Uncommon Sense and Fair-Mindedness
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
there is a perception that the action contemplated is so small in relation to
the final intention that the action seems pointless;
conflict exists between do-good intentions and more narrowly selfish
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
seems futile to oppose a relativistic “evil”;
opposition may give ‘counter-support’ to what is opposed.
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.”
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
“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
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
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.
philanthropist Bill Gates throws down the gauntlet to the well heeled.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Consequences of 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
“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
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!
spoke those words in a speech titled The
New Nationalism. He provocatively
“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
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
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
A Question of Ensuring
National Security and Domestic Tranquility
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
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.
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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
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?”
case is quite strong that what we need now is not austerity and extreme
conservatism, but smart public investments and more progressive national
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
“If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”
Economist Herbert Stein
Examining The Federal Reserve
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
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%.
Aspect of Social Justice
“Of all the
forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and
--- Martin Luther King, Jr.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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%.
Ideological Virus Infects the World
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
--- 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
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!
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.
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
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
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:
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.”
critic Dick Gregory once made this stunningly astute observation:
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!”
-- 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
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.
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.
"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 a 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
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
--- 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.>”
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
--- 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”:
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
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
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.
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
Economic Conundrum of Capitalism
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.
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
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
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
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!
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,
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
Thomas Jefferson wrote these wise and
“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
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!
Audience with the 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.
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
A First Step
Required to Fix Our Democracy
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
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
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
Recall that Dick
Cheney infamously declared in 2002, "Reagan proved deficits don't
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
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!
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
Leads to a Radical Proposal
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Public Policy Conundrums Require Clear Vision and Common Purpose
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.
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.
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
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!
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:
insure domestic Tranquility,
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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:
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.”
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 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.
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!
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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Bush’s Brain Reveals Bizarre Propensities
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.
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
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
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
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
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!”
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.
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.
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
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.
in the Bet Situation
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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
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.
from the Fiscal Cliff
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run
by smart people who are putting us on, or by
imbeciles who really mean it.”
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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?"
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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."
Can So Many People Misunderstand So Much?
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%.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.”
Perspective of Dante Alighieri
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!
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!
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."
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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
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
Preview of Things to Come
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
(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
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and
protected -- not only
moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life.”
--- Thomas L. Friedman, Why I am Pro-Life
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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
on More Hot Button Issues
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
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!
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
“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.
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
“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
--- 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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Flash: U.S. Poverty Hits Record High
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
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.
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!
“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
--- 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
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
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.
and injustice are being blurred today in the complex interplay between competing interests in our
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