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                        Uncommon Sense and Fair-Mindedness

Democracy originated in ancient Greece.  This was a great idea of fair representation in politics and governance that first flowered forth into history in this beautiful island nation more than 2,500 years ago.  Citizens of Greece passionately loved freedom and respected reason and clarity of thought, so they cherished knowledge, balanced perspective, and the concept of all things in moderation.  At the time, mariners in Greece “sailed on a sapphire sea washing enchanted islands purple in a luminous air”, as Edith Hamilton eloquently observed in The Greek Way.  Evocative music being played on a harp-like lyre heralds these introductory words.

The people in ancient Greece appreciated knowledge for its value for living -- and not merely for its own sake.  Knowledge was seen to be capable of leading people “away from error to right action.”  The Greeks “loved beauty with economy”, as the statesman Pericles put it, and they embraced a kind of economy that was the opposite of mindlessly lavish consumerism or hubris-filled grandiosity.  To them, their gods were nearby “to watch over deeds of justice and kindliness”, according to the poet Hesiod.

Throughout most of ancient history before the flowering of rationality and fair-mindedness in Greece, despots or plutocrats ruled nations, and people were subjugated to the primacy of kings or dictators or a powerful oligarchic few.  One tremendous conflict in history was to decide whether freedom or tyranny is the stronger force:  the wars between the Persian Empire and the Greeks. 

Darius the Great was the ruler of the First Persian Empire at the peak of its power in the 5th century BCE.  From his native Persia, Darius had conquered most of what is modern day India, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Egypt, so he presided over the most extensive empire the world had seen until that time. Then he marched on Greece, “a rocky land and poor”.  A legendary battle took place at Marathon in 490 BCE, and the freedom-loving Athenians miraculously defeated the powerful tyrant and his huge army.  This event is often seen as a pivotal moment in European history.

Ten years lapsed, and the curtain rose again for the next episode in this epic drama.  Darius had died and his son Xerxes brought another large force down the Meander River valley to wreak vengeance on the Greeks.  He amassed the large army and sent it in 1,200 ships to engage the Greeks, who sailed their much smaller force of men in triremes to narrow waterways near the island of Salamis.  In the strategically confined straits, the freedom-defending Greeks were brilliantly led by a famed Athenian General named Themistocles, and they were able to vanquish the larger force in a decisive victory. 

Perhaps Nemesis, the Greek goddess of divine retribution, had smitten the hubris-filled Persians, arrogant with their might and riches.  In any case, they retreated back to whence they came, and Herodotus, “the father of history”, noted what Aeschylus had written:  “All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears.  God calls men to a heavy reckoning for overweening pride.”

We are engaged in another titanic conflict between tyranny and freedom in the world again today.  The character of this conflict is assessed at length herein.  I feel strongly that we should give our support to democratic, fair-minded, freethinking, common sense, inclusive and progressive elements in society, and throw off the tyranny of economic fundamentalism, crony capitalism, trickle-down deceptions, extreme conservatism, oligarchic hubris, scheming authoritarianism, aggressive militarism, and male supremacist religious authority.

A Revival of Wise Solon’s Ideas

A new form of arrogance bedevils our American democracy today.  It is the arrogance of wealth and privilege.  Wealthy conservatives have been abusing their power ruthlessly, and have managed to get our representatives to let them pay taxes at rates that are near the lowest in 85 years, despite our growing national needs and record levels of public debt.  They have hijacked our society to radically remake it, so that power, privilege and wealth become more and more concentrated in the hands of a relative few.  A bold course of corrective action is required.  Some compelling lessons of history provide us with clear avenues forward that make excellent sense.

Back in Athens during the 5th Century BCE, the disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor had become so extreme that the city-state was in a dangerous tinderbox condition.  Talk of violent revolt was being stoked in a pressure cooker of societal unrest.  The rich were angry at the brazen challenge to their privileges and property, so they prepared to defend their interests by force.

As these conflicts escalated between various factions vying for perks and privilege and power, many people recognized that a transformative leader was needed to find a fair compromise between the competing factions, and to do so in an equitable and peaceable manner.  Somehow good sense prevailed and moderate elements secured the election of a wise Athenian statesman and lawmaker named Solon, who was given wide-ranging legislative powers to mediate between concerned parties.

Solon made a number of fair-minded reforms of the Greek political system and its economy.  He gave power to the common people to elect officials, and to call their representatives to account.  Because of all the reforms he made, Solon is considered the first person in history to establish true foundations for democratic governance. 

Solon wisely made many revolutionarily progressive reforms, including the establishment of a steeply graduated income tax plan that made rich people pay taxes at a rate that was 12 times as high as the poor.  “The rich protested that his measures were outright confiscation; the radicals complained that he had not divided the land;  but within a generation almost all agreed that his reforms had saved Athens from revolution.”  So declared Will and Ariel Durant in their thought-provoking book The Lessons of History.  I love this concise book because it contains a distillation of insights the Durants had gained from studying history for decades while writing eleven volumes on world history. 

Today, glaring inequalities afflict the people in the United States and disparities in wealth between the rich and the poor have reached new modern extremes.  Joseph Stiglitz makes it clear in The Price of Inequality how economically foolish and socially counterproductive this shortcoming of our capitalist economic system is becoming -- and how pathologically amoral.

As a result of the current deep levels of inequalities, our nation is now in a dangerous condition.  We are confronted with three possible outcomes:  (1) to have the middle class and poor people fall into increasingly desperate states of insecurity because we continue to allow the well-being of the majority to be undermined by the perpetuation of regressive taxation schemes and the imposition of austerity measures;  (2) to embark on new repressive measures and incarcerate more people in prisons to suppress the growing outrage over social unfairness and the increasing desperation of the bottom 50%;  or (3) to compromise together to make our society truly fairer by instituting a more steeply graduated system of income taxes so that more money would be available to finance education and broaden opportunity and implement other programs that reduce inequities.

The first course of action would likely lead to people eventually taking to the streets in revolt;  the second course of action would have unaffordably high costs and bring our historic experiment in democratic governance to a sad and pathetic end, and the third course of action would seem to be the best plan, by far.

The lessons of history teach us that the most sensible plan would be to choose wise leaders who would make smart, decent and fair-minded reforms.  Those who do not heed the lessons of history are said to be more likely to be doomed to repeat them, so let’s heed the lessons!  Everyone should recognize the risks associated with Aristotle’s astute observation, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

Thinking about Good Acts and a Just Society

Mankind is an eternal seeker of reward, even for doing good.  People feel that there ought to be some greater recompense for doing good than just a clear conscience or a feeling of righteousness, and they expect a kind of “pleasure” for making moral choices or taking ethical actions.  This pleasure may be one of community esteem or gratitude, or a self-interested hope of receiving something good in return, or a feeling of freedom from a sense of guilt.  Many God-fearing religious people do good acts in hopes of gaining an eternally pleasant afterlife for themselves, or to avoid divine damnation. 

While almost every person would say they believe people should do good and help remedy glaring injustices, few of us do all the good that we could.  This is one of the deep contradictions of human nature.  John Fowles, in his thought-provoking philosophical treatise The Aristos, considered this issue, noting:  “For the last two and a half millennia almost every great thinker, every great saint, and every great artist has advocated, personified and celebrated -- or at least implied -- the nobility and excellence of the good act as the basis of the just society.”

Despite this broad consensus on the desirability of people to do good for the greater good of all, most people seem to see “a perverse but deeper truth:  it is better generally to do nothing than generally to do good.”  John Fowles adduces many reasons for this contradiction in purpose.  We are not only seekers of the spiritually sublime, but we are also eternal seekers of reward for ourselves.  We expect some sort of compensation for doing good, and more than just a clear conscience or a feeling of righteous self-approval.  We seek the hope of benefits in return, or recognition, or personal gratitude, or community esteem.  Or we seek to assuage a sense of guilt.  John Fowles lists the principal causes he sees for this failure to do good: 

-- there is uncertainty as to what the outcome of one’s actions may really be; 

-- there is a perception that the action contemplated is so small in relation to the final intention that the action seems pointless; 

-- a conflict exists between do-good intentions and more narrowly selfish ends; 

-- a fatalistic belief is felt that it’s only an illusion that we have freedom of choice in action;

-- profoundly confusing complexities exist in the nature of understanding; 

-- it seems futile to oppose a relativistic “evil”; 

-- our opposition may give ‘counter-support’ to what is opposed.

If we were to structure our societies so that incentives for doing good were more attractive, then more good would result.  We all face a multitude of anxieties in life, from fundamental universal anxieties to a variety of specific individual anxieties.  Since we all share these anxieties, to some extent, the almost hygienic emotion of empathy should have the effect of uniting us rather than isolating us;  instead, we tend to let them divide us, and master manipulators among us are eager to gain benefits from people divided.  As a result, John Fowles explains, it is “as if the citizens of a country would defend it by each barricading himself in his own house.”

Compassionate kindness to others, and actions against injustice and inequality, are crucially important to society, so they should be regarded as equivalent to functional acts of hygiene, and not merely as acts done to bring hoped-for pleasure.  In The Aristos, John Fowles’ excellent and concise summary of his personal perspectives on big ideas in life, he expressed this convincing opinion:  “As soon as we treat pleasure as a kind of successful bet, and then expect this sort of pleasure from moral choices and actions, we are in trouble.”  He clarifies that the main problem with such an attitude is that we may reach the conclusion: “only good actions that promise pleasure or personal rewards are worth our doing.”

The intentions that motivate good actions should be a broader desire to institute more freedom and fairness for all -- i.e., more justice and equality -- or else they can turn out to be consequentially amoral or socially immoral.  Fowles also states that there is a “sadly wide category where actions may seem good to the person performing the action, but are clearly evil in their effects.”

In writing about the failure of most people to contribute to the greater good, Fowles attributes “this strange and irrational apathy” to religion-engendered myths that imply that doing good will bring us eternal pleasure in an afterlife, “and that thus the good man is happier than the bad.  The world around us is full of evidence that these are indeed myths:  good men are very often far less happy than bad ones, and good actions very often bring nothing but pain.”  He adds:

“Over the last two hundred years there has been a great improvement in personal and public hygiene and cleanliness;  and this was largely brought about by persuading people that the results of being dirty and apathetic in the face of disease were not acts of God, but preventable acts of nature;  not the sheer misery in things, but the controllable mechanisms of life.”    “We have had the first, the physical, phase of the hygienic revolution;  it is time we went to the barricades for the second, the mental.”

A Salubrious Vision of More Sensible Values

Fairer consideration of the legacy we will leave to all our heirs in future generations is a principal theme of the observations contained in this Common Sense Revival.  We can see, right here and now, that we’re distinctly missing the mark in our societies in a disturbing litany of ways.  Throughout this manifesto, extensive details of how we are failing to do the right thing are explored, with a light toward identifying and putting into effect significantly saner and more salubrious plans of action.

We have been painting ourselves into an ever-more constricted corner, in a gaudy miasma of clashing colors, by incurring record levels of national debt year after year.  This is folly.  There are plenty of far-reaching challenges lying in the offing as the twenty-first century unfolds, and extraordinarily large amounts of money will be needed to adequately deal with them.  We can no longer afford to continue adding to the national debt every year to finance “routine” on-going needs like extravagant costs related to wars, the military, Homeland Security, high cost Medicare drugs, and unnecessarily expensive medical procedures for people in the last months of their lives.  And we cannot afford to continue assessing historically low rates of tax on the highest levels of incomes, or to continue giving big corporations and investors absurdly generous subsidies, tax breaks and regulatory loopholes.

We should invest more money in our children and their future -- in better and more affordable public education, physical wellness, national infrastructure, scientific innovation, smartly-focused research and development, and healthier communities in both rural and urban areas.  I myself have never had any children, but this personal fact does not diminish the clarity with which I see the right-mindedness of a marked shift toward fairer and more sensible national priorities.

“In the nineteenth century, anti-capitalist critics like Karl Marx insisted that economics must be contained within an ethical context;  they contended that social justice counted for more than industrial efficiency or private profit.  In the late twentieth century, the environmental movement is trying to teach us that both economics and ethics must be contained within an ecological context.”

                                       --- The Voice of the Earth, An Exploration of Ecopsychology, Theodore Roszak

I hope readers will give personally impartial attention to all the issues examined in these essays.  Ambrose Bierce defined "impartial" as “Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy, or of adopting either of two conflicting opinions.”  Ha!  Let’s objectively set aside all biases associated with our own personal advantages for a moment, and instead focus on a fair evaluation of the overall advantages for humankind in the pursuit of saner collective undertakings, considered from the point of view of the legacy we will leave for our descendants in the future.  Let’s consider the long-term impact of our actions, in other words, and think and feel in the biggest picture perspectives.

A Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

John Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez that ideas germinate in our minds and in the populace as a whole, but that they generally do not gain power and traction until they find the fertile soil of discontent to grow in.  The force of this idea could cause a completely peaceful and sudden revolution if the soil has already been intensely fertilized, and we have become ripe for such change.  I submit that rudely unempathetic gambits against fairness in our societies by those people with the most money are causing these energies to develop, and to gain force.  Conservatives are harvesting this discontent rather more effectively than liberals and progressives, but their policy prescriptions serve to make inequities and inequalities and injustices worse, so the time is ripe for clearly seeing the parameters of this truth and supporting a far-reaching revolutionary movement to set things straight.  A liberal one, not a Trumpian dystopia.

   “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

                                                                                                          --- Victor Hugo

James Madison was first elected in 1808 to become the fourth President of the United States.  Earlier, he had been instrumental in drafting the U.S. Constitution in 1789, and he was a key author and champion of the great Bill of Rights.  Madison was thus one of the central figures among our Founding Fathers, and he deserves the respect of our attention.  He says (paraphrased):

“Beware of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power.  More violations of people’s freedom have been effectuated by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

These words from one of our foremost Founding Fathers should give us pause for serious reflection.  We should heed these words and unite to oppose the many abuses of power that are taking place today, because these abuses are a driving force behind eco-shortsightedness, and they are radically contributing to deepening inequalities, growing public debt, inadequate infrastructure investments, declining social mobility, and a worsening general welfare in the U.S. in recent years.  We should stop bowing to “conservative” ideologies, and instead champion liberal ideas of fairness and common sense concern for the greater good.  I feel strongly that the sensational growth of extremes in inequality of income and wealth between the top 1% of Americans and the other 99% is causing a real abridgement of people’s economic freedoms, and that the corrupting influence of wealth in our money-monopolized political duopoly system is even worse than regular despotic usurpations of power, due to the insidious nature and extensive harms inextricably involved.

Wealthy philanthropist Bill Gates throws down the gauntlet to the well heeled.

"I believe that with great wealth comes great responsibility -- the responsibility to give back to society and make sure those resources are given back in the best possible way, to those in need”.

Introspection into Inequality

The conclusion reached in this Common Sense Revival at the time it was first published before the November 2012 national elections, was that our country would be best served by choosing to re-elect President Obama, and to simultaneously choose moderate politicians in all Congressional races;  and that, after the election, we should demand that all our representatives work together to make our country a fairer and more fiscally-sound nation, and a world leader in resource conservation and cleaner renewable energy alternatives and the promotion of ecological precautionary principles. 

Professor Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, is a political economist who is one of the most honorable progressive voices on the American scene.  His incisive perspectives are the subject of an insightful and eye-opening film titled Inequality for All.  The film received standing ovations when it was shown in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it won top recognition for excellence in documentary filmmaking.  Reich and the producers of Inequality for All deserve congratulations for having produced such a valuably thought-provoking film.  A division of Weinstein Company bought the film for wide distribution that began in September 2013.  I highly recommend that everyone watch it, and shame on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for not having given this important film the recognition and high visibility of a deserved Oscar nomination!

Professor Reich cogently explains the extent to which economic inequality hurts people and society as a whole, and the degree to which inequality undermines people’s ability to fairly pursue happiness and well-being in their lives.  Bob, as he is known to his friends, has hearteningly expressed optimism about our collective ability to make the USA relatively fairer and more equal for all.  It is an encouraging idea that the prospects are good for us to reform our economic and political systems, and to really make our nation a much fairer one.  Optimism and positive vision, after all, can help us be more effective in achieving goals consistent with the greater good.  Perhaps such perspective could inoculate us against the propaganda and narrow crony favoritism that are contributing to making the United States so inegalitarian.  Positive attitudes can provide us with a powerful impetus to rectify our distorted national priorities by understanding the challenging specific ways that we are insensibly allowing narrowly-focused interest groups to wrong-headedly determine these priorities.

An unexpectedly effective use of a simple visual aid is employed in the film Inequality for All.  A graph that charts trends in income inequality over the past century in the U.S. is superimposed over a graphic depiction of a suspension bridge similar to the beautiful and iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  A steep increase in income inequality over the decade of the Roaring Twenties corresponds to the rise of the bridge’s cables from one end of their anchorage to the top of the first suspension tower.  Then, as income inequality diminished from 1930 through 1980, the graph follows the bridge’s suspension cables downward toward mid-span, corresponding to a decline in economic disparities between Americans that resulted from public policies designed to create broader prosperity and a stronger middle class and a New Deal social safety net.  Then, beginning with the increasingly unfair public policies instituted by Ronald Reagan, a new episode of narrowly concentrated wealth has traced a trajectory upwards until it is reaching a new peak near the bridge’s second tower. 

Symbolically, the cables that lead back down to their second safe anchorage provide good hope that we will once again find the intellectual clarity and political will to implement fairer public policies that will emphasize a more stable and sustainable future.  Such a fair-minded attitude would represent the greater good for all.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz echoes and amplifies understandings similar to Robert Reich’s ideas.  In his important book, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, Stiglitz makes it abundantly clear that, in recent decades, broad inequities in the U.S. have been made much worse.  He posits that the reason for this is a pathetic one:  simply because our political system is structured to be “of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1%”.  Stiglitz makes many compelling observations about the true nature of exorbitant costs associated with extreme social inequalities in human societies, and he provides a convincing analysis of the failings of our economic and political systems.  He also proposes a propitious variety of wiser ways forward.

Stiglitz points out that our economic system is too unstable and inefficient, and that it is creating too much unemployment and too many inequities.  Our economic and political systems are serving to concentrate wealth at the top, and as a consequence, the populace as a whole is being adversely affected in many ways.  Our econopolitical system facilitates the foisting of a wide range of health adversities and environmental costs onto society, mainly so that businesses can maximize their profits in the short run.  This causes harm to millions of workers, consumers and citizens.  Associated damages to natural ecosystems are undermining the foundations upon which our overall well-being depends, now and in the future.  By allowing such developments, we are also harming the health and survival prospects of millions of other species of life.

Extreme inequality is one aspect of the intense class struggles that motivated Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx to write their notorious and ideologically exploited Communist Manifesto in 1848.  These famous early “worldly philosophers” described a “spectre” of worker exploitation and class warfare that was haunting industrial capitalist societies, and they examined the morbid manifestations associated with the inequities involved and the unmitigated social ills of early industrial activities.

Wealthy investor Warren Buffet declared in 2006:  “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”   Five years later, he added:  “Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won.  It’s been a rout.”  I have always personally admired a quality of magnanimity in winners, and felt a contrasting degree of umbrage toward those who exhibit jealously mean-spirited or excessively greedy and self-serving attitudes when they triumph.  Smugly narcissistic gloating is small-minded, and not a pretty thing.

I strongly believe that we can and should create fairer and more sensible civilizations, and this Common Sense Revival helps identify good ways that this can be accomplished. 

The Story Behind the Story

Psychologists have studied the values and ideologies that differentiate the political left and the political right for many years.  This research consistently identifies two antithetical value systems that have contrasting understandings of freedom, propriety, the individual, government, right and wrong, and the common good.  These partisan political points of view have created an adversarial “argument culture” in which blaming others is typical in public discourse, and compromise is seen as weakness.  This is especially apparent in news coverage on Fox News, which is an echo chamber of conservative spin that contrasts pathetically to progressive programming like that on MSNBC, which features astute analysis by Rachel Maddow and others.

The organization Project Censored tracks the top stories that are inadequately covered by corporate media outlets.  In its annual report, Censored 2013, Dispatches from the Media Revolution, the authors observed:  “Polarized thinking is typical of the dynamics between competing sides in many conflicts.  One side -- the innovators -- identifies a set of problems and promotes ideas or policies to address them.  Standing in distinct opposition, traditionalists identify with the current system, and they feel allegiance to its strengths.  Traditionalists see shortcomings in innovators’ plans and seek to preserve the old ways.”

These Project Censored insights have given rise to the new concept of “polarity management”.  Its goal is to identify and fully integrate the strengths and weaknesses of all sides, rather than blaming one side or the other.  Such a process of mediation encourages disputants to examine the weaknesses of their own positions and the strengths of others, so that solutions can be devised that address the issues that each party has, and their respective needs and fears.  Polarity management is an excellent idea, but it faces the hurdle that our political representatives do not really seem to be all that interested in solutions in the heat of their partisan strife and fierce competition to get money to assure they can get elected and stay in power.

There are surely better ways forward.  It seems obvious that evidence and facts should be evaluated fairly, and decisions should be made accordingly.  Our polarized politics has definitely led to some undesirable outcomes.  For instance, our great American experiment in democracy is suffering a series of existential crises.  Congress created a pathetic succession of ”fiscal crises” in the past decade that caused a loss of an estimated 2 million jobs.  In a study commissioned by the conservative deficit hawk Pete Peterson, it was revealed that economic growth in the U.S. has been retarded by fiscal-cliff and debt-ceiling emergencies and the poorly-targeted 5% annual cut in federal spending that was forced by the resulting “sequester”. According to William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, “America’s economy, in other words, is being actively sabotaged, and such self-destructive behavior is anything but conservative.  Vigorous growth would flood the Treasury with tax dollars and shrink the deficit.”  Sam Brownback, pay attention!  Listen to William Falk’s conclusions: 

One of the flaws of democracy is that a small group of angry zealots can exert outsized influence.  Just 18 percent of the U.S. population is represented by the congressmen who forced the latest debt-ceiling crisis (in October 2013), but these extremists have intimidated Republican leaders, who value their own jobs more than yours.  Most Americans are not intensely partisan, so when the crazies turn government into a bar fight and the broken bottles and chairs fly, the silent majority simply duck and become chagrined spectators.  Disapproval, however, may not be sufficient to end the sabotage.  Perhaps it’s time for the other 82 percent to get good and mad.”  Anger, unfortunately, can be exploited by demagogues to promote prescriptions that are contrary to fair and smart planning.

A map showing the status of Freedom of the Press in every country in the world came to me from Upworthy.  This Map of the World shows every nation in a color-coded synopsis that reveals relative freedom of the press allowed to its citizens.  Canada, Germany and Scandanavian countries enjoy a white color, meaning “Good situation”;  the United States, Australia and most of Western Europe enjoy a “Satisfactory situation.”  India, Italy, and much of Eastern Europe and South America have “Noticeable problems”, and Mexico and Russia are coded red for “Difficult situation”.  Oppobriously, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia and Cuba suffer a “Very Serious situation”.  The terrorist shootings at the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charli Hebdo in Paris in early January 2015 made it clear that Islamic governments must help marginalize violent extremists who oppose the freedom of the press and the freedom of religious beliefs. 

Seeing this big picture summary of fredom of the press around the world, it becomes clear that most countries should strive to improve their ranking in this measure of fair governance.  Greater freedoms of the press, and of protections for whistleblowers, are important because when such freedoms are curtailed, governments are more easily capable of imposing other oppressive measures on a populace, like restrictions on freedoms of speech and religious belief, and regressive changes in tax policies, and incursions against liberties and individual rights like those guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Nelson Mandela put it clearly and succinctly: "A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy."  In outrageous contrast, Donald Trump has stated that as president he would counter criticism by journalists and newspaper editorials by changing libel laws in a way that would undermine the first amendment and the freedom of the press.  He declared:  “One of the things I’m gonna do, and this is only gonna make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m gonna do if I win … is I’m gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” … “With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people … We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never get sued before.”

It’s real interesting that Trump thinks he's not like other people in this regard.  In actuality, the U.S. Constitution says he is exactly like other people, because under the Constitution, all American citizens are equal under the law.  "There is no Donald Trump Exception clause anywhere to be found.  Even the Founding Fathers had to take their lumps from their critics.  But we get where he is coming from -- the political milieu of fascism.  Fascist dictators -- even wannabe fascist dictators -- cannot abide criticism."

Authoritarian wannabe Trump hates criticism and frequently mocks the media.  He resembles the demagogue Joseph R. McCarthy, a first-term Republican senator from Wisconsin who corrupted political discourse by using falsehoods and innuendo, and by stoking public fears in the early 1950s, when he ruthlessly manipulated Americans' fears of communism.  He was brought down because a courageous journalist named Edward R. Murrow understood that a bully like McCarthy could not be dealt with by traditional reporting.  Unfortunately, courageous journalists like Murrow are scarce these days.

"Our democracy relies on an informed citizenry.  Thoughtful, fair, balanced, comprehensive reporting in print and in photos or video may be the best way to know what's going on -- the way to best inform ourselves.  Information is what keeps us free from tyranny."

                                                                                           --- Nancy Conway

Virtuous Economic Circles versus Vicious Economic Circles

One thing that makes an economy stable and prosperous is a strong and vibrant middle class.  In the three prosperous decades after World War II, the biggest and best-educated middle class in the world was created by means of initiatives like the G.I. Bill and the expansion of public universities and the empowerment of labor unions to give workers more bargaining power.  The basic compact at the heart of the American economy was that employers rewarded productivity increases and paid their workers enough for hard work to buy the products American employers were selling. That basic bargain created a “virtuous circle” of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages. 

Robert Reich visually describes this provocative example of a virtuous circle in the film Inequality for All.  When productivity grows in businesses, then profits and wages increase, and workers buy more, companies hire more, tax revenues increase, governments invest more, and workers are better educated.  In distinct contrast, a “vicious circle” can be created in which there is a downward spiral because the middle class doesn’t share in economic gains.  As their wages stagnate, a vicious circle begins in which workers buy less, companies downsize, unemployment rises, tax revenues decline, budget deficits grow, government investments and programs are cut, and citizens and workers are not educated as well as they should be. 

The contrast between the outcomes of virtuous circles and vicious circles is one of the grandest conceptions clearly conveyed in Inequality for All.  Note that virtuous circles and vicious circles refer to complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through feedback loops.  A virtuous circle has favorable results, while vicious circles tend to have the unintended consequence of producing outcomes that are generally detrimental to society as a whole.

The wealthiest 1% of Americans simply cannot consume enough, no matter how hard they try, to generate the revenue that a more affluent middle class could.  The secret to a strong economy is to invest in education and to strengthen household incomes with a decent minimum wage, higher pay for overtime work and stronger unions, and to raise skill levels, thereby generating sustained consumer demand.  Strong economies like Germany’s pursue such virtuous circle policies.  In Germany, workers are highly skilled and well educated, and collective bargaining rights are protected, and the middle class has money to spend -- and they have significantly more leisure time than American workers, so a higher quality of life.

In contrast, falling real wages during a vicious circle undermines consumer demand, and this leads to shrinking output and higher rates of joblessness.  Such trends make the economy fragile, and they boost social instability.  When the middle class is skating on thin ice, and jobs offer low wages and poor benefits, the prospects for all are diminished.  The “trickle-down” story repetitiously spoon-fed to the middle class and working class folks every election cycle in America is simply not true.

When wealth is too heavily concentrated in the hands of the few, the amount spent on public schools, vital physical infrastructure and social programs is cut, and stresses on the middle class intensify.  Too many people end up without an adequate education, and millions of people work long hours and do not have enough money to spend, and have little leisure time, so they have a lesser quality of life.  When riches gush up into the hands of a monopolizing few, hardships trickle down.

Increases in social stresses make people more vulnerable to ill health, mental depression, violent conflicts and crime.  Heightened inequalities and more people living in poverty are among the most serious of these stresses.  The negative effects of stress are a biological fact;  even trees subjected to increased stresses like drought, acid rain or forest fragmentation become increasingly vulnerable to diseases like Sudden Oak Death or lethal insect infestations like those by mountain pine beetles.  In recognizing this, we should act to reduce the financial stress that the majority of Americans face.

Author Naomi Wolf asked Robert Reich what three policy prescriptions he would give to an American president and Congress.  Professor Reich replied that we should return to what was done successfully in the first three decades after World War II, when prosperity was widely shared.  Specifically, he indicated that larger investments in public education should be made, including in higher education, and in physical infrastructure, and these initiatives should be funded by a more highly progressive system of taxation.  Great ideas!

The Consequences of Austerity

Austerity programs generally contribute to a vicious circle, so they make particularly poor sense when economic activities are faltering.  When hyper-stimulative economic policies and a deregulation of financial markets and excessive speculation created an economic bubble in real estate, the bubble was unstable and it began to burst in 2007.  This created a financial crisis and subsequent economic recession that countries worldwide have been struggling to emerge from ever since.

I believe it’s a good idea to honestly evaluate both sides of any argument.  This helps in being able to objectively determine the best courses of action.  We should keep in mind, however, that both sides of an argument are not equally valid.  Fair-minded considerations of probable consequences can make it clear which point of view is most accurate.  And we should realize there is no correlation between the size of a megaphone that amplifies a position and the validity of the perspective it expresses.

   “Every conflict is one between different angles of vision, illuminating the same truth.”

                                                                                                                                  --- Mahatma Gandhi

Legitimate disagreements exist over every hotly contested issue.  Opposing viewpoints generate a fog of reasonable-sounding arguments for their particular points of view.  Since we are in a Bet Situation and must choose which course to chart, it is important to develop a good way to decide what national policies should be pursued and the priorities that should be given to them.

How can we best make such determinations in the heat of the contest?  The answer to this question can be found in the moral philosophy of consequentialism.  This philosophical theory asserts a simple value:  the consequences of any given course of action are the ultimate basis for judgments about its relative rightness or wrongness.  Thus, the degree of positive or negative outcomes associated with any policy choice is the true measure of the legitimacy of all arguments for it or against it.  To find clarity, the best way to assess an argument concerning a given course of action is by honestly evaluating the probable consequences of taking the action -- or of not taking the action.

I reckon that one of the biggest disputes since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution concerns the proper prerogatives of capital compared to those of labor.  Monumental edifices of ideology have become accreted around this conflict between moneyed classes and working people.  This strife was one of the bottom line issues in the calamitously costly global struggle between communism and capitalism during the Cold War.  And many wars have been fought as an outcome of strife between factions seeking to triumph in the competition for money and power. 

Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1910 that this contentious strife between Capital and Labor was a “conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess.”  He added that this is “a struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.”  Yikes!  This struggle has intensified in 2016 with D. J. Trump grabbing the megaphone!

Roosevelt spoke those words in a speech titled The New Nationalism.  He provocatively added:

“At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy unfair privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.” 

“I stand for the square deal.  But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”

Today, seeing that the concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 1% of Americans has reached one of the most extreme levels ever, we should snap to alert attention.  See here now!  The dangers inherent in rash degrees of wealth inequality should provoke us into taking remedial action, for otherwise economic and social turmoil will intensify, and the potential for correlated human suffering will become exacerbated.  This is the basic reason that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis made the sensationally thought-provoking observation that Americans have a stark choice between democracy or wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.

Public policies are contrary to the common good when they significantly increase inequalities and injustices and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the richest 1%. Trickle-down theory rationalizes economic policies that give most of the benefits of economic activities to the people who are already most financially well-off.  Thirty-five years of statistics clearly reveal that regressive changes in national tax policies made since 1980 have resulted in a deteriorating financial well-being of the vast majority of Americans, and a much heavier concentration of wealth in the hands of the top 1%.  Professor Robert Reich succinctly states one added problem with this:

“Liberals are concerned about the concentration of wealth because it almost inevitably leads to a

   concentration of power that undermines democracy.”

Federal income taxes were instituted just over 100 years ago, when the Revenue Act of 1913 was passed.  Statistics and evidence make it clear that the fastest economic growth and the most marked improvements in the common welfare have been achieved since then during times when tax rates are steeply graduated.  Information like this brashly contradicts decades of proclamations of ideological certainty about the desirability of trickle-down economic policies and deficit-financed low tax rates for high income earners.

As these words rock and roll into the public consciousness, let our imaginations waltz out in the spotlight, led by an elegantly expert tango of our consciences and our sense of individual responsibility for the common good.

A Question of Ensuring National Security and Domestic Tranquility

Edward Stettinius, the Secretary of State in 1945, identified two fundamental components of human security.  “The battle of peace has to be fought on two fronts,” he stated. “The first front is the security front, where victory spells freedom from fear.  The second front is the economic and social front, where victory means freedom from want.  Only victory on both fronts can assure the world of an enduring peace.”

Think about the fact that there are a record number of more than 45 million Americans living below the official poverty level in the U.S. today.  And understand that Social Security payments and other programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance and the Earned Income Tax Credit keep an additional 33 million people or so from poverty and worser hardship. 

These social programs keep many millions of Americans out of more desperate circumstances, so they are a form of social insurance against more extreme insecurity of a large number of Americans.  Social programs are thus a type of insurance against revolutionary unrest.  These programs mitigate impulses toward the politics of anger in the streets, so they effectively allow the current system, jerry-rigged so extremely in favor of rich people, to be largely perpetuated as it is without being forced to enact radical reforms.

Oddly enough, many wealthy conservatives have been growing ever more adamantly opposed to paying for this smart form of insurance.  This stance is forcing huge costs to be foisted onto our children and all people in future generations.  It should irk every American that conservative rich people have been exhibiting such an eagerness to shirk obligations that allow us to have these insurance policies at all.  Such opposition to unemployment benefits, food stamp programs and all the rest, in effect, is crassly unempathetic, and it smacks of a sense of entitled hubris, severe shortsightedness, and even an attitude of arrogant mean-spiritedness.

Here is a provocative perspective from The Bailout Blues and Gut Check Soul Revue:

The U.S. has been driving a hard bargain for the poor for decades by scolding them for lacking personal responsibility. We have reduced welfare rolls and payments, made taxes more regressive, passed ever-harsher and more costly punishments for crimes, reduced the influence of workers by limiting collective bargaining rights, abandoned many inner cities and schools, exported jobs overseas, and encouraged corporate prerogatives and profits that contribute to inflation in the costs of food, gasoline, electricity, rent, mortgages and health care.  In contrast, no such hard bargain for the rich has been undertaken.  Give us a break -- this is a democracy, folks!  We’ve got ‘em outnumbered!

An “immense wedge” is being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity,” according to journalist Henry George.  Bill Moyers noted that inequality has exploded in recent decades into what historian Clinton Rossiter described as “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.”  Stop those villains! 

Social Insurance

Consider the social programs in the U.S. today that make life a little easier for everyone who is on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.  There are many programs that benefit unemployed people and veterans, disabled people, college students, retirees, and people too young to vote.  They include unemployment insurance, disability insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants for higher education, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and food stamps.  These programs can accurately be seen as forms of social insurance that serve to reduce tensions between the privileged people on Easy Street, who have the lion’s share of the world’s wealth, and the bottom 50% of the populace who are all somewhere in the vicinity of financial desperation. 

People on Easy Street jealousy guard their privileges, often exhibiting unempathetic and even hostile attitudes toward underprivileged people.  This is ironic considering that people on Easy Street have generally gained their great privileges, in large part, by reaping the benefits of the way our economic and political systems are established.  The most blatant instance of such favoritism is found in provisions that are essentially welfare programs for corporations, and in those dang tax laws that allow high-income earners to pay the lowest tax rates in generations.

The poorest 25% of Americans have a net worth of zero or less, and the bottom 50% of Americans has an average family net worth of less than $40,000.  These people are extremely insecure in their finances, and this state of affairs profoundly affects their lives.

Think about the concept of social insurance in this context. This is a capital idea. Since social programs that provide benefits to the bottom 50% of Americans are a form of insurance that somewhat mitigates the desperation of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, these programs dampen impulses toward either criminal activity or broader revolutionary unrest. This insurance basically allows the most privileged people to maintain their perks and privileges, and to continue being the main beneficiaries of the way our econopolitical system is structured. 

Despite the fact that social insurance programs are partially a means of protecting the interests of rich people, many wealthy people have perversely been increasingly unwilling to finance this insurance policy. They apparently prefer that more money be spent on prisons, wars and Homeland Security.  One result is that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration per capita of any nation on earth.  Another is that we spend more money on our military than almost all other nations combined.

Hard-nosed stances, it can be seen in these broad contexts, are foolishly myopic.  Nonetheless, many wealthy conservatives arrogantly act in ways that are increasingly stingy, uncompassionate, greedy, and outrageously anti-social.  As my friend the underground Mole once observed, “Conservatism is bedeviled by pig beliefs that the rich must at all costs be allowed to perpetuate their good fortune.”                                               

Our society functioned much better in terms of the public financing of schools, physical infrastructure, research and development, government operations, and national defense during the years from 1936 to 1980 when the top income tax rate was at least 70% every year.  Astonishingly enough, the tax rate on the highest levels of income exceeded 90% every year from 1944 until 1964.  This high 90%-plus tax rate was implemented for three compelling purposes: 

 (1) To finance large public investments in education, re-tooling, and building infrastructure.

 (2) To prevent moneyed interests from gaining a concentration of wealth and power that would allow them to dominate our political system and “challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country," as Thomas Jefferson put it.  Jefferson was an admirable shining light of the Enlightenment Era (also known as the Age of Reason).  Long ago when he made this observation, he reasonably and presciently foresaw the dangers of abuses of power by corporations and the wealthy.

 (3) To roughly balance budgets for this 20-year period, so that the relative size of the debt incurred during World War II would diminish as the economy grew and moderate inflation took place.  The national debt exceeded 100% of GDP by the end of World War II for the only time in history until then.  By 1963, despite the fact that the debt had been reduced, the proportion that the debt represented of the growing GDP had gone down from its high above 120% in 1946 to 60% by 1964.  Note that the national debt once again reached 100% of the GDP in 2012, up from a post-World War II low of under 40% from 1970 to 1982.  We’re excessively exploiting this expediency!

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself;  in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.”

                                                     --- Mark Twain

Statistics are prone to “the Curse of Knowledge” phenomena.  Let’s try to transcend the mind-numbing affects they have, because statistics can convey credibility and give us understandings that could become a powerful incentive for us to rally support for reform efforts and positive changes.

Think again about the fact that Ronald Reagan launched his anti-tax revolution in 1981 by pandering to moneyed interests to such an extreme extent that the highest marginal tax rates were reduced from 70% in 1981 to 28% by 1988.   This was a radical reduction, as mentioned previously, and it was crazy to allow people on Easy Street to pay the lowest tax rates in generations at a time of big and expanding needs.  This folly is a sad and pathetic reflection on the anti-democratic nature of abuses of power and wealth.  Fair-minded tax reform simply must be enacted.

Economic fundamentalists who espouse trickle-down deceptions have been leaders of the movement to cut taxes and eliminate financial regulations.  This movement has been backed by influence-abusing wealthy people and shrewdly Machiavellian politicians, along with people in right-wing think tanks, bombastic talk radio personalities, judgmental religious fundamentalists, and argumentative talking heads in the echo chamber of Fox News.  And Tea Party politicians in the House of Representatives have given undue power to this movement by adamantly opposing fair compromises.

People who adhere to Tea Party sentiments actually have interests that are much more in common with the 99% movement than with the goals and agendas of billionaires like the industrialist Koch brothers or the gambling industry magnate Sheldon Adelson.  But instead of seeking common cause, people in the Tea Party have been emotionally hijacked into supporting narrow-minded goals that actually undermine their own self-interest and the common good.  Their evangelical passions have been exploited by shrewd operatives to give rich people more and more perks, privileges and power.  It is as if the colonists involved in the original Boston Tea Party in December 1773 had inexplicably decided to embrace the priorities of Tea Conglomerate ship owners and the taxing authorities of the British Empire -- rather than opposing taxation without fair representation and rejecting despotic rule!

Jesus was a messianic preacher in ancient Palestine who brazenly criticized both the moneychangers and the priestly aristocracy in Jerusalem during his times.  He also courageously opposed the ruthless Roman military occupation of his homeland.  It is thus ironic that fundamentalist faithful folks in the Religious Right stand in staunch opposition to measures that would make our society more egalitarian.

Thomas Piketty states in Capital in the Twenty-First Century that Karl Marx’s principal conclusion was what one might call the “principle of infinite accumulation”.  By this, Marx meant the inexorable tendency for capital to accumulate and become concentrated in ever fewer hands, with no natural limit to the process.  This was the basis for Marx’s prediction of an apocalyptic end to capitalism.  As it turns out, things are more complex than that, and durable technological progress and steadily increasing productivity and political reforms have served, to a certain extent, as a partial counterweight to the process of wealth accumulation and the concentration of private capital.  But today, with the accumulation of wealth growing to new Gilded Age extremes, this status is becoming excessively destabilizing and could result in either revolutionary unrest or authoritarian rule.

It is clearly time for America to change course.  I urge all readers to contact their representatives and ask them to be more progressive in reforming our national tax policies.  This would be a good path toward an improved overall well-being for the vast majority of Americans.  Bruce Springsteen croons out a song in my imagination about a social wrecking ball, and I dream that this image of a wrecking ball will set the stage for a resurrected greater edifice that will provide a better modicum of fairness.

To Be, or Not To Be:  This Question Concerns Austerity

  Imagination, n.  A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint custody.

                                                                                           --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Any story that involves central characters with names like Rogoff and Reinhart has a good chance of being a juicy one.  Since this story is a matter of fact, it’s even better.  Like good old Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

A curious turning point in history took place in 2010 when the world was right in the middle of one of those periodic panicky economic cataclysms that characterize capitalist systems.  World leaders had been more-or-less valiantly striving to combat the spectre of a global depression in the wake of the credit crisis of late 2008, but suddenly they shifted their strategies to a struggle to control the explosion of debt involved in this economic struggle.  What had caused this dramatic development?  Why had concerted efforts to stimulate the international economy suddenly given way to widespread initiatives to impose austerity measures on people in the U.S., and even more so, in Europe?  Who was manipulating the reins, Wizard of Oz-like, that drove these two countervailing strategies?

Mother Jones magazine provided a stunningly convincing perspective on this issue in an article in its September - October 2013 magazine titled Death by a Thousand Cuts: Belt-Tightening Wasn’t the Cure for Ailing Economy.  It Was the Last Straw.

This article essentially concerns the misguided nature of austerity programs. It addresses an influential paper published in January 2010 in which Harvard economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart claimed to have proved that when a nation’s debt reaches 90% of its annual economic activity (GDP), this is a dangerous threshold.  Throughout history, they contended, such a threshold has caused a slowing of economic growth.  “As economic studies go, it was nothing short of a bombshell” -- the report had the effect of radically shifting the policies of many nations from efforts to cope with recession, joblessness and the aftermath of the severe credit crisis, to efforts aimed at reducing deficits.  The Rogoff and Reinhart paper was a driving force behind this abandonment of economic stimulus programs and a shift to slashing government spending. 

Ironically, an error in the Excel spreadsheet used in the Rogoff/Reinhart study was discovered two years later, when independent researchers found out that the study’s findings had been derived by relying on what turned out to be a mistake in their evaluation.  What this means is that one of the shoddy beliefs that anti-Obama conservatives cling to in their stubborn opposition to increases in the U.S. debt limit was found to be inaccurate.

The debt limit crisis that confronted the U.S. in October 2013 was a bizarre one.  Conservative Republicans made a blustery stand against another increase in the national debt limit, even though it was the wrong time to try to insist on immediate efforts to balance the budget.  If you buy a new car to get to work, or retain the services of a computer geek to fix one of your electronic devices, you have made a commitment, and when the balance comes due on your credit card, that moment is the wrong time to refuse to pay the obligation!

After the financial crisis brought on by the bursting of the housing bubble led to a wider recession, “What was needed was for the federal government to apply the same urgency to rescuing the economy that it had to rescuing the banks.”  Most economists agree that stimulative government spending is needed during economic contractions, and during their immediate aftermath, to help the economy recover and resume growth.  Tea Party Republicans and proponents of austerity measures now argue, rather disingenuously and contrary to Keynesian theory, that deficit spending hurts the economy, rather than actually helping it recover from a recession.

Another Shift Arrives

There is great value in understanding how a financial crisis came about, and what lessons have been learned from it.  But let’s now pivot to a more important question:  “What should we do now?”

The case is quite strong that what we need now is not austerity and extreme conservatism, but smart public investments and more progressive national policies.  Key conflicts exist between conservative ideologies and the common good, and it is counterproductive for the overarching goal of conservative politicians in recent decades to have been to cut taxes and make regressive changes in tax policies.  Such plans have the socially undesirable effect of shifting the burden of paying taxes from high-income earners to everyone else, particularly those in future generations. 

I smile broadly.  Why is it, I wonder rhetorically, that our great experiment in democracy has been corrupted by moneyed interests to such a degree that they have managed to get our representatives to champion the narrow interests of the richest Americans rather than real parameters of the greater good?

Most of the politicians who represent us say they are committed to principle; but unfortunately, their principles generally involve “figuring out new ways to funnel more federal money to the people who need it least.”  This was an observation made by Gail Collins in a column titled Missing the Bad Old Days.  It concerned the practically malicious efforts by Republicans in 2013 to slash food stamp funding by $39 billion in the latest renewal of the national farm bill, while at the same time utterly ignoring the option of cutting huge crop insurance subsidies that the legislation contained for the benefit of wealthy and powerful vested interests.

The five “conservative” Justices on the Supreme Court (until Antonin Scalia died), bowed obediently to their personal political convictions and the corporate economic biases they were appointed to defend.  They have worked hard to find rationalizations for why moneyed interests deserve to have the ability to abuse their power and undermine the fairness principles that are basic to the ideals of our Founders.  We should demand fairer representation -- and more honest and impartial Justices!

Economics as a Morality Play

There are powerful motives for portraying economics as a morality play and to make it a tale of excesses and their consequences.  “We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price.  Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past, but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved.  No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we have sinned and must seek redemption through suffering -- and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent.”

While it is erroneous to regard economic activities as a morality play in this way, there is another sense in which work activities themselves can be regarded as a morality play, and the judgment in this is clear:  the 1% of people who largely control the economic system are acting like bad guys.  The fact of the matter is that the agenda of those who advocate austerity policies looks a lot like a simple expression of upper class preferences that are wrapped in a facade of academic rigor.  “What the top 1% wants becomes what economic science says we must do.”  And, “it’s not just a matter of emotion versus logic.  You can’t understand the influence of austerity doctrine without talking about class and inequality.”

In Inequality for All, Robert Reich cogently examines the deep inequities and adverse effects of rising economic inequality in America.  Middle class wages, it is revealed, have dropped while the top 1% of people reaped 95% of the gains made in the economic recovery from 2009 to 2012.  Professor Reich expresses heartening optimism that, by working together, Americans can change this undesirable dynamic.  We succeeded in doing this between 1930 and 1980, so we can do it again today!  But we sure can’t let D.J. Trump gain power!

Emmanuel Saez, a French economist and Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, has confirmed this fact that the richest 1% of Americans made almost all the gains in the economic recovery from 2009 to 2012, and that middle class wages have effectively fallen on a real inflation-adjusted basis.  Inequality of this magnitude is “poisoning our society and making a mockery of the American dream of equal opportunity,” Professor Saez says.  He recommends higher taxes on rich people, with marginal federal tax rates on the highest levels of income of at least 70%, like they were every year from 1936 to 1980.

Economic strategies that would help create good jobs and more widespread prosperity would be better than current strategies designed mainly to increase corporate profits and stock prices in the short run.  Such better plans include providing better education by making it more affordable and more accountable for improved outcomes;  eliminating payroll taxes on the first $15,000 of income;  raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes;  giving workers more bargaining power;  increasing the minimum wage;  making workplaces fairer for women and giving them equal pay;  creating a safer and more stable economic system;  and reducing the risks and costs of bailouts by reducing the multiples of leverage allowed to banks. 

"Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition." 

                                                                                  --- Timothy Leary

Extreme levels of income inequality represent a new kind of “inconvenient truth”, to use the term that Al Gore employed with regard to the risks of global warming.  This new inconvenient truth reveals the dark side of unfairness in our econopolitical system, and its negative impacts on poor people and the middle class.

The Smart Way Forward

Balanced priorities are vital.  It is misguided for politicians to have shifted from efforts to stimulate the economy and address unemployment to primary efforts to cut government spending.  In his book End This Depression Now!, Paul Krugman, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008, makes a quite convincing case that this shift in focus is indeed a wrongheaded priority.

John Maynard Keynes defined a depression as “a chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency either towards recovery or towards collapse.”  Paul Krugman attributed the Great Recession economic malaise to a classic Keynesian “liquidity trap.”  In this situation, a private sector with too much debt is intent on rebuilding its savings, so that even interest rates of zero cannot tempt it to borrow and spend enough to get the economy working again at full capacity.  So the remedy is a classic Keynesian one of the government making up for the lack of private spending by expending money on needed projects.  Krugman argued in 2012 in End This Depression Now! that full employment could be restored to the United States within two years, given the political will to spend more money to achieve this goal.

High rates of unemployment reduce tax revenues and create an increased risk of social instability.  High rates of joblessness among people under the age of 25 can be especially destabilizing.  In the U.S. in 2013, about 16% of those under 25 were unemployed;  in Ireland it was about 30%;  in Italy and Portugal it was about 40%;  and in Spain and Greece it exceeded a stunning 55%.  In the Arab world, unemployment rates are also very high, so this is a contributory factor to the violent unrest of the so-called “Arab Spring”, which is morphing into dangerous turmoil and instability.  These statistics may be mind numbing, but the hardships associated with them are viscerally real to tens of millions of young adults.

While the goal of imposing austerity measures by slashing government spending may have a heroic-defiant appeal to it, it can be seen that such plans may be an exceedingly poor idea!

The Pope Weighs In

The world’s oldest living thing is a 6,004 year-old Bristlecone Pine named Crusader that lives in harsh conditions at a remote high-elevation location in rugged mountains.  The last time I visited this tree, a mystical vibe emanated from her through interspeciesal extrasensory clairsentience, telling me:  “Grow slowly.  Heed ecological realities.  Be stoically persistent.”  Somehow I instantaneously knew that this communiqué meant that it is a transcendent human obligation to cultivate an incisive awareness of the relative right found in broadly fairer public policies, especially as viewed through the lens of the longer term greater good.

Pope Francis has repeatedly criticized the capitalist system.  He once decried “the idolatry of money” and made a pointed attack on the deceitful ideology of trickle-down economics.  He also bemoaned the fact that people have a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”  He was particularly critical in his words concerning ideological dogmas that assume economic growth is a sufficient social goal and that deny the overarching responsibility for governments to exercise an active role in humanizing market economies. 

Arch-conservative entertainer Rush Limbaugh jumped on the Pope’s words, accusing him of advocating “pure Marxism.”  Why the rancor?  Here the Pope was proposing broader and deeper truths, and the reactive leader of American “dittoheads” was practically apoplectic with fervent conviction in promoting oddly contrasting superficial untruths.  Limbaugh, of course, is paid exceedingly well for his maniacal propaganda, and he pays very low tax rates on his ill-gained windfall compensation, in accordance with the politically determined tax system that has its primary emphasis on treating high-income earners to historically low rates of tax.

As some of the hard working, hard-drinking, hard-living, hardscrabble miners of the late 19th century in Wild West Colorado could have cautioned Rush Limbaugh, “To Hell You Ride.”  Some things just go gaily hand in hand!

Mainstream economic theories treat natural resources as a free good, as though they are provided at no cost, and as if waste and resource depletion are of no concern.  These theories assume that perpetual growth and ever-rising consumption will be sustainable into the indefinite future.  But the premise that economic growth automatically equals prosperity is absurd, especially in light of the fact that consumer growth does not give adequate consideration to environmental damages or the highly adverse implications of squandered resources.  The idea is crazy that continuous growth is desirable when understood in the context that finite natural resources simply can’t support infinite growth.  “This, of course, contradicts physics,” declares Paul Craig Roberts, one of the founding theoreticians of supply-side economics.  Roberts calls this perspective one that is a “very stunning shortcoming” of modern economics.

Even China, “the badboy of soaring economic growth and rapacious environmental destruction”, is wising up by developing a companion metric to Gross Domestic Product that would measure the value of natural resources and healthy ecosystems.  The states of Maryland and Vermont have actually adopted broad “Genuine Progress Indicators” to replace misleading Gross Domestic Product measures and take into account such concerns.  It is basically insane to continue to pursue the same national policies we have in the past.  As Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily validly points out, it is folly for humankind to be “driving natural capital to its lowest level ever in human history.”

Economist Herman Daly provides an alternative plan, proposing a “steady state” economy for countries that have achieved material wealth.  Using tools like new carbon taxes on fossil fuels, a cap would be instituted on production and consumption so that these activities would not exceed Earth’s capacity to replenish and cleanse itself, and goals of higher consumption in such a system would be replaced by more salubrious goals of achieving a better quality of life. 

  “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

                                                                   --- Economist Herbert Stein

Examining The Federal Reserve

Something’s going on here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.  Why has the Federal Reserve, which is basically the private central bank of the U.S., been holding interest rates near zero, and why did it engage in a hyper-stimulus of trillions of dollars of bond purchases from 2008 to 2014?  Why?

The answer is to be found in inegalitarian social policies.  If our national policies had not been so focused on increasing the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the majority of Americans would be better off, so they could afford to buy more products and services.  This would stimulate the economy, so the number of unemployed people would drop, annual deficits would shrink, and we could afford to invest more money in a more stable, rational, fair and sustainable future.

The Federal Reserve’s actions are, in a sense, compensatory actions required to make up for failures by Congress to act to create a fairer and healthier society.  Political polarization once again can be seen to be a cancer in our society that is wreaking havoc on people and subverting the greater good.

This is a sensational realization.  The simple reason that so much artificial stimulus is required today is because our national priorities have undermined the real stimulus inherent in higher pay and social investments fairly financed by a more steeply graduated system of taxation.  If we were to increase the minimum wage tomorrow, and enact far-reaching progressive tax reform, the results would be positive for the majority of Americans. 

Right Action and the Ten Commandments

One of my pet theories is that expansive understandings are the key to eventual right action.  I believe the common good can be achieved by seeking the most far-sighted balance between selfish individualism and the collective good of the community.  To accomplish greater good goals, win-win solutions to problems should be instituted.  A sensible long-term perspective gives strong credence to this understanding.

Throughout the history of humanity’s evolving cultures, the processes of natural selection have strongly favored groups of human beings that put the self-interest of their whole group ahead of the narrower self-interest of individuals in the group.  Natural selection has also favored those groups that developed strong enough religious beliefs to strike fear of divine punishment into people’s hearts, so that members of the group would obey moral codes consistent with the group’s best interests.

Think about the Ten Commandments.  Recognizing the evolutionary evidence of the central role that group selection has played in human development, we can see a broad utility underlying the Ten Commandments.  The first four commandments are obsessed with obedience to the biblical belief system.  These four commandments contain a divine threat that, if one does not believe and obey, he or she will be consigned to a terrible fate in a hellish place for all of eternity.  Not only that, but the jealous Lord Almighty will punish the children of those who disobey to the third and fourth generation for their failure to conform to this belief system.  The six other Commandments, on the other hand, are basic codes of Golden Rule morality and ethical reciprocity and peaceable intra-group coexistence.  All together, these commandments help assure the prospering and survival of the group itself.

Ideas consonant with this grand conception infuse these common sense writings, and I’m hopeful that readers will join me in a crusade to make our world a much better one for humanity as a whole in the long term. 

The ties between people in “in-groups” of our ancestors morphed over the ages from commitments to clans to broader commitments and concerns for the best interests of increasingly big groups.  Social developments made it more advantageous for early peoples to expand commitments from clans to tribes and then to agrarian communities, then to villages, and towns, and cities, and city-states, and then nations.  Each expansion in the inclusiveness of our communities led to many decisively positive developments for our kind. 

The next logical and moral step in our evolution is toward greater international collaboration and more effective international laws.  And then beyond that, the ethical nature of our commitments needs to be expanded to another even larger group:  all of our descendants in future generations.  I encourage readers to peruse and give your support to the proposed Bill of Rights for Future Generations in this Common Sense Revival in light of these ideas.

Groups that cooperated together survived better than other groups in which too many individuals freeloaded or cheated or were not willing to sacrifice for the greater good of their clan.  “Altruistic groups” had much better survival advantages than groups with too many narrowly selfish individuals.

                                                                                                     --- Revelations of a Modern Prophet

In an article titled The Evolutionary Significance of Religion: Multi-Level Selection, Michael Dowd explored the latest ideas about natural selection on multiple levels, not just at the individual level.  He stated that these evolving ideas have “enormous practical implications for how economic, social, and political leaders attempt to solve civilization-scale problems.”  Books like The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame all make the case that the concept of group selection is needed to explain human morality.  Michael Dowd added:

“Religion has historically been a profoundly important adaptive feature. Without it, group cohesiveness and the motivation of individuals to die for their tribe or state or nation would likely never have emerged from the palette of instincts that we inherited from our pre-human ancestors. And without that kind of motivation, a group would not be able to defend itself against the incursions of neighboring (or long-distance conquering) cultures.”

“It is vital to remember that religion is about right relationship to reality, not the supernatural,” exclaimed Michael Dowd.  He further pointed out that a noted philosopher of religion named Loyal Rue tells us that religion is not actually about God.  Rue wrote:

“The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality.  Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom.  If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), then we will be doomed, but if live in right relationship with reality (wisely), then we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.  What we are less in agreement about is how we should think about reality and what we should do to bring ourselves into harmony with it.”

Dowd continued:  “Just because pre-scientific manifestations of religion necessarily posited supernatural beings and forces does not mean that religions of today and tomorrow need do so.”  Since religions provide overarching worldviews that attempt to answer questions of meaning, they provide guidance and “personal wholeness” and “social coherence.”  And, for the greater good, this guidance surely should become more expansive!

Dowd concluded that he is grateful for the evolutionary role that atheists and agnostics are playing “in helping (nay, forcing) our stodgy old (all-too-often dysfunctional) religions to catch up with the wealth of knowledge that science now offers.”

   Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.

An Assessment of the Intelligence of Economic Policies

Historical events can provide both valuable illumination and cautionary guidance.  Two nations have demonstrated notable success in the best way to create a growing middle class.  In Brazil, 40 million people were moved from the ranks of poverty to the middle class between 2002 and 2010, and extreme poverty was significantly reduced.  This progress was achieved by implementing a smart economic strategy that expanded access to public education, reduced income inequality, improved economic security, increased access to credit, and promoted social mobility.  The burgeoning size of the middle class in Brazil drove a boom in business, so these initiatives stimulated demand for products and services and fueled economic growth and created many jobs. 

Brazil’s strategy was a much better plan than the U.S. trickle-down ideology of cutting taxes on rich people so that they might stimulate the economy by investing in businesses and spending money on luxury consumer goods, yachts, vacation homes and speculative investments.  Robust demand created by a prosperous middle class is a key to business creation and job creation, especially in the U.S. where consumers do 70% of all spending.  Businesses need a broad base of people who can afford to buy their products.  This is one reason that social policies that have the effect of eviscerating the middle class and slashing support for the working poor are generally negative for our nation. 

The net result of our national policies in the past three decades has been a significant increase in inequalities and a poverty rate that is near the highest level in generations.  In contrast, the upshot of Brazil’s fair and intelligent policies was to achieve goals we should aspire to:  strengthening the middle class, reducing poverty, and diminishing the inequalities between rich and poor. 

Political corruption has unfortunately derailed Brazil’s success in the past five years, and inflation and interest rates have been soaring, and falling oil and commodity prices have led to economic hardships.  It is obviously unacceptably risky to allow entrenched corruption by business and political elites, and legislative graft, and fiscally improvident mismanagement.

Helping to Ensure the General Welfare

The second country that provides clear evidence that smarter national policies can contribute to the greater good is the United States itself during the period from 1945 to 1980. The national policies implemented during this 35-year period that helped create a vibrant middle class included the G.I. Bill, large public investments in higher education, and the construction of an extensive interstate highway system.  To pay for these initiatives while having record levels of debt incurred in fighting World War II, marginal tax rates on the highest levels of income were 70% or higher every year. 

Ronald Reagan had these rates slashed to 28% between 1981 and 1988, and conservatives always lobby insistently for lower rates.  Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan staunchly contended in 2012 that 25% instead of 35% would be a fairer marginal rate than the then-current 35%.  They claimed that cutting taxes on high incomes and profitable corporations is the only acceptable national plan, despite the facts of what really constitutes the greater good.  All the 2016 Republican presidential candidates have echoed blind faith in these ideologies as the national elections approach, including the presumptive nominee D.J. Trump.

American politicians often use carefully orchestrated deceptions to gain support for policies that are favorable to narrow constituencies.  For instance, the super-rich always cite the loss of family farms when trying to justify lower taxes on the less than 1% of inherited estates that are big enough to be subject to any estate tax at all.  The fact is, however, that lower inheritance taxes exclusively benefit the richest Americans -- and only relatively few family farmers.  If we truly want to create a meritocracy rather than an aristocracy of inherited wealth and privilege, we need a well-designed progressive tax on large estates.  Reductions in estate taxes since 2001 have been one of several ruses that have served to shift the burden of taxation from the richest people to everyone else, and to cause the national debt to skyrocket.

Not only do the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 180 million combined, but the U.S. has the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world.  Globally, the richest 2% of people own more than half of all assets. These are sobering facts.  In the long run, extreme inequalities like this serve to create a risky state of affairs for everyone.  Policies that make most Americans more insecure and more stressed and more desperate are downright dumb, because turning up the heat on a pressure cooker that has an improperly designed pressure-release valve is exceedingly ill advised!

The extraordinarily successful billionaire businessman Warren Buffett has repeatedly pointed out the folly of having a tax system in which people who make millions of dollars pay much lower tax rates than their secretaries.  Wealthy people pay a much lower percentage of their incomes because they have used their outsized influence to get very favorable tax treatment for capital gains, compared to rates on wages.  Unyielding ideological arguments are adduced by representatives of rich conservatives to keep taxes low on income earned from owning capital assets.  It seems outrageous, however, for people who work hard for their money to be required to pay higher tax rates on their earned incomes than people who get money from inheritances or investments in stocks or real estate.  Those who have inherited money, common sense tells us, or those who have accumulated it due to unfair aspects of our capitalist system, should be required to pay rates on their incomes that are at least as high as the rates paid by working people!

Warren Buffett has also sagely observed that opportunity and motivation are stifled by regressive tax plans.  He testified before the Senate Finance Committee in November 2007 in defense of the federal estate tax.  He invoked the historical roots of the estate tax, which was established in 1916 to prevent anti-democratic concentrations of wealth and power.  "Dynastic wealth, the enemy of meritocracy, is on the rise," Buffett told the panel.  "Equality of opportunity has been on the decline.  A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy."  He continued:  "Tax-law changes have benefited this super-rich group, including me, in a huge way."  It is time to reverse these changes by re-instituting bigger estate taxes.  Contrarily, the Republican dominated House of Representatives voted again in early 2015 to eliminate estate taxes altogether.  Political corruption obviously thrives in these United States of America!

As Republican President Theodore Roosevelt declared in his New Nationalism Speech in 1910:

“The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind, as well as in degree, from what is possessed by men of relatively small means.  Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective:  that is, a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate." 

A Surprising but Relevant Factor in Considerations of Fairness

Here is a pragmatic perspective that is like a transcendent epiphany to fair-minded policy makers and utilitarian philosophers.  As mentioned in the Introduction to Common Sense Revival, it turns out that when people earn an annual income of $50,000 to $75,000, they feel happier than others who earn less money.  In surprising counterpoint, however, people who earn more that $75,000 per year are not especially any happier.  Here is a powerful reason why we should prevent rich people from grabbing the preponderance of the benefits of our economic system for themselves.  And here is a convincing reason why we should reform our national system of taxation to make it more egalitarian by making it more steeply graduated.  Let’s intelligently implement fairer tax policies that will alleviate the sense of guilt that all rich people should feel because of the unfairness of status quo policies!

Justin Trudeau’s surprising victory in Canada’s national elections in October 2015 was achieved by boldly advocating a more progressive tax plan that will give tax breaks to people in the middle class and invest in infrastructure, and sensibly pay for this by higher tax rates on high levels of income.

Our nation’s Founders honorably championed Enlightenment Era ideals of democratic fairness and equality, and reasonable opportunities for all to pursue happiness.  They also advocated greater good goals as measured by the general welfare of the people.  None of our Founders would have defended excessive power and influence by an oligarchic few.  Not a single one of them would have favored giving huge advantages to the top 1% of the people, to the distinct detriment of the other 99%.

Another Aspect of Social Justice

 “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

                                                                                                                      --- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The most expensive medical care available is emergency room care.  It is downright stupid to have a system in which tens of millions of people can get medical care only in emergency rooms.  Doctors tell people that good primary care is best way to stay healthy, and I strongly believe in the value of preventative health care and periodic medical check-ups, and a more pronounced emphasis on good nutrition and exercise programs rather than on prescription drugs and emergency treatments. 

An estimated 45,000 people die each year because they don't have health insurance and thus are not able to obtain necessary medical care, according to researchers at the Harvard Medical School.  Our healthcare system has a primary focus on profit making by health insurance companies and drug companies, NOT on fairly providing for the health of American citizens.  A mind-boggling total of $2.7 trillion was spent on healthcare in 2012.  Of this gargantuan cost, the Institute of Medicine noted that, in 2009, about $750 billion was wasted on unneeded services, administrative inefficiencies and downright fraud.  This represents more than 25% of total spending on healthcare.  This system, the Institute compellingly states, has become “too complex and costly to continue business as usual.”

This is not a good way to run a country.  To obtusely stick with the system we have is foolhardy.  It is crazy for conservatives to be indignant about the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law.  Even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, after all, reluctantly agreed the law is Constitutional, and in June 2015 the Court further agreed that subsidies for the underprivileged are fair.  This legislation represents a reasonable beginning toward coping with the supreme inequities and exceedingly high costs of healthcare in our nation. 

Vastly better reforms are possible; a revolutionarily good one is proposed in Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney notably made a glaring flip-flop on healthcare issues during his run for the presidency in 2012.  When running for the Senate in 1994, he had declared support for universal healthcare, and had actually charged that having millions of people get “free care” from emergency rooms is “a form of socialism.”  Then, as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, he laudably helped put a universal healthcare plan into effect in that state.  In absurd contrast, he attacked the Affordable Care Act during his failed 2012 presidential campaign, even though this national plan was modeled on his plan in Massachusetts.  He even said that emergency room care is sufficient for the uninsured as their only form of healthcare.  But the current system is extremely expensive, radically unjust, and unwisely impractical -- and it is really a very odd form of socialism, in a sense!

Romney’s flip-flops on healthcare are another of many instances of Republican politicians being opposed to policies that they had once advocated.  Their main motive for such opposition has been to undermine President Obama.  This obstruction of fair-minded compromise and bipartisan consensus-seeking has characterized our politics since the day President Obama first took the oath of office.

Here is yet another good reason for our representatives to work together for the common good.  We need to seek a more reasonable agreement on how to solve problems, and give strong support to fair-minded people who are trying to improve our society! An insult hurling and character assassinating D.J. Trump who favors more advantages for rich people would be the wrong person to achieve this goal.

Economic Conundrums

The global financial crisis that was precipitated in late 2008, when the investment bank Lehman Brothers suddenly went into bankruptcy, made one thing obvious:  bankers had taken many risks that contributed to bringing the entire global economy down.  Their actions, and the too-big-to-fail status of inadequately regulated financial institutions, forced governments worldwide to come to the rescue.  These financial bailouts have cost trillions of dollars.  It is impossible to fully comprehend the magnitude of this cost and the ramifications of having spent so much money to bail out the economy from a manufactured crisis.  

Even worse, the reforms undertaken in the wake of this crisis have not been adequate to reduce the risks of a repeat of this hyper-costly outcome.  The banking industry has gotten even more highly concentrated, and entrenched interest groups have prevented the enactment of adequate reforms or effective regulations, or of better oversight of risk-laden financial derivatives. 

When banks and Wall Street entities become too big to fail, the average American on Main Street effectively becomes too small to matter.  This outcome is too socially detrimental to accept!

A close look at our economic and political system shows that this crisis was NOT a mere accident.  Specific incentives encouraged bankers to take excessive risks.  “By the way, we have to fix that,” as President Obama said, when referring to a different issue concerning reprehensible Republicans efforts to deprive poor people and minorities and students of their rights to vote. That issue involved concerted attempts to deny millions of underprivileged people even a miniscule amount of fair representation of their best interests.  It’s stunning that so many people were forced to wait in absurdly long lines for hours and hours to cast their votes on Election Day 2012.  We should rightly fix that!

All these developments together are putting our democratic system of governance in peril.  These are just a few of the troublesome facets of our dysfunctional political system, and of our merciless Shock Doctrine Disaster Capitalist economic system.

Consider the fact that no one has been held accountable for having caused the financial crisis that began with the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2008.  “If no individual can be blamed for what has happened, it means that the problem lies in the economic and political system,” writes Joseph Stiglitz.  In effect, the wealthiest 2% of Americans have gotten away with the biggest heist in world history in the last 35 years.  They have managed this scam by abusing the power of their Big Money influence to get Ronald Reagan to reduce top tax rates from 70% in 1980 to 28% by 1988.  This was not merely a tinkering with the tax code;  it was a radical reduction!  Since then, amazingly, marginal tax rates on the highest incomes have been kept very low;  they were an inadequate rate of 35% from 2001 through the end of 2012.  We can no longer afford this generosity!

A good plan for remedying this situation is proposed in the Fair Taxation Initiative contained in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies.  I recommend a Salon-wise top tax rate increase to 48%.

An Ideological Virus Infects the World

Thomas Paine was a religious man, so he made a distinction between the idolizing of gods that are embodiments of natural attributes and a contrasting idolizing of kings, priests and wealthy people, who are merely other men.  How did it come to be, he wondered, that “a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest?”  He publicly questioned the motives of those who dominate society, asking “whether they are the means of happiness -- or of misery -- to mankind.”

Listen to some of the rationalizations made by these exalted eminences.  Riches are “the reward of toil and virtue,” according to financier J.P. Morgan.  Ha!  Anyone who studies some of the unethical means by which J.P. Morgan himself gained his riches might strongly disagree.  He had speculated during the Panic of 1857, garnering considerable wealth by investing in securities that had plunged in value.  Then, in the dastardly “Hall Carbine Affair”, he bought thousands of defective muskets for $3.50 each, early in the Civil War, and re-sold them to a General in the field for $22 each.  These short rifles had serious defects:  they would sometimes blow the thumb off a soldier who tried to use one of them.  A Congressional committee noted this fact in the fine print of an obscure report way back then, but a federal judge upheld the deal as a fulfillment of a valid legal contract.  J.P. Morgan went on to become one of the richest financiers and industrialists of his era.

Another rich guy, John D. Rockefeller, wholeheartedly agreed with J.P. Morgan’s assessment of the remarkable righteousness of the wealthy.  He went so far as to state that riches are “a gift from Heaven signifying, <This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased>”   Oh, sure, sure, sure!   Jesus, in dramatic contrast, purportedly said that rich people are going to have a hell of a hard time getting into Heaven unless they show more empathy and generosity to poor people and the downtrodden.

Prominent labor union leader Eugene Debs scoffed at such self-congratulatory attitudes of the rich.  Debs, who ran for president five times in the early twentieth century, once stated, “Riches are the savings of many in the hands of a few!”  This characterization is much more accurate than the presumption that those who have the most money in the world are mainly virtuous and deserving people who God likes best.  Great Gatsby!

Many wealthy conservatives today seem to be no more sensitive to social injustices in their rationalizations of unjust policies that hurt others in the name of God, profit or ideological righteousness.

It’s instructive to recall that during the eighteenth century, Kings were still asserting the “divine right” of the monarchy.  Yep, this theory held that the right to rule arose directly from the will of God.  So, God willed it -- and either go along with this belief or suffer the consequences!  “According to the doctrine of the divine right of kings, only God can judge an unjust king,” states the Wikipedia consensus.  This doctrine implies that any attempt to depose the king, or even to restrict his power, runs contrary to the will of God, and it may even constitute a sacrilegious act.  Acting in ways that a monarch considered to be treasonous is danger enough, and to compound this by taking a risk of being eternally damned due to sacrilege would be practically crazy.  Nonetheless, the desperate need for reform finally drove the French people to overthrow their king in 1789.

Strong parallels exist between rationalizations that support monarchy and those that champion domineering influence of the rich.  In most monarchies throughout history, curiously, holy leaders of one Church or another generally collaborated with the elevated souls in the nobility to help control and oppress the populace.  Both Kings and the Church shared the ambition of making sure no one violated God’s plan, so that the rulers can maintain their exalted positions.  Reading up on the history of French rule during the eighteenth century, it is startling to realize how corrupt the politics were then, and how venal and promiscuous the morals were of the “nobility”.  The colorful Madame de Pompadour, royal mistress of King Louis XVI, could have given us an earful about the scandalous shenanigans that went on at the time.  Today, many of the world’s super-rich don’t seem much more ethical than those rascals in the prerevolutionary French nobility!

Two-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a classic representative of the super-rich subset of the wealthiest 1% of Americans whose self-rationalizations and ideological perspectives ooze with superiority and contempt at “the lazy laborers” who cost businesses so much in wages and benefits, and unemployment benefits when they are laid off.  Romney exulted in his good fortune at having amassed a large fortune, and tried to conceal the often-scurrilous means by which he personally gained these big bucks.  In 2016, Trump refuses to release his tax returns, probably to avoid disclosing the many ways that he has exploited real estate law to avoid paying taxes.

The doctrine of Manifest Destiny was an early example of a multitude of spurious rationalizations that God favors a domineering group over an oppressed one.  Manifest Destiny held that it was moral and inevitable that American settlers should expand across the continent, and this conviction was used to justify a war with Mexico over the Republic of Texas and the forcible removal of Native Americans from their traditional lands.  Such imperialistic expansionism involved exceptionally ruthless and unjust offensives, and all modern instances of similar rationalizations should be rejected for their glaring injustices.

J.P. Morgan, in any case, was one of the classic robber barons of his time.  In all fairness, he did use his riches, eventually, for some redeeming purposes.  He played a key role in leading a coalition of bankers that saved the financial system during the Panic of 1907, and he became a philanthropist, so he wasn’t a completely greedy or unempathetic man.  He ironically died in 1913, just 9 months before Congress gave birth to the Federal Reserve central banking system. The Fed was established to provide emergency measures to rescue the economy in future economic panics and recessions.

After World War I and the Roaring Twenties, sure enough the Fed was needed to deal with another even more cataclysmic economic setback, the worst in American history -- the Great Depression.  The Fed made mistakes in their response to this severe economic contraction of the 1930s by tightening the money supply instead of flooding markets with liquidity.  It also let thousands of banks fail instead of finding a smart way to save them and gain large benefits for taxpayers as a reward for the action.  Securing benefits for taxpayers has a much fairer ring to it than spending trillions of dollars to bail out the banking system and then having financial institutions rebound to make record profits using cheap money provide by the Fed while Main Street society as a whole struggles with deep insecurities.

Big Picture Economics and the Reboot Hypothesis

The study known as macroeconomics was born in 1936 with the publication of the book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes (pronounced ‘caines’).  This discipline was a big picture intellectual response to the widespread adversities caused by the calamitous Depression of the 1930s.  The term macroeconomics initially referred to knowledge and expertise accumulated in hopes of understanding the Depression, so that a recurrence of that calamity could be prevented.  Enough had been learned of the causes of economic downturns that another depression was averted in the 1970s, when a strong recovery was engineered after the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent recession. 

Unfortunately, economists and politicians and ideologues then forgot what had been learned in the Depression.  They repealed sensible banking legislation like the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated the safety of depository banks from the risk-taking of investment banks.  Parts of the New Deal were undermined, and once again economic bubbles were stoked and regressive changes in taxation were implemented, and high levels of deficit spending began and continued, year after year after year.

Many people have experienced their computer getting so messed up that the best thing to do is to reboot it.  Recognizing how messed up our econopolitical system is, and how deeply it is corrupted by Big Money, it sure seems like we should take bold steps to reboot it.  Thom Hartmann sagely states in Rebooting the American Dream: Eleven Ways to Rebuild Our Country:   “The solutions can be found by going back to the operating system designed by our Founding Fathers, and refined by both Democrats and Republicans -- until a virus called Reaganomics began to damage it, and subsequent attacks under both Bushes and even Clinton weakened it further.”

Thom Hartmann convincingly expresses the opinion that we should reboot “to restore an America beset by problems like joblessness, declining wages, huge discrepancies in wealth, political corruption, environmental degradation, and corporate malfeasance.”   It is eminently reasonable to agree with this assessment.  High rates of joblessness cause working people to feel a heightened sense of insecurity, and this in turn makes them put up with much more than they would otherwise.  They are basically compelled to go along with the status quo, no matter how opprobrious.  Insecurity has the insidious effect of forcing many workers to play a passive role in the serious game of Charades that accompanies the titanic struggle between Capital and Labor.  This is a true David versus Goliath story.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not

    understanding it!"

                           --- Upton Sinclair

A relatively high rate of joblessness represents a type of two-for-the-price-of-one bargain for big businesses.  They get effective wage cost constraints, AND they get employees who are insecure, intimidated and compliant.  Slick operators profit handsomely from the outcome, especially banking executives, financiers, CEOs, corporate lawyers, politicians, investors and rich “conservatives”, all of whom are instrumental in having engineered the boom-and-bust cycles in the first place.

  “Most working people are more concerned with making a living than with making history.”

                                                                                                             --- Paul Wellstone (paraphrased)

When one honestly “follows the money”, it becomes clear that corporations and their beneficiaries have managed to shift advantages much more heavily in their favor since 1980 in this hard-fought contest between Capital and Labor.  It is high time that we give underdogs better opportunities and fairer protections in our societies!

A salient point to remember in all discussions about national finances is that corporations, by hook or by crook, have managed to reduce the total share of federal tax revenues they pay from 40% of the total in the 1940s to an average of about 25% in the 1960s to less than 10% today.  The direct consequence of this “success” is that the burden of taxation has been shifted to all other taxpayers -- like you and me and all people in future generations.  Pay-as-we-go?  That fiscally conservative notion seems to have become anathema to powerful interests, Democratic and Republican alike!

Economic issues are examined in greater detail throughout this Common Sense Revival.  You will find my most important suggestions for improving our world in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies.  Other essays like Existence, Economics and Ecological Intelligence in Book Three of the Earth Manifesto provide additional valuable insights and recommendations.

The Follies of Militarism

Another pathetic aspect of the American capitalist system is the hyper-stimulus of spending on arms and the military.  This was one of the central pillars of the Reagan Revolution.  This gambit primarily benefitted the few at the expense of the many.  Ramped-up spending on the military generates huge profits for special interest groups invested in the military-industrial complex.  Wealthy people, CEOs and big shareholders are the main beneficiaries of these profits, and these people are being granted a very costly entitlement of paying taxes on these windfalls at very low capital gains rates.

Mark Twain had declared he was an anti-imperialist and wrote scathing words about the American intervention in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War between 1898 and 1902.  Terrible atrocities took place during that suppression of Philippine people who were fighting for independence. 

General Smedley D. Butler -- you gotta love that name! -- was purportedly the most decorated Marine in U.S. history at the time of his death in 1940.  General Butler expressed deep regrets at the end of his heroic military career about the role he had played in wars.  In speeches and a book titled War Is A Racket, he stated that war is a racket “conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.” … “It is possibly the oldest racket, and easily the most profitable, and surely the most vicious.  It is the only one international in scope.  It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

Not long after Smedley Butler spoke these words about the war racket, the bitter seeds of World War II began to sprout.  History tells us that the German war machine was partially fueled by U.S. business interests, and was financed in part by American bankers like Prescott Bush, the father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush.  This fact really taints any claimed righteous integrity of the influence of the Bush family in our national politics!

The United States has spent an amount on the military since World War II that exceeds the record level of today’s national debt, so one way of seeing this situation is that we have basically borrowed the total amount of money spent on wars and the military.  Military spending serves two main unspoken purposes -- to protect U.S. business interests abroad and to enhance opportunities for entrenched interest groups to maximize profit-making by entities involved in the military-industrial complex.  Considering this fact, it would be smart to require military spending to be financed by taxes on outsized profits earned by businesses involved in war services and by higher taxes on interest groups like Big Oil that primarily benefit from military interventions in oil-producing regions.

High levels of spending on the military makes it much easier for the U.S. to project domineering power around the globe.  Most often this power is used to defend the narrow interests of financial elites and giant multinational corporations.  Military power is used to ensure access to oil and natural resources of other countries around the world, and to enforce economic and political shock-doctrine policies and too-big-to-fail banking scams and other exploitive “free-market” schemes.

“It is a part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy, which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.”

                                          --- General Douglas MacArthur, 1952

Militarism sadly serves to divert financial resources and distract people’s attention from crucial domestic issues.  By exploiting nationalistic and ethnocentric and patriotic impulses, such diversions keep people from rising up and demanding fairer and more farsighted domestic policies.  High spending on the military represents a misallocation of funds that tends to crowd out other investments, especially when the economy is booming.  Many alternative investments would provide much better outcomes from the point of view of the whole of society.  Especially good ideas can be found in well-managed investments in public education, research and development, cleaner energy, public transportation, infrastructure improvements, a more secure social safety net, and saner environmental protections.

The age-old “guns versus butter” debate has roiled politics for generations.  Hear John Steinbeck, who wrote the following words in his Log from the Sea of Cortez during the biological expedition he made in 1940 with his wonderful philosophic friend Doc Ed Ricketts:

“There is a war now which no one wants to fight, in which no one can see a gain:  a zombie war of sleep-walkers which nevertheless goes on out of all control of intelligence.  Some time ago a Congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed our people.  They said, and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure.  And now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation, and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower made a similarly compelling statement in 1953, with these words:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.  This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.  Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Social critic Dick Gregory once made this stunningly astute observation:

“I don’t know why America always thinks she has to run all around the world forcing people to take our way of governance at the barrel of a gun.  When you’ve got something really good, you don’t have to force it on people.  They will steal it!”

Zing! -- I love that concept!  Notably, the U.S. wants to share more than our way of government with other countries.  We want them to agree to honor “free market” competition, corporate friendly international trade agreements, laissez-faire governance, and easy movements of capital around the world.  These agreements often turn out to be distinctly disadvantageous to developing countries in a variety of ways.  Free access for our banks and industries in other nations creates a variety of problems, and foreign governments are forced to collaborate with the U.S. in managing the worsened crises that crop up as a result.  And we give fodder to those radical rascals who allege that the U.S. is an aggressively imperialistic nation.

Not only are aggressive militarism and rash debt financing socially undesirable, but so are correlated increases in inequities and the subversion of democratic fairness.  Amoral abuses of power by big corporations and the political right make this state of affairs worse.  My personal bias tells me that “conservative” politicians, in particular, have been abusing their civic responsibilities by staunchly advocating retrogressive policies.  Broader and deeper perspectives on a wide variety of military issues can be found in Reflections on War – and Peace! in Book Six of the Earth Manifesto.

Donald Trump Provides a Startling Perspective

Donald Trump has made many outrageous proposals like banning Muslims from the United States.  In doing so, he has helped drive Republican politicians farther to the right, especially on issues like immigration.  A serious paucity of civility has resulted, as was witnessed on the debate stage in Las Vegas on December 15th, 2015, and every Republican candidate strived to scapegoat immigrants and to harshly denigrate President Obama.  They all decried "political correctness" in their fervor to get on the groupthink bandwagon of blaming all Muslims for the terrorist tactics of Islamic extremists, even though this folly plays into the hands of terrorist recruiters on social media, who take advantage of deeply disaffected individuals to promote jihad violence.

But look here!  Donald Trump’s arrogant and insulting character has freed him to say things no other Republican would consider.  Here is a sensational one, which happens to ring with a tenor of ideology-transcending truth.  Here is a remarkably blunt denunciation of the Iraq War that Trump made during the Republican candidate’s debate in December.  Listen in:

"We've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems -- our airports and all the other problems we have -- we would have been lot better off, I can tell you that right now.  We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East -- we've done a tremendous disservice to humanity.  The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away -- and for what?  It's not like we had victory.  It's a mess.  The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess.  I wish we had the 4 trillion dollars or 5 trillion dollars.  I wish it were spent right here in the United States on schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart!"

"Yet again," writes Andrew Prokop, "Trump has identified an opportunity left open by the polarized two-party system.  By pairing his tough rhetoric and persona and avowed nationalism with various efforts to play to Americans' racial anxieties on immigration and terrorism, he can convincingly tell conservatives the Iraq War has been a disaster.  And here again, he may come off to voters as more honest and straight-talking than the other candidates."

Constructive Criticism and Visionary Understandings

Many supporters of the U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War directed withering criticism at peace activists, war dissidents, conscientious objectors and whistleblowers. “Love It or Leave It,” they declared.  They charged former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg with being “the most dangerous man in America” for having released the infamous Pentagon Papers.  These documents revealed that the U.S. government routinely suppressed crucial information and used deceptions, false pretexts and outright lies to sell the Vietnam War to the American people.  The federal government also intimidated dissenters to advance its misguided military goals, a fact that is anti-democratic and deeply disturbing.

 “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

                                                                                                                              --- Mark Twain

Honest and constructive criticism is of great value, especially in matters that concern inegalitarian social policies and unjust corporate abuses of power, and the folly of hyper-costly arms races, and shortsighted thinking in ecological matters.  A convincing case can be made that good governance relies on honest debate, fair-minded dissent, boldly expressed concerns for the true public interest, farsighted understandings, ethical journalists and conscientious whistleblowers who are protected in their abilities to courageously expose fraud, corruption and deceit.  Some conservatives, in contrast, seem to conveniently regard these honorable things as subversive, like D.J. Trump, who wants to chill freedom of the press with lawsuits. 

"You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its

     assimilated conformists."    

                                           --- Political activist Abbie Hoffman

Let me tell you an entertaining and illuminating story concerning some of John Steinbeck’s wise observations.  Here is an excerpt from Tall Tales, Provocative Parables, Luminous Clarity and Evocative Truths: A Modern Log from the Sea of Cortez:

Sometimes there is a natural serendipity of cause and effect.  On these rare occasions, the unintended consequences of activities actually turn out to be salubrious.  Don’t you love it when this happens?  How sweet it is!  Consider, for instance, the circumstances that surrounded a tuna fishery that John Steinbeck describes in his Log from the Sea of Cortez.  The fishermen of Cabo San Lucas, the town that lies on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, once caught great quantities of tuna.  The tuna were canned in a cannery on the pier, and the fish guts and cuttings of the tuna were thrown into the bay from the end of the pier.  This refuse brought in schools of small fish, which were then netted and used for bait to catch more tuna.  Voila, a closed circle, and perfectly fortuitous good luck! 

There was, however, a proverbial fly in this otherwise “perfect ecological ointment”.  The schools of fish were driven away from the pier by black cormorants, which are big gangly birds that dove into the bay to catch the small fish.  “Thus”, writes Steinbeck, “they are considered interlopers, radicals, subversive forces against the perfect and God-set balance on Cape San Lucas.  And they are rightly slaughtered, as all radicals should be.  As one of our number remarked, <Why, pretty soon they’ll want to vote.>”

Steinbeck scholars indicate that the modest and soft-spoken author was sensitive to creatures being considered subversives for a cogent personal reason:  his novels like The Grapes of Wrath had achieved great fame, and this had brought him notoriety, hate mail and even surveillance by the FBI.  His literary themes were unsettling to the privileged, who feared anyone poignantly pointing out the social problems related to poor people and the plight of immigrants and farm workers, or startling contrasts in economic inequities, or other failings of the ruthless dog-eat-dog capitalist system.  Great literature evokes universal themes and images, so it provides deeper contexts in which readers can more viscerally understand.  It is sometimes ‘subversive’ of the status quo, but it is even more valuable for being so!

Today, the “love it or leave it” crowd of apologists for military interventions by the United States have started going off the rails because we have a smart and somewhat progressive black man as president.  Deep paranoia seems to afflict people who have been indoctrinated to fear the federal government.  Conservatives have been peddling the story that “the government is the problem” since Ronald Reagan told them so, and they contend that any restrictions on gun sales are a threat to people’s liberties.  This is why many of them staunchly oppose background checks on all gun sales and sensible restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.  Gun sales are at record highs, and fears fomented by the right-wing fringe run deep.  And a correlated opposition to compromise and good solutions to problems is obstructing collaborative reforms.

When conservatives in the 1960s told liberals to love America or leave it, they charged conscientious objectors and proponents of peace with a lack of patriotism for not blindly following the federal government in support of the Vietnam War.  Today, when gun rights enthusiasts defend unrestricted access to guns and assault weapons, they rationalize their rigid stances by asserting a need to possess an arsenal of weapons in case they need to fight the government with lethal force.  This is a blatant contradiction, which has deep roots, and we should better understand them.

“Irreverence is the champion of liberty, and its only sure defense.”

                                                                                        --- Mark Twain

Maybe some light is shed on this issue by the actions of domestic extremists in Oregon in January 2016.  Armed self-described militia groups from outside the state occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, putting one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk.  The unfortunate occupation violated the most basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine by holding public lands and resources hostage to serve a narrow political agenda of the occupiers.  The militia used a flimsy pretext to justify their actions that involved two local ranchers being convicted and jailed for arson and poaching on public lands.  Notably, neither the local community nor the individuals convicted had requested or endorsed the occupation or the assistance of militia groups. 

Is America the Greatest Country in the World? 

I love our nation.  But I do so liberally, not blindly.  Think about a widely seen scene in the excellent program on HBO The Newsroom.  A student asks news anchor Will McAvoy, a character played by Jeff Daniels, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”  His cogent response is that America is not “so star-spangled awesome”:

“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world.  We're seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports.  We lead the world in only three categories:  number of citizens per capita that are incarcerated, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.”  After a poignant pause, McAvoy continues: 

“We sure used to be.  We stood up for what was right.  We fought for moral reasons and we passed laws and struck down laws for moral reasons.  We waged wars on poverty, not poor people.  We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.  We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy.  We reached for the stars, acted like men.  And we aspired to intelligence; we didn't belittle it;  it didn't make us feel inferior.  We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy.  We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed.  By great men, men who were revered.  The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.  America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”  

Investigating One of the Most Serious of All Environmental Risks

Capitalist economic systems are good at producing goods and services, and at hyper-promoting the consumption of these things, and at making energetic efforts to maximize profits, generally to the detriment of society, and the environment, and our heirs.  Many scientists believe that climate change caused by human activities is probably the most serious environmental concern facing humanity.

Climate change is “the defining challenge of our age” according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Fourth Assessment Report on global warming trends.  The time has come for us to collaborate together to deal effectively with this ominous problem.  Extreme weather events in the United States have cost American families, businesses and the federal government more than $200 billion in the last three years alone.  As more greenhouse gases are spewed into the atmosphere, disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy are going to become more common, and more costly.  It would be smart for us to take bold precautionary measures NOW to deal with this issue, so comprehensive climate legislation should be passed that assesses a fee on carbon pollution emissions and funds investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies that generate cleaner power from wind, the Sun, geothermal heat and biomass resources.  

President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass carbon emission legislation.  Our representatives in Congress should heed that call.  With the unholy ascension in January 2015 of the climate change denier James Inhofe to chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the environment, the best hope is to bring overwhelming pressure on all of our representatives to take action.  I encourage readers to peruse Climate Change Considerations, Carry Capacity, and Ecological Overshoot for broader understanding of these issues.

Another Economic Conundrum of Capitalism

There is another big problem with our system of democratic capitalism:  It has become more like a plutocracy in the past three decades.  Vested interests have succeeded in getting our representatives to reduce taxes on income from capital gains and corporate dividends to very low rates, so that rich people like Mitt Romney pay a net effective rate on their huge incomes of less than 15%.  This is an outrageous contrast to the much higher percentages that ordinary Americans pay in taxes on wages they earn from working for a living, so it is simply wrong.  The top 1% of taxpayers receives more than 70% of all capital gains, so the low 15% tax rate on capital gains is principally a benefit to this tiny faction of Americans.  It would be much fairer to assess taxes on capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income.  This should be one of many reforms that should be made to the U.S. tax code. 

Wealthy people are members of what Robert Frank calls “Richistan”.  These people have been getting their way at the expense of everyone else for decades.  They achieve this narrow felicity through the simple expediency of politically corrupting our democratic republic.  Instead of working to make our society fairer, our political representatives pander mainly to big corporations and the demands of the wealthiest 1% of Americans, helping them maximize their financial rewards at the expense of all others.

The bottom line of these tax system shenanigans has been a rapid increase in the national debt from less than $1 trillion in 1980 to more than $19 trillion in early 2016.  This development involves ploys that are fiscally irresponsible and generationally unfair.  This mortgaging of future generations is creating one of the biggest risks to the security of the American people in our country’s history.  This excessive level of debt is providing powerful impetus to the politics of austerity.  And, if it continues to be inadequately controlled, this failure could easily lead to an international debt crisis and another economic downturn that could cause extensive adversities to billions of people worldwide.  Surely, we would be well advised to take sensible, courageous and effective steps to avert such a possibility!

It is no wonder that many people almost hate our political system at election time, due to the negativity, character assassination, deceptive arguments and fear mongering in political ads.  On top of this costly barrage of persuasion, obnoxiously incessant fund-raising appeals make it ever clearer that serious campaign finance reform is needed.  Also, the knowledge that our political system and governance is so corrupted by Big Money tends to make the majority of the people cynical about fairness of representation in our politics, and it is discouraging to see that our elected representatives too often dash our hopes of honestly championing our personal and collective best interests.

Where to Look for Positive New Direction

There are other “defining challenges of our age” than climate change, like the declining fortunes of the middle class and poor people, the irresponsible wastefulness of our system of materialistic consumerism, the rash squandering of resources, rapid population growth, and tragedy of the commons assaults on the environment.

To sensibly deal with these huge challenges, we need to look to the three types of social institutions that dominate our society:  corporations, governments, and churches.  All three of these types of institutions are failing us today in times of increasingly desperate needs.  This failure is occurring because all these institutions are vulnerable to a variety of influences that corrupt higher purposes. 

Corporations and churches are extremely undemocratic institutions.  They are led by small groups of people who wield dominating hierarchal authority.  Since corporations are legally bound to narrow purposes of maximizing profits and limiting the liabilities of owners, most of the benefits of corporate activities go to shareholders and the people in top management positions.  As a consequence, short shrift is given to employees, communities, the health of the environment, and society as a whole. 

In the early years of the automobile industry, Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, believed in paying relatively high wages to his workers so that they would be able to afford to buy the expensive products his company was producing.  His generosity in paying high wages to employees was ruled illegal as a result of a 1919 court case, Dodge vs. Ford Motor Company.  The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in this case that a business corporation is organized mainly for the profit of its shareholders.  Corporations, they judged, must give primary consideration to the interests (and the dividends!) of shareholders.  Any other motive, like paying workers generously, or acting ethically and socially responsibly toward workers and the environment, is legally constrained by this obligation. 

In recent years, curiously, the astronomical generosity of salaries and benefits for CEOs and people in top management has NOT been subjected to similar limitations.  Power obviously undermines justice!

One result of Judicial mandates for corporations to maximize profits for shareholders is that corporations are not only driven to improve their operations and products and services, but to cut corners, circumvent common sense regulations, externalize environmental costs onto society, indulge in unfair competitive practices, exploit non-productive “rent-seeking” advantages, evade taxes, cheat customers, invest in lobbying efforts to gain more subsidies and tax breaks, indulge in many schemes to avoid paying taxes, and support pork barrel spending and war profiteering.  These things are distinctly undesirable from the perspective of the greater good!

Churches are even less democratic than corporations.  The Catholic Church is headed by a Pope who is selected by about 115 cardinals, every one of whom is a conservative old man.  The Church’s goals are so undemocratic that women are given completely inferior influence in the Church, and the official positions of religious authorities are dictated by inflexible doctrines, unevolved dogma, and male-dominion-oriented patriarchal supremacist policies.  As a result, church establishments collaborate with extreme political conservatives rather than liberal humanism, in a blatantly unchristian alliance.

Societies ruled by Islamic theocratic hierarchies, like those in Iran and Saudi Arabia, are even more sadly retrogressive and repressive.  Pretty please, make reforms!  As Albert Einstein declared in 1901:

    “A foolish faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

A new Pope was being chosen as these words were first materializing in the interstices of my mind.  The problems facing the troubled and stodgy old Catholic Church are legion, and most Americans regard Catholic bishops as rather out of touch on a variety of issues.  The Church should address the widespread evidence-based perception that it is a patriarchal institution riddled with discrimination, self-serving hypocrisy, intrigue, deceit, and obsession with money and power. It should begin to act as a more fair-minded and accountable entity, rather than emulating an arrogantly authoritarian monarchy, and stop defending flawed understandings of evolutionary biological impulses and gender roles and the most egregiously outdated theological notions concerning human sexuality.

I congratulate Pope Francis on his Easter Sunday address in late March 2013, for he wisely deplored the “iniquitous exploitation of natural resources.”  In this regard, it would be wise to heed his advice.  He said that social justice and protections of the environment would be hallmarks of his papacy, reflecting the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint who the new Pope adopted as his own.  That was a good start to his reign!   And HALLELUJAH for his climate change encyclical in June 2015!

In September 2013, Pope Francis lamented:  “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”  He also said in the same interview:  “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” … “We have to find a new balance;  otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”  Good call, Pope!

I respect Mark Twain’s cogent remark:  “The church is always trying to get other people to reform;  it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.”  A favorite joke among people in Rome about the Vatican’s reluctance to embrace reform is a quip about the Church’s modus operandi:  “Talk to me on Tuesday and I’ll get back to you in 300 years.”  Ha! 

The seven main areas in need of reform to refocus the Church on fairness, farsightedness and the greater moral good are: 

(1) To modernize the Church’s attitudes toward birth control measures, for many compelling reasons that include minimizing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and dealing effectively with problems like unwanted children, overpopulation, environmental degradation, shortages of food and water, and other issues related to the true quality of life;

(2) To deal honestly, effectively, and fairly with priests and their victims in sexual abuse scandals, which have plagued the Church worldwide because of the molestation of children by priests and the cover-ups of such heinous wrongdoing by religious authorities, including the two previous Popes.

(3) To change Church rules that deny women the right to be ordinated as priests, and allow women to have more important ecclesiastical roles in the Church;

(4) To address a steep decline in the number of priests by overturning the Vatican’s odd 1,500-year-old ban on priests being married; 

(5) To change the Church’s official denunciatory and discriminatory tune against gay people;

(6) To put the Vatican’s organizational structure in more open, accountable and fair order, and to thereby deal with financial and governance scandals that have been bedeviling the Church;  and,

(7) To emphasize more persistent and farsighted messages to the faithful flock about the importance of social justice, resource conservation, and protections of Earth’s environment.

Since religious establishments and corporate entities are so distinctly undemocratic, our main hope for fairer representation in decision-making is to be found with governments.  All governments tend to be corrupted by the powerful influence of large corporations and religious establishments, and by the distorting influence of vested interest groups, but progressive elements still have significant sway, and our federal government is still nominally ruled by a fairness-oriented Constitution, a great Bill of Rights, and precedents of established laws that have evolved over the past two centuries.

It is to governments that we must look for progressive leadership in dealing with the big issues that confront us:  environmental protections and peaceful coexistence on the global scene, and guaranteed personal liberties, improved public education, fairness in the strife between rich people and all others, expanded rights to self-determination for women, and eminently reasonable compromises in all overarching conflicts between capital and labor.  Progressive evangelicals, please help!

Thomas Jefferson wrote these wise and thought-provoking words:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it away from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of Constitutional power.”

Support good public education, and a reasonably liberal curriculum!

A Brief Catechism

The symbol of a fish, by an odd stroke of coincidence, is a veritable hallmark of Christianity, the most widespread religion on Earth.  The Latin root of the word religion is religio, meaning to bond together.  Humanity has an overarching existential need to bond together in a far-reaching and conscientious devotion to a more responsible stewardship of creation.  This need is growing steadily, in tandem with increasing human numbers and intensifying demands on natural resources and ecosystem services and the “carbon sink capacity” of the biosphere.  All religions should strive for a common bond of peaceful coexistence by coming together to give much higher priority to helping satisfy this transcendental obligation.  We should become downright evangelical and practically puritanical in this duty, in the sense of seeking to judiciously impose on everyone this ultimate righteous moral code for our kind as a whole in the long term.  Weigh in more wholeheartedly on issues like this, again and again, Pope Francis!

An Audience with the Pope

Pope Francis shocked religious conservatives early in his tenure when he was asked about homosexuals and responded, “Who am I to judge?”  I’m glad you asked, Mr. Pope!  You are the powerful leader of an ossified behemoth institution that has enormous influence on people’s conceptions of right and wrong, and you are dealing with a giant hairball of institutional inertia in the Catholic Church hierarchy.  This inertia is preventing the faithful from evolving a more positive and inclusive morality.  How ironic that catholic means “all-embracing”!  Your Church is clinging to archaic dogmatic canons too often, and dishonorably claiming they are absolute truths.  The Church is also continuing to deny the biggest picture understandings ever conceived about the evolution of life, and it should become a stronger force for fair dealings, inclusiveness and the mitigation of violent conflicts between people. 

It is good to see you shaking up conservatives a little by shifting your emphasis away from “small-minded rules”, Pope Francis, but that is just not enough.  Stop pretending that Church teachings on issues like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and the impossibility of ordinating women as priests are matters of God’s will, rather than Church doctrine defined and imposed by male religious authorities.

A First Step Required to Fix Our Democracy

The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in June 2013 that some key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unconstitutional.  Right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia had sent shock waves through the collective conscience by declaring earlier that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act represents a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."  This provision contains requirements for how states that have a history of making efforts to deprive minorities of voting rights can legally change their voting laws.  This provision was designed to prevent unfair changes to voting prerequisites or qualifications if the purpose of the changes was to discriminate against people on account of their race.  Scalia's words made his attitude about voting rights starkly clear.  He seemed to see merit in discriminatory Jim Crow laws of yesteryear.  Astonishingly, the Supreme Court actually narrowly agreed with Scalia, by a vote of 5 to 4, and struck down parts of this fair-minded law.

 As a perverse outcome of this ruling, extremely long lines are being encountered in primary elections, as in Arizona in March 2016, where there were 70 percent fewer polling places this year than in 2012 in the county where Phoenix is located.  All those polling places would not have been allowed to be eliminated if conservatives on the Supreme Court had not eviscerated the Voting Rights Act.

Sensationally, Antonin Scalia declared: “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”  In one sense, Antonin Scalia was sure right about “racial entitlements”.  Once black people were finally given the right to vote, as with women, it’s definitely hard to take that right away!  Not only has the political right wing been expending concerted efforts to make it harder for people to vote by using tactics like reducing voting hours, but they have also used “caging lists” to purge voter registration rosters and deny many people their voting rights.  Conservatives have also passed restrictive new voting laws, and they have gerrymandered many congressional districts into bizarre contortions in many states controlled by Republicans.  Their main purpose in these efforts is to give more influence to conservatives.  This has contributed to making the House of Representatives the least representative of moderate interests in modern history.  Conservative Republicans are also busy trying to rig the Electoral College system to the narrow advantage of rich people, corporations and right-wing elements of society so that they have a better chance of regaining the presidency in the 2016 national elections.  With Trump having triumphed over many competitors to become the presumptive Republican nominee, this could be disastrous for our country and the world.

Sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is the best.  I suggest that we make our nation a truer democracy by constitutionally stipulating that the President and members of Congress will be chosen by direct popular vote:  Whoever gets the most votes wins!  This is the fairest way to reform our elections -- let every citizen vote, and get rid of the odd Electoral College system altogether.  At the same time, actions should be taken to reduce the corrupting influence of Big Money in our politics.

It is difficult to take away any right, perk, privilege, subsidy or loophole from any person or business, even if it has been gained by unethical means rather than fair, fiscally responsible, or ethical means.  A concrete instance of this fact is that, once high-income earners were given the privilege of paying historically low tax rates on the highest levels of their incomes, it has been proving to be practically impossible to claw back even a small amount of that generosity.  This is true despite the fact that such policies are saddling future generations with an unconscionably heavy burden of debt.

Ambrose Bierce, the journalist and satirist who was one of Mark Twain’s prominent contemporaries, cynically defined a Conservative as a person who is enamored with existing injustices, “as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”  Ha!  Surely we would be best served by seeing justice and injustices in the clearest possible light, and by using a balanced approach to redress all kinds of injustices.

Attention to the Here and Now

The shock-engendering news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on February 13, 2016 really shook up the presidential primary campaigns, for a decision now must be made about his replacement.  The news reminded me of a surprising story about Justice Scalia that had surfaced after an interview with him appeared in New York Magazine.  Scalia said he believes in heaven, hell and the devil.  The devil?  Yeah, he’s a real person.  Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine!  Every Catholic believes that.” 

Frankly, not every Catholic believes that.  In fact, even Pope John Paul II once said that heaven is not a real place up in the sky, and he also indicated that hell is not a physical place either.  Antonin Scalia, however, was a Biblical literalist who believed otherwise, and he seemed to have been willing to consign whole groups of people to worser fates here on Earth if they did not conform to his judgmental beliefs and personal prejudices and ideological certitudes.  This makes a shrewd observation by the pragmatic philosopher William James ring with persuasive truth: “A great number of people think that they are thinking, when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

It is disturbing to find out that a top judicial official in the federal government has made important decisions affecting millions of people’s lives in conformity with dogmatic religious beliefs.  It is the prerogative of Scalia to have believed in literal interpretations of the Bible, since everyone in our democracy has the freedom to believe whatever they like.  But when he allowed his judicial opinions to be informed by strictly constricted personal religious beliefs, like those related to women’s rights, minority rights and gay rights, an overarching injustice can result.  “It is both frightening and disconcerting that a Supreme Court Justice, sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, has so blatantly ignored the fact that our constitution is secular and not religious,” stated one observer.

Aye, there’s the rub!  A grave form of potential evil is associated with any belief system that proclaims an absolute certainty that there is an afterlife where believers, by dutifully believing, will be rewarded with eternal existence in a “Heaven” place of rapturous and sublime beauty and ease, but non-believers, by not believing, will deserve to be condemned to eternity in a “Hell” place of fiery and tortuous suffering and anguish.  Condemning other folks in an afterlife is strongly correlated to a more reprehensible attitude of condemning them to discriminatory injustices in the here and now.

"The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it;

    but whether it have more of evil, than of good."

                                                                              --- Abraham Lincoln

A literal belief that a Devil exists to bedevil “sinners” and non-believers can be a convenient receptacle for harshly judgmental prejudices, and such a belief can become evil incarnate by motivating fundamentalist believers to demonize others or subject them to severe criticism, ostracism, discrimination, hate, or even Inquisitions, torture, murder, genocide, terrorist attacks or suicide bombings.

In one of the world’s most famous myths, Faust made a deal with the Devil in which he would gain all knowledge of the physical world, and power over it, but he had to pay the Devil for this privilege with his soul.  In the original myth, Faust goes to Hell at the end, but in a later version, the playwright Goethe granted him redemption.  George Lucas explored a similar theme to Goethe’s in his Star Wars trilogy, and it looms large in our imaginations.  Will technology save us, or destroy us?  “Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough,” says Bill Moyers.  “We have to rely on our intuition, our true being.”

Literal interpretations of Holy Book stories can eventually prove to be the kiss of death to the purpose, meaning and emotional power of the generative myths they contain.  Contemplate, for instance, the personal experience of Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth:

“The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant.  The sudden realization that this belief is patently and irrefutably false, that the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions -- just as one would expect from a document written by hundreds of hands across thousands of years -- left me confused and spiritually unmoored.  And so, like many people in my situation, I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying.”

I believe there is a good answer to the late Rodney King’s conciliatory question, “Can’t we all just get along?”  YES, WE CAN!  We could get along a lot better by honoring the virtuous reciprocity ethic epitomized by the Golden Rule.  This would be a much better guiding light for humanity than narrowly parochial dogmas, especially in light of the fact that the world is becoming increasingly crowded, and the need is growing to find good ways to prevent conflicts, and to resolve ones that arise.

“When white missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land.  They said 'Let us pray.'  We closed our eyes.  When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.”

                                                                                                                                   --- Desmond Tutu

A Goal of Overriding Importance

Recall that Dick Cheney infamously declared in 2002, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."  This is one of the most ridiculous statements ever uttered, and one of the most dangerous.  Dick Cheney made this claim as a convenient rationalization for borrowing huge sums of money to finance trillion-dollar tax cuts and big increases in military spending.  We should not forget Dick Cheney’s blatant conflict of interest in this doctrine, for it contributed significantly to the profitability of the oilfield services company Halliburton and its subsidiaries -- those same corporate entities that Cheney had led as CEO just prior to his selecting himself to be Vice President under George W. Bush.  Abraham Lincoln lent a sensational perspective to this abuse of power:

   “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

If there are good grounds for suspecting a man’s character, like his manifesting retrogressive and rigid conservatism, let’s choose NOT to give him power!  It is exceedingly unfair and quite socially irresponsible to finance wasteful priorities by borrowing money from future taxpayers.  “No need to pay as we go” chimed the Republican chorus when George W. Bush was president, as they repeatedly rubber-stamped increases in the U.S. debt ceiling to accommodate the mounting tsunami of deficit spending.  They even created a new entitlement program for prescription drugs that has been financed by more than $1 trillion in borrowed money (so far), and they allowed giant drug companies to write the specific provisions of this sorry legislation so that the profitability of drug sales would be maximized.  This necessarily meant, of course, that the deficit-financed cost of the program would be a whole lot higher than it should be.

Hey, cost cutters, this should be easy!  Let’s defy the profit-maximizing Big Pharmaceutical lobby for a change, and demand that every one of our political representatives unanimously supports new provisions to require less expensive generic drugs for Medicare recipients, where available. 

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, made a much more honest and accurate statement in 2010 than Dick Cheney’s when he stated:  “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.”  Yikes!  The possibility is stunning that the failure to adequately control deficit spending may be a bigger threat to us than all those terrorists we’ve misguidedly been spending trillions of dollars to defeat and antagonize and drop bombs on, from drones above.  It is foolish to fight endless hyper-costly Orwellian wars over the threat of terrorism when the cost itself contributes to bigger risks of economic hardships.

Admiral Mullen was basically saying that it would be a better investment in a safer future to compromise together in more effective ways of preventing our indulgence in the shortsighted expediency of deficit spending every year, for questionable purposes, year after year after year after year. 

Instead of insensibly allowing across-the-board “sequestration cuts”, as Congress did in early 2013, we would have been better off to target spending cuts more specifically and intelligently.  We should elect much better managers, and tell the ones we’ve got to cut government spending by reducing wantonly wasteful levels of poorly controlled spending, especially on the military.  Let’s bring home a good number of the more than 150,000 active-duty personnel stationed in Germany, Japan and 150 other nations abroad.  And let us collectively resolve to stay out of wars and military occupations of other countries.  This would help us achieve the salutary goal of reducing bloated military spending.  With respect to foreign relations, let’s commit more funds – like an amount equal to 5% of the military budget -- to helping other peoples improve their societies.  And in general, let’s act as a better neighbor on the world stage.  Policies that create mutual security are the key!

The Institute for Policy Studies once produced a report that outlined significant ways to save about $200 billion per year by controlling Pentagon spending in sensible ways.  That’s big money!  For details, see their online report titled We’re Not Broke: A Commonsense Guide to Avoiding the Fiscal Swindle while Making the United States more Equitable, Green, and Secure.

Another Shout Out to Proper Accounting

Federal and state governments often use odd accounting gimmicks to avoid making difficult decisions and sensible trade-offs.  The most significant of these accounting gimmicks is the expediency of borrowing huge sums of money to avoid making more socially responsible budgetary decisions.  Such shortsighted schemes allow costs to be externalized onto people in the future.  Governments often allow businesses to use accounting gimmicks and abuse the power of their unwarranted influence to maximize their own narrow advantages.  It would be more sensible to use the smart concept of full cost accounting to create societies that are more socially, fiscally and environmentally responsible.  It would be wiser to reform our tax policies and act courageously to curtail the unfair influences that corrupt our political system.  These steps would help ensure the common good and leave a fairer legacy of eco-sanity to future generations.

Who would have expected that a fair measure of salvation might be found in proper accounting?  Such smart and proactive planning sure makes more sense than to passively believe in a judgmental and punitive God who will supposedly give us salvation only if we cling blindly to a belief in ‘His’ existence, as revealed by some “holy scripture”!  

I invite readers to imagine this modern version of Common Sense as encompassing a balanced blend of reason, logic and evidence-based probability, on the one hand, and foresight, passionate caring and spiritual wisdom, on the other.  Let salvation and healing -- physical, moral and spiritual -- be the underlying motive for this visionary new version of Common Sense.  Let us see that economic well-being cannot be achieved in the long run without championing conservation initiatives and adequate protections of the environment.

Shall We Heed the WARNING Signs?

Some say that the U.S. and the world are destined to suffer a harsh economic depression in the next decade because of rash increases in government debt that have been incurred so far this century.  These people make somewhat convincing arguments.  After all, the U.S. national debt has more than tripled in the 15 years from January 2001 to January 2016, increasing from less than $6 trillion to more than $19 trillion.  To have allowed such a risky increase in debt is irresponsible. 

Interest expenses on this debt will carve out an increasing percentage of all federal budgets in future years.  This cost exceeded a phenomenal $450 billion in 2011, and will surely cause more intense conflicts in the future over budgetary priorities and between special interest groups and our national needs.  And since the average age of Americans continues a trend of long-term demographic increase, the costs of our social security safety net will inexorably climb.

Baby boomers are reaching retirement age in large numbers, so costs of total benefits for seniors is growing rapidly, and these entitlement costs are causing a budget squeeze on nearly every other category of spending.  "The foot is on the accelerator with entitlement programs, and it's on the brakes on investments," says Jim Kessler, vice-president of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank. "And this country needs more investments."   Public investments are being limited in education, infrastructure, research and development, and other fields that tend to nurture future prosperity.  To advance progressive priorities like environmental protections, public education, and clean energy research and implementation, we need to put sensible cost controls and fair-minded entitlement reforms into effect.

Interest expense on the national debt is a stealth tax on all taxpayers in future years.  As the size of this real tax increases with increases in the national debt -- and with the inevitable increase of interest rates from their current historic lows -- this cost will constrict future options for lower tax rates or enough spending to make our country fairer, more secure and more stable.  We definitely could make a much better plan than the current status quo, if we really wanted to ensure a more salubrious collective fate!  I say, “We do; and let’s do it!”

Debt Can Be a Form of Bondage, So Hard Rock Music Blares in the Background for a Moment

Debt can become a deep personal scourge in a borrower’s life.  The specific condition of “debt bondage” afflicts millions of people worldwide.  Unscrupulous lenders use repayment requirements as a means of basically enslaving people and making them fulfill a role similar to that of serfs in feudal times, or indentured servants in Colonial America, or inmates in debtor’s prisons of old. 

Today, student loan debt in the U.S. has reached a crushing total of about $1.4 trillion.  This amount is significantly more than total debt on credit cards.  Since unemployment among young people is currently at high levels, a threat of massive student loan defaults exists, and it is creating “a systemic risk as serious as the bank failures that brought the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse in 2008,” according to Project Uncensored.  We should seek smart, fair-minded ways to reduce such risks.

The interest rate on federal student loans was scheduled to increase from 3.4% to 6.8% in July 2013.  This increase was forestalled in a rare bipartisan bill signed into law that August.  In any case, high rates on student loans are outrageous, considering that huge corporate banks have been getting money from the Federal Reserve at extremely low rates less than 1% for many years.  We should be investing in our children, not in maximizing the profits made by private banks.  Students shouldn’t be treated as pawns in a game of profiteering that makes young people too small to matter.

Since the political class in the U.S. has collectively failed to limit deficit spending, and because all people in future generations are being saddled with the burden of enormous debt and interest expense obligations, this is a form of “intergenerational bondage”, which will severely constrain options of people in the future to address looming economic, social and environmental problems.

A harsh economic depression caused by a debt crisis would have catastrophic impacts on billions of people around the planet.  All Americans should give serious consideration to this possibility, and be willing to modify their habits a little bit, and shift their beliefs, and share in a small sacrifice of some of their short-term-oriented self-interested goals to prevent this eventuality.  This would represent the greater good for all.  European countries, mired in similar fiscal problems, should find better ways to manage their debts, and to balance austerity measures with more fair-minded concessions by people who are well off and can easily contribute to greater general well-being.

All peoples should rise up and demand that leaders worldwide enact national policies that are more fiscally sound and socially fair.  This would be one of the best ways to mitigate the growing intensity of conflicts in the world.  The wise Athenian statesman Solon, one of my heroes, would have agreed.  Such changes might even prove to be one of the best ways to create more peaceable societies.

Daunting problems face us all, collectively, so together we need to decide how to best manage our national affairs.  The word “collaboration” reverberates from a tree smoldering on the steep slopes of a mountain resembling Nepal’s beautiful Ama Dablam, and just now the sounds of a rousing symphonic composition echo among the mountain peaks.  And resounding echoes of Henry Kissinger’s words are heard:

    “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.”

Effective incentives should be instituted that would powerfully encourage all peoples of the world to modify their habits a little bit, and shift their beliefs, and share in a small sacrifice of some of their desires in order to achieve an eventuality that has rosier implications than current ominous trends portend.  Robert Reich provocatively points out in Supercapitalism that consumers and investors have goals that conflict, even within themselves, with goals that are more consistent with the common good.  Consumers and investors should therefore be amenable to new requirements for a small additional percentage to be added to all transactions to fund an insurance policy to finance future bailouts, and to help achieve good citizen goals.

The wealthiest 2% of people in the world own more than 50% of the world’s wealth, and they tend to prefer shortsighted “austerity recessions” to alternatives that require them to invest a bit more of their incomes in social insurance programs that serve to help people and mitigate social unrest.  Rich folks should be eager to buy relatively inexpensive social insurance by supporting initiatives that create an affordable social safety net.  This is common sense.  The most salient of these initiatives would be a proposed new system of taxation that is more steeply graduated, assessing higher levels of tax on the highest levels of earnings.  Many rich people stubbornly insist that the federal government maintain the current historically low tax rates on the highest incomes, but this stance substantially increases potentials for a devastating economic downturn and risks of more intense civil conflicts.

Recollecting the old song by the Tubes, What Do You Want from Life, I figured that the best idea for us might be to formulate a foolproof plan -- and to cook up an airtight alibi, while we’re at it!

An Appeal for Courageous Fair-Minded Voices

At a time that we obviously need more fair-minded decision making, it is instructive to see instances in history when leaders sometimes subvert the greater good.  One egregious example of this took place when a member of the inner ranks of the Bush administration was fired.  This reprehensible purge of an fair-minded voice took place with the firing of Lawrence B. Lindsey, the director of the National Economic Council in 2001 and 2002 and an advisor to the president on economic policy.  Think about the circumstances.  Lindsey had publicly provided a projection of the cost of a then-contemplated preemptive war on Iraq to be in the range of $200 billion.  This contradicted the shrewd war profiteer Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who estimated that the war would cost less than $50 billion.  

As it turned out, these leaders were involved in a bizarrely brazen, deeply duplicitous and insensibly zealous crusade to sell this preemptive war of international aggression to the American people, and they promoted this ruse by low-balling the cost and claiming that it would be a "cakewalk war".  Lindsey was fired for not parroting the party line, but history reveals that the war and long-term military occupation has in fact cost trillions of dollars, and it has had far-reaching collateral consequences by destabilizing the region and contributing to a wider and apparently endless Orwellian war on terror.  This is turning out very badly for hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The firing of Lindsey, along with the termination of Paul O’Neill over his cautions concerning tax cuts during a time of costly wars in the Middle East, damningly reveals a deep ethical rot that undermines our country’s purposes.  These firings involved the slick selling of an unnecessary and extremely costly war, and abuses of power that ratcheted up the rate at which elite factions of this nation mortgaged the American people under the forgiving eyes of a false god for the colossally ridiculous goal of making rich people richer beyond any possible measure of fairness and sustainability and rational planning and national happiness.  These twin terminations violated the overarching principles of our Founding Fathers to establish an enduring nation that would be free from despotic abuses of power and would emphasize the general welfare of the people and create a lasting democratic republic ruled by fair representation.

Remember John Steinbeck’s observations about “a Congress of honest men” during the early stages of World War II.  These men had refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed the people because they believed the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure.  Think about what Steinbeck was saying when he noted, "the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed."  And recognize that the great author was referring to honest men.  DISHONEST men, on the other hand, are obviously capable of wreaking an even worse toll on the world by being excessively staunch in their dedication to ideology over reason.

Consider the fact that Paul Ryan was chosen to lead the dysfunctionally conflicted Republican majority in the House of Representatives in late October 2015.  Some say he was chosen because he is the "most earnest looking" of the fractious partisans.  Judging by how obsequiously Ryan panders to narrow constituencies, this variety of earnestness is not a virtue.  The constituencies he is primarily pandering to, in addition to wealthy conservatives and giant corporations and the National Rifle Association, are intolerant religious fundamentalists who oppose the rights of women and gay people and the fair representation of the best interests of the vast majority of Americans.

Appearing earnest may be an asset for a cunning politician who is selling a dishonest and disingenuous and deeply deceptive agenda to gullible citizens.  A fair evaluation of the consequential impacts of Ryan’s proposals can shed a bright spotlight on the true nature of these ideological ruses.  Highly regressive changes in national taxation would serve to concentrate wealth even more unconscionably in the hands of the richest 1%, and to force austerity measures on everyone else.  It is a Big Lie that his plan would stimulate economic growth, for business relies on strong demand to create jobs, and when the financial well-being of most Americans is undermined, it has a chilling effect on their ability to buy the products and services that are being offered.

Worst of all, by focusing our national priorities on hot button issues and the privatization of Medicare, Paul Ryan is failing to focus on more important issues.  He is refusing to deal honestly with growing inequality and the decreasing economic security of the majority of Americans.  He is ignoring the risks of allowing giant corporations to continue externalizing large costs onto society, again to help the wealthiest Americans grab a bigger monopoly on the nation’s wealth.  He is distracting people’s attention from the growing existential dangers of climate change and rising sea levels.  And he wants to deny women crucially important reproductive rights. 

With a flourish of earnest-sounding conservative proposals, Paul Ryan proclaimed the ideas that are most important to him and his wealthy supporters, who are giving so much money to Republican politicians and narrowly-focused Super-PACS, thereby using institutional bribery sanctioned by the Supreme Court to impose  retrogressive and stubbornly anti-progressive plans on the American people.  Since these prescriptions suspiciously coincide so closely with the agenda of right-wing billionaires like the notorious Koch brothers, it is obvious that they are designed to rig the economy and politics ever more extremely in their favor.

In the mean time, in the U.S. Senate, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is so audaciously corrupt that he proudly displays venomous editorial cartoons on the walls of his private Senate office in Washington D.C. that lampoon him for his staunch opposition to campaign finance reform.  He does this in spite of the fact that such reforms would give the American people more voice and sensibly limit the amount of influence that wealthy people and giant corporations have in dictating our national policies on crucial issues like international trade, jobs and tax rates.

While most politicians desperately want to be liked, McConnell has relished his reputation as a villain.  “After all,” as Politico Magazine states, “he achieved his iron-fisted grip on the politics of his home state and his fractious party on Capitol Hill through discipline, cunning and, oftentimes, fear.”  Tellingly, McConnell was first elected to the Senate in 1984 with the help of a wily political ad that was produced by archconservative Roger Ailes.  The ad scurrilously showed a pack of bloodhounds running around searching for his opponent.  That image was evocative again in early 2016 as the internecine Republican contest for the nomination of their party for the presidency gave way to tremendous uncertainty in a dangerous Trumpian triumph.

For most of Obama’s presidency, McConnell has been the face of Republican obstructionism.  He is a central part of a larger political upheaval as an increasingly ugly civil war has embroiled the Republican Party, pitting its conservative establishment against its even more extreme conservative Tea Party insurgency and anti-establishment fervor.  For the moment, the Tea Party is winning.  In recent years, it has ousted Republican senators that McConnell called friends and peers, veterans like Indiana’s Richard Lugar and Utah’s Bob Bennett -- “rock-ribbed conservatives both”, who were not but afraid of working with Democrats.  Lugar lost a re-election bid in a 2012 primary election in Indiana to whacko Tea Party extremist Richard Mourdock, and this outcome brought the disciplined McConnell to the brink of tears on the Senate floor.  “You’re a treasure to the Senate and a model of the public servant,” an emotional McConnell said.  “We’re sorry to see you go, and I’m sorry to lose your wise counsel.”

Moderation, not extremism or hard times swindles, would be preferable.

Insight Leads to a Radical Proposal

Think again about the surveys of public opinion that have shown people to be happier when they earn $50,000 to $75,000 per year than when they make less money.  The contrasting fact, that people who make more than $75,000 per year are NOT commensurately happier, points us to good cause for believing in the desirability of enacting a more progressive tax structure.  These are persuasive arguments for resisting the influence of high-income earners to get lower tax rates on the highest levels of their incomes through the expedient tactic of borrowing money and adding it to the national debt.

The implications of this insight are clear:  a more steeply graduated system of taxation would improve the overall level of well-being in these United States, and it would ensure that the vast majority of people would have a better chance of succeeding in their pursuit of happiness.  Progressive taxation is one of the fairest ideas ever devised because of the fact that the same rate of tax is assessed on every taxpayer for every dollar that anyone earns, with progressively higher rates of tax being assessed on higher categories of income. 

Politicians on the political right have a pathetic propensity for coming up with shrewd rationalizations for plans that unjustly shift the burden of taxation from high-income earners to everyone else. Notably and quite consequentially, the tax rate on the richest 400 Americans has been reduced by two-thirds since the early 1960s, while the tax rate on the average worker has nearly doubled.  It is amazing that we haven’t had a revolution with so significant an increase in this level of inequality and injustice!  It is even more outrageous and irresponsible that this trend has caused a shift of obligations from people today to all people in future generations.

Since this insidiously stealthy strategy creates a big risk to the entire international economy and the well-being of billions of people around the globe, we should be willing “to think outside the box” to find ways to create a safer, fairer, and more stable international economy.  One way to do this would be to seek restitution from wealthy people who have abused the power of the influence of their money to gain an ever-larger share of the wealth created in our societies.  This restitution would be sensibly required from those who have rigged the system by engineering our national policies to their narrow advantages.

This leads to an important insight.  To reduce the probability of a severe economic calamity caused by excessive and irresponsibly generated debt, and to thus forestall related social turmoil, we need to take extraordinary measures.  The status quo is no longer acceptable; eminently fair-minded measures are necessary.  One emphasis of these measures should be to reduce inequality in our society.

A simple restitution proposal is contained below that would dramatically reduce the risks of a severe debt crisis.  This proposal would make our societies substantially fairer, and it would do so with a surprising minimum of economic hardship.  Check it out!  It is under the heading “A Shockingly Fair-Minded Plan” further on in this Common Sense Revival.

A popular gambit in the U.S. has been to use contested concepts of freedom and economic well-being to justify a variety of low tax rates for people with the highest incomes.  Often lost in translation is the fact that social responsibility is a necessary adjunct of individual freedom.  An integral part of the “social contract” is that those people who have lots of money have a larger responsibility for helping make our society function better.  They are, after all, the only people who can easily afford to finance crucially important investments in the greater good for all.

One freedom that people with huge amounts of wealth and influence insistently proclaim is their right to take advantage of the existing rigged system at the expense of all others, even when their activities are achieved in ways likely to be detrimental to our heirs in the future.  The radically regressive changes in taxation that have been made since 1981 have had a cumulative effect of giving rich people an increasing monopoly on the nation’s wealth.  Monopolies are not good.  We have to fix that!  Too big to fail?  Fix it!

When Tomas Paine urged American colonists to seek independence from unfair rule by the British, he declared:  “The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. … 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age;  posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected even to the end of time, by the proceedings now.  Now is the seed-time of Continental union, faith and honor.  The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak;  the wound would enlarge with the tree, and posterity read in it full grown characters.”  An image arises of people in posterity sitting in real rueful judgment of our obtusely ideological and shortsighted follies today.

A Sign from God?

The colossal storm Sandy that struck the East Coast on October 30, 2012 turned out to be one of the most costly natural disasters in history.  The federal government rushed to help people whose lives were disrupted by this tragedy, and this role of the government in assisting people who are victims of natural disasters can be seen to be vitally important.   This Superstorm calamity highlighted the radical nature of anti-government convictions of “conservatives”.  In a presidential primary debate late in 2011, Mitt Romney stated that disaster assistance should be sent back to the states, “and if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”  Really?  Such a mindset sounds verily preposterous to me! 

People tend to come together during times of natural disasters, and the first responders who worked long hours to help other people, and to save many lives, deserve heartfelt thanks and appreciation.  It is astonishing that some people hold ideological convictions that blind them so much that they suppose amoral profit-prepossessed private corporations would do a better job than the federal government in helping millions of people who suffered adversities due to the colossally violent Superstorm Sandy.  Corporations, realistically, would have been much more likely to find cunning ways to cut costs.

Poorly considered anti-government ideologies are a threat to the well-being of millions of Americans.  By extrapolation, such doctrines are a threat to the future security of everyone in our nation.  The American people would have been served much better if we had created a “rainy day fund” to pay for costs of natural disasters, instead of having made our country more fiscally unstable by indulging in the opposite expediency of huge budget deficits every year to finance high levels of spending on the military coupled with historically low tax rates on the highest incomes.

It’s almost as if Superstorm Sandy was a sign from God, coming as it did just one week before the national elections on November 6, 2012.  If so, it would be easy to imagine that this sign was one from Mother Earth telling humanity that we should listen to scientists who tell us there is a global warming effect associated with spewing over 30 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.  Maybe God was telling us to reject denials of conservative politicians about these risks.  Greenhouse gases are causing an unsteady but inexorable increase in average global temperature, and this warming is causing ominous ecosystem impacts and changes in weather patterns around the planet.  The costs of these changes are escalating as storms become more severe, and as trends develop like worsening heat waves, cold snaps, floods, droughts, crop failures, wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and increasingly disastrous coastal flooding caused by rising sea levels and storm surges.  Hear these words anew as the melting West Antarctic Ice Sheet ominously disintegrates into the sea.

Apologists for the status quo generally want businesses and individuals to be able to continue their polluting and carbon-emitting activities without being required to pay for remedial measures.  They apparently believe it’s a good plan to stick taxpayers with the cost of efforts to mitigate the damages that result.  We should take a courageous stand against this scheme of allowing costs to be socialized to maximize private profits.  The costs of damages caused by extreme weather events should be covered by funds generated from fees on carbon emissions rather than allowing them to be externalized onto society.  We are already imposing a long litany of costs and ecological harms and detrimental effects of resource depletion onto people in future generations, so it is outrageous to allow short-term-oriented expediencies to harshly compound these unfolding adversities.

Foreboding changes in weather and precipitation patterns around the world tell us we should begin to heed sensible precautionary principles.  A good enunciation of these ideas can be found in Intelligent Precautionary Principles Enunciated -- Holy Cow!  Our societies would be much healthier, wholesome and holistic if we were to choose to recognize, respect and honor the feminine facets of God, and of our psyches, and of females in our cultures.  These aspects of our humanity have been repressed for many millennia by the world’s patriarchal religions with their judgmental left-brain dominant dogmas that perpetuate discrimination, and with their rigid interpretations of doctrinal Scriptures and all-too-frequently retrogressive, anti-scientific, sexist and antediluvian worldviews. 

Public Policy Conundrums Require Clear Vision and Common Purpose

Nothing is simple.  Superstorm Sandy made us aware of the conundrum of how we should best handle natural disasters.  Years ago, an idea prevailed that required people who live in areas prone to flooding to buy flood insurance, so that risks of flood damage would be spread across everyone who lives in such areas.  The people who live in high-risk areas would thereby contribute to paying for the costs of inevitable floods.  This idea resulted in a National Flood Insurance Program being established in 1968, a plan that was rationalized as a way to save taxpayers’ money.

But good intentions can be perverted into bad plans when inadequate attention is paid to outcomes and unintended consequences.  Consider this National Flood Insurance plan.  Instead of paying out huge amounts of emergency funds whenever a coastal area or a river floodplain was inundated, the federal government figured it was more prudent to identify high-risk areas and require people who lived there to buy insurance and thus pay for some of the inevitable damages themselves.

This program was a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It has unfortunately malfunctioned by rewarding people who choose to build in risky flood zones.  Odd outcomes have resulted.  For example the federal government has shelled out a total of $2 million over the years to repeatedly rebuild a flood-ravaged home in the town of Humble, Texas that has an assessed value of only $116,000.  Another home, in Wilkinson County, Mississippi that is worth about $70,000 has been flooded 34 times since 1978, and the National Flood Insurance Program has paid more than $650,000 to fix it.  To me, it seems absurd to continue paying for “repetitive-loss properties” like this.  Are we incapable of sensibly reforming anything?

On the other hand, Congress was forced to approve more than $60 billion for relief efforts related to Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina damage costs totaled well over $100 billion.  These federally financed amounts dwarf the losses of the National Flood Insurance Program.  I’ll bet fair-minded people could collaborate together to find better ways of covering costs of natural disasters!

Evaluating Values

Two competing visions are battling for ascendancy in our country.  One side says that we need to cut taxes on the highest income earners and on corporate entities.  Such policies serve to promote the further enrichment of the rich and the impoverishment of the poor.  People who promote such policies insist that austerity measures should be imposed on the majority of the American people.  A proper understanding of Keynesian economics, however, tells us that the time for government austerity measures is when the economy is expanding, not when it is struggling to recover from a recession.  During the 2012 election, Mitt Romney represented this side with his proposals to slash taxes on the rich and enact on-your-own sink-or-swim economic plans and defend deceitful “trickle-down theory” ideologies.

The other side says that the greater economic well-being of our nation can be achieved only by taking steps to ensure that prosperity is shared more broadly, so that millions of American workers are a bit more financially secure and have more money to spend.  It is these workers, after all, whose increases in productivity in the past 30 years have helped generate large increases in wealth. 

President Obama more-or-less represents this more progressive side.  He gives sensible recognition to the idea that we would be better off to strike a fairer balance between the privileges of well-heeled individuals and the well-being of our communities, and between the power of narrowly-focused special interests and the power of the people.  The domination of our national decision-making by entrenched factions is the most serious factor distorting our national priorities.

The vast majority of people in the world are going to need to be less desperately insecure for us to have more stable and sustainable societies.  Inequality and high levels of unemployment and underemployment cause widespread hardships, so they are socially dangerous.  We are going to need to make some significant changes in economic structures, and that is going to cost a lot, and everyone is going to be responsible for contributing to higher costs.  A fairer distribution of wealth in the world is necessary to help all people pay the coming higher costs of smart “green taxes” and cost-internalizing assessments. 

Incentives, it is well known, are the fairest and most effective means to achieve socially desirable ends.  Incentives and disincentives are the best way to influence people’s behaviors because they are not only quite effective, but they are also the most consistent with various freedoms of choice.

The history of our great nation can be seen to be a progressive unfolding of increasing fairness that has unsteadily moved us closer to actualizing the Enlightenment Era ideals embraced by our Founders.  Whenever an existential threat seems to have been on the verge of destroying our great experiment in representative democracy, we have chosen remedial reforms.  For instance, after the Depression of the 1930s began, wealthy people were forced to agree to a fairer social compact, and this ushered in 40 years of more fairly shared prosperity and a variety of New Deal initiatives that served to make poor people and those in the middle class more secure. 

But then came the Reagan Revolution, and rich people once again gained the upper hand. Since then, they have been abusing the power of their undue influence to get an ever-bigger proportion of the benefits of our economic system for themselves.  In the process, the fortunes of poor people and the middle class have been dramatically diminished.

American voters made an important choice in reelecting President Obama, and in electing progressive Elizabeth Warren as Senator from Massachusetts in the national elections held in November 2012, and in rejecting extreme conservatives like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdoch and Allen West.  At the time I was hopeful this outcome would help us collaborate together better on national policies and priorities to make sure they are more consonant with the marvelously fair-minded principles of our Founders, as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: 

    To establish Justice,

      To insure domestic Tranquility,

        To promote the general Welfare,

           And to form a more perfect Union.

Abraham Lincoln once stated early in his life that his greatest ambition was to be truly esteemed by his fellow men, and to be accorded this regard by rendering himself worthy of their esteem.  That is noble and worthy leadership.  Today, one might think that the greatest ambition of most of our partisan political representatives is of a much meaner and more myopic set of driving forces.

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.”

                          --- Abraham Lincoln's “First Reported Speech", January 1837

“The task of our forefathers was to uprear upon the hills and valleys of our land a political edifice of liberty and equal rights, and it is ours to transmit these undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation to the next generation.  This task is imperatively required of us to faithfully perform in gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general.”

            --- Abraham Lincoln (paraphrased)

On the Desirability of an Effective Opposition Political Party

A strong opposition party should provide a healthy balance in a political system, and it is especially vital to the common good in a democratic republic.  But the minority party must be a sensible party, not a “stupid party” or a “party of no” that stubbornly obstructs progress and tries to make the President fail.  Bobby Jindal, the Republican Governor of Louisiana from January 2008 until January 2016, urged Republicans in the aftermath of the 2012 elections to "stop being the stupid party", and to reject "dumbed-down conservatism."  He stated that Republicans should “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans”.  He sensibly declared,  “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”  This seemed like good advice, but many in the GOP like Sam Brownback have chosen to ignore it.  Protecting the rich, after all, is basically the main platform of the Republican Party.

If a doctor misunderstands a medical problem and focuses attention on the wrong issues, his or her prescriptions can be harmful.  Likewise, when Republican politicians focus on wrong-headed priorities, their prescriptions can resemble quackery, and they can cause much harm to the populace.

Economist Paul Krugman stated several years ago that our economy was stagnant and unemployment was high because of what was actually a technical problem, a problem that was in many ways one of better organization, coordination and right action.  Krugman believes we could solve such problems in smart and equitable ways to get the economy to resume healthier growth.  These ideas, like others in his compelling book End This Depression Now!, should be fairly analyzed, and consistent actions should be taken.

Republicans should reject being the party of unthinking faith and denials of expert understandings.  They should stop dogmatically denying the dangers and future costs associated with a warming planet and a changing climate.  They should accept progressive reforms of the tax code.  They should contribute to making sure that comprehensive immigration reform is enacted.  They should allow more scientists and engineers to come to the U.S. on H-1B visas, since such visas are integral to the success of a transformative high-tech economy.  They should stop undermining the rights and dignity of women and gay people.  And they should stop their unprecedented obstructionism of adaptive laws, and let the Supreme Court vacancy be filled, and allow more of the many dozens of vacant federal judge positions to be filled, instead of adamantly blocking judicial appointments.  Evolve, guys!

An Aside on the Issue of Immigration

One of the most coldly calculating and divisive strategies used by politicians and bombastic demagogues like Donald Trump is to try to gain power by exploiting people's fears and prejudices, and by provoking intolerance and stoking hate.  Trump is a media huckster who has succeeded by being comically snarky and smirky on camera and insulting on Twitter.  While his unreal reality-show antics and snide insults have helped propel him to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for the most powerful position in the world, the toxic tenor he has interjected into the rank ranks of the Republican Party is cringe-inducing, and he represents truly dangerous ideas about international trade wars and regressive changes in taxation.  Not only is his narcissistic macho aggression risky on the international stage, but at home his rule could be antithetical to the freedom of the press and women’s reproductive rights and hopes for climate action and protections of the environment.

“It was miraculous.  It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice.  Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all.  It merely required no character.”

                                                                                                  --- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Aided by the Trump tornado, today’s Republicans are taking an exceptionally hard-line stance on immigration that contrasts unfavorably with the more admirable position expressed by Ronald Reagan in his farewell address from the White House in 1989.   Reagan referred to the journey to the United States of John Winthrop, an English Puritan who imagined America as a "city upon a hill," and he described his idea of the "shining city" as one that was "teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace."  He added, "If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

In expressing their strong stances against immigration “amnesty” and allowing refugees into the States, today’s hard-right Republicans are launching fusillades against “political correctness”, and they are rationalizing blatant racism and discrimination.  In doing so, they are tortuously twisting their rhetoric to justify blaming and scapegoating people of other faiths and demonstrating intolerant religious antagonism.

The pathological strategy of today’s Republican politicians to exploit anxieties and fears of the American people to gain power is, in effect, preying on their vulnerabilities and taking advantage of the fact that the best interests of the vast majority of Americans are inadequately represented in our political system.  This, it seems obvious, is due to the fact that our political system has been corrupted by Big Money and the Supreme Court’s narrow ruling that moneyed interests can use their money with few limits.  This is a good reason why our system can accurately be said to be one of legalized institutional bribery.  We really need to enact new laws or pass a Constitutional Amendment to once again make our democratic republic an honorably fair form of governance.

Most consequential of all for the Republican crusade to gain the power of the presidency is their strategy to stack the Supreme Court with more proponents of corporate power and privilege, like Samuel Alito, and highly partisan conservatives like Clarence Thomas and ideological stalwarts like the late Antonin Scalia.  They want to do this so that their anti-democratic influence will be perpetuated for generations rather than just the next four years before their arrogance of power would be slapped down by voters angry at seeing exactly what the real intentions are that hide behind all the bombast and flag-waving rhetoric and deceitful prescriptions.

When I heard of Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death on February 13, 2016, I thought, “What diabolical timing!”  On the very day of the 7th Republican debate among a dwindling field of some of the most partisan and extreme candidates in history, Scalia’s death sparked immediate tensions over the future composition of the Supreme Court.  And since the appointment of a more liberal Justice would tip the scales toward progressive rulings, and away from strongly felt conservative positions on hot button social issues and corporate prerogatives, this unexpected development has monumental ramifications.

It would be politically incorrect and supremely cynical to suppose that the Devil had a hand in Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death.  A historically consequential docket of cases is pending during the current session of the Supreme Court, so this is an extraordinary juncture in history.  Scalia died just after another of many narrowly ideological and anti-progressive 5-4 rulings against the common good (in this case a provisional decision against President Obama's Clean Air legislation that sent shockwaves across the world in the wake of the historic Paris Climate Accords.)  May we live in interesting times!  This development made me marvel about whether this reputed old Chinese saying is a curse or a blessing, because Scalia’s death has suddenly cast heightened significance on the ideological composition of the Court during a highly contentious presidential primary election season.  The long-term impact of the composition of the Supreme Court probably has even more significance than who wins the presidential election, so heightened attention to the Supreme Court provides a sensational shaft of light on the implications of who is to choose future Supreme Court Justices.

I urge you, my fellow Americans, to reject this Republican bid for absolute power, if only for the exceedingly good reason that our democratic governance will be even more seriously compromised if we allow more Justices to be appointed to the Supreme Court who are ideologically opposed to fairer representation of the people, and are instead dedicated to giving more power to corporations and acting to increase growing inequalities.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and later McCutcheon decision are facilitating wrongful abuses of money for power.  In turn, this is stoking abuses of power for money.  This downward spiral of perverted principles and betrayed trust give the American people good reason to feel deeply cynical about their political representatives.  But their anger is being misdirected towards liberals and government, with the upshot being that their support is being given to the figurative bad guys who try to deceive the people by pretending to be the ones who are wearing the white hats. 

These slick and wily politicians really, really, really want to occupy the White House again to gain absolute power -- they currently control the House and the Senate, and until Justice Scalia died, they had a narrow majority of conservatives on the Supreme Court -- and they are furiously scheming to try to get into the Executive Suite.  Then they would really be able to get things done, and they are brazen enough to be somewhat candid about what they are planning:

(1)  Give more of the nation's wealth to high-income earners and wealthy people.

(2) Cut spending on environmental protections and family planning programs and Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and affordable health insurance for millions of people.

(3) Reduce regulations on giant companies, especially on banks and corporations that sell fossil fuels and prescription drugs and guns. 

(4) Give “personhood rights” to giant corporate entities, even though this can result in developments that are highly contrary to the common good due to the fact that corporations are amoral and anti-democratic by design, being that they have two main legal purposes: to limit the liability of owners and to maximize profits for shareholders.

(5) Increase spending on the military, and stop talking to our "enemies", and be more aggressive in intervening in the domestic affairs of people in every other nation on Earth.

(6) Eliminate the right to chose to terminate a pregnancy for any woman, no matter what man got her pregnant or how his seed got into her fallopian tubes -- or how dangerous a pregnancy may be to her life.  They do this in favor of giving the rights of personhood to a clump of cells from the moment of conception, while opposing the rights and prerogatives and provisions for the well-being of women and children.

Listen, my fellow Americans, these politicians are sugar-coating manure and pretending that they are creating a doughnut.  But let’s not be so gullible as to believe this unsavory slight of hand.  Reject these shrewd operators and send them back to the drawing board to devise fairer and more reasonable plans to offer to voters.

Serious consideration should be given to the extent that a deep current of racism still affects our American society.  This racist attitude is manifested in the blatant hostility by Republican presidential candidates to President Obama.  The country western singer and musician Merle Haggard made this provocative observation in 2010: 

"It's really almost criminal what they do with our President.  There seems to be no shame or anything.  They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he's doing certain things that he's not.  It's just a big old political game that I don't want to be part of.  There are people spending their lives putting him down.”

Colin Powell spoke out on this issue in January 2013 during an appearance on Meet The Press, when he condemned the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance” and the party’s repeated use of racial code words to oppose President Obama and rally white conservative voters.  Without mentioning names, Powell singled out former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy”, and Sarah Palin, who used slavery-era terms to describe Obama.  Powell stated:

There’s also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party.  What do I mean by that?  I mean by that they still sort of look down on minorities.  How can I evidence that?  When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term.  When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy.  He didn’t say he was slow.  He was tired.  He didn’t do well.  He said he was lazy.  Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that.  The birther, the whole birther movement.  Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?”

Cries for Secession

In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 national elections, some folks had a temper tantrum about President Obama’s victory and declared they wanted to secede from the Union.  Apparently they hate the federal government.  This is real interesting, ironically, because most of the people afflicted with this secession fervor live in “red states” that receive, on average, much more in benefits from the federal government than they pay in taxes.  The balance is the opposite in “blue states.”  If people in relatively poor states like Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia were allowed to secede, Dana Milbank asserted that this “Confederacy of Takers” would face serious fiscal problems, and the remaining “Union of the Makers” would be financially better off. “Would-be rebels from the red states should keep in mind during the coming budget battle,” Milbank stated, “that those who are most ardent about cutting federal government spending tend to come from parts of the country that most rely on it.”

Perhaps we should actually have let those States secede and really see if they become paragons of economic, social and environmental health -- or, more likely, unmitigated disasters!  Let them take their inequities, unfair social policies, anti-immigrant fervor, anti-environmentalism, latent or overt racism, and enthusiasms for guns, harsh justice and the death penalty, and try to manage their republic according to these narrow ideologies without the net benefits they receive from the federal government.  It is likely that circumstances would prove, in coming years, that it is a delusion to think that fundamentalist doctrines are better than fairer understandings and sensibly balanced priorities.  The experience in Kansas of slashing taxes to benefit high-income folks has definitively proven that ideology, divorced from reality, can be disastrous for the people.

Ponder the psychological underpinnings of this divisive legend-like myth that says there are two kinds of people in the world, the Makers and the Takers.  The Makers are like heroic individualists in an Ayn Rand novel;  they create wealth and jobs in a noble and virtuous struggle against workers and onerous government regulations.  This myth contemptuously treats workers as pathetic Takers who want good compensation and benefits for their labors and expect a social safety net for hard times.  It basically says that workers are like parasites on heroic job creators.  Entrepreneurs, financiers, CEOs, and inventors are regarded as Makers, while workers are seen as Takers who are lazy and want more than anything to collect excessive wages or food stamps and unemployment benefits.

A political cartoon in the newspaper in November 2012 showed an angry white man wearing a T-shirt that read SECESSION and toting a gun, and he was pointing to a barbed-wire border crossing.  There, a sign read:  NOW ENTERIN’ ANGRYWHITEMENISTAN.  The disheveled guy in the cartoon is singing the virtues of this new confederacy, telling a skeptical Uncle Sam, “It’s full up of freedom-lovers just like me, and it’s gonna be paradise.”  No civil war is necessary over this issue!

The secession hoopla died down pretty quickly, but the anger of conservatives over hot button social issues continues to boil, especially as conflicts intensify over issues like voting rights, comprehensive immigration reform, international trade policies, ISIS, gun rights, contraception, abortion and gay marriage.  A psychologist might analyze the collective yowl of secession fervor as a mixture of anger, humiliated frustration and self-righteous indignation at being defeated and not getting their way.  This anger persists, simmering in fervor over hot button social issues and misguided misunderstanding of the depths to which reactionary movements are exploited by moneyed interests to advance a narrow, anti-social, anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter was extremely discouraged at the outcome of the national elections in November 2012.  She declared, “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached.  We have more takers than makers and it's over.  There is no hope.” 

Ann Coulter was completely off base about this.  Her convictions were stubbornly ideological, and they should yield to more balanced points of view!  There is much hope for our country, but to actually realize these hopes, a reasonable opposition party is needed in our two-party political system, a Party that is fair-minded rather than one that is radically uncompromising, dogmatic, hyper-partisan, dishonest, self-righteous, pandering, fear mongering, and prone to the use of “hostage-taking tactics”.

“GOP candidates would be well advised to shift their focus from attacking the poor to going after those who are really dependent upon government -- the Political Class, the crony capitalists, the megabanks and other recipients of corporate welfare.”

                                                                                 --- Scott Rasmussen

Policies that increase unfairness and amplify the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few have another tendency:  to concentrate power more narrowly.  It is a marvelous convenience for rich people to be able to use the increasing influence of their increasing wealth to skew our national priorities.  But since this trend is so contrary to our nation’s best interests, apologists for such outcomes are distinctly misguided! National policies that exacerbate inequities are creating inegalitarian feedback loops that threaten our future well-being -- and that of our children and grandchildren.  It also threatens the soundness of our economy and the health of natural ecosystems, despite the fact that these are the bedrock of all future prosperity.

The radical right had a scary presence in Dallas in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Many Texans called Kennedy a traitor at the time.  Today, the radical right has grown into a national presence, as one observer pointed out in newspapers as the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination approached.  Likening vituperative talk by the radical right to a hothouse, he wrote:  “It’s what occurs when a handful of people hijack the microphone, turn up the volume, and push away from the center to the point where the fabric appears to break and hysteria and fanaticism takes root.”  Enter Trump.

Let’s be reasonable, folks, and remember the Enlightenment Era principles upon which our great nation was founded.  And let’s appreciate the wisdom and Golden Rule fairness of the progressive evolution that has taken place since then in many arenas.

An Interlude of Calisthenics

Here’s an interesting exercise for the inquiring mind.  Alert!  What individuals do you think have had the most revolutionary impacts on humanity in the last two centuries?  Here’s my conjecture:  Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.  Darwin gave us startling insights into the biological evolution of life on Earth through the processes of natural selection.  Sigmund Freud revealed some of the early ideas about the subconscious psychological nature of human drives and the complex workings of the human brain.  And the visionary Albert Einstein provided us with brilliantly abstruse understandings of spacetime physics, along with some extremely valuable philosophical perspectives.

Remarkably, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud collaborated together in 1932 in an exchange of letters related to issues of war and politics.  The Institute for Intellectual Cooperation had invited Einstein to undertake a correspondence with any thinker of his choice in the world.  Einstein chose Sigmund Freud, and he began by proposing an idea that he had been refining over the years.  The elimination of war, he said, required nations to surrender some of their sovereignty to a “supranational organization competent to render verdicts of incontestable authority and enforce absolute submission to the execution of its verdicts.”  He was basically recommending that a new international body should be created that has more authority than the ineffective League of Nations, which had been organized after the horrible devastation of World War I.

Who are we to dispute with one of the most brilliant minds in history, a man who has conceived the Biggest Picture perspective of the universe ever before imagined?  Let’s give the United Nations more power and funding, and work together to make the world a safer, more peaceable place.

Einstein and Freud concluded their correspondence with an observation that instinctively aggressive drives are too central to our human nature to be effectively suppressed.  Not long thereafter, a rude confirmation of this assertion was to arrive.  Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, nearly coinciding with the time this correspondence between Einstein and Freud was published. By then, many countries were already working feverishly to improve the destructive capabilities of their armaments, and the most murderous war in human history was in the process of unfolding.

All hopes for a “supranational organization” were put off until after World War II ended in 1945.  Then the United Nations was established, and it has done a commendable job of articulating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of working for international peace and combating diseases and promoting environmental sanity, among many other important accomplishments.  Many nations worldwide still have not been willing to give the UN more generous funding or adequate power, but this serves to reinforce understandings that Einstein was right when he called for a more powerful international organization to help ensure peaceful conflict resolution.

Curiously, Einstein and Freud may have been wrong in one regard.  Modern evolutionary biologists say that, in the biggest picture understanding of human evolution, cooperation has played an even more significant role in the differential survival of human clans than ruthlessly aggressive competition.  In any case, notes biographer Walter Isaacson, “Einstein, like a good scientist, was by then revising his theories based on new facts.”

Cultural change proceeds at a much faster pace than the biological evolution of human genes, so cultural evolution offers us better hopes for our being able to actually choose a more providential future. Cultural adaptation has been especially beneficial through good contributions made by civic organizations, mutual trade collaboration, fair-minded rules of law, democratic governance, the value of greater understandings, and the many blessings of peaceful coexistence.

The ties between people in “in groups” of our ancestors morphed over the ages from commitments to clans to larger concerns for increasingly big social groups -- to tribes, then agrarian communities, then villages, then towns, then cities, then city-states, then nations.  Each expansion in the inclusiveness of our communities led to many positive developments for our kind.  The next logical and moral step in our evolution is toward improved international cooperation and fairer and more effective international laws.

Corporations began their transformation into multinational organizations long ago, but a dramatic acceleration has taken place in recent decades as globalization trends have allowed many of these entities to sprawl beyond the control of national governments.  There are some positive aspects of this rapidly progressing development, and one is that it is causing us to become more interconnected and interdependent.  Albert Einstein said that humanity’s best hope for a saner civilization resides in some form of international laws that all nations agree on -- with fairer compromises to be made by all.

In April 2013, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the first international treaty ever to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade.  Overwhelming support was shown for the proposal, with only three rogue nations opposing the treaty.  Attention!  Which three?  Oh, yes, those rogue nations, Iran and Syria and North Korea.  What do you think the chances are that the U.S. Senate will ratify this treaty?  Experts and pundits alike say, “No way!”  Ratification in the Senate is unlikely for the simple reason that the ratification of treaties requires a two-thirds majority of Senators, and too many of our representatives in Congress are beholden to blindly following the dictates of Big Money and the arms industry and the uncompromising NRA.

It is a bizarre curiosity that one group of Americans joined Iran, Syria and North Korea in vehement opposition to this smart-minded treaty.  Tarnation! -- which one?  -- Ah, yes, of course, it was the NRA!  Perhaps it should be designated a terrorist organization!!

Albert Einstein was repulsed by ultra-nationalism and German militarism from the early days of his youth.  He felt compelled to actually renounce his German citizenship when he was 17 years old, in 1896, when he moved to Switzerland to attend college at Zurich Polytechnic.  His belief in a new supranational organization that would be effective in transcending the militant aspects of national sovereignty was a reflection of his pacifist views, and it stands to reason that a better-empowered international entity would be a good idea for resolving disputes and preventing war.  This idea has merit!  Let’s collectively demand that our leaders ratify the new UN agreement on the global arms trade.

Bush’s Brain Reveals Bizarre Propensities

It would be a good idea for us to understand the marvelous micro-circuitry of our brains a bit better.  The Obama administration has proposed a major new scientific effort to better understand the human brain, and to map its activity in a way similar to the Human Genome Project in genetics.

Let’s evaluate a statement made in 2003 by President Bush.  The leader of the free world told some Palestinian leaders at the time, “I'm driven with a mission from God.  God would tell me, <George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.>  And I did.  And then God would tell me, <George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq..>  And I did.”

Why is it, the ghost of Mark Twain wonders, that when God supposedly communicated with the likes of George W. Bush, the Supreme Eminence always seems to manifest the ideologically self-serving prejudices of the hearer’s dark inner self?  How could it be that God communicated personally with people like Mormon founder Joseph Smith and religious evangelist Pat Robertson and “born-again” George W. Bush -- and gave each of them such self-serving directives?  It’s as if the assertions of these dissemblers are either outrageous outright fabrications or astonishing delusions that reveal narrow prejudices and “confirmation biases”.  How gullible do these characters think people are? 

    “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” 

                                                                                   --- Mark Twain

A sense of humor, being born of perspective, bears a near kinship to philosophy.  So let’s laugh at the follies of leaders like Joseph Smith, who claimed God told him he could marry as many young wives as he could handle (apparently about 33).  Let’s laugh at every instance that God reputedly reveals a spiteful prejudice against women’s reproductive prerogatives or the human rights of gay people.  And let’s laugh out loud at the supposition that God has ever really told anyone to launch a bloody war of aggression.  Let’s allow the healing power of this jolly mirth inoculate us against a belief in the next messianic madman who comes along preaching some odd gospel containing the germs of suspiciously self-serving behaviors that just happen to be terribly contrary to the greater good.

Much mischief has been done throughout history in the name of God and Under the Banner of Heaven.  Even unsophisticated Huck Finn would have seen straight away that faith-filled folks are often either delusional or dishonest with themselves. When apologists among them deceive people by rationalizing horrible harms, they deserve Dante’s condemnation that would consign them to the deepest depths of Hell forever for their treacherous actions.

We sometimes irrationally misperceive the world around us, particularly when we oversimplify issues or seek to confirm our beliefs without questioning them.  For these reasons, I like this wise piece of advice:  “Don’t believe everything you think!”

Our opinions are deeply subjective.  Absolute truths do not exist.  Good and bad are relative.  When people hold opposing viewpoints, neither one is absolutely right or wrong.  When disagreements occur over national policies and priorities, perhaps the best answer is in the middle of a Bell Curve-like distribution of all people’s individual ways of seeing the issue.  There is often a surprisingly profound intelligence in crowds, as James Surowiecki makes clear in The Wisdom of Crowds.

This is one reason that I believe in fair-minded 50-50 compromises on many substantive issues where sincere partisans hold contrary opinions.  Good proposals lie ahead. If a dedicated group of people holds a brainstorming session and comes up with the fairest win/win solution to a problem, then let that be the one we adopt.

Merchants of Doubt

Note that with respect to Mark Twain’s reckoning that against the assault of laughter, "nothing can stand", that was long before the rewards for preposterous oppositional stands on issues like climate action became so lucrative, and well before the price of souls sold went down in direct proportion to the degree that campaign war chests were filled by lavish contributions from fossil fuel companies and billionaire polluters and timber industry barons, and giant corporations involved in the military-industrial complex.

One of the biggest problems in the world is excessive influence of greed-driven exploiters, confidence men, peddlers of absolute certainty in religious fictions, and “merchants of doubt” that sow uncertainty about the most important understandings found in scientific knowledge.

Merchants of Doubt is a documentary film about corporations that cultivate uncertainties and stimulate doubts in order to allow corporate entities to continue maximizing private profits by the scurrilous expediency of socializing costs and foisting them onto people not involved in the consumption of the products produced.

The film Merchants of Doubt was brilliantly created, with a "flashy framing device" that features card-trick magician Jamy Ian Swiss drawing frequent parallels between the mechanisms behind conjuring tricks and those used for mass manipulation.  The film focuses on the deceptive strategies of spin, obfuscation, deflection and distraction that are used by powerful corporate interests such as the oil lobby, cigarette manufacturers, and the flame retardants industry.

By using sensationally creative visuals of a magician and his slight-of-hand tricks throughout this investigation into manipulative corporate schemes, the film’s producers highlighted many of the schemes that are used to obstruct smarter and more broadly beneficial national planning.  In particular, the film deals with the tobacco industry and its 50-year-long denial tactics about the hazards of smoking cigarettes that they used to maximize profits.  Stunningly, the very same public relations operatives and highly compensated lawyers for the tobacco industry are now in the employ of fossil fuel industries to sow doubt about climate change and delay action that should be taken to ameliorate the existential challenge.

Wrote one film reviewer:

"There is nothing in Robert Kenner’s Merchants of Doubt, his follow-up documentary to 2008's fascinating expose of corporate malfeasance in the food sector, Food Inc., that we disagree with, or even want to weakly rebut.  Nothing.  The fluidly argued points flow with flawless logic one into the other, and the manner in which he traces the strategies used currently by vested interests in defense of their bottom lines, straight back to the playbook set out by Big Tobacco in the 1950s, is irrefutable and wholly convincing, especially when presented in so enjoyably arch and ironic a manner.  We vehemently agreed, laughed along at the more incredible and egregious fallacies highlighted, and felt every single other member of the audience at our Goteborg International Film Festival screening doing the same."

The rest of this film review, written by Jessica Kiang for The Playlist, is well worth pondering, for it contains some surprising twists, and it deals interestingly with bigger complexities of the daunting issue of climate change.  Look it up online --  Review: Documentary 'Merchants Of Doubt' Preaches To The Choir.

Gambling in the Bet Situation

We exist in a “Bet Situation”, as described by 17th century French scientist Blaise Pascal.  First, we are inextricably involved in the game.  Second, there are many uncertainties, and third, it is important to us in our own lives, and to our fellow human beings, that we make decisions that are more conscious, conscientious, and socially responsible with regard to a variety of important categories of bets we are collectively making.

One of the most significant gambles we make is to suppose that resource limitations don’t matter because technology will save us by finding replacements for resources as we use them up.  Resource conservation is a smarter plan than such rationalizations of wasteful usages, but it is also true that innovation is crucial to our adapting in the future.  Many new technologies are going to be needed to satisfy our growing needs for food, fresh water and energy, and to prevent or mitigate problems associated with a changing climate and increasing crowds of human beings.  Advances in technology can also have deleterious impacts.  They can cause wide-ranging problems, like much more effective ways of killing large numbers of people. 

It would be a clearly smarter plan to place some of our bets on a “no-regrets” approach that would result in less rash gambles about whether or not technology will indeed save us.  By making such smart bets, we would sensibly act to conserve natural resources like fossil fuels, essential minerals, topsoil and sources of fresh water, and we would help protect the vital biological systems found in tropical rainforests, old-growth temperate forests, unpolluted wetlands, mangrove nurseries, free-flowing streams, river deltas, sustainable ocean fisheries, and healthy coral reefs. 

The smartest course of action, in other words, is to place our bets on the understandings that are the most accurate!  Someday, at your leisure, check out Chapter 38 of Comprehensive Global Perspective online for a summary the 14 principal gambles we are collectively making, along with illuminating ideas on the most sensible bets we should be taking.

The exciting story of the genesis and evolution of innovative industries in famous Silicon Valley provides us with valuable insights and good lessons.  Steve Jobs was one of the greatest innovators in world history.  He encouraged people to “Think Different”, and to work to embrace life, “change it, improve it, and make your mark upon it.” Silicon Valley became fertile grounds for innovation because it had a concentration of really smart scientists and engineers in the Bay Area of Northern California.  People there cultivated an attitude of open-mindedness and a willingness to question conventional wisdom.  It was also fortuitous that Silicon Valley was far away from the overly regimented and stifling hierarchy of traditional big businesses back East. 

The new Venture Capital industry played a vital role in providing necessary financing to creative enterprises in Silicon Valley.  Venture capitalists provided risk capital and also helped assemble brilliant people and promote new technologies and provide organizational guidance and oversight.

Gordon MacKenzie, an ombudsman who worked at Hallmark Cards for 30 years, provides readers with some provocative insights in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball.  McKenzie shares the story of his own professional evolution, “together with lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius.” He recommended that people create a proper distance from the tangled and impenetrable mass of rules and bureaucracy and traditions that exercise an inexorable pull in stodgy organizations.  A good balance between structure and freewheeling latitude is healthy on many levels.

Silicon Valley gained great success after the Soviet Union shocked people in the U.S. by launching Sputnik, mankind’s first satellite, into orbit in 1957.  Realizing the need for technological innovation in electronics and propulsion and aerospace engineering, President Eisenhower soon thereafter created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Then, in 1961, President John Kennedy committed the nation to putting a man on the Moon within a decade, and proudly we did so in July 1969.  Visionary commitments, good organization, and flexibility in approach can help us accomplish great goals.

Fiscal Cliff Considerations

It is easy to identify fair-minded ideas that could be transformed into effective and positive action plans to improve the functioning and fairness of our society.  This Common Sense Revival contains entire compendiums of such ideas.  Unfortunately, instead of supporting fair-minded ideas and good plans to improve our societies, our leaders have indulged for decades in giving unaffordable tax breaks to giant corporations and millionaires and billionaires.  This national priority is driving us into one fiscal and social crisis after another.  To mitigate the risk this creates, we should find ways to fairly reform the dysfunctional and short-term oriented nature of our current econopolitical system.                              

Congress created a “fiscal cliff” in August 2011, largely as a result of stubborn Republican refusals to consider any assessment of higher rates of tax on the highest levels of earnings, or the closing of any tax loopholes.  A far-reaching threat is posed by our inability to compromise together for the common good, and this risk is being exacerbated by the turmoil, acrimony, misunderstanding, and ideological obstinacy that reign in Congress.

The fiscal cliff deadline of December 31, 2012 was the date when across-the-board tax increases were set to go into effect as the Bush tax cuts that had been enacted long before were set to expire.  Professor Robert Reich pondered this particular dilemma and the failure by then House Speaker John Boehner to achieve any compromise until the danger became a last minute crisis.  Reich posed the rhetorical question, “What does Boehner’s failure tell us about the modern Republican party?”  He concluded:  “That it has become a party of hypocrisy masquerading as principled ideology. The GOP talks endlessly about the importance of reducing the budget deficit.  But it isn’t even willing to raise revenues from the richest three-tenths of one percent of Americans to help with the task.  We’re talking about 400,000 people, for crying out loud.  It has become a Party that routinely shills for its super-wealthy patrons at a time in our nation’s history when the middle class is shrinking, the median wage is dropping, and the share of Americans in poverty is rising.  It has become a Party of spineless legislators more afraid of facing primary challenges from right-wing kooks than of standing up for what’s right for America.”   Continue to say it like it is, Bob!

Confirmation of Reich’s sentiment was found in proclamations by every one of the Republican presidential candidates at a debate during the primaries leading up to the 2012 national elections.  Each and every one of them asserted that they would refuse to accept any deficit reduction deal that required any higher revenues, even if it included $10 in real spending cuts for every $1 in increased revenues.  Recent years have obviously not been good ones for reasonable compromise and smart collaborative decision-making. 

A “Rent-Seeking” Rip-Off

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, campaigning in Iowa in 2011, smugly declared, “Corporations are people, my friend”.  I have always felt strong disagreement with the premise that corporations deserve to be given the full rights in courts of law that are constitutionally assured to real people.  Too many abuses of power have been made using rationalizations like the one that says the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees corporate entities the same rights of Due Process and Equal Protection as individuals.

Drastic increases in corporate power are an undemocratic development.  Mitt Romney represented government of business interests, by corporations and corrupt politicians, and for rich people.  One of the most detrimental aspects of his proposals was the idea that we should give more power to big corporations.  When he asserted that corporations are people, it begged an important question:  if giant multinational corporations are people, then exactly what kind of people are they?

Professor Joel Bakan explored this question in his provocative book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and in the thought-provoking film The Corporation.  He found that big corporations all-too-often fit the profile of a “psychopathic person”, as judged by criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Corporations often show a reckless disregard for the safety of others, a callous unconcern for the feelings of workers and consumers, and an incapacity to experience guilt.  Tellingly, they also often demonstrate an eagerness to deceive people through persuasive marketing and cost-externalizing gambits oriented toward making bigger profits by foisting costs onto society.  And they frequently fail to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.  They definitely do not resemble good friends or considerate neighbors.

It is compelling to consider this fact that corporations all too often act in ways that resemble behaviors exhibited by psychopathic individuals.  The inescapable conclusion is that we should not give corporations the same legal rights as real people.  When the Supreme Court issued its narrow ruling, by a 5 to 4 vote, on the Citizens United case, it gave rich people and corporate interests the right to subvert our democracy even more by spending larger amounts of money on propaganda so that they can gain more power.  This spending has helped politicians realize their hubris-filled plans to wield excessive power over the American people and our political system.

Another way that corporations play hardball with city, county, state and federal governments is by demanding that they be given a variety of free services, tax incentives, property tax abatements, cash grants, loans, sales tax breaks, and income tax credits and exemptions. These perks cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year.  These generous provisions divert money from public education and other important priorities, and force states and municipalities to cut public services or raise taxes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Laura Reese, director of the Global Urban Studies Program at Michigan State University, advises local governments to invest in local residents through education and training rather than by giving large incentives to companies, where it is harder to pick winners.  Such strategies would be much smarter development priorities!

During his career, Mitt Romney routinely took advantage of the rigged provisions of the capitalist system to make huge profits by using no-value-added “vulture capitalist” schemes and tax evasion swindles.  He acted in ruthless, shrewdly calculating, cold-hearted ways in his hedge fund dealings and debt-leveraging gambits.  He subsequently tried to spin the story of his career into a narrative that portrayed him as a man who was primarily interested in creating jobs, and who really cared about workers and the middle class.  He tried to act like he is an honorable nice guy who is fair-minded and reasonable.  But these characterizations turned out to be transparently inaccurate.  D.J. Trump appears to be even less ethical in his pursuit of power.

Romney’s many policy flip-flops and his slick rhetoric were overwhelmingly motivated by selfish personal advantages, not by fair-mindedness.  By covering up the details of his tax returns, and hiding any details he may have had of his fiscal plans for the U.S., and disingenuously concealing his true agenda if he were to have gained power, he gave people good cause to doubt his honesty and integrity.  We could not have afforded to gamble that a good Mitt would have shown up in the White House rather than a conniving, exploitive, aggressively self-interested, inequality-championing Mitt.  No one knows what kind of Trump would show up if he were to be elected, but we really can’t afford the risk of finding out!

Conservatives want corporations to make bigger bottom line profits, so cheap labor is dear to them, and they thus oppose fairer treatment of women and equal pay.  Women are a disproportionately large component of the middle class and working poor, so right wing positions would significantly undermine the hopes and well-being of these crucial segments of society.  And females make up about two-thirds of people who earn minimum wages, so opposition to increases in this wage has a direct negative affect on women.  The history of a minimum wage requirement is an interesting one.  It was started in 1938 during the Depression, and reached its highest real value (adjusted for inflation) in 1968.  Since then, its value has gone down by about one third, and minimum wages have never been enough to keep a family above poverty level with only one family member working.

“You’ve come a long way, baby!”, as the old Virginia Slims cigarette commercial sang out.  This ad was targeted to young professional women, whose lung cancer rates were then beginning a marked increase.  Thanks, babes, for accepting a disproportionately high number of minimum wage jobs!  Somebody, after all, has got to do all the grunt work at low pay!

Borderline Criminality

Being open-minded, I’ve given consideration to alternate points of view.  Maybe we should treat corporations like persons -- especially when it comes to socially responsible behavior.  Imagine a group of felons walking into 10,000 of Texas-based 7-Eleven’s convenience stores and stealing the entire inventory of every one of them, and then being caught red-handed -- but NOT being required to pay any penalty or give back any of the merchandise.  Absolutely preposterous, right?

This is basically what happened with the biotech firm Amgen.  The company had just been fined $612 million in December 2012 for criminally defrauding the Medicare program by manipulating prices and giving kickbacks.  Despite having cheated taxpayers with these illegal schemes, lobbyists for Amgen managed just two weeks later to slip an obscure provision into the legislation that allayed the “fiscal cliff crisis”.  When the Senate passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act in the early morning hours of January 1, 2013, Congress rewarded Amgen with a two-year delay in Medicare price restraints on Sensipar, the company’s dialysis drug.  This gave Amgen a huge benefit that will cost American taxpayers an estimated $500 million -- an amount equivalent to the entire inventory of all 10,000 of those 7-Eleven’s.  Amgen was caught red-handed, but has neither been reprimanded nor required to give up the huge windfall that will result from this lobbyist shenanigan.

In a banana republic, we would call this a sensational instance of political corruption.  But in America, this is business as usual.  It is just one of many of the undesirable results of allowing corporations to retain large numbers of lobbyists to gain unfair advantages -- and of allowing big businesses and rich people to corrupt our politics by making outsized political donations to our representatives!

Consider the Far-Reaching Influence of the Supreme Court

There is another crucial issue that makes it providential for American voters to have rejected the bid by conservatives for the presidency in 2012, and to do so emphatically again in 2016.  There will be turnover on the Supreme Court in coming years, and since Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, if conservatives are able to stack the high court with more ideological conservatives, it would let them give more unaccountable power to corporations for generations to come.  This would further undermine fair representation of the American people.  A Supreme Court that is more conservative would provide more energy to pet causes of right-wing politicians, like reducing protections of public lands, the environment and endangered species.  Any strengthening of market fundamentalist agendas would incidentally serve to energize efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade women’s rights, and it would likely erode the rights and civil liberties of American citizens.

In times of increased insecurity and social crisis, strong authority figures have bigger opportunities to gain power.  Freedom lovers, take note of this!  Increasing inequities make everyone less secure, and by letting our leaders mainly represent the interests of the richest 1% of Americans, we make crises more likely to be imminent.  It would have been a sad day for the world if voters had chosen to let conservatives gain more power in the November 2012 elections.  It is sensational that our nation, founded in reaction to the tyranny of the British Empire in the 18th century, was so close to being bamboozled into actually electing more of the people who are sedulously selling similar swindles.  This paragraph was written before Republicans did manage to gain control of the U.S. Senate in the session that began in early 2015, and the disrespectable ways they managed to achieve this victory in the record low turnout election are pathetic.

Let us now demand that our leaders begin to chart a much more responsible course to a fairer future.  Let’s also demand that all our representatives join together to formulate fairer, wiser, more moderate, and more long-term-oriented policies that are consistent with the greater good.

Free-Falling from the Fiscal Cliff

The issues surrounding the 12/31/12 fiscal cliff budget dilemma were contentious, encompassing a wide range of conflicts of interest, perverse incentives, absurd misallocations of resources, grotesque inequities, and other fiscal sins and distorted public priorities.  Extensive reforms are needed to prevent our nation from lurching from crisis to crisis.  We should set our financial house in order by being honest with ourselves and altering our shortsighted propensity to kick the proverbial can down the road.  We should deal more fairly with constituencies that are being treated with an outrageous lack of concern -- like all people in future generations.

Yes, a 50/50 compromise might be the fairest solution to our national debt dilemma.  I feel strongly that a fair-minded plan, given the overwhelmingly contentious nature of conflicts between competing interests, would be for us reduce anticipated budget deficits in the next 10 years by making equal cuts in spending and a combination of progressively-structured increases in taxes and the elimination of tax loopholes and subsidies and the blatantly corrupt ”carried interest” provision that gives gargantuan tax breaks to a miniscule number of wealthy hedge fund managers.  The latter provision would mean that 25 people who make more money than all 80,000 of New York City’s public school teachers combined, would pay a higher tax rate that is nearer the rate paid by these teachers.

Equal spending cuts and revenue increases would be a fairer deal.  This 50/50 Compromise should be designed to reduce projected increases in the national debt in the next 10 years by 50%.  This 50-50 Compromise would represent a fair-minded goal from the standpoint of people in future generations, whose interests would probably be better served by requiring a 100% balanced budget.

Most well informed people agree that when the national debt exceeds 100% of a nation’s total annual economic output, as it does in the U.S. today, it creates more risk and is too fiscally irresponsible.  This level of debt fosters more precarious economic conditions, making bad outcomes increasingly probable.  The greater good, as a sad consequence, is undermined.

We simply should not allow the national debt to continue to spiral out of control.  The national debt has been increasing at a faster rate than economic growth for 15 years, and it will still exceed 100% of the GDP as long as this remains true.  I feel strongly that it is national folly for Republicans to insist on continuing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the highest income earners.  Every American taxpayer should have been able to continue paying lower tax rates on their earnings up to $250,000 without it being conditioned upon giving lavishly unaffordable tax low tax rates to the highest earning 2% of Americans on their earnings in excess of $250,000.

Factors Involved in the Increasing U.S. National Debt

Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina was appointed by Republican Governor Nikki Haley to fill a vacancy in the Senate that was left by the resignation of Tea Party conservative Senator Jim DeMint at the end of 2012.  Tim Scott is a Tea Party adherent, so one of the first things he did upon hearing of his appointment was to parrot a popular Tea Party talking point:  “We have a spending problem in America, ladies and gentlemen, not a revenue problem.”

This dogmatic simplification of the situation is ridiculous and deluded.  We unquestionably have BOTH spending problems in the United States AND problems with insufficient revenues.  The combination of these two problems can be directly measured by the titanic budget shortfalls that have occurred since Bill Clinton actually achieved a budget surplus in 2000-2001.  Both problems have unquestionably contributed to risk-laden increases in the national debt.

As can be seen, the excessive spending problem is made worse by wrongheaded priorities, misguided policies, perverse incentives, absurd loopholes, poorly controlled military spending, overly generous “entitlements”, fraudulent waste, poorly controlled military spending, and huge expenses incurred due to cost-externalizing gambits by giant multinational corporations. 

Inadequate revenue problems are made worse by highly preferential tax treatment of high-income earners and a national pastime of tax evasion by corporations, rich people, real estate speculators and many others.  Huge sums of money are being lost to corporate tax scams, tax loopholes, tax cheating, and effective rates of tax that are historically low on corporate earnings, dividends and capital gains, and on inheritances and the highest categories of income.  Big corporations are paying the lowest percent of the federal budget today than they have since 1980, and the people with the highest incomes are paying tax rates that are nearly the lowest on the highest levels of incomes since the Roaring Twenties.

These circumstances have caused our national debt to become the largest of any nation in history.  One might think we would come together to honestly address this state of affairs, but there is little sign that our leaders are anywhere near taking reasonable steps toward balancing the budget.

In a 12/30/12 editorial, Why the Economy Needs Tax Reform, the New York Times magnanimously referred to the notion that economic and budget goals can be achieved by spending cuts alone as a “persistent Republican myth.”  The heirs of Mark Twain’s satiric wit would ridicule this notion by less charitably calling it a far-fetched delusion or an outright Big Lie.  The pressures of a steadily aging population and increasing costs for healthcare, along with vital needs to make smart investments in education, infrastructure and environmental protections make it clear that progressive tax reform is necessary to reduce budget deficits and make our world more secure.  Such tax reform would be one of the best ways to reduce rising income inequality and inequities in opportunities in our country.

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by

   imbeciles who really mean it.”                     

                                           --- Mark Twain

Another reason that people who support the Tea Party should see that they share a common cause with people in the 99% Movement is that both groups have real populist concerns.  The Tea Party should look very closely at any plank in their agenda that serves mainly to advance interests of billionaires, and they should support solutions to our nation’s problems that are more fair-minded for all.

An Aside on Absurd Ideologies

The aforementioned new Senator Tim Scott is a black man who is popular with Tea Party folks.  His appointment was hailed within the Republican Party as an inspired choice since he then became the first black senator from South Carolina and the first one from the South since the Reconstruction Era.  When new members of Congress were sworn in on January 3, 2013, Tim Scott was the only African-American in the entire Senate. 

Despite the historic nature of his appointment, many people were not impressed.  "It obscures the fact that modern black Republicans have been more tokens than signs of progress," wrote Adolph L. Reed Jr. at the New York Times.  He added: “Republicans will not gain significant black support unless they take policy positions that advance black interests.  No number of Tim Scotts -- or other cynical tokens -- will change that.”

Tim Scott has apparently fallen hook-line-and-sinker for Tea Party dogmas that adamantly oppose fair-minded compromises.  He seems to be blind to good citizen goals and the greater good for all.  By making dogmatically simplistic observations about our national spending problem, Scott essentially emulates the deluded Tea Party modus operandi:  they cling stubbornly to their convictions, which have a certain closed-minded quality of denial to them, and they demand that everyone in society conform to their narrow worldviews.  They oppose not only people whose opinions differ from their own, but they deny rationality, fair-minded pragmatism, and scientific understandings as well. 

I salute some Republicans for trying to be more diverse.  It was appropriate in light of their smackdown in the 2012 elections.  But the fact of the matter is that a greater diversity of views is needed, and more honest inclusivity.  More fair-minded policies are called for, not just some politician here or there that is a token representative of a given minority.  Clarence Thomas, for instance, may be a black face on the Supreme Court, but he doesn’t represent a diversity of views that includes any Enlightenment Era principles or semblance of open-mindedness with regard to the average American.  Likewise, Sarah Palin is a woman, but she advocated Tea Party fundamentalist positions on economic and social issues, and not a wider range of fair-minded views in “a bigger tent” that respects the middle class, economic fairness or reasonable reproductive rights for women.

Republicans were at least dimly aware that their repudiation in the 2012 elections was partially due to their narrow pandering to white people, corporate CEOs, rich people and conservative religious evangelicals at the expense of fairer policies for poor people, middle class folks, women, African Americans, Latinos, immigrants and gays.  Tim Scott’s appointment may seem to be a recognition that Republicans are reaching out to minorities, but when they choose a politician that is a member of a racial minority who actually opposes policies beneficial to the interests of oppressed minorities, the action is much more a cynical calculation than a true attempt to satisfy a broader range of interests.

Lee Atwater and Machiavellian Opportunists

It is striking to realize that the Republican Party has long indulged in a “Southern Strategy” of trying to get political support and win elections by crudely appealing to racism and bigotry against African Americans.  This white supremacist strategy has been ”successful” in many regards, particularly in the South, where it has contributed to a long-lasting electoral realignment of Southern states so that they generally choose very conservative Republican representatives instead of more progressive Democrats.  Curiously, most people in Southern States would actually be much better served by policies that are more progressive and inclusive, rather than ones that are retrogressive and divisive.

So why the realignment?  Remember, a majority of Southerners had voted for Democrats for 100 years after the Civil War in reaction to Republican President Abraham Lincoln having freed slaves during the Civil War.  It was only after Democrats supported desegregation and civil rights and the overturning of discriminatory Jim Crow laws that the South shifted to supporting Republicans again.

It was Lee Atwater, the “boogeyman” of Republican politics, who was the first modern political operative to make extensive use of dirty tricks, scandals, racism and fear to gain power.  Atwater had a win-at-any-cost approach.  He was a “slime slinger” who tried to fool black people into thinking the Republican Party really cared about their interests.  At age 40, Atwater developed a brain tumor and made deathbed confessions of what he realized were the wrongness of his actions.  Karl Rove, however, chose to emulate Lee Atwater’s Machiavellian tactics to give George W. Bush more power.

The cost of this Southern Strategy has been increasing as minority populations grow, and as poverty increases, and as the Republican Party continues to largely ignore the interests of women, minorities, poor people and the middle class.  In the 2012 elections, this strategy contributed to a Republican rebuke in which more than 90% of black voters and more than 70% of Latino voters gave President Obama their vote.  Republicans seemed to be beginning to realize they should seek honest ways to truly appeal to minority voters, and women and young people, though their heart is not in the endeavor.  Truly comprehensive immigration reform, for instance, should be undertaken and accomplished.  Evolve, guys!

After the rebuke Republicans received in the 2012 elections, some of their most prominent spokespersons acknowledged that their party desperately needs to improve its image.  But Republican proposals for a makeover generally involve merely changing their sales pitch, and not being more fair-minded, and not substantially changing the policies they offer.  When it comes to substance, the Republican Party should really change the fact that it is still as committed as ever to policies that enrich the few at the expense of the many.

An imperative is clear:  fairer campaign finance laws are needed to prevent further distortions of our politics by narrowly focused interests.  “One person, one vote” should again become the law of the land, rather than the current corrupt system that is more like a “one dollar, one vote” system.

Thomas Paine had envisioned a “one person, one vote” system as the best plan, and our nation’s Founders had established it, in a narrow form, in 1789.  For the next 200 years, voting rights have been progressively expanded to include other segments of the populace, like black men, and then women, and then 18 to 21-year-old young adults.  But in recent years, our political system has been so corrupted by moneyed interest groups that it now more resembles a less fair “one dollar, one vote” system.  Our representatives, as a result, have demonstrated a marked incapability of instituting revolutionarily fairer national policies or restoring Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthy.  This proves that the richest 2% of all Americans wrongly has more influence in our politics than the other 98% combined. 

Hey, what’s that sound? -- Look what’s going down … I think it may be our country’s Founders turning over in their graves, in light of this despotic abuse of power.

Tom Perkins’ Shrewdly Idiotic Voting Scheme

Tom Perkins is the late billionaire (he died on June 7, 2016) who was one of the original “venture capitalists”, known for having co-founded the firm that is today Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.  Perkins spoke with the Fortune magazine journalist Adam Lashinsky at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in February 2014 in a program titled "The War on the 1%."  Discussion focused on the issue of income inequality, and Perkins, 82 at the time, revealed his extreme opinions on social, fiscal and monetary policy, and also expressed his odd personal opinion that taxes are being used as a weapon against the wealthiest 1% of Americans. 

Toward the end of the Commonwealth Club event, Perkins was challenged to say, in 60 seconds, how he would change the world for the better.  He made “a playfully controversial response”, and expressed admiration for the belief of Thomas Jefferson that only landowners should get the right to vote, and for Margaret Thatcher’s conviction that only people who pay taxes should be allowed to vote.  So this was his proposal:  "The Tom Perkins system is:  You don't get the vote if you don't pay a dollar in taxes.  But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation.  You pay a million dollars, you get a million votes.  How's that?"

The audience laughed cynically, and right there the ghost of the Citizen’s United and McCutcheon rulings by the Supreme Court floated in the air, and the corruption of our national decision-making by rich people and giant corporations became clearer.  “Perkins later said offstage that what he meant was that, with 50% of registered U.S. voters not paying taxes, ‘we got ourselves into a mess.’”  So, he would deprive them of the right to vote! 

Yes, and the mess we have gotten into is demonstrably due to the corrupt political duopoly system that already gives too much influence to rich people, not too little.  Our system also gives excessive influence to amoral corporations that are concerned mainly about short-term profits, NOT about the general welfare of the people or the greater good of humanity.  Corporations, of course, are legal entities that operate as mechanisms for the distribution of corporate profits to the people who own equities --- and voila!, proof positive:  the top 1% owns HALF of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds in the U.S.

Perkins also voiced the opinion that “The extreme progressivity of taxation is a form of persecution.”  He indicated that he feared taxes would go higher and higher until there is no 1%.  "It's an economic extinction, not a physical one," he added, circling back to a rash idea he infamously expressed in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, in which he claimed there is severe discrimination against America's rich that is comparable to the terrible treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.  He asserted that the 1% currently faces a "rising tide of hatred" like that of Kristallnacht, a pogrom in 1938 that led to the eventual physical massacre of 6 million Jews by the Axis powers during World War II.  Oh, right, Tom!

Perkins later warily apologized for the hyperbole of this absurd comparison, but he still maintained his stance that wealthy people are persecuted, particularly in San Francisco where he saw a "demonization of the rich" in the Occupy movement in 2011 and 2012, and in on-going outrage over city gentrification and exorbitant real estate prices that have been driven up by thousands of people who commute to jobs in high tech Silicon Valley 60 miles to the south.

A contrarian refutation of Tom Perkins’ bizarre perspective is close at hand.  The richest 1% of Americans is definitely being buried -- under record amounts of wealth.  If they don’t soon begin to choke on the excess, their hubris in manipulating public policy to give themselves a near monopoly on receiving most of the nation’s profits could provoke Nemesis, the Goddess of Divine Retribution in Greek mythology, and her distant great-grandson God (in one of his angry and vindictive moods), and together they will wreak vengeance on the rich.  And if the harsh poetic justice of divine retribution is not soon forthcoming, then it probably won’t be too long before revolutionary unrest arises that could be much more severe than the divine comeuppance.  Wise Solon smiles knowingly, for this would be bad news for everyone, especially including the rich. 

Let’s open our minds.  Tom Perkins was acting in hubris-filled ways that were practically stone-deaf in his tone deafness, and seemed to harbor feelings of paranoia, persecution and a sense of jealous and entitled deservedness of his good fortune.  Once again I find greater credulity and probability in objective and evidence-based opinions than in strongly held, narrowly partisan, and extremely self-serving beliefs.  This is one reason I enthusiastically encourage readers to give close consideration to the ideas in these soliloquies.

We are evidently missing the mark in our efforts to make our nation fairer, healthier overall, and more secure.  Since moneyed interests have such unwarranted and unjustifiable influence in our political system, Congress and the Supreme Court must both begin to give more sensible and fair-minded consideration to the interests of the vast majority of Americans, and not merely to the interests of the wealthiest people and the corporate vehicles that enable the concentration of wealth in their hands.  As Thomas Paine observed in Common Sense:  "Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that every lived."

How Can So Many People Misunderstand So Much?

In What’s the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank gives cogent instances of the ways the “borderline criminality of capitalism itself” is harming people and our nation.  He asserted that this is “a condition that has rudely impressed itself on much of the world in the last few years.”  Since the time he wrote those words in 2004, this situation has gotten much worse.  “Spectacular plunder” is involved, and “brutal economic processes”.  Unions in the private sector have been crushed, wages have been depressed, sensible regulations have been evaded, reforms have been prevented, rich people continue to receive big tax breaks, an economic recession resulted from the deregulation of the banking and financial system, and destabilizing bubble economic policies have wreaked havoc on hundreds of millions of people.  In addition, the environment continues to be rashly polluted, and natural resources like fossil fuels and fresh water are being squandered at a rate that cannot be long sustained.

At the same time, conservatives have been terribly dishonest with the American people.  They have used the deluded echo chamber of Fox News and the rantings of Rush Limbaugh and the spin of right-wing think tanks to fool many Americans into believing things that are often untrue.  Republicans have been championing deceitful “movement conservatism” and pushing their ideologies fervently, so most people have distorted understandings of what the two political parties really represent.  Odd interpretations about freedom and responsibility drift in the biosphere.

Two of the most significant popular misunderstandings involve government spending and the national debt.  Republicans have repeatedly portrayed President Obama as a big spender of government funds.  It comes as a big surprise to most people, therefore, that statistics reveal a completely different story.  President Obama has actually increased federal spending less than any U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower!  This is according to an analysis done by MarketWatch.

The fact of the matter is that the biggest increases in federal spending since 1980 have taken place during tenures of Republican presidents.  The annualized growth in spending during Ronald Reagan’s eight-year tenure averaged almost 7%;  during George H.W. Bush’s tenure it was over 5%;  and during George W. Bush’s eight years it was almost 8%.  In surprising contrast, during Bill Clinton’s eight years it was less than 4%;  and during the first term of Barack Obama, it was less than 2%.

Likewise, despite propaganda to the contrary, the national debt has consistently increased more during times that Republicans controlled the Executive Branch than it has during periods with a Democrat as president.  The reason for this is because of lavish spending during the administrations of Republican presidents and lower revenues resulting from Republican efforts to give huge tax breaks to the people with the highest incomes.  

Economist Mike Kimel confirms this fact, pointing out that former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman all reduced public debt as a share of GDP while the last four Republican Presidents -- George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford -- all oversaw an increase in this ratio of our national indebtedness.

Surely we are better off living in “an evidence-based world” than in a world where disingenuous leaders “keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda," as George W. Bush bragged about doing.  Perhaps statistics can be parsed in different ways to reach different conclusions, but we should all commit to working together to forge a more balanced approach to government spending and taxation so that we stop undermining good solutions and mortgaging the future, and avoiding hard choices.  Our specific immediate focus should be to ensure that the national debt stops growing faster than the rate of economic growth.

If we want a peaceable society, we need to make it a fairer one, not an increasingly unfair one with exaggerated disparities in economic, health, personal security and financial well-being between the Haves and the Have Nots.  On the domestic front, as in international relations, the best chances of harvesting peace are to be found by sowing justice.  A more sensible balance should to be established between the freedom of individuals and the well-being of the entire community. 

A Spiritual Take on Our Society Today

Virgil, the famed Roman poet of antiquity, once provocatively declared:  “We make our destinies by the gods we choose.”  Think about this.  We surely should choose gods that are propitious to the greater good, gods that help us advance positive directions in our lives and our societies.  A God that elevates responsible stewardship of Earth’s natural resources to a top priority would surely be a better God to worship than one that urges people to dominate and exploit life on Earth without consideration for the harmful impacts these activities have on the foundations of biotic well-being.

Mark Twain made some interesting observations about gods in a sequel that he started to his great novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Curiously, he had written 15,000 words of this sequel in 1885, and then stopped right in the middle of a sentence and never resumed work on it.  In the pages he penned, he imagined the religion of Native Americans to be eminently sensible.  Huck remarked about one of the novel’s protagonists: 

“He said Injuns hadn’t only but two Gods, a good one and a bad one, and they never paid no attention to the good one, nor ever prayed to him or worried about him at all, but only tried their level best to flatter up the bad god and keep on the good side of him;  because the good one loved them and wouldn’t ever think of doing them any harm, and so there warn’t any occasion to be bothering about him with prayers and things, because he was always doing the very best he could for them, anyway, and prayers couldn’t better it;  but all the trouble come from the bad god, who was sitting up nights to think up ways to bring them bad luck and bust up all their plans, and never fooled away a chance to do them all the harm he could;  and so the sensible thing was to keep praying and fussing around him all the time, and get him to let up.”

There is considerable risk in focusing on the worst elements of our human nature rather than the better ones.  If we pander to people who exhibit vices like gluttony, unempathetic hubris and overly selfish greed, and give inadequate respect to virtues like honorable honesty, fair-mindedness and bold commitments to advance the common good, then our societies may figuratively go to hell.  If we pay attention only to our heads, and ignore our hearts, then adversities and negative outcomes are more probable.  If we let the analytical left hemispheres of our brains obtusely dominate our intuitive right hemispheres, the values we hold will likely be unnecessarily wrong-headed.

It would be a better idea to cultivate nobler and fairer principles, and to strive to make our relationships and societies healthier, rather than embracing ignorance and denial.  And we should not allow our societies to be driven by fear, anger, or control-obsessed conservatism.  It is most desirable for the majority of people to have faith in right things, and not faith in literal interpretations of Creation stories or misguided economic doctrines.  Fear Builds Walls”, as they say, and this appears to be true even with regard to the biological effects of hormones on the human brain.  In contrast, hope and positivity and fair-mindedness tend to forge closer connections.

People everywhere should be free to believe in whatever God they like, and they should be guaranteed this freedom.  There should also be a fair-minded separation of church authority and the government, for the simple reason that too many abuses of power by repressive regimes have been perpetrated throughout the course of history by means of unholy alliances between political authorities and religious authorities.  Just ask anyone who lives in Iran or Saudi Arabia today!

Golden Rule fairness principles should be given precedence over fervent beliefs in propagated ideologies when they adversely affect other people.  So an honest assessment of the common good -- of everyone together -- should be made in formulating every rule, law, regulation, and spending policy.  This would be a revolutionary change from designing every new plan to increase benefits for rich people!

The highest-income earners have gained the privilege of paying the lowest tax rates since the late 1920s by abusing their influence in our political system.  When we see that the human population on Earth has increased from 2 billion in 1930 to more than 7.4 billion today, we can realize that the needs have grown dramatically for more money to be spent on social justice initiatives, environmental protections, resource conservation, public education, sensible family planning programs, universal healthcare, a more sound social security safety net, and better plans for disaster preparedness and recovery.  More spending, in other words, to create truer national security.

We can no longer afford to let political shills for the rich dictate tax policies that let wealthy people pay historically low tax rates in the face of these needs.  It is a Big Lie that everyone will do better only when rich people pay low tax rates;  it is a simple truism that everyone will do better only when everyone actually does better.

The fascinating evolutionary roots of religion and ethics in prehistoric human clans are explored in Revelations of a Modern Prophet.  A relevant part to understand here is that overarching positive principles could provide us the best hope to deal fairly, honestly and effectively with the daunting challenges that humanity faces today.

“Look at it this way.  If we worship Mammon and regard money as the most important thing in life, and allow a small group of rich people to grab the biggest share of the monetary gains generated by the exploitation of the Earth’s resources, this poor priority will make us a much different people than if instead we were to extol virtues of greater social fairness and environmental justice, and commit our nation to an overarching fair-minded Bill of Rights for Future Generations.” 

                              -- Huckleberry Finn, the Forty-Niner Gold Rush, and Sensational Related Reflections

It is disconcerting to ponder the entire litany of harms that we are foisting onto people in future generations.  To right a wrong, it is best to first clearly understand the problem in a context that is comprehensive, expansive and accurate.  Think clearly about the litany of detrimental ways we are treating the prospects of our children, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs.  We are using up natural resources with profligate abandon, destroying rainforests, decimating wildlife habitats, failing to conserve energy and mineral and water resources, and damaging vital natural ecosystems.  At the same time, we are allowing significant costs to be externalized, and letting corporate power rule the day rather than giving more power to the people and preserving collective bargaining rights for workers.  We are spending unaffordably large amounts of money on the military and prisons, and giving very low tax rates to the highest-income earners, and financing these things by mortgaging the future with trillions of dollars of borrowed money to stimulate all these shortsighted activities.

This concatenation of expedient actions is blatantly ill advised!  As Thomas Paine observed in 1776: “The present state of America is truly alarming to every person who is capable of reflection.”

Thomas Paine recommended we “bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature.”  To do so, we should admit the profound importance of healthy natural ecosystems to the well-being of humanity.  Let’s not deceive ourselves, and by our delay bring ruin upon those in posterity.

Journalist Bill Moyers was honored by Harvard Medical School with a “Global Environmental Citizen Award” in 2004.  In his acceptance speech, Moyers noted that when he reads the news about all the things humanity is doing in the world, he concludes that it is not as if “Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.”  Instead, he looks at photos on his desk of his five grandchildren, and observes:  We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world.”

The Perspective of Dante Alighieri

In his Christian allegorical tale The Divine Comedy, Dante reserved the lowest places in his imagined nine circles of Hell for those who commit conscious acts of fraud or treachery against others.  He regarded the worst form of treachery to be cold-hearted exploitation of relatives, country, friends, guests, or benefactors.  He judged treachery that had the most adverse consequences in history to be the worst of all sins.  Deceivers, oppressors, duplicitous hypocrites, corrupt politicians, scam artists and others who perpetrate cunning frauds can be seen today to be exceeded by a new modern form of treachery -- one that exerts its influence on a more far-reaching scale.  All of us are participating in this new type of treachery -- the exploitation and defrauding of vulnerable young people and everyone in the future by means of the above-summarized litany of harms.

It has become increasingly clear in recent decades that there is a sweeping ecological extent to which all actions are interconnected, so the exploitive undermining of the prospects of people in future generations for purposes that are selfishly shortsighted is egregious beyond all other forms of treachery.  Bold and sensible steps should be taken to correct this state of affairs!

Dante imagined that a silver key of repentance is needed to unlock the gates of hope, together with a gold key of reconciliation.  These keys to Purgatorio were seen as necessary for a seeker to embark on a providential path of positive change and transformation.  Repent!  Let’s reconcile!! 

Humility was regarded as the greatest virtue in medieval times, and pride was seen as the root of all sins because it contributed to our missing the mark and falling short of the ideal that a Buddhist would describe as “right relationship”.  I believe we can integrate the head and the heart better, and achieve a wiser balance by seeking common ground and honestly working to fairly reconcile the political right and the left.

The Evolution of Democracy

 "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried

     from time to time."

                               --- Sir Winston Churchill

Capitalist economic systems could likewise be said to be the worst economic systems, except for all the others.  They have good advantages in motivating productivity, harnessing resources, marshalling workers to produce goods, and maximizing profits.  They also have big disadvantages, because they often unfairly exploit workers, facilitate cost externalizing gambits, act with amoral resolve, and are myopic in their aggressive depletion of resources and ignoring of longer-term greater good goals.

Since a multitude of interest groups compete for advantages in capitalist economic systems, the greatest good can be achieved only by managing these systems well, and with maximum fairness.  To accomplish this goal, the interests of all factions needs to be taken into account, including the interests of the long-term greater good and the social and ecological underpinnings of prosperity.

It is my strong belief that better guidance is needed to determine how to achieve optimal outcomes. Once again we can see that it would be a good idea to adopt a Bill of Rights for Future Generations to provide this guidance.  This would be one of the best ways to ensure that the interests and prospects of people in the future are not mercilessly sacrificed to short-term expediencies.

Freedom and Equality

  “The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy.”

                                                                        --- We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore, Garrison Keillor

The increasing concentration of wealth and power that has been taking place in the U.S. since 1980 is unfair to the majority of people, so it is contrary to the founding principles of our democracy.

Mark Twain famously declared that we have the best government that money can buy.  When we allow our representatives to be sold to the highest bidder, we would be crazy to expect any other outcome than that rich people and highly profitable corporations would corrupt our national decision-making.

Money is power due to its large influence in our elections and in Congress.  Big Money represents excessive power because of its defining impact on the laws enacted and the benefits provided in our country.  Large numbers of lobbyists work continuously to influence legislation, and their influence is unwarranted when they manipulate people’s perceptions by means of slick marketing, deceitful political advertising, misleading spin, and sneaky provisions inserted into legislation. 

Former Louisiana Senator John Breaux declared in 1981, after getting huge sugar subsidies inserted into tax-cut legislation: “My vote can’t be bought, but it can be rented.”  In our revolving-door system, many politicians retire from politics to become well paid lobbyists after their terms in office.  This is another sad aspect of distorting influences in our corrupt political system. 

When the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that rich people and big corporations and labor unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens strongly expressed his dissent from the narrow decision.  He declared it to be “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”  So true!

The great progressive Senator Paul Wellstone would be turning over in his grave if he could see that the efforts he made to institute sensible campaign finance reforms were posthumously overturned by the Supreme Court in this case.  And the American people might begin to hate our democracy because of the obvious extent that it means being exposed to a negative hyper-barrage of manipulative attack ads and often dishonest political messages every election.  Let’s get Big Money out of the driver’s seat of our campaign financing!  People are also beginning to intensely dislike the divisiveness of our two political parties, so fair-minded compromises are needed now!  People of the world, unite!

The trend for our economic and political systems to be corrupted by the influence of Big Money has gotten significantly worse since the Supreme Court rejected long-standing precedents in the Citizens United ruling.  It is an affront to fair-minded principles of a democratic republic to allow unlimited amounts of money to be spent by wealthy people and profit-prepossessed corporations to buy our representatives and influence our elections and corrupt our policy-making.

The Citizens United decision gave special interest groups much more power, effectively diminishing the voices of the people.  The ruling was made only because corporate apologists who approve of this unfair trend narrowly dominated the Supreme Court before Antonin Scalia died.  The resulting tsunami of money has had distinctly detrimental effects on our elections and on fair-mindedness in Congressional decision-making.  This fact proves that the ruling has been one of the worst decisions ever made by the Supreme Court. 

The Costs of Increasing Inequality

Since the bottom-line result of Republican policies that gained force beginning with the presidency of Ronald Reagan has been to increase the wealth concentration in the hands of the few, the desperation of the bottom 50% of the American people has increased.  This outcome has resulted from three primary “conservative” initiatives:  (1) the implementation of highly regressive changes in taxation like Ronald Reagan’s radical reduction in tax rates on the highest levels of incomes;  (2) the undermining of collective bargaining power of American workers while corporate entities have been given more power, more tax loopholes, and more ways to privatize profits by socializing costs; and (3) the ramping-up of the federal debt from under $1 trillion in 1981 to over $19 trillion in 2016 to finance stimulative economic policies and ramped up military spending while allowing rich people to pay the lowest tax rates in generations at the direct expense of all people in future generations.

All the financial benefits of productivity increases in the past 35 years have been usurped by the top ten percent of Americans by means of these three gambits.  This “rent-seeking” outcome is a form of redistribution of the nation’s wealth from working people to wealthy investors.  The fact that these investors are allowed to pay very low capital gains taxes on the income they get from these activities is blatantly unfair to workers who must pay higher tax rates on the income they receive for their work.  This outcome in the struggle between capitalists and workers was one of the main goals of Ronald Reagan’s policies, just as it was for the policies of George W. Bush.  And, make no mistake about it:  this was a principal goal of the sketchy economic proposals that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan made during their failed 2012 presidential campaign.  And in 2016, all Republican politicians side with perpetuating this regressive aspect of the status quo.

This state of affairs is not only outrageously contrary to the fair-minded founding principles of our democratic republic, but it is also economically foolish.  Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of economic activity in the U.S., so when the financial well-being of the majority of people is undermined, the economy ends up in the doldrums.  This contributes to stagnant demand and serves to increase the number of people who do not have jobs, and to create an undesirable feedback loop that makes this situation inexorably worse. 

Joseph Stiglitz makes a convincing case in The Price of Inequality that, when rich people seize a larger share of the economic pie for themselves, their actions make the size of the pie smaller than it otherwise would be.  This is due to the suppressive effect on economic growth of wealth being highly concentrated in the hands of the few.  The pie is smaller than it would be with a fairer distribution of wealth -- despite deceptive “conservative” ideological contentions to the contrary.

The goal of giving rich people more money is being achieved by taking unfair advantage of the main institutional mechanisms that facilitate the concentration of wealth:  allowing corporations to usurp domineering power and abuse it for narrow purposes, and letting deceptive ideological convictions sway Congress and many election contests.  Our Founders would be shocked, awed and dismayed!

A Preview of Things to Come

There are first-rate reasons why a different national “redistribution” of income is not only a good idea, but an overarching necessity.  The current distribution has been shrewdly rigged to give an excessive proportion of the benefits of economic activities to the top 1% of people, so this system has become injudiciously skewed to misguided objectives. 

Public policies obviously change the distribution of income, as they have done since Ronald Reagan began gutting progressive tax policies by slashing marginal tax rates on the highest income earners from 70% to 28% in the 1980s.  Less obvious, but possibly even more influential, are government policies that have enormous effects on the distribution of income before taxes or government benefits are taken into account.  Public policies establish “the rules of the game”, so they have determinative effects by establishing laws that affect corporate governance, copyrights, contracts, securities, trade, capital, labor rules, minimum wages, overtime pay, and regulations relating to banks, financial markets and high-risk ventures.  A wide variety of exceptionally special deals are also given to vested interest groups, and the Federal Reserve pursues policies that lopsidedly aid and abet the appreciation in rich people’s assets.

Systemic corruption has allowed an antisocial domination of our society by those who champion a crazy form of capitalistic “socialism of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.”  This system gives unwarranted perks to wealthy people, giant corporations, CEOs, crony capitalists and lobbyists, and it is a self-reinforcing and politically enabled monster that we really need to seriously restrain.  Being a gal inspired by legitimate and peaceable methods, and being highly respectful of Solon-wise governance, I call for non-violent revolutionary reforms in the near future, and really consequential changes in our econopolitical system. 

Since there numerous ways the system is rigged, the most expedient way to immediately accomplish this change is by leaving all provisions of the current established system as they are and to implement more steeply graduated taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances.  These changes should be made effective as soon as possible.  This revision in the tax code should be designed to reduce budget deficits, and to simultaneously provide increased funding for public investments in education, needed national infrastructure projects, public transportation, conservation programs and protections of the environment.

Then, having used this broad-stroke expediency to set straighter our national finances, we should begin to fix our econopolitical system.  One real good reason that we need to make our tax system more progressive is so that everyone will be able to afford the first fix that should be enacted:  an immediate increase in federal gasoline taxes by $1 per gallon, with these funds being used to begin dealing aggressively with our shifting utilitarian needs, like investing in cleaner renewable energy, reducing the profligate waste of fossil fuel resources, and cutting down on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we are spewing into the atmosphere.  This is just one of many steps that should be taken to make our societies fairer and more sustainable.  The specific justifications and parameters of the wide-ranging reforms required are spelled out in detail in this Common Sense Revival, and in other essays in the Earth Manifesto. 

A Shockingly Fair-Minded Plan

If we really want to make our system fairer, we would demand restitution for the fiscal swindles that have resulted in the increase of the national debt from less than $1 trillion in 1980 to more than $19 trillion today.  One way to do this would be to require wealthy people to give up some of the enormous gains they have received in the past 35 years by agreeing to one-time obligation to the federal government that would reduce the national debt by $5 trillion from the current level in excess of $19 trillion.  Presto! -- the risk of a debt crisis would suddenly be eliminated.

Just think about it.  Such an action would increase the overall average well-being and security of the American people, and the costs and risks of increasing inequities would be attenuated, and freedoms would expand, and truer prosperity would reign.

Imagine my surprise, considering the shockingly radical nature of this proposal, as detailed below, when I stumbled across an eminently convincing analysis by the Boston Consulting Group that actually recommends the assessment of a One-Time Wealth Tax on rich people so as to get our financial state in sound order.  The Boston group’s report is titled Back to Mesopotamia?: Looming Threat of Debt Restructuring.  The authors, David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter, contend that the price could be very high for nations worldwide to continue kicking the can down the road and failing to address the root causes of a looming potential debt crisis.  A continuing failure to act would significantly increase risks that “an unconstrained financial and economic crisis” would afflict the global economy.  This would be a disastrous outcome, and could make the recession of 2008-2009 look like a picnic in the park.  The authors painstakingly calculate that a one-time wealth tax of an average 25% of the financial assets of the wealthiest Americans is required to resolve this dangerous dilemma.

A year or two after I first created this proposal, the respected French economist Thomas Piketty wrote a relative blockbuster titled Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and in this epic 700-page book he indicates that a global wealth tax would be a very good plan for civilized societies.

Here is the background idea to support this proposal.  Toward the end of 2011, our nation’s attention was focused on efforts by a so-called Super Committee to come up with a plan to cut $1.5 trillion from an anticipated $10 trillion in additional deficits projected to be incurred in the decade to follow.  The super-partisan Super Committee was unable to agree to any debt deal, so an automatic “fiscal cliff” of budget cuts was created that went into effect on January 1, 2013.  The 15% reduction they were seeking was actually a completely inadequate amount.  At the time, President Obama had proposed a “grand compromise” of a $4 trillion reduction, but even that amount was not really enough.  After all, such a reduction would still leave us indulging in the shortsighted expediency of borrowing another $6 trillion from future generations to finance high spending and low tax rates for rich people.

Each and every American has been complicit in wanting lower taxes, while our aggregate demands have driven steady increases in federal government spending.  But the American people want these things without having to pay for them.  The only beneficiaries that have big bucks in the bank to show for the foolishly expedient courses of action we have been pursuing since 1981 are the top 20% of Americans who own more than 90% of the total net worth in America. 

Most of this total net worth in the U.S. is highly concentrated at the top.  The richest 1% of people own about 42% of all non-home wealth.  This includes stocks, bonds, business equity, trust funds, savings accounts, non-home real estate, and the cash value of life insurance and pension plans.  This concentration of wealth has been facilitated by rash reductions in taxes on top income earners, an outcome initiated by Ronald Reagan when he slashed tax rates on high levels of income.

Let’s go figure.  The total net worth of all Americans in the U.S. was about $56 trillion in late 2011.  Of this, home equity was about $6 trillion (which was down astonishingly by more than 50% from $13 trillion in 2007, due to the bursting of the housing market bubble).  So there was a net $50 trillion in financial wealth in the U.S., and the richest 1% of Americans who own 42% of this wealth thus have about $21 trillion in assets.  (By 2016, this $21 trillion has increased substantially as housing rebounded and the stock market reached record highs.) 

This 1% of people has seen their assets increase by more than $18 trillion from the $3 trillion they had in 1981.  During this period, Santa Claus tax-cutting scams have resulted in borrowings by the federal government of more than $18 trillion.  A direct correlation exists here:  we have in effect given the richest 1% of Americans $18 trillion by borrowing it from future generations.  The interest expense obligations on borrowed money will total an additional $18 trillion every 15 years or so, depending on prevailing interest rates, so we will be forced to pay this huge cost over and over and over again, or add it to the accumulating national debt.

This borrowing-to-enrich-the-rich scheme is not a grand larceny form of highway robbery, or an armed bank hold-up.  It could sensibly be regarded as the biggest financial crime in world history, and it is a crime being committed against our children and all people in future generations.  There has, of course, been a much wider participation in this wealth embezzlement scheme than just the top 1% of Americans who have been the ring leaders and primary beneficiaries.  The top 20% of Americans who own more than 90% of the total financial net worth also have been complicit beneficiaries.

Our nation is desperately seeking a solution to 7 primary big problems that are spelled out in Happy Harbingers in Good Ideas for a Better Future.  Our failure to solve these problems endangers our national security and well-being.  There is little question but that the richest 1% of Americans hold the key to these solutions, so we should look to them for restitution for the monumental scam that they have been perpetrating.  We must demand that they Stand and Deliver!

The principal of restitution is an integral part of virtually every formal system of criminal justice.  Perpetrators of financial crimes are required to make payment to the victims of their fraud.  The civil justice system also has provisions for civil recovery of losses and damages.  This civil justice system does not attempt to determine the guilt or innocence of offenders, or to incarcerate them.  Civil courts assess the amount of liabilities that offenders or third-party participants in scams have.  They do this to objectively determine the harms sustained as a result of a particular crime.

Here is a restitution proposal that would have a collateral benefit of radically reducing the likelihood of a national debt crisis.  Here’s the plan.  Let’s call it a Fair Play Wealth Assessment.  Immediately assess $5 trillion to the richest people in the U.S.  This $5 trillion will only be a part of the more than $21 trillion possessed by the wealthiest people in the country.  Make this wealth assessment progressive, assessing it to the following four groups of advantaged people, and fairly graduating it, as follows:

(1) Americans whose net worth is between $1 million and $5 million           $  1   trillion

(2) Americans whose net worth is between $5 million and $20 million            1   trillion

(3) Americans whose net worth is between $20 million and $100 million        1.5 trillion

(4) Americans whose net worth is more than $100 million:                          1,5 trillion

                                                            Total One-Time Assessment             $  5.0 trillion

This Fair Play Wealth Assessment should be due upon death.  Those who are assessed can choose to pay this principal balance at any time, with 5% interest payable annually on any amounts that are unpaid.  To most fairly apportion this assessment to each person within these categories, assess whatever percent is needed to achieve the group’s targeted revenue contributions.  The calculations or categories should be adjusted as appropriate to ensure that it is fairest for all, and to ensure that no individual’s net worth is reduced by more than:     

                                                                           Category (1):       5%

                                                                           Category (2):     15%

                                                                           Category (3):     40%

                                                                           Category (4):     60%

Presto!  At the stroke of a pen, we would have $5 trillion to reduce the national debt.  That would significantly mitigate this debt problem here in the United States, and it would make our economic system more stable and our citizens more secure.  Europeans should follow suit to solve their own serious debt problems by a similar initiative, because their debts have also been engendered in part by similar swindles by banks and rich people abusing the influence of their money. 

We could decide to distribute 10% of the proceeds, or a total of $500 billion of the $5 trillion, to all the estimated 150 million Americans who are so financially insecure that they have an average net worth of less than $15,000.  This plan would diminish the extreme insecurity of half the people in our nation and stimulate the economy by giving these people money to spend for things they need. 

This plan would also have the big advantage that it would help poor people afford the higher costs of needed mandates to internalize costs that are currently being externalized.  These mandates should be put into effect to provide powerful incentives for resource conservation and to promote the efficiency of resource usages and a sustained move toward renewable alternatives. 

To reassure rich people that this is a one-time assessment, a Constitutional Amendment should be enacted that guarantees no future assessments will be made as long as the national debt does not exceed 100% of the previous fiscal year’s Gross Domestic Product. At the same time, we should honestly tackle the forces that drive annual budget deficits.  Our goal should be to formulate a plan that is fair to future generations by keeping the national debt from ever again exceeding 100% of GDP.  The only other time in U.S. history that our national debt exceeded 100% of GDP was shortly after World War II, when debt had been incurred to combat the world-conquering militaristic ambitions of despotic leaders in Germany and Japan.  Today, we have incurred this dangerously high level of debt for a much less necessary purpose -- to give corporations and high-income earners the freedom to shirk the responsibility that comes from being the primary beneficiaries of the way our economic and political systems are structured.

A natural conclusion would be that we should re-structure our economic and political systems to prevent abuses of power by those who take advantage of the system at the expense of the general public and all people in future generations.  Having mitigated big worries over this global debt crisis by means of this restitution plan, we should then proceed to make our world safer, more mutually secure, greener, and more committed to sustainable ways of living.  This leads directly, once again, to the proposals in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies.

Voting Rights in Our Great Nation

Thomas Paine wrote passionately about fair representation of the people.  We Americans should be proud about the marvelous progressive expansion of fair representation in our nation since we gained independence way back in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the Revolutionary War. 

The Founding of our country makes a sensational story.  A small group of aroused colonial leaders had gotten so angry at British oppressors in 1776 that they courageously risked everything by declaring independence, and they valiantly championed the visionary principles of the Enlightenment Era, headily asserting that “all men are created equal”.  Then, a dozen years later, after winning the Revolutionary War, they created a brilliant Constitution to ensure a more perfect Union.  Having committed our nation to these ideas in principle, they weren’t quite able to match their rule-making to their ideals.  They granted voting rights in the first national elections of 1788 only to white men who owned property -- about 6% of the population.  By 1830, voting rights had been expanded by individual states to include most adult white males.  Expanding education and increasing literacy allowed more people to assume democratic responsibilities.  Our democracy was becoming more fairly representative.

Black males were given the right to vote after slaves were freed during the Civil War, with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870.  Women were finally given a more official voice in our society when they won the right to vote after a long and hard-fought battle for women’s suffrage, with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.  Native Americans were given the right to vote in 1924.   American citizens living in Washington D.C. were given the right to vote when the Twenty-Third Amendment was ratified in 1961.  Poll taxes that had been used to restrict voting rights were outlawed in 1964.  Literacy tests and racist voting practices were prohibited by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 were granted the right to vote in 1971, so that all those who risked their lives serving their country in the military would have some voice in national decision-making.

Unfortunately, conservative politicians in recent years have been fighting vigorously to reverse this fair-minded trend.  They have been working to restrict voting rights, especially those of blacks, Latinos, students, disabled people and poor people.  These undemocratic initiatives have been implemented in many states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures.  Such unethical and reprehensible tactics should be staunchly rejected!

Republicans rationalize voter suppression efforts as a means to prevent voter fraud.  But statistics show that instances of voter fraud are extremely rare.  In stark contrast, Republicans have been trying to disenfranchise millions of people with their vote-restricting initiatives in dozens of states.

I recommend that every registered voter be given a vote-by-mail ballot for all national and state elections, and that everyone be encouraged to vote.  Just think of the amount of fossil fuels that would be saved by not requiring so many people to go to a polling place and stand in long lines to vote!

A True Pro-Life Perspective

Mainstream politics in the 21st century has become, to a large degree, a “sham battle” between people who take opposing sides on hot button social issues.  This conflict distracts people from bigger problems.  We have far more serious concerns to quarrel over than hot button social issues!

The most blatant examples of cultural anger generated by barrages of attack ads and manipulative persuasion are those relating to anti-abortion activists and anti-immigrant passions.  Intense fervor generated by provoking these passions has been shrewdly exploited to achieve the real underlying goal of ensuring that wealthy people are allowed to continue to pay low tax rates.

Conservative cultural anger seems to be, in part, a harsh and reactive backlash against desegregation laws, sensible gun control initiatives, women’s reproductive rights the Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion rights, collective bargaining rights of public employees, increasing trends toward allowing gay people to have fair-minded civil rights, and aroused frustrations with the scapegoat of Big Government in general.  Intolerance, racism, sexism and ideological myopia also play a part in these reactionary attitudes.

Astonishing ironies have resulted from this emotional hijacking of the American people, and from the radical rightward tilt of the Republican Party. Hard-line conservatives have grown increasingly opposed to abortion, even in the case of rape, incest, or a risk to the life of a pregnant woman.  These partisans piously proclaim that they are “pro-life”.  But at the same time they champion causes that are distinctly contrary to the true sanctity of life, and to the real cause of liberty, and to a better quality of life for those alive at this moment in time. 

“Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected -- not only

   at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life.” 

                                                                                               --- Thomas L. Friedman, Why I am Pro-Life

Stubborn Republican anti-abortion stances are not just extremely sexist, but also puritanical and prudish and excessive in imposing male patriarchal control.  From this standpoint, they are socially reactionary and morally wrong.  When such “pro-life” people claim they believe in the sanctity of life, they ignore the fact that, if life were to be honestly regarded as sacred, any policies that contribute to the impoverishment of people who are already alive, like mothers and children, would be abhorrent.

Tea Party conservatives tend to support the death penalty and oppose universal healthcare and obstruct sensible laws to limit access to semi-automatic assault weapons.  They are generally eager to eliminate many programs that help people lead healthier and more secure lives.  They even generally oppose sensible protections of the environment and pollution prevention laws and reasonable ways of dealing with climate change.  These stances undermine our national well-being, and threaten many species of life on Earth.

“Look.”  Tens of thousands of women die every year in countries where safe abortions are illegal and many women have abortions that are performed in unsafe conditions.  In Nigeria, where abortions are against the law (with the sole exception of when the procedure is necessary to save a woman's life), thousands of women die every year from complications resulting from unsafe abortions.  The real bottom line effect of anti-abortion policies advocated by Republican politicians would be to condemn thousands of pregnant women to death, and to make tens of thousands of them criminals, and to force hundreds of thousands of women into having babies they do not want.  In light of the fact that 85% of women who get abortions in the U.S. every year are unmarried, outlawing abortion would be a mercilessly extreme form of lethally dangerous policy that would disproportionately put unmarried women's lives at risk.  It is beyond outrageous to force women to risk their lives to satisfy hard right ideologies.

Nigeria has a land area less than 12 percent the size of the contiguous 48 states, yet it has 185 million people, or almost 60% as many as the United States.  If the U.S. population had tripled in the last 50 years like Nigeria's has done, there would be almost 600 million Americans today instead of 321 million, and there would be commensurate need for much more Big Government to control the masses and deal with the widespread problems that such numbers would create.  And the blatant stupidity of pro-embryo, anti-women’s rights policies would be that much more ridiculous.

If the density of the U.S. population was as great as the density of people living in Nigeria (185 million people in 357 million square miles), then there would be more than 1,600 million Americans instead of 321 million in the United States, and just try to imagine the traffic!

Our great strength lies in unity, not in being divided, so we should act to prevent Big Money from subverting our democracy and dividing us asunder with the shrewd machinations of Machiavellian political operatives.  I feel strongly that an honest and truly moral pro-life stance is the only sensible and honorable one to espouse.  Understand this clearly.  Morality is the vital glue of society.  It is concerned with the judgment of what is “good” and “bad” in human character and action.  The true moral good consists of those things that are essential to the health and security of the entire group.  

“O ye that love mankind!  Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!”

                                                        --- Thomas Paine, urging Americans to action to end British tyranny

Today, intense conflicts of opinions and religious dogmas are being exploited to drive people apart.  The fact of the matter, however, is that boldly fair-minded cooperative efforts are needed to build a more just society and give a higher priority to the greater good.  This represents the ultimate moral good.  Machiavelli declared that “Politics have no relation to morals,” but that should not be the case.

We should give more sway not only to considerations of the quality of life for people alive today, but also for the quality of life that our actions today imply for our descendants.  Unfortunately, a better quality of life for more than 300 million Americans is being sacrificed to the conceits and entitled attitudes of the 2% of Americans who have an annual income in excess of $250,000.  The security of more than 300 million Americans is being sacrificed to the enthusiasm of millionaires and billionaires to be allowed to pay low tax rates on the highest levels of their incomes.

Fervent embraces of economic ideologies that promote the maximizing of profits are contrary to a true pro-life position when they involve narrow, unethical gambits that allow the costs of health-harming toxic wastes, and of air pollution and water pollution, to be foisted upon society.  On a more far-reaching scale that seriously affects future generations, it is contrary to a true pro-life position to allow the wasteful depletion of life-enabling resources and widespread damages to ecosystems, and uncontrolled heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere that disrupt normal weather patterns and contribute to destructive floods, droughts, and more extreme storms and wildfires.

Almost every form of life on Earth is threatened by our failure to support initiatives that would help protect the environment, prevent pollution, and deal sensibly with climate change.  An arrogant lack of respect for all non-human forms of life on Earth is not a pro-life approach to policy-making.  Those who favor overturning the Endangered Species Act are not acting in a true pro-life way, and neither are those who want to encourage the aggressive exploitation of public lands.

 “He who takes nature for his guide, is not easily beaten out of his argument.”

                                                                                                                        --- Thomas Paine

Choosing to stubbornly oppose freely available contraceptives, including emergency "morning-after pills”, at the expense of women’s prerogatives to prevent pregnancy, is to be rudely unempathetic, misogynistic, paternalistic, and heedlessly unconcerned with the true quality of life.  With more than 7 billion people on Earth, church dogmas that say we must be fruitful and multiply no longer add up.  Opposition to family planning choices is simply not an honestly life-affirming attitude.

There are more than 40 million abortions in the world every year.  If zealots who say they are “pro-life” really want to reduce this number, it could easily be done by promoting the use of contraceptives and the morning-after pill and other birth control methods, and by making family planning options freely available to women and men worldwide.  “Pro-life” people, come to your senses!  Not only would such initiatives prevent millions of abortions every year, they could prevent millions of cases of sexually-transmitted diseases, and thereby eliminate an untold amount of unnecessary suffering. 

Anyone opposed to abortion should be strongly supportive of easy or free access to birth control.  Up to two-thirds of all abortions in the United States could be prevented by such a policy.  Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine offered free birth control to more than 9,000 mostly low-income women and teenagers, and found out that the number of accidental pregnancies in the group fell between 60% and 80% below the national average.  Receiving free birth control made teens just one-sixth as likely to get pregnant.  Since this group is particularly susceptible to becoming pregnant, no-cost birth control is a key to reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions.

The United Nations explicitly described family planning as a “universal human right” for the first time ever in 2012.  With this declaration, the United Nations effectively made the case that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.  The time has come today for governments and the Catholic Church and other religious establishments to acknowledge this right to women everywhere.

“Conservatives” tend to champion expansive rights of personhood for a fertilized egg, no matter how conception occurs, at the expense of a woman’s right to exert control over her future and destiny.  Such attitudes are conspicuously contrary to respect for the lives of women.  It is preposterous to posit that life begins at conception and to then ignore the needs of mothers and children once a child is born.

Another important consideration is that open-minded and generous “good neighbor” attitudes that serve to reinforce the Golden Rule ethic of reciprocity and mutual security for peoples in all countries are much truer pro-life stances than ethnocentric supremacism or domineering attitudes that rationalize military aggression.  True pro-life stances would regard preemptive warfare and repressive military occupations of other nations as supremely unethical, and they would prevent “military Keynesian” policies that facilitate unethical profit maximizing by war services corporations and others involved in the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Reflections on More Hot Button Issues

A minority of Americans supports the death penalty.  In light of many cases where innocent people have been exonerated by DNA evidence after years in prison, this issue should be examined more closely.  It is not a pro-life stance to support the death penalty, just as it is likewise not a pro-life attitude to oppose a good universal healthcare plan and far-reaching reforms of our medical insurance system, because such opposition results in thousands of unnecessary deaths every year.

Also, it seems clear that religious zealotry has caused great grief in the world.  Islamic religious fanatics have provoked an extremely expensive military retaliation in the form of a crusade against terrorism that has cost trillions of dollars and countless lives since the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001. 

Conservative American evangelicals have stoked reactionary opposition to Islam, and to secular progressivism.  Dark passions have been exploited to divide and conquer people.  Shrewd political operatives have scapegoated liberals and immigrants and gay people to advance an unrelated underlying agenda of undermining universal healthcare and the collective bargaining power of workers.  The real underlying purpose of these initiatives has been to gain power and control, and to increase corporate profits.

Some evangelical religious fanatics in U.S. churches are nearly as odious as the suicide bombers who target innocent victims.  The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, is an evangelical institution that preaches hate of gay men and lesbian women in the guise of love for Jesus and obedience to God’s authority.  Who knew that God hates, when so many spiritual leaders have preached that God is love? 

The documentary film God Loves Uganda provides a startling insight into conservative evangelical fanaticism in some U.S. churches.  Leaders of the International House of Prayer helped get a law passed in Uganda against homosexuals that condemns some gay people to death.  When Americans contribute to the demonization and harm of people in other countries by stoking anti-gay feelings abroad, we are acting with pathetic resolve that directly hurts other people.  And when the “good news” of the Word of God is used to stoke anti-gay attitudes in male-dominated African societies, this “kill the homosexuals” ideology is disgusting to billions of people worldwide, probably even more so than the idea of men having sex with each other is disgusting to these narrow-minded, bigoted, self-righteous religious zealots.  How could these indoctrinated believers have discovered words in the Bible that condemn homosexuals and yet missed the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill?”

No mention whatsoever of homosexuals is made in the New Testament.  Jesus does not say anything about the subject.  Jesus does say however, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  When Jesus spoke to a crowd about a woman who had committed adultery, which the Old Testament says is a sin that should be punished by being stoned to death, Jesus supposedly said in John 8:7,  "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

Women are still being stoned to death for adultery in some cultures.  This is horribly wrong.  Uganda’s history since its madman dictator Idi Amin was deposed in 1979 is a sad story.  In the power vacuum that followed Idi Amin’s flight into exile, Uganda was exceptionally vulnerable to the indoctrination of its people by missionaries.  Recognizing this, the International House of Prayer made a commitment to a crusade against gay people, apparently hoping to inflame religious passions enough that the church would be able to advance abstinence-only, anti-contraception, anti-family-planning and anti-abortion ideologies.  This East African country tellingly has a high poverty rate, and its people have the youngest median age of any country on Earth -- 15 years old.  In contrast, the median age in the U.S. is more than 36 years old.  In a sense, conservative American evangelicals are pathetically trying to take advantage of young Africans to advance a narrow ideological agenda. 

Rodney King was a black man who became nationally known after a videotape revealed his being beaten with excessive force by Los Angeles police officers in 1991.  A trial ensued, and the police officers involved were judged innocent despite the shocking video evidence.  Terrible riots immediately followed, and more than 50 people were killed, and billions of dollars in property damage was done.  Rodney King was aghast, and famously asked, more or less, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I believe we could easily all get along much better, and the key is to create greater social fairness, a more truly fair system of justice, and a more definite commitment to human rights and dignity for all.

An Aside on Scapegoating

A “scapegoat theory of intergroup conflict” provides an explanation for the correlation between times of relative economic despair and increases in prejudice and violence toward “out groups”.  This theory helps explain the genocidal Holocaust slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.  Jewish people were scapegoated on account of the humiliation Germany had suffered in being defeated in the First World War, and for the subsequent huge reparations that Germans were required to pay.  These obligations contributed to a disastrous period of hyperinflation during the 1920s, when the cost of a loaf of bread in Germany went from 1 Deutsche Mark in 1918 to 10 Marks in 1920 to 10,000 Marks at the end of 1922 to one trillion Marks by 1924.  Just imagine how inflation like that might affect a nation’s people!

There is, likewise, much hostility toward gay people, who are often blamed and scapegoated in today’s world.  This hostility seems to be an unconscious psychological defense mechanism like displacement or projection that is exhibited by those who fan the flames of prejudice.  Sadly enough, reactionary groups of people are often well funded and tend to be vehement in their ideologies.  They also seem to be deficient in the accuracy of their comprehension and understanding.  To create dynamic and healthier and fairer societies, it would be best to eschew Biblical literalism and narrow dogmatism and Trumpian antagonisms.

I believe in the relative greater virtue and social good of progressive ideas compared to conservative ideas.  Follow this line of thought closely. One of the core understandings expressed in these writings is that religious fundamentalism is a big danger because it engenders so much conflict.  Exceedingly large costs related to a military war against terrorists make it clear that it would be better for everyone if moderate voices and more fair-minded policies prevailed in world affairs.  The idea of religious freedom was a founding principle of our great nation, and Golden Rule ethics naturally imply no one should be able to force their beliefs on others.

Contemplate how different the views are of people who believe in orthodox religious ideas, compared to more enlightened worldviews.  Orthodox Christians believe that the highest virtue is obedience to ecclesiastical authority.  More enlightened folks believe that insightful personal understanding and ethical right action are higher virtues.  Orthodox Christians think that “Satan” is the source of all evil, while more enlightened folks believe that ignorance and selfishness and intolerance of others are primary causes of much unnecessary suffering.  Orthodox Christians believe the Bible is literal and historical, while more enlightened people see this ‘Holy Book’ as a mythical story that provides guidance through parables and poetic metaphor, as well as commandments. 

Orthodox Christians believe that Eve was the first woman on Earth, and that she is the cause of original sin, and that humanity is contaminated by sin.  More enlightened believers see Eve as a seeker of knowledge who was the first saint, and that humanity is a spark of the divine.  Orthodox believers see blessings and grace as arising from sacraments handed down by religious authorities.  Those who are more enlightened see blessings and grace as arising from inner awakening and self-knowledge and generosity of spirit.  Orthodox believers tend to see Jesus as the literal Son of God and savior of mankind, while more enlightened perspectives regard Jesus as an archetype and teacher that dwells within each person.  Those who cling to orthodox views think salvation can come only through faith, while the more enlightened see salvation as coming from “all-embracing” understanding.

Imagine how distinct a contrast these worldviews are, and how different a society would be that adheres to expansive enlightened views, compared to societies that hew to narrower dogmas.

“Be in harmony.  Live in Peace.  If you are out of balance, take inspiration from manifestations of your true

   inner self.  Those who have ears let them hear.”

                                                                           --- The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Politics Now

“The election is over. The story is not.”  Mitt Romney tried to sell the American people an amped-up version of the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  These policies would have been decidedly harmful to workers, women, children, students, the environment, future generations, and most species of life on Earth.  The tax plans proposed by Romney and Ryan were regressive, because they were designed to give rich people an even bigger slice of the economic pie and simultaneously slash spending on a wide variety of programs that benefit Americans who are less financially secure. 

Republicans have tried to portray themselves as fiscally conservative.  Really?  They sure did not act as fiscal conservatives when they supported George W. Bush’s tax cuts financed by trillions of dollars of borrowed money.  They were NOT fiscally conservative when they enacted the Prescription Drug Act of 2003 that radically benefitted Big Pharmaceutical companies and has added more than $1 trillion to the national debt.  And they certainly were not acting like fiscal conservatives when they consistently supported debt-financed wars and poorly-controlled military spending.  As mentioned earlier, total spending by the federal government has increased faster during the administrations of Republican presidents than during ones of Democrats, so attempts to deceive the American people into thinking that Republicans are fiscal conservatives make them appear distinctly dishonest! 

 “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can

     notfool all of the people all of the time.”

                                                                  --- President Abraham Lincoln

Other central features of Ronald Reagan’s ideological revolution were the elimination of regulations and the undermining of employee’s power to collectively organize and bargain.  By making extensive efforts to eliminate regulations on corporations, banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street entities, Reagan’s ideological campaign contributed to a Savings and Loan crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  In this costly economic calamity, more than 1,000 Savings and Loan Associations failed. 

Similar deregulatory actions negatively contributed to a much more expensive credit crisis and recession that began in late 2008.  These “laissez-faire” policies and the economic bubble wreaked havoc on the economy and caused a widespread spike in unemployment and home foreclosures.  Enormous bailouts were necessitated as a result, and the Federal Reserve and central banks worldwide have been forced to desperately inject many trillions of dollars in liquidity into the banking system.  One of the unintended consequences of such policies is that a record number of people in the United States are living below the poverty line. 

Conservatives appear to live in an “intellectual bubble.”  They often get their information from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, and they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks.  They seem to be generally unaware of contrary evidence, and oblivious to how their opinions, attitudes and positions sound to outsiders -- and to how others are affected.  With the advent of the Trump phenomenon, things have gone from bad to much worse.

“And what else, day after day, endangers and destroys cities, regions, individuals so much as yet another amassing of wealth by someone.  This very amassing releases further desires, which cannot be satisfied without someone paying the price.”

                                                                        --- Dante, Convivio

Republican Dwight Eisenhower wrote a letter in 1954 that addressed the need for what he called “moderation” in government.  He made this cogent observation:  “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security and unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.  There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

How is it possible that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012 and so many Republican politicians today can be so brazen in proposing to slash spending on social safety net programs in order to give even lower tax rates to people who earn the highest levels of income?  The main reasons for this potential political kamikaze act is that our democracy has become so corrupted and obedient to the demands of the top 2% of income earners that politicians from both political parties give top priority to accommodating the dictates of moneyed interests.  In doing so, they appear to be able to get away with radically under-representing the interests of the majority.

As a result of Republican-driven tax cuts, a travesty of social justice is taking place in which the rich are getting richer while the nation is falling apart, public schools are deteriorating, many inner cities are getting more gritty, prisons are getting seriously overcrowded, and the majority of people are seeing their prospects in life diminish.

How is it possible that the Republican Party has supported such socially negative outcomes?  Well, times have changed since Eisenhower spoke the above words in 1954.  Way back then, we were still in the near aftermath of World War II, when tens of millions of Americans had come together to make shared sacrifices in the global effort to ensure democracy would triumph over fascist aggressors.  Today, our democracy has degenerated to a large extent into an oligarchy ruled by moneyed interests, and selfish rich people are refusing to concede any of their great privileges or domineering influence.

Since our Congressional, Executive and judicial systems are so strongly influenced by the corrupting influence of Big Money, the greater good is being undermined and fair representation of the interests of the majority are being subverted.  As a result, radically inegalitarian initiatives have gained sway.  Our corporate-dominated media machine is partly to blame for this undesirable state of affairs, because it is too much influenced by marketing, advertising budgets, propaganda and ideologies of corporate interests and right-wing front groups. 

Curiously, conservative evangelical voters and those who adhere to Tea Party dogmas have been duped into supporting the narrow Republican agenda.  How was that achieved, again?  Through effective uses of framing, divisive tactics, deceptive arguments, arrogantly uncompromising stances, hyped-up extreme partisanship, preying on people’s fears, the promoting of narrow ideological doctrines, and distorting spin in the corporate-controlled mainstream media.  Confident and simplistic proclamations by Republican politicians have been used to fool many Americans into accepting trickle-down deceptions and on-your-own-economic plans and bad provisions in international trade deals.  Mitt Romney pretended in the weeks before the 2012 election that he was primarily concerned about the middle class, but his plans had the same goal as George W. Bush’s:  to enrich millionaires and billionaires at the expense of everyone else.

Just after the election, Mitt Romney complained to top donors that President Obama had won the contest by giving gifts to women, blacks, Hispanics and young people.  He disingenuously failed to mention the much larger multi-trillion dollar gifts that the Republican Party has given to rich people by radically reducing taxes on the highest levels of income in the past three decades.  We would do well to remember that government “gifts” given to anyone today are coming at the expense of people in future generations.  To be more responsible for the societal greater good, we need fiscal discipline and a reformed political system so that our national priorities are fairer and more long-term oriented. 

Republicans have been trying to convince people for decades that everyone in the U.S. will do better only when rich people pay lower taxes, but it must be repeated:  everyone will do better only when everyone does better.  This truth is downright tautological.  In Matthew 19:24 of the Bible, it says:  “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel (a cable?) to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Observations about Political Compromise

Our political system has always involved give-and-take compromises between various interest groups that are competing for perks, privileges and power.  Since conservatives have become much more extreme and uncompromising over the past 15 years, many Republicans have taken a “purity pledge” to anti-tax iconoclast Grover Norquist, whose overriding conviction is that the government should be shrunk down “to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  These people regard the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the public sector as a goal more important than the common good. 

This orthodox purity is a stubborn refusal to compromise, and a crude, fantastically simplistic form of dogmatic ideology that requires adherents to suspend disbelief and throw in with the narrowly self-serving goals of the rich.  This plan is cynically contrary to the common good.  It is pathetic that such efforts have been accompanied by a tendency for the Republican Party to become more socially reactionary in recent years, due to the influence of Tea Party politicians.

Remember, Jesus was a revolutionary, and our Founders were Enlightenment progressives.  Modern day Tea Party types, in contrast, tend to be anti-progressive.  An Indiana Tea Party candidate who beat more moderate long-time Republican Senator Richard Lugar once declared:  “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”  This absurd and obtusely ideological mindset is antithetical to the commendable fairness principles upon which our nation was founded.

Many Republicans in the House of Representatives lost their positions to more extreme right-wing politicians in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 national elections.  One of these relative moderates pointed out that he believed a simple fair-minded truism:  Once a candidate is elected, he or she has a duty to work across the aisle with other people who have also been elected.  This is the only way to achieve really fair-minded solutions to our national and global problems.  This is true common sense!

The Republican quest for ideological purity has caused the last several sessions of Congress to be among the worst ever, as judged by their record low approval ratings.  A main reason for this pathetic performance is the unwillingness of Tea Party politicians to compromise. 

Romney and Ryan’s proposed plans seemed to have been designed to foist a reactionary form of social engineering on the American people, and to deprive women of family planning options and rights to make personal decisions relating to their healthcare and reproductive choices.  It’s astonishing that some politicians who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 had a chance of winning despite advocating misogynistic policies like the official plank in the Republican platform that opposes all abortions without any exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or that put the life of a pregnant woman at risk.  Ryan supported this plank, as did “legitimate rape” Missourian Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, who stated that when a woman becomes pregnant from a rape, "it is something that God intended."  Mourdock went on to say that the government should prohibit a woman from getting an abortion even if a rapist got her pregnant.  That attitude is obscene!

In many countries, religious freedom is severely limited by patriarchal cultures, and males are assumed to have a God-given right to restrict women’s freedoms and rights.  The most important aspect of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is the freedom from religion -- i.e., the freedom from unreasonable dictates of religious authorities.  The attitudes of Paul Ryan, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock toward the healthcare of women and their personal rights and contraceptive options and abortion reveal that these men vowed, Taliban-like, to have the government impose restrictions on women’s fair prerogatives, and to limit their rights and deprive them of the freedom to make personal reproductive decisions in their lives.  All Americans should oppose such misogynistic tyranny!

Everyone should be guaranteed the freedom to believe whatever religious stories they fancy, even ones that have been interpreted to mean that Earth is a mere 6,000 years old, despite the scientific certainty that our home planet has been orbiting the Sun for billions of years.  When people cling to beliefs that contradict scientific understandings in ways that are consequentially harmful, however, these beliefs cannot be allowed to have determining sway in our national policy-making.  As a compelling instance, the belief that human actions are acceptable when they result in billions of tons of greenhouse gases being spewed into the atmosphere every year is to have blind faith in a harm-causing lack of accurate comprehension.  Since such a belief has big costs, it cannot be allowed to prevent us from instituting measures that would mitigate associated risks.

It is noteworthy that two primary camps existed among our Founders:  those who advocated Jeffersonian ideals and those who advocated Hamiltonian ideals.  Jeffersonians believed in equality of opportunity and democratic fairness, and they gave priority to plain folk and debtors.  They believed that effective rules should be established to protect people from abuses of power by aristocratic elites and those who demand outsized special perks and privileges.  Hamiltonians, in contrast, were federalist nationalists who emphasized the importance of having a strong Constitution and a federal government with expansive centralized powers, particularly in arenas of funding the state, building infrastructure, paying for national defense, and establishing trade relations with other countries.

Debates were acrimonious back then, but the Founders managed to compromise together to form a more perfect Union.  Today’s Republicans?  “Damn the Union!” they seem to be saying.  “Preserve low tax rates for rich people!  And tough luck to women, gay people, immigrants and our descendants!”  Perhaps we need a good therapist to reconcile these dysfunctional relationships!

News Flash: U.S. Poverty Hits Record High

The 2010 census revealed that poverty in the U.S. reached the worst level since the census began tracking poverty in 1959.  The census showed that more than 45 million Americans live in poverty.  Conservative radio talk show hosts reacted to this news by reverberating with doubts about how these measurements were derived.  But come on!  Serious social problems are implicated, and we need to find ways that we can agree on to create a truly fairer society. 

It turns out that societies that are dominated by a wealthy few often become increasingly insecure due to the injustice-driven instability of this domineering and inegalitarian treatment of the masses.  When well-being is more widely shared, outcomes are generally better for all concerned. 

Again I recall John Steinbeck’s observation in The Log from the Sea of Cortez about how ideas gain little power or traction until they find the fertile soil of discontent to grow in.  When ideas are planted in such unease, they germinate into emotion, or even religious fervor.  We are witnessing an intensification of dissatisfaction and alienation in nations around the world, and these feelings are accompanied by valid grievances and heightened social conflicts.  These dangerous impulses are stoked in many ways by the unempathetic gambits of rich people against fairness initiatives, and against more progressively graduated systems of taxation.

John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts had debated and articulated valuable and holistic worldviews during their famous voyage on the Sea of Cortez in 1940.  One conclusion they reached was that to see things clearly and with keen insight is a prerequisite to breaking through to fuller understandings of situations or concepts. Steinbeck believed it is vital to see things whole and to work purposefully to change the way things are -- and to strive to improve social conditions for the better of all. 

An enthusiasm for exploration has led me to a specific breakthrough in understanding.  The linguist George Lakoff points the way.  He says that when empathy is activated in people’s minds, it tends to strengthen support for progressive worldviews.  In contrast, when fears are activated in people’s minds, it tends to strengthen support for conservative worldviews.  Awareness of this fact should help us achieve truer interpretations of reality, and to set doctrinaire perspectives aside in favor of more honest and accurate awareness.  The kernel of insight in this perspective could help us transform our cultures.

In any personal relationship, it is valuable to find good ways to release naturally occurring tensions between people.  Think about the fact that, in addition to the record number of Americans living below the poverty level in the U.S. today, Social Security keeps another 21 million Americans from poverty, and social programs like unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and food stamps keep an additional 12 million people from dire poverty.  Another 4 million people are in jails or prisons.  This number of incarcerated citizens, relative to our population size, makes us the country with the largest percentage of our people in prison in the whole world.  Another related fact is that gun sales are at a record high, and gun ownership and gun violence in the U.S. far exceeds that of any other country on Earth.  And many millions of Americans have no medical insurance, so they use emergency rooms for medical care instead of having preventative healthcare checkups, resulting in their treatment costs being foisted onto others in the most expensive way.

These disparate facts reflect some deep psychological underpinnings that are partially to be blamed on the cultivation of fear and intolerant attitudes by people like Rush Limbaugh and angry Tea Party types and social reactionaries and Strict Father ideologues. 

Conservatism and liberalism themselves are, to some degree, inherited propensities, as studies of the “Startle Reflex” have shown.  So, when deep-seated fears are provoked by manipulative politicians and angry talk radio personalities and Trumpian agitators, or are fomented by billionaire-funded Super PACs and emotion-hijacking, repression-minded personalities, this is highly negative to the healthy functioning of society.  I strongly believe we could design much fairer societies, and that we need to start NOW!  To paraphrase a story that Bill Moyers told just after 9/11, personally, I'm optimistic.  "Then why do you look so worried?!" … "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified."  An existential Ha!

Concluding Observations

“The flowering of genius in ancient Greece was due to the immense impetus given when clarity and

   power of thought was added to great spiritual force.”

                                                                                  --- The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton

Concerns for individuals and concerns for communities are both vitally important.  Fair-minded compromises should be made to assure a wholesome balance between these two often-conflicting sets of concerns.  Fair-mindedness contributes to the greater good and the general welfare, and an ethical search for common ground.  As Edith Hamilton wrote: “The bitterest conflicts that have divided the minds of men and set family against family, and brother against brother, have been waged … for one side of the truth to the suppression of the other side.”

Turmoil and dissension envelop our modern world because we cannot figuratively see the forest for the trees, and are thus literally unable to find a fair-minded balance between the claims of individuals and the claims of the majority.  In particular, there is a grave imbalance between the demands of rich people to pay low tax rates and the wide-ranging needs of society to make farsighted investments in education, infrastructure, clean energy, affordable social safety net programs, and environmental protections.  Low tax rates for the highest-income earners also make it all but impossible to balance federal budgets.  We must find ways to stop financing operations and low taxes through the unfair expediency of borrowing from future generations. 

Dante Alighieri, cynical about his native Florence for the harsh way it had personally treated him, wrote that Florence was “the embodiment of a society that had lost its way, a society that had sacrificed the good of the community to the interests of powerful individuals:  in short, a society which, by obsessively seeking heaven on earth, had made a hell of life on earth.”  An alarm sounds!

With more modern understandings, we can do better than Florence did 700 years ago when Dante was alive. The social cohesion of more harmonious societal relationships is a positive force, as Joseph Stiglitz makes clear in The Price of Inequality.  It must necessarily involve striking a better balance between guarantees of personal liberties, a bigger modicum of security for all, and fair rules of law.  A new ethical and spiritual perspective is needed that will provide us with a saner balance in our selfishly shortsighted and materialistic world.  And this perspective calls for a Golden Rule commitment to our descendants.

True justice and injustice are being blurred today in the complex interplay between competing interests in our societies.  One consequence is that wholly inadequate value has been given to the balance and health of Earth’s natural ecosystems.  It is astonishingly foolhardy for us to collectively continue encouraging increases in human numbers in developing countries while stimulating activities that diminish the carrying capacity of Earth’s ecosystems to provide for all of humanity.  Better ideas on how to remedy these problems are investigated throughout this manifesto.  Let’s take a stand together to commit our nation to greater fairness to our heirs!

The Dalai Lama made a provocative statement at a Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009:  “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”  Maybe so!  Freedom of expression is a powerful thing, and surely there have been many occasions in history when the pen has proved to be mightier than the sword.  Eh, Voltaire? 

For better illumination, I recommend A Feminine Vision of an Achievable Better World:  Anima Should Reign!  This essay contains valuable understandings about the many ways that sensible feminism and fair-minded empowerment of women and a more honorable valuing of feminine sensibilities of every person could advance greater good causes.

The time has come today for us to collectively stand up, step forward, and revolutionarily make our human societies fairer, healthier, safer, more just, and more sustainable.  “Let’s roll”!


          Dr. Tiffany B. Twain

            June 12, 2016