Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Nation in a Nutshell

In a nutshell, the situation nationally as I see it is this: 

(1) At the heart of everything, our economic balance, envisioned like a pyramid, is essentially standing on a single top-heavy point where the majority of our resources go to the Top 1%, rather than shoring up public infrastructure and supporting the bottom 90% of the economic base. This situation is unsustainable and untenable. Traditionally, when societies are at this point, they tend to tip over into chaotic and violent revolution. The powers-that-be are terrified of this eventuality.

(2) Demographically, the country is changing, which means that the white power-majority will soon be a minority regime. This, like the tipping over of economic balance, frightens many whites of all classes, who expect to be treated in the same manner that whites have treated everybody else for the past 400 years. In order to stay "on top", the leaders of the old order are using increasingly sophisticated and brutal forms of control, from rigging the economic game against the average person to undermining public education to mass surveillance to the brutal enforcement tactics of ever-more-militarized police forces. The fear of this demographic change -- as exemplified in the Regressive mind by Obama himself -- is a major part of what's spurring the massive resurgence of public racism that we're currently seeing. 

(3) The above two truths have led to the steady handing over of direct control of governmental power and policy to private moneyed interests over the past 35 years, which has all-but eradicated accountability to the citizenry. This merging of private corporate power with public governmental power is exactly Mussolini's definition of Fascism. As a result, both the military and police forces have positioned themselves where they are no longer required to follow the laws that they're sworn to uphold and defend. As the average person grows more desperate under increasing control, the more draconian the attempts at control by the military and police will be. 

(3) The ultimate trump card to all this is that the planet itself -- likely spurred on by humanity's irresponsible use of planetary resources -- is starting its periodic climate shift. While humanity as a species has survived at least one, if not two such shifts in our 100,000 year history, such shifts bring with them catastrophes of Biblical proportions. No matter how large a portion of humanity survives the next inevitable round, society as we know it will fundamentally change, likely reverting back to a proto-feudal state, where some "developed" areas will resemble a combination of "Mad Max" and Medieval Europe and the rest of the world will revert first to violent chaos and then to primitive hunter-gatherer status.

We as individuals have some hard choices to make on how to handle all this. We can fight to reverse the Fascist trends to which things are heading (Some may say it's too late. The idealist in me says it's never too late to try); We can give up trying, submit to Fascism and let history take it's course; Or we can try and anticipate the coming changes and do what we can as individuals to adapt.

The choice is up to us.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Can't Breathe

I’ve been pondering over the last week how best to express my feelings at the sheer audacity of two nearly identical incidents of white police officers murdering unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, and walking away scot-free, with little to no accountability for their actions.  

The failure of two Grand Juries to indict these cops, confirming years of To Kill a Mockingbird cases across the country for far too long,  combined with the over-militarization of police forces around the country tells me that the deepest cornerstone of American Law – specifically the Rights of Miranda and Habeas Corpus has effectively been taken away from the citizenry. 

That by itself is enough to send Patriotic terror through my very soul.  What’s worse, though, is that a very big obstacle to fixing this issue is that too many are still clinging to the opinion that the cops are justified in using lethal force against unarmed citizens.  These are content-weak and vitriolic attempts to make what clearly is an issue of police management and racial equality NOT about what these cases clearly are all about.  

I’ve heard a lot of variations on “He broke the law and deserved what he got”.  This is what’s known as blaming the victim. Nobody – regardless of race, creed or color -- deserves a summary execution without trial for shoplifting, nor does anybody deserve a summary brutal execution for standing up for themselves when a cop harasses them without reading them their rights.  There's submitting to rule of law and then there's submitting to the abuse of law.  The two are very different things. What this argument essentially is calling for is the blind and knee-jerk submission to the law, even if it's very clearly being abused -- arguments in line with Loyalist thinking back in the 1770’s.  As history has shown, those arguments didn't hold true then and it doesn't hold true now.

He was resisting arrest” is another common refrain I’m hearing from police supporters, which I’d say is one of the main variations of the victim blaming argument above.  In Eric Garner's case, we have the video.  He's very clearly doing what any of us would do if we were running out of a store we'd stopped off at to stop a parking ticket from being put on the windshield of our standing car.  Yes, bootleg cigarettes are illegal, but on the same level as parking in a “no parking” zone or jaywalking -- certainly not deserving of tactics designed for hostage-takers.

But the way things are now, for a white person like me, trying to reason with the cops is acceptable behavior and the worst I can expect is to be handed a ticket anyway.  For a black person, it's a death sentence.  This double-standard has already bled over from merely the minority communities to all economically disadvantaged and downtrodden – no matter their skin color.  Children are literally dying every day in America at the hands of a police force that has become an occupying army, rather than a band of officers of the peace.

Are you comfortable living in a society in which your own kids or your kids’ friends stand a good chance of getting gunned down by a uniformed cop for jaywalking and having no avenue to seek redress? 

For those of us who’re getting off of the sidelines and standing up, most are objecting to the abuse -- not the rule, but the abuse -- of law and figuring out for ourselves how we as citizens can do something about it so that the law can serve the interests of the average person, as it was designed initially to do. I can't imagine anything more quintessentially American. It's not a question of "America: Love it or Leave it", as so many Regressives will default to, it's a question of how to fulfill the Preamble of the Constitution and do what we can to perfect an imperfect Union.

When it comes to peace officers, we allow them a badge and a gun as the privilege that comes with the responsibility of holding to the highest standards of ethical behavior.  Now, we have incident after incident after incident after incident of cops targeting minority communities for non-violent misdemeanor crimes and using excess – often lethal -- force every time.  There are simply too many cases of deliberate excessive lethal force among the cops over too long a period of time for the “few bad apples" argument to carry any weight.  The entire police force – including the “bad apples” that perpetuate violence and the “good apples” that refuse to check their brothers-in-arms – has been exposed as unworthy of their position across the board.  While excessive force is this commonplace and legally sanctioned, I'm afraid anybody who wears the uniform is now officially suspect.  I advise all my readers to avoid contact with the police at all costs.

The whole point of Habeas Corpus and Miranda is that the citizen should be protected from unwarranted search and seizure. The fact that the cops are ignoring this -- in particular with the minority community -- should be enough to make even the most ardent Regressive take notice.  

And to those who inevitably accuse me of “race-baiting”, I can only say that it's not and never was “race-baiting” to point out real systemic racism.  Asserting that it is essentially is a "know your place, N-word" argument that doesn't hold up in the face of facts.  As a white man from an upper-middle-class neighborhood, I grew up with certain privileges as a citizen. It's hardly "race-baiting" to insist that my fellow citizens be guaranteed the same rights and privileges I enjoy when they most clearly aren't getting that guarantee.

While all of us as citizens have a duty to stand up with respect, dignity and civility, the real burden of responsibility remains with those holding the badge.  Since those carrying badges won’t stand up for the legal inborn rights of the citizenry, then it’s time for us – We, the People -- to stand up and do it ourselves.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Secular Liberalism's True Enemy is Fundamentalism -- No Matter Which Religion

In regards to the whole Bill Maher-Sam Harris-Ben Affleck "feud", I have this to say:

I'll cede that Affleck was rude and inappropriate -- and at very least deserves to be held in detention for a few periods by Emily Post. Speaking for myself, though, I personally disagree with Harris for the simple reason that he and Maher fell into parroting the same old Bush-era rhetoric that, were it not involving Muslims, they'd otherwise condemn as a FOX soundbyte. Yes, Islamophobia does in fact play a part in all this.

There's a bigger enemy to Liberalism in the world than the bogeyman of Saladin, and I think Harris and Maher are missing it.

From what I can see, trying to look at the world as a whole, Religious Fundamentalism is springing up around the world across all cultural lines. Christian fundamentalists here at home are inciting violence nearly as barbaric across the USA and in Europe in many forms, from physical violence to terror threats on individuals to passing of discriminatory local and state laws. Think of all the Christian laws being passed across the USA that attack the Liberal Values that Maher champions in the same ways the Taliban did early on, from forced prayer in public schools to re-writing science books to fit a idiot's literal interpretation of scripture. Think of the Christians who murder doctors or attack women in mobs at abortion clinics for "disobeying God's Law".

I don't condone Muslim fundamentalist beheadings any more than I condone lynchings or shootings in the name of Christ. Personally I consider the two examples to be different flavors of the exact same thing. Theocracy is on the rise in the world. It doesn't matter if it's in the form of some Muslim Bogeyman or Pat Robertson, because in the end, it all boils the same thing -- all of us, free-thinking, reasonable peaceful thoughtful people are being increasingly attacked just for being free-thinking, reasonable, peaceful and thoughtful people who may not fall into line behind the "right" version of "God". That's what's happening in the Muslim world and that's what's really starting to happen in the West.

Bush-era rhetoric leaves no room to think about anything other than the Muslim Bogeyman, and so long as we're focused on the Muslim Bogeyman, the American version of the Taliban will keep winning. I'd have hoped Harris and Maher would've known better than to fall into that particular trap.

That said, here's the article Harris posted in regards to that same show. I leave it to you guys to decide and debate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why I Debate Regressives

I recently got into a debate on Facebook regarding the Koch Brothers.  

My opponent was a typical "Free-Marketer" who argued that the Koch Brothers' attempts to create a Corporate Feudal Aristocratic Oligarchy in this country was somehow a good thing -- using the usual "well, they're not the only ones" argument -- and that any protections for the average person by the government -- such as raising the minimum wage -- was somehow detrimental to the general welfare of the nation at large.  Obviously, this became a days-long, protracted nightmare of untangling false equivalencies and teaching remedial civics and economics to someone who clearly should know better.

"But, FUP," you might ask, "Why on earth do you continue to debate these people who either lack the ability to do their research or have a vested interest in promoting Regressive talking points?

It's a good question, one that my girlfriend asks me whenever I get into these debates.  I usually end up glued to my screen and in a foul mood until either my opponents shut up or I throw my hands up in disgust.  I'm obviously not going to change anybody's mind or have any real impact on the audience who probably has long since stopped reading the back-and-forth.

But that's not why I do it.

I continue to debate in these online forums for myself.  The practice of these wordy head-butting exercises helps me hone my arguments into something that can't be easily picked apart.  It educates me on things that I might not be otherwise aware of, as I usually am also going through several search engines' worth of research to back up my arguments with verifiable and certified facts.  

When 9/11 happened, I was 20 years old and had a tough choice to make -- to join up and defend my country through force of arms while it was under attack or not to join my friends in enlisting.  Thankfully, I'd had a very good education -- probably the last class of my generation to attend a public school where critical thinking, particularly about politics and history, was drilled thoroughly into us.  I'd already learned how to read between the lines of political talking points and to do my research on what the talking heads on the television were saying.  

I realized, very quickly, that joining up and fighting in a foreign land that had officially no real connection to the tragedy of those days was not going to further my goals as a patriotic citizen.  It was already public knowledge that companies like Halliburton, Exxon and the rest that had strong ties to the new Bush Administration were chomping at the bit to use the American Military as a tool for their own profit.  

Having already read authors like Sun Tzu and Julius Caesar's commentaries on conquest, having already a strong familiarity with American Revolutionary writers such as Thomas Paine and having done my homework on the situation at hand, I decided that, instead of becoming canon-fodder for the profit of interests that were trying to turn my country into a one-party state, I could better serve my country as an informed citizen, on guard at home against the forces that would erode our national systems from within.  To me, that was always the gravest threat of all.

To me, engaging in debates with those who disagree continues to be my form of exercising and defending the Free Speech that is the quintessential American Right.  As a free-born citizen in what still claims to be a democratic republic, I take it as a civic responsibility to debate the issues facing my country with my fellow citizens.  As these debates progress, I become a better informed citizen and learn tactics that might help others in better positions than I am to make a positive difference.

And, if nothing else, these debates end up creating wonderful source material for posts in here.  What could be more definitively American than to continue Ben Franklin's tradition of self-publishing into the 21st Century? 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Corporate vs Public Power -- What is Fair?

In my last post, I made a point about the quintessential American-ness of keeping the power in our society rooted in the Public, rather than Corporate hands and it seems appropriate to examine that idea further.

When we think of the American Businessman, the Entrepreneur or small business Owner, we invariably envision someone rugged, clever, driven and -- ultimately -- accessible to the customer.  We envision the guy who owns the diner down the block, or the woman who runs the clothing store across town.  We envision people like ourselves, who interact with their customers and employees face-to-face and are involved in the community.  It's people like that whom we most respect.  In the case of the small business, if the business goes down, so does the Owner.  If their efforts succeed and grow, we applaud them for their success because we feel that we, collectively, had a small part in it.  They're democratic, for their interests are closest to the People at large.

Then we look at Corporations.  At its heart, a Corporation is a legal way of shielding a business owner from the risk and liability of operating a business.  If the business goes under, the Owner gets to walk away without taking a hit.  These are large entities employing hundreds, often thousands of workers who rarely -- if ever -- meet the person who signs the checks.  They are strictly stratified and regimented, each with their own hurdles in place to keep the majority of employees from moving up the ladder and advancement is usually more easily accomplished through pre-existing personal relationships ("partner's son needs a position") than it is through how well one does one's job.  

And the bigger the Corporation, the more feudal its culture becomes.  Whereas in a small business the owner's best interests lie in keeping up a good long-term relationship with his or her employees -- in order to produce the most consistently-excellent product or service -- in a Corporation, employees become short-term cogs in a larger machine, easily, anonymously and cheaply replaced.  And in most cases, the Corporation's best interests lie in finding the shorter-term, cheapest and most anonymous employees, rather than in long-term good partnership.

In American culture today, there's a widely-held confusion between the two.  Corporate interests would have us believe that they're no different than the mom-and-pop stores that epitomize the American Dream ("Corporations are People"), when in fact, they're the exact opposite.  A single business or entrepreneur might eventually command large sums of money, but a large multi-national Corporation often controls as much -- if not more -- land, money and resources than most countries on the planet and can be checked only by the force of Law.  If any structure is inherently anti-democratic, it's the Corporate Pyramid.   

Now one of the big questions that our nation is dealing with is this:  In whose hands should the power in our society be placed?  Corporatists, Regressives and Libertarians would argue in the name of Individualism that it should be placed squarely in Corporate ("private") hands and condemn the very idea of Public participation in or benefit from the governance of this land as "Socialism".  These forces are working tirelessly to ensure that our governmental power stays in Corporate hands, and rulings such as Citizens United, which legitimized Corporate purchasing of our voting process and  the upcoming McCucheon Case will open the floodgates to legalized bribery even further.  

I would argue that the whole purpose of the Voting is to keep social power in the hands of the Public.  With each person casting a single vote, the will of Society at Large becomes evident and our system was set up to be accountable to that mechanism -- and thus, the will of the People.  It is the very definition of the American System.  Now, that all changes when money starts replacing votes as the means of election and the mantra of "Corporations are People" is very clearly trying to replace the social power of the Vote with the buying power of Money.

So what constitutes "fairness" in the situation?  One-person-one-vote, where each individual gets a say in what happens on the national and local level or a single entity, endowed with nigh-infinite resources dictating to the rest of us?  The choice to me is clear.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Social Contract -- and the Libertarian Rejection of It

The social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.

― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

I was in an online debate a few days ago with a so-called Libertarian and was struck with what he was saying about “Individual Rights” and how Society oppresses the Individual .  It made me think about the relationship between the Individual and Society and I quickly realized that the Libertarian Platform rejects the Social Contract that is the basis for Society. 

In any group of people, be it a neighborhood, a community , a town or a nation, there’s a tacit understanding that we’re all in this together.  For example:  we all follow the same rules of the road when driving.  While those rules may infringe on my ability to drive on whichever side of the road I please whenever I please, what I gain by  sacrificing that ability is the assurance that I won’t have someone driving at me on the wrong side of the road with impunity, because every other driver is subject to the same rules as I am.  A hermit may say, “I’m  all alone on the road.  Who the hell is anybody else to tell me how and where I can drive?”, but anybody on the road with other people sacrifices the right to ask that question for the necessary privilege of driving with other people around.

I’ve often asked if we want a society that says to each of us “We’re all in this together” or “You’re on your own.”  I would argue that  if the Founders DIDN'T agree that "We're all in this together" was the foundation principle of the society they were building, they wouldn't have made the national motto "E Pluribus Unum" (“From the many, one”).   I would say that Libertarians are very much mistaken that "We're all in this together" implies a giving up of individual rights. It merely means that NO ONE individual has the right to dictate everybody else's rights.  A monarchy is the ultimate form of an Individual triumphing over society, and I think we can all agree that the Constitution was specifically designed to prevent a monarchy from taking power.

The purpose of the law isn't to oppress people...it's to protect people from being oppressed. So what happens when you have someone "legally" doing to people what by any standard IS oppression – which is what the corporate forces are currently doing when they buy our legislators and undermine the regulations that keep the Market fair?  Let’s use as an analogy the most basic social interaction we all grow up with – the school yard.  What is a teacher  supposed to do when a bully is stealing a smaller kid's lunch money?  The responsible thing to do would be to protect the smaller kid from the bully.  But when it comes to our society, Libertarians assert that regulation -- the governmental teacher stepping in to protect the smaller kid in our story --amounts to infringing on the bully's "individual right" to steal from the smaller kid.  This analogy works for the corporate takeover of our nation – and corporate-backed Libertarian and Regressive pundits are the ones pushing the hardest for the proverbial teacher (our government regulations) to not intervene.

Their "individual rights" argument is one that ultimately boils down to saying that the bully has the right to steal the smaller kid's lunch money and that the teacher has no right to intervene on the smaller kid's behalf.

When the Social Contract that's built into the Constitution is often condemned as “Socialism”, we have to understand that the people who’re doing the condemning are attacking the Social Contract, either by deliberately or ignorantly confusing it with Marx’s concept of Collective Ownership and Stalin’s Gulags. It's hardly Marxism -- in fact, it's quintessentially American -- to insist that the governing power of our nation remain in public, rather than corporate hands.

My whole objection to the Libertarian stand is this -- it has no check or balance against irresponsible behavior and does nothing more than empower bullies, both in the schoolyard and in the halls of government. 

The mistake that Libertarians seem to always make is in assuming that government itself is automatically an evil, when in fact it's merely a tool – one that can be used for the benefit of all or the benefit of a few.   I'm only saying that the tool is currently being used to benefit a few and that it's within our power -- by means of voting out those few we've chosen to represent the average person's needs in government --to take that tool back and use it to benefit  everybody. When a bully's trying to hit you over the head with a hammer, you don't blame the hammer -- you take it away from the bully trying to beat you with it!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Roots of Regressive Fear

Last night's State of the Union Address really got me thinking. 

Not so much about what the President said or didn't say, or what parts of his policies I support or don't support, but about his opposition and the increasingly extreme positions they've taken over the past 15 years and from where those positions have their roots.

Whether we're talking about the Regressive Party's refusal to allow women a personal choice about their own bodies, or their insistence that women should be paid less than men, or their blatantly racist gerrymandering of voting districts,  and so on, it's clear that the GOP is defending not so much the population at large, but a very small minority of it.  When they say "The American People", it's pretty obvious what Regressives mean:  Rich White Christian Men (RWCM).

In that equation, as demographics are shifting power away from that particular group, we're seeing more and more repressive tactics taken to preserve RWCM power.  When we take into account the rabid free-for-all gun polices that the Regressives champion and the rhetoric that they use when doing so, as I said in a previous posting, it's clear that what the motivates the Regressives most is fear.

Fear mongering is the proven tactic of the Regressive Party, particularly its mouthpiece, FOX.  This much has been long-established in rational circles.  But what, at the end of the day, are they really scared of?

We know that RWCM have traditionally treated everybody else like dirt in every way possible.  What I think they're most scared of is this -- now that the shoe is shortly to be on the other demographic foot, so to speak -- being treated in kind by the new non-White-male majorities.

Looking at things in this light, like oppressive minority regimes before them, the Regressive party's actions, on behalf of RWCM start to make sense.

"We Want Our Country Back" is their rallying cry against everyone who's not RWCM and a non-white President is the first sign to them that their power is finally waning.  So, of course they hate him and everything they think he stands for, whether he actually does or not, and they'll do everything in their power to prove him ineffectual.  The longer they can convince the public that non-RWCM are incapable of governing effectively, the longer they can maintain their dwindling monopoly on power.

This is why they're working so hard to keep women and religious/ethnic minorities "in their place" with legislation clearly violating the Constitutional Separation of Church & State, and why they see nothing wrong with violating their own stated principles in favor of maintaining their own power.  They fear that they'll be treated by the rest of us the way they've treated us for so long.  They fear the turnabout of their own unfair play.

To me, that says that Regressives on an instinctive level know that they've traditionally done very, very wrong.  Rather than manning up and admitting their errors in hopes of moving the nation forward in a way that works for us all, they've given into their fear and are doubling-down on the same errors in order to hang on by their fingernails to power that's already nearly out of their hands.

It is the cornered animal that is the most dangerous to deal with.