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.

The Perils of Self-Righteousness

man with sword raised facing backward on horse at edge of cliff

We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is self-righteousness. “I am good and righteous and just and you are bad and maybe even wicked and evil.” Not that I never fall into it myself, but I try to notice it and pull out when I do. What are the earmarks? The self-righteous person fancies himself or herself better than others who think or act differently, or who look or sound different. If it’s one of your own tendencies, the chances are you don’t much notice it. You think you’re just in touch with reality. If it’s someone else and you agree with them, you may react that same way. But if you’re anything like me, you probably curl your lip with distaste and dislike (even if only internally and invisibliy) when someone else gets into a self-righteous schtick. It may be a raving rant like many of the venomous online “comments” sections or it may be snide and subtle, but either way it has several unfortunate effects.

First, it often involves projection, a common and often destructive psychological mistake that can easily torpedo our relationships. In projection I see you as the living incarnation of whatever qualities I dislike and refuse to recognize in myself. I deny my own inner reality and experience, project it onto you, and then either denigrate you or try to exterminate you, as if in doing so I could get rid of the disliked and unrecognized qualities in me. The projector does this over and over and over again. It is highly visible, and almost always present, in the phenomenon of self-righteousness.

Second, whether it appears in religion, politics, or in a marriage or other couples relationship, it often leaves whatever sense of shared community we might have had in tatters. After an incident or two, if you’re on the receiving end of the self-righteousness will always be at least a little on guard, at least somewhat reluctant to reveal your thoughts and feelings. This leads to a more distant relationship.

Third, you just might want to get the self-righteous SOB back, especially in contexts like politics and religion where in-group imperialism often runs rampant – WE are better than those other jerks and we’re going to run things our way and impose our ways on them. You end up with results like male committees and legislatures making decisions about women’s reproductive rights that take away women’s freedom (in some cases in direct violation of their own professions of a libertarian ideology). That can lead to a lot of bitterness and desire for revenge.

Fourth, self-righteousness often requires a person to lie to himself or herself. In something like eighty or ninety percent of situations there are at least two or three viable ways of looking at the situation, and sometimes half a dozen ways or more. The ability to consider such multiple perspectives increases internal communication within oneself and also increases a person’s creativity. A self-righteous attitude requires you to deny the possible validity of every view except your own. It commits you to your own monologue and makes it very difficult to engage in any potentially constructive dialogue. And who wants to listen to know-it-all blowhards besides people who already agree with them?

Finally, to anyone with the eyes and ears to see and hear, it boils down to ego. “I’m better than you are.” We’re better than they are.” And then it all to easily sildes into, “and so I’m justified in doing whatever I want to you,” or “we’re justified doing whatever we wish to them.” And of course often it turns into being the other way around. The organization, or our authorities, or some other influence requires me to do terrible things to you, and so I slide into the lie of self-righteousness to justify it.

But in the end, development as a person occurs when we work on shrinking our self-centered egocentrism, not when we inflate it. Self righteousness takes us in the wrong direction.

Barry Goldwater Was a Champion of Reproductive Rights

Texas demonstration

In Texas and numerous other states middle-aged white men who claim to want to get government off people’s backs are climbing onto women’s backs and causing great unnecessary suffering. What did some of the great Republicans of the past think?

BARRY GOLDWATER said, “A lot of so-called conservatives think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to a pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders on the religious right.”

BARRY GOLDWATER’S WIFE PEGGY was co-founder of Arizona Planned Parenthood in 1937. “We knew family planning could relieve a great deal of human suffering,” wrote Peggy in a local magazine piece. Today their granddaughter is a clinic volunteer and Planned Parenthood Board Member

First Lady BETTY FORD said, “Any woman should have the right to a safe and legal abortion.”

GERALD FORD declared “In this Land of the Free, it is right, and by nature it ought to be, that all men and all women are equal before the law.”

In 1964 DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER whom I consider to have no close competition as the best Republican president of the 20th Century) and Harry Truman served together as bipartisan honorary co-chairs of Planned Parenthood.

BUT THEN Ronald Reagan became an errand-boy for the Vatican. “American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,” explains [Reagan’s Vatican ambassador] William Wilson. “AID sent people from [the Department of State] to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message.” (Democrat Jimmy Carter was not a lot better. He named anti-family planning zealot John H. Sullivan to head USAID.) If current Republicans truly believe in getting government off people’s backs, they will go back to following Barry Goldwater’s intelligent principle of leaving women to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

The American Women’s Freedom Movement Declaration offers one possible path to a solution:

“WOMEN OF AMERICA, UNITE! Any law, rule, or custom that limits women’s rights or freedoms more than men’s is exploitive, unacceptable gender discrimination. We will not vote for, and will actively work against any candidate who supports such a law, rule, or custom. We will withhold all financial support from any political party or religious organization that supports such discrimination. We will consider permanently leaving any such party or other organization to join with sisters and brothers who actively oppose such restrictions. In whatever ways we find appropriate (which may go so far as to include days of fasting and prayer during which no work may be performed and no items will be bought) we actively commit to achieving full freedom for all women to live their lives and control their bodies as they choose, without gender-related discrimination, domination, or oppression of any kind. We invite all men who support women’s self-determination to join us.”

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. )

Libertarian — What does it actually mean?

artist's rendering of the stature of liberty

statue of liberty

Benjamin Franklin declared that “Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a compact, necessarily ceded, remains.” In the mid-twentieth century Barry Goldwater echoed his sentiments in his statement that”Politics is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order.” Both these are clear statements of an individual libertarian view.

Applied broadly and evenhandedly, This applies to where you live, how you make your living, whether or not you wish to remain pregnant if you accidentally find yourself so, and for many libertarians, prostitution, drug use, and suicide. From a true individual libertarian perspective, in no other way is a government as intrusive as when it presumes to tell us what we may or may not do with our own minds and bodies. Jesse Ventura states it clearly: unless one person is harming another, government has no place telling us what to do in our personal lives.

Some people, however, confuse things badly by mixing that up with a “big business libertarian” (i.e. corporate dominance) view. The two are entirely different. Taken to its logical end, big business libertarian really means “corporate dominance.” If both a person and a corporation can truly do anything they please (and No, Virginia, as anyone who does not have bean for brains can see, a corporation is not a person), the corporation’s enormous wealth and power enables it to crush individual liberties.

The naked reality is that Individual libertarian [and] big business libertarian views are entirely different. Individual libertarians’ say, “keep the state out of our private lives.” Big business libertarians say, “A corporation that may be more powerful than a small nation ought to be free to do as it pleases without any guidelines, oversight or social responsibility.”

Ironically, many who hold “big business libertarian/corporate dominance” views also lobby constantly for government contracts, subsidies, tax incentives, land grants, anti-labor and anti-union laws—even subsidies for herbicide and pesticide farming that poisons farmers and consumers. The corporate dominance outlook holds that Wall Street, the big banks, other great corporations, and “the invisible hand of the market” will look out for ordinary people’s interests and put people to work. A true fairy tale! Yet many in this camp also seek government regulations that will give them a competitive advantage or wedge of entry into some market. That’s a very long way from “free markets.” On the other hand,  small mom and pop businesses are alto often hobbled by an excess of rules and regulations and forms to fill out that don’t help anybody anywhere.

The confusion of the individual libertarian and corporate dominance perspectives owes much to Ayn Rand, an unbending elitist whose antidemocratic philosophy rightly lauded the individualism of the perceptive and able few, but forgot that the people as a whole can be educated toward a tolerant individualism and an evolving higher consciousness. Rand’s books have a strong cult following of those who believe themselves superior to others and therefore feel entitled to everything they can get regardless of the effects on anybody else. Interestingly enough, research shows that those who are “superior” in amassing wealth (Rand’s central cadre of supporters) are almost all people who are good at organizing and finance, and include almost no one who is creative in the sciences or arts, and not a single Nobel Prize winner. In other words, in real life many of the would-be creative heroes whom Rand lauds are shut out of the utopian conditions for the few that she advocated.

Many people who want to make laws that impose their own values on others are regular working people who have been lured into an alliance with those who foster the corporate dominance – (“business libertarian”) ideology. They have been taken in by the cover story that “free market economics” will fix all the problems they’re concerned about. Or they may be worried about the alternative story that unless they support the corporate dominance outlook they’ll soon be fired. Many are getting screwed by this unholy alliance.

To be truthful about today’s realities, Ralph Nader has suggested changing the pledge of allegiance to “. . . with Liberty and Justice for Some.”

Forms of freedom include freedom from intimidation by other people or government or businesses as well as freedom to do as you please. Your freedom to is subject to limits that keep you from harming others.

One of the worst abuses of freedom in the U.S. today is widespread imprisonment of people who have done nothing that harms another. This began on its present broad scale during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. It costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year.  I cannot imagine that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, or Abraham Lincoln would have done anything other than oppose this practice vehemently. They would surely have argued for freedom from  such tyranny.

In a similar vein, The Vatican is still trying to control U.S. state and federal policies to suit its own wishes, and has managed to drag some unsuspecting Evangelicals along with it.

Roman Catholic President John F. Kennedy declared, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. . . . I believe in an America . . . where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religions body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Barry Goldwater, who was called “Mr. Conservative,” held similar views: “Religious factions. . . are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. . . . I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ . . . I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ . . .  A lot of so-called conservatives think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to a pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders on the religious right.” 

More recently Minnesota’s Governor Jesse Ventura said, “I believe in the separation of church and state. . . The religious right wants to tell people how to live . . . I hate what the fundamentalist fanatics are doing to our country. . . I have a strong belief that you are in charge of your body, whether male or female. It’s the house you are living in for your entire existence – your temple, as the more religious might say.” The comments by Kennedy, Goldwater, and Ventura express exactly the sentiments of the founding fathers. For example, James Madison declared, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”

But in 2012 a Republican vice-presidential hopeful, Paul Ryan, sneered at the words of Democrat John F. Kennedy, Republican Barry Goldwater, and Independent Jesse Ventura above, which express exactly the sentiments of the founding fathers. And recently self–righteous true believers who are convinced that the principles espoused by their religious views should be put into laws that control everyone are making headway in state legislatures across the land, while self-styled libertarians roll their eyeballs and look the other way.

What is the opposite of a libertarian view? An authoritarian one. Authoritarians want control. They tend to belittle, harass, intimidate, or jail those who resist their agenda. Freedom is fine for them, but you and I had better shut up and do as we’re told. Authoritarian attitudes and actions are anti-libertarian and anti-democratic.  This holds true in the realm of  government, business, religion, and other matters.

So next time you hear the word “libertarian,” ask yourself: “Liberty for whom? Or what?”

 

(This blog is adapted from the 2012 book and e–book The Radical Wrong: Lies Our Founding Fathers Never Told Us — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Others Refute Right-Wing Extremists. )