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!

Ostrich Syndrome – Self-Deception or Duplicity?

When someone studiously avoids noticing what anyone with eyes and ears can see, I call it “The Ostrich Syndrome,” my favorite name for self-deception. Candidate Trump provides examples. An interesting question is whether he actually believes what he says or whether he’ll say anything his audience wants him to hear.  Or maybe he’ll say anything and then convince himself he believes it to avoid noticing that he’s lying to both himself and others, and doesn’t want to feel bad about himself due to his dishonesty.  Psychologist Leon Festinger dubbed this pattern “cognitive dissonance.” Here are three examples.

This past week he declared that “There is no drought in California.” No matter that my spring that’s been reliable for 45 years dried up and I had to truck water in for a year and a half and then drill a well and put in a new water tank and system, for instance.  Or that the ferns on our south-facing hillside were al drying up and dying for the first time ever, and pulled through for now due to this year’s El Nino rains that finally came after many dry years. They usually drop about 2 1/2 times normal rain when they come but this year dropped a blissfully welcome normal rainfall. The previous winter there was ZERO snowpack in the high Sierra where they usually measure multiple feet to estimate what the Spring runoff will be. Trump doesn’t live out here and I guess he just didn’t bother to look at the numbers.   

Example Two:  The famous proposed U.S.—Mexican Great Wall.  For many years now there has been a tunnel for rapid transit beneath San Francisco Bay.  Far more ambitious is the tunnel beneath the English Channel between France and England.  The Air Force has had an armada of tunnel-boring machine every since it was building ICBM silos. Now it is said to have a remarkable network of underground bases. And not long ago Mexican drug lord “El Chapo”s followers created a mile-long tunnel to break him out of a Mexican jail.  The obvious conclusion:  Both sides of a Great Wall with Mexico (what a multibillion-dollar windfall for the cement an steel industries!) would resemble colonies of gophers, moles, and prairie dogs with holes popping up everywhere heaven knows how far from the wall. Personally I agree that there is too much immigration too fast to the USA, just judging by the jammed highways and beaches near my home that didn’t used to be that way,  but the largest share of it is legal, by-the-rules immigration.  A well thought-through national immigration policy that doesn’t put Americans out of work—yes, by all means lets have one—but that proposed Wall is Just Plain Dumb.

Oh, and I hear he wants to give more money to the military, which already spends more than the second-through-eighth highest spending countries in the world.  He says the poor old armed forces are badly strapped for cash. I think we’ve heard that before, from Edward Teller (father of the H-bomb) telling Ronald Reagan to dump billions of our tax dollars into outer space (“Star Wars)—which Reagan did. How about spending that money on job-creating environmental restoration projects instead, just as for instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt did?

Pay attention, friends.  If something just does’t sound right, whoever says it, there’s a good chance that it’s not.  It may be a straight-out lie, or a half truth (Benjamin Franklin said, “A half-truth is sometimes a great lie),  or self-deception (which Sigmund Freud showed us in detail that most of us do a fair amount of. He even did a some himself, retreating from his observations about child abuse and molestation when his colleagues gave him the cold shoulder about them.) So when you think you’re seeing the Ostrich Syndrome, you probably are.

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.

What the U.S. Should Not Be Doing: Using Depleted Uranium Weapons

DLU2

I see in the news that Obama says Assad has “crossed the red line” in Iran by using nerve gas against the revolutionaries, and that in response, the U.S. will begin sending weapons to the insurgents. This may be a good thing. Assad is certifiably evil (with evil defined as doing intentional and avoidable great harm to others to serve one’s own selfish interests). How wise is it for the U.S. to get involved? I can’t say, because all I know is what the mainstream media prints, and that’s usually notoriously biased toward presenting the narrative of the ruling power elite (i.e. both Democrats and Republicans and the military-industrial complex plutocrats who are the only ones guaranteed to win every war.)

But there is another dimension to this whole story. Nerve gas is certainly very bad. AND this is yet another instance in which it is easy to condemn what Those Other Guys are doing while conveniently ignoring our own similar actions. For years I have been trying not to think about the GIs with Gulf War syndrome and the many dead and deformed babies born in certain areas of Iraq ever since Gulf War I, and I just can’t not think about it and not say something about it any longer.

In 1991 during the George H.W. Bush administration, the U.S. began using armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU) warheads on artillery shells, and later expanded into using non-depleted uranium (NDU) warheads as well. “We” (I pay U.S. income tax, so I guess I’m complicit, even if unwillingly) have used them ever since and are still using them in Afghanistan. They are a stable of rounds fired from tanks and A-10 warthog airplanes. Now they are even used in rifle ammo and a new, ultra-deadly variety of cluster bombs. There are plausible reports that they are being used on drone warheads. Upon explosion, they mix with the dust, becoming part of the land itself for the next few million years. When our own troops breathe that dust, it is a deadly affliction, having been reliably verified as playing a part in the Gulf War Syndrome (U.S. Department of Defense denials notwithstanding). Radioactive poisoning of the people who live in the area has resulted in epidemics of dead and grotesquely deformed babies, and a sharp rise in cancer rates and other related affliction, including double and triple forms of cancer such as had never before been seen in the target areas. Under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, we used these weapons in Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan, where we are still using them.

It is a strange irony: The United States has rightly strongly opposed nuclear proliferation in the form of “big bomb” weapons. It has exercised restraint by never using the “tactical nukes” that were deployed in Europe during the Cold War. Yet it now uses DU and NDU battlefield nuclear weapons every day, radioactively contaminating the areas where they are used for longer than you or I can even imagine. Moreover, the U.S. has now exported them to the military forces of more than 29 other countries. The army knew how dangerous they are long before it deployed them in Iraq and even made a training film to warn soldiers about touching DU contaminated dust – a film which was not shown to most Gulf War soldiers to prepare them for using those weapons.

One of the photos in the Google gallery shows two people carrying a banner that says simply, “Depleted Uranium is a crime against humanity and the earth.” I personally view the use of DU weapons as one of the most reprehensible war crimes occurring in the world today. “Wait a minute,” you may say. “I thought we were the good guys.” You’re right—we were—in World War II. That was a while back. Today—well . . . . if some other country were using DU weapons against Americans on American soil, how would you feel about it? The only way good guys can remain good guys is through relentless self-examination, and willingness to see when we have strayed into doing things that are not so good, so that we know enough to stop.

There is a massive cover-up of all this. The use of DU and NDU weapons is almost never mentioned in the news, even though it has been estimated that one out of every three rounds fired in Afghanistan today has a uranium warhead. The term “battlefield nuclear weapons” is never used, even though it is an accurate descriptive term. Project Censored, which covers “the news that doesn’t make the news” has run numerous stories about the use of such weapons, and it still doesn’t make the news. USA TODAY founding editor John Hanchette prepared an extensive story on such weapons , then was warned by the Pentagon not to run it, and shortly afterward was replaced as editor of the newspaper. But now, the information is widely available if you want it –even on YouTube videos.

All things considered, I suspect that the use of these battlefield nuclear weapons is far worse than the use of nerve gas, because they linger in the environment forever, waiting to poison the children of the children of the children of the children of the people who were alive when they were first used. It appears to me that the only sane alternative is to stop manufacturing them and stop using them – totally and completely. Unless we demand this, we are all complicit in their continued use.

One fina note: At the end of page 39 of a Google search for “depleted uranium weapons and dead babies,” there is this note: “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 387 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.” (If you go to Google Images and enter “depleted uranium weapons and dead babies”, be prepared to see strangely grotesque and frightening distortions of the human form.) You can also go to YouTube or any search engine and do other searches, such as “depleted uranium weapons and Gulf War syndrome,” “depleted uranium weapons production and cancer rates,” and “depleted uranium weapons and media censorship.” All those searches have the usual ten pages of entries at the bottom and the word “next” to keep on going. And in the full circle department, in the last search I did, there was the entry “US media censor uranium weapons stories. Depleted uranium turns to poison gas.” Poison gas! – doesn’t that sound something like what Assad is said to be doing?
DU1

Mists of mystification: The confusing words “conservative” and “liberal” often mean the opposite of what they seem to.

“The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is bullshit.” Lars-Erik Nelson

There is a major political divide between those who commonly label themselves “conservatives” and “liberals.” Barry Goldwater had a fairly clear vision of conservatism that has been largely lost. He defined it as “economic, social, and political practices based on the successes of the past.” He wrote that the conscience of a conservative was “pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being.” He later said he should have said, “pricked by anyone or any action that debases human dignity.” When asked, “Doesn’t poverty debase human dignity?” he replied, “Of course it does,” and added that “If family, friends, and private charity cannot handle the job, the government must.” Finally, he said, “Politics is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order”—an almost perfect statement of an “individual libertarian” outlook. (That perspective is defined below.)

“Liberals,” as the word was typically used in the 20th century, trust reason and intellect to find new solutions to problems that old solutions have not dealt with well. They emphasize compassion, kindness, decency, equality of opportunity, political equality, and the welfare of ordinary working people. They are more inclined to support government action to realize positive social goals than conservatives, with special emphasis on eliminating discrimination against people who are poor or different from the majority. They tend to be more suspicious of big corporations than of big government, and favor government regulation to protect people’s health and well-being. (Oddly enough, in the 19th Century, “liberal” meant just the opposite—it meant those who favored big business dominance and government support for big business over working people.) “Progressives” have a lot in common with liberals, but are more likely to oppose foreign wars and to try to defend Earth’s ecosystems against pollution and dissolution.

In recent decades those labels have become so misleading that I use them only with quotation marks. The quotation marks mean, “Don’t believe almost anything you think this label means.” My dictionary defines conservative as “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation.” It defines liberal as “Open to new behavior or opinions and favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.” But these days those definitions often get turned upside down. In my region, many “liberals” tend to want to keep the towns and countryside pretty much as they have been, while many “conservatives” bulldoze every living thing to bare earth and build huge new suburbs and business and shopping developments—in other words, they make radical changes. The “liberals” are more likely to be content with modest lifestyles, while the “conservatives” are more likely to build palatial homes and multiple very pricey vacation retreats and spend lavishly on upscale cars. It’s just plain crazy to speak of those who are maiming ecosystems as “conservative,” and equally crazy to label those who are trying to stop that damage as “liberal” or “radical,” because the very opposite is true: Those who are trying to protect the good health of an ecosystem are acting conservatively, and those wanting to change it quickly and in large-scale ways are acting radically. The explanation, of course, is that by “conservative,” people often mean conserving their privileges, wealth, and status –or their knee jerk ideologies– rather than conserving real things in the world.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an example. It would carry oil 1,700 miles from Canadian tar sands (the most environmentally destructive, climate-hostile of all methods of oil extraction)—is that itself “conservative?”) from the facilities of multinational corporations that own the rights to extract the oil to a refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, which would export much of it\. It would not even help solve the U.S. energy problem. Who opposed the pipeline? Above all, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and neighboring states afraid that pipeline leaks would pollute the precious Ogallala aquifer (vital for drinking water and agriculture) and oppose the U.S. government seizing their land and giving it to a Canadian oil consortium. To me that’s pretty conservative. But Shell oil, Valero oil, Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, the French oil company Total, and the Saudi Arabian government tried to paint themselves as the “conservatives” in that contest, and paint the farmers and ranchers as the radicals. Those companies spent about 37 times more supporting the pipeline than was spent by citizens who opposed it. It’s an airtight case that the oil companies were really the wild screaming radicals in that contest. (Kudos to President Obama for vetoing XL and to the thousands of citizens who pressed him to do so, from withholding campaign contributions to demonstrating on the White House lawn, where hundreds were arrested.) Similarly, Valero and another Texas oil company, Tesoro, tried to hoodwink California voters into passing a 2010 ballot measure that would have scrapped that state’s strongest law preventing air pollution. There also, calculated misuse of the “C” word turns everything upside down.

“Conservative” may mean conserving old vested interests, beliefs, attitudes, and habits. It is less often applied to conserving practices that protect and enhance people’s freedom, equality, and opportunity. Too bad.

With “liberal” we need to ask, “liberate what, or whom?” “Liberalize what restrictive rules, laws, or procedures? (That’s often important to business, and is a first-rate idea when the restrictions are not really protecting anything or anybody.) With “progressive,” the questions are “progress toward what? In what ways?” The term can be used for progressing in directions that neither you nor I would like at all. In that context it is as meaningless as “reform.” For instance, we could “progress” toward a more lenient or a more restrictive immigration policy. Many “social liberals” favor the former, while many “liberal environmentalists” favor the latter. The generic labels do not tell us much. And there is the additional confusion that until the Twentieth Century, “liberal” meant allowing big business unlimited power, both domestically and in international affairs. In the latter case, that included access to the armed forces to further its agendas.
For the most part I find all these terms to be conceptual toxic waste that leaves people confused and befuddled about the realities that underlie them. I prefer to bury them and be much more specific and precise in our thinking, discussion, and action.

SOLUTIONS

• Be very suspicious of these and other vague generalities and metaphors. Often such terms are meant to trigger conditioned emotional responses that short – circuit direct awareness and critical and creative thinking. Instead, we can speak more precisely, so that people respond to specific concrete events and policies instead of emotionally charged, knee-jerk, muddleheaded catchphrases that lump disparate items together.

• Develop a nose for bullshit, even when it is consistent with your inclinations. For starters, be on your toes for blatant contradictions. For instance, “’Senator Schmucko will lead the fight against big government spending and taxes, and he’ll protect your security by voting to build twelve new aircraft carriers and thirty new nuclear submarines.”

• Warren Buffett’s remark about integrity applies to the politicians we hire to be our legislators and presidents as well as to businesspersons. Richard Nixon was an example of a brilliant man who lacked integrity. Had he developed that quality in himself, he could have been an excellent president. We need to put the element of character high on our list when we elect people to public office at all levels.

This blog is lifted and slightly retwritten from The Radical Wrong . . . Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln & Others Refute Right – Wing Extremists. (There are a number of free downloads at the site, and you can get the whole thing as an e-book for $4.24 to $4.95. )

The next stage of civilization

view of leaves and tree trunks in rainforest

Inside a rainforest

We have already entered the Great Transition from the world we have known into the next stage of human history. Actually it is even more than that. We are moving into nothing less than the next era in human history, biohistory, and geohistory all rolled into one. The central feature of this great next step is obvious to anyone who has the eyes and ears to see what is happening all around the world today. We have to place caring for our local ecospheres and the world’s ecosphere at the very center of our community, political, and economic life. We need to genuinely center Earth’s cultures around the project of caring for the planetary web of nature of which we humans are just one part. We need to heal the world’s ecosphere and our countless local ecospheres in the many ways in which they are wounded.  This cannot be done from within the consciousness and the political and economic projects of the present and the recent past. It will require a transformation of consciousness in cultures all around the world, a step into the next era of history, an era of which we can only dimly see the barest outlines through the future’s filmy mists.  This will require drawing on the deepest traditional wisdom and the sharpest and most embracing current thinking of peoples all around the world. If we succeed in such a transformation, there may be a great creative renaissance of civilization. If not, the hurricanes, typhoons, floods, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves, and ice storms that are becoming commonplace will be only the beginning of what awaits us. The signs suggest that this will be history’s greatest transition since the great flood of about 8,000 years ago chronicled in the Bible, the Gilgamesh Epic, and other stories told all around the world. The choice is ours: a chance at a bright future for us and all of nature’s beings, or a forbidding and implausibly difficult one.  This website is devoted to exploring the character of the transitions in consciousness and culture that are needed, and to how to bring them into being. Thoughtful comments from you and others that contribute toward that end are welcomed. I invite you to join me on the journey.