Lawrence Summers is frighteningly good at surviving his failures. Not quite as good as Alan Greenspan, who had a knack for disappearing before the failures even surfaced, but close. Among a certain group of politically calculating neoliberals, Larry Summers has a good chance of being appointed Federal Reserve Chairman. It’s breathtaking that he’s even being considered, but Larry has a kind of zombie ability; a can’t-be-killed-cat with at least nine lives despite catastrophic performances throughout his career.
1999 alone should have doomed him. That was when, during the Clinton administration, Summers helped convince Congress to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. That’s the economic equivalent of lighting a fuse to a stick of dynamite. For decades the Glass-Steagall act successfully forced banks to keep their commercial and investment activities separate. The idea was that banks that hold customer deposits insured by the FDIC (namely us, the American taxpayer) should not be making wild bets with that money. Repeal of the law allowed commercial banks to get into the mortgage-backed securities market that came crashing down during the financial crisis. To put this more bluntly, Summers lit the fuse to the dynamite that helped blow up our financial markets. Not something you would normally reward.
And he learned nothing from the experience. Holding fast to deregulation and ‘free market’ principle, even in the wake of the 2008 fiscal disaster, Summers was the “most vocal internal opponent” of the Volcker Rule, a watered down Glass-Steagall in principle, which forbids banks from making risky bets with taxpayer money, according to Mother Jones magazine. In 2009 and 2010, as Congress was drafting up the Dodd-Frank financial reform law aimed at preventing another financial collapse—the Volcker Rule was seen as key. Three years after Dodd-Frank passed, the Volcker rule has yet to be finalized because Wall Street is waging an all-out war against the law—and Larry Summers is on their side.
Additionally, Summers was hostile to a proposed addition to the Dodd-Frank law that would have broken up mega-banks into smaller banks. Summers objected to the measure because, he said, it would mean smaller banks “would be at greater risk of failing.” But if they aren’t small enough to fail, they are too large to fail, and tax payers have to foot the bill. And we’ve all seen what success our economy achieves when banks are too large to fail.
Also unfortunate, while he was president at Harvard University between 2001 and 2006, Summers invested billions of dollars of the school’s money in a risky mix of stocks, bonds, hedge funds, and private equity. As a result, when the financial crisis hit, the university ended up losing 27 percent—or $1.8 billion—of its $6 billion in cash assets.
All of this goes without mentioning his utter political tone deafness. Remember the abstruse warnings Greenspan gently prodded fund managers with, that wonderfully subtle phrase, ‘over exuberance’ or Bernanke’s coyly playing around with positive growth estimates? There’s a reason for that. The Fed Chairman holds the heart of Wall Street in his/her hands; when the Fed whispers, Wall Street swoons.… But, alas, Larry is anything but subtle. He’s a bull in the bull market, so to speak. Or the bear in the bull market.
During his tenure at Harvard he managed to piss off approximately half the human race by insisting that women couldn’t really make top-tier scientists. Summers told a meeting about the status of women in science that “three broad hypotheses” could explain the “very substantial disparities regarding the presence of women in high-end scientific professions…”
With his usual panache, he explained that women don’t like the “80-hour work-weeks”, that small differences in average math or science aptitude translate into a large disparity at the intellectual level needed to do world-class science, and finally that girls and young women are socialized away from science and engineering into ‘softer’ disciplines.
No mention, of course, of male hegemony or male preferential treatment, because why would that ever enter into it?
A little tone-deaf, like I say, such that he managed to provoke his own public denunciation from the Harvard faculty. On March 15, he received a no-confidence vote from the faculty of arts and sciences, apparently for the first time since the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony spawned Harvard in 1636.
But he is a cat with the proverbial nine lives. After he was an insensitive clod at Harvard, Larry Summers moved on to become an insensitive cad at the World Bank. On December 12, 1991, he authored a memo that has since become infamous, arguing that the less developed countries [LDC] should essentially service the waste from the first world because their health costs were lower. “From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”
He also goes on to note sadly that, “I’ve always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted…” As if pollution were a ‘fixed’ cost of doing business and if you wanted to be all grown up, you needed to go out and get yourself some.
And besides, he added, his third bullet point of impeccable logic, poor people don’t really live that long.
“The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand.”
If you’re reading this and thinking that Larry Summers is a moral troglodyte, you’re not alone. After the memo became public in February 1992, Brazil’s then-Secretary of the Environment Jose Lutzenburger wrote back to Summers: “Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane… Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists’ concerning the nature of the world we live in… If the World Bank keeps you as vice president it will lose all credibility. To me it would confirm what I often said… the best thing that could happen would be for the Bank to disappear.”
Sadly, Mr. Lutzenburger was fired shortly after writing this letter.
Mr. Summers, on the other hand, was appointed the U.S. Treasury Secretary on July 2nd, 1999, and served through the remainder of the Clinton Administration.
And so it goes.
But in some ways, maybe Larry Summers has done us a favor. He embodies all that is wrong with the nexus of our political and economic system in one man—no small feat. If he’s chosen for the Federal Reserve Chairmanship it will become infinitely easier for historians to pinpoint at least one of the missteps that led to our national decline.
Only our usual cartel of Wall Street players, neoliberal acolytes and a few lazy historians would applaud his appointment, the rest I should think would look to the alternative candidate, Janet Yellen (whom Elisabeth Warren has recently endorsed), and hope she gets the nod.
The scary part is, no one really knows how many lives Larry has left.
Sometimes there are news stories so over the top, so outrageous, that you double-check just to ensure you haven’t lost your mind. At times these stories involve incredibly weird acts with peanut butter jars and human orifices, other times, it’s North Carolina legislators trying to write laws.
According to the Huffington Post, a bill was filed Monday, April 1st, by two GOP lawmakers from Rowan County, NC and backed by nine other Republicans (including the Majority Leader) that would effectively allow the state of North Carolina to declare an ‘established’ religion. The April 1st date could be indicative of the joking nature of the thing, but they appear to be serious as a heart attack. They use proud state secessionist type speech that we really haven’t heard since those Halcyon days of the Civil War (that Recent Unpleasantness, by the way, left over half a million of our fellow citizens dead or about 620,000 …keep that figure in mind, we’ll be coming back to it).
Here are the two relevant sections from the bill:
SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
Even those of us who aren’t lawyers—much less state legislators– are passingly familiar with the First Amendment and what is commonly known as the Establishment Clause. This clause expressly prohibits Congress from passing laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion in America. The North Carolina GOP’s argument, in all its simplicity, appears to be that the Establishment Clause does not apply to the states. Well, the kindest thing you can say is that the argument is courageous; in the same way that sticking your tongue to a steel pole in sub-zero temperatures is courageous. It’s not something you cheer: you just have to wonder what’s going on with that person. And you hope they get better soon.
As recently as 1971, a similar effort was soundly repudiated in Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court established the three-pronged test—called “The Lemon Test”— for determining when a state has run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:
• The law or state policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose.
• The principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.
• The statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.
The Lemon test, by the way, has been upheld as recently as 2005 –even under our extremely conservative SCOTUS in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union.
So passage of such a law in North Carolina has zero chance of surviving a constitutional challenge which apparently is beside the point. After all, this is the same state that continues to hold a provision in its State Constitution requiring that candidates for state office profess their belief in God. This despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) which held that such a law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. To wit:
“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”
North Carolina’s response? … Crickets. They have not modified their State Constitution an iota in order to accord themselves with the law of the land.
This is a problem. It’s the same kind of problem we see in Mississippi where there’s a proposal to establish a state board with the power to nullify federal laws; and with legislation recently introduced in North Carolina by state Representative Larry Pittman (R-Concord), touting a state constitutional amendment that would allow for carrying concealed weapons to fight federal “tyranny.” Our own state, Virginia, is currently refusing millions in federal aid (even as we slash necessary local programs) in a pyrrhic effort to evade Obamacare, as if refusing federal funds for sick and poor people were a great and noble cause (right up there with defending slavery). All of these efforts are generated in a cloud of rightwing paranoia of the U.N. black helicopter variety. If they were merely childish, albeit costly efforts that would simply wither on the vine, it would probably be safe to disregard them, but what years ago would have been casually ignored as the lunatic fringe has now become the Republican party’s base. At the state level, this kind of rhetoric is quickly becoming standard operating procedure.
Progressives like to believe in an arrow to history, a teleological end point; but in reality for every few steps forward there are usually two or three steps back. Progress tends to be more evolutionary—in Stephen Gould’s sense of the matter– with bad or useless things hanging around that really shouldn’t— kind of like our appendices. Most gains are compromises with something slightly disingenuous or dysfunctional (think of Obamacare’s deep entanglement with an expensive and nearly useless private insurance overlay). Unfortunately, it’s difficult to imagine what can ameliorate the poisonous assumptions that are being made at the state level today. These are not compromise positions, but deeply atavistic nonnegotiables that aim to undermine the whole. They are symptoms of a malaise that surfaced nearly 150 years ago, at the cost of over half a million lives, and look to be trending once again. I suspect, unless roundly ridiculed, it might come back like Nietzsche’s eternal return, or worse, like Newt Gingrich (God help us).
We can only hope that, like the infamous Darwin awards, these Southern statesmen will do the human race a favor by self-selecting themselves out of our legal gene pools—through foolish acts, like sticking their tongues to freezing steel poles, or forgetting who won the Civil War.
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Twas the night before the election and all through the progressive house…
- So it is election eve and like most rational people I am waiting with bated breath for this whole damn thing to be over. It is exhausting to say the least to have an election cycle that for all intents began on January 20th 2009 and has moved with a slow, relentless, pulverizing momentum that only enormous amounts of time and money can produce, until today it consumes everything in its path. I am done at so many levels with this election and yet whatever the outcome on Tuesday, I know that it will begin again almost immediately. Permanent campaigning is not, to borrow a phrase from my Occupy friends “what democracy looks like”.
- We are being told again by both sides that this is simply the most important election in history and that any sense of cynicism and apathy about the process is a form of betrayal. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in voting, even in voting when I don’t like either candidate, but I think it is legitimate to ask if the vast majority of Americans are really being served by the election system we have now.
- If I need to explain why Mitt Romney would make an awful president then you probably got to this blog by accident and should redirect to Gawker or NFL.com or whatever. Yes, Romney would be a disaster piled on the disasters that have come before and in that context voting for the president to keep Romney out of the White House is an understandable position to take in this cycle. My friends on what passes for the hard left these days make a good point that participating in the system merely gives the system legitimacy and helps to perpetuate it. By system, they often mean the WHOLE system, capitalism, democratic republicanism, hell private property etc. I don’t necessarily roll that way, but I feel like I do perceive a fundamental truth in what they say. As a progressive I often feel left out of the discussion within the large tent of Democratic politics. They make the right noises, but they often don’t come through for us and they are confident that we’ll show up to volunteer and contribute and vote for them because we don’t want the latest flavor of conservative crazy to win control of the government. We can look no further back than the presidency of George W. Bush for an example. Al Gore was not very exciting, and a lot of folks on the left especially after a pretty exhausting Clinton administration that had veered ever to the vanishing center, wanted to send a message… enter Ralph Nader and hanging chads and the Supreme Court and bam, there was George Bush. We were told that Bush and Gore were exactly the same and I suppose that from the vantage point of the Comintern they were, but the practical results were awful for our nation and for most of us as individuals, not to mention all the people around the world who died because we had the wrong guy in the White House. So yeah, elections matter. Gore, I am confident, would not have done what Bush did… But.
- This has been a pretty bad cycle indeed. In 2008 a lot of people poured their hopes and dreams and their decade long frustrations into the person of Barack Obama and that vessel could not contain them. I think that Obama’s presidency has been competent in light of the challenges he faced entering office. He followed what more and more is looking like the worst presidency in at least 150 years and maybe ever. He inherited a nation in the midst of an economic collapse the likes of which had not been seen in 70 years, embroiled in two unpopular, failed wars and riven by a deep and abiding political schism in which one party seemed to be going more and more off the rails while the other muddled along trying to clean up the mess like the long-suffering spouse in an abusive relationship. I think the president is a decent person, I can’t help but like him at that level. He’s educated, deliberative and nuanced in his thinking. And as a 52-year-old progressive, I got to do something in electing him that I honestly did not think would happen in my lifetime. I retain a residual affection for Mr. Obama that will not go away soon and that colors my perception of him. My friends on the left scoff at this sort of thing, but it is real and it is important, and of course I am also as susceptible as the next person to the US vs. THEM, often sports team conflated dichotomy that has come to be the central part of American politics: I acknowledge that I want Obama to win partially because I want to make the bad guys suck it!
- So I’d rather have a second Obama term than a Romney term, but make no mistake, Obama has failed on several crucial fronts that I don’t think he had to, and I am deeply disappointed in him. I largely give him a pass on the economy; there are forces at work right now that no president can control and certainly not in one term with a do-nothing Congress. The original stimulus was too small by half and people knew it at the time, but the president still seemed to think that he could horse trade with the GOP in Congress or compel them through this famously strong rhetorical arguments. Much of the stimulus got wasted in useless tax cuts to try to woo people who already seemed to actively hate him personally. His policies and those of the FED and yes, the “bailout” (I know, I know), probably kept us out of the Great Depression part II, but the recovery has been weak and Europe remains in trouble and it feels like we missed a chance to change things for the better and make the people who caused this actually pay. We needed systemic change, an end to the failed policies of the last 3 decades and real economic growth based on higher wages and better benefits for workers and less on corporate profits. Obama should have been stronger in making the Democrats in Congress do serious work on banking and financial reform but he wasn’t, either because he couldn’t or he didn’t want to – pick your flavor. Dodd/Frank is a start of sorts, but it is very weak and could have been better just by going back to the rules that worked so well for half a century between FDR and Reagan. Maybe this wasn’t politically possible, but it sure would have looked better if Obama had not filled his administration with bankers from Goldman Sacks and other Wall Street insiders, as in the case with the economy and healthcare, perceptions matter, and it sure looked like business as usual to a lot of us on the left.
- Healthcare is a case in point: Obama took his sizable election capital after 2008 and invested it in the first substantive healthcare overhaul since the 1960s. Obamacare is flawed, but it is a real step forward. It is also probably about as good a deal as the American people were likely to get despite the Democratic control of both houses of Congress and the presidency. But because the president didn’t want to make the mistake many thought that the Clintons had made in 1992, he decided to farm out the work to Congress which isn’t very good at writing or passing sweeping legislation anymore, unless it involves curtailing civil liberties. He also threw away a lot of what progressives wanted at the outset. He made deals with the pharmaceutical industry that kept them largely on the bench through this process which was smart politics but muddied his message. While Speaker Pelosi delivered the House without much problem, in the Senate we were treated to all the pork-barrel and Christmas tree lawmaking that Congress is infamous for. The president got a bill eventually but at tremendous political cost, and instead of being able to claim a victory he got slapped by just about everyone including progressive who were furious that he never even brought up “single payer”, not even to bargain away. Worse, Obamacare as it is now being called by everyone (I think the GOP may come to regret that choice of words), will be the last piece of major healthcare legislation for years to come. No one wants to fight that fight again on the Hill and so whatever chance we had at Medicare-for-all is gone for a decade or more and perhaps will have to wait till the baby-boomers are gone and the system readjusts.
- Of course for many progressives it is the president’s abysmal civil liberties record that galls the most. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should have been impeached and removed from office, and they should have stood trial for war crimes for the things they did while in office. I don’t care about motivation or incompetence or whatever, the Bush administration has done terrible lasting damage to the concept of the rule of law in this country and just being remembered as a crappy president isn’t enough frankly. By that measure Barack Obama should also have a day in the docks. He promised to close Gitmo and never did. He claimed to end torture, but his administration has allowed a dangerous and continued opacity in intelligence matters and is perhaps even more secretive it is dealings in our new Cold War than the Bushies. I see no reason to believe them even if I am more inclined to support them. The drone war is a foreign relations and human rights disaster and has very troubling connotations for policing and surveillance in our own country. The security and surveillance state has only grown under this presidency and in signing the NDAA with its controversial language authorizing the president to selectively kill American citizen without charges or trial, we saw a further, shocking disregard for the Constitution (from a guy who taught constitutional law, for crying out loud), and constitutes a reasonable explanation alone for why so many progressives are seriously thinking about sitting the election out. What can I say to them? Romney would be worse? It’s clearly true, but is a lousy answer all the same.
- But I can’t sit out the election because Romney WOULD be worse. A lot worse, I think. This president has been disinterested in pushing for action on climate change which is probably our biggest national threat going forward, but he has put more money into clean energy than anyone before him. I think we have a better chance to save Social Security and Medicare with Obama in the White House than Romney and Ryan. I think we have a better chance of avoiding more conflicts in the Middle East with Obama than Romney, who has hired the entire discredited Bush foreign policy team to advise him. And we have a better chance of keeping women’s reproductive choice legal, over-turning Citizens United, saving the EPA, getting equal rights for gay people, relying on science instead of superstition, and coming up with a sane immigration policy with Obama in the White House and Obama nominating the next couple Supreme Court justices.
- So what do we do Wednesday? Both parties will begin gearing up for mid-terms in 2014 and of course the next presidential cycle in 2016. I am not exaggerating. As progressives we can bow out, we can sign the occasional petition and go to the occasional rally when it is something we feel strongly about and so then in 2016 we can lament that no one is talking about our issues. We can say, oh it is all too hard and everyone is a liar and if only we could be like Egypt or Spain or something. We can wring our hands and complain and wait for some new leader to come along… or we can do what many of us have started to do. We can continue to organize ourselves, we can join forces across ideology and special interest, we can use the levers of power and we can vote with our wallets and our feet as well as our ballots. You know this may seem odd, but for some time I have looked at the way the Christian fundamentalist community does its business with a certain sense of awe. In many regards, they are just awful, but they are very organized, they are relentless, they rebound quickly from defeat, they compromise when practical but they stick with their core goals and they are in it for the long haul. They support their friends and they punish their enemies in the extreme. Without wanting to be them, I can say that there is a lot to learn from them. So many on the left want a movement outside conventional politics, well the fundies tried that and it didn’t work; now they have largely co-opted the Republican Party and the conservative movement. They don’t have complete control, but they are a real force to reckon with such that the bankers and the apparatchiks have to deal with them. They fuel the Tea Party and they make sure their ideas, no matter how outlandish, get into the mainstream discussion, and they require adherence to the party line even when it means losing temporarily. They have their own media system, their own entertainment and business community that exist in a strange parallel universe to popular culture as a whole. They used to be mocked and taken for granted by the Republican leadership, who said what the hard right wanted to hear at election time and then did as they pleased. That is no longer the case and there are lessons for the secular left that bear learning if we are to get more out of our troubled relationship with the Democrats.
- I know some folks want that separation. They dream of a European system where tiny splinter parties have outsized power. Good luck with that. Frankly, I’d rather have two large centrist parties where national consensus and compromise are the rule, than one where unreconstructed Bolsheviks and Neo Nazis can cast meaningful votes – but that’s just me. By the way, I don’t necessarily think that is what we have now, in fact I think we have a fun-house mirror version of that these days, and that won’t change until the GOP is punished at the polls for acting like spoiled, kind of crazy children and the Democrats learn there’s a price to pay for walking away from their base. I think we have to make Democrats take us seriously by offering them the carrot of our support with real strings attached and punishing them when they go astray. Part of this means building an infrastructure that finds and nurtures progressive candidates and gets them elected at the local level (which is how the conservatives do it), training them and cultivating them and building a structure that supports them when they are out of office as well. A lot of this sort of thing sounds too messy, too much like playing by someone else’s rules for my hard left friends who dream of general strikes and popular uprisings. In some ways, I’m with them. I’ve walked on picket lines and spoken at demos and I will again. But I also helped found APV because waiting for some organic moment when the dialectic shift and a new thesis emerges is not for me. I want to fight back, and to do that you need the right tools and you need to master the terrain. So I’ll be voting on Tuesday and I’ll be back at work on Wednesday whoever wins.
The great writers of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgment, a moral climate. They shared certain values, they were humanist. If you read a nineteenth century novel today, Dostoevsky or Dreiser, Dickens or Twain, it is recognizable as a novel from the 19th century because of this moral climate. The core question that is asked is not are the characters successful or witty, but are they right? Writers of that period saw the individual struggling to find the correct balance between their independence and individual beliefs and the needs of the collective. There are only a handful of 20th century writers that have carried on this discourse and too many of them are given over to despair. The post-modernists of the 70s and 80s saw almost any political action as futile, compromised, or something of a joke. Some –too many –took ironic delight in pointing out the obvious difficulties. And rather than enlighten, they left one feeling bleak and hopeless. Meanwhile, in the real world, small wars and large wars continued. Corporations were stripped of their essential community based purpose, and instead were turned into the raw machines of profit. Yet, despite this sea change, our writers seemed stuck in a kind of identity crisis, a second gear, neither willing or able to tackle political issues of the day. Our popular culture essentially gave up on political man. News shows only pretended to objectively cover politics, and then only covered scandal. People forgot what it was to be politically or ethically engaged. During this same period, roughly from the late 1970s to 2012, our industrial base was eviscerated, our addiction to oil became deadly, and the American middle class saw their healthcare costs sky-rocket, their pensions raided, and their educational institutions privatized for the profit of a few. None of this is a coincidence.
As Christopher Hedges points out, “We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”
Hedges goes on to note that what fosters revolution is not misery, alone, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. As if in response to this syllogism, on September 17th of last year, activists and students descended on Wall Street and said, essentially, the gig is up. The scam must stop. The financialization of the world is killing our Earth. The Occupy Wall Street crowd did not operate in a vacuum. They were following The Arab Spring and the European Indignados. In fact, Spaniards from Puerta del Sol marched with us on Wall Street in those beginning days. And, on cue, it would seem, the Indignados in Spain have returned. They have reoccupied the Puerta del Sol as part of a global day of action to commemorate the first anniversary of the 15-M (May 15) movement. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards amassed in the square, some dancing joyfully, others debating the replacements for capitalism. According to an article on roarmag.org, a message circulating on Twitter yesterday perfectly caught the mood in Madrid:
“This is not an anniversary — it’s a tradition!”
In a few more months, the United States will have its own anniversary. In advance of that, Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist and political activist, outlines the reasons Occupy should make a come back, and, seeing the challenges ahead, he offers a warning as well:” Unless the spirit of the last year continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. ”
Read more below…
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.
Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.
A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.
“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.
When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.
If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.
Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food. John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.
I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.
Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.
Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.
One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)
The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:
“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?
I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?
I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.
Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.
I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.
Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.
I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”
(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)
Some News from APV, Virginia:
Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.
When our government is not only condoning, but acting to spread the contamination of the world’s food supply, what are we supposed to think … and who will lead the charge for world food safety? When the people’s opposition is as strong as it is now, why isn’t our government’s position being covered in national media forums to clarify their intentions and answer the people’s questions?
The world’s people, experts, and scientific studies are being completely ignored as the United States legislates in favor of corporations, preventing us from being able to make our own safe food choices. This path we’re on is becoming more of a super highway, and all the while, irreparable damage is being done.
The concept of what’s happening seems more like the theme for a futuristic fantasy novel where innocence is succumbing to an evil power of some sort.
It might go something like this:
Spreading at a pace that will soon leave the world-at-large dependent on the dole of corporations for sustenance, the insidious contamination continues in spite of popular uprisings. As the people flounder, the protagonist, a well-developed character on the side of innocence – always smart, usually good-looking, charms the reader by failing a few times only to get up, dust herself off and continue trying to save the day. If hunger can be used as a weapon, she knows that future freedom could be decided by those with access to viable seeds. Efforts to control those seeds are being seen around the world in court cases – usually and suspiciously settled or decided in favor of the evil power.
Planning her next move, the heroine ponders recent developments that are limiting the people’s power to resist: propaganda and the filtering of available information, changes in voting access laws and the use of dubious electronic equipment, legalized wire tapping and diminishing privacy rights, changes in class action law, union busting, the denial of free speech and the process of redress, state violence used against peaceful protesters ….
“This doesn’t look good,” she whispers to her adorable but ill-behaved dog, and her concern deepens as she continues with her list: privatized prisons with quotas, corporatized education, secret interpretations of the law. But the last item on the list, “indefinite detention of suspected terrorists”, gives her new pause.
More people are growing their own food. Private gardens that provide fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere. The prepping process, canning or freezing to maximize a season’s bounty, is also widespread … but having seven days worth of stored food is listed as “suspicious activity” used to determine and identify citizens as state terrorists.
And so on and so forth ….
You have to be living under a rock not to be aware of this hardly debatable issue. Food safety, clean air, clean water … basic, basic stuff. And they’re all at risk because of the spread of conservative, neoliberal and libertarian ideology. Every one of their gains is a loss for the people, even as what they’re doing is against their own basic principle. What they’re doing causes damage to others. In order to continue on with their profit-driven mismanagement of our world’s resources, including our food supply, they just deny reality and hope we aren’t noticing. It’s got to stop.
A short but really good explanation of what I mean is in George Monbiot’s article about their core argument: “the procedural justice account of property rights”.
We are the protagonist of our own novel. Our character is being portrayed as weak, conflicted and ineffectual, but together we can rewrite the story. Joining a grassroots organization near you increases our strength by sheer numbers. Organizations like APV effectively join hands across the country giving our member lists the credibility of a voting bloc. As assumed voters, those lists are a force giving progressives a national voice, in some cases thwarting destructive ideas before they even become proposals. That’s what we need. We need our numbers to be threatening. Having your name on a grassroots list for progressives is the least you can do if you want to help turn things around.
Unless you have something more pressing in mind than eating food and breathing air, let’s get it done. These corporations are not holding their breath in anticipation of you taking action, but progressives are at this point! Please don’t put it off.
Here’s an example of our work. During the Alliance for Progressive Values’ lobbying event in Washington, September 22-23, members of our legislative team presented members of Congress with copies of the APV White Paper prepared by our Public Policy department on the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms.
It’s an outstanding paper, so I hope you’ll read it, too. Foxes Guarding the Hen House: Big Business, Lax Regulation and the Case Against GMOs (pdf)
The good news is, the cards are still being dealt in the political mess America is in now, but what’s showing on the table clearly indicates that we need your help. Don’t gamble on something so important by not doing something so simple. Please. Find a group that you like and join it.
You can check out APV’s website and join here if it suits you. Here’s more about having a membership – which is 25 dollars and bare bones cheap considering what we do, which you can read all about on the website.
I’m really hoping to see some new names on the list – and yours could be one of them. Think about it, please. APV has an amazing, hardworking team of volunteers, many of whom are taking time from work to do this for you, your family and the future of our country.
Thanks a million in advance!
Various media articles about the contamination of our food supply:
Fortunately, and evidenced by this spicy retort from Sarah Jones, the dumbing down of America isn’t working across the board. When Republicans compared President Obama to the “Chicken of the Sea”, the cowardly Captain of the Costa Concordia, she threw the truth in their faces like a pepper jelly pie. Hopefully, it’ll stick and sting long enough to do some good.