Friday, January 18, 2013

The Vast (Ethical) Wasteland

Lance Armstrong? A professional athlete abused his body and the world's trust for an advantage and the potential for fame and fortune that advantage might bring? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you to find gambling going on in this establishment!

Professional sports have been about nothing but the money for decades. Even the Olympics, supposed last refuge for "amateur" athletes - until the rules were changed to make them more profitable - is nothing more than a "profit opportunity" for organizers, locales, sponsors, athletes and all.

If you are shocked and surprised that a professional athlete would lie to enrich himself you must have been sleeping for the last thirty years or so.

In a country  where our "trusted elected officials" regularly go to jail for abusing the public trust (or, as in the case of New York's Joe Bruno, avoid going to jail), where the President of the US (Pick one or more:  Nixon,  Reagan, Bush I , Clinton, Bush II, Obama) lies to the public with a straight face and  without consequence, why are you surprised?

We've allowed our ethical standards to be so far eroded that this kind of behavior (which, let's face it, has always been part of public life to some extent) is seen as somehow "acceptable," something one can apologize for (or not) and move beyond.

Even in extreme cases - like lying about and concealing the death by torture of people under the jusirdiction of the US - our current moral code, as embodied by our US President, says "Let's look to the future and put the past behind us." We will not hold ourselves and our agents accountable for our/their actions, no matter how cruel, ruthless and sadistic.

But the bible has it right (because it's a psychological truth as much as a "religious" one): The sins of the fathers..." Those who imagine there are no consequences for abandoning ethical behavior and adopting an "ends justifies the means" attitude are condemning themselves to live in that kind of a world.

But we don't have to join them. We can try our best to live honestly and ethically, to hold ourselves accountable, and to remind others that such common ethics are one of the essential bases of all productive human society. At this moment in time, the ethically-ignorant opportunists and the self-styled  "pragamatists" are the fashion - but the consequences of their actions will continue to haunt them.

Meanwhile, our response can be to work to build an alternative, based on mutual respect, honesty and trust, on accountability and the painful, ongoing struggle with consciousness of our own failings and limitations. To do so is an act of existential defiance that we owe to ourselves and our posterity.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The truth about the "War on Drugs"™

Good to finally hear someone else saying what I've been arguing for years - even if it is Quentin Tarantino...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88FP8D5U5-Q

 I wrote an op-ed (still unpublished) in 1996 titled "War on Drugs = War on Blacks," making the case that just as the  "Jim Crow" laws were written to target blacks and restrict them under the guise of "legal due process," so the "War on Drugs" was a very thinly veiled (actually pretty transparent to anyone who was watching it in action, even  that long ago) way of oppressing young black men - the activist core of such organizations as the Black Panthers.

First, you make addictive drugs available at attractive prices to a population that is under-employed, under-educated and bored. Then you make drug use attractive in the media, through subtle, seemingly "anti-establishment" acceptance in popular culture in films and music - glamorize the "Gangsta Life" as a way of being "rebellious," and "sticking it to the man."

Meanwhile, you keep drug prices low enough and supplies high enough that the drug trade becomes one of the most lucrative (and at the same time most divisive and distracting) occupations in the black community. Then you have the recipe for complete oppression, justified by "concern" for "illegal drugs."

The horror of drug dependence - even without the legal repercussions - creates a climate that demoralizes families and individuals, destroys community and distracts people from any kind of political action to demand their rights. It also creates a stereotype that tends to discredit any who do try to organize, giving many black men "criminal records" - which can then be used to cast aspersions on them in other contexts - on the basis of even minor infractions for marijuana possession.

"Stop and frisk" is a perfect expression. Identify "illegal drug use" with young minority men and you have a pretext on which you can oppress them, terrorize them, harass them at every turn with no more justification required than "suspicion" of drug use or trafficking.

You have an excuse to jail tens of thousands of young black men - all out of proportion statistically to their actually engagement in drug use and trade - and work the demeaning, demoralizing, stereotyping "magic" of the prison environment on them.

The "slavery" of prison Tarantino talks about is only one of the most obvious by-products of this system. The deeper, personal effects are far, far more sinister. As Jerry Farber famously said of the education system - "It isn't what Mr. Charlie does to you that does the worst damage. It's what Mr. Charlie teaches you to do to yourself."

It is a War, with a well thought-out, long term strategy that has evolved over the years to include the enormous, profit-generating, prison-industrial system that gives localities, prison corporations and their shareholders/owners, and large, powerful worker-unions (who should be ashamed) an economic stake in the continued and expanding oppression of their fellow-citizens.

My friend Lucy Young gave me the key years ago - "The key to government oppression" she said," Is to make everything illegal, and then enforce the laws selectively." So Barack Obama and George W. Bush can use cocaine and get away with it - because they are useful to the system, and they do so in the context of "privileged" drug use.  - while others are forced to spend their lives and energy battling the "criminal justice system," which effectively destroys their ability to take any constructive political action.

We are slowly moving away from the "War" model - which has been shown so many times to be inappropriate and futile. But we are doing so for all the wrong reasons - mostly to de-criminalize the drugs of choice of the white population.

But without a recognition of the underlying methods and motives of the "War on Drugs" - so apparent in its actual effects over the decades on our population -  and those who fomented it (and the "War On Terror" as well, as another instrument of justification for the imposition of an increasingly effective and oppressive police state), the people will continue to be bamboozled by manufactured threats and false "solutions."

Expose the lies - speak out for the truth, encourage (give courage to) others to do the same. Who knows, We, the People, may still have a chance of winning our country back...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why mass killings? The reasons are obvious.

We live in a culture that glorifies violence - and de-sensitizes us to the pain of others. On the one hand, this enormous outpouring of sympathy for the families of Newtown - on the other hand, not a word or a tear for the Afghan and Iraqi families, the Palestinians in Gaza - literally thousands of children, women and families - who have been killed or lost loved ones as "collateral damage."

Any society that accepts the concept of "collateral damage" except as the rarest of ocurrances in the most desperate of situations is sowing the seeds of it's own destruction. It's a mindset that says the lives of some don't matter. Then where is the moral boundary on anyone to restrain their murderous rages?

Our television and film glorifies "men with guns," and every problem is solved in 30-60 minutes by killing the "bad guys," or at least capturing them at gunpoint. Those with larger, more deadly guns are seen as "more powerful."

An assault rifle backed up by pockets full of handguns and ammo is  such an easy way for those who feel themselves "helpless" and  "powerless" to gain a grandiose, illusory - but deadly - moment of potency. As in this case, the act itself is often a "suicide note," a lethal "fuck you and everything you hold dear," from one who feels an outcast, to the society that fails to offer a way out.

There will always be crazy people. Some day we may care less about our tunnel-focus on "getting my share" and understand that we neglect those with more desperate problems at our own peril. We ignore the ignorant, the criminal, the mentally ill, the poor, the elderly, and when we do so, we create the climate in which cases of repressed rage and delusion like this one, and so many others - can flourish.

Then, of course, we make some of the most powerful weapons the world has ever seen available too pretty much anyone who wants them, or has enough guile to get them from others. Given what we know about some of the recent shooters, you don't have to be the brightest bulb on the string to figure out how to arm yourself up like Rambo.

It's a multi-faceted problem. We have to address all the issues: the culture, the care of those suffering from mental illness, the availability of military-style weapons to the general public. But we will make progress by addressing each one individually, as well as by seeing them altogether in context. The complex, interconnected nature of these problems can't be used as an excuse to avoid facing them...

Gun control legislation, Mental Health services improvement, and an initiative from the public to find something other than sensationalist violence on which to focus our "action/adventure" entertainment are among the areas we need to address. Pick one and get to work - unless you want to continue to be part of the problem.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The "threat" of "world government!" Oh My!

We all live in "One World" already..

The facts are these: There are now over 7 Billion people in the world and the population continues to grow. We humans are being crowded together as never before.

At the same time, technology has made it far easier for us to participate - if only vicariously for the most part - in one anothers' cultures. Today most people in the world (Americans are the exception) speak more than one language. A century ago, that was extremely rare.

Inexpensive travel has made the intersection of cultures far easier and more common. "Tourists" are now routinely found in what were once "the remotest corners of the earth," from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic and Antarctic, to the Himalayas, "darkest Africa," and remote islands groups in the Atlantic and Pacific, that in the early 20th Century had been virtually isolated for hundreds of years.

The effect of all of this (and much, much more) that is going on right now, is the virtual "shrinkage" of the world. We are being pushed up against one another in a way that has never happened before. All population research indicates this kind of interconnecting and cross-influence will lead to crisis.

We see that already in how the flood of immigrants - mostly from the southern hemisphere to the northern at this moment - is changing the character of countries from France, Germany and Italy to the US and the Scandinavian countries.

Multi-culturalism isn't just a P.C. fad, it's an economic and political necessity. The movement of immigrants and refugees is changing the character of societies. You can build all the walls you want, but you won't be able to stop it. It's like the (probably apocryphal) story about King Canute ordering the sea to retreat.

On top of that, there's the intimately interconnected web of economies that erases borders and defies "National" definitions. In spite of the incredible blessings the US has enjoyed in regard to almost all natural resources, we have reached a point when even we are becoming increasingly dependent on supplies from other countries. Many countries around the world are already heavily dependent on products from the US and the other developed countries, and those other developed countries are even more dependent than we are on resources from outside their own borders.

There is only one forseeable outcome of all this - other than the End Times scenario, of course. That is increased cooperation, increased recognition of our common humanity, increased acceptance of the necessity of a system to co-ordinate world-wide sharing of resources and creativity.

This is not ideology - it is simple recognition of the physical reality of our situation. We are all stuck on the same island, floating in space, and we have limited resources with which to support ourselves.

In the past, we have solved this problem by fighting and killing each other, to obtain one anothers' resources for our own use. With nations like Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, India and Russia having nuclear weapons (with others on the verge), this becomes less and less practical.

In the past one nation could lay waste to a neighboring country, exploit its people and resources to enrich itself and get away with it. Although that can still be done - and many countries are still operating under that model - the opportunities are become scarcer, and the possible negative consequences much more dire.

With what we now know about the people of other nations, we can no longer justify our exploitation of their lands as "bringing civilization to the benighted natives." The argument that "Christians" have a duty to civilize the world with Christ's message (cleaning up on resource exploitation in the process) no longer flies - even among most Christians.

As we come into contact with (and assimilate as citizens) more and more people of other cultures, it becomes increasingly clear that - as medical and anthropological science has known for most of a century - there is only one "race" on earth, the human race.

We won't co-operate only because it is the right thing to do - although research indicates that except among a tiny socio-pathic minority of the population, altruism is our natural bent, and all of our great spiritual figures from Christ to Buddha to Mohammad have urged us to learn to love and support one another. We'll do it because the alternative is increasing chaos and misery for all of us.

Like some individuals, some societies will continue to try to blame their problems on others, but "blaming" doesn't solve problems. We will have to find solutions to our problems, or be overwhelmed and destroyed by them. The alternatives are: facing our problems in the real world and solving them; or embracing a psychotic, self-destructive breakdown.

It is clear that the solutions can't lie in "nationalism." We are already far too inter-related and interconnected for that. They have to lie in increasing international co-operation. This doesn't mean the destruction of unique national cultures - but it does mean the integration of many cultures into a greater whole. It does mean seeking to understand and respect that which is different. It does mean understanding, as Walt Disney tried desperately to tell us years ago - "It's a small world after all."

As in our lives, so in the world. We can either embrace change, grow and learn - or we can resist change and be run over by it. We can either face reality, or we can pretend the world is different from what it actually is, and create elaborate, ultimately futile structures to try to support our fantasy - usually at great cost and with terribly destructive effects.

"Global Governance" doesn't have to mean a totalitarian Big Brother state, any more than State governance means totalitarian control over towns, or Federal governance means totalitarian control over states.

In the US we are working out a system where people of quite different cultures - both ethnically and regionally - are learning to live together and manage their common affairs for the common good. That was our Founding Fathers' aspiration, and we're still working on it.

There's no reason why the ideas embedded in Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, which have been touchstones for the transition from Monarchies and despotic states to democratic forms of government for everyone from Chairman Mao to the French, the Italians, and even Ho Chi Minh (who expressed admiration for Jefferson and other American political thinkers) wouldn't also be at the core of the thought of those trying to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" on an international scale.

We can either maintain the current system of competition and it's "bad seed" child war between nations - which can only lead to misery and destruction - or we can seek increased cooperation - as the original thirteen American colonies did - and figure out a way to organize ourselves (as they did) into a political structure that best meets our objectives, that protects our rights and gives all the people of the world their best shot at what we in the US were the first to asssert as their birthright: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Slipping on the Banana (Republic) Peel

The American Job Market - like the American Economy, an artificial construct foisted on the people through manipulation of government policy, tax law and media disinfotainment -- is clogged with talented, experienced professionals, as well as with well-educated and -trained young workers who can't find jobs due to ridiculous application requirements by companies who really don't need to hire.

This is just one more aspect of the race to the bottom. The point is to build a large pool of highly-skilled people who are under- or un-employed, so that the employed live in fear of losing their jobs to the many qualified candidates out there, to put strong downward pressure on wages and expectations.

it can happen because most "work" in America is unnecessary - paper pushing, PR disseminating, useless product promoting. The necessary work of producing food, maintaining order and public safety, creating and maintaining housing, energy, transportation, is done by a very small fraction of the population.

We have graduated - thanks to technology - into that "future of the past" when people "don't have to work" anymore because all the necessities are supplied by robots and a small cadre of folks who control them and keep them in repair.

But that future is too egalitarian and leaves the mass of people with too much time to study, to think for themselves, to plan a better world. The Fascist powers can't allow that. They create crisis after crisis (or spectacle after spectacle - vide The Kardashians and Jersey Shore)  to distract people from what is right in front of them and maintain an artificial hierarchy in which they increasingly control everything.

The Student Debt scheme is the new "indentured servitude," as the "housing bubble' was a way to separate the rubes from their assets and make them more compliant and desperate for State support (and control!).

The Stock Market Churn, which makes "financiers" rich while doing nothing for the economy or the mass of people - in fact, tends to damage small investors, who are the "marks" in this game where the house always wins and the occasional apparent winner is often a shill - while the consistent winners are those who have rigged the game in their own favor.

The Banana Republicans are intent on turning our country into Colombia or pre-Fidel Cuba. The puppet show of the War On Drugs™ - actually a War on Blacks, Hispanics and The Poor - has turned the country into a militarized prison state to prepare the way for further oppression to come.

I know I sound like a wild-eyed militia-man - but I'm not. I'm a patriotic, middle-class American looking at the handwriting on the wall with a growing sense of horror.

We finally elected our first black President, a man who had known poverty and discrimination, and what have we gotten? A toady for Wall Street and the moneyed special interests who doesn't stand up to the anti-democratic initiatives of the Republicans not because he hasn't got the backbone or because he's  somehow "powerless," but because he wants the same things they want - more money and more power for himself and his rich friends and supporters.
The whole economic system is dysfunctional, from the administrative practices, where the "leaders" who brought the big banks to ruin still have their jobs and 7-figure salaries, to hiring, where talented recent college graduates battle displaced, experienced, skilled workers to beg for jobs at little above minimum wage.

If there is a way out, it has to be with a new grass-roots political organization, but at the moment the mass of the population is so stupified (in the most literal sense) by the media circus, so lulled into complacency on the one hand and so frightened on the other that they are being driven like sheep.

The Occupy Movement - or whatever may grow out of it - holds the most hope, but most people are so bamboozled that they are terrified of demanding change, equality and democracy. Just artificially deflate the artificially inflated price of gas by 10% and they are suddenly convinced that "everythings getting better!"

The message we send - "WTFU, America!" needs to keep being sent, but history argues that until the moment is right - whenever that may be - the message will not be heard.

Sadly, human history is mostly a record of cataclysms brought about by desperation. Hopefully some day we'll get by that. The current squeeze may be our opportunity to find an alternative way of evolving, and I hope we will seize it, but I'm not holding my breath, if you know what I mean...

Monday, December 19, 2011

War is Over?

War is Over?

Oh, really? With 16,000 US personnel - primarily civilian "private contractors" ranging from a mercenary army of "security forces" to enormous diplomatic and logistical deployments and the largest physical "Consulate" in any country in the world- the size of a small American city, more than twice the size of Hudson, NY, the only city in Columbia County, the county in which I live.

......Won't we be defending that investment with the threat of force - and actual force if the threat proves inadequate? Won't the presence of such a concentration of "American interests" make an ongoing pretext for the US to "defend" said interests by whatever means it sees fit whenever it feels them "threatened?"

The active, overt military occupation may be over, but the "War on Terror" - which has to include "Al Qidah in Iraq" as a major "enemy" - goes ever on, since "terrorism" can never be defeated.

And if the Iraq War is over, can anyone name for me the "Noble Cause" (G.W. Bush) for which tens of thousands of casualties died and were grievously wounded - for which the country of Iraq was laid waste?

That is the saddest part - that we Americans can't admit we were hoodwinked and bamboozled by a bunch of amoral pirates who managed to steal $9Billion in the first year of the occupation alone and uncounted billions since.

It is tragic that we can't face the fact of our own inadequacy as a people to control our leaders (and change things to do something about it!), that makes a Fascist takeover of the US loom as a real possibility - if it hasn't already happened. It is even sadder that so many Americans (and Iraqis) have been sacrificed in such a selfish, ignominious adventure, and that our denial makes it impossible to express our remorse.

For myself, I apologize for not doing more to stop this despicable and lethal charade. On behalf of the American people I apologize to every American and every Iraqi who was sacrificed to the pride and greed of Bush&Co, and to that of Obama&Co, who have followed the same failed policies in spite of promises to do just the opposite.

War won't "end" until we renounce the use of armed force to enforce our will in the world, and other countries do the same. Until then, it will just be put on "pause."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kiss democracy good-bye ...

... thanks to yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v FEC.

Now Corporations can expend unlimited amounts of money - shareholders' money, that if funneled through lobbyists can be deducted from their taxable income as a "business expense" - to promote and elect candidates they believe will do their bidding, and oppose and defeat those who stand up to them.

The conservative majority - the same five judges who gave us the illegal and misguided decision in Gore v. Bush that for the first time in history took the decision in a Presidential election out of the hands of the electorate - have now decided that it is "unfair" to Multi-billion-dollar Multi-national corporations to restrict their ability to influence the political process with their vast cash reserves.

Make no mistake, despite the mis-representations by Justice Kennedy, Corporations were NEVER denied access to a platform from which to express their political viewpoint in the "marketplace of ideas." Corporations and the industries of which they are a part were (and are) free to form PACs, to donate money (but not tax-deductible corporate funds) to them, and to use them to promote whatever messages they chose.

Individual employees of corporations - many of those in the highest echelons making millions of dollars a year - were free to use as much of their vast personal wealth as they chose to support these PACs, as well as make individual contributions to candidates.

All that had happened was the lawmakers, realizing the enormous power the vast wealth resources conveys in a world where political campaigns run on money, thought it would be more "fair" to restrict corporations from mounting overwhelming media campaigns of propagaqnda - that may or may not be truthful - in the last two months before an election. The PACs could still run such campaigns, but Corporations themselves could not run or directly fund them with Corporate funds.

Holding that corporations have the same "rights" to try and influence election results as individuals, under the protection of the First Amendment is an absurd argument.

In the first place, the Bill of Rights was intended to apply to citizens - people who can vote, can serve to protect our country, are accountable to our laws and can be punished by imprisonment for transgressing those laws, who live and die. Corporations can do none of those things. The notion that they should have all the rights of citizens - while bearing none of the responsibilities - is a self-serving distortion of the Framers' intent which the Robber Barons of the late 19th Century first paid to have written into law in the 1870s and 80s.

In the second place,claiming to create a "fair" playing field, where corporation A is allowed to spend millions of dollars to influence the the outcome of an election out of corporate funds, the spending of which actually reduces their tax liability (and hence is partly underwritten by their fellow taxpayers) while the electorate has to depend on what can be voluntarily raised among the general public in non-deductible contributions is absurd. It's like saying that the only "fair" contest between David and Goliath is one where they both are allowed to use the identical fifty pound club - which of course, only Goliath can swing - while David has no "sling."

These (and other) arguments are brilliantly laid out in Justice Stevens's eloquent, clear and fully- and carefully-documented rebuttal in his dissent, where he also discusses the question of why the Majority demanded to rehear the case, raising issues that weren't even presented in the original brief, in order to make a sweeping decision that wipes out 100 years of carefully- and painstakingly-established precedent, with wanton disregard for the principal of "stare decisis" - respect for established precedent and law .

As Steven's points out, this is judicial activism at its most blatant and most destructive.

You can download and read the whole decision: Kennedy's lame and often innaccurate rationalization and Stevens's careful, point-by-point rebuttal, rigorously documented - at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf . At 183 pages of heavily-footnoted legalese, it's rough going, but that's another one of the responsibilities of citizenship - getting the facts, and making up your own mind.

This decision is a stunning body-blow to democracy, issuing a license for the richest of the rich to spend their opponents under the table, to clog the airwaves, print media, internet and any and every other media venue with messages - whether honest or completely dishonest - that serve their ends, in an blitz leading up to election day

But the situation, although grave, is not hopeless. It is possible to pass a constitutional amendment that specifically limits the "rights" guaranteed by the Constitution to individuals only - not to imaginary "legal entities." This would once and for all destroy the fiction that has allowed Corporations to thrive (and many are doing so right now, in the midst of our "financial crisis") at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Visit http://www.dontgetrolled.org to find out the story and how to get involved. As B. Franklin said, the legacy passed down to us by our founders was "A republic... if you can keep it." Now is your chance to get involved in a real fight for freedom and democracy - a fight to "keep" our republic.