Friday, October 18, 2013

The Feisty Senator from Vermont comes South

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont spoke this morning (10/18/13) at a union hall in Atlanta, to an enthusiastic full house. The points he made in his talk and the town hall-like Q & A, though pretty wide-ranging, highlighted a couple items: extremist republican ideologues look around and realize, hell, we can't ask people to vote for us so we can gut social security, medicare-medicade, veterans benefits, ship U.S. jobs to China and cut taxes for the wealthy. The people in poll after poll show that the country is united by large majorities in favor of these programs, want them protected, and oppose tax-cuts for billionaires and corporations. Even the tea party opposes social security cuts, individual members, not the billionaire-funded “leadership”. So, how can we divide them, they say, and get them to vote against their own interests? The best they can come up with, and it has been working so far, are the issues of gay rights and abortion.

Now, Bernie says, we can agree to disagree and argue about gay rights and abortion, but when it comes to social security, medicare-medicade, we are together and we shouldn't let them divide us. And that message will resonate with voters. That of course is why you don't hear it in the corporate media. Bernie holds a press conference with the president of the AFL-CIO, a union representing 12 million workers. No coverage. Yet billionaire-funded thinktanks are consulted everyday for their manufactured opinions. One person pointed out that though people are often opposed to Obama-care they support the Affordable Care Act, (one and the same of course) a testament to the effectiveness of corporate, right-wing propaganda. Bernie's opinion is that the Right's hysteria comes out of a fear that the Act might actually work and be popular. That would send the wrong message, from their point of view, that government can actually benefit working people. In Georgia, the governor is refusing to participate in a program that would cost the state zero funds and provide health care for hundreds of thousands of people. Is denying gay rights worth trading for health care? Obviously they have to frame that one in a way that exploits people's prejudices or ignorance.

And here is the indictment of the extremist agenda: they actually believe that there should be NO minimum wage, NO social security, NO veteran's benefits, NO environmental protection, NO regulation of banks or corporations, NO free education, No healthcare, and NO taxation for the wealthy class. This ideology comes from the billionaires who spread it by funding right-wing think tanks and exploiting discontent to create The Tea Party, funding buyable candidates and opponents of non-buyable politicians. The Supreme Court's Citizen United decision has made this anti-democratic effort even more effective.

When someone has more money than they, and even their heirs, could spend in a lifetime, what drives them to want more and to push policies that impoverish everyone else? To Bernie, this is a mystery but we, the progressive community, are, to use a football metaphor, on the ten-yard line trying to prevent their greedy and ghoulish goal.

How did a socialist get elected to the senate in Vermont? They have the money and the influence that can buy elections, stack the courts, own the media and so control the discussion but we have the grass roots. Sanders said that he knocked on every door in Vermont and that's what it takes, that kind of organizing. He'd go into homes, sit down, say shut off the TV and let's talk... talk about those issues that unite us, jobs, social security, fairness. We are all mostly workers and we are being screwed. 95% of the profits that have come from increased productivity over the last ten years have gone to the 1%. 38% of the wealth in the U.S. is in the hands of the 1% while only 2% is owned by the bottom 60%. Many workers are making less in wages than they were making twenty years ago, with longer hours, less benefits, less pay, more work. We've got to stop sending people to congress who will perpetuate these inequalities. Bernie's trip south is an attempt to defy the status-quo assumption that the south is “red” and jump-start a movement to reverse the march backward towards a pre-New Deal nation, and the third-worldization of the whole world.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Nothing But the TRUF (and how it will maybe make you free)

We all have one, it seems, a sister or brother-in-law who isn't quite on the same political track. I found myself in a shouting match with mine in my Mom's kitchen, to her consternation. It was in the Reagan 80s and we were discussing U.S. Central American policy. The term “gun-boat diplomacy” came up, him admitting that maybe in the distant past it happened but today... no. As sort of a crescendo to a rising-to-maximum rude volume he triumphantly shouted, in italics, bold, with exclamation points and in my face, “Open your eyes!!!”

I backed up a few steps, turned and went into the bathroom where I took some deep breaths, calmed down, unhooked ego and returned to the fray with this: If your government were going into Nicaraguan villages, killing school teachers, postal workers and otherwise terrorizing the unarmed population, would you support that?” He said that he'd have to change sides if that were the case. I said, well it is the case and I will send you documentation. Back in Atlanta I copied a few pages from Noam Chomsky's Turning the Tide and sent them off. Bro-in-law reported that he threw the pages across the room, claiming that “Chomsky was just trying to embarrass the U.S.”

On our journey to adulthood we encounter and adopt a myriad of influential personalities and points of view that can't possibly all be correct. So a percentage of what we think we know about the world is simply mistaken. Some of it is trivial, like how far is it to the moon, or who was vice-president under Hoover. Some of it is more consequential, like uncle Bill says the government shouldn't be in the business of providing health care, or Italians (Africans, Irish, Catholics etc; take your pick) aren't quite human, or the “free market”, if unhindered will usher in Utopia. It takes an unusual person and a different education system than the current obsession with testing to take on the task of subjecting these beliefs to scrutiny, sorting out the frivolous/substantial, the erroneous/verifiable.

Scholar and scientist Noam Chomsky has taken on that work, publishing an astonishing number of under-reviewed books over the years that share his penetrating conclusions and save us a whole lotta trouble. He seems to read virtually everything, amassing data for a convincing argument, one of which goes about like this:

the most successful in our society at accumulating wealth tend to place a high priority on maintaining and expanding the profits, privilege and power they have acquired. Since they own the mainstream media and understand the third paragraph above, they will carefully hire people to run it who will exclude points of view that question or threaten the three Ps. The managers, to qualify for these well-paid positions, need to demonstrate that they firmly hold beliefs that, though mistaken, will allow them to blatantly censor perfectly reasonable views as if they were extremist nonsense. Thus the thorough lack of socialist commentators across the major television and newspaper spectrum, coast to coast.

In Chomsky's book, Imperial Ambitions, he presents an interesting example. A New York Times article relays the views of the then chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, Gregory Makiw, Harvard Professor. Here is a widely respected economist whose textbook on the subject is widely used in college curriculum, a person at the top of his profession. Professor Makiw, the article solemnly reports, believes that social security will have to be reduced because we won't have the money to pay for it. As now structured the system will be broke by 2042. Chomsky points out that instead of hysterically calling for cuts to a program that's healthy for another 30 years we could use that 30 years to come up with a solution – the obvious one, increase the cap on social security taxation, is available right now. Income above $90,000 is not presently taxed. So, one of the leading economic personalities in our nation fails to see beyond the apparently imperative but obviously mistaken belief that we cannot institute, or apparently even think of, policies that encroach on the three Ps.

It is as if attaining a highly privileged, influential and respected position in society was reserved exclusively for those holding certain beliefs, however mistaken, that just happen to benefit the 1%. Any house servant could tell you it's so (even though to aspire to such, one must see it as the best of all possible worlds – or at least claim to).