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                        Occupy Movement: What’s Next? - Occupy These Ideas!

                                                                              An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

Our political system in the United States is excessively influenced by the domineering influence of rich people and narrowly focused corporate entities.  Corporations have only two primary legal purposes:  to minimize the liabilities of owners, executives and shareholders, and to maximize the profits received by this group.  These purposes are generally achieved at the expense of the greater good of all the people in the nation as a whole.  A wide range of other interested parties compete to maximize their own self-interested advantages, and political corruption allows this intense competition to be skewed, complicating the national equation of fairly determining the best courses of action to allow and pursue. 

The “invisible hand” that guides outcomes in this competition of interests does not steer us anywhere near the optimum path, or the fairest, most sensible, or most-likely sustainable one. Of all the many interest groups that compete for perks and privileges in the USA, entrenched interest groups occupy the inside track, so they drastically distort our national priorities.  In the process, they undermine democratic fairness and prevent the most societally desirable usages of resources and energies.  As a result, the aggregate impulse is to strive to satisfy short-term-oriented exigencies and expediencies.  Since entrenched interests are heavily vested in the status quo, they oppose fair-minded reforms and selfishly defend the gravy train of the way things are.  The fossil fuel industry is probably the most politically powerful of these interests, as revealed in Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. 

Special interest groups that represent young people and future generations are significantly less well-funded than special interests representing narrower interests like banks, Wall Street fat cats, corporate executives, businesses involved in the sprawling military-industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry, the gun lobby, large unions, senior citizens, retired people, social conservatives and the Christian Coalition.  Interest groups are much less well-funded that support protections of the environment, progressive ideas, humanitarian causes, smart governance and egalitarian initiatives.  This aspect of our political system deplorably makes the status quo exceedingly misguided. 

The Supreme Court essentially ruled in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases that Big Money should be allowed to have unlimited influence in financing our elections.  This decision helped facilitate the distortion, corruption and perversion of our national decision-making.  These rulings are arguably two of the worst decisions in our nation’s entire judicial history, right up there with the dreadful Dred Scott decision that ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and held that no African-American could be an American citizen.

Since Mark Twain famously observed that “We have the best government that money can buy,” he would have laughed ruefully to see that five unelected government officials (the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court, including Antonin Scalia who died in February 2016) officially sided with giant corporations against the vast majority of American people, and effectively authorized them to subvert our democratic processes. Many secretive Super PACs were created as a result of the Citizens United ruling, and they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support narrow agendas that generally serve to undermine the greater good.

The Citizens United ruling is antithetical to our founding principles, so our representatives should rightly now enact new laws to specifically limit the outsized influence in electioneering and lobbying wielded by wealthy individuals and corporations.  These laws should stipulate that corporations are legal entities that have larger responsibilities to society, and that they do not have the same rights as people.  If our representatives dishonorably continue to be unable to agree to strengthen our democracy, then citizens should demand a Constitutional Amendment that would serve as a declaration of independence from corporate power and reduce the influence of what Thomas Jefferson called “the aristocracy of moneyed corporations.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  This has demonstrably been true in a big picture sense ever since our nation was founded, but the proverbial pendulum swings back and forth between progress and regress, and the last three decades have seen some significant retrogressive trends.  When people are allowed broader freedoms of behavior, there is a tendency for prosperity to be more narrowly shared, and for the distribution of wealth to become increasingly concentrated in the hands of only a relative few. And when corporations are given too much unaccountable laissez-faire latitude, socially undesirable outcomes result, like the maximizing of private profits while many costs are “socialized” by being allowed to be externalized onto society as a whole -- and onto all people in future generations.

Inequalities and injustices naturally increase under such conditions.  The economic insecurity of the public can consequently become so extreme that remedial measures become necessary.  If reforms are not made, then anger and frustration can create insistent demands for radical change, or alternatively, reactionary measures like giving support to an authoritarian con man who claims he’ll impose fixes on the country.  Stubborn opposition to fairer national policies in the face of widespread dissatisfaction and political protest can aggravate dangerous revolutionary forces.  This increases the power and motivation of people who militate for the overthrow of the abusers of privilege and power.  In reaction, repressive forces gain more traction, and some of our cherished freedoms become more likely to be taken away.

It would be more sensible, and more patriotic, to champion more enlightened attitudes, and to invest in smart social insurance policies that serve to make our societies fairer.

“Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t … To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country …”

                                            --- Mark Twain

When John Lennon and Paul McCartney witnessed widespread political protests in 1968, they foresaw the possibilities of positive revolutionary change, and they imagined new societies that would place greater value on empathy, compassion, love, expanded personal liberties and more enlightened understandings.  Let it be!  The Beatles sang these lyrics in their evocative song, Revolution:

You say you want a revolution
 Well, you know
  We all want to change the world
   You tell me that it's evolution

You say you got a real solution
 Well, you know
  We'd all love to see the plan

You say you'll change the Constitution
 Well, you know
  We all want to change your head
   You tell me it's the institution
    Well, you know
    You better free your mind instead

 All right, all right, all right!

Farsighted solutions to global dilemmas are contained throughout the Earth Manifesto, along with a wide-ranging variety of good plans for a more salubrious future.  A detailed summary of specific ideas awaits anyone who is concerned in the many proposals in Common Sense Revival, and in Part Four online.

A Classic Earth Manifesto Ecological Aside

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

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

We would be wise to see the world through the most accurate understandings possible, and to seek broader social and ecological truths.  Efforts to more clearly understand the biggest and most consequential issues might prove to be one of the most existentially important undertakings ever conceived.  Courses of action should be pursued that are saner and more consistent with the greater good in the long run.  These ideas lead to the transcendent need for a Bill of Rights for Future Generations that would provide overarching guidance to us in our national decision-making.  Essentially, a new ecosystem-centered morality is required.

“Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

                                                                               --- Theodore Roosevelt

The wise Lakota Sioux Indian leader Sitting Bull gave a haunting speech at the Powder River Council in 1877, which appears at the end of the proposed Bill of Rights for Future Generations in the Earth Manifesto.  In this speech, Sitting Bull almost lyrically bemoaned the arrogant, treacherous, wantonly wasteful and mindlessly destructive ways of hubris-filled, Manifest-Destiny-proclaiming pioneers and the ruthless U.S. Army during the genocidal intrusion onto Native American lands by thousands of hunters, miners, trappers, adventurers, settlers and missionaries in the nineteenth century. 

Here are Sitting Bull’s words:

“Behold my brothers, the Spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love!  Every seed is awakened and so has all animal life.  It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land. 

Yet, hear me, people, we have now to deal with another race -- small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing.  Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them.  These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not.  They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.  They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own and fence their neighbors away;  they deface her with their buildings and their refuse.  The nation is like a spring freshet that overruns its banks and destroys all that are in its path.”                       

Sitting Bull’s nickname was Hunkesi, meaning “Slow” because he did everything with care and he never hurried.  Doing things with care, rather than mindlessly, seems like a good plan!  Sitting Bull could not have imagined, from his vantage point long ago, the full extent to which the flood of humanity would wipe out native North Americans and transform and degrade the land, forests, streams, lakes, wetlands, fisheries, wildlife, wilderness areas, and even the oceans and the atmosphere in the century to follow.  There were, after all, less than 50 million people in America when Sitting Bull spoke his incisive words in 1877, and relatively few of them lived in the beautiful lands of the Wild West.  Today, there are more than 321 million Americans, and large numbers of them reside in Western states. 

Quite noticeably, the means and methods by which we are all together exploiting global resources today are phenomenally reckless and imprudently heedless of consequence, as if there will be no tomorrow.  This is my story, and I’m sticking to it: there will definitely be a tomorrow!  We should make sure that honest big picture considerations of reality guide our national priorities, and that we fairly evaluate the probabilities of how our impacts will affect our collective choices and destinies.

Barry Commoner, known as “the Paul Revere of Ecology,” died at the age of 95 in September 2012.  He was a scientist and ecological activist who realized that the pollution of the environment and expanding social inequities and aggression in warfare are related issues of a central problem.  This problem is that capitalist economic systems emphasize profits and technological progress without adequate regard for the detrimental impacts they have on people and natural ecosystems.  As a result of this form of misguidance, real harms to untold numbers of people are discounted, and threats to the ecological commons are disregarded.  The time has come today for us to address the big problems we face, and to stop denying them, and to take bold steps to solve them.

Preoccupations with Smart Plans

Today, the most financially fortunate people tend to work assiduously to fortify their positions on Easy Street.  They do this even when conditions on Main Street are unnecessarily challenging, and when circumstances on “the wrong side of the tracks” are becoming dangerously unsafe and ever more unjust.  Rich people exploit our increasingly corrupt political system and the narrowly purposed and amoral tool of legal incorporation to gain the preponderance of wealth for themselves. 

We simply cannot allow rich people to continue to abuse the inadequately restricted power of their moneyed influence.  We cannot let them be so doggone dominating of our national policy-making.  To best create more sustainable and safer societies, we should redesign the rules of the system to ensure greater fairness and reform our political system to prevent it from facilitating the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.  And we should manage our economy and resources more wisely.

It is practically insane for people to deny the implications of overarching ecological truths.  It is deeply unwise to allow opportunities for higher education to be made significantly more expensive.  It is highly unfair to saddle students with large amounts of debt at high interest rates for their educations.  It is foolishly risky to allow the economy to be destabilized by risk-taking bankers and overly leveraged speculators, and to be reluctant to help those who lose their jobs or their homes as a result.  It is an extreme injustice to perpetuate an unfair system of health care that denies coverage to millions of people and allows profiteering in medical care to drive costs up at a much faster rate than the general rate of inflation, year after year after year.  It is nearly madness to continue to allow the most fortunate people to dictate our national priorities.  And it is crazy to allow vested interest groups to create conditions that make the vast majority of citizens more stressed and insecure.

Remember that our Founders established a brilliant framework for fair-minded governance in the USA by creating a representative democracy that assured the people they would wield the political power in the nation. Our Founders realized that competing interest groups with narrowly selfish goals would threaten democratic fairness and civil liberties. Our elected representatives have unfortunately failed to adequately safeguard the power of the people. They have allowed special interests to dominate our public decision-making and become deeply entrenched in our politics, thus contributing to unnecessary unfairness in the status quo.

The good news is that power still constitutionally belongs to the people, and it still ethically belongs to the people.  This is true despite extreme partisanship in Congress that prevents fair compromises and smarter long-term planning that would help ensure the greater good.  Power still belongs to the people despite the Supreme Court having blatantly pandered to moneyed interests in recent years while conservatives held a narrow 5 to 4 majority on the high court.  It is high time that a new political movement gathers together the voices of the people to revolutionarily reform our economic and political systems. 

Grassroots power is needed.  And it should be virtuous grassroots power, not a perverse form like grassroots “astroturfing” lobbyists who promote public propaganda to gain more perks for vested interest groups.  Grassroots power is needed instead of excessive influence by zealots who champion anti-progressive taxation plans and expanded entitlements for corporations and increased prerogatives for businesses to externalize costs onto society. 

The Greater Good

Everyone does better when everyone does better.  Despite the tautological truth of this observation, powerful vested interest groups still work tirelessly to try to convince us that everyone will do better only if we pursue a single-minded strategy of giving more benefits to the wealthiest Americans.  Right-wing ideologues and partisans in conservative think tanks, and politicians who are beholden to moneyed interests, have all been claiming that the best national plan is to perpetuate the status quo of providing the preponderance of benefits of our economic system to the wealthy.  This is the way, they say, to create well-being that will trickle down to everyone else. 

By yielding to these demanding voices, and by adhering to myopic and self-serving policies, an ever-more extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has resulted, along with concomitant on-going outrageous increases in inequality and inequities.  These outcomes are proving that the trickle-down theory is actually a colossal deception, and that smarter approaches should be put into effect so that we create a society that will be more fiscally sound, socially fair and ecologically responsible.

Dr. Jane Goodall once made the following insightful observation (paraphrased):

"Someone said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children.  But look at the world around us.  This sentiment is technically not in the least bit true.  We aren’t borrowing from our children.  Borrowing means that we will pay it back, but we aren't paying back.  We are in actuality STEALING from our children ..."

The biggest instance of this theft is the scheme that caused the national debt to spike from less than $1 trillion in 1980 to almost $20 trillion today in order to slash taxes in a regressive way that mainly benefitted those who earned the highest levels of income.

Clearly, the time has come today for us to embrace common sense fairness by honestly reforming our economic and political systems!

A Simple Solution for the National Debt Crisis

Trickle-down economic theories have gone hand-in-hand with ideological expediencies that facilitate huge increases in the national debt.  The Earth Manifesto essay Sad Implications of the Two Dueling Santa Claus Strategies in Political Economics contains an entertaining and sobering assessment of the many ways this state of affairs has come to be.

Business magnate Warren Buffet has suggested that federal budget deficits could be ended “in five minutes.” -- “You just pass a law that says that anytime there’s a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.”  Of course, our current representatives in office would never pass a law like that -- well, not unless there was intense and sustained pressure from their constituents.  Occupy that thought! 

Warren Buffet’s point was that it would be a good plan to “put the incentives in the right place”.  By doing this, our representatives would be prevented from continuing to cheat future generations and they would be forced to make the difficult decisions related to generating revenues and controlling spending that are necessary to honestly bring the budget more nearly into balance. 

An even better idea is recommended in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies.  This plan would give the primary deciders in our political system -- wealthy people and big corporations -- a compellingly powerful motivation to strongly support federal budgets that do not rely on large deficits year after year after year.  It would really put the incentives in the proper place.  Check  it out -- it is under “Balanced Budget Initiative”.

The pretext that national governments are “broke” is being used to impose austerity measures on people in countries worldwide.  This pretext is also being used to undermine vital protections of the environment and torpedo family planning programs, sell off public lands, close parks, thwart common sense regulations, eliminate funding for important public interest broadcasting, and pander to those who advocate pet projects that are aligned with retrograde ideas and backward-looking ideologues.

Annie Leonard has created an animated documentary, The Story of Broke, which can be viewed online right now.  The video provides a better understanding of important and provocative issues associated with the misuse of our tax dollars, and it shines a bright light on the misleading idea that desperate measures must be taken because our nation is broke.  Annie Leonard refers to the established status quo as “the Dinosaur Economy”.  She points out that too much money is given to entrenched companies through imprudent perks like tax subsidies, risk transfer subsidies, freebie subsidies, and resource extraction subsidies. She also examines the folly of allowing businesses to externalize pollution and toxic waste clean-up costs upon society for things that should be required to be included in the prices of all products and services.  Annie Leonard’s original The Story of Stuff is also valuable to watch, as is The Story of Change.

The concept of a smarter structuring of incentives in our economy is a key to solving many of our most serious problems.  The perspectives of Pigou Club economists corroborate this contention, as related in Existence, Economics, and Ecological Intelligence.  In summary, if we were to institute a boldly forward-thinking system of incentives and disincentives and take smart action to implement new long-term strategic plans, we could transform our nation into a leaner, fairer, safer and more responsible society.  This would be an honorable way to give greater respect to future generations.  By doing so, we would alter the current patchwork of perverse incentives and subsidies that characterize the Dinosaur Economy.  We would also change the parameters of the jerry-rigged political system that has been designed to satisfy the influence of power-abusing special interest groups.  In place of this outmoded econopolitical system, we should establish an improved system that advances goals of sensible and wisely conceived national planning.

A proposed smarter structure would help ensure that we would collectively do the best things for the greater good as naturally as “falling off a log”.  In this new scenario, the everyday acts of work and life and aspiration would accumulate into a better world as a matter of course, not merely as a matter of exceptional personal virtue, vague good intentions or conscious altruism.

Tangential Reflections on Envy and Jealousy

In sporting contests, enthusiasts for winning teams exult in victory, while supporters of defeated teams show signs of disappointment, frustration and chagrin.  There is a natural pleasure in victory and an equally natural sense of agony in defeat.  Buddha would have said that attachment to outcomes itself is a main cause of mental difficulties such as angst, anger, envy, jealousy, disappointment, humiliation and suffering.  John Fowles, on the other hand, made a cogent point when he wrote in The Aristos:

   “We are designed to want;  with nothing to want, we are like windmills in a world without wind.”

In our societies, people who are financially fortunate adopt an attitude similar to the exultation of winners.  They often lord it over others who are less fortunate, as if they are intrinsically and deservedly superior.  Rich people are too often seriously unempathetic and uncompassionate toward people who are financially less fortunate.  They also tend to abuse the power of their wealth to make the gap between their own good fortune and the worser fortunes of others wider and wider.  It is astonishing that people can begrudge others food stamps while defending tax rates on millionaires and billionaires that are near their lowest levels in 85 years.

Envy and jealousy are profoundly powerful impulses in our human psyches. Envious people wish they had the good fortune of others who are more fortunate. Jealous people react to those who are envious by staunchly defending the systems and policies that allow them to continue to enjoy their good fortune.  Just as a man with a sexy, attractive wife can be extremely jealous of any aspirants to the attentions of his mate, those who are wealthy often jealously defend policies that guarantee prosperity and security is not more broadly shared.

In the arena of growing disparities of fortune between the rich and the poor, both envy and jealousy can turn ugly.  I feel passionately that a magnanimous and generous-hearted attitude in victory or good fortune is much more honorable and respectable than an inconsiderately selfish and greedy and hard-nosed posture.  In any case, it is time bold steps are taken to ensure that our societies are made fairer.  These steps need not cost that much, and they would be a smart and sensible insurance policy for all.

Addressing Too Big to Fail

Since our political system is too dominated by vested interests, we are failing to properly address the transcendent challenges of our time.  One hundred years ago, corporate conglomerates had grown too big and too powerful to prevent them from indulging in anti-competitive monopoly practices and other highly unfair activities, so President Theodore Roosevelt acted to regulate business actions and to monitor labor relations, and to steer the national economy in a fairer direction.  One step he took was to create a Department of Commerce and Labor that had a cabinet-level official in charge.

Roosevelt and his successor William Howard Taft engaged in ‘trust-busting’ to break up big businesses into smaller, less powerful organizations so that they would be less capable of abusing the power of their size. The biggest offenders in those days were John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, J.P. Morgan’s giant railroad conglomerate, the Northern Securities Company, James B. Duke’s American Tobacco Company, and Andrew Carnegie’s U.S. Steel.  These wealthy “robber barons” were indignantly and adamantly opposed to trust busting, but the government successfully required these huge companies to be split into smaller organizations for the greater good and safety of the American people.  Unsurprisingly, we seem today to be incapable of pursuing similar courses of action because conglomerate entities have grown too big and too politically powerful to be adequately controlled, and they have sprawled across the planet like giant organizational octopuses on steroids.

Theodore Roosevelt called for new “Square Deal” policies to curb the abuses of power by corporate entities.  His goal was to root out corruption and reduce the exploitation of workers and farmers and consumers.  As a part of his Square Deal, Roosevelt farsightedly worked to ensure that resources were conserved and public lands were protected.  Today, because corporate conglomerates are much larger and more global in influence, they dominate our economy and largely control our national decision-making.  Bureaucratic interests in government and in public-sector unions also play significant roles, and all these interest groups together are making it nearly impossible for the American people to implement smart common sense reforms and limit abuses of power -- and to honorably safeguard the future.  The Supreme Court, while it had a narrow 5-4 majority of conservative Republican-appointed corporate facilitators between 2006 and 2016, stood on the wrong side of history by helping enshrine corporate power.

One of the more important issues in the November 2016 elections is whether we will go backward with more ideologically extreme partisans on the high court or more forward-looking Justices. 

All candidates for the Supreme Court should be men and women of integrity who will honestly stick to their oath of office.  “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as under the Constitution and laws of the United States.  So help me God."

D.J. Trump has already proposed ten candidates that he might appoint to the Court and they are all excessively ideological and partisan.  For this reason alone, I feel strongly that this represents overwhelming grounds for the people to choose Hillary Clinton and to reject Trump.

The tendency of banks and merging corporate entities to become “too big to fail” is a crucial concern that needs to be addressed.  Again I think of the stark observation made by former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in 2009:

 “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 too fail.” 

Ben Bernanke was talking about the too-big-to-fail phenomenon from the perspective that big banks have become too big and powerful to prevent them from creating serious risks to the entire financial system and the international economy.  The trend toward mergers in the banking industry has only increased since the economic crisis of 2008, so banks have become bigger and systemic risks still persist.  This problem requires much more scrupulous attention and focused reform efforts.

Public debt in the U.S. and European nations threatens to create another global economic crisis that will likely prove, sooner or later, to be even more wrenching than the recent Great Recession.  We should take bold, honest, and effective steps to prevent such an eventuality!

Corporate entities today have become much more multi-national than they were a century ago.  They ruthlessly take advantage of workers, violate laws, evade taxes, exploit natural resources, externalize costs onto society, exacerbate Tragedy of the Commons outcomes, and contribute substantially to forcing huge amounts of debt onto our heirs in future generations.  As a consequence, too big to fail has taken on new complexities that have even more crucial implications. 

In addition to banks being too big to be prevented from creating unacceptably far-reaching risks to the international economy, too big to fail has become a domineering aspect of international corporatism.  Corporations have become:

 (1) too powerful to be held responsible and accountable for acting in ways that are consistent with greater good goals;

 (2) too influential to be prevented from squandering resources and overly exploiting workers;

 (3) too profit-prepossessed and liability-evading to be allowed to operate in a poorly regulated laissez-faire economic system;

 (4) too amoral and unscrupulous to be allowed to have equal rights of “personhood” with real citizens;

 (5) too influential in the media, thereby causing negative consequences by misusing the tools of mass persuasion and deceptive advertising and distorting propaganda;

 (6) too shrewd to be prevented from preying on children in their efforts to market junk food, thus contributing to a national obesity epidemic, as well as wasting resources in general by promoting mass consumerism;

 (7) too deep-pocketed to be prevented from using phalanxes of lawyers and accountants to cheat on taxes and further corrupt our political system;

 (8) too narrow in legal purpose to be trustworthy;

 (9) too unaccountable to be prevented from rashly contributing to gathering ecological risks like global warming and associated disruptions of global weather, temperature and precipitation patterns;

(10) too sprawling around the globe to be adequately controlled or kept from abusing laws of individual nations;

 (11) too powerful to be prevented from radically contributing to ever-growing disparities of power and compensation between executive management and all other employees;

 (12) too influential to be kept from contorting the societies in which they operate by making them more unfair, more inegalitarian, and more unjust and giving ever-more perks, privileges and power to the few while imposing austerity on the many;  and,

 (13) too narrowly-focused in empowering the military-industrial complex and a U.S. national security state through excessive secrecy, authoritarian policies, misallocated spending, and the perversion of our national priorities.

An Introspection into the Actions of Lawyers and the Nature of Corporate Wrongdoing

Large quantities of harmful wastes are being created by mining operations that seek gold, silver, iron, copper, tin and other minerals and fossil fuels.  These wastes often pollute creeks, rivers, wetlands, underground aquifers and oceans.  The process of removing the tops of mountains to extract coal is especially damaging to the environment.  Drilling for oil and spilling it in thousands of incidents annually also contribute to the despoliation of natural ecosystems.  Fracking for natural gas is degrading the land, contaminating groundwater, spewing dangerous methane into the atmosphere, and even causing earthquakes.  Large industrial pig and cattle ‘farms’ are also contributing to air and water pollution.

Big corporations involved in these activities are required by law to make efforts to prevent wastes they generate from getting into rivers and underground aquifers.  Often, unfortunately, they fail.  Sometimes the Environmental Protection Agency levies fines for such infractions of laws, but this does not usually happen.  Why not?  Corporate lawyers are shrewdly able to game the system and get their employers off the hook.  This effectively allows these corporate entities to evade their proper roles as socially responsible civic entities that support good citizen goals.

Lawyers, of course, are to be found on both sides of every legal conflict.  One of the most egregious and influential involvements of lawyers can be found allied against environmental protections and the public health, rather than in their favor.  One of the most dangerous ideas that corporate lawyers have ever managed to foist upon society is the odd interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court to misconstrue its intent to justify granting rights of personhood to corporations.

But look here!  The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted after the Civil War to guarantee personal rights to newly freed slaves, NOT to organizational entities.  The Amendment includes clauses that ensure all citizens of ‘due process’ and ‘equal protection’ under the law.  In a terrible irony, numerous cases have been adjudicated that interpret this law to primarily guarantee rights to corporations rather than individuals.  This has resulted in many outcomes that are grotesque miscarriages of justice in our democratic republic.

Corporations have used this legal justification to significantly increase their capabilities for abusing the power they hold over people and public lands.  This point is powerfully portrayed in the insightful book The Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and also in the fascinating film “The Corporation” that is based on the book. 

This book and film basically ask the question:  “If a corporation actually were a person, what kind of person would it most resemble?”  Using the “Personality Diagnostic Checklist” of the World Health Organization to make this determination, an incisively clear indication was discovered:  corporations frequently act like anti-social psychopaths.  Big corporations, in their aggregate activities, resemble psychopaths in many ways.  They frequently demonstrate a reckless disregard for the safety of people, they are often deceitful, and they mislead people in order to make bigger profits.  Many of them show a callous unconcern for the feelings of real people, an incapacity to feel guilt, or a failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors. 

These attributes are not merely the results of activities of “a few bad apples.”  Corporations often make a type of cost/benefit analysis with regard to breaking the law.  They take into account the chances of getting caught and the cost of fines that would be associated with their wrongdoing.  And they often choose to violate the law when corporate accountants and lawyers determine that it would be the most profitable thing to do. 

 “Corporation, n.  An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

                                                                                               --- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

A study of the 100 most egregious instances of guilty pleas by corporations in violations of laws reveals a distinct tendency for corporations to make these analyses to determine whether or not to obey the law.  When they choose to violate laws because potential profits exceed the probable costs of fines, they do so partially because they have deep pockets and are able to employ cadres of often-unscrupulous lawyers and other professionals to advance their narrow interests. 

Corporations also basically bribe politicians to enact laws favorable to their interests.  They help get policies implemented that reduce their taxes, or hyper-stimulate the economy, or create speculative bubbles.  Then, when inevitable economic downturns occur, they treat workers ruthlessly, terminating thousands of employees to strive to remain profitable.  And they lobby for bailouts from taxpayers for rash gambles gone wrong.

“Corporations are people, my friend”, remarked Republican Mitt Romney in a particularly barbed and condescending rejoinder that was directed at a heckler in the crowd while he was on the presidential primary campaign trail at the Iowa State Fair in August 2011.  Elizabeth Warren, the candidate who won her run for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, pointed out the obvious.  “No, Mitt, corporations are not people.  People have hearts.  They have kids.  They get jobs.  They get sick.  They love and they cry and they dance.  They live and they die.  Learn the difference.”

A watchdog magazine named Multinational Monitor published an article in 2008 titled “20 Things About Corporate Crime.”  It is an eye-opener!  “20.  Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.” … “17.  Corporate crime is under-prosecuted by a factor of, say, 100.  The flip side of this is that corporate crime prosecutors are underfunded by a factor of, say, 100.”

Multinational Monitor states that “we’ve never had a year like 2008.”  The severe financial crisis was emblematic of the worst aspects of our corporate-dominated political and economic system.  Over and over again, we see that these harmful characteristics include improper political influence, non-enforcement of laws, misguided deregulation, fraudulent activities, insider crimes, short-term thinking, and widespread allowances that let costs by externalized onto workers and the general public.

The bottom line is this:  Institutions that are practically anti-social and psychopathic have grown in power and influence over the years. Corporations are, by law, primarily liability-avoiding, profit-prepossessed organizations that circumvent social and environmental responsibilities and strive to pay a minimum of taxes.  Their actions are basically amoral.  Even when they are giving generously to good causes, or “greenwashing” their activities, it is generally for marketing or public relations purposes.  Their lavish spending on public relations often includes efforts to convince people that their true nature is responsible, caring, honest, fair-minded, environmentally sound and ecologically sane, but this is demonstrably not true in far, far too many instances.

The 2005 documentary film McLibel provides a chilling understanding of abusive business practices and pernicious tactics that corporations sometimes use to intimidate people and censor criticisms.  The film highlights nefarious efforts by corporations to stack courts with “conservative” judges who oppose the best interest of consumers.  It makes clear the extent to which big corporations around the world try to control consumers and workers, and to maneuver governments into doing their bidding.

The McLibel case involved the fast-food franchise McDonald’s and two protestors who had produced a damning pamphlet entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s? -- Everything They Don’t Want You to Know”.  McDonald’s vindictively sued for libel, and the ensuing libel trial became the longest in British history.  “It will go down in history as the most expensive and disastrous public relations exercise ever mounted by a multinational company,” according to a TV news channel.

Today, lawyers for the oil industry are vigorously defending their corporate clients from unfolding revelations that their scientists and executives were aware of the risks of burning fossil fuels in altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere, and yet they covered up this knowledge and unethically waged a disinformation campaign to sow doubt about this harm.

So it can clearly be seen that in many instance, instead of helping solve the overarching problems that face the U.S. and humanity in general, big multinational corporations are making many of the most pressing problems worse, contributing to environmental destruction, pollution, resource depletion, cruelty to animals, economic inequality, fiscal imbalances, violent strife, and ill health for millions of people. 

Rationalized greed and organizational mandates for narrow self-interest should give way to more humane values.  Corporate violations of law reflect blatant hubris. If management were to be held accountable for damaging activities, the incidence of such harms would be reduced.  A terrible legacy of the ascendancy of corporate power in modern societies is that workers are being exploited, the public is being harmed, resources are being squandered with profligate abandon, and ecosystems are being poisoned, damaged, or destabilized.  This legacy is a form of insidiously-harmful tyranny of current generations of people alive today against all people in future generations.  Many rich people and CEOs may be smart, innovative, friendly, accomplished, fun-loving, or generous for the most part, but in their roles as leaders who enable these abuses of power, and as participants who are complicit in them, and as persons making huge profits from this facet of the status quo, they are acting as villains. 

Here’s a  thought-provoking perspective:

“A century and a half after its birth, the modern business corporation, an artificial person made in the image of a human psychopath, now is seeking to remake real people in its image.”

                                            --- Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to the rights of people when it ruled in January 2010 to overturn long-standing legal precedents that had been designed to limit the highly unfair influence of corporations and unions in American elections. This narrow decision has undermined the fair representation rights of individuals, and ramped up the power of Big Money in our political system.  This ruling has further distorted and corrupted our decision-making processes.  I find this to be a crucially important understanding, as evaluated in Common Sense vs. Political Realities: An Anatomy of Dysfunctionality, an in-depth analysis of this problem and the ruling in the Citizens United case.

Ideally, all interest groups should be given fair representation in our societies, including young people under the age of 18 even though they are not allowed to vote. The interests of all people in future generations should also be better represented.  To achieve these sensible goals, we should limit the corrupt tyranny of insider influence on our politics.  Our Founders did a great job creating a democratic republic that has withstood the test of time, but today democratic governance is being excessively undermined by Big Money and corporate abuses of power. 

The Founders essentially stated in the Declaration of Independence that whenever a political system becomes destructive of the goals of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, We the People have the right to alter the Government and lay new foundations for governance on such principles and forms of organization that shall seem most likely to effect the safety and happiness of the people.  It is our right, and indeed our obligation, to institute fairer, saner, and more prudent public policies.  Let’s do so, sometime soon! 

Let’s just do it!

 “Always do right -- this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”

                                                                                                     --- Mark Twain

Property versus People

Freedoms in America have been strongly wedded to private property rights.  The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is near and dear to the heart of many Americans because it involves issues concerning “just compensation” for eminent domain seizures of private property by the government when such takings are deemed necessary for civic purposes like building highways. 

Even more contentious issues are found in “imputed takings” that occur when socially desirable zoning or regulations are created as “public uses”.  Complex legal issues are involved in planning decisions that may directly diminish the value of a property or proposed development, but it is surely in the public interest to be able to make such choices without excessive costs.  Common law ‘public trust doctrines’ hold that governments must act to protect public land access and uses, and natural resources as well.  This issue is of considerable interest to landowners and free market conservatives -- and to the best interests of people and communities as well.

An associated corporate type of “taking” is found in international trade agreements that allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” or hurt their business. By giving higher priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers, provisions like this are demonstrably wrongheaded.

The novelist, philosopher and intellectual Ayn (rhymes with ‘mine’) Rand popularized a view of business industrialists as heroic individuals who utilize economic and political freedom to generate wealth in a free-market capitalist economy.  She felt passionately that such individuals should be allowed to make money with a minimum of government regulation -- and that they deserve to keep a maximum amount of their earnings by paying a minimum in taxes.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other officials enthusiastically embraced her points of view.  They pursued anti-regulatory schemes like the ones that led to the disastrous Savings-and-Loan debacle of 1989.  Another consequence was the even more costly Inside Job of the financial crisis and economic recession that began in 2008. 

Fine, fine, fine, Ayn and your disciples, if you want to lionize greed as a virtue.  But it is obvious that when greed contributes to increasingly extreme inequities between the Haves and the Have Nots, it is socially undesirable.  When someone fiercely promotes initiatives that lead to radical increases in inequities, it is like a socially detrimental vice, not a virtue.  This is especially true if greed leads to impulses being unregulated, undisciplined and unaccountable so that speculation is excessively stoked, incentives are undesirably distorted, and systemic economic setbacks arise that disproportionately affect the Have Nots.

Fair competition and fair trade, to be sure, can have positive influences in our societies in many ways.  For instance, the contrast between the quality, dependability and safety of automobiles today is dramatic in comparison to 50 years ago.  This has resulted from intense competition between American auto manufacturers and foreign automakers like those in Japan and Germany. However, the insidious expediency of using seductive advertising to stimulate demand for large fuel-inefficient SUVs and trucks has stimulated a compulsion to buy unnecessarily powerful fuel-wasting vehicles.  Automakers have marketed these vehicles aggressively because profits on them are higher than profits on smaller, less polluting vehicles. 

The persuasive marketing of large cars and trucks has unfortunately caused many misallocations of resources and a socially and environmentally negative squandering of fossil fuels.  Partially because gasoline is much cheaper in the United States than in most other nations, we have the lowest average fleet mileage of almost any country in the world, and our industries run at only half the energy efficiency of businesses in Japan and Germany.  These trends are contributing to global warming by emitting unnecessarily large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

Global warming is responsible for a record number of extreme high temperatures around the world so far this century, and for severe droughts in many places and other costly impacts of changing weather patterns worldwide.  People in the drought-afflicted Midwest in the summer of 2012 were beginning to agree it would be wise to start creating effective incentives to mitigate global warming, rather than to continue denying current and future costs of ignoring ecological interconnections.  And people in places like southern California who are experiencing a fifth drought year in a row in 2016 are witnessing these impacts with an ominous visceral feeling. 

Our best strategy would be to follow an honest and reasonable “no regrets” approach that is focused on actions and behaviors that are consistent with shared prosperity and the common good.  This “no regrets” idea is the basis for the precautionary principle.  As enunciated in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, this principle states that “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.”

                                                          --- Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview

The whole issue of individual freedom and social responsibility is explored in Earth Manifesto essays like Ayn Rand, Jack London, and a Fountainhead of Philosophy;  and in Freedom – Utopian Idea and Unifying Objective;  as well as in Comprehensive Global Perspective.  Check them out!

Environmental Impact Assessments

Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 in recognition of the far-flung impacts and conflicts of interest associated with industrial undertakings and real estate developments.  This legislation required that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) be done to determine the impacts and collateral damages likely to be caused by proposed activities.  EIAs are required to be completed by an independent party so that all identified issues involved are fairly considered.  This is a big step beyond the heyday of environmental obtuseness that characterized the hydraulic mining of the Sierra Nevada foothills in the nineteenth century.

These assessments generally address direct, on-site effects of developments alone, but not larger considerations.  It is clear that almost all real estate developments cause a multitude of additional indirect effects through such things as the mining of resources, the production of building materials and machinery, the consumption and transportation of goods and services during construction, and additional land and energy use for activities involved in mining and manufacturing services.  There are also associated impacts like increased traffic and vehicular emissions related to on-going services by housekeepers, gardeners, landscapers, plumbers and other service workers.

The indirect effects of real estate developments are often an order of magnitude larger than the direct effects assessed by EIAs, and include national and global environmental impacts like increases in greenhouse gas emissions and the stimulated depletion of both renewable and non-renewable resources.  Intricate complexities and interconnections are involved in all large-scale activities, so all nations should begin to take into account the bigger impacts that our collective activities are having on the health and balance of our home planet’s ecosystems.  Let’s collaborate together!

   “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

                                                                                                                           --- The Persian poet Rumi

Hot Coffee -- Another Take on Corporatism

An intense on-going struggle is taking place between lawyers who strive to defend the rights of individual people and opposing lawyers who work to strengthen the power and privileges of big businesses.  Corporate entities abuse the power of their deep pockets to get organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other political “front groups” to wage a sustained campaign to elect corporate-friendly conservative judges to courts at county, state and federal levels.  To the extent they succeed in stacking the courts, our civil justice system is imbalanced with impulses toward undermining workers’ rights and protections of consumers and the environment.

Other similar efforts to benefit big corporations at the expense of people’s rights are found in laws that limit supposedly “frivolous lawsuits”.  Likewise, laws that impose caps on jury-imposed damages, or that require mandatory arbitration rather than seeking remedies in the civil justice system, can be seen to erode the power and rights of ordinary Americans. Additionally, conservative Justices on the Supreme Court have ruled in recent years to undermine efforts by numerous plaintiffs to participate in class-action lawsuits. 

These initiatives reduce legal costs and liabilities of corporations and allow them to evade penalties for harms that their actions cause in a wide variety of cases.  Comprehensive understandings of these manipulations of the civil justice system reveal that, in the bright illuminating light of big picture understandings, our legal system is deeply corrupted by the influence of Big Money.

The documentary film Hot Coffee provides provocative perspective about the inimical influences that big corporations have in court cases and judicial elections.  Corporations are legal entities that are the primary instruments used to maximize earnings and limit liabilities.  Big Media collaborates to help “catapult the propaganda” in order to achieve these goals. 

No matter how fervently propaganda is propagated by giant corporations, Wall Street moguls, right-wing think tanks, Fox News commentators, Big Media promoters, CEOs, hedge fund managers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a myriad of other generously-funded front groups like the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the truth is often very different.  Extensive social, financial, and environmental problems exist that should be boldly addressed.  And these challenges require proper priorities, smart and forward-thinking legislation, and adequate funding to solve them.

Rich people and big corporations are highly effective in limiting their liabilities.  This makes it nearly impossible for us to collectively deal with the overarching challenges that face us in an honest and fair manner.  The greatest economic and political challenges of our times are the sustainability of the environmental commons, the stabilization of the world’s population, and the mitigation of destabilizing extreme poverty.  To properly cope with these problems, we need to fairly cope with real causes, not merely the symptoms.

Our attention, energies and resources have been diverted from these challenges by a focus on irresponsible profit-making and hot button social issues, and by gambits like the prosecution of an extremely costly international “war on terror”. Instead of being distracted by a narrow focus on these diversions, we need to foster global cooperation toward achieving goals that are consistent with the greater good.  To achieve this, a fairer balance of power between corporations and the people must be established!

Let Voters Have a Voice!

Governor Jerry Brown of California stated in March 2011 that far-right extremists were opposing his plan to let the people of California vote on matters that intimately concern them.  Republicans wanted to prevent people from having a say in the public policies of our states and nation, as if politicians know what the best course of action should be for the common good, and as if they can be trusted to decide fairly!

Republicans have been leading the corporate charge to eliminate environmental protections and even the Environmental Protection Agency itself.  They have been stubborn in their striving to protect banks and Wall Street from reform efforts that would protect consumers, limit risky financial leverage, create smarter incentives, constrain systemic risks, and rein in rapacious greed.  They want to eliminate crucially important rules, government oversight, and corporate accountability.

Meanwhile, bureaucratic government entities grow like proliferating algal blooms, creating often-onerous red tape without effectively solving problems or limiting the influence of big businesses.  The largest and most ruthless businesses tend to benefit at the expense of small businesses and working people.  The federal government has built an increasingly unaffordable National Security apparatus in the U.S. military and Intelligence establishments, and these institutions have been intervening overly aggressively in the affairs of other peoples in nations worldwide.  The primary purposes of these activities appear to be to further the aims of the war services military-industrial complex and stimulate profit-making and other ends that are often deceptively cast in patriotic and nationalistic frames.

We Americans can and must change this state of affairs.  We should diminish the power and influence of corporations by reducing the access of Big Money in our politics.  To do this, we should enact smart Campaign Finance laws and Fair Elections legislation. We should also enact serious Congressional ethics reforms and much more stringent rules governing the activities of lobbyists. And we should formulate a law like the 2009 proposal for an Arbitration Fairness Act that would end the predatory practice of forcing non-union employees and consumers and others to sign away their rights to legal protections and access to the courts. 

Republican Party Mutates, Confirming the Theory of Evolution!

The seriously satirical humorist Andy Borowitz once suggested in a funny assessment that “The U.S. policy of exporting democracy abroad has meant that there is very little of it left at home.”  Ha!  Borowitz went on to speculate that (this was in the year 2011), if the U.S. continues to export democracy at the current pace, we “may completely run out of it at home by the year 2015.”  A sudden burst of hysterical laughter emanates viscerally from within.

The Republican Party was once a political organization known for integrity, civic-mindedness and fiscal discipline.  In recent decades, however, Republicans appears to effectively be against democracy altogether.  Evidence of this contention is found in the fact that Republicans in many states across the nation have been taking actions to disenfranchise millions of voters. 

In California, Republicans spearheaded a movement in 1978 to deny the majority of people the right to make civic funding decisions by getting the egregiously unfair Proposition 13 passed.  This was a law that changed the requirement for all budgetary decisions involving tax revenues from needing the support of 51% of the people’s representatives to needing 67%.  Fast forward 33 years, and the GOP in California in 2011 had basically “moved the goal posts” to prevent people from being able to vote on revenue-continuation measures as proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, even though such measures were needed to help deal with the State’s recession-exacerbated fiscal problems at the time.

It appears that Republicans need a come-to-Jesus epiphany of some sort.  They seem to cherish the memory of George W. Bush’s proclamation that HE was “the Decider.”  As he simple-mindedly stated in July 2001, “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."  Today, Republican candidate Trump has grabbed this idea and run with it.

I love our country.  Let it be.  Let it be -- Let’s keep it a democracy!  And let’s make it a fairer place!

Insights into Deep Ecology

“Do not be too moral.  You may cheat yourself out of much of life so.  Aim above morality.   Be not

   simply good;  be good for something.”

                                                             --- Henry David Thoreau

The surge of progressive grassroots energy represented by Occupy movements gave hope that some constructive change would be effected to reduce economic unfairness.  After all, economic unfairness and the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few are political phenomena that are characteristic of capitalist systems as well as being factors in socialist or communist ones.  Once we sensibly understand this true nature of things, we are more likely to be able to create fairer systems that are more responsible to all the citizens in a country as a whole.  

Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess was a founder of the deep ecology movement.  He felt strongly that people need to begin conceiving of themselves in an ever-widening process of self-identity.  This new kind of self-realization would place more value on doing the right thing for ourselves AND for the greater good, and to do so without feeling it is merely an altruistic course of action that is contrary to self-interested motives. 

This would constitute a “greening of the self” that would help ensure that our societies would become more socially and ecologically sane.  This new form of self-actualization would not require sermonizing or moral exhortation to motivate people to act in ways more closely aligned with the greater good. 

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy observes that we are living in a period that she sees as “an essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”  Calling this the “Great Turning”, Ms. Macy indicates that this movement involves an expansive awareness of who we really are as evolving social beings.  Such a greening of the self will hopefully be more attuned to a new willingness to accept greater responsibility toward others, including all the countless people to be born in future generations.

“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world -- we’ve actually been on that way for quite a while.  It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves, and to each other.”

                       --- Joanna Macy

Human clans managed to flourish during the many millennia of our hunter and gatherer days by cooperating together to minimize violence within their groups.  Clan groups whose members willingly worked with each other for the greater good of the group had survival advantages over less adaptive clans that were more selfishly individualistic.

The size of groups in which human beings live has grown steadily over the millennia, especially in the past two centuries when human numbers have increased from 1 billion to more than 7 billion.  As a consequence, the need has grown for us to find ways to create ever-more expansive versions of the greater good rather than following old ways and pursuing narrower goals.  As our senses of self grow more inclusive, it may help us overcome our alienation from the rest of creation.  Otherwise, the mindless abandon of our assaults on the natural world and our resource-depleting and wildlife-slaughtering activities may make today’s challenges seem minor by comparison.

This adaptive and evolving modern sense of self leads us again to a shared understanding:  we are all in this world together, interconnected and interdependent.  This realization should help inspire us to collaborate together more fully to create healthier and more sustainable societies.

The Century of the Self

When we closely explore issues involving our selves and our values, we discover fascinating things.  I highly recommend watching the provocative BBC documentary The Century of the Self.  This four-part film provides a surprising perspective of the enormous influence exerted in the world by the ideas of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays and his daughter Anna Freud.  This compelling film can be viewed on the Internet.  Take the time to watch it (in total, it is almost 4 hours long).  It is easy to toggle along so that it can be watched in convenient segments at your leisure.  Take notes! 

Edward Bernays more or less invented the persuasive art of public relations.  He was called “the father of spin” in a 1998 book by Larry Tye.  Bernays developed clever uses of propaganda that appealed to people’s subconscious minds and utilized methods of mass persuasion to stimulate mass consumption.  His far-reaching efforts helped transform our economic system from one that sold products and services based on needs to a demand economy based on expanding and stoked desires. 

Bernays believed that people could be made to feel good about themselves and find self-gratification by shopping and buying things.  Partially as a consequence, citizens in our societies have become more materialistic and more passive consumers rather than being actively involved good citizens.  It is a somewhat pathetic thing for our self-identities to be defined to such a large extent by shopping and possessing things.  Materialistic worldviews like this are distinctly contrary to sensibly conservation-minded levels of resource consumption.

Our Founders recognized in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.  In glaring contrast, Edward Bernays saw that mass persuasion could be used to engineer consent through manipulative strategies that use the media to play on people’s desires, insecurities, and fears.

One of Bernays’ early successes was achieved by covertly contriving events for his business clients to secure news coverage without the need to pay for advertizing.  This was clever because it saved the cost of paying for ads to get attention for a client’s products.  A classic instance of this took place in 1929, when Bernays created a “Torches of Freedom” campaign targeted to encourage women to smoke cigarettes in public.  That campaign linked resistance to cultural discrimination against women with the freedom for them to light up cigarettes in public.  It was a campaign that had the insidious ulterior motive of promoting Lucky Strike cigarettes, so it had terribly unhealthy long-term side effects, including a costly increase in lung cancer in women.  “What billed itself as a feminist promotion of the emancipation of women was in reality a public relations ploy to open a new market for tobacco by getting women addicted to cigarettes.”

Edward Bernays enthusiastically enjoyed the ballyhoo hype of a media circus.  If he had lived today, he would likely have desired to work for Fox News to manipulate public opinion.  The most radical propaganda activities that Bernays employed were political, according to Wikipedia, and were conducted on behalf of the multinational corporation United Fruit Company.  Bernays was involved in a propaganda campaign to brand General Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, the democratically elected president of Guatemala, as a communist.  Guatemala was known as a “banana republic” because of the overwhelmingly influential role that United Fruit Company played in dominating Guatemala’s politics.  Bernays’ efforts helped the CIA in its efforts to overthrow General Arbenz in 1954.  This sordid story of covert operations makes it perfectly clear that multinational corporations, aided by the federal government and the CIA, sometimes actively strive to subvert democracy and control people by psychologically manipulating them. 

Sigmund Freud saw people as primarily driven by dark forces and powerful sexual urges, so he used psychoanalysis as “a talking cure” to unearth his patients’ unconscious drives and hidden motives.  He did this in the belief that bringing these feelings into conscious awareness would help people lead healthier lives.  In pathetic contrast, his nephew Edward Bernays ironically used psychological techniques “to mask the motives of his clients as part of a deliberate strategy that was aimed at keeping the public unconscious of the forces that were working to mold their minds.”

Bernays also exploited feminist ideals, according to one commentator, to serve as a “systematic re-engineering of the morals of women as a way of moving them out of the home and into the workforce, thereby lowering wages and weakening the power of organized labor and the working class family.”  Hmmm … these are obviously complex issues.  Only 25% of women were in the work force in the 1920s, and more than twice that percentage work today, so megatrend shifts have definitely taken place, for better or for worse. 

When I was first pondering these ideas in 2012, Republican Newt Gingrich was running for president, and he seemed to be using similar ideas by shrewdly suggesting that children should be used as workers in schools.  He claimed that this would teach poor kids a work ethic, and drive down wage costs, and save a lot of money by getting rid of unionized janitors and professional custodians.  Are child labor laws “truly stupid”, as Gingrich egregiously asserted?  Or was this just another right-wing attempt at “radical social engineering”?

In more modern times, shrewd operatives like Richard Berman have been ruthless mercenaries in working to shape public opinion and defend the status quo in many industries.  Berman has been dubbed “Dr. Evil” for his similarity in appearance and alleged lack of a moral compass to the arch villain in the Austin Powers series of movies.  Berman is known for using tactics to “win ugly”, and for having masterminded public relations campaigns against animal rights, labor unions, minimum wages, environmental groups, green building organizations, food watchdogs, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as well as initiatives designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change disruptions.

Assessing the Role of Conservatism in American Society Today

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is,

   the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

                                                                                        -- American economist John Kenneth Galbraith

Radical conservatives have been corrupting our politics for years and distorting our national understandings to advance the self-interest of the wealthiest people in our society.  Conservative politicians obediently advocate regressive tax policies and de-regulatory dogmas, and champion fraudulent supply-side economic theories and “trickle-down” ideologies.  They seem to be obsessively enamored with the curiously deceptive story that giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires is the optimum way to create jobs and make America better.  This shrewd strategy generates big financial contributions to politicians so that they can gain power and continue to wield it.

Conservatives also deny the nearly unanimous scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is causing global warming and disruptions of global weather patterns.  These ploys are cynically shortsightedly, insidiously dangerous, and extremely costly.

Social conservatives have been nakedly exposing themselves in the past three decades by embracing ideological absurdities as if they are the Holy Grail itself.  Many of them deny the greatest and most expansive human understandings ever achieved. They cling to antediluvian creation myths despite extensive scientific knowledge of the billions-of-years-old genesis of the physical universe, and the eons-long unfolding expansion of galactic matter and energy, and the biological evolution of life on Earth.  They deny these things in defiance of numerous discoveries of the scientific disciplines of astronomy, astrophysics, geology, biology and genetics, and they deny them despite the extensive evidence of millions of fossils of antecedent forms of life that are found around the planet. 

One unfortunate part of this is that religious extremists in the U.S. and abroad are contributing to dire conflicts worldwide.  Live-and-let live attitudes and cooperative problem solving would be better ways of relating to others than contributing to violent conflicts around the globe.  A new worldwide religion, as provocatively proposed in Revelations of a Modern Prophet, might be a more positive development than continuing with the way things are. This new religion would be more ecumenical, tolerant, and respectful of Earth and its ecosystems, and of all the other forms of life upon which we depend for our well-being.  Such a new religion would be more responsible in its founding tenets for the wise and providential stewardship of Mother Earth and her natural resources.

The awe-inspiring mysteries of the Universe are far more profound and astonishing than the simple and simplistic doctrines and parochial, closed-minded, antiquated stories and explanations of most established religions, so they deserve greater understanding, reverence and emotional attachment.

“If you devote a little time to studying the staggering photographs taken by the Hubble telescope, you will be scrutinizing things that are for more awesome and mysterious and beautiful -- and more chaotic and overwhelming and forbidding -- than any creation or end-of-days story.”

                                                                                            --- The late journalist Christopher Hitchens

Can We Find Common Cause?

The Occupy Movement should be able to find common cause with the Tea Party because both groups oppose corporate corruption and huge amounts of deficit spending.  People who support the Tea Party movement tend to have the mentality of small business people, so they oppose organized labor and bridle at being required to provide benefits to workers.  They also tend to oppose regulations, taxes, lawsuits and bailouts.  This movement unfortunately is anti-liberal, anti-intellectual and against government solutions to problems, and it opposes universal healthcare because ‘Obamacare’ (the Affordable Healthcare Act) is regarded as too opprobrious in its requirements for businesses that employ more than 50 employees to provide health insurance for employees.  This requirement strips away one of the most significant competitive advantages of small businesses -- being able to save money by not providing health insurance to employees.  Overly complex tax returns also bother small business owners, as do health inspectors, employee health and safety regulations, environmental protections, and other requirements they regard as merely “red tape”.

Consider this understanding.  After the fiscally disastrous years of the George W. Bush presidency, Republicans were trounced in the 2008 national elections.  But the Right made an astounding comeback in the 2010 elections by using a “hard-times swindle”, according to historian Thomas Frank.  The Right did this “not by deception alone -- although there has been a great deal of this -- but by offering an idealism so powerful that it clouds its partisans’ perceptions of reality.”  This idealism consists of free-market ideology and laissez-faire corporatism coupled with anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government, anti-union and even anti-scientific dogmas. 

Thomas Frank, the author of the compelling book What’s the Matter with Kansas, has written another book titled Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.  This insightful book provides a fascinating perspective of the public outrage sparked by the recession that began in 2008.  The loss of millions of jobs and millions of homes to foreclosure, and the bailouts of banks, Wall Street institutions, the behemoth insurer AIG, and American auto companies struck anger and cynicism into the hearts of many Americans. The perpetrators of this economic debacle put on masks of righteous grievance and shifted anger away from the obvious culprits, and directed it toward liberals and Democrats, branding them as “socialists”. 

People should have been outraged by the regulatory permissiveness that allowed giant banks to take big risks and force taxpayers into bailing them out.  They should oppose unregulated trading in risky financial derivatives. They should be angered at the many ruses of vulture capitalists, and trickle-down deceptions, and mortgage fraud, and widespread home foreclosures, and the risky policies of bubble economics.  Amazingly, their anger was instead channeled against underwater homeowners, organized labor, progressive taxation, and sensible government regulation and oversight of the economy.  Instead of criticizing the status quo of the Bush years, the Right transmogrified people’s anger into a defense of the systems that have wrought such worldwide turmoil, hardship, political instability, and public debt.  Under the cover of these developments, corporations and apologists for the Right have been able to escalate their war against the collective bargaining rights of employees and protections of consumers and the environment.

The conservative movement has adopted a variety of outright falsehoods as articles of faith.  Conservatives wrongly blame Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Great Depression.  They assign most of the responsibility for the mortgage meltdown and the Great Recession to the federal government.  They blame President Obama for bailouts of banks and Wall Street, and for the need for stimulus spending to prevent another Depression.  They believe deregulation is the solution to economic malaise, instead of recognizing it as having been a primary contributing cause of the 2008 credit crisis.  They deny the adverse effects of subsidized fossil fuel industries on global warming.  And they have embraced socially conservative authoritarianism, despite their “Don’t Tread On Me” sensibilities.

Insights into The Authoritarians

Social conservatives tend to be “authoritarian followers”, according to Bob Altemeyer, who has outlined a list of twelve revealing tendencies in the behavior of people in the Tea Party.  He examines many studies about authoritarian followers and the authoritarian leaders that they obey.  Altemeyer concludes in his interesting online book The Authoritarians:  “… the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.”

Altemeyer notes that it is “mind-boggling” that conservatives revere those who serve their country in the military and give their lives defending freedom, and yet they simultaneously support moves to take people’s freedoms away.  He asks, “How can they go on believing things that have been disproved over and over again, and disbelieve things that are well established?”  He also wondered, “Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites?” 

Right-wing extremists, it turns out, and fervent believers in the righteousness of white supremacy, and right-wing hate groups have often been behind domestic terrorist incidents, gun violence, repression, and Sagebrush Rebellion defiance in the U.S. since 2001.  And Mr. Trump’s triumphant crushing of his political opponents in the 2016 primary elections is foreboding.

An example of the illogical inconsistencies of staunch social conservatives is the fervent desire of many Republicans to criminalize abortion while simultaneously eviscerating programs that address women’s and children’s healthcare and poverty and fair treatment.  It is as if they believe that “life begins at conception, and ends at birth,” as Rep. Barney Frank once trenchantly observed. 

It seems clear that the Republican Party has become radicalized in the past several decades.  Anti-tax, anti-government spokesmen like Grover Norquist encourage obstruction and pledges to never ever compromise.  The Grand Old Party has been hijacked by “conservatives without conscience”, but people should demand more fair-mindedness and integrity from their political representatives!

Yay! for the Perspectives of Mark Twain!

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

                                                                                   --- Mark Twain

I have a great respect for Mark Twain’s brilliant drawling sense of humor and his use of incisive wit to lampoon human follies.  I love the sincerely wild exaggerations he employed to good effect in many of his entertaining stories. These droll perspectives make his stories occasionally preposterous, but enthralling.  His creative wit and wisdom are admirable, and his sharp tongue and pen were honorable when he used them for serious purposes, like when he criticized political corruption, Gilded Age inequities, and unjust American imperialism.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad

    people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

                                                                                            --- Martin Luther King, Jr.

My inherited Twainian impulses encourage me to ridicule the follies of domineering influences in the world today, and to lampoon their failings and hypocritical aspects.  My own personal character is much more mild-mannered than Mark Twain’s, and perhaps less cynical and more self-effacing, and less deterministic. Rather than laughing out loud at the latest reports of human folly, I tend to smile broadly and whistle under my breath at instances of sensational stubbornness, shortsightedness and selfishness.

After hearing the proclamations of one of the relatively few remaining climate change deniers, and seeing how suspiciously self-serving their affiliations are, or witnessing the odd prophesies and beliefs of End Time Rapture prognosticators like the now deceased Harold Camping and the Left Behind series writer Tim LaHaye, or pondering the curious assertions of apologists who stridently support policies that will make rich people richer and poor people worse off, one could be forgiven for thinking that the late Warren Hellman may have glimpsed a kernel of epiphany when he observed, “Sometimes in this world, it’s hard to believe that only half the people are dumber than average.”  Ha ha!

If you tune in to Fox News, you hear all manner of talking heads agreeing that President Obama’s policies have been a terrible failure, and denying any culpability for George W. Bush having gotten us into trillion dollar wars using borrowed money and for having increased federal government spending like a drunken sailor, and for having crashed the economy.  The fact that Republicans have stubbornly obstructed every initiative Barack Obama has tried to implement to fix the mess he inherited is disgusting.  This sabotage has hurt millions of people, and was undertaken to advance ridiculously narrow power obsessed (and racially tinged) goals. 

It is stunning to realize that the overriding goal of Republicans is to elect a “conservative” president who will slash taxes on rich people and giant corporations to levels even lower than the current multi-generational lows.  This is madness.  Harsh spending cuts would be required to offset the staggering losses of revenue related to these radical tax cutting plans.  Republican proposals are crazy that would slash spending on public education, infrastructure investments, public safety, the social security safety net and environmental protections. It is more or less financially impossible to balance the budget with such retrogressive, cynically-inegalitarian, counterproductive, lame-brained and idiotically-prioritized plans.  “Heck of a job, Brownie!”

Two years after first writing these words, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas achieved a signal and pathetic achievement.  After slashing state taxes and shifting the burden of taxes from high incomes to low incomes, Kansas is suffering serious shortfalls in revenues and being forced to cut public funding for education and social safety net programs.  This is a disastrous outcome for the people of Kansas, and astoundingly, Sam Brownback is blaming the black guy in the White House for the state’s woes!  “Hell of a job, Brownback!”

"Everything is changing.  People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."

                                    --- Will Rogers, the widely admired and plain-spoken “Favorite Son” of Oklahoma

Satire and ridicule are effective in exposing absurdities and hypocrisy. As it turned out, the many candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination proved to be an entertaining field for ridicule by late-night comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher.  Negative political ads and the numerous Republican primary debates were as dramatic as a bizarre episode of a soap opera farce.  The conservative electorate flip-flopped like a fresh-caught fish in a hot frying pan, trying desperately to find a better alternative than the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney.  They briefly embraced bizarre Michelle Bachmann, and even Rick Perry (oops!), then Herman Cain (whoops!), then Newt Gingrich, and then Rick Santorum.  Libertarian candidate Ron Paul even garnered significant support in many states.  The Catholic religious fundamentalist Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses and some primaries like those in Alabama and Mississippi.

Some of these candidates flip-flopped on many issues.  They faced the distinctly challenging task of pandering to a disparate and acrimonious coalition of laissez-faire economic fundamentalists, far right social conservatives, angry Tea Party reactionaries, way-out libertarians, and deluded and intolerant religious fundamentalists.  Mitt Romney had flip-flopped the most during his career, having appealed to voters in the relatively liberal state of Massachusetts to become its Governor from 2003 to 2007 and then finding it necessary to try to out-compete the scattered selection of extreme conservatives who wanted to win the 2012 Republican nomination. 

The presidential primary debates between Republican candidates were a first-class saga of heated exchanges, extreme positions, mistakes, rude and generally dishonest attacks on President Obama, and stubborn obedience to dogmas that call for “you’re-on-your-own economics” and more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Rick Perry made a curious error of forgetting during a televised national debate that the Department of Energy was one of the government agencies he wanted to eliminate.  “Oops!”  Sigmund Freud might have had a field day with a glaring omission like that, considering how deeply beholden Rick Perry is to the fossil fuel industry in Texas.  Rick Perry ostensibly wants Big Oil to be able to maximize profits at the expense of increased air and water pollution, regardless of the effect that such policies would have on people’s health and in exacerbating disruptions of the global climate.  He seems to care much more about corporate profits than preventing harm to the health and prospects of millions of people.  In any case, Rick Perry would surely agree that once the media has good reason to ridicule you, the assault of laughter will seriously compromise hopes for gaining greater power!

As the 2016 presidential race has unfolded, absurdities seem to be reaching new depths. 

The Way Things Are

Since our political representatives are intently pre-occupied with pandering to the narrow interests of rich people, and since NOW would be the best time to begin to change this state of affairs, I appeal to all wealthy people to accept progressive changes in laws that have provided them with overly generous windfalls while ratcheting up budget deficits and forestalling wiser priorities.  It is a very poor plan to allow rich people to get an increasing concentration of the nation’s wealth while forcing the middle class and the working poor to struggle harder and harder.  The imposition of ever-harsher degrees of hardship on poor people and the young is simply wrong and dangerous. 

Dr. John Bowlby once noted:  All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life offers us a series of excursions, long or short, from a secure base.”  This feels quite true, and from this point of view, efforts that make the majority of Americans increasingly insecure constitute a dastardly and unconscionable strategy, especially when the goal is merely to let rich people pay less tax.

 “The United States already ranks second among modern nations, just behind South Korea, in the share of its workers in low-wage jobs, while too many companies lobby for ever lower taxes and ever smaller wages and ever fewer worker rights in order to protect the mighty torrents of greenbacks flowing into their coffers.  A better balance would make America better off.”    

                                                             --- David Cay Johnston, The Corporations that Occupy Congress

In their adamant intent to protect the privileges of wealthy people, “conservative” politicians are even willing to sacrifice the future well-being of our descendants by reducing protections of the environment and letting corporations externalize costs onto society.  A supposed need for deep cuts in spending is being used as a pretext to significantly reduce protections for millions of acres of public lands, including national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, wildlife preserves, wetlands and even national parks, wilderness areas, national monuments, State Parks and open spaces.  This is crazy!

A Smackdown of Sorts

Voters sent Republicans a clear message about “conservative overreach” in the 2011 elections.  Voters in Ohio repealed a law that stripped public-sector union employees of collective bargaining rights.  Arizona voters recalled a rashly anti-immigrant state senator.  Voters in socially-backward Mississippi rejected a so-called “personhood” amendment that would have given fertilized human eggs -- and even cloned cells! -- the full rights currently assured, more or less, to real living people. 

Social conservatives and self-righteous religious fundamentalists apparently believe fervently that fertilized human eggs should be given the same privileged status of personhood as people who have already been born.  This eagerness to give expanded personhood rights to fertilized eggs goes hand-in-hand with doctrines that seek to take away the civil rights of women and children and immigrants and lesbian women and gay men.  This bizarre bastardization of morality and our national laws is a direct assault on human rights.  It is reminiscent of the essential madness of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which patriarchal authoritarians in a future world twist values and use mind control to manipulate people, and they cook up similarly misguided plans to repress the populace.

Many conservatives support the idea that corporate entities should be treated as persons under the law even though this diminishes rights and fair representation of people in our democratic republic.  This is one reason that corporate rights and power and influence should be more strictly limited.  It is also a prime reason that a “Saving American Democracy Amendment” to the Constitution, as proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders in 2011, should be enacted and ratified to reduce the untoward influence of Big Money in our politics.

Seriously: The Top Ten Ways “Conservatives” Try to Make a Mockery of Our Democracy

It seems like conservatives often oppose democratic fairness.  The Top Ten ways they do this are:

 1. Conservatives are working tirelessly to disenfranchise millions of poor voters.  They are doing this in dozens of states that have Republican Governors and legislatures.  They claim to be concerned about voter fraud, but transparently target their efforts to disenfranchise poor people, young people and minorities who tend to vote for Democrats.  These Republicans are ostensibly doing this to satisfy their topmost goal of winning at any cost, no matter how unethical their ploys.  This is consistent with their Strict Father impulses to gain domineering power by any means necessary.  Call this Integrity Deficient.

 2. Conservatives stubbornly oppose a fair-minded tax structure where everyone pays exactly the same rates on all levels of income, with progressively higher rates on higher levels of income.  They propose, instead, cutting taxes on the highest income earners while effectively borrowing money from future generations to finance this plan.  Call this Treacherously Misguided.

 3. Conservatives insist on eliminating regulations and reducing the accountability of banks and Wall Street speculators and giant corporations.  Call this Transcendent Dishonesty.

 4. Conservative leaders refuse to make fair-minded compromises on a wide range of issues, including efforts to limit contributions made by billionaires and giant corporations to Super PAC funds that are unfairly altering election outcomes.  Call this Loyally Traitorous.

 5. Conservatives strive to stack the Supreme Court with corporate fundamentalists and social conservatives who are outside the mainstream of judicial thinking.  Call this Wily Coyote Shrewd.

 6. Conservatives side with corporations, rich people and corporate executives in striving to undermine the rights and benefits of workers.  Call this the Tricky Dick Syndrome.

 7. Conservatives are making concerted efforts to limit the rights of women to use contraceptives and plan their families, and they work to deny women the option of terminating a pregnancy even in cases of rape, incest or the risk of a woman’s death.  By choosing such extreme courses of action, they refuse to recognize the fact that the growth in the world population, which now exceeds 7 billion people, is a significant factor in exacerbating all the most serious global problems that confront humankind.  Call this attitude Ruthlessly Uncompassionate and Bizarrely Contradictory.

 8. Conservatives support policies that effectively create an ever-growing disparity between the financial security of rich people and all others, and an ever-widening gap between people in matters that affect economic security, adequate medical care, and the health of ecosystems that sustains us.  Call this Super Cynically Hypocritical and All But Criminal.

 9. Conservatives want to give corporations and embryos the rights of personhood even though such actions reduce the rights, prerogatives and well-being of all Americans who are already alive right now.  Call this Sublimely Absurd.

10. Conservatives champion Military Keynesian hyper-spending and borrowing, and other short-term-oriented goals, at the expense of future generations.  Call this Conspiratorially Sneaky.

An Aside on Militarism

John Steinbeck’s haunting words, penned in 1940, again reverberate in the interstices of my mind:

“Some time ago a Congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed our people.  They said, and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure.  And now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation, and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed.”

Today, no one seems to believe that Congress is filled with honest men, particularly not since the infusion of Tea Party Republicans in the 2010 elections and an on-going purge of centrists.  But our representatives sure are devoting enormous amounts of money to the military, and the clamor is deafening for spending less on social programs that would otherwise make people generally more secure.

Total spending on the U.S. military was an estimated $18 trillion from 1980 through 2015.  Curiously, this is about the same amount that the national debt increased during this period of time.  We have effectively borrowed the total cost for military spending in the past three decades.  It is outrageous for people today to steal from our descendants to finance such wasteful spending.  We are, in effect, trying to gain national security now by mortgaging the future, even though this almost certainly will make people in the future less secure. 

In addition, it seems obvious that the aggregate well-being of the people in our nation is much more endangered by proposals to make substantial reductions in programs that ensure social security than it would be if we cancelled weapons systems that have little real likelihood of mitigating actual threats to our national security.  There are many opportunity costs associated with squandering so much money on the military.  Less money is available to invest in vital things like good public education, energy efficiency, the conservation of resources, research and development, physical infrastructure, universal healthcare, environmental protections, and national well-being in general.

The U.S. has been engaged in high levels of deficit-financed spending on Cold War conflicts, military personnel, armaments, munitions, wars, and military occupations ever since World War II.  Spending on the military-industrial complex has increased by more than 70% since 9/11/01 to fight an endless “War on Terror”.  Ideological arguments are advanced claiming that spending on the military using borrowed money is a positive economic stimulus.  This strategy, known as Military Keynesianism, is a risky fiscal undertaking that employs reckless and unfair expediencies of borrowing enormous amounts of money from people in the future. 

A more honest national policy would be to pay-as-we-go for military expenditures.  To finance high levels of military spending, it would be appropriate to assess higher taxes on imported oil, since much of our military spending is targeted to ensure the continuous flow of oil from Middle Eastern nations.  A Pigouvian tax strategy like this would raise money to reduce budget deficits, and it would also make the real costs clearer to the American people of aggressive militarism and the stationing of hundreds of thousands of our troops abroad. 

We can no longer afford to spend so wastefully on the military.  It is extremely shortsighted to continue to pursue hyper-spending Military Keynesian policies.  The reasons we have been unable to tightly control military expenditures are primarily because of extreme partisan strife, brinksmanship, political pandering, fear mongering, macho posturing, hawkish propaganda and the powerful motive of profit-making on war services.  It is unfair to our descendants to obtusely allow these impulses to drive our national policies.  Expedient deficit financing is radically out of step with sensible means of determining pragmatic, affordable, fair-minded, and rational courses of action.  Check out Reflections on War -- and Peace for more comprehensive understandings related to these issues.

Historic News

Osama bin Laden was assassinated in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011 by an intrepid team of U.S. Navy SEALS.  Soon thereafter a sound recording surfaced on the Internet of eerie calls-to-prayer that are commonly heard emanating from minaret towers in Muslim countries, followed by a sudden interrupting staccato of gun shots and then the American national anthem struck up in a rousing triumphal orgy of exultant gloating.  Yes, siree!  Only ten years and $1 trillion, and we finally vanquished this arch enemy.  Yahoo for us!  Intrigue, violence, mayhem and murder – “ya gotta love it!”

But let’s sober up!  This sensationalistic event closed one chapter on a CIA project gone very, very wrong.  One need not be a sleuthing detective to be aware that the U.S. was responsible for vaulting Osama bin Laden from obscurity into a position of power, influence and notoriety in world affairs.  We gave him financial and logistical support in a covert operation in Afghanistan known as “Charlie Wilson’s War” in the 1980s.  In this affair, the U.S. clandestinely supported Osama bin Laden and Muslim guerrillas known as mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviet military in Afghanistan. 

Here again, truth is sometimes be stranger than fiction.  This intrigue resulted in the end of the Cold War in 1989 when the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union was bankrupted and its costly military intervention in Afghanistan came to an end.  This American intrigue, however, spawned a new ideological enemy.  In a classic case of blowback, Osama bin Laden tapped into the powerful anger of long-suffering Arab frustration and humiliation, and used the tactics of indiscriminate terrorism and ruthless extremism to oppose what they regarded as the new infidel, the United States.  The militarism, interventionism, exploitation, domineering overreach, and hubris-filled ethnocentric supremacism of the U.S. led many Muslims to regard the U.S. as “the Great Satan”.  This helped rile extremists and recruit new believers to their oppositional causes.

After the Soviets were finally defeated in Afghanistan, the Taliban came to power.  This was a vicious group of backward-looking, women-oppressing, opium trafficking, terrorism-supporting rulers who shared a perspective with Osama bin Laden that the Americans were the new foreign infidels.  This point of view provided an impetus for a succession of terrorist attacks, including the shocking 9/11 airplane hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

Now that we have sobered up after the killing of bin Laden, we should focus on deeper causes rather than just symptoms.  Let’s begin to address real underlying issues of the desperation of billions of people, and of far-reaching injustices and abuses of power. 

Let us clearly see the implications of the fact that violent opposition provides counter-support for what it supposedly opposes.  It does this by signaling, energizing and strengthening what is opposed.  Our economic sanctions and military presence in the Middle East have created serious conflicts with Islamic peoples and terrorist groups.  This has given them strength and more opportunities for expanded recruiting.  In reaction, the existence of this opposition has had the adverse unintended consequence of strengthening the power of the authoritarian right wing in the U.S.

Five years after Osama bin Laden was killed, Islamic extremism is proliferating around the world, and civil strife in places like Syria and Yemen are creating a refugee crisis and posing increasing risks around the world.

After the end of the Cold War, some people sensibly expected a large “peace dividend”.  But no such thing ever materialized.  The debt-financed profiteering of companies involved in the military and industrial complex had become too powerful a runaway train to be controlled.  A range of special interest groups like wealthy people, corporate investors, CEOs and corporate managers who are the primary beneficiaries of arms manufacturing and the war services industry are too addicted to the military-industrial-congressional complex to allow it to be sensibly controlled. 

Basically, the potential for a broadly shared peace dividend has been co-opted by the agenda of a small segment of society that profits from wars.

Not long after the end of the Cold War, a new nebulous enemy came along to justify endless war and rapid increases in military spending, year after year after year.  This was just what the writer George Orwell had predicted -- a perpetual war replete with propaganda and secret police who would combat an amorphous enemy.  George Orwell saw that the primary purpose of permanent war would be to sustain authoritarian governance and to control dissent by feeding popular insecurity, fear and hate.

This new rationale for endless war and military empire sprang into existence with al Qaeda’s terrorist tactics.  No peace dividend was gained after our withdrawal from the costly military occupation of Iraq because we had destabilized the region and now Islamic State extremists are creating further contagion in the region.  Conservatives in Congress continue to effectively use fear and the need to maintain defense industry jobs to promote an on-going continuation of the status quo.  The U.S. spends more money on its military than almost all other nations on Earth combined, and it now seems obvious that we should make sizeable cutbacks in this out-of-control area of spending.  Lavish spending on the military, together with rapidly increasing expenditures on prisons, are means of fighting the symptoms of problems instead of the causes.  We should properly re-prioritize and formulate wiser, more effective and more comprehensive solutions. 

Incarceration Nation

The Sentencing Project is a group that has been providing research and advocacy for prison reform for almost 30 years.  This group points out that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration of people in prisons or jails of any nation in the industrialized world.  This extremely high rate of incarceration is unprecedented in our country’s history.  The number of people locked up grew 375% from 1980 to 2008 -- while the total population grew just 34%.  This is a form of social repression, and a very costly one, and it has serious moral and social consequences.

Consider the “Three strikes and you’re out” laws that have been passed in about half the States in the U.S.  The Three Strikes law in California has been called “the worst criminal law in the country” because of the fact that a third offense need not be a violent crime or a serious felony, and yet it results in an automatic life sentence.  More than 8,000 inmates have been incarcerated for life in prison in California because of the Three Strikes law.  The costs of three-strikes incarcerations exceed $40,000 per inmate each year, and this cost will increase significantly as prisoners get older and need more medical care before they die.

The third felony for some of the criminals in California has been a minor crime that does not merit such harsh punishment.  California can no longer afford the high costs of imprisoning such offenders for their entire lives.  In some ways, this is a kind of unethical scam oriented toward profiteering that seems designed to benefit prison-builders, and to create jobs and perks for prison guard unions.  This gambit is supported by Strict Father ideologies in our Incarceration Nation.  This state of affairs is wrong-headed, and cries out:


A Summary of Reform Ideas

In addition to congressional and legal efforts to reduce corporate influence in our politics, we should revolutionarily reform our economic and political systems with measures such as the following: 

 -- Commit to a Bill of Rights for Future Generations.

 -- Reform the U.S. tax system to make it more steeply graduated for income and capital gains.

 -- Enact a new Square Deal, as discussed herein, and also in Existence, Economics, and Ecological Intelligence.

 -- Act to make our national laws consistent with sensible Precautionary Principles, as elucidated in Intelligent Precautionary Principles Enunciated --- Holy Cow!

 -- Reform campaign finance laws to make elections fairer and cleaner.

 -- Eliminate “too big to fail” by limiting the leveraging of risks by banks, and by preventing abuses of power, and by breaking up giant corporations into less powerful entities;

 -- Create a national bank with interest rates that are relatively low to compete with private banks that indulge in excessive profiteering and predatory banking practices;

 -- Create a public health insurance option to compete with the monopoly practices of giant health insurance companies, or actually find a way to implement universal healthcare.

 -- Pass a new national law to specifically limit rights associated with claims of corporate personhood.

I urge people to evaluate these ideas, inhabit them, and help actualize them!  OCCUPY folks, let’s get ready for far-reaching and smart reform, and contribute to it, and help make it happen!


     Dr. Tiffany B. Twain     

        9/10/11, revised 10/11/12 and 11/12/13 and 6/12/14 and 5/01/15 and 8/02/16


Seven important and germane paragraphs were unceremoniously evicted from the Introduction to Common Sense Revival, and are included here so as not to be lost in my Germinating files.

Myth-like beliefs can be indispensible to our identity and moral guidance and well-being, but they can become toxic, as with paranoid superstitions, religious supremacism, blaming of others, irrational conspiracy theories, the championing of unnecessarily harmful profiteering, or the tough tendency to believe in ‘Second Amendment remedies’ to cultural, political or religious disagreements. 

When societies are changing rapidly, people tend to become more worried and feel left behind.  Some feel they are victims of democratic choices they oppose, and this can cause them to seek someone to blame, or to have a hard time adapting.  They can also become more susceptible to anger and ideological manipulation and beliefs in blanket anti-government dogmas.  History shows that authoritarian rule generally finds fertile ground in outrage and discontent and feelings of victimhood.  And when people are afraid, they have a propensity to become more closed-minded to contrary evidence. 

As David Aaronovich once stated:  “People who share a muddled, careless, or deceitful attitude toward gathering evidence often find themselves drawn to each other’s fantasies.  If you believe one wrong or strange thing, you are more likely to believe another.”

Explanatory narratives make people feel good, so they develop attachments to the stories they hold dear, no matter how shallowly rooted in evidence or fact the stories may be.  This can make course corrections difficult.  Beliefs in ideas that are nonsensical or verifiably false can create dangers for those who hold such beliefs, and for others as well.  Sadly, religious fundamentalists are having too many negative effects on American society today.  But even worse, considered in a larger context, the impacts of such extremism on conflicts between Christians, Muslims and Jews worldwide are making the world a much more dangerous place. 

It is destabilizing and fraught with far-reaching risks for doctrinaire differences between Shia and Sunni peoples in the Muslim world to be causing so many violent conflicts. We clearly need all religions to evolve to strongly support peaceable coexistence between people.  Established religions should seek to become more ethical, and more socially and ecologically responsible.  They must become more inclusive and relevant, and less prone to causing terrorist carnage, and they should stop being small-minded about hot button social issues.  Instead, they should begin to act in ways more conducive to social justice and the greater good!

Creation myths and scriptures and sermons are variously symbolic, metaphorical, poetic and parable-like.  As such, they touch us in profound emotional ways and resonate with our deep spiritual impulses.  This is why these stories are so effective in helping us understand who we are, and in giving us purpose and meaning and guidance, and in providing us with feelings of hope, belonging and solace.

 But it is absurd to misunderstand the in-group and out-group nature of these stories, and to cling to fundamentalist literal interpretations of them.  And when these stories become too far removed from reality, and from what is best for the whole group (which really represents the true moral good), the religious edifice built on the stories can disintegrate and leave a society morally unmoored.


Note that these ideas are evolving, and all insightful bigger picture perspectives are welcomed.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Germinating ideas (added here to fill space created when I reduced the font size in this essay from Comic Sans 11 to Comic Sans 10):

Some might recall the piece in The Onion, that well-known purveyor of satirical content, which concerned a teenager whose parents decided to euthanize her because she was only "capable of texting and rolling her eyes".  The many provocative subtexts of this piece of humor are marvelous.  I roll my eyes at this cleverly devised image of a girl utterly absorbed in texting and so rebelliously cynical as to roll her eyes in response to any situation.  Modern times are strange, indeed!

I roll my eyes at the credulity people have at plausible but absurd things.  For instance, just after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016, a headline article appeared all over social media stating "Trump Accidentally Fires Off ‘Boring Mike Pence’ Tweet During VP Speech Before He Can Stop Himself.  This turned out to be an Onion piece -- which had Trump tweeting while his Vice Presidential pick was on stage at the RNC:  "Boring Mike Pence lacks any charisma or charm, total disaster very hard to watch.  Doing a lousy job.  Knows nothing about winning.  Pathetic.”  

This turned out to have been another satirical piece by The Onion that was mistaken for authentic news.  Truth can be stranger than fiction!

The powerful impact of television and modern social media on public opinion and on people's awareness and understanding of issues is so profound and complex as to be incomprehensibly hard to fully understand.  But these influences on our conscious and subconscious minds have led to ours becoming a shallow Sound Bite Society that is characterized by bumper sticker sentiments and impassioned opinion and insular echo chambers reverberating with consequentially extreme partisanship, a plethora of impactful confirmation biases, and far too many demonizing recriminations.


It is true that Hillary Clinton has said many things to get elected that may be inconsistent with earlier positions.  For instance, she has had an evolving stance on gay marriage.  In the year 2000, broadly consistent with public opinion and the majority of Americans at the time, she stated:  Marriage has historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman.”  By 2007, she had evolved into fairly supporting the rights of gay people to be accorded respect when she stated:  “Well, I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.  You know, it’s a personal position.  How we get to full equality is the debate we’re having, and I am absolutely in favor of civil unions with full equality of benefits, rights, and privileges.”  Then in March 2013, she openly embraced marriage equality.  Political science professor Paul Kengor noted at the time that Hillary Clinton had finally "endorsed gay marriage," stating that he believed she had undergone "an honest shift".  This took place in advance of the Supreme Court deciding in favor of gay marriage for people in all 50 states. 

So the question is not whether Hillary has been dishonest or inconsistent or defensive deceiving, but whether her current stand is one most fair to civil liberties -- or whether it would be preferable to have a leader who is unwilling to evolve and uncompromising and rigid in their ideologies. 

This is a crucial understanding.  The need is very strong for us to be able to adapt flexibly to rapidly changing economic and social and environmental conditions on Earth as the consequential 21st century unfolds.  Humanity cannot afford to have an American leader who obstinately denies the risks of climate change.  Humanity cannot afford to have the most powerful country in the world run by a go-it-alone narcissist with demonstrated divisive tendencies and belligerent authoritarian impulses and reactive propensities to lash out at dissenters and crushing opponents using scurrilous means learned from 20th century dictators and demagogues, particularly including Adolf Hitler and Senator Joseph McCarthy who engaged in the red-baiting and blacklisting of liberals and artists and intellectuals in the early 1950s.

I strongly believe that evidence shows the Democratic option is dramatically better than the Republican option and that polls should show Hillary Clinton leading Trump by a wide margin.  But the conservative political media complex, led by Fox News spin and right-wing talk radio personalities, has been stunningly successful in broadly maligning Democrats and misrepresenting facts and sowing doubt and divisiveness and trickle down big lies, and working tirelessly to subvert our democracy in favor of wealthy conservatives and dominion-demanding religious reactionaries.  This “success” seems like a vast right wing conspiracy to dominate politics even though what they offer is so ignoble, grabbing for power not by offering better ideas but by trying to dishonestly fool the people with deceptive propaganda and by restricting voting rights, gerrymandering congressional districts, and stacking the courts with ideological conservatives who will put the interests of corporations and religious fundamentalists over the interests of the general welfare of the people.

Merchants of doubt have managed to cast deep suspicions on Democratic principles and make people think that Republicans are more honest, but I feel strongly that our best option, by far, would be to elect Hillary Clinton in November 2016 and then demand that she and our congressional representatives honestly work together, in good faith, to implement national plans that are truly in the best interests of the 99% of Americans rather than the top 1%.

The need for positive adaptive change is great, and undeniable.