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Politics

Republicans Undermining Peace is Old Hat

Why Revelations of Republican Treason Should Come as no Surprise

I have to admit, when I first learned of the Republican attempt to undermine the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Iran I was surprised. I rubbed my eyes and temples, quite possibly spewed some expletives, and pushed myself to read the open letter to Iran, what turned out to be a full page combination of condescension insult and ignorance. ‘Unbelievable,’ I thought. Directly undermining the President’s constitutional authority to negotiate with a foreign power is beneath even the shallow dignity of the Republican Party. Surely, they wouldn’t go that far.

Once I rubbed almost permanent vision patterns into my eyes, however, I realized that my immediate response was ill considered. There was nothing surprising about this letter after all. Republicans have demonstrated, time and again, that they are willing to cause any amount of suffering, pain and even death in order to achieve power. They are the ultimate Machiavellians. Any tactic, no matter how insidious, will suffice.

This is not the first time, or even the most extreme example of GOP complicity in undermining presidential negotiations. Hell, it may not even be the first time that Republicans sought Iranian collusion in their political games.

The most notorious, deadliest case of Republican diplomatic sabotage had to do with the Paris Peace Accords in 1968. By 1968, it was clear that the Vietnam Lie was a catastrophe. The Johnson Administration was engaged in peace negotiations for about a year as the presidential campaign slogged through the summer. In October, a month before the election, President Johnson was sure that he and the North Vietnamese had reached an agreement that would lead to a cease fire and a framework for peace. This diplomatic victory could have turned the election in favor of the lackluster Hubert Humphrey, handing Tricky Dick yet another humiliating political defeat. But it would have ended the Vietnam War, saving countless lives.

Things did not go as planned. Instead of a framework for peace, South “Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu was suddenly laying down obstacles to a possible settlement in the Paris peace talks.” He was scuttling the peace process. Why? It turned out that a Nixon campaign official, Anna Chennault, convinced Thieu to block the peace process for a better deal that a Nixon administration could deliver. Johnson did not get his peace, but Nixon won his election. The outcome was no bargain for the South Vietnamese.

Neither was it a bargain for the United States. According to the national archives, over 20,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam from 1969 to the end of the war. But Nixon won his election. He did not, however, satisfy his promise of “peace with honor.”

In 1981, the very first victory of the fabled Reagan Administration was the near miraculous release of American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Iran. We were awed (I was almost eleven and still awed). President Carter had spent about a year and a half trying and failing to negotiate the release U.S. hostages taken during the Iranian Revolution. Clearly, there was something about President Reagan that the vile Iranians were not willing to tangle with.

There was something about President Reagan, just not what we thought. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the major parties involved with the Carter negotiations all agreed that the hostages should be released. Abolhassan Bani-Sadir, the first President of the new Iranian Republic, said, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place.”

Did the perpetuation of the hostage crisis throw the election to Ronald Reagan? Would the Gipper have won regardless? It’s impossible to say. It does not matter. Growing evidence indicates that the Republican Party was willing to prolong unnecessary suffering and to create a ruinous relationship with a major Middle Eastern power, risking even the possibility of war, in order to gain an electoral advantage.

So it should come as no surprise that the Republican Party would do the same in 2015. In historical context, there are only two differences between the current travesty and the previous. First, is the openness by which this particular stunt was done. There was no attempt to hide or to cover-up the most recent scandal. This fact may only indicate the growing arrogance of a party that has successfully connived its way to power for the last forty years. The GOP felt that there would be no political price to pay for their duplicity. They may be right.

The other difference is that this incident seemingly had nothing to do with electoral politics. This is nothing more than an extension of the standard, anti-Obama, collective orgasm that the Republican Party has become. Is this latest stunt so far out of character for a troop of con artists referring to itself as a political party? The last six years are a testament to the Republican willingness to cause unnecessary suffering for the sake of political gain. Governing is never the goal, as Mitch McConnell, one of the signatories of the above letter, admitted when he stated that his primary goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Health care? Economic recovery? Medicaid? The Republican Party is even willing to default on the faith and credit of the nation in order to score political points, backing off only when it the strategy started to backfire.

Normally, however, the strategy does not backfire. The cold, hard reality is that this most cynical Republican strategy is extraordinarily successful. In the late sixties, an age in which Americans were finally beginning to question the norms and values of American exceptionalism, hegemony, capitalism and materialism, Richard Nixon did become president…and completely delegitimized the office. Despite this, Ronald Reagan was elected and was instrumental in reversing the civilizing policies of the New Deal responsible for America’s most prosperous era. Reagan Republicans, in league with Reagan Democrats, resurrected the historical oligarchy that characterized most of U.S. history.

Despite birthing an extremist foreign policy the likes of which could be a plot for a dystopian science fiction, starting two simultaneous wars based on lies and distortions, leading to international scorn and destabilizing an entire geographic region, then collapsing the global economy, the Republican Party remains a legitimate political force in the United States. Their denial of established science and stalwart adherence to medieval, theocratic dogma is the laughing stock of the world, yet they remain in a position to influence global policy in the most powerful nation in history.

The Republican Party may be an international embarrassment and a political abomination, but we keep electing them to office. We, American citizens, allow conservatives, represented by the GOP, to control a larger percentage of our state governments, pushing a piecemeal policy of historical regression. They control our law making bodies at the local, state and national level. They control the Supreme Court and a significant proportion of our judiciary. Media and think tanks are dedicated to the perpetuation of Republican idiocy, and we, the citizens, are the ones who turn the channel, tune the radio, access the web sites and drink down the toxic rhetoric with gusto.

When will we turn our backs on this national crime against reason, civilization and good taste?


As Presidents Go—My Defense of My Defense of President Obama

Or…Elections as Triage

Some people have contacted me or talked to me about my most recent posts defending President Obama and the Obama Record. The critiques are summarized as, “don’t you think you will lose your radical credentials by defending a representative of the status quo and elite power like Obama and the Democratic Party?”

Well, I’m not sure where I get my radical credentials, or who is responsible for taking them away, but the best I can say in response is, “I hope not.” My politics hasn’t changed or, in any way, moderated. I still feel obligated to speak for the powerless in the face of the powerful and to point out the mechanisms by which the elite exploit the common and despoil the commons. My humanistic and universalist vision hasn’t changed. My ideals remain the same.

However, there comes a time when practical reality must be given priority over idealism, and this election year was, in my opinion, one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. Had there been a candidate with a more progressive or radical vision, I would have focused my energies there, but there wasn’t. One can only work with the cards that are given.

Look, elections are rarely ever the venue for radical action. This is especially true of mid-term elections. If we on the left want to have an impact on elections, then we have some more work to do in networking and building the necessary grassroots power, combined with a message that we can shout over the constant conservative din that drowns out any rational discourse. We don’t have that yet. We are working on it. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part. The truth is we are simply not there.

This last election was testament to the amount of work we must do in electoral politics. We simply have not come to terms with the fact that elections are not about policy and governing; they are about marketing and advertising. That’s a playing field on which we are, as yet, ill prepared. The Republican marketing machine has a clear and distinct advantage in that medium.

So this election was not and could not be a venue for advancing a left agenda. Yes, we did very well on some referenda and initiatives at the state level. That’s a testament to our ground work. However, advancing those who believe as we believe was not an option. This election was about triage more than it was about a left wing vision of justice.

Government continues to secure the interests of the power elite. Every president and party in American history has done the same. Obama and our current crop of Democrats are no exception to this rule. True, some presidents, like the Roosevelts and LBJ, understood that securing the interests of the power elite meant negotiating with very angry and organized mass movements. Such conditions do not exist today, as was clear by an electorate that wanted an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, legalized marijuana, but voted Republican.

Clearly, the left is hemorrhaging. As distasteful as it is, before you can stabilize your patient, you have to stop, or at least slow the bleeding.

I used to be one of those advocates who believed that we, as a nation, were no worse off with a Republican leadership than a Democratic government. The Bush debacle has disabused me of this mistaken assumption. There is no metric that I can see that can convince me that the country and the world is no better off with a President Obama than with a President McCain or a President Romney. Obamacare is not a single payer health system, but it has been a benefit to millions of people. Dodd-Frank is not Glass-Steagall, but a President McCain would not have gone even that far, and a President Romney would have gutted what few, milquetoast protections it offers. The Stimulus was not the next New Deal, but a Republican government would have abandoned the people to suffering a certain Second Great Depression with nothing to offer solace. The Obama/Democratic government has not been what we wanted, but it was better than the given alternative. We on the left are allowing dogma to blind us if we suggest any different.

The Obama/Democrats have overseen an expansion of executive powers and the growth of the Intelligence arm of the Military Industrial Complex. No doubt. The state surveillance apparatus is a growing beast devouring American rights to privacy and self-possession. The world still groans and bleeds under the blades of American militarism. The American backed transnational elite are consolidating their holdings and shaping the New World Order. The very fate of the world in the face of global climate change is shrugged off as a mere inconvenience to the Billionaire Class. Obama/Democrats are as responsible for this as are the Tea Party/Republicans. We on the left have offered some token resistance, at best, failing to build on the few openings that we have had with the Occupy Movement and the Snowden Revelations.

Still, even in the face of its shortcomings, the Obama/Democratic government, with no left wing alternative at that level, has been the best option. To prove this, let’s do a quick mental exercise I like to call “Worst Case Scenario.”

The Worst Case Scenario is Republican control of the White House, 2/3rds of Congress and 2/3rds of the states. The Republican Party has a filibuster proof Senate and the ability to push Constitutional Amendments at whim. What are the policies that will come from that government?

    Affordable Care Act…gone

Medicaid…gone

    Temporary Assistance to Needy Families…gone

    Social Security…gone

    Medicare…gone

    Roe v. Wade…gone

    Food Stamps…gone

    SCHIP…gone

    Unemployment Insurance…gone

    Civil Rights Act…gone

    Voting Rights Act…gone

    Corporate taxes…gone

    Progressive Income Tax…gone

    Public Schools…gone

    Public Libraries…gone

    National Parks/Forests and protected habitats…gone

    EPA and Environmental Regulation…gone

    FDA and Food and Drug Regulations…gone

    Minimum Wage…gone

    OSHA…gone

    Earned Income Tax Credit…gone

    Child Labor Laws…gone

    National Labor Relations Board…gone…and with it, any legal legitimacy for unions

    Dodd-Frank…gone

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…gone

 

    Let’s face it; all of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society would be the targets of such an atrocity as a Republican controlled government. We know this. Voting Democrat might not be a blow against the machine, but it is an effective way to protect what we have so far. And that’s something…something significant that benefits many millions of people.

    Look, voting Democratic and defending Obama isn’t something to be proud of. It’s an act of self-preservation. If we want better from American elections then we on the left must offer a significant alternative that reaches millions of people who are yearning for it.

    Where the left wing agenda was on the ballot, people voted for it. We have the ideas. We have the people. We even have the networks. What we don’t have is a soundboard that’s going to reach the electorate. Until we have this soundboard, we are stuck with electoral triage.

    More on this as the ideas develop.

    


Are You Better Off Than You Were in 2009?

As Obama Keeps Saying and the Right Keeps Ridiculing

 

For the most part, yes.

Those of us who remember the catastrophe that was the state of the union when Obama took office in 2009 understand that this is, for the most part, true. Let’s be clear. This is not an advocacy for any fantastic Obama miracle, but rather a realistic look at the Obama legacy this last six years. You are more likely to be in better shape now than you were in 2009, statistically, and in actually. That is not to say that there aren’t many Americans who have a legitimate gripe against Obama’s leadership style. Indeed there are. But to suggest that the nation as a whole is not better off than it was in 2009 is a desperate attempt at selective, FoxNoise inflected, false memory. Six years ago, the nation was undergoing an economic free fall by all metrics. We were involved in two wars. The leadership had been so thoroughly delegitimized that we had a harsh lesson in elite capitalism.

In 2009 I lost my job of eight years. I worked, very very hard, for a private school that shut its doors as a result of the recession. For the first time in my life I filed for unemployment, and boy was I living large…at least as far as the Republicans were concerned. The Republican response to this crisis was a multi-billion dollar bailout of Wall Street—nothing but self-righteous platitudes for Main Street. Conservative commentators were busy calling me a deadbeat for losing my job. They reveled in explaining how the economy would improve if only my children and I were cast into the streets left to grovel and starve. That would force me to take any job I possibly could, regardless of my background and experience, just for the opportunity to, maybe, feed my kids. Of course, there weren’t even any minimum wage jobs to be had at that time, but the pundits who were blowing their ill wind seemed to be well taken care of.

My wife and I pooled what resources we had and braced ourselves for hardship as we developed plans for all possible contingencies, most pressingly, what would happen if we could not make our mortgage payments and we had to walk away from the home we had worked so hard to get? What about our kids? What about their futures and their opportunities? With under $500 a month coming in from unemployment, our options were limited. It was one of the lowest moments of my life.

Fortunately, the Republicans were not in charge. President Obama and the Democrats were able to pass a stimulus bill. This stimulus included over $100 billion in funds for education. Some of those fund trickled down into my school district, which had a block on new hiring. The block was lifted and I had a job within three weeks. My home was saved and my family was secure…and remains that way. For that reason more than any other, I voted for Obama in 2012. Republicans did everything they could to block to stop the stimulus. If they had their way, I would have lost everything. For this reason more than any other, I will never vote for a conservative in either party.

Look, I understand that I was lucky. Skill, intelligence, hard work, had nothing to do with my good fortune. I happened to be in a career that was deemed worthy of rescue by the governing party. Had the other governing body been in charge at that time, I would have been out of luck. There are millions who were not so lucky, and many of them remain unlucky in the moribund recovery that we’ve experienced thus far. Some of this blame should fall on Obama…but not all of it. The Republican strategy for the last six years has been to make the nation as ungovernable as was humanly possible.

Regardless, to suggest that the nation is not better off than it was in 2009 is clearly false. More importantly, there’s no way the case could be made that the nation would have been better off with a Republican controlled Congress and a President McCain or a President Romney. Obama may not have been the best person for the job, but he was the best person available. So let’s take a look at some of the relevant data.¹

How about those soaring prices that are all Obama’s fault? Well, it turns out that the certain inflation that would result from all of this “money printing” has never really materialized. Inflation remains constant. Now, this is not necessarily a good thing. Our current economic woes are largely the result of tremendous private debt overhang. Historically, private debt dragging the economy can be relieved with a little higher inflation. However, fear mongering about Weimar levels of inflation were a bit of an exaggeration.

In fact, our economy has been growing fairly consistently since 2009 (the stimulus). It is not growing at the rate that we would like, but it is growing. Better is better.

Unemployment rates have been dropping.

…and this is true no matter how you measure it. Right wing commentators foaming about “Real Unemployment! Real Unemployment!” are simply trying to skew the data.

Unemployment claims have been declining.

And yes, government expenditures for income security have been increasing, but barely. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as there are those who really need these services who are being denied.

 

Meanwhile, the poverty rate is starting to fall. Let’s face it, this is depressing, but it does call the lie to claims that poverty is going through the roof.

What about larger economic issues, like the US trade deficit? Well, it looks like we are making progress on that road as well.

Skyrocketing debt that is out of control under Obama socialism? Well, not quite. Yeah, it’s going up, but not in any scary way. It’s hovering around 100% of GDP. To put that in perspective, that’s like holding a $200,000 mortgage while bringing in $200,000 a year. Not quite so scary as the right wing pundits would have it.

Are growing federal deficits dragging down the economy? Um…maybe that claim could have been made in 2007, but since 2009 it has simply not been true. Hard as it may be to believe, especially if you are caught in the FoxNoisisphere, the deficit has been falling since 2009. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as the economists who have been right in their analysis of this Great Recession from the beginning say that what the economy needs to truly rebound is more spending, not less.

What about evil Obamacare? Surely those out of control premiums are making life a living socialist misery for everyone. Well, no. Though premiums are increasing, they are increasing more slowly than they have in fifteen years. Health care expenditures have been increasing at a fairly steady rate for ten years and actually appear to be slowing slightly. In return, there are now almost twelve million fewer uninsured, insurance companies can no longer turn down the sick for pre-existing conditions, federal subsidies Of course, Mitt Romney and the Republicans had their own health care plan…oh wait, that’s right, Obamacare was the Republican alternative…

…hey, we’ve had this argument. Let’s move on to single payer. Conservatives are probably wrong about that, too.

Gas prices out of control? Yeah, look. The point has been made.

Let’s have a real conversation on Obama’s record. The graphs above are not conclusive, and they are certainly not particularly impressive. There are real criticisms of the Obama Administration. Equally, there are very deep criticisms of the dying embers of our political process, a process by which one party dedicates itself to crippling the other and all else can suffer for it. These are conversations that might be productive. However, ridiculous claims that there has been no improvements in the last six years are just counterproductive.

And disingenuous. It’s a bald attempt to deflect from the fact that the thirty years of conservative Republican and New Democrat governance has created a market environment in which an elite few can cripple the global economy and be bailed out with bi-partisan support, but those representing common people must push their policies past a party system roadblock, and the only party willing to even try more often than not lacks the backbone to actually fight for the people who matter.

Could Obama and the Democrats have done a better job? Absolutely. Can we expect the Republicans will turn things around should they come to power? Well, things will turn around, but they will go back to the bad old days that created this mess.

_______________________________________

  1. For you Scott!

The Push and Pull Factors of an American Refugee Crisis

The United States has to be willing to take responsibility for the harm that it has done to these children!

The appalling behavior of many Americans in the face of our current refugee crisis betrays a profound ignorance of our role in creating the very conditions from which children are desperate to escape, as well as a shameful and disgusting lack of empathy and humanity. Perhaps ignorance is the progenitor of this lack of empathy. Hopefully the inhuman, hateful rapture that so many of our American neighbors have revealed to the world is not an innate failing on our part. If so, then we must address this ignorance. It’s important to develop a sense of social and historical perspective, because apparently, the fact that so many of these refugees are children simply does not matter to the heartless and camera ready elements of our society.

As is true for any problem, the first order of business is to correctly define its nature. First and foremost we must refer to these children for what they are—refugees. This is not a bureaucratic bungle of illegal immigrants for which we are not prepared. These are people trying to escape political and economic tyranny. They are running for their lives. According to Human Rights Watch, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the point of origin for many of these children, are failed states. Citizens in these countries face inhuman levels of violence, exploitation, poverty and desperation. Between the gangs and drug cartels and the oppressive, corrupt governments, and crushing poverty these three nations are among the world’s most violent, most impoverished and least viable.

So what does this have to do with us? As many of my friends on the right say, “it is not our responsibility to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. If they want a decent country to live in, they should make one for themselves.” Of course, implicit in these statements is, “we don’t want their kind in our country messing things up for us.” Regardless, the history of these societies is clear to anyone willing to look. Most of the problems facing Central Americans are our doing. The United States has a long history of interfering with the development of our weaker neighbors. Yet, for the most part, Americans are oblivious to the historical context.

The mid-nineteenth century is identified by American History textbooks as a period of “Westward Expansion.” For Americans living during this time, however, the goal was not so specific. Americans weren’t interested in merely going west. They wanted to expand…everywhere! Canada? Got to have it! Mexico? Take it all! Cuba? You know it! Even Central America? Oh yeah! Around the time that the US acquisition of half of Mexico infused adrenalin into American notions of Manifest Destiny, the United States was competing with Britain for access to the valuable crossing zones in Nicaragua and the Isthmus of Panama. California Gold made these transit routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific even more valuable, prompting Cornelius Vanderbilt to contract with the Nicaraguan government what became known as the Accessory Transit Company carrying hopeful gold prospectors on their way to being busted in California across a treacherous stretch of winding river and jungle trails. Once on the Pacific Coast, passenger ships would carry them the rest of the way. That’s where the real money was during the gold rush.

The fertile lands closer to the equator were also a temptation to southern plantation owners desperate to expand from their increasingly less productive fields. The famous filibuster William Walker met his tragic fate when he and a mercenary army of American southerners briefly seized control of Nicaragua and legalized slavery. To protect his valuable transit routes, Vanderbilt funded a counter strike resulting in Walker’s execution. Though this epic drama was the last for the Accessory Transit Company, it was not the last corporate sponsored tragedy for Nicaragua. Vanderbilt soon abandoned his routes in exchange for hefty stipends from competing transit companies in Panama, but American companies never lost their lustful eye for Central American resources.

Vanderbilt’s wasn’t the only American footprint in the region. American businesses remained interested in the vast possibilities of Central America. The door to the region was thrust open after the Spanish American War made it clear that the United States was an empire, an empire founded on the principles of global business. In 1899 United Fruit Company started to organize in Guatemala. In 1903, President Roosevelt used a shaky interpretation of the United States’ neutrality agreement on the Isthmus of Panama to acquire the Canal Zone. In 1909 the United States sent troops into Nicaragua, where they remained for most of the next twenty-four years. In 1924, the United States sent troops into Honduras. This period of US military and financial interventions in Central America were part of what is known as the Banana Wars and were initiated solely to protect US business interests. US corporations thrived on weak, corrupt governments installed by the US military. In 1935, General Smedley Butler, the most decorated soldier in US history up to that time, described his real mission in the invaluable book War is a Racket:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903.

US interventions in Central American affairs stepped up to a new level during the Cold War. Anything that smacked of socialism, by which was meant attempts to empower the poor, would not be allowed in the Western Hemisphere. In 1954, when Guatemalan President Jacabo Arbenz Guzman dared attempt to redistribute unused, foreign owned lands to Guatemalans he raised the ire of those foreign owners. Namely, his rather reasonable policies infuriated the United Fruit Company. Turns out that one of United Fruit’s board members, Allan Dulles, was also the director of the CIA. His brother, John Foster, was the US Secretary of State. Bad news for Arbenz. He was overthrown by a CIA sponsored coup. Imagine that!

When the US military pulled out of Nicaragua in 1933 as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s so-called “Good Neighbor” Policy, this Central American country came under the rule Anastasio Somoza Garcia. Like a good neighbor, the United States supported Somoza as he executed the popular Augusto Sandino and consolidated his brutal power while allowing US corporations to strip Nicaragua’s resources. When the left wing Sandinista movement overthrew the Somoza Dynasty over forty years later the United States continued to support the right wing Contras. The Contras were the remnants of Somoza’s criminal National Guard and had taken refuge in Honduras. The Reagan Administration illegally funneled millions of dollars in military aid to the Contras, feeding a lengthy, blood and unnecessary civil war. Because this funding was illegal under the Boland Amendment, the Reagan Administration had to find innovative ways to find and launder the money. Their most famous scheme was selling arms to Iran, a known terrorist state, and then funneling the money to the Contras. Another money making strategy was selling drugs. Colonel Oliver North was not only a leading architect of the Iran-Contra Scandal in the late eighties, but was also one of the world’s foremost drug dealers. His network stretched from Colombia, through Panamanian General Noriega into the back-alleys of Crip and Blood turf in Los Angeles and other American cities. This CIA run drug cartel played a significant role in the crack epidemic that ravaged urban communities in the eighties.

In fact, there wasn’t a right wing, despotic dictator in Central America whom the United States did not like so long as he was dedicated to exterminating left leaning political movements. When it became clear that the Sandinista movement was spreading into El Salvador, President’s Carter and Reagan stepped up military support for the brutal, right wing military Junta. This support included training death squads. Many of the officers in these deaths squads received their training the notorious School of the Americas. The School of the Americas, now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in Fort Benning, trained counter-insurgents in the most heinous tactics and sent them off to conduct war crimes against civilians in the interests of the United States and its corporations. In El Salvador, graduates of this house of horrors were responsible for the massacre of over 900 people in El Mozote, the assassination of the heroic Archbishop Óscar Romero and four nuns among others, all for the sake of preventing another Sandinista movement such as had come to power in Nicaragua. Among the School of Americas alumni is Otto Pérez Molina, the current president of Guatemala.

A full description of US atrocities in the Central America would much too extensive and macabre for the purposes of this post. There’s a great deal of in depth historical research for those who want to know more. Such does not have to be reproduced here. The point is that Central America does not exist in isolation from US influence, and hasn’t for a very long time. For about a century, American “diplomacy” in that region has been traumatic and socially destabilizing. In fact, it has been criminal; again, that case can be effectively made elsewhere. This history is an effective retort to conservative whining about taking responsible for refugees when their condition is not our fault. Indeed, by any measure of fairness, the plight of these children is our fault.

Nor is it a valid claim that we are not responsible for the trespasses of our forebears. Unfortunately, the military and economic exploitation continues. Corporate dominance remains the underlying factor in US bullying and butchery. This time, instead of the communist scapegoat, we justify massive corporate militarization under the premise of a war on drugs. Scratch the surface just a little bit and the corporate influence is clear. As with the influence of Cornelius Vanderbilt in the nineteenth century and United Fruit in the mid twentieth, corporate theft of the region’s resources continues.

In the early eighties, President Reagan announced a program called the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). The CBI was set up to provide financial aid and favorable trade status to those nations on the Caribbean that initiated free market reforms and resisted “communist” elements within their borders. Communist elements were, by definition, social programs and movements to benefit the poor including, but not limited to, labor unions.

The success of CBI, which means the increase of corporate access and profits, and the example of NAFTA as a boon to multinationals, has inspired an expansion of so-called “free market” reforms in Central America called CAFTA. Again, attention must be paid to the discourse. Free markets are those in which corporations are free, but not people. For one example, subsidized US agricultural products are dumped freely into Central American, which is not allowed to subsidize its own agriculture because that would be a violation of free market principles. Small farmers in Central America are thus driven from their land, forced to sell, often at gun point, to US agro-businesses. These lands are then dedicated to mono-cultural crops that fetch high profits on the global market without regard to the needs of starving people right next door. The fastest growing agricultural market in most Central American countries is Palm Oil. Meanwhile, the cost of food rises.

Displaced farmers must then migrate into the open arms of other corporate actors, most notably in the garment industry. The consequent glut of poor, desperate labor, in the face of state sanctioned violence against labor unions, means corporations have access to a virtual slave market. “According to an AFL-CIO report in 2008 that investigated maquiladoras in Guatemala, there is widespread sexual violence against women workers, common use of child labor, various forms of anti-union intimidation and violence, blacklists and mass firings, and a general failure to comply with basic labor codes established by the International Labor Organization. Other organizations have pointed to similar trends in maquildoras in other participating Central American nations.”

According to Global Exchange a garment worker, usually a young woman enduring unsafe conditions and every form of exploitation, earns about sixty cents an hour making NBA jerseys. That amounts to about twenty-five cents per jersey. Sixty cents an hour places her income at about thirty percent of the poverty line. NBA jerseys can sell in the US for as much as $140. In the meantime, any effort to alleviate poverty through social means is a violation of global banking and trade agreements. The argument that this is about market forces is bogus. A wage that would lift these workers out of poverty would add no more than $1.50 to the cost of each shirt. Would someone be less inclined to purchase a $140 jersey if the price went up to $141.50? This is about power and exploitation.

The global corporate structure existing in Central America can only be described as economic warfare. That in itself should constitute a valid push factor justifying refugee status for the thousands of children crossing the border. However, this economic warfare exists in conjunction with very real warfare. In the US, we call this the War on Drugs. Central Americans, understand it for what it is—an extension of the economic warfare and corporate imperialism that it is.

Americans are simply unwilling to “say no to drugs” and constitute almost two thirds of the global drug trade. Regardless, American policy, ostensibly to curb the availability of drugs, is military interdiction. Military solutions are the policy of choice in the United States largely because of the size and influence of our military industrial complex. Death and destruction is good business. For instance, the $1.3 billion spent by the Pentagon to provide only electronic equipment to US soldiers in Honduras was more than seven times the Honduran military budget. Now this might prove an economic benefit to Central America if over three quarters of that money wasn’t actually going to American owned firms.

It also helps that the war on drugs is an effective pretext for attacking those who were previously defined as “communist.” In other words, the war on drugs is the excuse for assassinating advocates for labor, land and social reform. In 2010, President Obama created the Central America Regional Security Initiative, perpetuating the war on drugs with money, equipment and training. Unfortunately, most of the police being trained and supplied actually work for the cartels. Indeed, one is left to wonder just how many of those involved in the Central American drug cartels are erstwhile buddies of Oliver North. Meanwhile, corporations often hire their own private armies to defend and serve their interests and investments. Ultimately, the combined forces of corrupt police, US trained military and private security forces are directed at activists and farmers and often collude with the drug cartels for the sake of multi-national business interests.

“Corporations employ large private-security forces that work in close collaboration with the military and the police. In Guatemala’s Polochic Valley, Mayan communities report that the Chabil Utzaj sugarcane corporation—owned by the Pellas Development Group of Nicaragua—enlists armed gangs linked to drug trafficking to attack them. These are the same armed groups that threatened and assaulted communities in the 1980s, also over land rights disputes; this represents the resurgence of the business- and government-backed death squads of the 1980s, which killed and disappeared thousands.”

The “free market” imposed on Central America for the last hundred years has crippled farmers and workers. Citizens destroyed by the legitimate market are understandably and ironically drawn to the illicit market, working for the cartels as the only chance for an economic stake. What difference does it make to the displaced farmer or the victim of the maquila? He was already the target of a corrupt state. Perhaps the growing power of the cartels can provide some security.

This perfect storm of variables, a militarized interdiction against drugs for which demand remains constant, results in increased value for this illicit commodity. As any economist will point out, increased value justifies increased investment and increased risk, bringing greater profits and encouraging more aggressive, violent practices among the competing cartels. It also brings many and varied opportunities to the corporate class. After all, where there’s money, there’s an investment opportunity. The war on drugs has created in Central America a very real war zone. What’s worse is that this is a war zone in which the civilian population isn’t just collateral damage, but often the target in a US/corporate agenda. Every war creates refugees. This multifaceted, multi-layered, impossibly complex economic war is no exception.

When desperate children risk their lives to cross a ridiculously militarized border, they should be embraced by any civilized people on the other side of that line. When those on the other side of that line are in fact the cause and benefactors of their desperation the responsibility to do right by them is nothing short of a moral imperative. Ignorance of the US role in Central American instability is a normal aspect of US culture. This ignorance, however, does not justify the moral failings of willfully turning our backs on children, let alone heaping abuse and insult upon them as they are transported through town. We should be ashamed of our ignorance, yes. We should be ashamed of the crimes being perpetrated in our name, of course. However, the shame that is our historical legacy should we deny universally understood empathy and charity toward children in pain is a disgrace beyond humanity. Such a sour legacy should consign our culture to historical ignominy.


One Political Endorsement I Will Make

Gil Fulbright (or Phillip Mamouf-Wifarts) is running the only honest campaign I’ve ever seen!

This is actually pretty brilliant satire. The campaign finance advocacy group, Represent.us is running a fake candidate in the obnoxiously expensive Kentucky senate election. The goal is to educate the people on just how corrupted our political system is and to call attention to the need to get money out of politics. Check out the Fulbright campaign website and participate by creating your own Fulbright memes. Most importantly, share the videos and lend your support to Fulbright’s “totally honest campaign.”

Good luck to Represent.us.


The Danger of Nationalism to the Development of a New Humanism

In an increasingly globalized world, the last thing we need is a resurgence of nationalism

Ours is an increasingly globalized world. This is, potentially, a good thing. Increasingly, old prejudices and fears based on which side of an imaginary line one happens to be born on are suspect. Expansion of global communication networks and relatively easy and safe travel all over the world are generating a small world consciousness. Human beings living in one section of the world find that they have a lot more in common with human beings living in another section of the world. Our worldview is becoming more multi-cultural. The strange rituals performed in other lands seem less strange, and our own customs subject to scrutiny. As we increase our contact with other peoples our sense of global community increases and our understanding of what it means to be human becomes more expansive and more inclusive. The development of a global culture could, ultimately, be the greatest gift to humanity and the surest road to world peace.

We see this in the Ukrainian conflict. Obama’s dismissal of Russian seizure of the Crimea as a regional problem holds little sway. After all, at the height of the Nation State Era, a regional conflict in Serbia resulted in the first global war. Now, however, mobilizing armies is considered by most to be unnecessary and ill advised. Our economic interdependence is a far more efficient and effective deterrent. Instead of a devastating war, Putin has, under economic and cultural pressure from the international community, abandoned his expansionist rhetoric and has accepted the election of a pro-western president in Ukraine.

This is especially true in Europe. A hundred years ago, Europe punctuated a forty year period of relative peace and prosperity with what was, up to that point, the most devastating war in the history of the world. This bloody record, however, was outdone just twenty years later. Nationalism was the common thread of two world wars that tarnished the twentieth century as the most bloody in human history. A rather centrist nationalism in the early 20th century created the militarism and patriotic zeal that conned young men into dying in the trenches. A generation later, a more extremist nationalism in the form of Fascism and Nazism thrust Europe into World War II. Since then, however, Europe emerged from a period of ideological, Cold War division relatively unscathed for more than seventy years. Yes, nationalist disruptions have emerged here and there, but with far less destructive consequence.

That’s why yesterday’s European Union elections were not good news for human progress. A retrenchment of nationalism is the last thing we need in the face of the progress that the world, especially Europe, has made in the last few generations. The European Union is not a perfect entity. Indeed, it’s imbued with serious flaws as those who designed it were not ready to let go of their nationalist aspirations. Just like all institutions, however, the EU is a work in progress. Despite this, its accomplishments have been significant. The political and economic norms put into place by the EU constitute the greatest unification of diverse cultures in history. That being said, it’s more than disturbing that those the least invested in a European union should win so big in yesterday’s elections.

There was a time when nationalism served the purpose of liberation for oppressed people. Such opportunities are rare, today. Our world is characterized by globalization of human institutions and interests. A global political economy is well under way. A global culture is almost a certainty. More significantly, the most pressing problems facing humanity today are not confined between national borders. A globalized economy means that disruptions taking place in one country have negative ramifications throughout the world. The quest for human rights and freedom in an age when the corporate elite can assert power from anywhere in the world will require great communication, cultural empathy and understanding and organization among all peoples throughout the world. Unstable governments, reeling from the impact of colonialism and exploitation from generations ago are of human interest and global sympathy. Human travel has always been a vector of disease, requiring greater cooperation among all nations if we are to avoid a future scourge. Most pressing, the specter of global climate change requires a global effort, with each nation doing its part not just for the sake of national interest, but the very preservation of humanity.

All of these human endeavors are threatened by a rising tide of nationalism.

The elections in the European Union are the result of the uncertainties inherent in our current world. In the face of the Great Recession, the mis-steps of the European Central Bank and regressive national fiscal policies through much of Europe played no small part in creating this uncertainty. Migrations of brown skinned people from the south and former colonies into relatively more prosperous regions of the north are another crucial factor. If there is anything that right-wing nationalists know how to do, it’s exploiting a moment of instability by scapegoating outsiders to frame their false narratives and draw a following. Watch for appeals to retrenching national boundaries, persecution of minority groups and patriotic exposition in the very near future.

In the end, the European Union weathered its currency crisis better than expected. I’ll let the economists elaborate on that. Can the EU now weather the cultural crisis wrought by instability. This may be the ultimate test of this grand experiment. Those invested in a future for humanity should shake at the prospects.


Militia Activism vs. Occupy

And: The Rained Out Revolution

 

I can’t help but ask myself, what if Occupy protestors in 2010 showed up with AR-15s?

On one hand, being armed may have given law enforcement pause before they use paramilitary tactics to take down the Occupy encampments all over the country.

On the other hand, Occupy was protesting economic injustice, a topic of interest to a majority of the population (albeit not really 99%) and a system of injustice in which the current elite have a multi-trillion dollar vested interest in preserving. Contrast this to the Militia/BLM protestors who simply want to steal from and defile the commons…which is really of no interest to the corporate elite (try riding an ATV through one of the Koch Brothers’ estates and see what happens). To protect their interests, would the elite have called in the military and assaulted Occupy with Apache helicopters rather than swinging batons, tear gas and rubber bullets?

This of course leads me to ponder the reaction of the right wing in the face of an armed Occupy Movement. They seethed with anger over so-called “hippies” pitching tents in public spaces. It’s hard to believe the right would have stepped up and defended these hippies’ 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. After all, commies and anarchists don’t have the same rights as good Christian ‘muricans.

I really don’t have an answer to these questions, I’m afraid. I’d like to think the former option would have been the case, but I fear that I’m wrong…and I really shouldn’t fear that I’m wrong.

For my part, I’m glad Occupy was organized as a peaceful protest. The conspicuous presence of guns would have completely discredited the movement.

___________________________________________________

In related news, did you hear about the right wing revolution that didn’t happen yesterday? Right wing protesters organized a colossal protest against the government. The protest was announced as Operation American Spring, ironically named after the Arab Spring that swept North African and the Middle East. The expected outcomes were to be similar. 10 million-30 million real Americans right wing activists were to descend upon the nation’s capitol, set up camp (occupy) and remain until their demands were met. Their demands included the resignation of President Obama and the Congress.

Well anyway, it turns out that they fell a little short of the ten million person goal. Only a few dozen protestors showed up. Now, to be fair, it was a pretty icky day on Friday so…you know…how do you conduct a revolution in the rain? I mean tyranny must be overthrown, but it’s not worth getting soggy over.

Look, it’s really easy to scoff at these folks, but since the armed standoff in Nevada I’m inclined to take their delusional behavior more seriously. The presence of guns increases the probability that someone is going to get shot.

In earlier pieces I’ve described the right wing as being insulated into closed reference groups. With the existence of conservative radio, television and on-line media there is neither reason nor incentive for those on the right to experience anything but information that reaffirms the truth of their beliefs. Yes, this can also be said of the left, but the messaging of the right is qualitatively different from anything one will experience in left media. Right wing institutions have not only created an insular eco-system, but they’ve also reified an almost co-dependent paradigm that defines the knowledge produced by these organizations as the only source of truth. Only FoxNoise is fair and balanced. Only conservative sources are honest. Anything that contradicts Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity is liberal propaganda not to be trusted. It doesn’t matter the source; ninety-eight percent of climate scientists know that the Earth is warming and that human actions are largely responsible, but that’s a grand conspiracy on the part of enviro-socialists who want to overthrow capitalism.

So these protestors know, they just know, that everyone hates President Obama and the dictatorship he has installed. They know, just know, that they have lost their rights as Americans and they must fight and die (but stay dry doing it) if they are to get their freedoms back. If they just announce the revolution, then millions of people will heed the call to arms and take back our country from this Muslim usurper.

When it doesn’t happen…well…it rained that day. And there’s nothing anyone can say, there is no data that anyone can produce, that will change their minds.

Delusional people who act publicly on their delusions may be funny—and I’ll admit that I had a fair chuckle at the title “Tens of People Descend Upon the Capitol To Drive the Obama Administration Out of Office.” However, delusional people with guns who act on their delusions are potentially dangerous. We really need to keep an eye on this.


 


McCutcheon: Another Nail in the Coffin

The Corporatocracy Strikes Again

 

The recent Supreme Court decision in the McCutcheon case really should come as no surprise at this point. It is clear that the branch of government that is least accountable to the public should take the lead in securing the so called rights of the corporate elite. This is one more nail in the coffin of democratic governance. What is surprising is that Americans, for the most part, really don’t recognize the Supreme Court, at least its five conservative members, as the enemies of democracy that they are.

McCutcheon eliminated the limits on the amount contributors can make to candidates and parties for campaigns. Implicit in this decision is that the wealthy have no real limits. The vast majority of Americans have de facto limits considering that we have to eat and pay our mortgages and such.

As pointed out by Mike Ludwig at Truthout, “Campaign finance watchdogs now estimate that a single wealthy donor could spread up to $3.6 million among candidates, party committees and some political action groups affiliated with a single party during a single election cycle. A single donor could theoretically spend twice that amount by supporting candidates and committees from both parties…” As we know, corporations and corporate owners like to hedge their bets by buying both sides of the debate.

The justification for this plutocratic decision is in the supposed right to free speech which is equated with the ability to spend money. However, any valuation of rights must take into account the extent and limits of said rights even if the premise money=speech is to be taken seriously, which it isn’t. All ethical arguments with regard to rights agree that one’s rights end where another’s rights begin. Your right to shake your fist ends at my face! The potential of big money to drown out any other less lucrative form of “speech” must be taken into account by any ethical decision maker.

An analysis of rights always requires a distinction to be made between what constitutes a “right” and what constitutes “a power.” This is revealed in Roberts’ claim that the government cannot regulate how much money someone can spend on elections any more than it can tell a newspaper how many candidates it can endorse. The ability to spend money is not a right, any more than is the ability to own a newspaper. These are powers conferred through social processes of status and access to resources. I may have a right, as an individual to speak, but if I owned a newspaper, I would have the power to have my voice heard before a larger audience. I do not, as an individual, have a right to my own newspaper. A newspaper is something I can acquire if I have the resources to do so. The same holds true with spending money. Rights are universal; power is reserved for those who can acquire it. That’s the whole point of a society based on rights, to protect the common man and woman from trespasses of power. The creation of the concept of rights is an acknowledgement that abuses of power constitute an injustice and are destabilizing characteristics of society. This ethical and moral implication of rights is ignored, consistently, by the corporate apparatchiks on the Supreme Court.

And there’s the rub. The five conservative members of the Supreme Court are not ethical decision makers. They are cronies of the corporate establishment. We should not expect “justice” or “ethics” to shape their decisions. The very purpose of the Supreme Court is to distort the constitution enough to fit the narrow worldview of the corporate elite, to further empower the powerful at the expense of the Demos. That’s the only explanation for such ludicrous concepts coming off the high bench as “corporate personhood” or “money is speech” or “government speech.” These concepts are not in the Constitution. They are not even inferred regardless of the particular lens of the reader. These are inventions of the corporate elite which have become the dogma of the right wing.

 


An Open Letter to Congressman Trey Radel

On Embracing an Opportunity to Learn

Dear Congressman Radel:

I am one of your constituents from Southwest Florida, though as a liberal, I haven’t been particularly well represented by you and your office. Perhaps that goes without saying. Regardless, I certainly cannot fault you for being a conservative politician, elected from a conservative district, for voting as a conservative. Since I endeavor to be objective, it is apparent to me that your drug problem did not seriously impact your performance as congressman. You were there for most votes. You voted as the majority of your constituents expected. I may not have agreed with your positions, but that does not mean that you did not do the job that you were elected to do.

Nor does it mean that I should take this opportunity to celebrate your personal misfortunes for the sake of political contingency. Regardless of our political differences, you are first and foremost a human being, a husband and a father. Addiction is a difficult challenge for anyone, so I sincerely wish you and your family well. I hope you get all of the help and support that I, as a liberal, believe is your right. Despite your status, and the privileges that go along with it, you still have a difficult task ahead of you. Good luck to you and to yours.

However, I hope that you take this challenge as an opportunity to learn about a segment of your constituency and your nation that shares your challenge. You see, like congressmen, poor people can also fall prey to the allure of drugs and the trap of addiction. Unlike congressmen, the poor cannot take a leave of absence from their position while they get the help that they so desperately need.

Like an addicted congressman, an addicted poor person deserves help. They do not deserve to be punished, and certainly their children do not deserve to be punished, with the loss of life sustaining services such as food stamps. As you know, threats and punishment are not effective means of dealing with the disease of addiction. They are not effective for congressmen; they are even less effective for the poor.

I hope that you first and foremost get the help that you and your family need to restore your health. When all is done, however, it is my hope that you will re-examine your position with regard to the nature of addiction. Doing so will make you a much better representative for those among your constituents who suffer as you do.

With Sincere Regards

Michael Andoscia

 


Don’t Feed the Animals

Beasts are still beasts, despite the cages

 

So a cadre of Democrats and some not totally insane moderate Republicans beat Dr. Moreau’s Tea Party animals back into their rickety cages. Yes, I’m imagining Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in pith helmets with tranquilizer darts and electric prods.

I wish that meant I could lay the Dr. Moreau Theory of Tea Party politics to rest. Unfortunately, the beasts are not gone, they are only their cages after a temporary setback.

…This post has been moved to the New Mad Sociologist Blog. To finish reading, click here.


Dr. Moreau is Back

Do you smell the fires burning?

Just when I thought we might just get through this government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis more or less intact, it turns out Dr. Moreau’s beasts are closer to breaking their chains.

I thought that our one hope, anemic as that may …

…This post has been moved to the New Mad Sociologist Blog. To finish reading, click here.


Looks Like I Could Be Wrong…Thank God!

On Keeping My Fingers Crossed

 

So, it looks like the beasts are not entirely out of their cages after all…

…or they are not quite as bestial as we thought.

Either way, for the time being, we have forestalled a government default. Well…we’ve forestalled the default for another six weeks.

…This post has been moved to the New Mad Sociologist Blog. To finish reading the post, click here.


A Test of the Dr. Moreau Theory of Tea Party Politics

Let’s Call This One

 

Yesterday I offered an admittedly tongue in cheek theory about Tea Party Politics. I called it the Doctor Moreau Theory. Hopefully this resulted in some of my younger subscribers googling “Doctro Moreau”. Regardless, the premise is simple. Corporate interests (without completely ignoring Democrats, for sure) backed ideologically dogmatic Tea Partiers because of their free market purism. They figured they could hold the more monstrous aspects of the far right in check while they received dividends from deregulation and lower taxation…

…This post has been moved to the New Mad Sociologist Blog. To finish reading, click here.


On Right Wing Dogma and Strategy: Crazy Lessons of the Shutdown

Offering the Dr. Moreau Theory of Tea Party Politics

Since it became obvious that the right wing of the right wing was intent on shutting down the government I’ve been trying to make sense of what seems…well…insane. As a sociologist, I like to assume that social phenomena are logically and reasonably explainable. Contemporary politics has really provided a challenge to my theoretical framework.

As a rational strategy, the government shutdown does not appear to make sense. First, President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushed into a scenario in which they simply can’t compromise. Imagine the consequences if every law, passed through legitimate legislative means, were subject to the same blackmail as is the Affordable Care Act…

…this post was moved to the New Mad Sociologist Blog. To read the full post Click here.


Obamacaregeddon is Approaching

And Soon the Conservative Propaganda Machine Will be Revealed for What it Is

 

We just received our first Obamacare notices at the school where I teach. One memo informed me that current policies offered by my employer already meet and exceed the ACA requirements and the other filled me in on the health care Marketplace. In reading these memos, I couldn’t help but wonder how some of my Tea Party friends would respond to this information. There was no mention of a government run health plan that our Congressmen and President refuse to participate in (um…they already have a government run health plan). There was no mention of death panels. Nothing to indicate that we could not choose our own doctors. Indeed, the memos read just like, well, memos. They were totally innocuous.

Yet the right is desperate to kill Obamacare, willing to do anything, including defaulting on our debt obligations, to make sure that it never gets off the ground. This desperation is exemplified by Ted Cruz’s full throttled, ego-stroking, pseudo-filibuster in which he compared letting the Affordable Care Act stand to appeasing Hitler. (Yes, he went full Godwin’s Law). You know, Ted, I looked all through my memos and couldn’t find a single thing about invading Poland or blaming the Treaty of Versailles for our exorbitant health care costs.

That’s just the point, of course. Soon the whole country will start getting memos like the ones my colleagues and I received. Soon, people all over the country will visit HealthCare.gov or state supported exchanges and the truth will be revealed. Premiums will not skyrocket. The government will not intervene in individual health concerns. Yes, they will almost certainly experience setbacks, bureaucratic red tape, snags and glitches, and policies they don’t care for. Indeed, many will bristle at the fact that they were mandated to purchase insurance; who wants to be mandated to do anything? People may not be ecstatic about what they see, after all, buying insurance is never a fulfilling experience, but they will certainly stop being afraid. Once the fear is gone, the right has nothing.

So, in a way, the efforts of Ted Cruz and his FreedomWorks, Tea Party, Koch addicted minions isn’t so much about killing the Affordable Care Act beast before it hatches as it is a desperate attempt to keep the fear alive. If it turns out Obamacare isn’t the dystopian nightmare predicted by the right, then what about all the other apocalyptic signs prognosticated by the neo-cons?

Maybe, just maybe, Weimar level inflation isn’t going to happen as a result of the Stimulus.

Maybe Mexicans aren’t re-invading the United States.

Maybe all Arabs or Arabish people aren’t terrorists out to destroy America.

Maybe there isn’t a secret cabal of neo-fascist, socialist environmentalists allied with every scientist on Earth to trick us into believing in global warming so they can somehow, mysteriously institute their New World Order.

Maybe Obama really isn’t a Marxist Muslim radical. He may even be American.

Maybe there really isn’t a war on Christmas.

I realize that my comments above are snide. Intentionally so. My active involvement in the healthcare debate of 2009-2010 was an eye-opener in the nature of conservative paradigms. Before the healthcare debate I was naïve. I believed that the differences between the right and the left were sincere variations on how we understood the world and the nature of government. Perhaps, occasionally, the rhetoric got out of control. Certainly each side used slanted data and slippery slope arguments to advance their worldview. I saw the debate as an over-all honest competition of paradigms in which the truth would, ultimately, win out.

Then the health-care debate.

As an active participant in the health-care debate I had the good fortune of not being an expert in health policy or insurance. I only knew that my insurance was becoming more and more expensive and offering fewer and fewer benefits. Something had to be done. My research led me to understand that a market model was not an effective means of providing health care to everyone in society. It was my belief that access to health care was a right that could not be understood as a commodity. After all, it is in the market interest of the insurer to not pay for services, yet the interest of the provider to charge as much as was possible for services, while the beneficiary wanted only to stay healthy and could be coerced into paying just about any price. The exchange was too complex and lopsided for a market system. My research indicated that a single payer model was the most optimal. Granted, I knew it wasn’t a flawless model, but it was certainly an improvement over what we had. So when President Obama ran with the public option as the centerpiece of his health care reform, a claim which he has since denied, I was on board. Implementing a single payer system would have been impossible in that political climate, and would perhaps even be detrimentally destabilizing if done too quickly. A public option, however, would allow for a slow transition to a single payer system. In that vein I started an ad hoc group called Fight for Healthcare.

Clearly, we lost.

During this time, however, I was witness to the worst abuses against the rational discourse I had ever seen. Previously I’d been involved in the peace movement and human rights. Yes, people disagreed with my approach if not my vision, but the rhetorical combat over health care was unique to my experience. In arguments over war and peace it is not unusual to hear arguments about an evil enemy constituting a danger to our freedom and way of life if we do not drop lots of bombs on them. Yet in the healthcare debate, the enemy became those of us suggesting that health care was a common good of which our public institutions have a vested interest in securing. We were the enemies of freedom and the right came out swinging. I was willing to accept that I may have been wrong about a single payer system, but I was reasonably sure I wasn’t an enemy of freedom. The debate…well, there was no debate. There was only a rhetorical onslaught of utter nonsense from which we on the left could not recover.

I must admit that we on the left spent most of our time on the ropes deflecting a barrage of blows well aimed at our most sensitive areas. Instead of getting out in front of the debate and defining the paradigms, we found ourselves trying to explain to people that there were no death panels, that this was not a government take-over of our health system, that our rights were not being taken away. Rhetorically, whenever one finds himself explaining what his argument is not, he has lost the debate. The right used every fear held by Americans, whether it was valid or not, to defeat the Affordable Care Act. During the summer recess, conservative groups sent out directives for conservatives to disrupt town halls with false accusations and to shout down any attempt at reasonable discussion. Neo-con superstars were given prime-time slots in which to spew fantasies of government bureaucracies pulling the plug on grandma and forced abortions and access to health care based on political affiliation. They insisted that any attempt to get health care costs under control was the cradle of tyranny. And rational discussion was futile, as their claims were irrational.

Ultimately, conservatives defeated the public option and managed to get the biggest part of the Republican health care proposal of 1993 passed. You’d think they’d be happy. If it was about promoting policy, conservatives would have been happy, but that’s not the game. It was during the lashing we received in the health care debate that I realized that conservatism isn’t a philosophy. It is a strategy. Policies are irrelevant. Conservatism is about tactics. The primary weapon of the right is fear.

This is a power game in which conservatives use fear to cultivate their base and to vilify the opposition. The health care debate of Obama’s early administration was just one example this. As I re-examine the history of conservatism I see that fear is the only real tool the right has to perpetuate itself. To be fair, the conservative base, like the liberal base, is mostly sincere about their beliefs. Like liberals, conservative beliefs are cultivated by reference groups that shape the stories and paradigms told and thus reify a largely unitary worldview. All reference groups do this. This is where the equivalence ends, however. Yes, I will admit that groups like the Center for American Progress is, largely, an apologist propaganda group for the Democratic Party and that they often present skewed data and emotional claims to make their case. However, they don’t typically present information that is clearly not true and fear is not a central theme of its work. There is no central, liberal institution so dedicated to misinformation and fear-mongering as one sees on the right.

Conservative think tanks (or should I say fear tanks) use what may be a natural fear of change, or an innate and cultivated fear of the other, immigrants, commies, terrorists, to perpetuate elite interests. This is almost reactionary. For decades, a socially entrenched fear of communism was the cudgel of right wing attack. Anyone suggesting that the government do something to help marginalized people immediately faced accusations of “socialist” “communist” “Marxist”. This continues. Even before President Obama was able to accomplish anything in his administration he was targeted by the right as an outsider, foreigner, radical. Contemporary uncertainty about the economy inspires conservatives to link any reforms to economic catastrophe—Stimulus will create Weimar level inflation, the Dodd-Frank act will destroy the economy, Obamacare will cause another recession. Be afraid of terrorists. Be afraid of gays destroying your marriage and converting your children. Be afraid of Mexicans taking your job. Fear is always the central theme. Facts are rarely ever offered unless they affirm professed fears. All they have is fear.

This fear-mongering is evident in the notorious anti-Obamacare ad recently released. The ad links “signing on to Obamacare” with the rape a young girl at her most vulnerable. No factual claims are presented. Indeed, the ad begins with a lie that this girl “signed on to Obamacare.” She would have signed on to a private insurer through a marketplace exchange. Facts are irrelevant. The rape imagery is the conservative money-shot. Conservatives don’t want you to know anything. They want you to fear. They don’t want you to think, because even the slightest amount of thought will reveal them for what they are—frauds. They want you to react. Imagery is everything. Substance is irrelevant.

The data does not matter. I’m a huge fan of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but he cannot fathom why conservatives seem immune to factual evidence. Of course he can’t. His life is guided by data and reliable models. Nothing can be further from the conservative mindset. Simply put, factual evidence is the one thing that mitigates senseless fear. Since fear is the fuel of conservatism, factual evidence is verboten. It’s not that conservatives don’t know or understand the facts. It’s that the facts get in the way of the conservative agenda, which coincides with elite interests.

That’s what makes the fulfillment of Obamacare so dangerous to conservatives. The Affordable Care Act itself is not necessarily dangerous to elite interests. After all, the Affordable Care Act created a mandated market for insurance tycoons. Rather, Obamacare can become the peak behind the curtain revealing the true, anemic nature of conservative power.

That’s why Obamacare must be killed at all costs.

But it won’t be. Soon the fraud will be revealed.

Now the conservatives should not worry about losing their base. Those who mindlessly absorb their daily sermons from FoxNoise or WorldNut Daily are unlikely to leave the fold. They will not be turned by any evidence because, after all, anything that contradicts FoxNoise is nothing more than left wing propaganda.

However, the right wing reference groups, like Heritage, and FoxNoise, et. al. will certainly be working overtime to conjure some fearsome phantom aimed at convincing people that the sky really is falling, or to distract them with some other ghoul until they forget about all that silly death panel stuff.

 

 

 

 


The NRA’s Missed Opportunity

To Promote Gun Usage Among Blacks

 

Whenever a tragedy involving guns makes the news, the NRA is the first group to step up and lament “if only the victim[s] were armed the tragedy would never have happened.” Strangely, that paradigm was missing in the highly publicized Trayvon Martin shooting. Perhaps this was just bad marketing.

So when I heard Tavis Smiley suggest to Bill O’Reilly, of all people, that we should, “arm every black person America,” I thought this was the perfect opportunity for the NRA to jump into action. After all, such a suggestion would open the gun market to fourteen percent of the population. Certainly gun manufacturers would clamor for such an opportunity even though Bill O’Reilly thought the comment was “extreme” (really, O’Reilly thought that was extreme).

So when I went to the NRA website I expected to see Smiley’s suggestion splashed in banners across the screen. Let’s encourage every black person to freely exercise his or her Second Amendment rights!

I was surprised to find nothing of the sort.

Strange.

In fact, the NRA did offer Ten Post Zimmerman Lessons, not one of which was the suggestion that Trayvon, or black people in general, should be armed. The list seemed fairly comprehensive. It scorned Rev. Al Sharpton and his “fellow rabble rousers,” further insulting said rabble by calling them “an already unbalanced horde of hopped-up overreactors.” Gee, I wonder who constitutes the “rabble.” According to the article, there were probably as many, “guilt-addled whites as blacks.” Wow. Also included in the ten lessons is a swipe at Hillary Clinton because…well…you know…Hillary Clinton.

But no mention of promoting gun ownership among blacks.

I wonder why.


Snowden Ate My Homework

The US Should Stop Blaming Snowden for its Own Inequities

As a teacher I hear all kinds of excuses for failure. A student, with typical adolescent melodrama, bemoans how difficult my tests are and how I’m ruining his grade. You see, I’m the reason that he is failing. It’s not the fact that, instead of studying, the student chose to play video games, or go to a party, or watch TV. So, clearly, the problem is me.

See how it works?

So I easily recognize the claims made by the US government as just another version of the “dog ate my homework.” Snowden’s revelations were embarrassing to the administrstion for a reason; the administration was doing question about stuff.it’s embarrassing when that stuff is revealed.however, the problem wasn’t the revelations but the stuff that was revealed.

So blaming snowden in for destroying the trust between the United States and its allies is a diversion. It’s no more valid than “the dog ate my homework.”

Snowden is not the reason why our allies are upset with us. Our allies are upset with us because we, meaning our representative government, was spying on our allies. The argument could be made that if you don’t want your allies upset, don’t spy on them.

of course, there’s an added element.

It’s naive to think that our allies didn’t know that we were spying on them. It’s equally naive to believe that our allies on spying on us. So in a way, Snowden’s revelation was the problem. Snowden’s crime is in putting presumably great nations in the absurd position of having to acknowledge publicly, and take umbrage over what they already largely see as the nature of international politics. Now nations all over the world are forced to put on an adequate performance before carrying on as always.

It’s a snowjob on the global scsle.

But it is not one of Edward Snowden’s making. He just opened the inconvenient conversation. This is not a matter of national security or compromised alliances. This issue is about the embarrassment of elite levels of government and putting protocols in place to ensure that such embarrassment never happens again.

But it is in the public best interest that such revelations continue to happen. Whistleblowers are the only available check against state and corporate secrecy.


History is on the Side of the Whistle-Blowers

Those who reveal secret abuses of power are the friends of society and of history

 

Corporal Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are quite the center of controversy. The claim made by the government and the corporate elite is that Manning and Snowden are traitors to their country and have placed our national security at risk by revealing state/corporate secrets. They should face the full severity of the law and be made an example of for those who might be so inclined to follow in their footsteps.

Balderdash!

Is the United States now suddenly less safe due to these blown whistles? If you believe that we are, then you must believe that our enemies did not know about the collateral damage done by drones in their own communities, or the fact that people were being tortured by the US. Could it be that al Qaeda is so technologically backward that it did not realize that any information sent through communication lines could be intercepted by the NSA? But now the gig is up. Everyone now knows that the NSA has significant technical sophistication at hand with which to spy on anyone. Perhaps al Qaeda operatives have never gone to a movie, or bothered to look at the DARPA website.

Indeed, the vast majority of the government’s “national security” secrets, or corporate “proprietary secrets” have nothing to do with national or corporate security. They are about controlling bad press, about keeping embarrassing and even criminal information from reaching the public. Whistleblowers are not a threat to national security; they are a threat to elite privilege. When President Obama claims that he does not know how many innocent civilians were killed in Iraq, or by drone strikes, it is embarrassing when some whistle-blower comes forward and proves that that is not true. When companies claim that they are protecting our privacy, it’s embarrassing when it turns out that they are not. It’s not that we, the public, don’t know that politicians and corporations lie, but if we lack information we are inclined to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true in foreign relations or military matters. When we find out that our leaders really are lying just as much as we always thought, well, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Yet, it does put our political and economic leaders in an awkward position.

Of course, the scariest thing for our leadership is for the revelation of their secrets to become catalysts for change. When Daniel Ellsberg revealed the extent to which the US government lied to the American people about Vietnam he fanned the flames of an already growing anti-war movement. He was called a traitor and put on trial, facing over a hundred years if found guilty. His actions became a crucial part of a larger anti-war movement that may have taken some time to end Vietnam, but was certainly a force that kept American leaders from engaging in more extensive wars up until the post 9/11 era. The first President Bush had the so called Vietnam Syndrome in mind when he insisted upon a limited war against Iraq during his administration. Who knows how many lives were saved?

When Mark Felt, A.K.A Deep Throat, spilled the beans about the extent of the infamous Watergate break-in, he was instrumental in taking down a president. Certainly, the cover-ups and secrecy of the Nixon Administration had nothing to do with national security. Watergate, like most of the secrets kept by those in power, was more about control than it was about protecting American citizens.

After all, did American citizens have to be protected from the knowledge that their country was torturing people in Abu Ghraib? Perhaps the claim could be made that such information could be used by our enemies to justify their violent actions against us. On the other hand, if torturing people is fuel for our enemies, let alone illegal and immoral, then don’t torture people.

When I was a kid one of my teachers taught me that if I felt that I had to cover something up, keep it secret, or lie about it, then it was probably wrong. We don’t keep secret the things we are proud of. We keep secrets for our own advantage. Secrecy is a selfish act of self-empowerment. That is true at personal as well as the institutional level.

That’s not to say that legitimate national security secrets don’t exist. Of course they do. Nobody is suggesting that things like troop movements, strength assessments or infiltration of real terrorist groups should be revealed to the world. Indeed, Snowden and Manning never revealed such information. The power to keep secrets, like any other power, is likely to be abused. That’s the benefit of whistle-blowers to society and to history. It is the daring of whistle-blowers, in the face of astronomical power and the potential for truly dire consequences, that serves as a check against elite power.

As such a check, they must be crushed. For their efforts, there will be no forgiveness and no mercy unless from the humiliated power elite unless we as a public demand it. When Daniel Ellsberg stood trial for the crime of revealing truths that were embarrassed by the elite, the fact that he was already acquitted by a public outraged by the abuse of power he revealed, was certainly a factor in his legal acquittal in the end.

Unfortunately, it appears that we as a public don’t really care about the value and courage of our whistle-blowers either now or in the future. That’s unfortunate. There may be a few more Snowdens out there, but considering the popular ambivalence meeting Manning and Snowden, an ambivalence that puts these two men in danger, it’s likely that future whistle-blowers will think twice about taking such risks.

This is to the benefit of those in power, and to the detriment of the public that deserves to know the truth about the crimes our political and corporate elite are committing in our name.

As it stands, Manning and Snowden are likely to be acquitted only by history.


The Man Who Makes You Equal

The strange and unaccountable power of Justice Anthony Kennedy

 

Yesterday, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote determining that, if you are a minority in an area with a history of voter discrimination against minorities, you don’t deserve the special protections accorded in the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

Today, Justice Kennedy provided the swing vote that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

It appears that equality and justice in the United States is dependent upon the whims of Justice Kennedy.

Who elected him?

Oh, yeah!


The Not So Secret Rise of the Intelligence-Industrial Complex

Why we are complicit in the domestic spying scandal

 

The most noteworthy observation that I have about the great brouhaha over Glen Greenwald’s expose of US domestic spying in The Guardian is how absolutely shocked everybody seems. The press and the social media act as if this is some sudden revelation. We had no idea this was going on. How could we possibly have known?

Frankly, if you didn’t know, then you haven’t been paying attention. You haven’t been paying attention to the news for at least eleven years, and you are certainly no student of history or sociology. After all, governments spy on their citizens. This is no secret. And 9/11 was the ultimate excuse for legitimizing and expanding this practice beyond anything that even J. Edgar Hoover could have imagined. There is nothing shocking or surprising at all.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be outraged by this trespass against our privacy, but part of that anger must be reserved for ourselves. We should have been outraged upon passage of The Patriot Act, which took place out in the open in front of all of us. If we had been paying attention when the final constructs were put in place to create what is in a very real sense an Intelligence-Industrial Complex (IIC), then it would be much easier to do something about it now. Instead, we were cowed by fear and Big Brotherly assurance that the government would take care of us. We never bothered to ask about the costs this false sense of security requires. As it stands, we are facing an entrenched, institutionalized system of domestic spying, which we literally buy into every time we sign up for cell phone service or internet access, or “like” this post on Facebook or purchase Stone is not Forever
and The Revelation of Herman Smiley on-line. (Hey, a guy has to make a living!)

Clearly, we weren’t paying attention when Senator Russ Feingold took a lonely stand against the Patriot Act. In 2001, Feingold made the following statement for the public record for everyone who cared to see:

“Under this new provision all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.”

Hmmm. I wonder what he was thinking. Too bad Senator Feingold was one of the victims of the Tea Party uprising in 2010, or he would still be in office. He did respond to the Greenwald piece, quoted in the Huffington Post, “In 2001, I first voted against the Patriot Act because much of it was simply an FBI wish list that included provisions allowing our government to go on fishing expeditions that collect information on virtually anyone.” In other words, “I hate to say I told you so, but…” He wasn’t alone.

In 2008, James Bamford’s brilliant book, The Shadow Factory revealed with shocking detail the depth of the collusion between US intelligence agencies, specifically the NSA, and the telecommunications industry in spying on American citizens. Though Greenwald’s original piece focused on Verizon (who happens to be my cell phone provider), Bamford pointed out, “By the fall of 2001, Hayden [then director of the National Security Agency (NSA)] succeeded in gaining the secret cooperation of nearly all of the nation’s telecommunications giants for his warrantless eavesdropping program. Within a year, engineers were busy installing highly secret, heavily locked rooms in key AT&T switches…From then on the data—including both address information and content—would flow through PacketScopes directly to the NSA.” PacketScope is an NSA computer system that pulls information from the relay stations. Remember, this was in the fall of 2001, so though 9/11 provided a pretext, the actual technology did not just appear when the Twin Towers fell. It was in the works for quite some time.

Another facet of The Shadow Factory betrays Feingold’s concern that businesses such as the telecommunications industry is being “compelled” to cooperate with the government. In fact, according to Bamford’s research, the relationship between US intelligence and the private sector is much more chummy than that. The intelligence sector contracts for services, purchases products, contracts for high tech systems like the infamous Trailblazer program when cheaper, more effective, in-house products like Thinthread are available. Telecoms even charge fees for wiretapping, a service used by the private sector and by government agencies at the local, state and potentially the federal level. The relationship between the intelligence sector and the private sector that supports it is far from coercive.

In fact, it’s a patronage relationship. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act which, among other things, legislated immunity from prosecution for any private company participating in domestic spying (not the exact words of the legislation, but the very real context). Furthermore, this immunity was made retroactive to September 11, 2001. This act was meant to sunset in 2012, but guess what, it was reauthorized by Congress quite publicly. According to Bamford, “The new law [FISA Amendments Act 2008] provides what amounts to legal immunity to the telecoms, weakens the authority of the FISA court, and gives freer range to NSA in targeting suspected terrorists abroard.”

So, what is this FISA, thing? Well, that requires a bit of a history lesson.

Well, in case you thought that domestic spying was some new innovation masterminded by George W. Bush and his secret sidekick Barack Obama, it turns out that the United States has a much longer history in spying on citizens. It is not a specific construct of the so called “post 9/11 era” as many commentators are suggesting. Investment in intelligence goes all the way back to President Washington, but the real evolution of American intelligence took place in the twentieth century with the foundation of the Bureau of Investigation (Later the Federal Bureau of Investigation). The Bureau was involved in extensive domestic surveillance against those considered to be enemies of the state, namely socialists, communists, anarchists and other radicals. The power of the FBI expanded dramatically during the half century tenure of the notorious J. Edgar Hoover, whose abuses of power are legendary.

The next great expansion of American Intelligence came in 1947 when President Truman signed the National Security Act. This crucial law established the legal and bureaucratic framework for the modern intelligence community. This was the law that created the National Security Council (NSC), the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Truman later added The National Security Agency, so central to today’s story, in a secret memo shortly before he left office. As written, the National Security Act of 1947 specifically prohibited these agencies from engaging in domestic intelligence for fear that such power would be abused. This fear existed because, well, this power had already been abused most dramatically with the Palmer Raids of the 1920’s and the Espionage Act of World War I.

There was good reason to be afraid of abuse. In the 1970’s a domestic spying scandal erupted over a program called COINTELPRO. This secret program was revealed by a Senate committee chaired by Frank Church. The Church Report exposed the efforts of the intelligence community, most notably the FBI in using surveillance, infiltration, burglary and intimidation against such enemies of the state as Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP among others. According to the report, “…our investigation has established that the targets of intelligence activity have ranged far beyond persons who could properly be characterized as enemies of freedom and have extended to a wide array of citizens engaging in lawful activity.” This revelation, and the ensuing scandal led to the passage of, among other laws, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 1978 (FISA).

FISA requires intelligence agencies to seek a warrant from a special, secret court before it could engage in electronic surveillance. As it turned out, the FISA court was hardly ever a protection of Constitutional rights. It was largely a rubber stamp process. Much of which is largely irrelevant here since the Supreme Court has ruled that your e-mails, once sent through a server or third party, are not subject to expectations of privacy and, therefore, a warrant is not required. In fact, much of this information is proprietary of the company providing the service. As property, it can be sold, even to the government.

This collaboration between the private sector and the government intelligence community is nothing new. It is embodied in former President George H. W. Bush. Bush was a successful businessman, though a somewhat less successful politician. His access to politics led to a UN ambassadorship and an appointment special envoy to China. Later, he was made Director of Central Intelligence. The connections between Bush’s business interests, political experience and intelligence service were overlapping rather than linear. This is true for the intelligence sector as a whole. The Central Intelligence Agency has a long history of recruiting from the same pool as major corporations seeking high level executives, namely the Ivy League (Bush was a Yale man). A stint in the intelligence sector looks really good on the resume.

In 1956, as the intelligence sector was just getting started, sociologist C. Wright Mills published his most influential work, The Power Elite. In this book, Mills offers a detailed description of the American Power Elite, who they are and how they stay at the top. According to Mills, the power elite is comprised of the leaders of major corporations, high level officials of the executive branch and the brass stars of the Pentagon. These three institutions reinforce and support each other. Presidential cabinets are often comprised of industry executives. Military contracts go to top corporations. Major corporations provide financial support to presidential candidates and their allies in Congress. White House and Pentagon officials often enjoy their retirements by serving on corporate boards or being paid as consultants. President H. W. Bush, for example, spent much of his post presidential years as an advisor to the Carlyle Group. Even President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, expressed his concern over the growing power of what he referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex.

Mills recognized that the overlapping interests of what he referred to as the corporate rich, the chief executives and the warlords, their mutuality in perpetuating their interests and the interchange of individual actors between these institutional sectors as constituting a unified elite. I think if Mills were to re-write his master work today he would include the intelligence sector in his analysis. At the time of his research the intelligence sector had just begun its ascendancy, though Mills does mention the NSC with an admonition on government secrecy.

This mutuality is evident between the telecom companies and government. According to opensecrets.org, Verizon (the focus of Greenwald’s piece) provided over $4 million in campaign contributions. Over a quarter of a million dollars went to President Obama’s campaign coffers, but almost $150 thousand went to Mitt Romney (just in case). Verizon spent $15 million lobbying and of 123 lobbyists working for the company, 98 had previously held positions in the federal government. The telecommunications industry as a whole spent over $50 million lobbying and over 71% of their lobbyists had government experience.

In return for their investment, (and make no mistakes, this is investment, not political speech) telecommunications companies received over $30 billion in tax subsidies alone. This constitutes over 13% of all tax subsidies. That’s just telecommunications. This does not include software or IT or any other ancillary services that the intelligence sector might need. This does not include the potential billions in government contracts that may be doled out, much of which comes from a top secret budget.

The symbiotic nature between the intelligence sector and the private sector constitutes what could be considered a “complex.” In an uncomfortable play on words, such symbiosis makes confronting this system even more complex than railing against the bare injustice of knowing that your personal information is not so private.

It does not help, however, to feign shock and ignorance over a program that came at us from out in the open. This is exactly the system that we signed on to when we were told to be afraid of the communists in the fifties. The abuses of this system are exactly the abuses we admonished in the seventies. So long as we let the government run unchecked in order to protect us from the terrorist boogeymen, then we have only ourselves to blame when that power is abused. We watched the government pass the Patriot Act and said nothing. We watched the government pass the FISA Amendments and said nothing. We’ve already given our tacit approval.

Bush and Obama may have played the scoundrel, but we have been willing victims. If anything, the lesson is ours to learn.

PS: Project Censored has a great database on related stories that we really should have been paying attention to. Click Here


The Debt Ceiling Will be Raised. Period.

No matter how much the conservatives in Congress and pundits across the spectrum want this to seem like some kind of colossal showdown, the bottom line is—as always—the bottom line.

 

Why do I seem so confident in the prediction that the debt ceiling will be raised? First, raising the debt ceiling is what the government does. The debt ceiling has been raised over a hundred times since 1940. Only once was it ever an issue, 1995 when the Republicans under the leadership of Newt Gingrich tried to bluff President Clinton into cutting taxes and entitlements. President Clinton called the bluff, shut down the government and showed conservatives for the raving ideologues that they are. The Republicans were bluffing then, and as will be shown below, they are almost certainly bluffing now.

What? Saint Reagan raised the debt ceiling more than any other president since World War II? Who knew! I’ll bet conservatives were really pissed that he did that.

Clearly, Republicans are not ideologically averse to raising the debt ceiling. As has been demonstrated in earlier posts, Republicans love their big government and their deficit spending despite their protestations to the contrary. Granted, when measured in dollar amounts, Democrats still hold the record.

Now the pundits want to sell the great Manichaean conflict between left and right, and the debt ceiling issue is a prime discoursive arrangement for perpetuating this marketable myth. After all, conflict sells advertising space, even if it is false conflict. Liberals want to perpetuate the myth that conservatives are crazy enough to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States in the name of ideological purity. Conservatives want to perpetuate the myth that they are ideologically pure enough to draw the battle lines with the socialist opposition.

Both claims are false.

Republicans, representing conservatism, are the handmaidens of the corporate elite. Democrats, aren’t much better, though they do have some slight loyalty among the liberal punditry.

So here is the aforementioned “bottom line.” From Open Secrets, the following data.

As you can see, the Republican Party is in the pocket of finance. The GOPs favor from Wall Street is a statistical embarrassment. To be fair, though the investment is clearly lopsided, the money doled out to the Democratic Party is not exactly chump change.

There is no way that the Republican Party is going to discredit US treasury bonds when their patrons rely so deeply on this safe investment. Private pension funds hold over $600 Billion in US debt, while state and local governments carry another $700 Billion. Banks and insurance companies are depending on the United States to pay off on over $500 Billion in treasuries. Mutual funds hold over $800 Billion. All of this otherwise stable debt, US treasuries still considered among the safest investments in the world, is tied in with more risky investments, perhaps carrying the weight of countless private investments.

Any move that might risk these investments would be frowned upon by the corporate elite so ardently served by the Republicans (and only slightly less dogmatically by the Democrats).

Republicans are not crazy, they are regressive neo-feudalists, but they are not crazy. Surely, they are not crazy enough to bite the hands that feed them.


Ninety Percent of us Absolutely Know, Know, Know that Federal Spending is Out of Control!

Which Means that 90% of Americans Don’t Know What They are Talking About!

 

Most of this data comes from those left wing hippies at the St. Louis FED.


Click Here for Source for Chart Above






Guy Who Doesn’t Know How To Read Data: “Look, the federal deficit is going up!”

Guy Who Knows How to Read Data: (Scratching his head) “No. The y-axis is in negative numbers. The federal deficit is going down.” (Shaking his head)

 

And for those of you who love your charts and graphs, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank FRED interactive is wicked cool! It’s too bad more people don’t do their own research.


Ninety Percent of us Absolutely Know, Know, Know that Federal Spending is Out of Control!

Which Means that 90% of Americans Don’t Know What They are Talking About!

 

Most of this data comes from those left wing hippies at the St. Louis FED.


Click Here for Source for Chart Above





Guy Who Doesn’t Know How To Read Data: “Look, the federal deficit is going up!”

Guy Who Knows How to Read Data: (Scratching his head) “No. The y-axis is in negative numbers. The federal deficit is going down.” (Shaking his head)


And for those of you who love your charts and graphs, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank FRED interactive is wicked cool! It’s too bad more people don’t do their own research.


Senator Rand Paul: Credit Where Credit is Due

Kudos to Senator Rand Paul for Standing Up for What is Right and Standing Up in the Right Way

 

Now that I actually have a few minutes with an well rested mind to sit down and offer some insights, I find that there is so much to comment on and so little time. Where do I start?

Well, of all of the things that have been going on in my mind, I figured I would do something that I’ve never done before.

I’m going to say something nice about Senator Rand Paul.

In fact, I’m going to say two something nices about Senator Rand Paul.

I know! Right!

Followers of this blog and other writings know that I am not in the Rand Paul fan club. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule. Early this morning, Senator Rand Paul ended a six hour filibuster (yes, a real, honest to goodness, Mr. Smith goes to Washington style filibuster. More on this below) to protest President Obama’s policy with regard to assassinating American citizens, potentially with the use of flying killer robots (drones).

In 2011, President Obama ordered the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. The strike was carried out remotely by drone. Al-Awlaki’s alleged active support for and with al Qaeda was the justification for this action, so it was nothing more than a simple military action in the larger war on terror. But was it? That is the question. To what extent does war, even a war with a faulty premise such as the so called “war on terror”, justify the abandonment of human and Constitutional rights? If the government had evidence on al-Awlaki, and knew where he was, why not bring him in and let him stand trial. Due process is the cornerstone of human rights. Perhaps al-Awlaki was not someone to mourn, but rights on not predicated on such thin contingencies.

Now much of the argument with regard to al-Awlaki is based on the fact that he was a US citizen. Extending the argument to consider his rights not as an American citizen, but as a human being is a matter for future blogs. The question now is, how far does the President’s power extend with regard to killing Americans without due process (that’s not to say that killing Americans with due process is hunky dory, as has been addressed on this blog: See here, and here, and here).

Does the President of the United States have the power to order an assassination strike on an American on American soil? According to President Obama, the answer is yes. He and Attorney General Holder assure us that there is sound legal reasoning justifying this policy. Unfortunately, in a bit of Kafkaesque irony, We the People are not allowed to see it. Nice.

President Obama’s policy on assassination, let alone assassinating American citizens, is not just unconstitutional and against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is immoral. Yes, there may be unfortunate circumstances in which the President might have to order the death of Americans, such as the case of 9/11 when the order was given to shoot down air-craft suspected of targeting the White House or Capitol. The American people and the jury of history would define such circumstances as tragic necessity. That’s not what this is about, as Obama and Holder well know. This is about a policy of assassination.

Kudos, Rand Paul, for so dramatically highlighting this issue on the floor of the Senate.

As an aside, I would also like to thank Rand Paul for holding an actual filibuster. For four years now the Republican Party has crippled the legislature via procedural filibusters requiring no sacrifice on their part. Senator Paul broke with that tradition by actually standing for six hours before his peers and spoke until he, “could no longer speak,” to emphasize his commitment to this cause. Hopefully he reminded his party of just what the filibuster is meant to be.