Monday, April 27, 2015

Rights vs Privilege

Frequently in the last few weeks, I’ve been drawn into "special privilege" arguments about double-standards, as it pertains to race relations in this country.   The people I’ve discussed this with have been -- like me -- white men. 

They bemoaned the double-standard that they see in favor of women and minorities when it comes to speech.  There are certain words minorities are allowed to say, jokes women are allowed to make, that white men simply are not permitted to say or do without being attacked as “racist” or “sexist” or some other label.  Political correctness – or what I'd simply call common courtesy, for simplicity’s sake – has essentially left these men feeling like they lost some basic rights.  They feel cheated that they have no “white pride” parades, no “white history month” and no sanction to revel in their ethnicity the way they see minorities can. 

In short, these men feel that everybody else is getting special treatment and “free passes” that white men are being denied.  What they fail to realize is that, because the system’s already skewed in their favor, white men don’t need the compensatory legitimacy that such focused endeavors provide.

Sadly, what these men have done is confuse privileges with rights.  Our basic civil and human rights, as defined by the Constitution, its Amendments, and International Law, allow each of us our say, our day in court and our liberty to pursue whatever dreams we see fit, so long as nobody else is harmed in the pursuit.  At least, that’s how it looks on paper.  Traditionally, the reality is and has been very different.

For most of the history of the USA, oftentimes as much as half the population was denied those basic rights that the average white man took – and still takes – for granted.  This means that white men had a whole slew of privileges that others were denied.

Systemically, legally, physically and psychologically, this denial of other’s rights formed the basis for a double-standard of privilege, based largely, if not solely, on the pigmentation of a person’s skin.  White men could do many things that women or non-white people were legally barred from doing.  Things such as voting, working certain jobs, owning property, speaking one’s mind, even reading were solely in the white master’s domain for much of our history.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to argue that the sole basis for white men’s privilege in this country was the denial of black men their equally-due rights.  This skewed dis-equity affects our society to this day.



In time, that skewing of privilege has begun to balance out, which means that women and minorities have gained the opportunity to speak out and compensate for their long-standing second-class status with speech, if little else more material, thus far.  Affirmative action was implemented by law in the economic sphere to attempt to compensate for the artificial advantages that white men had for so long enjoyed, so that those who'd been left behind would have the opportunity to catch up.  This trend of equalization threatens the feeling of privilege that white men have so long taken for granted that now, many feel that they have lost rights long taken for granted, when in fact all they are losing are first-class privileges so that those around them could gain real rights at long last. 

The most visible response of “white pride” is violent, traditionally manifesting in and forever identifying itself with rampant murder and terrorism, most commonly wrapped in a white sheet.  To this day, such “White Pride” groups still advocate violent repression of women and minorities, closely emulating the style of groups this country is has been or is currently at war with (Nazi Germany and ISIS being the two best examples).  This is a defense of privilege, not right.

Yes, folks, the Nazis were and still are the ENEMY

What these men fail to consider is that while those skewed privileges have indeed in recent years been somewhat scaled back in many areas of our national life, they do still exist both subtly and overtly in force across the nation.

The numbers don't lie.

Today, white men occupy 75-85% of the positions of power in the economic, social and political spheres in this country as they have for 400 years by systemically-skewed extra-legal privileges across the board.  We make more than the women doing the same jobs beside us.  We have more political power than our minority counterparts and have much easier access to the levers of that political power.  When you factor in the rampant abuse of minorities by the justice system, the Eurocentric curriculum in public schools when it comes to teaching history and the various educational and economic disparities that continue to skew opportunities towards white men, affirmative action, realistically, is little more than a tiny band-aid on a gaping national wound. 

Every day is white men’s day.  Every month is white history month.  It has been this way for so long that it’s taken entirely for granted.

Now, before the usual detractors start freaking out about hating one’s ethnicity or “reverse-racism”, let me be absolutely clear – my point is not about hating white people.  I consider myself extremely fortunate that, by the sheer accident of the circumstances of my birth, I have directly benefitted from a skewed system.  All I’m saying is that all my fellow citizens, regardless of skin color, gender or country of origin deserve the same as I got.

It is never tantamount to calling white people “evil” to point out that a whole swath of my fellow citizens got massively short-ended by that same skewed system.  Nor is it “reverse-racist” to insist that such short-ending be curbed. It is a taking-on of the historical burden of responsibility that comes with my privileged position.

The so-called “White Pride Movement” would do well to remember that with the pride it seeks to revel comes an historical burden to bear. In this case, that burden manifests as putting up with a very minor "double-standard" when it comes to discourse.  This burden is the natural price of the privileges we currently enjoy.

Ultimately, it is the fear of being on the receiving end of the second-class status that is being a minority in this country is what scares so many white folks into the ranks of Regressivism.  As I’ve argued in a previous blog post , the era of white supremacy in this country based solely on demographic numbers is ending. The most recent Census data confirms this.  This means that for the first time since the end of the Indian Wars, white people will officially be a minority ethnicity on this continent.  If we are to avoid a repetition of history in the reverse, it’s incumbent on those of us who've benefitted from this skewed system to lay down our privileges gracefully and to support all efforts to balance the scales rather than deride those efforts.   If we don’t lead the way towards a more equitable system, we will in the end be squashed when it finally does come about.


If, at the end of the day, the only thing I can do is to make every effort to show common courtesy, and help rebalance things by enduring harmless jokes, or the occasional chip on another’s shoulder, or the occasional pride parade, the worst I’ve lost is the privilege of being a bully about it.  I don’t lose a single legal right by giving up that privilege.  I will not lose any rights if ALL of my fellow citizens finally are allowed to use theirs.  The worst I'll have to give up in the service of justice is the demand for extra-legal privileges denied to my fellow citizens.
 

I can live with that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2016 Actions for America



We’re all aware of the major problems facing our nation.  More than any other group or nation abroad, there is a trend which many -- including this author -- feel is the single biggest threat facing our nation, for it gives rise to many other problems that both Left and Right agree need addressing.  At the root of our national woes, we have the rise of Economic Feudalism.  


We've seen this with “too big to fail” attitudes on the part of elected government towards large corporations and we've now had several elections since the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases, where elections are bought and sold like any stock on Wall Street and where legislation against average workers’ right to act on their own behalf is now creeping onto the books of nearly every state.  If buying policy and forcing the majority of the populace to work harder and longer just to put food on the table isn't enough insurance to keep the citizenry in line with this New Order, the exponential militarization of police forces around the country and the increasingly free reign the police have in using excessive lethal force is.  This is the very definition of Imperial Fascism, as described by Mussolini as "the merger of state and corporate power."

To the completion of this end, there are several rhetorical tactics being used to justify the increasingly militaristic and fascistic methods being implemented across our nation.

Firstly, we have the increased reliance on a pseudo-philosophy that creates some “buzz-word” talking points designed to legitimize this Feudalistic trend.  Typically, these talking points can be found in the Right-Wing schools of thought, which tend to reject any attempt to check-and-balance economic disparity in the name of “individual free enterprise” and usually revert to a “blame-the-victim” approach when confronted with the negative results.  This tactic has been most evident when it comes to police abuse in their disproportionate targeting of minority communities.

Another classic tactic, by which Corporate Feudal interests maintain control, is through a focus, particularly in the mainstream network media, on divisive social issues.  The push for Theocracy by the religious right in this country, for instance, which, in seeking to remove the Constitutionally-guaranteed Freedom of Religion for all, and ironically, in mirroring fundamentalist talking points around the world, is a major contributor both to the push to divide the citizenry against itself as well as a force behind the degradation of our national education system, through the re-writing of our national history and the replacement of science with religious instruction in biology classrooms.  

This divisive tactic also manifests as a highly-xenophobic set of ideas which on the one hand divides the populace at home based on religion or ethnicity (usually directed at immigrants specifically, but also at social minorities in general) and on the other promotes a highly-militaristic imperial mindset when it comes to matters abroad.  The lies that were used to drag the US into the War in Iraq (and are now being used to promote the idea of another war with Iran) are the primary example.

While these talking points have great appeal to those souls who desperately hope for a good life without interference from those in power, in reality, these talking points empower those already on top at the expense of the powerless.  This ultimately interferes more with the average person’s well-being than any other force (ask yourself this – who really has more direct impact on your daily life:  the employer who pays your checks or the local council of your town, whose names you may not even know?).  We've seen everyone from political candidates to police captains use these very talking points in defense of the abuse of power time and time again.  Corruption in our case is literally trickling down from the top of the food chain, from the highest halls of government all the way down to your local police precinct, and it’s being justified on airwaves across the country on a daily basis.

Due to their simplistic appeal, these talking points have worked brilliantly, particularly in Social Media, to keep the population at each other’s proverbial throats.  By keeping the citizenry divided, frightened and ignorant, the unelected powers-that-be have an easier time of maintaining control.

“What can I do about this?” you may ask.  These are huge problems, well beyond the average person’s ability to confront.

Aside from political disobedience or outright armed rebellion (the latter of which has never worked in the history of our nation -- just ask the Confederates), the only tool at the disposal of the citizenry to address the root problem of Economic Feudalism is the Federal government itself on the national level and State governments on the local, both of which are still on paper accountable to the average person, but will soon be entirely in the hands of unelected moneyed interests rather than the citizenry’s if we don’t act.  To act, we have to unify and organize.  It is imperative that the citizenry retake the reigns of our own governance, and this will require measures that at first glance may be unpopular, especially among Right-Wingers.


The first step I’d advocate towards fixing the problem of economic feudalism is to steal a page from Teddy Roosevelt's playbook and push for the return of previously-successful governmental oversight and regulation of large-scale corporate business.  While admittedly at times inconvenient, regulation and taxation of large-scale corporate business quite successfully checked-and-balanced the forces of unaccountable corporate power for decades in this country.  That is, until the “neoliberal” forces of economic feudalism, originally championed in my lifetime by Ronald Reagan and continued by his successors, successfully pushed through campaigns to remove those impediments.  Like criminals freed from the fear of police, these interests literally got away with murder and very nearly ran our economy into the ground.  In the name of private profits, the public sector -- which serves us all -- is suffering.  Public infrastructure is crumbling, the criminal justice system has become a cash cow incentivizing the criminalization of the non-violent and bribery has become the modus operandi of elected government.  And as the impediments to economic feudal control over government are removed, the boldness with which these forces push forward increases.    By itself, reinstating a few pieces of proven, successful regulation and removing bribery from government will de-clog the mechanisms of our Constitutional government currently held hostage by gridlock.

But what can the average citizen do to make a positive difference?  There are a number of policies that we can push for – and many groups pushing for them that we can support:

FIRST, WE FORCIBLY SEPARATE CORPORATOCRACY FROM DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT

OPENSECRETS        The first step in mounting an effective citizen’s defense is in knowing who the real enemy is.  Perhaps the most important source of information on this list, this site tracks the donors and lobbyists’ ties to every elected official on the Federal level.  If you really want to find the people buying our government for their own interests, this is the place to start!

OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED  Run by Credo Action, this citizens group is actively working to cut the ties of corruption between government and moneyed interests and is currently gaining ground in the fight to legally end the rampant bribery that has crippled our national governance.

OCCUPY WALL STREET   This group gained national notoriety for its correct identification of and initially-strong action against the root of governmental corruption -- unaccountable corporate power.  Though its organizational model is not the strongest, it has become an umbrella resource for numerous action groups seeking to empower the individual against forces ordinarily too powerful for a single individual to combat directly.

SECOND, WE CHECK THE ABUSE OF POWER BY POLICE AND MILITARY

ACLU             For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.  They know the system inside and out and are an ideal resource for training, information and legal defense, with chapters in every state in the Union.

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER   Another experienced group, the SPLC is a non-profit legal advocacy group specializing in civil rights and legislation for the public -- rather than private -- interest.  If you're being victimized by police, these are the people to call!

STOP MASS INCARCERATION    This group is on the forefront of the fight against the commercialization of our criminal justice system.  Very much against the drug war, private prison complexes and the systemic targeting of minorities, their national network is a prime example of how to organize for our own defense.

THIRD, VOTE OUT THE INCUMBENTS AND REPLACE THEM WITH THIRD PARTY CANDIDATES

I SIDE WITH            A simple and fun way to figure out which party best represents your interests is to follow this link to a political quiz on the various issues facing the country.  The quiz takes about 20 minutes and delivers a comprehensive and often surprising result. 

Above all, though, the single most important thing we, as citizens, can do is to remain engaged in the process, rather than throw up our hands and give in.  At the bottom of this engagement is making sure that we use our power of the VOTE.

BALLETOPEDIA     The next step in informed voting is in knowing your options when it comes to political representation.  This site lists all recognized political parties in the USA.  Many of them have been recognized by most states and a simple Google search can direct you to the platforms of whichever party you feel most connected to.  If you’re as fed-up as I am with the same old lesser-of-two-evils choice that comes around every year, this site is ideal for finding someone better.

REMEMBER:  VOTING IS YOUR RIGHT AND DUTY AS A CITIZEN!  If you do NOTHING else, make sure you move heaven and earth to get your vote in.   Make sure you’re registered in your local town and have proper ID BEFORE you go to vote!

ALL of these groups and sites list actions that are happening every day around the country towards the return to true liberty for the average person.  Sign up for any one of them.  Even a day’s work can make all the difference in the world.

Stay as informed as you can on every issue, making sure you’re informed of the actual facts, not a biased narrative.  Avoid the mainstream network/ corporate news at all costs. 

News outlets such as NoPartySystem, Democracy Now!, the Associated Press, VICE and C-Span all have long-standing histories of sticking to the facts and reporting in a straightforward manner.  White-hat hacker groups like Anonymous and whistle-blower groups like WikiLeaks also have solid reputations for delving into sources of information usually censored by unaccountable interests.  When these journalism groups report an opinion, they make a point of reporting it as such, where corporate media sources often will deliberately confuse fact with interpretation in order to sell more advertising time.

It’s a traditional assumption among totalitarian governments that the people they rule are too dumb or too weak to be treated as anything other than cattle.  The best thing we can do as citizens – and in the truest American tradition – is to make sure we prove our home-grown totalitarians wrong.



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Statement



I am an American first, of European descent, raised secular and educated as a Jew.  In my blood is every immigrant experience in this country since the first waves of settlers in the 1600's.  Blood remembers.

I believe that we are all created equal and endowed with the inalienable common rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  To this end, the first duty of government must be to protect the powerless from the powerful. People have the right to choose their government and the duty to choose wisely.

I believe in freedom of expression and freedom from harm.  I believe in freedom of religion in private and freedom from religion in public. I believe in the right to a speedy, public and unbiased trial by a jury of my peers with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

I believe that human beings can rise above bestial nature.  Not only should we embrace our better angels for its own sake, but we must for our own survival.  Only by working together can we hope to live and let live as individuals.

I pledge allegiance to the Citizens of the World and to the Republics which stand for them, one Planet, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for ALL.

This above all:  the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.  

I live my life by these principles.  I believe they have been used before to make this world a better place and that they must be used again.

Join me in this cause.