Barbara Boxer vs. the Land Skinners

 

 

Senator Barbara Boxer (r) with singer-songwriter Carole King

Not long ago I picked up retired Senator Barbara Boxer’s book The Art of Tough. I like Barbara. She was my district’s Congresswoman and then my Senator. And one of the most resolute fighters for environmental causes in Congress. I read through part of her book, then was distracted by other matters. A few days ago I opened it again. I’d like to quote her at as much length as “fair use” allows:

 ‘In all my years in public life, not one person, Democrat or Republican, has ever come up to me and said: “Barbara, the air is too clean and the water is too safe.” What used to be a bipartisan consensus issue has become a divisive partisan one. The Republican Party that used to stand for environmental protection now stands with the powerful polluter lobby. . . on a mission to derail an American value that their party once championed. . . .

       “Republicans took over the House in 2011. I was forced to spend far too much time burying their anti-environmental amendments—almost one hundred of them within just two years—that would weaken toxic waste laws, clean air laws, safe drinking water laws, the Endangered Species Act, and virtually every other strong, protective environmental law.

       “They’ve tried to derail our landmark laws through the back door. I fear that’s their continuing plan, since they can’t possibly come straight at these laws. Clean air and water are just too popular among voters for any politician who wants to get re-elected to oppose them openly. So the big-polluter–controlled Republicans try to starve the Environmental Protection Agency, weaken enforcement, and roll back American leadership on the environment around the world in every way possible.

       “The word they substitute for “rollback” is “reform.” The word they use to undermine the word “protection” is “regulation.” These Republicans title their anti-environmental bills in such a way that you would never know what they’re really about. For example, the Clean Air Strong Economies Bill, S-2833, introduced in 2014 by John Thune, the Republican senior senator from South Dakota, actually freezes the EPA from improving air-quality. . . .And my favorite—S-485, The Clear Skies Act of 2003 by Senator Jim Inhofe, senior Republican senator from Oklahoma, permits increased air pollution by millions of tons over the EPA’s scientists’ recommendations and also delays enforcement of smog and soot pollution standards. Makes you sleep better at night, right? . . .

     “One of the harshest battles I have ever had to endure involved protecting us all from harmful chemicals. This is a story of deception, manipulation, special interest influence, and the revolving door. . . It has been lonely to take on a lot of these battles. Standing alone, all by yourself, isn’t a lot of fun, but there is no choice once you decide what is right. You must go forward. At least that is how it is for me.”

How did what Barbara describes happen? How did a political party that once supported a national consensus to clean up polluted air and water all across the land abandon that goal and sell its soul to polluters? How did it justify taking a wrecking ball to forty years of work to move the nation away from a dark nightmare of smoggy air, acid rain, and sewers and industrial waste that emptied into waterways, and toward clean air, swimmable rivers, and conscientious cleanup of poisonous wastes?

You might reasonably wonder, “Is the Republican Party really doing all that?”

It is. Even Richard Nixon, who resigned from the presidency in disgrace, appointed a decent, principled man as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Bill Ruckelshaus looked at the burning oil slick on the Cuyahoga River where it ran through Cleveland’s industrial district and damaged two bridges (the nationwide joke was “Cleveland, city of light, city of magic”), and he resolved to move the nation onto a different path. A generation later the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland riverfront had been transformed. Restaurants and taverns along the many times cleaner river became destinations for lunch and dinner dates. Politicians of both parties followed Ruckelshaus’ lead, until . . . .

Until the nation’s politics reached a point where election and re-election campaigns became so expensive that many legislators and appointed officials just plain sold out. Sold their sense of ethics. Closed their eyes and ears to whatever the big corporations that shoveled campaign money at them didn’t want them to see or hear. And tried to revoke, destroy, or reverse every law protecting nature that big business didn’t like. Barbara Boxer tells many stories about specific events and senators. And as the 20th century ended and the twenty-first began, Republican legislators and appointees found their hands so permanently zipped into corporate lobbyists’ pockets that, well, shucks, they just couldn’t seem to get them out. And by cracky, they plain old just couldn’t even think straight no more. As for what the people wanted? Baffle them with Bullshit and smoke and mirrors so they can’t think straight either.

Who are the major players in this movie? It’s an open conspiracy. A huge one, with many players and more money to push it through than all the gold in Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool. How did it begin? We can trace its roots as far back as the Depression-era plot to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and his pro-environmental agenda in a right-wing plot to stage a coup d’etat, dump Roosevelt, and set up World War I war hero General Smedley Butler as a puppet front man for the plutocrats. But Butler had integrity. He refused. The plotters were unmasked and arrested. Their movement went underground and stayed largely hidden until Ronald Reagan was elected. Then it burst onto the national stage with a vengeance. Reagan “reformed” the tax policies that had been little changed from FDR’s time through the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter –the policies that were a foundation for the nation’s unprecedented prosperity during the post World-War II period.

Until 1980, when everything changed. Suddenly “Government of the people, more or less by the people, and more or less for the people” became “Government of the people, by the plutocrats, for the plutocrats.” Its goal was explicitly reversed from “prosperity for all the people” to “incredible riches for the few and tough shit for the many.” Reagan ripped off the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had put on the White House roof and trashed the auto mileage standards that Carter had enacted. Etcetera. The foundation for that historic reversal had been laid by Lewis Powell, who was a corporate lawyer and member of the Phillip Morris board of directors until Nixon appointed him to the Supreme court, where he was a champion of the tobacco industry and tried to suppress the evidence linking smoking to cancer. In 1971 he penned a lengthy confidential memorandum that was an anti-New Deal blueprint that outlined a program for big business and plutocratic Overlords to dominate U.S. politics. Wealthy heirs, CEOs, and self-styled “conservatives” who were actually extreme right wing anti-democratic radicals in disguise responded to his call. The Smith-Richardson Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and Charles and David Koch and to an extent the Cato Foundation all pumped huge streams of money into the new right-wing agenda that Reagan made suddenly respectable. Not coincidentally it sought to eliminate almost all protections for the environment that interfered with big business’s ability to make make the maximum possible profits. I suppose this collusion ought to have a name. Powell is dead now and no one is more dedicated to the great Republican cause of turning the U.S. into a plutocracy (with the Big Lie ‘we are ever so democratic” as a cover story) than the Koch Brothers, so I reckon it makes sense to call the present Republican agenda “The Koch Plan.” Cut taxes on the rich and pay for it by trying to get rid of Social Security, etc. When allied with an international agenda of domination of developing nations by more developed, more powerful ones, and heedlessly poisoning our air and waters to make the richest even richer, this is called “neoliberalism.”

America had always had plutocrats, but not since the 1880s had they been so powerful or so in-your-face as the New Right became. The American Chamber of Commerce became a hired gun to help the corporate elite gut environmental regulation and skew the tax structure to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That’s what it is today. (No my friend, it does not give a damn about your desire for clean air and water and unpoisoned crops and land.) ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, began creating blueprints for taking over state legislatures, executive branches, and courts and sent them all over the country to be enacted by state legislators who could be bought far more cheaply than national legislators. Ever since the 1930s most Americans had loved Roosevelt and appreciated what he did for them, like guaranteeing bank deposits and setting up Social Security. But then came Ronald Reagan, with Powell’s memo in the background. Reagan was one of the most gifted public speakers in the nation’s history, with a sunny, optimistic, engaging attitude. But from his campaign to become president until he left office, day in and day out he pushed the Powell Conspiracy viewpoint out into the nation’s consciousness. His words were a constant harsh drumbeat telling the nation that government was bad and big business was good. He was the first of three presidents who appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrators who did everything hey could to destroy environmental protections of every kind, MOST ESPECTIALLY those related in any way to fossil fuels. (Bush Junior was was the second, and #45 never saw a blade of grass he liked unless it was on a golf courses.)

Starting with Reagan, the Republican Party swung into line behind the Powell Conspiracy party line. Environmentally, its agenda was “glorify coal and oil and tar sands energy production, to hell with nature, and deny the reality of every environmental concern.” Economist James McGill Buchanan followed Powell as an intellectual kingpin of the big business total dominance of America agenda. And in their view, “democracy was so yesterday.” But they used democratic words and phrases as cover stories for their destruction of its substance. Their real agenda is to dominate and win at any cost and have everything as they want it. “Democracy” serves as a convenient cover story to disguise what’s really happening. Above all, they’re dedicated to giving the fossil fuel industry everything it wants. Today almost every Republican in elective office has close to zero ratings from almost every environmental organization, and close to zero on all the environmental protection items followed by Project Vote Smart.

That’s where we are now. Along with one more item. Most of the Republicans who hold their party’s anti-environmental, plutocratic, male patriarchy, dominate-at-any cost agenda have managed to convince themselves that their program is virtuous and righteous. Some will even tell you that “God’s on our side” – just like Adolf Hitler, who made “Gott mit uns” one of his slogans. After all, how can they live with themselves if they acknowledge that they’re destroying the biosphere in which their children and grandchildren will live? And so they lie to themselves and to everyone else about what they’re doing, and about its effects on the natural world and on society. And they act self-righteous as they defend their lies.

That, my friends, is how some of the politicans Barbara Boxer once respected lost their souls. After all, if they repented of their sins and took a stand to protect and restore our lands and air and waters, and truly strive toward government “By The People and For the People” instead of “By the Plutocrats and Overlords,” who would put out the big bucks to pay for their re-election? What would they say to their deluded friends who follow the Powell-Buchanan-Koch-McConnell-Trump agenda? Who would invite them to cocktails or golf?

So make no mistake. The Powell plutocratic republican open conspiracy, with the Koch Brothers, ALEC, and the American Chamber of Commerce at its center is alive and well. (At least somewhat open. Never has there been as much secret money flooding into right-wing political campaigns, with no disclosure as to who it comes from. That ain’t no inclination toward democracy, folks. And it ain’t no inclination toward treating Mother Nature well. If that’s what you want and support, here’s hoping you like what you get.

 

<<<>>>

 

 

 

 

 

#45’s First Year — Anti-Democracy

This is a personal evaluation of the first year of U.S President #45 in office.

(NOTE: PLEASE REALIZE THAT WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LIE TO YOURSELF TO JUSTIFY IT. The better path is to admit to yourself made a wrong call. We all make mistakes. Tell yourself the truth now and you can do so in the future. Lie to yourself now about getting taken in by a con-man and you set yourself up to be conned again and again. Just think about it.)

Note: This image is from Pinterest. I don’t know the copyright owner. If you’re him or her and you’d like it removed, just let me know. Thanks. 

We have now had more than a year to watch and hear #45 in office. (He has insulted and demeaned so many people and events, and some so many times, that he sets almost the worst imaginable role model for our young people. I find him so thoroughly disgusting that since he seems to respect no one unless they think as he does and acts as he wants them to, I no longer respect him enough to speak his name. Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States. The present Fake President or Pseudo-President or President #45 (or the S**t**le President– his own language—he just forgot to look in the mirror as he was speaking) is for me now just #45. I know others who are doing likewise. Please note that the paragraph is not an impartial factual statement, but rather my own personal evaluation of #45 to date. (This is a distinction that #45 has apparently not learned how to make.)

In the past there have been a few slogans. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Fair Deal.” FDR’s “New Deal.”  JFK’s “New Frontier.” And a recent cartoon aptly referred to #45’s “Raw Deal.” What does it consist of?  Just a some of the visible things we’ve learned are that he:

  1. Is probably the most skillful con-man that the U.S. has seen in the past 100 years—before the election he claimed to be a “populist” but his policies are for the billionaires.
  2. Is a pathological and probably compulsive liar. More that 2000 of his statements (many of them Tweets) have been formally documented as lies.
  3. Doesn’t even seem to know the difference between a truth and a lie. Apparently if he agrees with something he considers it true. If he disagrees with it he lies to both himself and others about it.
  4. Is far less concerned about foreign treason against the U.S. government and people than about possible discovery of any role he and/or his associates played in it.
  5. That he cares far less about the well-being of the country and its people than about the fortunes of the Republican Party, despite his once having said that if he ever ran for politics he would run as a Republican because Republicans are so dumb that you can put almost anything over on them (my paraphrase)
  6. That he is so deficient in kindness and compassion that his tax policies and proposals steal food, health, and shelter from those who are poorest in order to shovel huge additional amounts of money toward those who are already extremely rich,   and more huge amounts of money to the military-industrial complex even though the U.S. War Machine ‘s budget is already larger than those of countries with the second through eighth largest military budgets put together.
  7. Has appointed a cabinet primarily composed of people whose entirely previous careers consisted of OPPOSING THE MISSIONS AND WORKS THAT THOSE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT ARE MANDATED TO CARRY OUT, because he personally has a different agenda than those that all our nation’s previous legislatures designed to be intelligent policy for our country.
  8. Doesn’t give a damn about beautiful places such as national parks and monuments, no matter how spectacular. Apparently he views everywhere in country as potential oil and gas driling and coal and uranium mining territory.
  9. Unlike any president in U.S. history except Warring Harding, hs is blatantly using the Presidency to enrich himself personally even though he is already a billionnaire.
  10. Speaks of “bringing us together” out of one side of his mouth as he consciously sets one group against another and refuses to act or even speak against prejudice and bigotry out of the other.
  11. Is a pawn of the Vatican in his initiatives to make it harder for women (especially poorer woment) all around the world to obtain birth control and family planning information at the very same time that he talks about holding down population growth to make jobs more available.
  12. Rails about “fake media” when almost all the mainstream TV and radio stations and magazines and newspapers are owned by just six corporations, and at least one publication (the National Enquirer) has bought and suppressed stories critical of #45, while he himself is relentlessly driven to tweets that are lies.
  13. Received more than 200 million votes less than Hillary Clinton, and instead of instituting a government of national reconciliation that addressed both their concerns, ramrodded through his own agenda and completely ignored the concerns of a majority of the nation’s voters.
  14. Whenever critiziced or challenged about anything, changes the subject or the meaning of the question (that is, “drags a red herring across the trail to throw a dog following the scent off the track.) He almost never admits the truth of almost any legitimate criticism or objection, or point of view different from his own.
  15. Has been accused of cheating at golf by various people who have played with him. No big deal, but it says something about what he is.

#45 has drawn attention to one of the most egregious deficiencies in the U.S. Constitution: It has no provision for a vote of no confidence to remove a defective chief executive from office. The impeachment process is far too cumbersome and political. This deficiency should be remedied when the time is right. In the meantime, a massive mobilization on every front, nationally and in every town and city, against the ANTI-POPULIST, VAMPIRE CAPITALIST provisions of the present government is one option. This could include national days of prayer and fasting (on which of course no work except that essential for public safety would be performed and no merchandise would be bought.) Perhaps someone else has a better idea.

In my view, Russia entirely aside, #45 is guilty of TREASON AGAINST THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, LAND, AND REPUBLIC. He is for the 1/10 of one percent against the 99 9/10 percent, even though he has lied and conned so effectively that a deluded minority still support him.

If we draw a historical parallel with ancient Rome, he ranks with Caligula and Nero, and even worse than Commodus. His presidential portrait should show him behind prison bars.

That’s the first year. Now on to what the rest of the second year brings.

SOCIAL SECURITY — WHAT’S REAL?

 

elderly woman

elderly woman

Social Security — In the United States, of all government programs, it is one of the most successful and best run. Now well-offright wingers are trying to destroy it.

A year-in, year-out right-wing Republican agenda is to take a meat cleaver to the social security payments for old people and the disabled. Why?  Because, we are told, “eventually the system will bo broke.” You may or may not recall that the system was put in because many of the old and disabled had no source of income, They either lived on the edge of starvation or under bridges or depended their families for support. Depending on their families is the  opposite of what the we need today. It causes people to have larger families so they will have someone to support them when they can no longer support themselves. In turn that pushes population upward, Instead,  the world now badly needs to stabilize and eventually even reduce population. Resources and are declining and in some places overcrowding is incredible?

Why do the extreme right-wingers relentlessly push this agenda? For four reasons.  First, so the rich can get richer than they already are. Too bad for the suckers in the middle and lower classes. It’s a classical plutocratic, anti-democratic classist agenda. The attack has four prongs. 1) Cut taxes on the very very rich so they can get even richer. 2) End the  “defined benefit” system that guarantees that people will receive a specified amount no matter what the stock market does. Replace it with  a “defined contribution” system that specifies how much people have to pay in each month but leaves how much they’ll get to the tender mercies of  the economy is doing. “If the economy goes upward, they could get more than they expected,” say advocates. (But if the economy tanks, they could get zilch, or nearly zilch Tough luck, sucker. But the stockbrokers and insurance companies that would handle the “defined contribution” accounts and their stockholders would make a bundle. How nice! Really? ( like a slick salesman, they hope they can con enough people into supporting the proposals anyway.) 3) Carefully avoid mentioning that small adjustments in how much people contribute to the system now can easily provide them with a dependable defined benefits far into the forseeable future. And 4) Sshhh — be completely silent about the fact that half the country’s budget goes into war and other military spending. Just one example: the fleet of incredibly expensive new F35s that most of the top generals say is a s a rotten plane. A small cut in unnecessary “defense” (i.e. war – most “defense” spending does nothing at all to protect the U.S. itself)  spending could easily make up for projected shortfalls in social security funding.

These are, of course, the truths I see. They’re the way it looks to me. So is anything anybody says or writes about anything. As for those who (usually falsely) claim to have THE truth — beware the snake-oil salesmen!

Trans Pacific Partnership

Thaistacls 

  WARNING:Mind-Exploding Outrage (that is, the Trans Pacific Partnership) Ahead,” writes the Hightower Lowdown. “Unbeknownst to most people, a cabal of corporate and political elites (including Presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama has stealthily negotiated international trade deals during the past two-plus decades that have fabricated, piece by piece, what now amounts to a privatized world government. It’s a secretive, autocratic, plutocratic, bureaucratic government of, by, and for the multinational corporations.” Its 29 huge chapters include “rules limiting what our domestic governments are permitted to do, plus new rights and privileges for corporations enforced through supranational closed-door tribunals. This adds up to a privately gated ‘government.’”

 Wolves in sheep’s clothing? For a long time some folks have been worrying about a “world government.” Well, its closing in on us. And it’s a corpocracy. Obama is also promoting a Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

But the TPP is closer. Negotiations have been going on since 2005. It’s almost done. And who wrote it? CEO’s of giant multinational corporations, and their lawyers and lobbyists, in secret, behind closed doors. These include Halliburton, Chevron, PHRA, Comcast, and other such companies you know and love. Congress is being intentionally kept in the dark about what the TPP document says. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden says, “More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still banned from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. Economist Robert Reith states, “It is incomprehensible that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits . . . are actively involved in the writing of the TPP while at the same time, the elected officials of this country. . have little or no knowledge as to what is in it.”

Shhhh!—the remarkable media blackout

There is an almost complete news blackout about the negotiations. I did find one 2013 article in the Washington Post. Otherwise, silence, Almost everyone I mention it to says, “The TPP—what’s that?” It would change our society forever—but almost no one has even heard of it, despite great daily coverage of such events as a cat rescued from a telephone pole. But then, who owns the media? Maybe some of the folks who are writing the agreement—but that’s not for you and me to know.

What are the benefits—and what aren’t?

All of the above is presented to “We, the People” as a Very Good Thing. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative touts the TPP as a step “to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.” Doesn’t that resemble a replay of NAFTA, of which there have been far more complaints than kudos? Just a for instance—all those new jobs it promised—well, just as many old jobs have dematerialized as the new ones that materialized. Perhaps President Obama has not seen the figures that show that the income gap between the rich and the rest of us has widened since he took office. Not his doing, but reality nonetheless. Economists who have seen leaked drafts of TPP chapters say it would accelerate that trend. Economic growth, yes. But for whom? It would supercharge the growing gap between the great corporations and the very wealthy on one hand and working people and the poor. And between the nastiest of the Great Corporations and their competitors. For instance, in the U.S. Big Coal and Big Oil have already gotten penalties enacted to make biosolar energy less competitive. Some solar panel manufacturers are going broke, Almost everywhere the interests of giant corporations and those of ordinary citizens conflict, the megacorporations manage to slap The People and their smaller business competitors down (despite all those pretty ads you see on TV).

A short list of what’s wrong with the TPP proposal.

  • Protections against toxins and other unhealthy ingredients in food are weakened.
  • Laws requiring “country of origin” labeling on many foods vanish.
  • Freedom of speech is reduced, such as a company putting “Not GMO” on its labels.
  • Safety laws can be invalidated.
  • A law to protect people or the environment can be struck down, in the Lowdown’s words, simply if it shows that “the expected future profits” of corporate investors might be lower.
  • States or countries with environmental or health standards higher than the TPPs can be sued for lost “expected future profits.”
  • Present laws to favor local businesses are weakened or vanish. A company can sue a town that wants to keep its local character instead of getting overrun by big chain stores
  • The approval process for generic drugs is slowed down.
  • Some drugs will be delayed for years, such as one to fight cancer
  • It makes it easier for big multinational corporations to swallow up smallr local corporations and companies worldwide.
  • S., state and local governments could not have “buy equipment made in USA” when possible policies. The same thing goes for other countries.
  • The document is being written in secret behind locked doors.
  • Corporate challenges to laws protecting people or the environment are decided by   secret tribunals with almost nothing to prevent conflicts of interest.
  • A decision by such a tribunal is FINAL, with no appeal possible
  • The conflict of interest is blatant. It is being written by those who stand to gain from it.
  • All aspects of its negotiation, adoption, and implementation are designed to prevent citizen participation.
  • It is written in obtuse, complicated language that appears designed to confuse.

The Devil in Disguise: Fast Track

Only one U.S. Congressman, Colorado Republican Hank Brown, read the full text of the 1994 GATT agreement. He had previously favored the agreement, but changed his mind after reading it. He didn’t have much time to read it. In 1974 President “Tricky Dick” Nixon devised a uniquely undemocratic ploy to bypass congressional consultation, one that appears unconstitutional to me, and conned congress into buying it. The U.S. Constitution charges congress with giving advice and consent on trade agreements. It says,

[The President] shall have power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur.

Fast Track requires congress to act on legislation sent to it by the White House with a simple “yes” or “no” response, and no chance to offer any amendments, It never goes to congressional committees. It must be voted on within 90 days, with minimal debate. To me that doesn’t look much like the “Advice of the Senate” required by the Constitution. The Constitution also says,

All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution of laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding. (Article VI, Clause II)

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles reinforced that point: “Treaties make international law and also they make domestic law. Under our constitution, treaties become the supreme law of the land.

President Bush the First lobbied heavily to renew Fast Track, which had expired. With its assistance, President Clinton managed to get NAFTA approved. It expired in 2007. Now Obama is asking congress to resurrect it for the TPP deliberations. In other words, congress would vote for or against whatever the corporate lobbyists put into the Treaty.

Trade is not an end in itself but a means to other ends. To declare that completely unrestricted trade is appropriate everywhere, in all circumstances, is like saying, “Penicillin is a great drug, so lets use it to cure everything.” France knows all this. It has “stubbornly” refused to lower certain tariff barriers that protect its farmers, because its farms don’t just provide food, but they’re part of the whole structure of French society.

The Lowdown goes one step farther. It says, “This is not a decision about trade—the TPP represents a tectonic shift in public policy that would radically alter the fundamental structure of our society and thrust a global corporate plutocracy on us. Shouldn’t we have something to say about that?

It looks to me like leaked sections of the agreement show that the god its drafters worship above all others is to gain the maximum possible profits for their corporations. Period. That attitude takes us along a path likely to end in a world where any form of democracy can exist. With the multinationals calling the shots, I do not imagine that the proposed treaty would be more advantageous for the smaller, poorer countries that would be part of it than for the U.S., and typically much less so.

There are always politicians and technocrats ready to show that the invasion of ‘industrializing’ foreign capital benefits the area invaded. In this version, the new-model imperialism comes on a genuinely civilizing mission, is a blessing to the dominated countries, and the true-love declarations by the dominant power of the moment are its real intentions. Guilty consciences are thus relieved of the need for alibis, for no one is guilty: today imperialism radiates technology and progress, and even the use of this old, unpleasant word to define it is in bad taste.” Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan journalist and author.

Instead of Fast Track, I suggest a SLOW TRACK procedure in which the entire draft that is to be submitted to congress must be posted on both White House and all Congressional websites so that every interested citizen can read it and communicate concerns and suggestions to his or her congresspersons. Perhaps it could be put up at the rate of 50 pages a week, giving people time to digest it—and perhaps meet and discuss it in community groups. How about moving toward democracy rather than away from it? After all, it has been ten years since TPP was proposed. If there is going to be one, it ought to be one that benefits the people and protects the earth.

What you can do now: Derail FAST TRACK. The vote may be as soon as March. The first link below will tell you which congressperson to contact if you’re not sure.

See also www.cwa-union.org/no-tpp

http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/ (January 2015)

 

 

 

George Washington on Political Parties

picture of George Washington

George Washington, who did not like political parties

George Washington refused to join or take part in any political party. He deeply distrusted them. He said explicitly that parties intensify antagonisms and make wise government more difficult. “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” We see that today.
Indeed, George Washington REALLY disliked parties. He wrote, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government . .  . which have lifted them to unjust dominion. . . The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection, and opens the odor to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government through the channel of party passions.”
When there is an extreme (or in recent years, sometimes even fanatical) commitment to a political party or faction of a party,, its members all too easily forget about justice, decency, reason, humanity, kindness, and the rest of the finer human virtues. They WANT TO WIN AND RULE, and too often all else takes second place.
Even with his  comments above, Washington was not finished. He added, “All obstructions to the execution of the laws . . . serve to organize factions, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force. [This puts] in place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small, but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the will of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”
We see it all too well today.  (We may note that the Constitution says nothing about political parties.) What Washington, Lincoln, and others feared, writes philosopher Jacob Needleman, was “the spirit of party.” This meant the attitude that one’s own faction or part is more important than the whole, or what came to the same thing, and that the best interests of the whole is the same as the interests and program of one’s party.  In other words, “We know best, and you shut up and do what we say.” The “spirit of party” meant the commitment to . . . overcome or even destroy, rather than learn from the opposition. (This view, of course, is intimately related to the adversarial structure of our legal system, in which prosecutors and defense attorneys get ahead not by ensuring that the truth is revealed and justice is served but by winning the case, regardless of what happens to be true and just. We saw that writ large when a 5-4 Republican majority of the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush present rather than letting the votes from a heavily Democratic district, which surely have thrown Florida and the election to Al Gore. We see it now when a 5-4 majority declares that unlimited spending in campaigns by incredible rich people and corporations is the same as free speech. We see it when the same party-line majority maintains that a corporation “is a person.” That’s a bid odd, isn’t it? A tanker car is not a person. A diesel engine is not a person. How than can many tanker cars and many engines that are part of a corporation be a person. Obviously they are not. Obviously the Court is “legislating” for the partisant interests of its party rather than
acting with the impartiality that is supposedly a court’s hallmark.
Washington sums up one big reason why such miscarriages of justice occur is rules that govern elections as well as in electoral politics in a sentence: “Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” Because  recent and present politically partisan Supreme Court majorities ( all of the same party) consistently supports the highest bidder, democracy is gravely endangered.. It is most gravely endangered by the radically ideological partisans of the extreme right who have limitless funds to spend advancing their “spirit of party” rather than the good of the nation.  Their habitual practice of blaming “the other” for everything almost always steers us onto the darker path. Hatriots are not patriots, but pseudo-patriots. Patriots have at least some sense of common purpose with their fellow citizens. If you’re inciting people to hate those in the other party, the other race, the other country, you can sing the anthem as loud as you like and wrap yourself in the flag so tightly that you can’t see out, but you’re no patriot.
Historian James Thomas Flexner tells us that Washington “deplored the adversary theory which sees government as a tug of war between the holders of opposite views, one side eventually vanquishing the other. Washington saw the national capital as a place where men came together not to tussle but to reconcile disagreements. . . . Washington’s own greatest mental gift was to be able to bore down through partial arguments to the fundamental principles on which everyone could agree.”  George Washington’s democracy, says Jacob Needleman, “is not the freedom to try to destroy each other physically or philosophically or morally, but the freedom to bring one’s own best thought together with one’s best effort to listen and attend to the other. ‘The aim is not to reach the pale and crooked version of mutual accommodation that we call “compromise’ . . . but to discover a more comprehensive intelligence that allows each part and each partial truth to take its proper and necessary place in the life of the whole. . . .To have unity. . . one must struggle to become free from the false . . . separation that is represented by what we are referring to as the spirit of party.”
Former Vice President Walter Mondale recalls that when he served in the Senate in the 1970s, “debates were always heated. But I don’t think they had the kind of nastiness they do today. We need to lighten it up . . . to find a way of talking with each other. I’ve won and I’ve lost. And I like winning better. [But] when you run for office in a democracy . . . one person wins and one person loses. I think it’s important that we do it with civility, with respect.”
We would be a better, more decent, stronger nation by returning to George Washington’s view of democratic discourse. And by each thinking for ourself rather than parroting the beliefs and attitudes that our party bosses or our friends or family members who are ideological zombies lost in Zombieland want us to accept.

Employment & Jobs — What’s Going On?

Crowd in Times Square

Employed and Unemployed in New York City

“Half a truth is often a great lie,” said Benjamin Franklin. In the U.S. we hear both the Republicans and the Democrats promising that their employment solutions will put people back to work, bring full employment, and ensure prosperity for all. Really? I have yet to hear any party or any business person or organization who has a real solution. S

Some policies make the job picture worse. For example, when they think no one is looking, Republicans sometimes actually say they want to give the country a good zap of unemployment from time to time to keep wages down and help break the backs of those unions that remain. When he was President Richard Nixon said it very explicitly. Party members since his time have acted in ways which show that they want just enough of a rise in employment to get elected.  If they’re already in office, they want employment just  high enough level to keep them elected. They certainly don’t want a rise in employment in West Virginia, where it might interfere with coal company practices of turning beautiful mountains into wastelands by blowing the tops off mountains to expose  coals seams. Mining employment in West Virginia is one-tenth what it used to be when miners brought out coal from underground and God’s Own Country was not being turned into the Devil’s Wasteland. Also, all across the country in both public and private sectors  full-time jobs are getting pulled apart into pieces that can be filled by part-time employees.

In regard to jobs, the Democrats are less hypocitical, more idealistic, and also pathetically naive if they actually believe their own rhetoric.  Yes, they do want less unemployment, jobs for more people, more job training, better jobs for the folks who have slipped from manufacturing into making fast food burgers for a fraction of their former pay. They would like to change that, and have less offshoring of jobs, and on.

But neither party says much about basic changes in society, technology, and economic organization that are responsible for today’s trends: automation, robotization, and the massive transfer of productive activity from labor to capital.  That’s part of why the economic gap between rich and poor keeps growing. To be sure, the sledgehammers with which Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush smashed into little pieces much of the equalizing effect of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s graduated income tax and other measures to help the less fortunate did their part. But take all that out of the equation and there would still be Trouble in River City. It used to be that when you picked up your phone to call someone you got a human being on the other end.  Now a few people with nice voices are hired to created digital recordings that allow one person to do the work a thousand used to do.  It used to be that rapid transit cars had a human being sitting up front running them. Now a few people in a control room run enormous systems by remote control.  It used to be that longshoremen actually loaded cargo into ships. Now a tiny fraction of their number run giant cranes that move containers from trucks and trains onto and off of ships. And so on. Some of this is great. Robot welders on auto assembly lines tend to do a better job than people, and so too with numerous other functions. But not all.  When I go to the supermarket or drugstore I prefer to wait my turn in line than walk right up to the self-checkout machine. I’d rather not contribute to throwing another person out of work. And I certainly wish the Golden Gate Bridge District directors had seen fit to keep at least one lane operated by a human being who can accept cash instead of automating them all.  You can surely think of your own examples  where work that used to be done by people is now done by machines.  That eliminates such matters as setting up pension funds and paying medical benefits and overtime. Most of all, machines do not organize themselves to demand that an enterprise be run in a more decent, humane, environmentally sound manner. They just do what they’re programmed to do.

One more detail.  Every time a machine replaces a person, it is a transfer of productive capacity from Labor to Capital. Somebody owns that capital, and it’s probably not a worker.  It’s a private equity company, or a corporation (or sometimes even a government agency.)  That means more money in the pockets of capitalists and less in the pockets and purses of working men and women who lose their jobs.  Meanwhile, immigration brings in more competition for the jobs that remain.  In some regions, that’s sensible, because needed skilled workers are not available and can’t be trained rapidly enough, but can be hired from elsewhere. But in many cases,  immigration that pushes up population makes it harder for people who lose their jobs to find new ones.

If you read Adam Smith, who is widely cited as the High Priest of Capitalism, you’ll find that his views were nothing like those of todays ultra right-wing extremists.  He was concerned about working people and jobs.  He disliked the nasty tactics and conspiracies  of some companies’ owners or executives. Today’s capitalism differs radically from  his views. Its essence is the ideological principle that making the most money possible is the goal to be pursued above all others, and that the few at the top of the ladder are entitled to everything they can get – no matter how many are harmed by their actions or how severe the environmental destruction.  In many places even the law requires profit maximization.  And if quarterly profits drop, “the market” –i.e. investors who want maximum profits, punish the company and may even try to take it over. So what’s the so-called “bottom line” here?  It is that contemporary capitalism, with its imperialistic and monopolistic tendencies, will never provide as many good jobs as are needed regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are running things. Indeed, “unlikely” is an understatement.  As long as automation and robotization continue on anything like their present course, unwanted unemployment is guaranteed and will probably rise.  Is there a solution? Will anything work?

  • The one thing I see that appears likely to work, and that is working in some places already, is a variety of economic forms and solutions working cooperatively together.
  • Capitalism will have to return to its roots. (When the U.S. was young, to be chartered as a company the owners-to-be had to demonstrate that it would serve some public good. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were so afraid that the economy would develop much as it has done that they tried to add an eleventh amendment to the Bill of Rights that would keep corporations from going out of control, telling lies and damaging the public interest as many do today. It was voted down by a group of prosperous and powerful members of the Constitutional Convention.)
  • Cooperative ownership and endeavor will play a much large part in the world’s economies. Experiments in this direction are already underway.
  • All portions of international trade agreements that are injurious to workers or other people or that prohibit any nation or region from protecting its environment will automatically be null and void.
  • All international trade agreements will have to be made in the light of day, with citizens of the concerned countries and reporters of diverse viewpoints able to be present and report what is happening. No more secret, closed-door negotiations by corporate leaders appointed by their governments as “trade representatives.”
  • The discipline of economics will have to be transformed from figuring out how the few can make the most to figuring out how to configure economies at every level into forms that will be beneficial for most citizens and protect ecosystems.
  • Everywhere, people in local communities will begin meeting together to develop new forms of production, exchange, and consumption that will bring the communities together. (This is quite different from the present system in which a few wealthy and powerful citizens put up the money to get candidates who will favor their interests elected, so that the city of county is governed with the intent of enriching them even more.

This blog entry  is obviously not a comprehensive answer to the problems of jobs, employment, and economic organization. Today, no one and no party has such an answer.  Rather, it offers my reflections and seeks to provoke your own reflections.  Collectively we need a transformed sense of purpose and direction in our economic endeavors so that they will serve both the material and the deeper psychospiritual interests of all the people. To provide those “good jobs” the politicians talk about, we need to start deeply rethinking and transforming the very structure of our economy.

Inquirers and Denyers -Two Attitudes of Mind

Mental flexibility and rigidity is a crucial matter. Either one is usually both an attitude and a habit. Yesterday as I was reading posts about the polar vortex’s possible contributions to the January 2014 extreme colds and storms in the Eastern U.S., (and much less publicized, climate scientists’ opinions that it may also be causing the blocking high pressure area off northern California that has given the usually rainy and foggy winters of the redwood country less rain in the last year than the desert cities of San Diego and Phoenix, which has caused my spring to stop running), I noticed something interesting. The intelligent and thoughtful comments tended to include a lot of detail and information about diverse phenomena related to climate change, whereas the boorish comments that insulted previous posters, primarily by people who denied that any changes in climate are actually occurring, were for the most part devoid of any knowledge or details about real phenomena. They just parroted opinions of others who thought similarly.

As I read, it occurred to me that those who posted almost all the comments could easily be labelled “INQUIRERS” or “DENYERS.” An Inquirer is somone who actively seeks out diverse best available information about something, usually from a variety of different kinds of sources and in considerable detail. A Denier is someone who forms opinions based on repeating what others have said and does not go looking for additional information in anything resembling an openminded way. They know what they believe and don’t want anyone to question it. Reminds me of a time many years ago when in the middle of a discussion a friend said, “Victor, you really don’t like to be contradicted, do you/” It hit me like a brick. I had viewed myself as SO OPENMINDED. But what she said was so true at that moment in that context that I had to admit it. It was the beginning of a long-term change in attitude. Now when I find myself stubbornly holding onto some belief or opinion despite what others say, my discipline is to NOTICE THAT I’M DOING SO and then say something like, “Of course, I may be mistaken.”

For all you denyers out there, please understand this: The main thing you are doing is defending your self-centered egos. You believe that you are not an OK person if your belief about something is wrong. The reality is that there is no dishonor in changing your mind, in acknowledging that you were mistaken about something. Dishonor lies in snotty, judgmental put-downs of others who disagree with you. THAT’s small minded. THAT closes down your ability to grow, to change, to discover. If that’s not the case with you, you can ask yourself: “What’s in it for you to hang on so tightly to you attitude, belief, opinion, or preconception?” What about it are you attached to? The approval of others who are parroting the same opinions? Or . . .? Doing the best you can to answer that question in an honest way could be an important step in your life.

Of course my classification of online commenters, and for that matter everybody else, into Inquirers and Denyers is urealistically dualistic. Actually people are not just one or the other, but hold attitudes along a continuum that runs from flexible openmindedness to rigid clinging to their preconceptions. Many people fall somewhere in the middle. It appears to me that fewer of those in the middle tend to make online comments than Inquirers and Denyers. And some Inquirers dig up a lot of information to support their views but are nonetheless rigid and judgmental. Little in the realm of the human psyche is totally cut-and-dried, either THIS or THAT. (Back to Venn Diagrams and mathematical set theory for the demonstration.) But in the clouds of bloggers, comment posters, and purveyors of editorial opinions (so labeled or disguised as so-called “news”), an great many of the aforementioned authors sound like either Inquirers or Denyers.

Note: I have used the spelling “denyers” instead of “deniers” because the dictionary defines the latter as “a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured,” and “a French coin, equal to one twelfth of a sou, which was withdrawn from use in the 19th century.”

Fracking: “Trade Secrets” vs. Health — Fixing a Law that’s Upside Down

Some laws that regulate extractive mineral operations are just plain upside down. Take fracking. Companies that use the process don’t have to tell ANYONE what’s in the cocktails of chemicals they use because it’s a “trade secret” that the laws exempt from disclosure. Even when some of the substances in those cocktails are known carcinogens, or known to be otherwise poisonous or harmful to the health of humans and animals, and even though some of that fluid often ends up in the water supply for drinking or irrigation, the companies can keep it secret and keep on knowingly injecting poisons into the earth and the water. And with offshore wells, into the ocean, as has been done in the Santa Barbara channel.

I label that as criminal. The corporations doing it are criminal and the corporate employees who are doing it are criminals–all the way from the CEO and members of the Board of Directors who are in the know to the chemists who concoct the chemical brew to the workmen who are actually drilling the holes and pumping in the chemical brew. And the politicians who write the laws that let them do it and let them keep their formulas secret are criminals. Every one of them ought to be sent to jail or barred from political office.

The basic question is simple and the answer is obvious. What is more important–the good health of the people who live in the regions that are getting fracked, or the maximization of fracking companies’ profits? It is that simple. And the answer is obvious to any thinking person who is honest with himself or herself.

Personally I applaud the states that have banned the process of fracking completely, and I’d like to see it banned in coastal waters that are under federal authority. But I have no power to do that in states or countries where the fracking companies are paying off the politicians to let them keep on using the process. But even there, I think there may be a fairly straightforward solution. Establish an agency that oversees tracking and ban anyone who has been employed by the fracking industry from working in it. That agency will employ some bonded employees who are trained in both chemistry and toxicology. They and no one else will have access to the formulas of any substance used in tracking, and their job will be to make sure that no toxic substance is included, and to test batches of tracking fluid to make sure they are compliant. “Bonded” in this case means that they are sworn not to disclose the contents of these fluids to anyone except for informing the personnel in the agency who are empowered to stop the company from using them or to shut down the operation. Disclosure to a competitor would carry a penalty great enough to deter the bonded chemist-toxicologist from any temptation to so disclose. Such a procedure would probably provide adequate protection of the public’s health. If the politicians or tracking companies are unwilling to go along with that, then the people should rise up, stop the operations entirely, and toss the franking politicians.