin, in a disputed election Hayes was given the presidency in exchange for ending reconstruction. Thus the march of injustice staggered on.

These cases demonstrate court polarity but they hardly begin to exhaust the record, both prior to these judgements and since. A few examples:

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that free states return escaped slaves to their “masters”. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled this act unconstitutional but the Supreme Court over-ruled the decision in 1859. In Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) the court unanimously ruled that segregated railroad cars did not abridge the privileges nor immunities of the colored race, nor deprive him(!) of property without due process of law, nor deny him the equal protection of the law. In another case Field stated that if blacks could not be excluded from juries then the next outrage would be to grant women the same right. Justice John Archibald Campbell looked to ambiguous language in the 14th amendment to creatively protect white supremacy. The court has shamefully ruled that slaves are not persons but corporations are.

A Pullman Porter strike against wage cuts was suppressed by the company in collusion with the president, the attorney general and the courts. Troops were sent to attack peaceful strikers. There is an interesting section of the book describing the famous Pullman Town created by that patrician. Eugene Debs, the great labor organizer and socialist presidential candidate, defied the anti-union injunction and was jailed. Later, during World War I. he was jailed again for speaking against the war, wrecking his health and shortening his life. So much for the first amendment.

The court struck down child labor laws as interference with trade, and vigorously struck down state laws attempting to work around their judgements. Working conditions for children were horrendous, life stumping and threatening, from black lung to lost limbs, long hours, low pay and early death. These judgements gave industry, particularly southern mills, a generation of cheap labor and decades of freedom from federal regulation. The “freedom” to enter into contracts was cited to deny workers the right to organize, as if to protect workers when actually those contracts were lop-sided in the extreme, unfair, burdensome and coercive. The right of owners however, to collude and organize against unions was not to be questioned. Working conditions were terrible for adults as well, dangerous, poorly paid and brutal. In one month in 1907 all but five of the entire work force at one mine were killed in explosions. There of course were the company towns and stores that reduced workers to near feudal conditions. The court upheld a Colorado mining company's right to pay in script, redeemable only at the company store. Companies had no incentive to spend on safety or training since the courts did not hold them liable for injury or death.

Respected (by the “right” people) theorist and scholar Professor Tiedman, in his prolific and widely read articles, urged jurists to rule whenever possible against the notion of majority rule – Democracy – even when the constitution or precedent did not support the ruling. Many state supreme courts enthusiastically complied.

Justice Field, in his notorious dissents, thought business should be immune to regulation, using the 14th Amendment in his twisted arguments. The “freedom” of business to be unregulated was put above the freedom of citizens to have clean drinking water, decent wages, safe working conditions. Field wrote in dissent but represented the “libertarian” strand, often dominating the court, that reduces the bill of rights to protection of property. The current court is not far from this position. The administration is obviously appointing cabinet members, and soon the court no doubt, who embrace this sinister point of view with a vengeance. In a case closer to our time, a coal mine owner/CEO pumped $3 million into a Virginia supreme court race, defeating the incumbent. His replacement then voted to acquit the mine owner of negligence in the death of minors. The Supreme Court ruled that the justice should have recused himself but our own Chief Justice Roberts dissented.

For the Injustice camp, books and information of the type offered in Millhiser's book hardly matter. The numbers of people (voters) who encounter it are relatively few and so impact elections not at all. But offer up horror stories the book does, in a highly readable if dense style. Tales necessary for an informed citizenry but also confirmation of the ol' biblical saw, increase knowledge, increase sorrow. It's not always all doom and gloom, after all, the court ruled favorably on Brown vs Board of Education (just barely, with much rangling despite the final unanimity) ending segregation, and Nixon had to hand over the incriminating tapes... but this history ought to alert us that the anti-democratic faction in our culture is a powerful force that requires a serious, sustained and focused response, the proverbial cost of liberty, eternal vigilance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Puzzling Over Syria: a conference & talk on Israel/Palestine and Syria

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.

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.

For white people, revolution begins internally. What are the lies and myths and what do I get out it? Look at your community and ask, what can I do here? White nationalism is a reaction to an arising awareness that threatens empire. Position your self with the oppressed, recognize the oppressor in your self,... “we” (U.S.) took native land, enslaved blacks, suppressed minorities, women, unions etc;

The Trump Administration takes a hodge-podge of contradictory positions. Trump claimed he'd purge the establishment, then appoints establishment and extremist anti-democratic figures, from Wall Street to Breitbart, mostly to oversee departments they think shouldn't even exist. He opposed the war on Iraq yet is going to “kick butt” all over the middle east. His threat to label the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, like many macho U.S. foreign policy decisions, will encourage the most militant factions in that organization. The Brotherhood has been observing parliamentary procedure for many years, accepting electoral outcomes instead of resorting to violent opposition.

As the so-called Arab Spring spread to Syria the government predictably cracked down. The most successful locale was the uprising in Alleppo. Unfortunately, within a year a movement for dignity degenerated into violent factions dependent on outside support. Isis, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups took over. When the U.S. sends arms to “moderate” rebels they are either hi-jacked by extremists or delivered, as prearranged. Two cease fires have failed, a third, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, excluding the U.S., is currently fragile but holding. A bewildering array of groups fight each other inside Syria while an equally bewildering array of outside groups throw their support to factions that have a hard time keeping track of just who they're fighting. Russia has definite investment in the Assad regime while the U.S. backs opposition groups that are its deadly enemies in other contexts. It should not be forgotten that the Eurpoean colonial powers divided much of this land, as was done in Africa, creating borders that served their interests, not the people who lived here.
In the broader “war on terror” the U.S. heavily relies on violence, going after leadership with drones and other assassination techniques. Persuasive studies have shown this approach to be ineffective, overall, for groups remain active despite these killings. The tit for tat, Hatfield and McCoy scenario repeats throughout history by those who don't study it. Non-violent conflict resolution, a skill we need if we are to survive the nuclear and WMD age, goes begging, the players all too wedded to macho display to recognize this fundamental error.

One of the obstacles to positive work is that Muslim NGOs could be worked with more productively but an irresponsible media will often sloppily report attempts and scare off funders. These NGOs are trusted to go into war zones and do dangerous aid work but are not invited to the policy table. About half of Syria's population has been displaced, most locally but many also abroad. That's eleven million ordinary citizens. Much of this misery evolves out of the disastrous Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq. The right likes to pretend that if only Obama were tougher, had done this or that, we would have been successful but this is sheer fantasy. It is more than an old saw that violence begets violence. The U.S. has shorted its refugee pledge in dollars by 40% yet spends $12 million a day funding violence in Syria. As stated above, much of the get-tough military aid ends up in the hands of those it was meant to be used against, if anyone can keep track of that. Erlich claims that a $ trillion has been spent by the U.S. between Afghanistan and Iraq. What do we have to show for that monstrous expenditure? Iran is now more influencial in the area than before the invasion, the U.S. less. By that measure, the whole thing is one big failure. Keep in mind that those expenditures are taxpayer monies while the oil profits that emerge as the real justification for all that spending, to the degree that there are any, given the chaos, are completely privatized, not funneled to the taxpayer but to the corporations who, let's face it, rule. This is standard throughout the history of colonialism and empire.
Alleppo is back in government hands, thanks to Russian intervention and mercenary troops, except for Kurds holding one small area. There are widespread human rights abuses on all sides. The Shia/Sunni divisions do not really account for the divisions in Syria for they have a long history of peaceful coexistence. It is more related to different factions vying for position though some warlords attempt to use perversion of religion to manipulate their followers. It is also used by outsiders to oversimplify the conflict.

According to journalist Reese Erlich ( the players who wanted to invade Iran instead of Iraq during the Bush Administration are now at the helm under Trump. The lessons of history are being ignored once again, apparently, even those most recent lessons that have nearly bankrupted the country. It feels like one of those tragic moments in history where the exact wrong actors favor the exact wrong action, perpetuating the long sad march of folly. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Alternate Realm

I found this in my muse-folder one recent morning:

beneath the polarized & poisonous air
lies the breath of life
the state of being
the realm of beauty, joy & creativity

Seems like my meandering thoughts tend to channel toward composing blogposts or facebook replies these days. I had been in one of those discussions where I stupidly think I'm going to turn around an extremist point of view. I had expressed the opinion that voter suppression swung the election to Trump. A supporter of that sociopath, excuse me, candidate, replied with outrage, demanding, “What voter suppression?!” I couldn't at first remember Greg Palast's name but went to Democracy Now's website and found the interview with him on that subject. I posted the link to facebook and immediately got a reply, “Really, using a left wing conspiracy nutjob to make your case? Pretty weak.” 

This reply reminded me, once again, how we get our information from sources we trust, he from his, me from mine. There's a certain amount of guess work going on but of course I think his sources are right wing propaganda and he thinks mine are left wing “nutjobs”. I do trust my sources. Certain writers, thinkers seem to me to have a solid analysis of what's going on (Naomi Klein, Michael Parenti and others). I've fact-checked them and they come through fine. Others are obvious mouth pieces for the Koch brothers and their billionaire friends and if that's all you're exposed to you're likely to buy into it. When you then hear another point of view, like Noam Chomsky say, it's tempting to dismiss it, as the lavishly-funded and so wide-spread Koch pov has been careful to caricature and slander any deviance from their party line. Now you're invested, identifying, as with religion, with the first pov that got to you, taking criticism of it personally. This is why the Right takes so seriously the task of monopolizing the sources of information, the mainstream media, the universities, public schools etc; They want to rule, to enjoy their power, privilege and property, unhindered by an awakened citizenry.

So my little poem, if you can call it that, expressed the discouragement I felt at the hostile, locked-in-place opinions I often encounter. An escape to another landscape is very appealing. That is available, by stepping back and seeing the political goings on from a cosmic perspective, as the poem does. Another source of solace is the recent, post-inaugeral Woman's March which so lifted my spirits. To be among thousands of cheerful citizens expressing, in good-humored signs and costume, resistance to the hateful agenda of the new regime, that can change your mood in a hurry. To see youthful and not-so youthful demonstrators walking by rows of cops, shaking their hands, even hugging the smiling officers... that can raise your hope threshold a bit.Enough to entertain a completely ridiculous and modest proposal: why not put our great brains to work figuring out how we can divert the energy presently going into chasing money into creating a system that provides food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare for all the inhabitants of the planet, in a way that doesn't despoil the life system on which we all depend?

Outlandish as this proposal may seem, if we don't make it our main priority, along with a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflict, then we will have war and with the kind of weapons available and developing, the planet and its people will perish in nuclear holocaust, if not directly then in the aftermath when the life-system breaks down, from radiation, nuclear winter... or from the pollutants that our life choices are more slowly but definitely disbursing.

The text in bold is taken from one of the facebook debates mentioned... but back to the cosmic. Macro and Micro infinity, makes ya feel small but when you shift attention away from predations emanating out of the White House and vicinity and simply observe the thoughts and emotions coursing through you, and below that, when you let them go, the felt experience of being brings such peace and joy that none of that other stuff matters much. Ironically though, out of this state, that Tolle calls enlightenment, will come, or could come, or might come, the world of peace and justice and environmental sustainability we crave, because with ego diminished by presence is gone the fear at the root of war, selfishness, greed, in a word, the dysfunction carrying us at speed to the abyss.

Painting, God's Placement God'sSize Ferguson's Color  by the author

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mulling: on consciousness

What is happening – I'm watching a movie, a little disturbed by the violence, take a break to pee... suddenly I'm aware, a pang of fear... the conceptual reality-bubble I create to walk around in is burst,... I feel vulnerable, I'm standing at the toilet but the greater world is just beyond these walls, with its terrible indifference, its marauding criminals, doppler sirens, terrorists and accidents roaming the streets, major hostility... and cancer... and it's true “I” am vulnerable, “I” understood as the passing personality, the physical form, by all indications mortal, will perish... how to identify instead with the eternal, the source out of which temporality emerges and recedes?.... not in a conceptual bubble but in reality, dancing uninhibitedly in joyous time tempo? Well, Eckhart Tolle suggests being the observer is how you get there. Notice thoughts, emotions, fear, dis-ease in this case... watch it evaporate in the light of consciousness, replaced by awareness.

The great social critic, Michael Parenti, suggests that the imaging or connecting with the whole, ONE, referred to above, and in the writings of mystics, is just more self delusion, more conceptual bubble. I suppose he would say that we are conscious beings due to the complicated biological intersections of our DNA, bodies, brain and other organs, and when it dies, we die with it. He probably wouldn't object to characterizing the process as mysterious and profound, impressively, massively complicated, wondrously effective. BUT... I want to argue that interconnection is a word that attempts to point at a feeling we have, variously called mysticism, peak experience, harmony, groove, intuition, god, muse,... self-evident gestalt. It's self-evidently miraculous this being, and intelligent, and what energises us, is us. I can't accept that as illusion, much easier to accept physical reality, as in Eastern thought, as the illusion. Tolle's point is that becoming the observer brings into awareness the fact that we are that energy. Whatever the fate of the personality, very likely oblivion, “we” are that energy, our true self and somehow feeling it, knowing it, aligning with it, brings peace, joy and creativity.

Our thoughts, and “learning”, may tell us that in awareness we lose our protection, the story we tell ourselves, whatever it is, say middle class affluence, safety and predictability - that story drops away and we either flee back to our comfort zone or experience fear... until we recognize, feel, that that fear is just a thought/emotion, that there could be but isn't right now a threat to our safety (our in the limited sense of the personality). Even when we experience, say, a serious cancer diagnosis... even then, there is no threat right now, just a speculation about the future. Not that we deny it, we just put it in its place, the future and we've always known that we'll die someday so, though it might be eminent, it isn't NOW. As we enter into the final stretch, as the suffering begins, then we will have to cope, but not now. Now we can do what has always been at our beckon call - still the mind, enjoy being, go with the creative impulses that arise.

To ego, “I” am everything. To ONE, “I” am nothing, well, a small blip on a universe-sized screen. That is the personality but that “I” is ultimatelly illusion, what animates is who “I” am, at root.

Not to belabor a point but to start with what is known: we sense the world and we think the world, we experience the world via sensory input and thought. When we become, as Tolle suggests, the observer, when thoughts and emotions are suspended, put in the background, we become who he says we are, consciousness.

Cancerous Planet

Our beautiful and fragile Planet has been suffering a lingering and growing malignancy, the diagnosis in dispute, second and third opinions all over the map. The recent U.S. presidential election is but one phase of a chemo/radiation treatment, prognosis dire, chances of survival questionable. What to do? Get centered, escape ego, diminish mind chatter, get present. The answer to that “what to do” question will then become obvious.

Footnote: The 1% want you to hold certain opinions and they take some trouble and expense to make that happen. Until you are willing to carefully examine your point of view, comparing it to what their campaign strives for, and deciding whether you arrived there independently or by their manipulation, you are very possibly merely one of their pawns, standing in opposition to your own interests.

Painting, Foci, by the author

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Friendly Fascism, Bertram Gross

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...

An interesting quote early in the book states that the United States is run by and for about 5,000 wealthy persons (mostly men of course) backed by about 50,000 beavers eager to take their places. This is the establishment. Gross disagrees a bit with the numbers, estimating it at 250,000, but accepting the basic premise. The difference between Friendly Fascim and the earlier, version typified by Nazi Germany and Musolini's Italy, is one of brute force but also in that instead of the state plundering industry it assists industry in plundering the population.

During the 1930s corporate excesses had pretty much alienated the general population. On top of that, the suffering brought about by the great depression added to the “danger” of people opening to an alternative to capitalism. The 1%, in self defense, wanting to keep their privileged position, gathered considerable resources in an effort to instill in the population some basic “truths”: capitalism is good; socialism is bad. In fact, they claimed capitalism has been replaced by, various terms here but mixed economy is one of the favorites. Thus instead of the profit-driven, dog-eat-dog paradigm, we now have a balance of interests, all represented equally as if guided by an invisible, benevolent hand. Everybody's happy, right? Well, if you're not it's due to your own individual failings. The system is perfect. We've arrived at the ultimate way to economically organize ourselves. Everywhere the 1% had influence, which was virtually everywhere, this message was amplified. Those who adopted the message, like house servants, stood to profit, their career paths lubricated. Those who resisted stood to be left behind, on the street. Owning the major media, sitting on the boards of universities and other institutions, funding the campaigns of politicians, tended to stack the deck, making certain views “respectable”, others beyond the pale. It is an exceptional person who questions received wisdom. Their numbers are insignificant and tolerable, though they need to be kept marginalized, so long as the mainstream message dominates everyone else.

Gross goes on to sketch existent mixed economy/capitalism, its alienation for many if not all, in terms of non-materialist values. The 60s rebellion and rejection of crass materialism may have eventually returned to the fold but brought an enrichment not to be denied, nor exaggerated. The writer describes the capitalist society as fostering material abundance for some and envy for others, and disillusionment for the super successful as they discover an empty pot at the end of the rainbow. Some of course then pursue with even greater vigor multiplications of the materialist prize, maybe most since visible alternatives are not obvious. Those who do find alternatives or who decline to remount the treadmill tend to not be who achieves power and so perpetuate the system.

In a section on the Shrinking of Capitalism, Gross breaks from his critique of capitalism to portray the spread of communism in a somewhat alarming or at least ambiguous way, making dire, even laughable, in hindsight, predictions. This was ten years before the fall of the Soviet Union but Gross is predicting the real possibility of communism taking over the Carribbean, Central America, Portugal (which had already happened he claimed – there was a military coup overthrowing a right wing regime), Spain, France and Italy. This clearly represents establishment fears after World War II. but not reality. There were actually many opportunities for peaceful co-existence that the U.S. chose to ignore since it would entail limitations on their emperious designs. Their fears of a successful socialist project were certainly also a factor. Why Gross makes this odd turn when until then his critique seemed spot on may be accounted for by his immersal in government, the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, especially the latter, a solid member of the religion of anti-communism and a victim or conspirator in that “reeducation” campaign mentioned above.

In 1975 the Tri-lateral Commission released a report on the Crisis of Democracy. The Commission was formed to search for a managerial formula to keep the concentration of wealth intact. Some of its own members dissented to its language as the unspoken rule among the oligarchy was that it was important to display a public pretence of democracy. The report unambiguously called for less democracy, responding to the 60s movements around civil and human rights, oppression, war profiteering, empire and corporate manipulation of government. There was no dissent however about the basic principle, the need for oligarchic integration to ward off the threat of “too much democracy”.

Gross discusses the business cycle and the professional economists, their self-serving theories and shenanigans. Roosevelt attempted to institutionalize the right to work (very unlike the coopted anti-union use of this phrase), wanting full employment and security for workers. The business community opposed this on ideological grounds, feeling that government regulations should be minimal and that full employment meant a loss for them in bargaining power. When there was plenty of work then workers could leave for better opportunities or demand better working conditions and pay, reducing profits and control. The business view was that unemployment should be as high as could be tolerated, the more the better, for them. Roosevelt's project died with him and the ascendency of Truman. Anticipating Roosevelt's death business interests had maneuvored to replace Vice President Wallace, a progressive, with the more reactionary Truman. Thirty years later the Humphrey-Hawkins bill attempted to reinstate some of Roosevelt's ideas but they were stripped from the bill and not long after the vicious attack on unions and workers began, full steam with Reagan.

The arrival of Friendly Fascism, Gross warns, will be on “little cat's feet” not a violent sudden coup. So gradually that the general population will not notice and even activists will miss much of it, realizing its full takeover only when it is too late. The book lays out eight paths, a chapter each, by which Gross sees Friendly Fascism coming to full power, then a section on the opposing force, True Democracy, which he sees as weaker but not yet defeated. He ends with a chapter, What You Can Do. 37 years have passed since the publication of this book so it is tempting to conclude that it is, indeed, too late. This was where I personally stood until seeing a clip of Amy Goodman interviewing Bernie Sanders after the election. His statement moved me to reevaluate my stance: “You do not have the right to give up. Too much is at stake - our democracy and our life system.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

After the Dustup, a Little Review - in 12 points

To many, the following outline might seem self-evident but given U.S. presidential election results, a review is apparently in order:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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;

  1. 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;

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

Off-Shore Pirates

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.

The Whistleblower was quite accurate in his/her assessment. The tax burden, especially in the U.S., has shifted from corporations to workers since the 50s, with a vengeange starting with Reagan. Those who benefit least from government policies pay the most. Commerz Bank in Frankfurt, for example, received $18 billion in taxpayer subsidies during the financial meltdown yet routinely helped German clients avoid taxes. The preponderance of the Panama Papers concerns clients of just one firm, Mossfon, of Panama. We can assume other companies do similar financial management “services” for the wealthy, allowing them to avoid taxes, law enforcement and vengeful spouses. 52 of 54 African countries have used Mossfon. Over $500 billion has fled Africa, twice as much as its debt. In an accompanying 2,000 word “manifesto”, the leaker claimed their intent was to expose inequality and how the wealth management industry had abetted crime, drug dealing and fraud on a truly grand scale involving trillions of dollars.

The various experts cited in the article hold little hope for reform. As the new administration comes into power here we can be sure that this particular business-as-usual will procede unimpeded, probably with new vigor. They do suggest that transparency would help, maybe embarrassing businesses and individuals into paying their share. We have public lists of who owns property, why not of who possesses wealth? Taxing corporations based on where their sales occur is another measure that might recoup some of the lost revenue. If a corporations's sales are primarily in the U.S. its taxes shouldn't be based on sales in Bermuda. It isn't just some numbers short on a balance sheet. Governments can't adequately address inequality, poverty, disease and starvation when the needed funds are parked off-shore. Corporations occupy our government so there is little chance those goals would even arise and even less chance that corrective measures would see daylight. Since billionaires, again, own the media, there is little chance the public will even know of these shenanigans, as opposed to say, Brad Pitt's latest divorce.

Google (if you use Goodsearch instead of Google, a penny per search goes to your favorite non-profit) made $13 billion by shifting its profits to the low-tax haven of Bermuda. Apple funnels profits to the Cayman Islands to this same end, all perfectly legal. Apple however was hit with a $13 billion fine when the European Commission ruled that Ireland's low tax rate amounted to an illegal subsidy. Ireland was only one stop on a Byzantine money route Apple had designed to reduce tax obligations. The lack of regulation and secrecy off-shore is the draw and like the downward spiral of sweatshop wages and work conditions, banks are subject to competition. The client can just move on to whomever offers the least tax, regulation and the most secrecy. The Koch Brothers et al., and Trump-level wealth preaches non-regulation as if it were a sacred principle blessing us all but we know, when we remove the blinders, who the beneficiaries actually are. I mean beneficiary in the sense that any addict benefits from the object of their addiction though that addiction ultimately represents dysfunction. When the addiction creates immense suffering, comes time for an intervention. When the addiction is unsustainable and leads toward irreparable environmental damage and extinction, it is time for an alternative. The election of an unapologetic denier of reality suggests that it might be too late. Perhaps some other planet in the vast cosmos will succeed in evolving beyond greed and war.