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                                       The Common Good, Properly Understood

                                                                              An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

The common good is a core value for humanity, and it is taking on vastly increased importance as our population has grown over the years.  Back in the hardscrabble days of hunting and gathering, before the discovery of methods of growing crops and domesticating animals, small clans of nomadic peoples lived in the most providential niches on Earth, and their impact on the natural world in their struggle for survival was relatively slight.  Today human civilizations have become much more widespread and destructive all around the planet, starting with the choicest places and now going real marginal.

Our human population reached seven billion people in the year 2011, up from only two billion in 1930.  This rapid growth is causing an extensive array of problems.  Our proliferating needs are depleting fossil fuels and mineral resources, decimating wildlife populations, overexploiting fisheries, and causing widespread harm to wildlife and their habitats.  We are also causing topsoil erosion, pollution of waterways, paving over of wetlands, clear-cutting of vast tracts of forests, and the generation of large quantities of wastes and toxins.  We are even altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere and the alkalinity of the oceans, contributing to ominous changes in weather patterns all around the planet.  We are thus upsetting the vital natural balance of ecosystems on Earth.

We are confronted with a growing realization today that the survival and well-being of our species is becoming increasingly threatened by these developments.  Our best hope for future generations is that we will find good ways to mitigate the most severe impacts of our activities.  Competition for natural resources is intensifying as they are being depleted, and the dog-eat-dog nature of our economic activities is becoming a serious liability.  The wiser collaborative qualities of our human natures are consequently becoming ever more important to the overall health and sustainability of life.

Our understanding of common good goals, and of the best means to collectively achieve them, is becoming increasingly crucial to our survival.  This essay explores these big issues and casts the bright light of sanity and common sense on better ways forward.

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

                                                                                      --- Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Let’s start the world over again, and do so in ways providentially consistent with the greater good!

Perspective on What Constitutes the Common Good

President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the greatest conservationist leaders in American history.  He created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 with a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands so as to meet the needs of people in present and future generations.  Gifford Pinchot, the first Director of the Forest Service, sensibly defined conservation as being “the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time”. 

This concept is also an excellent definition of what constitutes the common good.  The main things that characterize the common good are safe communities, good quality public schools, a productive economy, broadly-shared prosperity, measures that ensure fairness of opportunity and a strong middle class, fair access to healthcare, an affordable social safety net, fair political representation for all citizens, democratic self-determination, reasonable regulation of banks and big businesses, strong commitments to collective security and peacebuilding, fair trade, openness in government, a free press, a clean and secure energy system, well-managed public transportation systems, smart investments in urban renewal, and guaranteed freedom of speech and other civil liberties as spelled out in the Bill of Rights.  The common good also requires strong protections of healthy ecosystems, fresh water sources, unpolluted air and a stable climate, along with reasonable safeguards to preserve biological diversity and protected parks and open spaces.

In contrast, there are many things that are drastically contrary to the common good and well-being in general.  These include things like allowing water and air pollution, uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, environmental damages, wasteful energy policies, the stimulated depletion of resources, suburban sprawl and “tragedy of the commons” assaults on the ecological commons.  Many other aspects of human behaviors and institutions are contrary to common good goals, including monopoly practices, fraudulent activities, unfair cronyism, severe inequities, no-bid government contracts, discriminatory employment practices, high cost education, unaffordable healthcare, harm-engendering special perks and privileges for elite constituencies, boom-and-bust economic policies, excessive corporate influence in elections and lobbying, expansive government secrecy, harsh punishments for those who commit crimes, ruthless injustices and aggression in war.

People could, and should, create fairer societies that operate in much better harmony with the common good, and with core principles of human dignity, individual liberty, fair representation and equal treatment under the law.  The common good is much broader than corporate goals, because corporate purposes are narrowly focused on just two overriding objectives -- maximizing profits and limiting liabilities of owners and top managers.  This essay examines these topics in detail.

   “The status quo has many guardians, but the future is an orphan.”

                                                                                       --- Timothy E. Wirth, United Nations Foundation

Invisible Hands of Self-Interest

The famous economist Adam Smith contended that ‘the invisible hand’ of individuals pursuing their own self-interest naturally serves, in a free market, to promote the good of the whole of society.  Adam Smith believed that the welfare of the entire community would generally be improved by private interest activities and self-motivated behaviors.  But he seems not to have foreseen the extent to which social and environmental ills of industrialization would be made worse by unbridled greed and abuses of power that are inherent in human nature and capitalist economic systems. 

Adam Smith apparently did not imagine the profound extent to which the majority of people would be manipulated by corrupting influences of Big Money and powerful vested interest groups and insidiously persuasive marketing campaigns.  And he did not recognize the significant risks the economy would encounter, or the adverse potential for economic depression and systemic collapse due to the short-term orientation of business goals.  It has become clear that when groups like bankers, investors and homeowners rationally ignore risks of “low-probability, high impact events”, financial meltdowns can occur like the one that was experienced beginning in 2008.

How should we rightly understand self-interest?  Ah, here’s the catch!  Self-interest is one of the most powerful of human motivations, but self-interest is NOT identical to our own individual selfish interests.  In the end, self-interest is necessarily linked to the common good.  What exactly is right and proper with regard to self-interest and the public good?  What is best for humanity as a whole?  This essay grapples with questions such as these, and provides some good answers.

Economic fundamentalists and people in corporate-sponsored think tanks have used the metaphor of an invisible hand to conceal the actual hands that rig the system and exploit resources and take advantage of workers.  These interest groups tend to regard the maximizing of profits as the highest of values.  The corporations and politicians that wield the most powerful influence in our system often contribute to increased inequities, heightened systemic risks and harsh injustices.  They are also significantly responsible for environmental damages, and lamentably even for reckless aggression by the military, all at the expense of the common good. 

Theodore Roosevelt’s strategy on the international stage was “to walk softly, but carry a big stick”.  This approach is much more consistent with common good goals and the desire of our Founders to avoid foreign entanglements than our pursuit of interventionist military policies in the 21st century and the use of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines to implement a strategy of entangling foreign involvements.  This aggressive approach allows our armed forces and drone bombers to act as judge, jury and executioner in geostrategic operations that are prone to causing terrible turmoil, civilian dislocations, and injuries or death to millions of innocent civilians.

George W. Bush once claimed that God told him, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.”  I don’t know if he was being stunningly delusional or colossally deceitful in these words, but it sure seems sadly suspicious that the rationalizations he used to sell the war in Iraq to the American people kept changing, and that they were formulated to downplay the costs and risks and highly probable negative outcomes of destabilizing preemptive warfare aggression.  I personally think George W. Bush should have listened to a more reliable voice than God’s, like Mark Twain’s when he warned Americans that it is much easier to stay out of a war abroad than to get out.  Mark Twain saw through flimsy and deceptive rationales to the heart of the matter when he declared we ought to let peoples in other countries “deal with their own domestic questions in their own way”.  He expressed the convincing conviction that the American eagle should not put its talons into peoples in other lands, especially when motivated by conservative religious motives to impose our values on Persons Sitting in Darkness.

The Ecology of Macro-Economic Theory

Macroeconomic theory provides the largest scale and biggest picture perspective of how we should rightly understand economic activities in terms of self-interest and the common good.  There are basically two ideas of macroeconomics.  One is that societies should be structured to maximize production and consumption and wealth creation.  This theory posits that providential prosperity will result from such policies, and that it will trickle down to the masses, allowing the environmental harmfulness of business activities to be mitigated and the injustices associated with industrial capitalism to be alleviated. 

A contrasting and more comprehensive idea is that we should place emphasis on behaviors and decision-making that create a broader prosperity that is consonant with the sustainable ecological health of human communities and natural ecosystems.  This latter idea posits that only by nurturing, protecting and restoring the soundness of natural systems will a more salubrious and widely beneficial well-being unfold that will be most advantageous for the vast majority of people in the long run.  This seems to be the best probable route to a sustainable future.

 “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals;  we now know that it is bad

      economics.”        

                      --- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 1937

It is simple, really, in a complex kind of way.  There are overarching considerations to all our individual and national and global problems.  Ultimately, the only sensible and moral courses of action are those that are in harmony with the long-term common good, including the interests of people in future generations. 

Morality, in its origins, consists of those things that are essential to the health and preservation of a social group.  Moral right action should therefore be a function of sociology, and what is right for society depends on the well-being of the majority AND of people in the future.  Right action is not merely a function of economic expediency or political ideology, or of stimulated fears or theological dogma or religious orthodoxy.  The things that are right and proper can most accurately be seen as the ones that are best in the long run.  It is not right to neglect the interests of our heirs in future generations by pandering principally to greedy and shortsighted interest groups today.

If we irresponsibly choose to live like there will be no tomorrow, the tomorrow that our children and theirs, and theirs, will inhabit will be one that is far less salubrious than it should be.

Praying for Ascendancy and Victory

“If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a

     neighbor at the same time.”    

                                               --- Mark Twain, The War Prayer

Barack Obama noted in his first Inaugural Address that “a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”  A broadly-based prosperity is much more in accord with the common good, and with the ideals of our Founders, than a narrowly-focused one.  It is a sad tragedy for the majority of Americans that the dominant ideological arguments of the Reagan and Bush years rationalized bigger disparities of wealth in the world and a new Gilded Age of conspicuous consumption and unfairness.  It is now time for us to redesign our system to ensure that trickle-down economics is replaced by policies that encourage middle class and bottom-up prosperity, and that our government and tax system is simplified and made fairer and more progressively structured.

Contemporary conservatives say that lower taxes, laissez-faire governance, free markets and smaller government are the best ways to achieve general prosperity.  They promote tax breaks that primarily benefit taxpayers who have high incomes and high net worths. They claim that tax breaks are the best strategy to stimulate the economy and ramp up investment and create jobs and wealth.  ‘Trust us!’, they say, claiming that such policies will trickle down to benefit all Americans. Such people are essentially trying to make economic and moral justifications for greed and selfishness. 

Others see empathy-based moral values that champion both individual and social responsibility as being more important than conservative ideas that leave out the latter half of the equation.  These people understand the compelling need for protecting the common wealth and assuring ecological sanity and striving for peaceful coexistence.  They recognize an overriding need for us to restructure our societies to ensure greater economic justice.  They see that the tax system should be more steeply graduated.  They believe the government should be managed frugally and more efficiently.  They know that federal and state governments need to demonstrate greater integrity to earn the trust of citizens, so they advocate that they play stronger, smarter, more sensible roles in preventing corporate corruption and in regulating markets.  They also understand that we should find good ways to prevent institutionalized bribery and government waste and corporate fraud.  Many people also see the greater social good of fairer wages for workers, so they support rights for workers to organize to improve their bargaining power and obtain more of the benefits of increases in productivity and a fairer shake in the hard-fought struggle between capital and labor.

The Proper Role of Government in Our Lives

The main institutions that have determining influence on our national priorities are corporations and governmental entities.  Our economic system is flexible and resilient largely due to the initiative of private enterprise and small businesses and the processes of ‘creative destruction’ that allow poorly run companies to go bankrupt.  But the economy has gotten so complex that without effective Federal Reserve monetary policies and spending by the federal government, economic recessions could slide into worse depressions.  Government bureaucracies, on the other hand, can be wasteful and inflexible and vulnerable to being exploited by corporate interests and big public employee unions.   

History shows that too little regulation of business, particularly of banks and large corporations, leads to unfair dealings and bad practices and the externalizing of costs onto society.  These things can cause significant social and environmental harm.  Economic hard times generally reveal that inadequate regulation of the economy can contribute to an increase in debt leveraging and overly risky speculation and economic bubbles.  And when the government allows businesses to dominate the economy, there are inevitably undesirable increases in inequities and social injustices.

It is also clear that governments have a propensity to become swaddled in absurd levels of red tape and fiscal irresponsibility.  The federal government has indulged in unprecedented amounts of deficit spending for the past 15 years, and it panders to vested interest groups and gives ridiculously generous amounts of corporate welfare to companies that oppose innovative new initiatives and industries.  The need for fundamental reform is abundantly clear.  Instead, the only thing Congress appears to be capable of delivering is timid tinkering, or even worse, misguided legislation that is regressive, unfair and favorable mainly to interest groups that already have the most power in our dysfunctional political system.

We do not have lean government and well-regulated businesses in the U.S. mainly because CEOs and large multinational corporations have excessive influence in our national politics.  They make sure that laissez-faire ideological arguments have outsized influence, and that regulations are minimized.  As a result, businesses are subjected to ineffective rules, and they pay low amounts of corporate tax.  The reality that our public policies are too narrowly focused and too short-term oriented is almost always contrary to the common good.

The Supreme Court Sides with Corporate Dominance of our Nation

Republican appointees to the Supreme Court like John Roberts and Samuel Alito have collaborated to make rulings on a variety of issues that are downright retrogressive.  The most blatant example of this was the January 2010 Citizens United ruling that overturned campaign finance laws that had restricted corporate spending in elections.  The High Court thereby “rejected the common sense of the American people, who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt," according to one of the dissenting Justices. 

Congress should correct this challenge to the common good by enacting legislation that would make our government more responsive to the people.  One good idea is a ‘Fair Elections Now Act’.  If U.S. citizens are to have a fair voice in our national priorities, we need to find a way to govern corporations better so that their already powerful influence does not make institutional bribery even more pervasive, especially in light of this Supreme Court decision that effectively allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence election outcomes.

The time has come today for us to work together to establish goals that are more likely to result in achieving the greater good, and our leaders should cooperate together to ensure that these goals are sensibly formulated.  While powerful forces shortsightedly oppose a broadening of prosperity, our nation’s true ideals offer positive guidance.  Let us again hearken back to the ideals of our Founders.

Thomas Paine, writing in Common Sense in 1776, called government “a necessary evil.”  He argued that government should be constituted principally for the public good, and NOT for “despotic” ends.  He believed that true security for citizens is the proper purpose of government, and that national policies should be designed to ensure security at the least expense and for the broadest benefit.  His idea of the optimum form of government was one modeled after a principle of nature:  “that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered.” 

Wow! -- How far we have come from that concept!  Congress, take note!  Your popularity is at record lows for good reasons.  Complexity, not simplicity, dominates our Congressional policy-making today for the basic reason that the more complex a law is designed to be, the more fine print there will be in the law and thus the more hidden lobbyist provisions it can contain to advance the narrow goals of special interest groups.  This complexity almost always comes at the public expense.

Thomas Paine envisioned an American nation that would have a fair and representative democracy and respectable guarantees of a maximum amount of individual liberties for all citizens.  He asserted that such a form of government would be best suited to “embracing and confederating” all the various competing interests throughout a nation.  I feel strongly that it is of utmost importance for our society to become fairer and more just, and that effective mechanisms should be put in place to make sure our collective activities and resource usages are more likely to be indefinitely sustainable.  To achieve these goals, a proper balance is needed between the extremes of anarchic freedom and centralized control. 

What should the proper role of government really be in our lives?  Ronald Reagan glibly declared in his first Inaugural Address:  “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem;  government IS the problem.”  With this, Reagan set forth on a concerted effort to cut taxes for the rich, increase military spending, reduce regulations on banks and corporate entities, champion laissez-faire capitalism, and weaken the power and prerogatives of working people.  In contrast, Barack Obama stated in his Inaugural Address:  “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works for the majority of people.”  Surely we need a federal government that is less bureaucratic and less profligate where it should be, and smarter in its operations and spending and investments of taxpayer dollars.  The overriding goal should be to make government work better for the vast majority of the people.

A significant development has been taking place in the past century that requires clearer understanding.  The size of the U.S. government has increased dramatically, as measured by federal spending as a percent of Gross Domestic Product.  Such spending was less than 10% in all the years before 1918, then it spiked to almost 30% in 1919 to finance the First World War.  Government spending averaged about 12% through the decade of the 1920s, and then 20% through the Great Depression.  It spiked to more than 50% in 1945 in fighting the Second World War, and then it averaged 27% in the 1950s, 30% in the 1960s, 32% in the 1970s, 35% in the 1980s and 1990s, and 37% in the first decade of the 21st century.  This increasing trend culminated in 2009, during the financial crisis and recession, when government spending totaled more than 45% of GDP, according to data at the website, usgovernmentspending.com.

This raises a question whether such growth in the size of government is a good thing or a bad thing for the greater good.  People in conservative think tanks adduce a long list of reasons that big government is bad.  These reasons are, on the whole, somewhat convincing.  But other nations like those in Scandinavia have a higher average quality of life compared to people in the U.S., and their governments levy higher taxes and spend relatively more money than ours to provide their citizens with inexpensive college education, universal healthcare, better retirement programs, paid sick leave, more vacation time, good child care and more affordable housing.

The growth of U.S. government spending and the national debt seems like an undesirable state of affairs because it is a considerable risk to run huge budget deficits and have so much government debt, and to support unaffordably large military expenditures year after year after year.  We face the serious dilemma today that if we take drastic steps to balance the budget, it could cause another recession and increases in unemployment.  This is a lesson that was learned in 1937 and 1938, when cuts in government spending and a tightening of the money supply torpedoed a nascent economic recovery from the severe Depression.  Actions that seemed responsible at the time can thus be seen to have caused a contraction in the economy and higher joblessness.

Advocates of privatization point out that government ownership or control of resources gives political considerations more clout than economic considerations in determining how resources are allocated.  Privatization is NOT, however, the panacea for all social ills, because it also creates many problems.  Instead of advancing salubrious goals like lower costs, greater efficiency, better management and the improvement of society, the outcome of privatization is often a spike in costly no-bid contracting and excessive fees, price gouging, socialized costs, increased fraud, more unfair cronyism, and less accountability.  The privatization of government functions and concomitant deregulation can create rich new opportunities for corporations to swindle taxpayers.  These are NOT good things!

“A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back

    the minute it begins to rain.”                             

                                                --- Mark Twain

Better Ideas and Better Plans for a Better Future

It would be an excellent plan for us to manage our national affairs better, and to champion more sensible priorities and smarter, fairer governance.  Instead, we have too much red tape, dysfunctional regulation and bureaucratic inefficiencies, on the one hand, and too little good supervision, oversight and smart regulation, on the other.  And we have too much political corruption and influence peddling.

Regulatory agencies often fail to act in the public interest because of “regulatory capture”.  This term refers to the process by which powerful vested interest groups and their lobbyists succeed in getting what they want for themselves at the expense of the greater public interest.  When such regulatory capture occurs, dominant businesses and industries use their insider political power and financial resources to “capture” favors rather than allowing the agencies to fulfill the regulatory purposes they were created to enforce.  Regulatory capture operates in ways similar to the Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon in which individuals or groups with high-stakes interests in regulatory decisions or policy outcomes focus their energies and resources to gain outcomes they prefer, while members of the public, who each have only a small and less focused individual stake in the outcome, are much less influential.  When intently focused entities devote their energies to particular policies by successfully capturing agencies whose purpose is to regulate them, it almost always undermines the greater good.  One glaring instance of this was the failure of regulatory agencies like the Federal Reserve and the SEC to anticipate and prevent the financial meltdown of 2008-2009.

These facts once again lead to the inescapable conclusion that our economic and political system must be seriously reformed so that corporations and government are better managed in ways that are consistent with the greater good.

Thomas Paine noted that freedom can be dangerous in the hands of the poor, due to ignorance, just as it can be dangerous in the hands of the rich, due to excessive influence.  This is why he advocated public education to overcome ignorance, and a robust representative democracy that is strong enough to prevent political corruption. 

Both liberty and equality are important to the common good.  To the extent that these two ideals conflict, we should wisely strive to establish the fairest balance between them for the maximum number of people.  Liberties should be protected by assuring openness in our societies and the freedom of speech and religion for all, and by establishing laws that guarantee a maximum amount of economic self-determination and individual rights.  And equality should be guaranteed especially with regard to fairness of opportunity and political representation for every individual, along with equal treatment for everyone under the law.  Efforts by retrogressive leaders to bring about more extreme inequalities are anathema in a democratic society, and they should be opposed and reversed.

Broader perspectives should be welcomed.  Economists, when they are being cautious and honest, point out that it is unwise and improvident to borrow heavily from future generations for wrong-headed purposes.  They know that it is folly to promote priorities that are too short-term oriented because such courses of action are likely to leave a disastrous legacy for our descendants.  Ecological philosophers and environmentalists advise that long-term impacts should be taken into account in all assessments of courses of action taken by businesses and governments. They also provide us with cautionary tales regarding the damaging and risky impacts of activities like the depletion of fisheries and the clear-cutting of forests, and they warn us of the probable costs of global-warming-stoked climate change and the risks associated with recklessly wasteful uses of fossil fuels and fresh water and other natural resources.  They tell us that there is an overarching need for a transformation in our societies to make them sustainable.  And they remind us about the risks of failing to courageously address the causes and consequences of population overshoot.

Religious fundamentalists also weigh in on the common good, as they understand it.  They vehemently proclaim that they have the absolute truth about what is right and wrong, and what is good and evil, and what is best for us sinners. They derive their truths from a variety of ancient ‘holy books’ in which the alleged words of their particular God are interpreted by religious authorities in ways that are often curiously self-serving, domineering, doctrinaire, male chauvinistic, or inflexibly narrow-minded.  Established churches should become less socially reactionary and more of a force for good in our societies.  They should cooperate together with statesmen and diplomats to make sure they do not become forces that contribute to discriminatory prejudices, conflict, war, genocide, terrorism or ecological calamity.  They should stop opposing women’s healthcare and family planning programs and contraception, because most of the biggest challenges that face humanity are made worse by having too many people using limited resources and contributing to ecological overshoot of the carrying capacity of the Earth for our demanding kind.

      “To do good is my religion.”     

                                             --- Thomas Paine

Strategic Initiatives

George Lakoff writes about strategic initiatives in his thought-provoking book, Don’t Think of an Elephant.  Such initiatives are plans that have broad impacts across many issues.  For instance, tax cutting is a plan championed by conservatives that accomplishes a wide range of objectives they hold dear, like enriching wealthy supporters, restricting social program spending, and reducing the flexibility of government to regulate corporations and hold them accountable.

An example of a contrasting liberal ‘strategic initiative’ is the Endangered Species Act.  This law protects species, forces companies to mitigate the environmental harms they cause, helps defend public lands from unwise exploitation, and makes it more necessary to plan ahead wisely with a long-term sustainable orientation.  A progressively structured system of taxation is another example of a liberal strategic initiative, for it raises money to finance a wide variety of needed functions, and does so in a way that is equal for every person at every level of income.

George Lakoff writes about traditional American progressive values, principles and policy directions.  It seems abundantly clear to me that Broad Prosperity, Effective Government, Mutual Responsibility and a Stronger America would be better to achieve than narrower conservative ideals of a Strong Military, Strict Father Values, Laissez-Faire ‘Free’ Markets, Low Marginal Tax Rates and Ineffective Smaller Government.

Since the effect of tax breaks targeted to the already wealthy is to increase disparities of wealth, such policies make our societies less egalitarian and physically less healthy, and therefore less secure.  Contrasting policies that increase social fairness have positive implications for the overall physical and psychological health of a nation’s people.  This was proved to be true by the impacts of measures implemented in Japan after World War II.  When the U.S. occupied Japan after the unconditional Japanese surrender in 1945, many of the Allied Occupation staffers who worked under General Douglas MacArthur were policy veterans of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.  At the time, Japan was a deeply unequal society.  The Americans worked to transform it into a more equal one by using the so-called “three D’s” of economic equality:  demilitarization, democratization of the political process, and decentralization of wealth and power. 

These reforms made people in Japanese society more equal, and the population became much healthier as a result.  Sensationally, the average life span of a person in Japan was less than 45 years before World War II, and then an amazing increase in life expectancy occurred because of the public policies put into effect to increase equality in Japanese society.  Within 40 years, the people of Japan had achieved the greatest longevity of any nation in the world -- over 80 years on average!

The U.S., meanwhile, has chosen to pursue policies that are increasingly anti-egalitarian since 1980.  A significant increase in inequality in American society is revealed by trends toward more pronounced disparities in earnings and wealth between high-income earners and everyone else.  The “conservative” policies that helped create this state of affairs have led to Americans being ranked behind about 35 other countries in the world in life expectancy today.  Woe is us!  Our sadly unfair healthcare system is disturbingly costly, and so are such things as deregulatory policies that create risky economic bubbles and military policies that harm and infuriate people around the world.  We should implement initiatives that are more egalitarian (domestic 3 D’s!) to create greater fairness in our health care system, as well as in representation, opportunity, education, legal justice, taxation and the military. 

The health insurance industry is dominated by corporations obsessed with making bigger profits every year, so they have rapidly increased insurance premiums at the same time that they deny coverage to millions of people and aggressively avoid providing insurance to people who have ‘pre-existing condition’ health problems.  These strategies may be good for profits, but they are bad for the vast majority of people!

The exposure of faults and weaknesses of ideological doctrines make it clear that we need to be more flexible.  Flexibility will allow us to be more effective in achieving propitious outcomes.  Reckless consumerism, lavishly wasteful resource usages, bubble economics, trickle-down unfairness, speculative excesses, ideological shortsightedness, ruthlessly exploitive disaster capitalism, a lack of sensible regulation and oversight, and antagonism to sensible family planning programs are all facets of a doctrinal worldview that denies vital understandings about ecological well-being, sustainable resource uses, and the value of moderation and prudence and smart pragmatism.

President Obama has made efforts to create a form of post-partisan political pragmatism that would result in more positive conditions for our nation and the world.  Millions of people hoped from the day he was first elected that he would succeed in fostering truly farsighted, even transcendent change.  A review of Obama’s first seven years in office reveals how astonishingly high the hurdles are to basic reforms and positive change in our political system, and it is astonishing how rancorous the Republican opposition has been to his efforts.  But this in no way diminishes the overarching need for fair-minded cooperative problem solving!

The Long View of Historical Change

Our Founders made a courageous commitment to the creation of a nation based on ideals of individual liberty, equality, social justice, fair representation and limited government.  They did this to “promote the general Welfare”, as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  We have been trying to live up to these ideals ever since. 

Many progressive milestones have been enacted to achieve these ideals, and to reduce the gap between America’s ideals and reality.  Salient examples of this progress are the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, the legal freeing of black slaves in 1865, the granting to women of the right to vote in 1920, various worker protections established during the twentieth century, the New Deal that included a Social Security system and other safety net programs that were created in the 1930s, Medicare for Americans age 65 and older that was established in 1965, and consumer rights, investor rights and civil rights that were strengthened in the 1960s along with vital environmental protections set forth in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Wilderness Act of 1964. 

This progress has been difficult to achieve, and America has at times slid backwards, especially during times of war.  For instance, habeas corpus rights were denied during the Civil War;  dissent was suppressed during World War I;  Americans of Japanese ancestry were deprived of their rights and property and freedom when they were interned in prison camps during World War II;  illegal surveillance was done on anti-war groups and the underground press during the Vietnam War;  and numerous incursions have been made against civil liberties, privacy and other fundamental citizen rights in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  This is another good reason for citizens to demand that their government resort to war ONLY when all other alternatives have been completely exhausted, and to have a defensive strategy, not an aggressively offensive one.

Nonetheless, the long trajectory of American political history has been toward a fuller realization of our Founding ideals. This includes a clearer recognition of the overarching importance of doctrines that emphasize fairness and the common good.  After the original 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 in a Big Bang of revolutionary zeal and joined together to form the United States of America, our Founders established a government with a strong system of checks and balances. They recognized with visceral immediacy the extreme undesirability of abuses of power and taxation without fair representation, so they created a new form of government that governed under the auspices of a democratic Constitution and Bill of Rights and fair-minded rules of law.  The Founders were justifiably suspicious of big government, big businesses, infringements on personal freedoms, entangling alliances, and anything that would subvert the will of the people.

Today, another revolutionary transformation is required to ensure that we continue our historical progress toward reforms that make our societies better.  Our nation’s policies should be made more consonant with the bigger-picture greater good, and we really should strive to realize a new and more positive relationship between all of humanity and the web of life that includes and sustains us. 

This new relationship should include a fairer and smarter balance between common good goals and (1) the goals of consumers, who want good values at low prices, (2) the goals of investors, who want to get high investment returns, regardless of the harm this may cause to society and the environment, (3) the goals of government employees, who too often appear to be more concerned with getting greater benefits for themselves than fairly serving the public, and (4) the impulse of corporations that want to maximize profits by getting subsidies, tax reductions, and expanded privileges to externalize worker healthcare costs and pollution and environmental damage costs onto society.

This new relationship can probably not be achieved in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling that overturned limitations on campaign financing.  The way to establish this new relationship now is for Congress to honorably formulate intelligent rules that honestly help ensure that the best interests of We the People will be more fairly represented.

Common Sense and Precautionary Principles

Humanity has been making enormous gambles, rather than acting with precautionary sensibility.  Our leaders have stimulated debt leverage and risk-taking, creating a severe financial crisis in 2008.  They have hyped up wars and religious conflicts and dominant forces have continued their unmitigated exploitation of planetary ecosystems, damaging them mindlessly even though we ultimately depend on them completely.  And we let religious fundamentalists and social conservatives have domineering influence in our societies in opposition to sensible family planning measures and broader initiatives to educate and empower women.

One of the most sensible strategies would be to follow more honest and reasonable approaches that are focused on actions and behaviors consistent with shared prosperity and the common good.  This idea is similar to the “no regrets” approach that serves as the basis for the precautionary principle enunciated in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.  This principle states: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

All legislative considerations should include a Precautionary Principle of ecological propriety. Such principles should be designed to make sure we “pay forward” deeds that are propitious to our heirs, rather than leaving them a legacy of depleted resources, polluted environs, widespread injustices, record levels of debt and ruthlessly internecine conflicts.  To the extent that our actions damage the environment and are clearly not sustainable, new methods should be developed to guarantee the vitality of the environment and protect the prospects of life on Earth in coming years.  We simply cannot continue to plunder the planet without regard for the consequences of our actions. 

We should also establish a Precautionary Social Principle that enshrines a fair and bipartisan concern for the common good as the highest value.  Barack Obama was right when he noted that “a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”  An ethical earthquake is needed to shake up our entrenched, wasteful and inequitable priorities, and to emasculate shortsighted doctrines and deceptive propaganda. 

Another Precautionary Principle is needed in arenas of economics and finance.  Adequate regulations should be maintained to prevent economic bubbles, destabilizing national debt, and unsustainable schemes.  The ‘Ponzi scheme’ perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, which “robbed Peter to pay Paul”, cost thousands of people their life savings.  And a far larger Ponzi-type scheme continues unabated;  it is an insidiously inter-generational one -- the Social Security system.  Current workers pay taxes from their earnings to the government for Social Security.  These funds are immediately transferred to people who have reached the age of retirement.  As more and more people retire and the number of people collecting Social Security funds increases, the burden on current workers becomes more oppressive.  Eventually the system will be bankrupt unless it is restructured and made more financially sound.  Without a growing population of working younger people and immigrants, the Social Security scheme will fall apart as currently structured.  It is like a Ponzi scheme rather than a sound retirement plan because money from today’s workers is given to retirees rather than being saved and invested for future obligations.  The federal government has, in fact, borrowed every cent and more of Social Security “surpluses” for decades and then commingled the money with general funds and squandered it on the exigencies and excesses of the moment. 

It is time to honestly begin treating Social Security as an insurance plan rather than a fully funded retirement plan, as spelled out 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.

A Precautionary Principle of Reproductive Responsibility should also be embraced.  Nadya Suleman represents a metaphor for human irresponsibility;  she is the woman who had six children she could not afford to support, and nonetheless sought artificial fertility procedures that resulted in the birth of octuplets -- another eight children! -- in January 2009.  Just as Nadya Suleman was stupidly selfish, and her fertility doctors were outrageously irresponsible, we collectively are being foolish to deny that we cannot afford to continue policies that encourage rapid population growth. 

The quality of life for our children, NOT the number of them we can spawn, must become a more important consideration.  From this qualitative standpoint, the opposition of conservatives to family planning programs should be overcome and rejected.  Public family planning programs prevent about 2 million unwanted pregnancies and 800,000 abortions every year, according to a study by Guttmacher Institute.  This saves billions of dollars in taxpayer money. 

The Promise of More Fairly Shared Prosperity

Worker productivity rose more than 100% from the end of World War II until 1974.  Simultaneously, the median family income rose by a similar amount.  From 1974 through 2007, however, worker productivity increased by over 80% while median family income barely increased.  To create a fairer system in which prosperity is more broadly shared, we need to implement policies that reconnect real growth in wages to worker productivity.  This can be done by tying both management and worker incentives to performance, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening labor laws, and expanding education and job training.

Studs Terkel was a working class hero who died in 2008 at the age of 96.  Studs was a journalist who stood up against the Establishment in defending the rights of workers and the common good.  He always seemed to be a step ahead of everyone else, opposing fascism and McCarthyism in his early years.  At a time when the mainstream media was largely enthralled by propaganda of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” in 1986, Studs neatly sized up the era:  “The only thing trickling down from the top is meanness.”

Studs Terkel received a Lifetime Achievement award in 2006 from a workers’ advocacy organization named American Rights at Work.  After accepting the award, he said: “What brings workers together can be a belief, a hope of improving the climate and community at work -- the spaces where so many of us spend so much of our lives.  Respect on the job, and a voice at the workplace, shouldn't be something Americans have to work overtime to achieve.”  Right on!  It would be a great contribution to the common good to find ways to deal more respectfully with working people, and to provide them with fairer compensation and more influence at work.

Hurrah for the late Studs Terkel!  Asked if he was optimistic about the future, Terkel was cautious, but he did say that “you’ve gotta have hope.  Hope dies last.”  Hope is good, and it is even better with actualizing energy to provide better prospects of flourishing and salvation in the here and now.

A Progressive ‘Slippery Slope Strategic Initiative’ for the Greater Good

Think about the scope and nature of our human activities, and how exhaustively and rapidly we are depleting natural resources like fossil fuels.  Consider also the enormous wealth transfer from the United States to oil producing nations, and the cost of fighting wars in the Middle East to protect access to oil supplies.  And think about deforestation and the billions of tons of greenhouse gases we are spewing into the atmosphere every year, and related phenomena of global warming and changes in global weather patterns, all of which contribute to growing environmental problems and the depletion of biological diversity on our wonderful home planet.  Here are some of the most serious and far-reaching challenges that humankind has ever faced, and it is simply astonishing that ALL these existentially daunting obstacles could be effectively addressed with the same policy prescription:  by committing to making significant investments in a new Apollo-like program to develop renewable energy alternatives, more efficient resource usages and better ways of conserving fossil fuels. 

A bold strategic initiative like this would contribute to solving problems adduced above, and it would also create jobs, improve public health, mitigate impacts of anthropogenic climate disruptions, and potentially help developing countries with new technologies for their energy needs.  By reducing existing subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear industries, and increasing investments in new energy alternatives, there would be a desirable movement away from our dependence on polluting non-renewable resources.

But powerful resistance exists to such courses of action. This is ironic, since a sensible restructuring of our economies is clearly needed to make our human activities sustainable over the coming decades and centuries.  Partisan bickering, ideological struggles and greedy vested interests tend to hijack our priorities and cause us to fail to solve overarching problems. 

Everyone across the entire political spectrum from very conservative to very liberal should be willing to come together to form a broad consensus as to the optimal courses of action for the greater good.  Then we need to support good plans to achieve these courses of action.  This should include incentives and disincentives designed to motivate people to act in more responsible and providential ways, which would be among the best means for ensuring that we move along a pragmatic path toward more likely well-being in the long term.

The proposal to implement an eminently fair-minded fee-and-dividend plan is so compellingly convincing that it is astonishing that we Americans cannot put it into effect.  Only political corruption and excessive influence by fossil fuel industries stands in the way.

Here is this concept presented in Climate Change Considerations, Carrying Capacity, and Population Overshoot:

“Marvelously, there are good solutions to daunting dilemmas like climate change that confront us.  Putting a much higher price on carbon emissions through a fee-and-dividend plan, for instance, would create powerful incentives for the conservation of resources and efficient uses of fossil fuels.  Such a system could be structured in non-regressive and egalitarian ways that would be fair to the majority of Americans, including people living in poverty and those struggling in the middle class.  It also would be vastly fairer to people in future generations to take such action to slow the depletion of fossil fuel resources and reduce the culminating harm we are doing to natural ecosystems by failing to rein in emissions.”

The motto of Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations is “Be Prepared”.  Everyone can try to prepare himself or herself better to deal with challenges and potential emergencies by knowing the right thing to do at the right moment, and then doing it.  The moment has come for us all to be prepared to support smarter priorities.  Lend your voice!

Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Obliviousness

The Copenhagen Climate Change summit held in December 2009 was said to be one of the most remarkable meetings of world leaders in history.  The summit emphasized the scientific evidence and facts of global warming and highlighted the failures since the 1997 Kyoto Accords to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.  The summit unfortunately failed to produce strong steps to avert future climate disasters, principally because powerful vested interests blocked effective reforms.  The summit also made it clear that a minority of people obtusely deny the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence that reveals global warming IS occurring, AND that it is caused in large part by human activities that include the burning of fossil fuels, the cutting down of vast tracts of forests, and the maintenance of large herds of methane-gas-producing cattle and sheep.

A reasonable surcharge on energy use should be included in prices of all products and services to fund mitigations of climate change impacts.  Rational individuals and societies should be willing to pay this cost as a form of insurance against future damages.  Suppose, for instance, that there is a 10% probability that climate change will cost $10 trillion within 50 years, plus an untold amount of human suffering associated with increased probabilities of widespread flooding of islands and coastal areas and failures of regional food production due to more frequent powerful storms and intense droughts.  Should we not be required to pay an additional 10% of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, or some such similar measure, to finance preventative and remedial measures like reforestation, conservation, efficient uses of energy, and investments in greener renewable alternatives to fossil fuels? 

It is a distinct ‘tragedy of the commons’ that individuals and vested interest groups are so strongly opposed to paying a reasonable and affordable on-going price to prevent or mitigate such risks.  This is a matter of political will.  We could dramatically alter our current propensities by using wisely-targeted incentives and disincentives.  Market methods like this have been proven to be very effective in modifying collective demands and behaviors, and they seem to be one of the fairest ways to affect people’s actions.  Precisely-targeted incentives and disincentives should be implemented that would change our collective course of harmful activities.  This would be preferable to alternatives like burdensome laws and regulations, in general, since they are fairer mechanisms for influencing the choices people make.

Climate Change Deniers

The psychological underpinnings of those who deny that human beings are contributing to global warming and climate change are ‘curious and curiouser’.  So what, they say, if the human race is spewing tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year?  So what if this has caused the concentration of carbon-dioxide to increase from 280 ppm to more than 400 ppm in a geologic instant?  So what if this trend is almost certain to result in more than 500 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere within a century?  Gee, say the skeptics, it’s still real cold in Chicago in the winter, and a little warming would be quite welcome!  So what if we happen to flood more than 100 million people out of coastal areas worldwide in the next 100 years?  These ‘deniers’ cling to narrow ideologies propagated by entrenched interest groups that say we simply can’t afford to alter our habits and shift incentives from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.  They even seem to deny that renewable energy sources are a better plan than aggressive exploitation of the remaining fossil fuel resources in the world.  Climate change deniers often seem to think that liberals and the majority of scientists are too radical because they advocate that we take precautionary steps.  I believe differently!  We should seek the most accurate understandings, and follow where they lead!

Record snowfalls paralyzed Washington D.C. in February 2010 when severe winter storms hit much of the East Coast.  Climate change deniers were practically apoplectic with jubilant derision about this alleged refutation of the fact that the planet has been on a warming trend for decades.  Sean Hannity on Fox News took advantage of the snowfalls to declare that these weather events “seem to contradict Al Gore’s hysterical global-warming theories.”  Amazing!  Even junior high school students know that scientists have been warning for many years that atmospheric warming will inject more energy into the climate system and cause more extreme weather events of all kinds, including more severe floods and droughts and hurricanes and yes, extreme cold snaps and snowstorms.  Weather and climate are different things, guys, and as one pundit put it, “we owe it to our offspring” to know the difference.

Deniers not only seem to reject precautionary principles, but they also seem to be zealously willing to gamble that current trends will not result in a double-glazing warming of the Earth in coming years.  These skeptics hold this risk-taking conviction mainly so that people will not be collectively required to invest responsibly in an effort to begin the inevitable necessity of weaning our civilizations from our addiction to the burning of limited reserves of non-renewable fossil fuels.  Most of these deniers admit that changes in weather patterns have been taking place in recent decades, but they dispute that increasing incidences of record-unusual storms, melting glaciers, heat waves and droughts are actually related to human activities.  Maybe it’s just sunspots, they say.

These same people tend to be the ones on the radical right who rashly support aggressive American military occupations of Middle Eastern nations.  They are often the same ones who buy the shrewd propaganda that says the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were unrelated to our economic efforts to assure access to global supplies of oil.  The largest remaining reserves of oil on Earth are located in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and other Persian Gulf countries, and this fact poses real risks to our well-being and security. 

The U.S. has already burned more than 200 billion barrels of oil from its own domestic reserves.  As these reserves dwindle and we frack the hell out of underground formations, the temptation tends to increase to use military means to assure access to oil supplies.  In international matters, we should always remember that our greatness as a nation can best be measured by our free, fair and peaceful trade with other nations, not by our coercive military might.

What happened to our faith in free markets, fair competition, cooperative problem-solving, peaceful coexistence and respect for the sovereignty of people in other countries?  Why are we so eager to involve our nation in preemptive warfare when threats to our national security are not imminent?  Could our military aggression in Iraq actually have been merely a front for our supremacist hubris and resource needs and greed?  Shouldn’t all nations agree that every nation should, without exception, honestly and fairly compete for declining reserves of fossil fuels and other resources?

Climate change deniers are not stupid people, but they sure are easily duped by corporate spin that says we should allow costs related to pollution and climate-related natural disasters to be foisted onto society.  Such people sometimes figuratively have poor peripheral vision, or are most comfortable when they wear blinders.  It may be convenient for them to cherry-pick facts and distort accurate understandings in favor of more constricted points of view, but the time has come for us to see and seek the most propitious perspectives for the long-term common good, rather than merely for short-term advantages and profit-making.

It is easy to be cynical about people who deny the risks of global warming and climate change.  It seems preposterous that they can be so strongly opposed to economic initiatives that would require every product and service to include a small assessment to mitigate future climate catastrophes.  Such insurance is needed to minimize the extent to which we unleash harmful impacts on people in future generations.  Shouldn’t we be much more responsible for taking actions to definitively guarantee that our home planet remains habitable?

Why Are Common Good Values So Often Subverted?

Vested interest groups fight ferociously to gain and maintain perks and privileges for themselves.  Our system unfortunately panders to many things contrary to the common good.  Workers, investors, homeowners, consumers, retirees, and people both rich and poor all tend to want the most they can get from the government for themselves.  Our political system is dominated by insider groups that include corporate CEOs, bankers, wealthy people, Wall Street ‘masters of the universe’, retirees, union members and religious conservatives.  As a result, these interests manage to skew our national policies to their own narrow advantages, while the general public is betrayed by big corporations and government.  Those with the most influence win this serious game, and those who have little power have little voice, and consequently lose.  Big ambitions for making profits should not succeed so wildly while ambitions for the self-preservation of humanity fail.

   “Men of aim must always rule the aimless.  Yet there will always be singing birds.”

                                                                                                                           --- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Expediencies often dominate our national decision-making, to the pronounced detriment of the average person.  The most harmful expediency in the long run is our sacrifice of the foundations of a good quality of life for people in future generations because of our unwillingness to find ways to live within our means today.  It is folly to borrow huge sums of money from everyone in the future instead of courageously seeking to achieve a better balance between spending and revenues.

In addition, it is unwise to use up natural resources as fast as humanly possible, and to deplete and degrade fresh water resources and pollute and dump obscene amounts of toxic wastes into the environment.  These activities damage habitats and ecosystems and drive untold numbers of species of life toward eternal extinction, effectively reducing vitally important biological diversity.  Is nothing sacred anymore?  We also obstruct initiatives for social justice and let the status quo prevail even in the face of absurd policies like excessively risky banking deregulation and speculative debt leveraging, instability-creating bubble economic policies, outrageous healthcare inequities and amoral profiteering by the military-industrial complex and health insurance corporations and Big Pharma and Big Oil. 

Deconstructing Social Darwinism

Ironies abound in our crazy world.  Who would have imagined, for instance, that the “conservative” political party would work so steadfastly to undermine precautionary ecological principles?  Who would have been able to guess that political conservatives would be the main ones who would recklessly promote risk-engendering deregulation, bubble economics, and fiscally imprudent deficit spending from 2000 to 2008?  Who would have thought that conservatives would thus be most responsible for causing the most serious global economic crisis since the 1930s?  Who would have anticipated that Republican rule would have led to bigger government, and consequently to an urgent need for even BIGGER government and more government interventions to bail out the banking industry and to stimulate spending to create jobs and get the economy out of its hardship-engendering doldrums? 

Who, for that matter, would have thought that social conservatives would reject Charles Darwin’s scientific understandings of biological evolution while at the same time finding such mesmerizing merit in theories of Social Darwinism that justify special advantages for the few and the imposition of austerity policies that are contrary to many of the principles and ideals that our Founders held dear? 

Social Darwinism is a theory that sees the struggle for existence in all societies, driven by fierce competition and the survival of the fittest, and in effect concludes that this competition overrides needs for ethical fairness in the social compact between citizens.  Social Darwinism rationalizes the domination of the weak by the strong, and this ideology is used to justify the deepening of class inequalities, the intensification of resource exploitation, the oppression of workers, and even military imperialism.  The Social Darwinist theory was first formulated by philosopher Herbert Spencer during the inegalitarian Gilded Age of so-called ‘robber barons’ in the mid to late 1800s, and he coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to justify a political philosophy that opposed humanitarian justice initiatives.

By championing such simplistic and selfish theories, Social Darwinists try to undermine constraints like social justice, fair-minded democratic governance, and equal treatment of all citizens.  They portray sink-or-swim capitalist gambits as being necessary and inevitable, instead of recognizing how vitally important it is to establish a fairer social compact.  This ideology has been used as a justification of pathetic policies that are opposed to the egalitarian principles enunciated by our Founding Fathers.  It does so by promoting profit making and “progress” in an oddly retrogressive sense, and by discounting the general welfare and other fair-minded values. 

The fact that accidents, diseases, bankruptcy and other adversities can afflict anyone at any time suggests that the best system a society could establish would be one that provides fair opportunities for every person to improve their circumstances, while also creating a social safety net for everyone that is affordable in total.  Healthy societies should establish effective incentives and disincentives to guide entrepreneurs and businesses, and they should encourage them to operate successfully in ways that are consistent with the common good.

In actual fact, Social Darwinism appeals to entrepreneurs and industrialists and rich people because it gives a deterministic and seemingly superior moral justification to the schemes of capitalists in their long-fought struggle against fairness to workers.  Social Darwinism is used as an ideological argument to persuade people of the desirability of laissez-faire policies and reduced regulation of corporate entities.  This ideology is advocated in conjunction with traditional methods used by capitalists to suppress the prerogatives of labor, which include the coercion of workers, efforts to undermine the freedom of workers to organize and bargain collectively, corrupt politics, the oppression of minorities and people in lower classes, and even outright violence against workers.

We’ve had quite enough of Wall Street financial elites and corporate CEOs who rig our economic system to gain outlandish blessings for themselves at the expense of the stability of the system and the greater good.  The costs of allowing this state of affairs are proving to be excessively high.  It has become starkly apparent in recent years that weak economic and financial conditions can create negative feedback loops that reinforce themselves and threaten to spiral into even worse problems.

Economic turmoil creates a risky state of affairs.  Volatile job markets and home values and equities markets and high levels of national debt, along with a sustained non-productive cost of wars-without-end, are all converging to cause increasing threats to our national security and well-being.  It would be a better plan to ensure a sound economy with moderate levels of consumption, slowly rising asset values, a balanced level of risk-taking and reasonably limited debt leveraging than to stimulate boom-and-bust economic bubbles, lavishly wasteful consumerism, unsustainable usages of resources, poorly regulated risk-taking, high levels of leveraging and volatile asset values.

Many people might disagree with these ideas.  The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, for instance, undertook a monumental assault on what she saw as collectivist ideas in her novel Atlas Shrugged.  She created a towering paean to individualism, rational self-interest and personal freedom in this novel and other works, and she harshly portrayed forces like government and organized labor that fight against the presumed deserving triumph of industrialists and selfish motives.  Let us honestly debate ideas like these, and create a new approach that incorporates our best understandings in light of the common good in the long term.

Parenthetically, Ayn Rand’s first name is pronounced to rhyme with “mine”.  This little known fact is curiously appropriate because her philosophy was staunchly oriented around selfishness and egoism.  Mine, mine, mine, chimed Ayn!

In the context of these deliberations, let us seek the truth and implications contained in Senator Teddy Kennedy’s remarks when he said:

“If by a liberal, they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind; someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions; someone who cares about the welfare of the people, their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties;  someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicion that grips us, if that is what they mean by a liberal, I am proud to be a liberal.”                

                               --- Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 1932 – 2009

A Compelling Case for Better Ways of Achieving Peace

One of the subtexts of all Earth Manifesto writings is that a stronger role for women would be a positive thing for our societies. Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary for President Clinton from early 1993 until the end of 1994, advocated this idea in her book Why Women Should Rule the World.  She noted that women have stronger inclinations to cooperate and seek a win/win consensus than men do, so in nations where women are educated and empowered, democracy is stronger and those nations are characterized by a greater cooperative spirit, and generally have fairer and more practical priorities.  Women in power tend to favor spending on health, nutrition and education, and to be less eager to commit excessive amounts of money to the military. 

Dee Dee Myers writes that history reveals an increased likelihood for a nation to get involved in wars when that nation spends heavily on its military.  She concludes from this fact that policies oriented toward making more generous investments in the education and empowerment of women would instead providentially provide a powerful impetus for fewer wars.  See A Peaceable Proposition: The Golden Rule ‘Greening’ of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Earth Manifesto, and Reflections on War – and Peace for deeper introspection into important ideas about this topic.

Politics Makes Odd Bedfellows!

  “The Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work -- and then gets elected

       and proves it.”     

                             --- Political satirist and writer P.J. O’Rourke

Political expediencies create some very odd alliances. Republicans were traditionally the party of small government, but they have been the most ardent supporters of a large and interventionist military and they have frequently championed the ideological and practical goals of expanded corporate power and vested interest privilege.  The Republican Party continues to affiliate itself with rigid religious fundamentalists who oppose the rights of women to determine their own destinies when it comes to choosing to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  And most conservative Republican politicians indulge in red-button-social-issue politicking when they almost unanimously align themselves with government intrusiveness in women’s lives, as can be seen by their staunch opposition to Planned Parenthood clinics and allowing women the last resort of choosing to have a safe abortion, even in cases of rape or incest or a high risk of complications in a pregnancy that is likely to kill the woman.

Why Are Our Public Decision-Making Processes So Messed Up?

Mark Twain once observed:  “In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination."   

It is becoming increasingly important for us to honestly examine our beliefs and the things we are told by our leaders, and to make better public policy decisions in light of these better understandings.  We should base our decisions on the broadest range of relevant facts and information, and on fairer and more clearly established priorities. Unfortunately, our public decision-making is powerfully affected by biases, selfish ideologies and the undue influence of narrowly-focused vested interests.

Researchers have found that there is an apparently genetic component to the way we see and feel the world.  In a study done in Nebraska, a surprisingly strong correlation was found between the degree a person is susceptible to sudden noises or scary images and how strongly they hold political opinions.  It turns out that conservatives tend to be much more easily frightened than liberals.  This means that there may actually be a basic biological component of political beliefs.  This is one reason that actuating people’s fears is such an effective way to manipulate them.

This research was reported in the September 2008 issue of the prestigious journal Science, in an article titled “Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits”. The researchers found a strong correlation between political views and unconscious reactions to immediate threats.  The subjects had been tested for strongly-felt attitudes related to issues like foreign aid, military spending, gun control, the death penalty, the Iraq war, warrantless searches, the Patriot Act, torture of political prisoners, women’s rights, premarital sex, school prayer, gay marriage and immigration policies. 

The researchers explored this so-called ’Startle Reflex” and found that people tend to react either strongly or more calmly to a sudden threat.  Watch out!  Those who had the most significant physical reaction to stimuli tended to have conservative attitudes on political issues, and those who had calmer responses tended to have liberal attitudes toward these issues. 

So people not only have rational reasons for philosophical differences on issues and deeply ingrained socially-conditioned biases, but even biological predispositions that affect what they believe.  When we recognize this, we can see that it is important for us to communicate better and debate more honestly, and be more willing to compromise on finding the best plans for public policies. While it would be advantageous for us to reduce the institutionalized bribery in our dysfunctional political system so that rich people and lobbyists do not dominate it so excessively, we also need to find ways to facilitate constructive public debate so that we can find the fairest compromises between all competing interests.  To do so, we need to keep in mind the greater good, as it is most reasonably assessed in light of the long-term best interests of society as a whole.  A focus on long-term goals is sometimes even a good way to make better things happen in the short run.

How can we diffuse the hyper-partisanship that gives public support to ideological arguments that affect our public policy making?  Deep subtexts affect partisan conflicts, as was evident in the absurdly preposterous ‘birther’ controversy that was fomented against President Obama by the extreme conservative fringe.  Those folks cultivated suspicions about Barack Obama’s citizenship and rejected definitive proofs of it.  This and many other facts make it clear how difficult it will be to overcome deep biases, racism, economic fundamentalism and radical anti-environmentalism in our society.  By having constructive debate in our communities and working together, and by marginalizing those with extreme viewpoints, we could move forward together toward a rosier future.

A marvel-inducing conundrum confronts us with the rise of Trumpism.  Americans apparently don't really want politicians who tell it like it is, they seem instead to want politicians to “tell it like it isn't.”  During the run-up to the 2016 national elections, politicians have been making promises that are bigger and bolder and less tethered to reality than those of previous presidential races.  “Voters appear to want candidates who will deliver nothing short of their wildest partisan dreams (and delusions), alongside the unconditional silence and submission of their ideological adversaries.”

We are living in topsy-turvy times in which shrewd politicians are channeling the anger and frustrations of disaffected people by exploiting their increasingly desperate anxieties and the growing envy of the Have Nots, while also obsequiously pandering to the increasingly passionate jealousies of the Haves, in reaction.

These mega trends are playing out in a context of national priorities that are excessively focused on contributing to increases in inequalities and fomented discord and stoked passions and goaded anger and trumped up feelings of frustration and disaffection.

Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, along with extreme conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and some Fox News commentators have riled up people’s passions over religion and women's reproductive prerogatives and the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women and other hot button social issues, but let us not “take our eyes off the birdie”.  Astonishingly better governance and policy-making are achievable, and marching to the tune of bigots and billionaires is not the right way to achieve these desirable goals.

John Steinbeck gave voice to downtrodden folks like migrant farm workers who faced harsh conditions in a society without a social safety net and the refugees who were forced to flee the Dust Bowl in the Midwest during the hard times of the Great Depression.  He saw clearly that dissatisfactions and political unrest grow most riotously in the fertile soil of economic despair and social upheaval.  It was in such soil that the fascist demagogue Adolph Hitler rose to power by exploiting the German people’s feelings of humiliation and desperate struggle due to the hard times that followed World War I and the harsh reparations imposed by the victors of that war, which included a severe hyper-inflation that buffeted the Weimar Republic as a consequence. 

Today we should strive to improve conditions so that the soil is prepared for a saner and more providential harvest, and we should avoid sowing bitter seeds.

Opportunities and Obstacles

A French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States for 9 months in 1831.  After his return to France, he wrote the renowned book, Democracy in America, in which he provided insightful observations about our nation and its politics, economy and people.  One idea he introduced was “self-interest rightly understood”.  This concept is valuable in the world today because of the seriously adverse consequences being suffered as a result of misguided understandings of what actually constitutes true self-interest and the common good. Ultimately, our prosperity must be consistent with basic human values, and with an adequately protected environment and renewable resource usages and a sustainable economy -- AND with a stable number of people on Earth, rather than a rapidly increasing number.

Proponents of specific special interest groups focus intently on their goals, so they are well organized to assert their power and exert powerful pressure on politicians for special privileges and benefits.  In contrast, common good interests are less immediate and somewhat less tangible, so they generally do not have equally strongly committed proponents.  This is why the priorities in our political system that are socially beneficial do not receive the support they should.  Tragic assaults on the commons result, along with rapid resource depletion and the unethical exploitation of government corruption and profligacy.

People who believe in economic fundamentalism, and others like those who formulate policies in right-wing think tanks, tend to cloak their arguments in spurious convictions about why courses of action are most desirable for the nation that just happen to serve their own greedy interests and those of the cash-flush constituencies that finance such propaganda.  The tickle-down theory that champions tax cuts to be given overwhelmingly to rich people, for instance, is an example of narrow-minded and often dangerous perspectives of such people.  Ideologies like this facilitate greed, selfishness, shortsighted politics, partisan intransigence and wrong-headed ideological certitudes, all of which can detrimentally affect our world.

It is sensational how effectively the inertial forces of the status quo are subverting “change you can believe in”.  Wall Street bankers have grabbed huge bailouts and obstructed meaningful reform of the banking system;  we have been unable to make our system of taxation significantly more progressive;  and the best ideas for really good healthcare reform have been torpedoed, even though many millions of people are being made less secure by these developments. 

The need to get Big Money out of the driver’s seat of our political system is becoming clearer every day!  And the challenges to this goal have been dramatically ratcheted up by the narrow majority of conservatives on the Supreme Court while Antonin was still alive, and by their rulings that corporations and wealthy people should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on influencing elections.  “Free speech” for Americans is being dealt a blow in favor of ‘paid speech’ by corporations.  We really need to reform our system, and do so boldly, and soon!

As the League of Women Voters succinctly states, “When citizens are frozen out of the process, government doesn’t respond to our needs -- it only serves special interests.”  The organization rightly recommends that we need to take our democracy back from corporate and partisan interests.

Context and Perspective

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”

                                                         --- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

These opening lines by the famous British author Charles Dickens launched his tale of London and Paris during a period of economic and social turmoil in England and France in the latter half of the 18th century.  Taxes and war-engendered national debt were oppressive in France at that time.  This was the period of King Louis XVI’s reign from 1774 to 1792, a time characterized by popular discontent and political unrest that culminated in the French Revolution of 1789, a violent upheaval of the people against the oppressive aristocracy.  Charles Dickens concluded the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, quoted above, by noting that “… in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”  Today, such hyperbole lives on!

Similar outrage against tyranny and neglect of the common good contributed to the Revolutionary War by colonials against British hegemony that began in 1776 and continued until 1783.  At a bleak point early in that war, Thomas Paine, the English immigrant to the American colonies who had become a passionate advocate for American independence, noted in a pamphlet titled The American Crisis:  These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Today we are living in another era with widespread economic, political and social turmoil.  Once again it seems like the best of times and the worst of times.  And once again our souls are being figuratively tried.  In addition to serious domestic problems, there are many violent conflicts around the world, and poverty, hunger and strife haunt societies worldwide. 

The crisis today involves impacts that are more intricately intertwined and global in scope than ever before.  Environmental side effects of agricultural and industrial activities are growing more complex and more damaging every year, and human activities are causing increasingly ominous changes in the basic ecological and climatic conditions on Earth.  All these conditions together are contributing to dramatic social and geopolitical challenges around the globe. 

Economic and social malaise provides us with a “dangerous opportunity” to reform our econopolitical systems and to invest in a more positive future.  In theory, the recent financial crisis should have made it necessary to alter the absurd aspects of partisan politics.  As playwright Tony Kushner wrote:  “There are moments in history when the fabric of everyday life unravels, and there is this unstable dynamism that allows for incredible social change in short periods of time.  People and the world they're living in can be utterly transformed, either for the good or the bad, or some mixture of the two.” 

We should not have let that crisis go to waste!  We should have taken advantage of the opportunity to transform our societies in ways that are best for the common good in the long run.  We should be more honest with ourselves and embrace a new freethinking “Great Awakening” that is attuned to accurate understandings and common sense and prudence -- AND to fairness to future generations.  This modern Great Awakening should be far-seeing and ecologically smart, in contrast to historical episodes of “awakenings” that were bizarrely obedient to blind faith in religious myths and strictly fundamentalist interpretations of ancient “holy scriptures”. 

Let us acknowledge the strong connection between the unprecedented rapid growth in the number of human beings on Earth and all the overarching problems that face humanity, including human-caused climate disruptions, fresh water shortages, deforestation, habitat destruction, wildlife decimation, resource depletion, ocean acidification, poverty, inter-generational conflicts, violent wars, injustice and terrorism.  Let us accept more responsibility for the future well-being of our species, including environmental responsibility, fiscal responsibility, social responsibility and reproductive responsibility. 

Like a kaleidoscope colorfully morphing from one configuration to another, the relative equilibrium of our societies is being shattered by economic hard times for millions of people.  During this unsettled interregnum, we have the great opportunity to create a more sustainable and sensible future.  We should find better ways to prevent powerful vested interest groups from hijacking our societies, as they have done during other crises.  Naomi Klein writes about this tendency in her valuable book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  During a crisis, we are more vulnerable to increased injustices and fraudulent forms of profiteering and the imposition of harsh austerity measures and more authoritarian forms of government.  For this reason, we should choose to use periods of radical upheaval to implement real reforms, and not just yield to reactive and manipulative forces. 

During times of unrest and upheaval, whether personal or societal, it behooves us to learn the larger lessons contained in the challenges and to make “the growth choice, not the fear choice”.  In this way, we can take good advantage of adversity and improve our lives and future prospects.  As our nation took desperate measures to contain the economic contagion caused by the bursting of the engineered real estate and equities bubbles, we should have realistically evaluated what has taken place, and why.  We should also “think outside the box” for optimal solutions.  In addition to the ideas explored herein, I highly recommend a review of the specific proposals in Common Sense Revival, or in Part Four of the Earth Manifesto online, particularly One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.

New Directions:  Progressive, Not Regressive

Entrenched interest groups that support the status quo are extraordinarily powerful, and they are generally staunchly opposed to changes that would benefit the common good.  In 2008, the American people voted for “change we can believe in”, and we really should seriously begin to make fundamental changes that are needed in our government and business world.  Our failure to do so is propelling powerful efforts for revolutionary change like that advocated by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and this failure is also giving negative impetus to anti-establishment sentiment in the Republican presidential primaries in 2016.  I feel strongly that stoking partisan conflict is a much worse strategy than uniting and cooperating together with fair-minded intention so that truly important goals can be achieved.  We should seek common ground on what these goals should be, and on how best to accomplish them.  Then we should commit our societies to act in ways consistent with these goals to achieve them.

We should begin to make the federal government a bit leaner, and stimulate the powerful engine of small businesses to create jobs and drive us out of the current economic morass.  We should help finance micro-loans to people and reduce interest rates on student loans, rather than giving trillions of dollars in bailouts and cheap money to mega-banks.  We should make health care a right for all citizens, and apply smart and effective cost controls. And we should give much greater respect to the sovereignty of other nations on the international stage, seeking win-win solutions and acting as good neighbors rather than reckless dominators. 

We should dramatically restructure subsidies and incentives to reward activities that facilitate the common good, and discourage those that are counterproductive.  We should make our societies fairer by making our graduated income tax system more progressive, with higher marginal rates on the highest levels of income.  We should advance a ‘green revolution’ in several ways.  We should decrease sales taxes on high mileage vehicles, and increase them on SUVs and other vehicles that get poor mileage.  We should revise property taxes, graduating them so that they are lower for small energy efficient homes and higher for homes larger than 2,500 square feet.  We should invest in greening the construction of homes and businesses. We should boldly act to break free from our dependence on polluting fossil fuels.  We should finance these energy initiatives by increasing gasoline taxes and by putting a reasonable cost on carbon dioxide emissions, and we should begin to solve the national security threats posed by global warming and climate change.

We should enact a Bill of Rights for Future Generations, as was advocated by the great ecologist and explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  We should use this Bill of Rights as an overarching guide to help us determine how to live our lives without harming the prospects of our descendants.  We should, in summary, strive to make this a better world with brighter prospects and greater cause for hope, rather than a more unfair world with ever-worsening problems and ultimately unsustainable courses of action.

But we are not doing the right things.  We have not faced the need to reduce wasteful spending on the military.  We have not cut misguided subsidies for the oil, coal and nuclear industries. We have slid backwards instead of reforming our political system to reduce institutional bribery and limit the excessive influence of lobbyists for large corporations.  We are failing to change our political system to make opposition parties constructive and to discourage extreme partisanship.  We have been unable to take smart steps to seriously reduce economic inequities.  Both Republicans and Democrats have indulged in the expediency of deficit spending and helped radically ramp up the national debt.  We could make the changes needed, but only with bold and fair-minded action.  NOW is the time to start!

Partingtonian Propensities of an Explanatory Mind

It seems to me that people have collectively been denying the proverbial elephant in the room:  that the majority of taxpayers cannot afford to pay more to invest in national goods and future well-being, and that government at both the federal and state level are in difficult financial straits, and that we have already borrowed far too much money from people in future generations.  These are facts that make it clear there is really only one good plan of action:  to require profitable businesses and wealthy people to pay higher amounts of tax.  Successful businesses and rich people must be obligated to contribute more to the greater good.  This should be done on a progressive scale that is more steeply graduated for the highest levels of income.  And these solutions should be put into effect in nations worldwide to prevent multinational corporations and rich people from evading responsible roles in our societies.

It is in everyone’s best interests to tap into the large source of funds of those who can afford it.  We could probably even design some creative plan that would make it profitable in the long-term for successful businesses and rich people to contribute to the greater good today because they would ultimately benefit from better economic conditions and the more propitious well-being of the people. 

At the same time that economic and ecological crises envelop our nation and the world, innovations in communications like television, the Internet and social media are having a profound influence on us.  These technologies give people extensive knowledge about trends, circumstances, causes and the interrelatedness of economic activities and social outcomes, and they also make us more acutely aware of inequities and injustices.  As a result, it is becoming increasingly important for people everywhere to have clearer and more comprehensive understandings of what constitutes the common good, and not to fall hook, line and sinker for all the partisan spin and fear-mongering and stoked anger that pervades the airwaves.  And it is vital that people become more aware of the whole --- AND to show more consideration for it.

Good Cause for Hope:  The Positive Potentials for the Presidency of Barack Obama

People want to have hope.  They want to hope that their leaders will be honest and care about the common good.  They hope for a government that protects them and invests in them, not a government that rips them off and abandons them in favor of a privileged few.  They hope their own interests will be more fairly represented, and not just the interests of bankers, CEOs, and the 2% of Americans who own 50% of the wealth in the country. 

We live in a society with short attention spans where sound bites and “bumper sticker sentiments” and simplistic talking points are used to mold public opinion.  Right mindfulness involves smarter and more expansive and inclusive ways of seeing things.

Think about the competing mega-interests in every civilization.  It is desirable from the standpoint of the whole of society to have high quality and affordable education, low unemployment, adequately protected workers, young people who are brought up well, universal healthcare, a reasonable modicum of retirement security, and a stable and healthy environment. In contrast, from narrower points of view of businesses in which profits are a primary priority, it is desirable to have higher unemployment and thus conditions that favor lower wages, lower health care costs and smaller employer contributions to workers’ retirement costs.  Perhaps this is why statistics show there is a higher rate of joblessness during Republican administrations than during Democratic ones.  Republicans are more heavily oriented toward business interests, so they tend to be more adamantly opposed to government initiatives that promote broadened opportunities and advance the rights and prerogatives of workers and common good goals. 

Statistics indicate that stock market returns have in general been higher under the administrations of Democratic presidents than Republican ones.  This is rather surprising because the enactment of business-friendly policies would seem to be most likely to create bigger profits and therefore higher investor returns and stock prices.  This may prove that policies designed to maximize benefits for a very small segment of the people actually turn out, ironically, to be worse for society as a whole than policies that emphasize a greater modicum of fairness to people in the working classes.

Conservative talk radio hosts and people in right-wing think tanks confuse millions of Americans into believing spin that basically asserts that regressive policies are better than progressive ones.  It is amazing that “conservative” propagandists have managed to create so much fear and distrust of tax-and-spend policies, yet when they had domineering federal power, they implemented policies that were fiscally irresponsible by borrowing heavily to finance high-end tax cuts and significant increases in spending.  They managed to convince many Americans that job creation is better under Republicans than Democrats (the opposite is historically true), and that stock market averages do better under Republican administrations than Democrat ones (again, the opposite is true).

Facts and distortions of facts are used manipulatively by partisans of every stripe.  In the face of such a barrage of obfuscation, we need to understand the greater truth of the matter to achieve better outcomes.  And the truth is that the policies of the radical right have seriously harmed our nation so far this century.

I expressed the conviction several years ago that we should all hope that Barack Obama SUCCEEDS in making our country fairer, and not that he fails like the obstructionist naysayers of the radical right “hope”.  Consider the treachery of that sabotage!  First, this crowd contributed both intentionally and inadvertently to the engineering of an economic disaster through fiscally irresponsible tax cutting combined with rash increases in government spending, and then when they dominated Congress, they passed devious laws like a new Prescription Drug entitlement designed in ways that would increase profits for big drug companies at the public expense.  They also irresponsibly championed trickle-down economics and the deregulation of banks, and helped inflate speculative bubbles in real estate and financial derivatives.  Then, in the throes of the ensuing economic hard times, they stubbornly refused to go along with most needed remedial measures. 

Like an old scratched record album, they claim over and over and over again, in a tired refrain, that the only way to solve any problem is to cut taxes further.  In the small print, these tax cuts are always designed to primarily benefit big corporations and wealthy people.

The radical right often denies scientific understandings, so they no doubt give little credence to the incisive insight of Albert Einstein, who defined INSANITY as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  It is high time to try new approaches! 

A Sensational Perspective on Common Sense for the Common Good

Katie Herzog has written a fascinating article titled Meet the presidential candidate who makes Bernie Sanders look conservative.  Listen in:

Jill Stein is a Green Party candidate for president, and she was the winner of the 2012 Green Party nomination.  

But if Sanders is too radical for the establishment, Stein is vastly more so. She not only promises to cancel all student debt, she says she would guarantee access to food, water, housing, and utilities; establish a single-payer healthcare system; set a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage; end police brutality, mass incarceration, and institutional racism; protect women’s reproductive rights; end discrimination against LGBTQ people; create a path to citizenship; and replace drug prohibition with harm reduction.

Her plan to address climate change is even more ambitious. “What I’ve been calling for is declaring a national emergency,” she says. “We did it after Pearl Harbor, and it’s not just one harbor being destroyed, it’s all harbors, all coastlines, most population centers. We think we have a migrant crisis right now? It’s peanuts compared to what we’re looking at, with 100 million refugees or more. And that’s just beginning.”

Stein is calling for a transition to 100 percent clean energy in 15 years, and the creation of 20 million full-time, living-wage jobs in renewable energy and infrastructure, a sort of green New Deal. She also calls for an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel exploration and construction of fossil fuel infrastructure. “It all grinds to a halt on the day that we are elected,” she says.

Ending our reliance on fossil fuels won’t just address climate change, Stein says, it’ll also end our need to engage in overseas wars over oil. And that’s how she’ll pay for all this, says the candidate — by cutting the military’s budget in half. “Right now we have 1,000 military bases in 100 countries around the world,” Stein says. “We’re the only country that does this, and it’s largely safeguarding oil supplies and routes of transportation. We’ll no longer need it! Instead, we put our dollars back into true security here at home.” Stein is slightly off about the statistics: We actually have about 800 military bases in about 80 countries around the world. But she is right that no other country does this, and it’s hard to imagine anyone trying to establish a base on U.S. soil.

Most of what Stein says makes sense.  And that’s maybe the craziest thing about Jill Stein:  Our most radical, leftist candidate is also supremely rational.  When she says that if the federal government bailed out Wall Street, it can bail out students, it’s not hard to see the logic.  Sanders says the same thing.  And is it really that radical for every person to have food and clean water?  To end police brutality and discrimination?  To do something about climate change before it’s too late?  These ideas aren’t -- or shouldn’t be -- revolutionary:  They’re common sense.

Should We Be Radically Cutting the Size of Government?

Most Republicans still march to the beat of discredited voices that say we must shrink the size of government until it can be figuratively drowned in a bathtub.  Their actions have ironically resulted in the necessity for the federal government to take a much more active role during the 2008 economic crisis by nationalizing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and bailing out the giant insurer AIG and the auto industry and numerous banks.  The financial crisis also made it all but mandatory for the government to increase already high levels of deficit spending to prevent the economy from sliding into a depression.  And yet, Republican politicians still strive to obstruct solutions and perpetuate policies that got us into these problems.

Good God, politics!  The deep hole dug for our nation by irresponsible politicians is proving to be extremely difficult to get ourselves out of, and the failure to take smarter steps to improve the economy is hurting many millions of people.

Perhaps what we really need is a Twelve Step Program to help heal our political class.  Here is my proposed 12-Step Recovery Program for Repenting Politicians.  Note that I have personally never had the behavioral need or biochemical dependency to participate in a 12-Step program, but they all operate on similar principles as those put forth by Alcoholics Anonymous, so that template has been adopted and adapted for the purposes of this proposed addiction intervention program.  Here it is.

A Twelve-Step Program for Repenting Politicians

·         We admit that our lives have become unmanageable due to our obsession with power and money and political influence.

·         We have come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and that this power is represented by the best interests of We the People rather than the narrow interests of the wealthy few.

·         We make a conscious and conscientious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the will of an enlightened electorate and their understandings of inclusive national goals.

·         We make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, and are honest about the influences that have driven us to pander so exclusively to entrenched interest groups.

·         We admit to God, to ourselves, and to the American public the exact nature of our wrongs.

·         We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character, and if God does not see fit to intervene to do so, we trust sensible voters to hear these truths and to choose commendable champions of the greater good to represent the best interests of the largest number of people over the longest period of time.

·         We humbly ask God to remove our weaknesses and shortcomings, and pledge to make committed efforts to achieve this goal with the help of family and friends and all people in our communities.

·         We will make an honest and inclusive list of all persons that our actions have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.

·         We commit to making direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others, and we embrace Golden Rule reciprocity principles as an overarching arbiter of the propriety of these amends.

·         We continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, we will promptly admit it.

·         We seek through prayer and meditation and a sense of enlightened mindfulness an improved awareness of big picture perspectives and proper priorities for the common good, and so state unequivocally our desire to work to improve our knowledge of God's will and the people's true needs and the best avenues to a healthy and sustainable future, and we hope fervently that we will have the power to achieve this noble conception.

·         Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we strive to carry this message to other politicians and to the people, and we affirm our commitment to practicing these principles in all areas of our lives.

To Bailout or Not to Bailout, That is the Question

Some people say that we should let businesses go into bankruptcy when they falter.  Others say that when corporations become too big to fail, we must bail them out to prevent economic disaster.  Very good arguments can be made on both sides of this question.  Bankruptcy proceedings allow corporations to reorganize in such a way that costs are reduced and workers as well as CEOs, top managers, suppliers and lenders are all forced to compromise to save the organization.  If successful, reorganizations like this allow a business to survive and emerge from bankruptcy as a healthier and more competitive entity.  On the other hand, when the government bails businesses out, it allows the persistence of excesses, inefficiencies, waste, egregious CEO and management bonuses, and wages and benefits for workers that may not be justified by profits earned.  Such bailouts are generally done at the expense of taxpayers and future generations, so they are distinctly unfair.  The danger of NOT committing to bailouts of banks and mortgage giants like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and insurers like AIG, is that such failure to act could lead to a ripple effect that would cause a financial and economic meltdown. 

We arguably should set up our economy in such ways that giant corporations are not allowed to grow to such a size that they become too big to fail.  Trust-busting was a powerful movement during the Progressive Era a century ago, when three U.S. Presidents -- William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft -- acted to break up powerful monopolies that exerted too much power.  Maybe we need to once again break up big businesses that have grown too powerful, and act to give small businesses a greater chance to succeed. 

Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, declared during the financial crisis:  “I want to be very, very clear: too big to fail is one of the biggest problems we face in this country, and we must take action to eliminate too big to fail.”  Let’s do this, Congress, and not just talk about it!  We should at least once again implement sensible regulation of banks by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act that kept depository banking separate from investment banking.  And we should create laws that regulate financial instruments like mortgage-backed securities and derivatives like credit default swaps.  See the essay Existence, Economics and Ecological Intelligence for further insight into economic issues like this.

Confidence in a Fairer and More Propitious Economy

President Franklin Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address during the depths of the Depression in January 1933.  In that speech, he asserted his firm belief that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  Interesting call, Mr. Roosevelt!  There are surely valid things to fear, yet it’s also true that in a market economy it is fundamentally important for people to have CONFIDENCE in the system to assure available credit, free trade, reasonable security and good prospects for the creation of both jobs and wealth.  Market participants need to be able to trust in the legal tender of money and in the adequate availability of credit;  they must believe that unfettered supply and demand mechanisms work;  and they need to feel assured that the marketplace will be managed well by state and federal governments to insure free exchange while simultaneously protecting people against monopoly abuses, fraud, misinformation, dangerous products, unsafe workplaces, unfair labor and trade practices, and environmental damages.

Of course we need to have confidence in sound policies and institutions, and not in having delusions about failed policies and corrupt institutions.  Overconfidence contributed to every Ponzi scheme in history, so we surely need to have confidence in good ideas, not in dangerously unsound ones.  Confidence in a system that is inevitably unsustainable may be beneficial to the perpetuation of the corrupt system for a while longer, but ultimately we need confidence in a different way of doing things, one that IS sustainable.  A solid foundation is needed for a lasting structure, not shoddy construction and smoke-and-mirrors illusions or house-of-cards construction techniques.

Confident Attitudes vs. Confidence Tricks

There is an unfavorable tendency for special interest groups to employ “confidence tricks” to make gains and exploit advantages at the public expense.  This is very different from the real confidence we need, so it is no wonder that such scams inspire uneasiness. Nobel-laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz writes about the government banking bailout, saying that the Bush administration “talked about confidence building, but what it delivered was actually a confidence trick.  If the administration had really wanted to restore confidence in the financial system, it would have begun by addressing the underlying problems -- the flawed incentive structures and the inadequate regulatory system.” 

The repeal of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act in 1999 was foolhardy, as was the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in the year 2000 that prevented regulation of all manner of banking derivatives and mortgage securities shenanigans that contributed to causing the “Great Recession” that began in 2008.  Let’s reform these laws!  (“Yes, we can!”)

It was no big surprise that the Governmental Accounting Office reported in December 2008 that the Treasury Department was implementing the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan without adequate oversight or transparency or accountability to taxpayers.  This is one more piece of evidence that grave damage can be done by leaders who are ideologically dogmatic, intellectually incurious, dishonest or overly influenced by vested interest lobbying.  The right wing in politics, in particular, has shown how selfishly greed-driven, obstructionist and retributive its motives can be. 

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

     by imbeciles who really mean it.”                     

                                                     --- Mark Twain

Almost no one predicted back in January 2000 how detrimental Republican rule would be in the subsequent 8 years for the American people and others in the world -- either in terms of economic outcomes or of negative social impacts, or of environmental harms, or of the hopes for peaceful coexistence in our relations with other nations.  When the stock market hit its bottom in early 2009, gloom and doom attitudes of investors coincided with people’s fears and angst about the economic prospects we face.  Now, more than seven years later, the banking system has been returned to profitability and the stock market is near record highs, but life is still exceedingly difficult for many millions of people. 

Conservatives today criticize more liberal leadership now that a progressive President is in power.  This is understandable;  it’s politics, after all.  But it’s also quite ironic that Republicans have been impeding almost every Democratic initiative to improve conditions for the masses.  The need is growing for us to support smarter and more effective and fair-minded initiatives and leadership.

We need to give more power to the people by finding ways to reduce the domination of our politics by narrowly-focused corporations, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings on corporate “free speech”.  We should also recognize when individually rational decisions are leading to collectively irrational ones in our capitalist economic system, and accordingly formulate ‘rainy day’ plans to prevent systemic failures.  And knowing our human natures and natural propensities better, we should strive to live healthier lives and embrace saner priorities and broader, more honest worldviews.  If we cannot live with greater ‘voluntary simplicity’, we should at least “live large” in ways that reduce our depletionary demands on Earth’s resources and our harmful impacts on our home planet’s ecosystems.

Observations in the Age of Reason: Fulfilling Our Needs without Destroying the Earth

In conclusion, we need to rethink what is right and proper.  We should reassess what is best for our society as a whole.  Reason, common sense and wisdom should guide us.  There will always be big differences of opinions, and plenty of uncertainties, so we need to seek guidance from the most knowledgeable experts and the wisest leaders and philosophers among us, and be familiar with the lessons of history. 

Two maxims carved in stone in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece offered good advice: “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess”.  These principles are important for us as individuals, and they are even more important for us collectively.  A better understanding of human nature and ourselves could help guide us in re-designing our public policies and laws and social institutions.  It is valuable to clearly recognize our needs and our wants, our virtues and vices, our strengths and weaknesses, our emotional insecurities and compensatory behaviors, our motives and consumer psychology, our susceptibility to greed and speculative excesses, our drives to manipulate and control other people, our compulsions to be right, our tendencies toward either ‘Tough Love’ or compassionate generosity, and our practically innate propensities toward either conservative strictness or liberal permissiveness. 

  “It’s not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient.”

                                                                                                                    --- Josh Billings

Everyone has basic wants and needs, as summarized by the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow in his “hierarchy of needs” pyramid.  We have basic physiological needs for oxygen to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and clothing and shelter to protect us.  Beyond these basic needs, we have the desire for a more secure existence.  We also have outer-directed impulses to belong, to be accepted, to be liked and to be respected.  We yearn to feel competent and gain status, and to have a good sense of self-esteem.  Above these needs in Maslow’s hierarchy are inner-directed needs, like the desire to learn, to explore, to satisfy creative impulses, to appreciate aesthetics and to actualize inner drives.  At the top of this pyramid, according to Maslow, are drives to transcend selfishness and to be of service to others.

The maxim at Delphi, “Nothing in Excess,” has a corollary.  BALANCE is desirable in almost all things.  Balance is needed between individualism and social responsibility, between national security and citizen liberties, between thriftiness and generous spending, between materialistic consumerism and sustainable consumption, and between excessive regulation and inadequate regulation.  Businesses are by their nature short-term-oriented, so we need to subject them to sensible regulation and oversight, and there should be a better balance between laissez-faire activities and fair accountability.  Government should be managed in better ways that are more effective and more fiscally sound, so that devastating boom-and-bust economic cycles are prevented and there are fewer economic injustices. 

Wouldn’t it have been better, in retrospect, if our leaders had promoted understandings that are more enlightened?  Wouldn’t it be better if we saw more holistic understandings of the greater good, and worked together to make our societies healthier and fairer and saner?  Such guidance could help unify us and heal our societies of the deep divisions that occur between competing and conflicting interests. 

Finally, another right understanding of the common good is that it should include conditions in which individuals are encouraged to flourish, and their potentialities are fostered rather than being repressed.  There is much to do, so let’s get started!

When some of these words were first being written early in the year 2010, a new year and a new decade were upon us.  The start of a new year is always a good time for reflection and assessment, and maybe even a resolution or two.  A new year provides us with a rich opportunity to acknowledge the passage of another part of our lives, and it gives us a chance to step back, to assess, to acknowledge and appreciate, and to honor the positive things in our lives.  I have spent New Years’ Day many times on a fork of the Mississippi River near its source, and the clear flowing water of the river in its infinite babbling continuity has always been conducive to seeing valuable lessons in life.  Things like these:  Go with the flow.  Make the best of whatever comes your way.  Be nimble and maintain a sense of balance.  Smile.  Laugh.  Live and let live.  Breathe deep, and let go.  Appreciate the beauty of life and nature.  Accept the ephemerality of all things.  Cultivate equanimity in the face of adversities, and humbleness in the arms of success.  Let the river figuratively run through you!

Much remains to be done to re-focus our public policies on achieving common good goals.  To create a society that has less stress, less conflict and fewer inequities, fairer policies must be implemented, and ones that are affordable and sustainable.  We need to have tax policies that are more progressive and opportunities that are more fairly available.  We need better education and more affordable health care and a more just legal system.  And we must make a bigger commitment to peaceful coexistence.  The sun has never shined on a cause of greater worth, as Thomas Paine liked to say!

We have it in our power to figuratively begin the world over again.  This is our rendezvous with destiny.  Let’s do it right! 

Remember the words of Dr. Seuss in his marvelous tale, The Lorax:

"But now," says the Once-ler,
  "Now that you're here,
    the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.

    UNLESS someone like you
      cares a whole awful lot,
        nothing is going to get better.
          It's not."

Thanks for your consideration of these ideas!    

        Truly,

           Dr. Tiffany B. Twain     

              Hannibal, Missouri     

                  March 21, 2016  (originally published in March 2010)

         “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

                                                                                             --- Wes ‘Scoop’ Nisker

Germinating Ideas Seeking Their Place in the Sun-

I read the news today, oh boy, and once again, it's practically a mind-blowing doozy.  Even conservatives in Missouri look west to neighboring Kansas, where the folks sometimes seem to be going crazy with political shenanigans that are truly bizarre.

One odd thing about radical conservatives is that they crow about freedom, but many of their contested ideas of freedom are grotesquely contrary to real Golden Rule concepts of freedom, or true fair-mindedness, or crucial precautionary principles.  The insightful linguist George Lakoff writes about the nature of contested ideas in his provocative book Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea.  This book is a somewhat partisan reply to conservatives' repeated invocation of "freedom" to justify their agenda. 

It is valuable to give balanced consideration to all opinions.  The respectable linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker has written an article delving into the perspectives that George Lakoff provides to readers,  He criticizes Lakoff's analyses as a "cartoonish depiction of progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons", and since truth generally lies somewhere between conflicting contentions, let's just agree that more honest perspectives on unalienable rights and fair-minded concepts of freedom are needed in our societies to ensure the broadest possible constellation of personal liberties for the American people.  Pinker’s astute summary is worth hearing:

Conceptual metaphor, according to Lakoff, shows that all thought is based on unconscious physical metaphors, with beliefs determined by the metaphors in which ideas are framed.  Cognitive science has also shown that thinking depends on emotion, and that a person's rationality is bounded by limitations of attention and memory.  Together these discoveries undermine, in Lakoff's view, the Western ideal of conscious, universal, and dispassionate reason based on logic, facts, and a fit to reality.   Philosophy, then, is not an extended debate about knowledge and ethics, it is a succession of metaphors:  Descartes’ philosophy is based on the metaphor "knowing is seeing," Locke's on "the mind is a container," Kant's on "morality is a strict father." And political ideologies, too, cannot be understood in terms of assumptions or values, but only as rival versions of the metaphor "society is a family."  The political right likens society to a family ruled by authoritarian parenting, whereas the political left prefers a family cared for with nurturant parenting.

Political debates, according to Lakoff, are contests between metaphors. Citizens are not rational and pay no attention to facts, except as they fit into frames that are "fixed in the neural structures of their brains" by sheer repetition. In George W. Bush's first term, for example, the president promised tax "relief," which frames taxes as an affliction, the reliever as a hero, and anyone obstructing him as a villain. The Democrats were foolish to offer their own version of tax relief, which accepted the Republicans' framing; it was like asking people not to think of an elephant. Instead, they should have re-framed taxes as "membership fees" necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which they belong.

Lakoff says that American conservatism appeals to a notion of freedom rooted in strict-father morality, but that this is a hijacking of the traditional American concept, which is based on progressive values of nurturance and empathy.

The left and the right are also divided by another cognitive style: conservatives think in terms of direct causation, where a person's actions have an immediate billiard-ball effect (people get fat because they lack self-control), while progressives think in terms of systemic causation, in which effects fall out of complex social, ecological, and economic systems (people are fat because of an economic system that allows the food industry to lobby against government regulation).

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Thomas Frank writes provocative books, so when I heard that he has a new book out in 2016, I became intrigued.  It is titled Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?  I will eventually read it, and record my impressions of his most convincing ideas.

Thomas Frank is the bestselling author of the important book What's the Matter With Kansas.  His new book is advertised as “a scathing look at the standard-bearers of liberal politics -- a book that asks: what's the matter with Democrats?”.  I want to know!

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Paul Krugman wrote another thought-provoking titled Trump Is No Accident.  Hear his words:

The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago, when movement conservatives --  ideological warriors of the right -- took over the G.O.P.  And it really was a complete takeover.  Nobody seeking a career within the party dares to question any aspect of the dominating ideology, for fear of facing not just primary challenges but excommunication.

You can see the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased instead.

But how does a party in thrall to a basically unpopular ideology -- or at any rate an ideology voters would dislike if they knew more about it -- win elections?  Obfuscation helps.  But demagogy and appeals to tribalism help more.  Racial dog whistles and suggestions that Democrats are un-American if not active traitors aren’t things that happen now and then, they’re an integral part of Republican political strategy.

During the Obama years Republican leaders cranked the volume on that strategy up to 11 (although it was pretty bad during the Clinton years too.)  Establishment Republicans generally avoided saying in so many words that the president was a Kenyan Islamic atheist socialist friend of terrorists -- although as the quote from Mr. Rubio shows, they came pretty close -- but they tacitly encouraged those who did, and accepted their endorsements.  And now they’re paying the price.

For the underlying assumption behind the establishment strategy was that voters could be fooled again and again: persuaded to vote Republican out of rage against Those People, then ignored after the election while the party pursued its true, plutocrat-friendly priorities.  Now comes Mr. Trump, turning the dog whistles into fully audible shouting, and telling the base that it can have the bait without the switch.  And the establishment is being destroyed by the monster it created.