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The Roman Senatorial class, during their period of economic and political dominance (ca 300-476), invented European feudalism. The Senators had huge latifundia, often scattered from the north to the south of the Empire, rendering them close to self-sufficient. Originally, powered by slaves during the earlier era of conquests, after Diocletian's reign (284 to 305), slaves became less available (no conquests, only holding off the hordes, and usurpers). Yet, there were willing hands to work the huge estates. People--poor to yeomen to middle class--were depopulating the unsustainable cities and unprotected lands; they were desperate for work, any work--and safety, from the state as much as from the barbarians. They became serfs, with nearly the same lack of rights as slaves, although they were legally free. They were, legally, the humiliores (the humble), as contrasted with the honestiores (the honored), who owned the lands, and the government, too, with only the increasingly barbarian military as competition for control.
The late Empire was in a state of coexistence between the military, largely manned by German tribesmen, increasingly led by them, or their Romanized sons, and the Senators, who controlled the Empire's bureaucracy, and an increasing share of the land. By convention and law, Emperors could only come from the military, or the ruling imperial family. Since Diocletian, Senators were excluded from military service, on the principle that otherwise they'd be too powerful.
What's relevant to us, in this description of a feudal system ad initio, is that it looks as if the radical "conservative" worldview is becoming increasingly similar to that of the Roman Senators. The whining billionaire, who compares a hike (of 8%?) to his taxes to the Nazis' extermination of the Jews, is only one example. Another is the State Legislator, who campaigns to end Food Stamps for 100,000 people in his State, while receiving Medicaid and other taxpayer-paid disability compensation, because he was paralyzed when either he, or his equally drunken friend, drove down a ravine. So, not only does he have someone tying his tie, at taxpayer expense, but he wants to take away the food stamps 100,000 people (blameless, unlike him) depend on in Oklahoma. Another is practically any Republican legislator, or executive, and too many Democrats, who viscerally ally with wealth and power. The corollary is to look increasingly on those without wealth and power as people who are fundamentally disfigured, morally, not physically. Physically, of course, the poor are strong enough; they're just lazy, and given to drugs and sponging off Uncle Sam.
This kind of worldview justifies cutting Food Stamps, raising taxes on the poor--switching from income to sales taxes, for example--and at the same time, cutting taxes on the rich,
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>We should discourage, not encourage more oil and gas drilling and tar sands mining. "All of the above" (Obama's energy policy) will contribute significantly to a destroyed climate--is already. Only renewable, non-greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources deserve subsidies--unless we want to force our grandchildren to live in enclosed artificial climates, or not live at all.
It would make a good science fiction story: Rich people and their dependents living in huge domed villages and towns, while poor people try to survive outside of them.
Isn't this really what's in store for us if billionaires like the oil-soaked Kochs get to 'realize their investments' in all those fossil fuels heating up the planet?
Think about the trillions invested in oil/gas reserves, in the new fracking technology and in the mushrooming gas and oil leases. Big money is driven to realize high returns on its investments. That's why they're willing to spend many millions to get their way with governments and why it's so important to buy up Congress and even the Presidency. Think of all that money as small, additional investments to secure and realize profits from their very large holdings in oil, gas, tar sands, shale oil reserves and in the equipment and infrastructure (like the XL pipeline) to bring those substances to market.
Control by the few extremely wealthy means rising inequality, surveillance of everyone, militarized police, a large military, huge prison populations and growing numbers of surplus people, some of whom can be counted upon to do any dirty work the very rich need. Desperation is useful.
Not all of the extremely rich will admit it, but it's likely that most believe that anyone who doesn't have money has only himself to blame: obviously inferior, the undeserving poor.
In the late Roman Empire, the Senatorial class believed they deserved to lord it over everyone else, and they did, sometimes quite brutally. It was legal for a master to kill his slave, and it was legal for him to whip his serfs to death--and rape them, too, male or female. Senators also avoided paying most taxes.
Does the above read like an extreme version of what radical conservatives are trying to buy with their Tea Party millions? No, now we're too civilized: we imprison all those who challenge existing social arrangements, who cause chaos, violence and insecurity: whipping is for Singapore.
We don't have slaves and serfs--it's cheaper to exploit immigrants without rights, and then cut wages for anyone with a job, while demanding more and more work for the same wage. Why can they do this? They've destroyed most union jobs, weakened unions, traded away our manufacturing base, then plundered the economy through Wall Street, throwing millions out of work; they've also bought government stalemate. High unemployment and cutting off benefits is to the billionaires' advantage: desperate people are more easily controlled.
It's happening, now!
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It's hard to feel sympathy for a bully who's been shown up to be one. When the New Yorker does a cover with little boy Chris Christie in the foreground, playing with a ball across lanes on the backed up GW Bridge, you know something's up.
Chris Christie has high ambitions--to be the great white hope, a "centrist" Republican who wins the White House. With his landslide re-election, he seemed well placed: he could appeal to independents and Democrats, too.
But, like Nixon's Watergate, his miss-step was born of hubris: he wanted to "run up the numbers," i.e. win by the largest margin possible. He was doing it by bribing (legally, of course) and threatening, in order to gain endorsements of regionally prominent Democrats, or to discourage the kind of insubordination exhibited by Democratic legislators. While the target of the Fort Lee bridge pile up, most media claim, was Fort Lee's mayor, there was also the tangled issue of re-nominating State Supreme Court Justices, in which the majority leader of the NJ Senate, a Democrat from Fort Lee, was at loggerheads with the Governor; Christie publicly referred to the Democratic Senate majority as "animals."
Either Governor Christie knew nothing about the Fort Lee operation to mete out vengeance, meaning he was an inattentive chief executive, who should never have been governor in the first place, or he inspired it (more likely) by a nod and a wink, and attempts to maintain what the CIA calls "deniability."
In either case, crimes were committed, as in Watergate; in this case they involve using public facilities for private purposes, and causing ancillary damage while doing so. It's entirely possible that prosecution will follow.
Even if Christie had no inkling of the plan at Fort Lee, his top-level administrators, and appointees like David "the-same-answer" take-the-Fifth Wildstein, thought that such massive dirty tricks were legitimate. His administration was, at very least, inspired by Christie to retaliate against his perceived enemies by wielding government to harass and frustrate. Perhaps it's his bully-boy persona that inspired his close aides to stage Bridgegate. Is this what a national Christie administration could look like? He could be worse than Nixon, complete with an enemies list and a yen to "get" his opponents. Christie already had a rep for retaliating against people who blocked him. BridgeGate could confirm it.
Christie was the most plausible candidate of the .01%, our contemporary Roman Senators, so he may still be a viable candidate: he could raise enough money to try to wash the Bridgegate stain away, but maybe that's not possible--unless our authoritarian elites remain willing to back him.
Why would they? So far, the only alternatives to surface are right-wing nuts: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, neither of whom would be trusted by Wall Street. Look for other Republican "moderates" to test the waters. Somebody has to represent the corporate elite, and Democrats are at best unreliable.
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"Orange is the New Black," the women's prison series, started out with promise: a good story, a well-acted cast of fascinating people. By the last episode in the first season, everyone was a murderer, a psychopath, a lesbian, or all three.
According to Elizabeth Cunningham, Piper Kerman's memoir (same title) is very different, more like both our experiences of people in prison. We volunteered and I taught at several maximum-security New York prisons. I learned to respect and like a good number of inmates. One of the things about Orange… that rang true in the earlier episodes--was the range of attractive characters of every color: from flamboyant to wooden and from highly rational to incoherent.
Why did Netflix squander such a promising series to the point where the main character becomes a violent maniac, and everyone else, including administrators, is corrupt, a murderer, violent, deranged, or a sexual predator?
The last episodes went downhill quickly; they brought to life all the prison stereotypes--of vicious, lying, lusty lesbians. But their actions leading to the horrifying last scene make no sense in terms of the characters as they were initially portrayed. Elizabeth suggested the writers opted for sex and violence; maybe, Netflix pressured them to make it more sensational, i.e. commercial.
What's lost here is any real exploration of a major American problem: the exploding prison population and the growing proportion of incarcerated minorities and immigrants. We imprison more of our people per capita than the worst dictatorships, except for China. Even nations like Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia imprison fewer than we do.
Prisoners, like the characters in the earlier scenes of Orange …, are real people with real quirks, stories and heartaches. Some are bad, most aren't. I encountered one man, famous for a terrible murder, who clearly belonged in prison. I was glad to have a prison guard right outside the partially open door. But he was the exception.
I learned from my 13 year experience teaching college courses there, that a lot of the people in prison were "inside" because of one bad choice in lives that offered many, and that most of them were as decent human beings as the people I encountered "outside." Many, perhaps most, would not have been in prison if they had been white, and living outside of ghettos. And most of my students were handicapped by terrible schools--not the faults of teachers, but of being crammed into classrooms and neighborhoods with too many kids with too many problems. While their command of written English was often spotty, most were bright, interested and motivated.
The waste of a promising venue for prison reform in Orange… parallels the human waste our criminal system imposes on American society: all the energy and talents of real people thrown into the garbage. Their loss reflects our increasingly unequal society, in which our "Roman Senators" accumulate increasing wealth and power at everyone else's expense.
Edward Snowden has done a tremendous service to the American people and to the world. He has not profited from his action to steal and divulge millions of government documents. He did so because it was the Government that was lying and committing the greater crimes of violating almost everyone's privacy. He deserves full amnesty, as do Chelsea Manning and others, for revealing CRIMES our government has committed, supposedly in our name. Proven liars like NSA's Clapper should be tried for perjury.
The New York Times wrote an editorial, of which the above is a brief synopsis. Essentially what they and the Progressive community want is to roll back the surveillance state.
Perhaps it's possible, although surveillance corporations will probably circumvent any government limits, and the technology for surveillance has become so powerful that entities with power will use it.
We are all like insects, under giant microscopes. The last Roman Emperors probably dreamed they'd be able to do stuff like this, but could hardly keep track of the intrigue at court. They resorted, instead, to burning 'miscreants' alive on lamp-posts.
Now our "democracy" threatens Snowden with life in prison and hell, to begin with, just as they visited on Chelsea Manning--for revealing something most dangerous of all: the truth about Government lies.
Hell, Ed Snowden should get not only Amnesty, but the Nobel Peace Prize, for revealing the absurdity of our international war culture and embarrassing the bully on the block, the USA.
Maybe peace and stability are still possible.
Personally, I do not buy into the rapture and I agree with Religion studies student Fresno State university that the 144,000 are souls who rule with
In the world.
We spent $672,879,000,000 on war-making in 2012 (we call it "Defense," and don't think about it). That may be why the Department of War became the Department of Defense--although there were bureaucratic reasons, as well. Anyway, we may be the most powerful militarily, but part of the reason for that is that we're somehow persuaded, year after year, to spend on "Defense" as much at least as the five next "most powerful" nations combined. But the most powerful nation cannot control the world.
It shouldn't try. We may be "the richest" nation, but we have a lot of poor people. Nevertheless, we'd rather spend money on military toys and warriors, than on helping to maintain people through unemployment insurance, who still cannot find jobs: there are far fewer jobs than job seekers.
Further, austerity's stupidity is causing disasters all over the world.
Tepid growth in the US compares to what austerity has done to nations like Greece and Spain--despite, in Spain's case, conservative fiscal policy--the result: Depression-level unemployment.
In the US, Republicans boast they forced Democrats to cut off the long-term unemployed. Dismissive phrases they use: "a way of life," "rip off artists," and unemployment is an "easy Street" where "fraud" is "rampant." Democrats are faced with a dilemma that doesn't trouble Republicans. Republicans don't believe in government, anyway, so there's no felt obligation to make it work for people--at least people who aren't CEO's or hedge fund artistes.
Democrats seek the money represented by wealthy and corporate interests, too, but they're torn: they tend to believe that government can be a force for good: FDR was their hero. If in order for government to work at all, the long-term unemployed have to be sacrificed, well, the greater good, some reason….
The bottom line is: the most uncompromising, well-funded side, appealing to a minority of ill-informed white people, gets to call the shots, setting the agenda.
Even the New York Times apparently assumes that Social Security and Medicare are going to have to be cut, despite a growing appeal among progressives for expansion, not contraction of Social Security, in response to the disappearance of private pensions, or fully funded public ones. The media attempt to eliminate any dialog about whether Social Security needs to be expanded, instead of contracted, despite the fact that it's self-funding and the payroll tax, is easily modified. It could be raised on the people paying too little, to make the tax no longer regressive; it subtracts a larger share from earnings below $115,000, than for those above that.
The GOP wages class warfare: progressives must fight back, like Senator Warren, not "go along" with elite greed. Americans should reject the elite's takeover, so reminiscent of the Roman Senators' monopoly of wealth in the Fifth Century.
What the hell are people supposed to do, if they can't find a job, because they're still aren't enough of them, because…?
Republicans refuse to extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, and propose cutting $40 billion from the Food Stamps budget, as well as advocating cuts to most social programs, while advocating tax cuts for the wealthy. I'd call that class war.
Face it: the very wealthy, more or less the billionaire class, are using their money, judiciously, to insure that they control government, instead of vice-versa. The rest of us are just obstacles to be drowned with a torrent of dollars, made possible by Citizens United.
Democrats? They don't know what hit 'em. They whimper that not extending the long-term unemployment benefits is unwise, maybe even inhumane, but those at the fount of all Democratic Wisdom say: Democrats will try to pass additional legislation--from the Senate. Fat chance!
Who loses? All of us, even the billionaires, if they'd only see it. If you don't give people other choices, they'll have to turn to crime. They'll either hurt others, themselves, end up in prison, or usually both. The cost to society? Do we really want to spend even more on prisons than we do now? Do we want to put away more and more of the "free people" of these United States, which already has the highest rate of incarceration of any developed nation?
There are better solutions, like spending a little bit now to support the unemployed, and a lot more to create needed jobs. There is no magic to this: it's simply that a nation has to invest in itself if it's going to have a future. Siphoning off all the proceeds into the hands of so few--the .001%--almost guarantees decline.
That's where we're headed if these guys win. Maybe, with victories like Warren's and DiBlasio's, the tide could be turning, but there's always that counter-tide of money.
Only if a large enough enraged mass of people rebel against this absurd system, will it ever change. People have to realize how they're being ripped off, every minute. Finance is the largest siphon, of your money into their hands, but there are others in every sector, siphoning off the wealth people create. Almost all the increase in wealth since the financial collapse ended up in the hands of a very few extremely wealthy: even though everyone worked for it.
No one rebelled in Fifth Century Rome. Miscreants were randomly burned alive from public lampposts and the barbarians were invading--as well as defending them.
Rome fell, largely because an extremely wealthy class, the Senators, monopolized wealth, and then refused to pay for maintaining the Empire they ran and from which they'd profited so immensely. Most didn't survive the chaos of barbarian dominance in Europe.
Could that be a lesson, even to the billionaires, perhaps?
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Religion plays a role in our politics, as it did in Fifth Century Rome, but then it was largely a monopoly after the early 500's. Any pagan practices had to be private, (there were still many, not only in the hinterlands, among peasants and serfs, but even in Rome, among the Senators who thought they ran things). The pagan god, Victory, in the Senate was removed, and only Christian rites were approved, or allowed publicly.
Now, religion is more diverse, but still, 'The Christians' believe they should have a monopoly, with a slight nod to Judaism. Jews, after all, have to be converted to Christianity for the Last Days to arrive.
Our new anointed is: Ted Cruz, or so he seems to act. His father, Raphael, after all is a well-known and outspoken evangelist. Some conservative Christians subscribe to a "dominionist" doctrine that advocates a theocratic state run by "believers," and their leaders, of course.
That's actually what The Church in Rome and Ravenna attempted to do in the fifth century. Maybe it's why Emperor Theodosius was denoted "the Great:" he capitulated to Church dominance. His legacy: Goths, Vandals and other heretical Germanic tribes overran his successors and their subjects.
The Church was unable to prevent the barbarian takeover, but was able to weight the game towards a barbarian tribe that converted to the Catholic (Universal, or official) Church--the Franks.
Pagans survived largely in the countryside--the word 'pagan' is derived from the word for peasant or villager.
Today, among the believers of Cruz-type Christianity, the greatest threat is not from pagans or heretics, but from Communists, Socialists or The State. They label Obama a Kenyan Socialist, or a Communist, it doesn't matter which.
Since only a minority, probably smaller than media hype tells us, adheres to extreme fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity, the Ted Cruz's of politics feel compelled to play obstructionist to any progressive change. Gay marriage, according to Raphael Cruz, is a government conspiracy; the Affordable Care Act is a conspiracy to take "our fortunes."
It isn't a stretch for his son, Senator Cruz, to mount a 21-hour filibuster aimed at defunding Obamacare. If saner heads hadn't prevailed, we could have had not only the days of government shutdown but a credit default that would have spelled doom for the most powerful asset the US still has: the US dollar as global reserve currency.
In Rome, the Church, with the reigning Emperor, staged the Adventus (installing holy relics), many times, in an attempt to magic the barbarians away. There were no saner heads to prevail.
Perhaps it's lucky that Wall Street conservatism is not particularly religious: evangelical or fundamentalist. It's unlucky that the establishment believes in other magic: austerity will reduce unemployment; yet it's demonstrated repeatedly that cutting government programs promotes joblessness, while raising taxes on the wealthy will promote prosperity.
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Think about this: if you're involved in an unregulated, illicit market, there are no guarantees, often no product description, or quality described.
Of course, I'm talking about Pot. The illicit market in states where marijuana is illegal, or 'not legal," is completely without any regulation, as well as without any taxation. Not only doesn't the state get to tax the proceeds, and the municipalities or counties lose increased sales taxes, but the customers often don't know what they're buying.
In medical marijuana states, patients can ask for particular kinds of marijuana, and growers attempt to meet their needs, through breeding and selective cultivation. In Colorado and Washington, look for tailored tastes and moods. In states where the trade is illegal, you don't know what you're getting, or where it came from: illegal grows in trashed state or national forests, with chemical fertilizer and pesticides, instead of from certified organic farms with an address.
And, of course, illegality raises the price, sometimes as much as ten or twenty-fold. Successful drug dealers reap huge profits, but illegal drug costs are much steeper for the seller, too: it costs a lot to hire killers, or psychopaths and the risk premium is huge: you have to be able to cover your losses. Cultivation of the crop is the same or higher than it would be for a legal operation, but there are few incentives to tailor a substance like marijuana to particular needs: other than potency.
There is one reason only why New York state does not have at least medical marijuana: the dysfunctional state legislature. Medical marijuana bills have passed the Democratic State Assembly several times, but because of Republican control, the State Senate refuses to vote on them, or votes them down. In this current session, a Democratic majority was elected, but the Republicans, and reportedly, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, encouraged just enough disgruntled Democratic Senators to form an independent caucus and make a deal with them. In effect, the minority Republicans can, and have still, blocked medical marijuana, by again being part of the majority--with the rump Democrats.
Why? Andy is protecting himself, in case he can run for President: all those parts of the country that still abhor legal pot. Besides, he's more conservative than the state Democratic Party. If legalization keeps on gaining in popularity, though, count on Andy to lead the charge.
This has nothing to do with the Roman Empire, except no drugs or liquors were explicitly outlawed there, but distilled liquor wasn't invented until the 12th century. Wine was actually part of the Roman dole. I can't imagine how state-seized wine tasted, but most taxes were collected in kind in the last centuries of the Empire: currency was too debased to support the troops--or the dole.
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I'm a vet!
I was part of the Cold War contingent, and while I'm counted as a "Vietnam Era" veteran, I was lucky to be separated from the Army before the major escalation in that mistaken war, in late 1964 (after LBJ's landslide election).
I was stationed in Turkey 1962-1963, which was the standard tour, since it was considered a "hardship post." I wrote a novel about my experience, but it's unavailable except for one printed manuscript copy I saved in our latest move. Unfortunately, none of my electronic files survived, since the technology has changed so much. I couldn’t find it in my small batch of large format floppy disks: I wrote it in the early 80's, a story incorporating my experiences in the early 60's--after my new wife and I returned to the scene: Sinop, on the Black Sea.
My role in the Cold War was minor. I was a Traffic Analyst in an Army Security Agency mission, in which we monitored the radio-control transmissions of the USSR's Tyuratam Missile Testing site in what is now Kazakhastan. We knew what they were developing as soon as they did. That included their failed attempt to develop Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM's). Sinop may be Turkey's northernmost point along the Black Sea: Sinop Burun (nose, or peninsula) sticks out from the coast on a high headland. Our base was on its highest point.
The city of Sinop (Sinope) goes back before the 4th century BC, when Diogenes walked its streets looking for an honest man. Not true Turks, one Turk told me when speaking about Sinopians: most were converted Greeks.
I never thought about it until recently, but we were engaged in what NSA has now developed globally: surveillance of nearly everyone. I was trained at NSA before embarking for Turkey. It was surveillance that was easily justifiable: by international treaty, anyone could gain all the (unencrypted) telemetry from another nation's rocket tests--if they knew when a test was going to happen: that's where we came in.
Later, when I was teaching in a maximum security prison, I had a student who had been a Soviet helicopter gunner: he had been stationed in the mountains east of the Black Sea. His unit was involved in attempting to control the restive inhabitants north of Afghanistan. His former empire was crumbling when I taught his Soviet Politics course in prison.
I wish ours were crumbling, too. Instead, it seems as if the American Empire will survive shutdowns and more, while Americans at home go without, to maintain our expensive military in over 100 nations abroad. We will impoverish ourselves, as Rome and other empires did before us. We continue to attempt to extend greater US control over the rest of the globe, even though we can no longer afford an expensive empire
There was a brief period in European and American politics, when the governors believed, at least, that they were working for the good of all. In the US, this spanned from the Progressive era to the Great Society.
The end, and the ultimate failure, of the Great Society was the result of imperial hubris: the quagmire of Vietnam. It made the trend toward social democracy unaffordable, while enriching and empowering a few. Many of the new rich financed the counterrevolution against "welfare as we know it," and highly progressive income taxes, and, well, the whole Progressive to Liberal to social democratic tendencies in governance, i.e. government that aids the many who need help, not the few who are privileged enough already.
There were similar movements of reform and social democracy in most of Europe in this same period: some earlier, some later.
But that era is past; it was a short interlude between the thousands of years when governments naturally existed to benefit the very few at the expense, or misery, of the many. The Roman Empire was no egalitarian paradise, certainly. From start to finish, it depended on the labor of slaves, who probably made up well over half the population. Slaves had to be continually replaced. Bad ones sent to galleys and mines only lasted a few years. Even good slaves would have to be replaced after 40 years of service.
Even the vaunted Athenian Democracy, of course, depended on slaves.
Where do slaves come from? Conquest. This was even true of African slavery in the Americas. Europeans conquered Africa first by taking advantage of the absence of effective states (ones that controlled their territories), and the multiplicity of potential allies, as well as enemies. Europeans did, ultimately take over, i.e. conquer most of Africa, no longer to sell slaves, but because they had penetrated the continent in order to buy them, in the first place.
When Rome began to lose territory, instead of conquering new lands, the supply of slaves became more erratic. There were floods of them when an invading barbarian army was defeated, but many more were carried off by successful barbarian raids and wars, and then sold back to the slave-hungry Romans. Attila did that after all his successful campaigns of pillage, rape and slaughter. Slaves were the most valuable spoil of all.
What does this have to do with today? Today's Roman Senators are the billionaires who finance and inspire all the attempts to roll back or abolish all the reforms and programs benefiting the many. Even though they, the one-percent, the .001 percent, have prospered beyond even the imaginings of Hollywood sycophants, they want more, much more. Where can the predators turn now, since government has already given them so many favorable contracts, and breaks in taxes like the hedge funders' "carried interest" clause?
Let's raid Social Security and Medicare! they chorus.
They are more like Attila than they know!
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Back when men were men and women knew their place, when a white sheet was a badge of honor, there was a region of this country that was ruled, brutally, by a minority--after slavery had been abolished--and after the 14th and 15th Amendments gave all men (not women) the right to vote. Flaming crosses and worse enabled the white minority to rule over 'the colored.' Meanwhile, monopolies overworked white workers in other parts of the country.
The post-Civil War period experienced an explosion of riches--in a few hands, especially the most ruthless. Black people were re-enslaved, through sharecropping, Jim Crow and the prison system.
The post-Civil War period must be the model for the Tea Party, whose activists famously shouted "We Want Our Country Back!" No wonder they see Obama as an abomination: he's like one of those ex-slave, black Senators or Congressmen, run by corrupt carpetbaggers exploiting the South during cursed Reconstruction. Worse, he's better educated than they are.
Post-Reconstruction is the model for the new society they'd like to construct--post-Reconstruction, pre-Progressive Era. It's the reforms and expansions of the franchise beginning with Progressive era that the radical Republicans want to excise.
Before Progressivism, there was no regulation of business: trusts proliferated, monopolies became the industrial norm, and wealth shot upward into fewer and fewer hands.
The great Hudson Valley estates are evidence of their extremes of wealth. Now, our new Roman Senators are more visible on screen than on great estates, but their fortunes dwarf the Gilded Age.
A minority is attempting to rule the rest of us: the Republican majority in the House, elected by fewer votes than the minority Democrats, is holding the rest of government hostage, demanding it "negotiate" with them, i.e. give in to their demands.
If Republicans succeed, if Obama blinks, and uses the occasion to negotiate a "grand bargain" that cuts taxes for the wealthy, cuts Social Security and other earned benefits, as well as further shredding the safety net, then we'll be hurtling back to the 19th century.
We already have monopolies like Monsanto and oligopolies like Wall Street, all of them enabled by government. Unions are almost as helpless as they were before the New Deal. We already have inequalities of wealth as great or greater than in 1900.
Can a determined minority, with money and media, overcome the rights, safeguards and programs Americans won through terrible struggles, starting with the wars on strikers, followed by the sit-downs at factories and later in buses and lunch counters, and despite white terror, won at the ballot box? Will we really let ourselves be poisoned, our land and water despoiled, our labor devalued? Will we allow them to impoverish us?
It happened in Fifth Century Rome; it happened again in the 1870's; it could happen here--with consequences far worse than Romulus Augustulas's defeat, Rome's depopulation, or brutal Jim Crow: think planetary destruction.
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Guvmint shut down, so we won't have to pay no taxes no more. Guvmint shut down so we don't have to have no guvmint health care. So, poor folks can still die when they're no longer useful. And enterprising people--like us--can still buy the finest healthcare in the world.
You'll see. Everybody will be better off without guvmint--except for keeping gangs in the keeps and off the streets, if you know what I mean, while smart folk in the suites can make off with the green.
The Tea Party represents two elements: racists, who want to prove that a black man should never be President, and 'those people' should stay in their place; and predators, who want all government out of the way, so they can make off with ALL the wealth everyone else produces. The second element funds the first, of course, and primes it on what to say.
So, every day that the government is shut down, and we notice the things that can go wrong when it's not doing its job, the more the Tea Party/Republicans will lose credibility--except with the racist and vengeful 20%. The predators don't lose: they make out like the bandits they are.
The extremism of people like Ted Cruz is not unlike the Taliban and al Qaeda in its nihilism. It's hard to know what a zealot like Cruz or Mullah Mohammed really believe. Cruz gets others to believe, for example, that the Affordable Care Act is going to unleash the apocalypse, although it's an almost Republican attempt at providing universal health care (even Mexico precedes us), so that people won't be in perpetual fear of the illness that loses them their job, their insurance and drives them into bankruptcy. Cruz and the Republican crazies in the House are absolutely determined to stop this potentially extremely popular program from ever happening. They fear its effects: already, in one day, the website insurance exchanges have had far more traffic and demand than either opponents or proponents predicted, with the predictable screw ups giving opponents something to exploit.
Tea Party funders want people desperate, not secure. Consciously or not, they've encouraged the progressive impoverishment of the middle class, because anxious employees will work harder. They won't dare challenge the boss''s rip-off.
Capital buys technology and dis-employs, but also enables world-wide use of the cheapest labor--and even creates it, since global competition drives down wages--and weakens all those other things self-respecting business leaders despise, like unions.
Affordable Care could actually begin to change that dynamic: it would give employees greater independence: they wouldn't have to fear losing their insurance, possibly their life, if they changed jobs.
This has to be stopped--says Cruz--and especially, the people behind him. In Rome, these people, the predatory Senatorial class, drove the Empire bankrupt--and most soon lost everything themselves. And so did almost everyone else: Rome was reduced to a village.
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I get it now: the GOP wants to shut down government to prevent Climate Change!
What? The denialist party is secretly taking climate change more seriously than the world's scientists, who only shout that the sky is falling, without doing anything about it?
What I mean to say: the GOP has a diabolical plan, while denying its existence: respond to climate change by insuring that more and more people are desperately poor, so they can't spend the money that would fuel further climate change: people's consumption would suddenly fall, reducing climate-change-inducing pollution, like CO2. Of course the geniuses who thought up this genius plan would benefit through tax-cuts, so they could keep more of their ill-gotten gains--and consume more, but only the gilded few.
I mean 'ill-gotten' in the sense that fortunes are made by transferring income (legally) from poor to wealthy, and taxes from wealthy to poor.
So only a few can consume to their heart's content, and they have the resources to pay people to protect their interests: from the President on down to key legislators in states, small and large.
An apparent example is the EPA's turning its back on its preliminary findings in Dimock, PA, Pavillion, WY and Parker County, TX: that fracking had contaminated ground water. Instead, it closed those investigations down, and continued to stand by while other parts of the Obama administration, like Interior, promote fracking. Who's being paid off, and by whom?
But it's better still to just shut government down, so that a program that might provide substantial help to a lot of people--and save money--can be repealed, so that taxes for the wealthy can be canceled,
So, instead of government intruding on our lives, it's lack of action will insure that so much less will be spent that we'll be plunged into a stark Depression. Since Republicans insist on cutting Food Stamps, the one program that's helped people survive in this, for the rich only, "recovery;" people will be driven to misery, as well; their consumption will sink to that of an average Bangladeshi. So, all talk of climate change will cease--because everyone else's lowered rate of consumption will dramatically reduce CO2 emissions globally. Then, the world's worst polluters will be able to continue in business, simply by paying off the corrupt political machine. The demand for greater regulation will fail, and will 'obviously' be unnecessary, especially since everyone (who's anyone) will be so much better off, living in their protected enclaves: protected from the chaos and misery beyond their gates.
Sounds like the 21st Century's version of Senatorial rule in the Fifth, when the wealthy ruled in their own interest even as the world was falling about their ears.
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What would the world be like, if the US relinquished its self-defined role as world policeman and imperial arbiter of power anywhere on the globe?
It looks as if this might actually happen: the American public's opposition to war against Syria, no matter how limited in intent, was so sustained and broad-based, that Congress and even the Senate listened, and then the President heard. Supposedly, even Michelle was against!
John Kerry's statement on Syria giving up chemical weapons was hardly rhetorical, despite his claims. It was an appeal for a way out of the dead end Obama had created by his "red line" remark about chemical weapons use.
Russia didn't want to see its ally bombed, so Putin transformed the "rhetorical" remark into a diplomatic proposal that (so far) has legs. Now Obama is negotiating through Kerry, willing to appeal for a UN solution, and Putin thinks, maybe, he has a chance at the Nobel Peace Prize. Agreement may be near.
But consider how different this is to prior reactions by Presidents at least since Kennedy. Backing down from a threat, or use of force, was considered weakness, and loss of credibility for the US. Hawkish Republicans and Democrats claim this has happened with Obama on Syria: the US has lost face; Russia has won; US credibility is at an all-time low.
What credibility? The US has operated outside international law, arrogating to itself unilateral power to punish transgressors of its power, or challengers to its control, since at least WWII. The most recent demonstration of US reach and ultimate weakness before Syria was the Snowden affair. The US was even able to pressure Cuba and Ecuador against offering asylum to Snowden, and it forced President Evo Morales's plane to divert its course and finally be brought down to be searched, in Portugal. So, Snowden got asylum where he was: in Russia.
Russia is no super-power, but Putin has demonstrated that the US can no longer get its way globally. The US had already lost control over large parts of South America. The sooner the United States of America realizes that it can't control the whole planet, and it would be better not to try, the better off everyone would be. Think of the hundreds of billions of dollars we could spend on aiding our citizens, instead of "Defense." Think of the people around the world who wouldn't be killed, or driven from their homes because they transgressed US interests.
Envision a world in which the very real conflicts within and between nations would be resolved by negotiation, not force of arms. Obama's reversal and Putin's initiative on Syria could lead to very different international relations. The same model--negotiation and world law--should be extended to US relations with Iran, and maybe, finally, to North Korea.
Envision a world in which swords really are beaten into plowshares.
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It is extraordinary to realize that Obama's appeal for Congressional support to attack Syria--that's what it is, really--is also one of the first retreats from imperial Presidential powers offered by a sitting President.
But it should awaken us to a fact: this isn't a democracy anymore, any more than Rome's Republic was still a Republic, after Julius Caesar marched on Rome.
The imperial presidency has grown ever since FDR, and growth was only temporarily slowed by former General, President Eisenhower. The last President to really ask for Congressional approval for a foreign adventure was Bush the First. There was a real debate, although the outcome was preordained.
Obama has not grabbed for power, so much as been advised that he has to assert it, since he's President. And, consider what he, or any President, faces: a united front of Defense contractors, Generals, intelligence experts, investors and almost anyone with money. They're almost all of them for war, any war, as long as it's profitable, and any war is hugely profitable, if you're on the right side. No one they know will ever be killed on a battlefield, or blown up by American bombs.
The Roman Empire grew for the same reason: the profits of war. While modern nations don't enslave their captives and sell them on the slave block, or openly pillage conquered cities as Rome did, they use war to win economic control, as the Bush's tried to do in Iraq: capture Iraq's oil wealth through gaining contracts for American corporations to extract the oil.
But the profitability of our last few wars hasn't met expectations. Iraq has been a bust, Afghanistan and Libya also. Is this a sign of a declining empire?
What I see is an authoritarian, elite-corporate-controlled state, in which dissent like mine is simply ignored: dissenters don't have the money to bring lawsuits, or win elections. The corporate controllers are in a position to manufacture public opinion, and, at the same time, to gain almost exclusive access to government officials wielding power. Elected officials are flattered, threatened, and overwhelmed by expensive expertise. They have to do what the powers-that-be want them to do.
In addition, we now have a surveillance state, so no one knows what the State knows about us. However, more are becoming aware that the State could know everything. It was a more primitive version of that power that enabled Stalin to build a totalitarian state under his control.
Obama isn't the Stalin his successor could be; it wouldn't be pretty, since the Empire will continue to retreat, whoever it is. And the military-security-industrial complex will control the power structure.
Unless we can break free of the corporate state, the overwhelming majority of us will be impoverished and virtually enslaved, to feed the hungry imperial maw, even more desperate as war profits dwindle and the world becomes increasingly more difficult to control.
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The Obama Administration is discussing whether Clinton's air war over Kossovo could be a model for the kind of intervention the US might make against the Syrian government, if it got NATO approval--the chance for UN approval is nil. Intervention may now be considered necessary, because Obama was dumb enough to state, months ago, that Syrian use of chemical weapons would be "crossing a red line," and he would be forced to act accordingly.
It may be true that the Syrian government started a larger scale gas attack in part because evidence of an earlier, smaller attack had so far only resulted in words: our promise of supplying weapons and ammunition to the opposition still hasn't happened.
So, of course we have to "act," right? We're the USA and we're the good guys. Actually, public opinion, while malleable in crisis, is in no mood for another foreign adventure.
Before Obama considers an air war, or any kind of Syrian intervention, he should consider what kind of conflict he'd be trying to "fix." The Assad regime is horrid: autocratic, brutal, discriminatory, and perfectly willing to massacre large numbers of its citizens, especially Sunnis.
But the opposition is fragmented. About all they have in common is their determination to get rid of Assad and minority Alawite dominance. While there are secular democrats in the opposition, the large majority is divided: some are moderate Sunnis, driven by war to support ethnic cleansing of Alawites and Christians. Then there are the Islamic militants: al Nusra Front the best known, is highly effective militarily, probably equipped by Qatar, affiliated with al Qaeda and is made up of nihilist religious zealots. There are others, and some are Iraqis, the same al Qaeda zealots who tried to murder the Shia in the Sunni parts of Iraq.
So, whom, exactly would our air war promote? If it's the militant side of the opposition, then Syria could become an al Qaeda haven, even the foundation for the new Islamic Caliphate. Or, it could become a Sunni authoritarian "democracy," in which non-Sunni flee for their lives, or hole up in enclaves, balkanizing the country. Or it could end up as a civil war between moderate and extremist Sunnis, if our bombing polishes off the Assad regime.
Better if the US and Europe refrain from any intervention: Muslims have to handle this themselves, anyway. The best: simply walk away. If Arabs want to sell oil, we can buy it, or go solar, without causing death and destruction from the air.
But our Roman Senators might lose billions! The US would save hundreds of billions, maybe trillions. Does the empire belong to corporate overlords, or does our country belong to us? Are we a democracy, or a military/corporate dictatorship?
When the Roman Empire faced a similar decision, it bankrupted itself attempting to maintain control, like this, of conflicts beyond its power. Are we going to go there?
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Thirty-five years: the judge split the difference for Bradley/Chelsea Manning. Defense lawyers asked for 20, the prosecution asked for 60-90.
Now we know: if we happen upon the government acting illegally, or immorally, we must shut our eyes, because that's the Government. They can do no wrong--unless, according to the GOP, they spend too much on frivolous things like Food Stamps.
But Security? Never ask. Don't even look! If you work for Government, however, you better look--at your fellow employees to insure a colleague doesn't become another Manning or Snowden.
There was a time, when we pointed derisively at the USSR, because they had secret police and the Gulag. Everyone there was expected to report on everyone else, and the primitive censorship, fear and constant monitoring was effective, for a while, in suppressing popular interests--or rationality--in favor of the Communist Party elite. It was woefully inefficient, not least because there was no free flow of information.
The new American system of dictatorship is much more sophisticated, so sophisticated that if there wasn't someone like Bradley Manning or Ed Snowden spilling out the secrets of what the Government is really doing, no one would really know for sure that they were being manipulated and controlled surreptitiously. Now we know: what Government tells the compliant media is becoming as reliable as Pravda or Izvestia. And that's on top of having a militarized police and the most prisoners per capita, suffering the harshest treatment.
In the late Roman Empire, there was an extreme concentration of wealth held by the Senatorial class, similar to today's inequality. The Senators also controlled the civil imperial government. The military was a separate entity, increasingly drawn from the "barbarians" they were continually fighting. Social and political control was more fragmented. Misinformation and fantasy was rampant. The Emperor had an army of informers, but was mostly concerned with court and elite intrigue. The Senators held life and death powers over their serfs--and exercised it freely. The cities were in chaos, just like Detroit, but, worse than bankruptcy, corrupt gangs ran them.
Are we headed in that direction? One party of the duopoly can't even raise taxes in Texas on highly profitable oil companies to keep their roads paved, roads largely destroyed by heavy oil company truck traffic. The other party appears to be made up of those who can be bought, but are less reliable for corporate interests, punctuated by a few honest souls.
But when a putatively liberal President presides over record deportations, record whistleblower prosecutions, covert killing and an apparently out of control surveillance state, you wonder: when did we lose our democracy? Most of the press and public don't seem to care. What we have in democracy's stead is overlapping institutions, including Government departments, corporations (including media), the military-security industry and the extremely wealthy, attempting to coordinate and strengthen their control:
We could call it "modern Fascism."
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Cut taxes on the wealthy, the "job creators," so they can create more jobs, Republican "conservatives" insist.
Here is a direct refutation: the wealthy are hoarding their cash--the top 1% save 37% of their earnings. Rather than creating jobs, by their out-sized savings rate they destroy jobs.
We should cut corporate taxes argues the Chamber of Commerce incessantly, because (by one measure) US taxes are higher than economic competitors like Japan and Germany.
Corporations are also hoarding cash, again cutting jobs: money not spent on consumption or real (as opposed to financial) investments, is jobs not created and wealth not multiplied.
Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations would capture some of this excess cash to build infrastructure, improve education and hire people in needed jobs.
The US is the fourth most unequal nation among wealthy OECD nations, having a Gini index of .36 compared to the most unequal nation's Gini of .50 (Mexico). 0 would be complete equality, 1.00 represents complete inequality, where only one person received all the income. According to the Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and even the Economist, inequality is inefficient. Increased inequality drains consumption and investment spending: low consumption drives low investment, drives low job growth.
Repeal Obamacare. The Republican House of Representatives has voted to repeal it 33 or 34 times. Proponents of repeal claim that the program will increase deficits and cut jobs. It's likely that the reverse is true in both instances. While Obamacare will increase some taxes, mostly marginal, it will also save an astonishing amount of money not yet easily calculated. Health care costs, and costs to the government may actually go down, through lower hospital and emergency room costs, and a reduction in treatments needed as people get regular medical care, instead of only going to the doctor (or the emergency room) when a health crisis strikes.
The Congressional Budget Office (not a partisan institution) estimated cost savings from Obamacare that would reduce out-going deficits substantially. In fact, its most prominent recent caveat (reduction of the reduction) was the administration agreeing to a year's delay in the employer mandate (to provide insurance or pay a fee per employee), which CBO estimated to cost the government $10 billion.
So, what's going on here? The Mainstream Media emphasize the Republican message, even though it's the opposite of the truth and makes no economic sense. Higher taxes on the wealthy do not curb growth; they probably stimulate it, up to a point. Obamacare, while far from perfect, does not increase future deficits; it will reduce them.
Why are "conservatives" and Republicans against higher taxes for high incomes? They have high incomes, or are paid by people who do. Ditto the MSM.
Inequality is rising worldwide, in the US faster than most, and the "winners" want to keep it all. They are like Fifth Century Roman Senators, who chose the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, instead of imposing taxes on themselves.
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Germany and Japan have highly unionized work forces: New Dealers made sure that unions were strong before the Allied occupation forces relinquished control. Ditto South Korea. The rationale: democracy would have a better chance to flourish, and Nazi/Fascist brutes would have less likelihood of regaining control if confronted by strong unions.
But Brazil, France, Spain, Russia, India and South Africa also have union-organized auto industries. In contrast, a large portion of the US auto industry, especially beyond the rust-belt states, is not unionized and unionization is declining rapidly. The foreign transplants, like Nissan and Honda, are unionized in virtually every other so-called 'developed country.'
Despite weakened unions, the US Chamber of Commerce's reaction to Obama's NLRB appointments, ratified in the recent filibuster deal in the US Senate, was that a major disaster had occurred. American business appears to have an aversion to unions, not just among the auto transplants in the South.
Omigod! The NLRB might actually attempt, again, to fulfill its mandate that employers not unduly interfere with union organizing elections!
As soon as FDR was gone, business rallied against unions, and in 1946 a Republican Congress passed Taft-Hartley, weakening unions and making "right-to-work" legislation viable. Since 1946, 23 states have passed such laws. Is it just coincidence that right-to-work states have fewer union workers (6.48% vs 10.8%) and lower wages?
All the southern states except Kentucky, all the plains states, almost all the Rocky Mountain states are right-to-work, and now two states from the industrial heartland (Michigan and Indiana) are, as well.
Right-to-work is a euphemism. RTL means employees in a union-organized workplace don't have to join a union, or pay union dues, but can benefit from a union contract. When workers become "free-riders" like this, unions lose money, power and eventually their contracts. Then employers don't have to face an organization representing workers.
Gerrymandering elected majorities from white, rural minorities, Tea Party state legislatures, from Wisconsin to Texas, now pass draconian abortion laws, slash services from education to Medicaid, cut taxes on the wealthy, and raise them on the poor. It's a coup that exploited the 2010 reaction to Obama and the unlimited corporate and private funds released by Citizens United. It's a coup of corporate elites, and it's frighteningly successful in the states, where it's compounded by the generations-long decline of organized labor.
The US Congress is divided between a similarly gerrymandered, reactionary House majority, and an inchoate, moderate Senate majority corrupted by corporate money. The US looks increasingly like the despotic, declining Empire of Fifth Century Rome, led by a fabulously wealthy elite dominating an increasingly impoverished majority. The coup isn't complete, but it's dangerously close. The military-industrial-security complex doesn't know it yet, but an Empire based on mass misery is like a hollowed, rotten tree: it'll go down fast in a storm, despite its sophisticated surveillance and automated weaponry.
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'They' are Obama, Biden and other putative liberals or progressives, who have signed onto--and defend--the massive surveillance of practically everyone, world-wide, including American citizens in the US, that the intelligence complex has foisted on all of us. Obama was a constitutional law professor; he should know about all the guaranteed rights that PRISM and meta-data collection violate. Instead, he pursues Ed Snowden to the ends of the earth.
Apparently, the American public doesn't understand, either.
Of course, there are all sorts of justifications: US citizens aren't targeted--unless they are. We have to sweep up all the world's communications to protect the American people, although we do a terrible job protecting, except for ferreting out the credulous in stings: occasionally there is the miniscule chance that someone will set off a bomb. Many more are killed, routinely, because our gun laws are so lax, because we travel faster on the roads than they're designed for, because we have a healthcare system driven by profit--and a corporate system in which human lives are less important than dividends.
So, to stop the occasional mad man, we give up our rights to privacy; we bow to government and corporate power and don't think about it: it's more important to know what the celebs are doing, or whether your team is winning. It's preferable to spend hundreds of millions on stadiums than to fully fund food stamps, so that people don't go hungry.
What does that have to do with the NSA's surveillance? The Terror Industry is a diversion, of money that could be used to make people's lives better, of attention away from the escalating inequality enabled by that same inattention: if you're terrified of terrorists, you won't think about how your CEO is exploiting you, and your government is watching your every move. You certainly won't rebel against the system, even if you sense it's been shaped to rip you off. The surveillance state tells you: you can't get away with anything, especially protest against your government.
Go scream about abortion, instead; or oral sex. Your surveillers will even support you: social issues are safe; but economic ones are not: taxes must go down--in inverse relation to your income, and regulations must be dismantled, to free private enterprise--so it can exploit everyone more efficiently.
Surveillance and police control, even with tanks, will enable the government--or select corporations--to protect their privileges, against massive unrest. Yes, the US is ready if American dissidents try to bring Tahrir Square to Washington or New York. Police have already crushed Occupy--while the IRS targeted "progressive" groups about as much as the Tea Party.
Democratic hacks seek support from the corporate class, our Roman Senators: Republicans slavishly represent them.
Roman Senators--and the defense-industrial-intelligence-complex--lay the groundwork for a legal coup: NSA's General Keith Alexander for President!
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just an iota, and business groups start to wring their hands over the labor-friendly changes that could take place. A confirmed Secretary of Labor? A full NLRB board with a Democratic majority? They write as if disaster is going to strike.
Unions have had a hard time recently, and if these nominees are confirmed, because Reid finally threatened to do away with the filibuster on nominee confirmations, then already it will have a tremendous impact. Unions have had diminished clout, and the eviscerated NLRB and caretaker Labor Department hasn't helped. Even reporters for the Chamber of Commerce admit that a confirmed nominee has more power than an interim appointee and could push for rules making union organizing elections a lot easier. That, in turn, could stop the slide in unionization, and might even help it to recover some lost ground.
That's the disaster the Chamber is worried about: labor empowered, wages raised, profits possibly cut--ah, some redistribution of income and power. Since corporate profits and inequality of incomes are soaring, there is a lot of room for a more just distribution of the wealth produced, and the managerial elites might just have to rake in fewer millions. I don’t think that would be a bad thing.
But you see how a rule compromise in the Senate can change a lot of other things in the real world. It could even begin a reversal of the silent takeover of power and wealth engineered by this generation's Roman Senators.
Still, we should note: no formal rule was changed; there was an "agreement" between Democrats and enough Republicans to prevent a filibuster on Richard Cordray, the interim and now confirmed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Board that's already shown it has teeth in regulating out of control credit card companies. Supposedly, the agreement will also cover the NLRB nominees and others who have been waiting for confirmation for a good part of Obama's tenure.
The agreement also highlights the weakened status of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: John McCain brokered the agreement for the Republicans and McConnell was sidelined and ignored; that has significance for the Senate down the road, beyond the filibuster issue. While this was an interim agreement that left the filibuster in place, for now, it could lead to big changes in the distribution of power in the Senate, and in the "real world."
Nominations are a uniquely senatorial power, however. On any tax or spending issue, the House is supposed to lead, and on any other issue, it has at least veto power. Given its extremist wing in the Republican majority, it's unlikely that senatorial comity will lead to House functionality.
However, any movement away from increasing corporate power and toward buttressing the power of workers might undo what seems like an inevitable takeover, like the one that gave Roman Senators monopoly power--shared with the military--in the late, declining Roman Empire.
American liberalism wasn't just about social issues like gay marriage and immigration. American liberalism was the closest thing Americans had to the movements in Europe and elsewhere: they promoted economic equality, fair tax systems, labor representation and economic democracy. Europeans labeled them democratic socialism, or social democracy. In the US, we rarely used such terms; they smacked of Socialism, even Communism.
European democratic socialism had its base in political parties either affiliated with, or a part of, the labor movement. Labor in the US has been closer to Democrats than Republicans, at least since FDR, but the Democrats were never a labor party. Since Clinton's "new Democrats," it has become increasingly pro-business and lukewarm to labor.
Somewhere between Carter and Clinton, Democrats pretty much jettisoned economic democracy in favor of campaign funds, and found they could successfully appeal to middle class voters with social arguments like: gay rights, civil rights and pro-choice policies. That left them free to take more pro-business and even pro-wealthy class positions that would make it easier to raise campaign funds, enabling them to win elections.
The Rooseveltian idea that Democrats should strive for economic rights, like Freedom from Want was shoved aside: rich people gave money, the middle class voted for Democrats, the poor didn't turn out to vote in any great numbers--and most of them voted for Democrats, anyway, so they would get the crumbs--and the rhetoric.
Dividing off economic democracy and equal opportunity from social issues like gay marriage, gives Democrats a progressive tilt, but they never stopped the Reagan Counter-revolution. Democrats collaborated on tax-cuts for the wealthy, and adopted corporate-friendly policies like repealing Glass-Steagall, promoting NAFTA and now the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Obama is as much involved in updating the new Democrats as his irascible associate, Rahm Emanuel, current mayor of Chicago, presiding over the most public school closings (largely in poor neighborhoods) of any large city, a part of "austerity" politics: cutting government's social services.
It's no accident that Obama proposes to cut Social Security benefits--and other government benefits, as well--by adopting the "chained CPI" measure for adjusting payments to the cost of living. He's the first Democratic President to dare suggest such a thing. It's also no accident that he presides over an invasive surveillance program and is hawkish on drones. By being for progressive social issues, he can get a pass on his surrender to the Military-Industrial-Security-Complex and Democrats can fatten on Defense-related campaign funds. In his political campaigns, despite record numbers of small donors, Obama depended financially on big bucks given by people Democrats used to call "fat cats."
Democrats have been co-opted by the contemporary class of "Roman Senators:" Nader's epithet: "not a dime's worth of difference" from Republicans almost rings true--except for social policy.
We need a democratic revival not based on either of the current political parties. N.B. My paternal family has been Democrats at least since Franklin Pierce (1853).
Drones, "minimization procedures," "targeting procedures," "metadata" "US persons" "non-US persons…."
It's okay: we're only "targeting" non-US persons abroad; if we've mistakenly targeted a US person and there is indication of a crime, that's also okay. So, surveillance not only stops terrorism in its tracks--NY subway bombing plot, etc.--it also fights crime--at home and abroad.
No wonder, neither Hong Kong, nor Russia are jumping through US police-state hoops! Moscow doesn't "know'" where Edward Snowden is. The crimes the US accuses of Snowden reveal the extent of crimes the US commits against people in Russia--and everywhere else--the "legal" targets are non-US persons on "foreign territory." We accuse Putin's government of authoritarian practices, but we're listening in on all those non-US persons in Russia. So, why should the Russian or Hong-Kong governments cooperate with the US? Why should Ecuador, or Iceland?
Talk about a widening gulf! It's between everyone else vs official Washington, which thinks the surveillance of virtually everyone--except US persons--is easily justified because the US has to stop terrorists. After all, even Brits and Canadians aren't "US-persons."
Even an American resident or citizen can be tracked if there is evidence of a crime. How do the authorities establish evidence of a crime? 'Accidental' surveillance?
There have been at least two high profile politicians/public figures recently, who were caught because of such accidental surveillance: Elliot Spitzer and General Petraeus. The former was caught through a bank alert for suspicious money transfers, and then phone surveillance in 2008, the latter in 2012, when the FBI traced harassing emails from Petraeus' biographer, Paula Broadwell, to a woman she feared was competing with her for Petraeus' affections.
Cases like those may have prepared the American public for Snowden's revelations. They may explain the shrug, accompanied by: "we knew they were doing it all along," reaction of so many--instead of outrage.
Why no outrage? Turks and Brazilians are rioting against their governments because of specific accusations--authoritarianism, or corruption and misplaced priorities--the US has its share of similar abuses and they may actually be worse. The vast extent of American surveillance exceeds anything Russia or China can mount.
Which makes it okay?
The NY Times, the Guardian, et al; were the entities that published the leaks, i.e. made them public--so that even al Qaeda can read them! Why aren't they prosecuted for treason, too?
The real treason--betrayal of American and international civil liberties--is perpetrated by the accusers: the US Government (including Obama), and the Congress and Courts permitting it.
The US, in its decline, has the potential to become more authoritarian than the Roman Empire. Surveillance gives the tools to crush all opposition. Even Stalin's powers were puny compared to these! A President elected with our contemporary Roman Senators' support wouldn't bother to assure us (as Obama has) that he wouldn't use these powers to crush opposition. He/she would use them to maintain control.
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There seems to be a push, at least in the leftish media, to promote the inevitability of legal marijuana.
At the same time, we have the revelations of Edward Snowden: the US is massively watching all of us, through virtually all our communications except face to face. In Orwell's 1984, Big Brother could do even that. Scared yet?
But maybe marijuana is a plot, of the liberal/socialist government under the tyrant Obama…. Hold that thought.
The commercial possibilities of legal marijuana, already being experienced in the two states that made it legal as a recreational as well as medical drug--Washington and Colorado--seems very attractive, especially to cash-strapped state and local governments. Huffpo published a piece on how much money could be realized in taxes and reduced prison costs, would cut the price of pot dramatically, and yet increase legal employment and taxes collected, all based on those two states' early experiences.
I could attest to other advantages: anyone with a small plot of ground, or a closet, could grow their own! Wine and liquor stores might notice a falling off of demand for their drug of choice, however. That's where opposition to legalization may come from.
But think, for a moment, how the widespread availability of marijuana might affect the nation as a whole. Marijuana rarely causes violence; alcohol does, but marijuana does have an influence on how people think: most become more reflective, or passive and introspective, or creative, according to Bill Maher. You've seen giggling potheads? That's about the closest potheads get to violence, as far as I've seen--admittedly a small sample.
There's a precedent for the political use of drugs. The Inca used coca leaves to dull rebellious impulses among its subject peoples. They chewed and worked harder. After the Conquest, Spaniards used it to quiet rebellion and induce hard work by the subject Quechua. The USSR and so many other nations had cheap vodka, or gin, or….instead of rebellion.
So: would legal marijuana be a boon to the State, not just as a revenue raiser, and cost-cutter (as in prisons not needed), but also as a social control? The Feds can know where you are, whom you talk to and for how long, even if they don't eavesdrop, but marijuana might induce people not to care, i.e. be more easily controlled.
I'm no subscriber to the tyrant-socialist-Obama school, nor to conspiracy theory. But I do think there are powerful people, who want to be sure government does have control. They know, perhaps unconsciously, that the .001% holding so much wealth are vulnerable to popular outrage and worse--Emperor Maximus, the wealthiest Senator to wear the diadem, was literally ripped apart by the mob in 455.
So, marijuana might be seen by the super-elite as another way to "mellow out" the opposition. The way lotteries give the millions just a little hope. It bears thinking about.
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So saith my soulmate, upon hearing that we might intervene militarily, again, on one side of an ancient Muslim sectarian dispute.
The Syrian civil war is increasingly a war between Shia, including Alawites, and the Sunni majority. The Sunni powers, the Saudis and the Emirates, are supporting the rebels, including al Qaeda affiliates; the Shiite powers, Iran and Hezbollah, and behind them, Russia, are supporting Assad's Alawite-dominated government.
So, since Russia is heavily arming Syria and Hezbollah, shouldn't the US jump in to support the rebels, along with its long-time 'democratic friends,' the Sunni-dominated monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf? Shiite-controlled Iraq, on which the US squandered almost a trillion dollars, is permitting passage of Russian and Iranian weaponry to Assad and Hezbollah.
So, the US should do it again, in Syria, not just offer small arms? It should go in with massive equipment and training for the rebels, or more, even though prominent numbers of the rebels claim sympathy with, or allegiance to, al Qaeda?
The US helped create al Qaeda, back when Americans were seeking allies to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The US supported and trained Osama bin Laden. Don't Americans ever learn? The US's second adventure in Afghanistan turned out so well that a majority of the US House of Representatives (including conservative Republicans) just demanded the US leave Afghanistan by the end of 2013!
Not only has hot-head McCain insisted America intervene in Syria, on the rebel side, but he was publicly seconded by Bill Clinton, who warned Obama would be a "wuss," if he didn't act forcefully on Syria.
It's true the Syrian rebellion started out as a peaceful, secular protest demanding democracy, and the Assad regime attempted violent suppression. Assad had no compunction attacking Syrian civilians with his military: in 1982, his father, Hafez, murdered at least 10,000 Syrians in Hama, alone. But this time, Sunnis rallied and the protest turned into a rebellion, fueled by money and arms from the Sunni Persian Gulf oil monarchies. Hence, Syrians now fight both civil war and sectarian war.
The US will support the Sunni side, along with al Qaeda, why?
Sunni and Shia have been battling since 661 CE (1,352 years), over who should succeed the Prophet. Why should the US have anything to do with either? Especially, why, since it has already failed twice in its Mideast interventions--Iraq and Afghanistan--and the outcome of its third, Libya, is still uncertain.
The US loses, if it intervenes. As horrendous as the carnage in Syria, the US would make it worse. But Empire is so seductive, especially to the Defense industry. Americans could be bankrupted as the Romans were, but unlike Huns, or Germanic barbarians, US 'enemies' do not threaten America's existence, only each others'.
Let them kill each other until they're exhausted--they will anyway. Or see reason. Let the UN pick up the pieces.
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The judge in Bradley Manning's trial has stated that it is enough for the prosecution to show that al-Qaeda, like the rest of the world, reads WikiLeaks.
So, Bradley Manning is an enemy of the people, because he's made public the war crimes committed in the name of the American People. Since terrorist groups focus their attention on the US and what it does, of course the lead group, al Qaeda, our publicly declared enemy number one, has sought out the Wikileaks documents made possible by Manning's document release. So has anyone who reads the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream newspapers.
The judge, in this carefully controlled show trial, didn't allow Manning to show his intent: to reveal war crimes in order to stop them. He isn't allowed, either, to demonstrate that nothing he revealed did anything but publicize war crimes, manipulation and cynical deception on the part of the US and many of its allies. He is not allowed to show that his document dumps harmed no one.
The mass media portrays the Manning trial, if it portrays it at all, as the trial of someone who disclosed sensitive documents to al Qaeda, a traitor and "weirdo," and obviously either misguided or evil. This is the line taken by the prosecution: now the MSM has become spokesmen for the government's side in a court case!
If we follow the prosecution's logic, not only the Washington Post and the New York Times should be prosecuted. In addition, any paper, website, radio broadcaster, online article writer (including me), could be prosecuted on the same grounds: making information public about possible US war crimes--as long as al Qaeda, or some other terrorist organization--might have an interest in it, or might have downloaded the material(s) onto their computers.
That's the kind of logic that the USSR used to classify most maps of their empire as secret; it's the kind of logic that made information about Krushchev's New Lands program classified, so that no one, including the Kremlin, knew that it was a horrendous failure: wheat can't successfully grow in an arid climate like Kazakhstan.
It's the kind of logic that the Roman Empire used to ban any information except by the Church, or in the mouths of panegyrists, whose business it was to extol the virtues of the sitting Emperor and to condemn all opponents as devils.
It's the logic of an authoritarian government terrified that the public will find out what horrible things it is doing in their name. The first Bradley Manning release by Wikileaks was a perfect example: the video of a helicopter gunship gunning down civilians on a Baghdad street, including the disturbing chatter of the American crew while shooting.
Manning shouldn't go to prison; he should get the Nobel Peace Prize, instead. Perhaps Manning and Edward Snowden, the former CIA who leaked information on Prism and Government seizure of Verizon "metadata," should both be nominated.
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In response to GOP Congressional insistence on including a $200 million Defense appropriation to build new barracks at Guantanamo, after Obama declares he'll try again to close it:
Anything that boosts Defense Appropriations is a good thing, obviously.
It's estimated that 3-8% of released Guantanamo detainees may have returned to terrorism. Even if a third of detainees returned to terrorism--largely in their own countries--would their actions cost more than the loss of credibility the US expends by keeping Guantanamo open? Guantanamo continues to imprison 86 men convicted of no crime, and cleared for release three years ago.
It's about the money. Defense contractors favor their friends: Republicans continue to be their loudest and most effective supporters.
The Guantanamo appropriation is symptomatic of the whole Defense complex. It makes you wonder: who really controls?
Noam Chomsky suggested in a recent article, "Humanity Imperiled," that the US has consistently opted for policies that increase tensions not reduce them. Examples included: JFK not agreeing to a public compromise to the Cuban Missile Crisis, risking nuclear war to achieve a secret deal that appeared as if only Krushchev backed down.
In '73 Kissinger risked nuclear war, calling a high nuclear alert, to warn the USSR not to interfere in the Arab-Israel war; in 1983, Reagan ordered SAC bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace to test their responses--risking nuclear war, again. Last year, Obama rejected meeting multilaterally with Iran to consider a nuclear ban in the Middle East.
A decade earlier, Clinton quashed an Israeli-North Korean agreement that would have stopped North Korean exports of nuclear and missile technology in return for Israel's recognition. Agreements with North Korea by Clinton and later, Bush, were sabotaged by the latter, when he reneged on the agreement and intensified sanctions. Obama just oversaw a US-South Korea military exercise that had mock bombing runs up to North Korea's borders. Each incident elicited a predictably bellicose North Korean response.
The US invaded Afghanistan claiming it was responsible for 911 (most of the 911 terrorists were Saudis, the planning was done in Germany and the US), and then invaded Iraq--Bush's personal vendetta--and upended the Middle East. Now the US is engaged in sub-rosa wars: in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and probably in more places we don't know about.
Is there a pattern here? Regardless of the President, ever since Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the "defense-industrial complex," US policy has favored an increasingly militaristic foreign policy. The military, and/or the industries that batten from it, push the US toward aggression: they profit from it.
Everyone else, worldwide, is impoverished and endangered, including the American Empire. Its overreach, and the selfishness of our Senatorial class, is bankrupting us and helping to destroy the planet, much as Rome despoiled Europe and the Mediterranean, then bankrupted itself through endless wars and the rapacity of the Senatorial class.
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Two Stratfor articles, "Geopolitical Journey: An Empty Highway in Spain," and "Europe: Unemployment and Instability," suggest that there is an underlying problem of social distance and lack of empathy that leads political elites, and the German public, to continue to insist on austerity, because they don't feel the effects the recession is having on others. Germans, for example, can get judgmental about the shiftless southern Europeans, and insist that only they know what's good for everyone: more austerity.
The US faces a similar problem, because of the widening disparity of wealth. The call for austerity among Republicans expresses the preferences of the very wealthy, who want lower taxes and see no utility in "coddling" what Romney labeled the dependent 47%. So, unemployment is not perceived as a problem, either in Germany (as yet), nor among Wall Street bankers, or their socioeconomic cousins, the very wealthy. That's why almost all the debate in Washington centers on austerity: how to accomplish the Sequester more rationally, how to cut more from social programs like SNAP (food-stamps), so that debt and deficits can be reduced. This debate continues, even though there is stubbornly high unemployment, and especially high long-term employment. "Conservatives" see no reason to stimulate job growth, since the stock market is surging, profits are high, and housing prices are rising.
In Europe, the result very well could be radical politics--or worse. Not only has Italy given 25% of its votes to a new untried political party, The Five Star Movement, led by a comedian, but Hungary's right-wing government has passed a law banning all political opposition!
Unemployment rates of 27% (Greece and Spain), or even around 15% (Lithuania, Portugal, Ireland) begins to look really scary, especially when you have youth unemployment at or more than double those rates. As the Stratfor articles mention, this was the climate that created Fascism and Nazism after WWI. The response this time could be as radical, and of either the right or the left (Greek extremist parties are at both ends of the political spectrum).
The apparent quiescence in Spain and other European nations in recession could easily explode, given the seeming hopelessness faced by the unemployed, especially the youth. If I were in their shoes, I'd be tinder for anyone who started yelling that he/she could solve it.
Meanwhile, austerity and the Sequester are destroying the future of both regions.
What this may mean is that the economic/political system in which we exist could undergo radical transformation sometime soon, and it might not be pretty. However, our elites (European, American, Chinese) don't seem to have a clue, which makes all our political systems that much more vulnerable to upheaval.
If there is no transformation, we could go the way of the Late Roman Empire: monopolized wealth by today's equivalent of Roman Senators, and immiseration for everyone else.
The war authorization passed by Congress after 911 will be necessary, military officials told the US Senate, for 10-20 years, and will enable them to put US military on the ground, from Syria to the Congo to Boston!
"This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I've been to since I've been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution today," Sen. Angus King said. [Huffpo 5/21]
On 5/23, Obama said the war on terror was winding down, and with it the utility of the 911 war authorization.
What's going on here?
Since 9/11/2001, there has been a huge growth in the military and related security services. Think of the department always referred to as "sprawling" Homeland Security, which didn't even exist on 9/11. Think of the CIA running covert wars in places most Americans still can't find on a map: the Tribal Agency in Pakistan's Northeast frontier, and in Somalia and Yemen.
Think of all the money those services spend--or waste, or give away. Does anyone really know how many $100's of billions? Wouldn't it be nice if the CIA came calling to your house, instead of to President Karzai's palace, and dropped off anonymous bundles of $20 bills?
We'll probably see a good many more of these conflicting statements, coming out of the White House and the Pentagon--or its related services. There's a lot of money involved: the sequester cuts the military somewhat more deeply than other government programs, but still leaves most of its "Terror" funding intact. Obama's statement puts many security programs in the cross-hairs of budget cutters.
There are a lot of peoples' jobs at stake; even more important, from a monetary point of view, there are billions of dollars in military and security contracts on the line.
It doesn't matter whether these programs are necessary: covert action sections, new weapons, highly trained employees. That isn't the point of the disagreement reflected in the statements of "military officials" versus President Obama.
Obama has declared war and his opponents were fighting back--they knew which way the wind was blowing before the President's statement. The Military-Security-Industrial complex isn't going to let a good thing be taken away. The MSI will martial its forces to ensure that what it has won, first with GW and then with Obama, won't be cut.
Of course, the "military officials" implied their programs should be expanded, not curtailed: they want to fight all over the globe, even in Boston.
If the MSI prevails, we'll continue to flex our muscles globally, while hollowing out the nation internally: a sure recipe for following the Roman Empire into oblivion.
Considering the miniscule number of deaths caused by Terrorism, and the huge numbers caused by out-of-control-capitalism, I'd happily defund "Defense," to adequately budget needed social programs. Hope for Obama's new vision. It's the best chance we've got.
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The Chamber of Commerce's lead article (05/16/13) states: "The Keystone XL Pipeline is a viable remedy for many of the threats and concerns that plague small business owners."
The Chamber (and others) spread misinformation that XL will unleash lower energy prices, and create jobs. Temporarily, it might create a few jobs, but TransCanada has been transparent about its intention to sell its hydrocarbon sludge abroad. The petroleum market is world-wide and fungible, anyway; oil is basically sold at the same price, subject to world-wide demand and supply--and speculation. Canadian sludge won't drive prices down, nor even keep them from rising, if China, India and other emerging economies continue to hunger for more--as they will.
The Chamber of Commerce, pretending to represent small business, claims the XL pipeline is needed for small businesses, to promote jobs and lower energy costs. There's no mention that it's one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, and that its addition to the fuel mix will increase global warming and climate change significantly. Nor does the Chamber mention the recent disastrous spills of this toxic mess in Nebraska and Michigan. The author of the Chamber's lead article promoting this: Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), is Chairman, Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.
He sells snake oil.It's the line Republican Congressmen, from gerrymandered districts, follow, as well.
You mustn't regulate emissions, but you must protect "job creator" subsidies for Exxon, etc. and you can't let government functions out-compete "free enterprise," like the Postal Service, or Social Security. That's really why both, plus Medicare/Medicaid, have been targeted by the GOP: Yet costs are lower, and public benefits are obvious, while corporations (or their shareholders) don't profit.
From the Chamber of Commerce rightward, there appears to be an alternate reality, and almost half of Americans have been persuaded it's real: government can't do anything good. They've been persuaded that government stimulus even during recession, will trigger galloping inflation, though inflation isn't as high as the Fed has targeted; the minimal stimulus drove us (barely) out of recession, unlike the austerity-driven EU, and the dollar has gained value against other currencies. The right-wing solution for this non-problem, is to cut government expenditures, laying off teachers and police, civil service workers and firemen, cutting government services and aid to those in need: the grand sequester.
Given austerity's dismal failure to resolve Europe's financial problems, why can't we learn from their mistakes (let alone those of FDR in 1937)? Because corporations could profit more from austerity?
The right-wing's alternative universe is wreaking a terrible toll. The only example of more damaging policies would be the Roman Senators, who ran the Fifth Century Roman Empire: they ran it into the ground.
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The US is leaving Afghanistan (too slowly), but just think of the profits big corporations can make on its most important export.
Really, there must be some way Pfizer, Novartis, etc, can profit on Afghan opium (Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's crop). Big corporations increasingly dominate world trade. They're pressing globally for patent rights even to basic food crops. Patents as monopoly grants, provide corporations monopoly profits.
Corporations promote war, any war: they can make obscene amounts on it. They have a near monopsony, as well: the US Defense Department; it buys more from defense corporations than all other buyers combined, close to a definition of the word, monopsony.
The US strides, giant-like, across the world--trampling, too. But it, and almost every other nation, is bowing to a multiplicity of fiefdoms called corporations.
When the Roman Empire was self-destructing in the late 300's to late 400's, it was ruled by a class that created the model for what came after: Roman Senators lorded it over huge latifundias, with estates from Gaul to North Africa, all manned by hundreds to thousands of serfs and slaves. Senators also provided the bureaucratic skills to run the Empire, usually to their personal advantage. Over time, the Senators' holdings grew as there became fewer of them (small families), but then shrank as the Empire withered: losing estates in North Africa, for example, when the Vandals took over there--due to incompetence and rivalry between Imperial services.
But what prevailed became the feudalism of the Medieval period, dominated by Germanic conquerors--rampaging hordes that settled down to enjoy their pillage in one place.
Something similar is happening today. Corporations are the new Senatorial latifundias, spreading their thirst for profits worldwide, but in their own niches. We have feudalism of food production by Monsanto, or of pharmaceuticals by Glaxo-Smith-Kline, or of oil and coal production by the Koch brothers.
Workers are treated increasingly as serfs, as unions are driven out, workers are laid off, wages are cut and the remaining employees work harder in fear for their jobs.
Now, with the secret negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the ascendancy of these corporations lurches forward. Only "stakeholders" (not the public or Congress) are permitted to know what the negotiations entail, but leaked accounts indicate that corporations will be able to sue to block environmental and labor laws, expand patent and copyright rights, and generally override sovereign nations' regulations, as long as they can claim their profitability/interest is threatened.
Corporate feudalism is like the Roman Senators, who held life and death power over their 'dependents.' But once the nation-state is pushed aside, will there just be rampaging corporations? No governments will be able to protect the people from the corporate hordes.
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Looking for a house that's energy efficient, in a secluded, beautiful setting? 44 Schultzville, Clinton Corners, NY is a solar envelope house built into a south-facing hill overlooking a woods pond and surrounded by woods, all protected by a conservation easement. After enjoying living in it for 28 years, it's for sale.
Our house is at the north end of High Valley property; it's also just three miles from Omega Institute and three miles to the Taconic Parkway.
The house is built on bedrock, for its thermal properties, and is designed never to freeze. For 20 years we heated it solely with the passive solar windows and wood stoves. We added a propane furnace (forced air) for convenience.
Our house has 4 bedrooms and two full offices (one of which could also be converted into a "mother-in-law" apartment, since it opens onto the garage, not the house, and is plumbed for a bathroom. The upper office has a deck, overlooking the woods.
The living room and dining room/kitchen have vaulted ceilings and alternate walls are sheathed in old barn siding taken from High Valley's 200 year old barn. The floor-to-ceiling fireplace and the outside stonework are of fieldstone I gathered on High Valley's property. The living room floor's wide ash boards were specially milled from a friend's dead tree.
The yard includes a pond and stream in front, a garden space in the back enriched for 27 years, huge oaks in front and back, deep shady maples, and on the west side, an ash tree that turns purple in the fall.
The land is protected all the way from Centre Road to the end of High Valley on Horseshoe Trail, so there are miles of trails between and no houses can be built on any of it, ever.
There are 50 acres of woodland also for sale (only limited agricultural structures permitted), including a gorgeous maple woods across the stream and an old oak forest with huge trees up the hill. There is also a natural spring uphill above the pond. All is in state-certified, tax-favored, forestland, contiguous to the 12.25 acres set aside for the house.
The realty listing is:http://nyupstateretreat.epropertysites.com/indexGo2.htm
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Investment in tar sands (the XL Pipeline) is "foolish," says James Hanson of NASA. He says we're already at about 395 ppm CO2, above the target of 350 ppm that would limit global warming to 2 degrees C. The Earth has warmed less than a degree, so far, and already we have super-storms like Sandy, record-breaking droughts, heat spells and flooding.
Hanson makes sense, but government bureaucrats and officials are wary of him, because his opinions affect things like energy policy. Not what a scientist should be saying, or writing, they imply.
Is it so questionable to say that blowing up mountaintops, piping sludge and blowing apart underground shale formations is also "foolish?" Obama's "all of the above," Hanson points out, is bad strategy: it increases carbon from all the above sources, even if it also promotes wind and solar. Further, "cap and trade" is ineffective. Yet, policy-makers around the world hear mostly from fossil fuel interests, not their constituents, so even marginal policy reforms like the above will likely be rejected.
But humans are "foolish;" the Dutch, by way of example, live at sea-level, and although increased CO2 is already causing seas to rise, threatening their very existence, they continue to burn coal, the most greenhouse gas-intensive fuel.
The world is overrun with foolishness, but one of the most foolish is to subsidize fossil fuels, instead of demanding that fossil fuel producers pick up the tab for external costs: not only for lung disease and heart attacks from air pollution, but for global warming, itself. Sandy alone cost the taxpayers over $100 billion. Hanson proposes a carbon tax to cover external costs, the proceeds to be distributed to all taxpayers.
For the Capitalist, nothing's foolish if you can make money on it, but huge investments in fossil fuels is foolish: they're betting against a stable climate in the long run, for profits in the short-run.
Capitalists are foolish in other ways. They're eager to sell/produce in China, even though the US now documents that China's stealing them blind, of technology and innovation, as well as through corruption. They're stealing American (and European) competitive advantage. They fulfill Stalin's adage: "When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use."
Capitalism, ultimately, is foolish: it's driven by a blind thirst for profits in the short term, regardless of consequences, and growth at any cost. Its proponents demand minimal or no regulation or taxes, and avoid all external costs for as long as possible. Stock newsletters tout oil producers, and even tar sands. Fox News, the Koch's etc. promote misinformation and blindness. Capitalism is not the market: it demands a market with its eyes put out.
Unless we can overcome blind capitalism, we're doomed: the Roman Empire did the tiniest fraction of the damage the American Empire--as capitalism unchained--has done and will do, unless somehow many someones can put a harness on it.
Sunday at sunrise I saw a car parked in our parking lot along the dirt road, not far from houses and an equestrian center. A guy got out, did something with his leg, and then, as I approached, he got back in the car and drove off. There was someone in the passenger seat.
The driver had discarded something and its foil wrapper. He was probably proud of himself: it was an oversized used condom. On his way to church?
That pretty much epitomizes relations with our social, natural and international world. We trash the natural world, we trash each other; we also trash other nations: cancer has skyrocketed in Iraq because our depleted DU munitions litter the landscape. Our military is proud of them; they're more effective than lead or steel in penetrating tank armor. Who cares about the Iraqis?
Margaret Thatcher was known for popularizing a politics epitomized by: "Screw you, Jack! I've got mine." Our "conservatives" are less eloquent.
Sequestration was meant to force Democrats and Republicans to agree to something sensible, but the first adjustment insures that flights aren't delayed, so Congressmen and Senators can get home during their break. Meanwhile, cuts to Head Start, schools, health research, medical care, extended unemployment insurance and to so many other government programs cause far more damaging consequences: lives lost, children untaught, research not done, people driven homeless: long-term costs to everyone--except the wealthy.
And for what? Both the Alesina/Ardagna article on "expansionary austerity," and the Reinhart/Rogoff article positing the economic danger of a 90+% budget deficit--Economists' arguments promoting austerity--have been proven false, while real experiments with it in Greece, Spain, Ireland, the UK and Portugal have demonstrated its destructive effects.
I sent two of Krugman's anti-austerity articles to a fundamentalist friend; he refused to read them: said they were "all false," and "ideologies will never replace the wisdom and power of the Word of God." Facts didn't matter. To him, and apparently to a large contingent of Republicans in Congress, "debt is debt," an evil--except for Defense, or corporations, or mortgages, or….
My friend made money in California real estate, The austerian agenda makes sense to him: why should he pay for losers, driven homeless, and/or jobless by the burst housing bubble; he made money, so what's wrong with them?
People like him, and those much wealthier drive the political agenda. We don't live in a democracy; the powerful listen to the one-percent, not to the rest of us--except, maybe, the 5%. Our contemporary Roman Senatorial class has conquered. High unemployment benefits them: it makes workers compliant; bosses can cut wages and raise their own salaries: life is good.
It will last until either revolution or collapse, the latter from the instability inherent in extreme inequality; it contributed to Rome's fall in 476.
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The United States was, for a short time, a democracy, if only of white male property owners--much like early Athens. Counterrevolution began with the Constitutional Convention.
Democratic forces were predominant in other eras in the US, but they didn't last. There was the Democracy of Andrew Jackson and brash new western men. There was the early radical Republicanism of the Civil War. There was the Progressive era: the overweening power of the trusts was busted, at least temporarily. There was the New Deal, extending through the Great Society, in which government made it its business to extend equality and its benefits.
But each democratic era has been followed by a period of reaction and hardening elite rule. However, up until now, America has always had an upwardly mobile society: the son of the worker, farmer, or clerk becoming the new rich. And always before, the elite made way for them, even if they hated "upstarts" and "new money."
Today, class mobility in America is lower than in class-bound Britain; American society is becoming rigid and stratified--though no one will admit they are anything but "middle class." The difference between the new financial wealthy and everyone else has never been greater; CEO's are paid 100's or 1000+ times more than their workers, a greater margin of difference than other developed nations. Inequality increased even more rapidly after the so-called Great Recession and subsequent "recovery" under Obama's leadership. More than 90% of the gains since 2009 have gone into the pockets of the extremely wealthy, while unemployment hovers around an official 7.8% and is nearly twice that when counting workers who have given up looking for work.
The intransigence of conservative Republicans is not surprising, nor the timidity of Democrats: they both reflect the changing balance of power in the US. Unions have declined to single digits of the private sector workforce, and Republicans have sharpened their knives to eliminate the power of public sector unions, as well.
Meanwhile, state legislatures and Congress promote austerity, and cut programs benefiting the less affluent, while attempting to lower taxes and eliminate regulations that irritate the resurgent wealthy.
Why not? Politicians easily accumulate wealth from their connections. Anyone in government, even idealistic Obama staff, can legally line his/her nest by cooperating with the moneyed, our Roman Senators. None live in ghettos, or working-class neighborhoods. None see or hear the people who are hurt by the wealthy bias in media and politics.
And the media, largely owned by our Roman Senators, naturally reflects their bias; so even the poor tend to accept the agenda of the wealthy, insisting that austerity is necessary and even Social Security benefits must be cut.
This isn't just the swing of the pendulum; this smells like "takeover" by the very wealthy, like the Roman Senators' monopoly of power in Fifth Century Rome--before its fall.
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The vaunted American system of politics.
We have endemic and pervasive gun violence in the cities, and frequent massacres of innocents by crazies in the suburbs, and make it easier to buy and keep guns than any other "developed" country. And yet, the Senate can't even get to a vote on expanded background checks (supported by about 90% of Americans), because the murderous, corporate NRA cows most Republicans and enough Democrats.
Immigration reform may be stopped in its tracks for the same kind of reason: a small minority represented by a disproportionate number of Senators and/or Representatives, will try to block any immigration reform bill because, in this case, majorities in the South and the under-populated southern mid-section of the nation, are paranoid xenophobes.
On the other hand, Monsanto can insert special language in the Food bill, privileging GMO's, in what has been unofficially labeled "the Monsanto Protection Act." It passed and Obama signed it.
Finally, we have a Democratic President who won reelection championing defense of Social Security and Medicare, legacy programs of Democratic Presidents, but now he attacks them in the name of reform. Obama proposes to cut benefits through indirection: changing the price index used to calculate Social Security benefits, and by cutting payments to providers like doctors and hospitals, to "reform" Medicare.
Social Security does not contribute to government deficits: over the years, Congress and Presidents have borrowed trillions from its trust fund to pay the bills, and now it needs to be paid back. It has pre-funded the bulge in senior boomers, but 'bidness' wants to get its greedy little hands on those funds. Social Security won't need additional funding until the 2030's. Obama's "reform" is splitting his party, and he still won't get Republicans to support it.
A better case can be made for reform of Medicare/Medicaid: to make medical care more efficient. The US shouldn't spend double what other countries pay for comparable medical care. A restructuring is in order, involving what is paid for: patient outcomes, or discrete tests and hours; drug prices should be negotiated, not monopoly prices and hospital fees need to reflect medical needs, not business priorities. Maybe that's what Obama has in mind.
The most positive aspect of Obama's retrograde offer: Republicans will defend both programs in order to attack him.
It seems that only through the courts, sometimes, can progress be realized, as in the Pennsylvania Judge who found that corporations could not claim proprietary secrets for fracking fluid. How long will that "anti-corporate" ruling last?
The Supreme Court may attempt to sidestep the same-sex marriage issue, yet it boosted corporate power in Citizens United when that wasn't even the intent of the suit.
Who rules? The 0.1% and the corporations they own, whom I've labeled "our Roman Senators", like the Selfish Senators of 5th Century Rome. Their influence may be even more pernicious.
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Lobbies, and the corporations behind them, block almost all change in the US.
Back in the 1830's, de Tocqueville rhapsodized about how the new United States had groups organized wherever he went. He saw it as the blossoming of democracy.
Now, however, organization itself is big business. Lobbyists in the thousands insure that the powers-that-be maintain their monopoly-oligopoly, their stifling of innovation that might threaten a lock on their markets--as well as a government that caters to their interests and therefore discriminates against smaller, more nimble competitors.
The IMF recently held that subsidies for traditional energy companies (oil, coal, gas) were holding back the move to non-traditional sources (wind, solar, bio-fuels). Still, even the elite-led demand for reducing government expenditures hardly touches on those subsidies: billions a year to companies making billions in profits. In addition, thanks to people like VP Cheney, drilling companies are largely free of regulation. We still don't know what poisons frackers inject into the earth in order to force out oil or gas, because that's a "proprietary secret." Pennsylvania even gives frackers powers of eminent domain!
Chemical companies (mostly petroleum based) are also protected. Smaller competitors attempting to replace toxic materials like styrene with bio-based non-toxic materials are stymied: the EPA is not allowed to declare styrene's known carcinogenicity, let alone ban it, and similar hands off treatment is SOP for a whole raft of other chemicals. In addition, Monsanto succeeded in inserting language in the new food law that virtually exempts GMO's from regulation. Meanwhile, the FDA can't require them to be labeled as GMO's, either.
Big Pharma protects its monopoly patents world-wide, but especially in the US, and Medicare/Medicaid is required to buy drugs at inflated prices (often 10 times a possible generic); no negotiated prices are permitted.
So, it's not surprising that Congress, after much effort on the part of gun victims families, gun control advocates, governors and even the President, may or may not pass the most minimal of gun control measures: universal background checks, despite 90% support for it in most polls. Gun manufacturers have organized the NRA and now the even more militantly "pro-gun" Gun Buyers of America, to lobby all their captive Congressmen against any regulation except for militarizing the schools with subsidized armed guards (creating another subsidized market).
The ultimate subsidized market is Defense. Corporate contractors still get cost-plus contracts, still get reimbursed even for hotel taxes in Maryland--and then, Lockheed has the chutzpah to demand that Maryland reimburse it, too! And that's in addition to the huge subsidy derived from US insistence on maintaining hegemony worldwide.
The US is truly a corporate state wedded to outdated technologies, corporate behemoths and the greedy class, our Roman Senators, who own them.
Stalemate will doom it, unless it and the corporations are able to transfer their dominance worldwide. That's why the Indian decision against Novartis is so important: the sclerotic American Empire is losing control.
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George McGovern endorsed a terrible book, The Promise of the Coming Dark Age: it saw the Cambodian Khmer Rouge as the great promise: our communitarian future, in which capitalism would be transmuted into abundance for all.
From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge murdered a larger share of their people than the Nazis or Stalin: virtually any non-Maoist with education, or anyone from the middle class and any city-dweller. Later, anyone not ideologically "reliable" was eliminated, as well. The total murdered were between 1.7 and 2.3 million out of a population of only 7 million: between a fourth and a third of all Cambodians.
The idea that attracted McGovern was the Khmer Rouge's advocacy for a communitarian (Communist) agrarian society that was supposed to be fully self-sustaining, and purged of all western influence or technology. McGovern, et al ignored the violence, the authoritarianism, the ideological rigidity and the KR's flight from reality.
Finally, Vietnam ousted the KR in 1979, but Cambodia has suffered famines and near social collapse ever since, unable to overcome the KR's nearly successful attempt to destroy urban Cambodia and western education.
The KR glorified their agrarian past, just as the GOP glorifies a Norman Rockwell view of "real America." Ayn Rand, their ideological guru, glorified the unrestrained entrepreneur stifled by big government. As politicians attempt to put her vision into practice, it might not be so bloody as the KR, but many more will be impoverished. Randism inspires Republican enthusiasm for the sequester, in which the poor and middle class lose the services they depend on, while a small elite benefit from the cuts through privatization and lower taxes.
Ever since Reagan broke the Air Traffic Controllers' strike, the corporate wealthy have successfully carried Republicans and many Democrats with them. Since 1980, income and wealth have concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Disasters, like Katrina in New Orleans, and Sandy in New York, and the nationwide implosion of the financial sector in 2008, have accelerated the process. Wall Street was bailed out, but the country as a whole is still only slowly recovering. The vast majority of productivity gains and new wealth created since the implosion has ended up in the pockets of the wealthy; the banks that precipitated the crisis have gotten bigger and wealthier, yet last month only 88,000 private sector jobs were created. The nation needs at least 150,000 per month to recover.
The wealthy want the Government to cut back, not because there is a real, immediate debt crisis, but because continuing high unemployment serves them: it keeps wages low, workers compliant.
Unless there is some revolutionary upheaval, some Hugo Chavez, the takeover of the wealthy corporate class will continue, much like the monopolization of wealth and power in the hands of the Roman Senatorial class in the late 4th and early 5th century. It won't end well.
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Did you know that the "oil spill" in Arkansas over the weekend was actually tar sands (the stuff to be piped through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline)? Tar sands are probably exempt from the taxes that fund the clean up of such spills, yet this sludge is more toxic and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude.
Some interesting facts: the first, for me, was Oil Change's report, identifying the spill with Canadian tar sands. It wasn't reported that way in the New York Times, which used the euphemism "heavy crude from western Canada," nor on NPR, which simply reported it as a major oil spill until the following day.
Tar sands aren't oil. After much processing (requiring much heat, polluting more than coal), this "bitumen" sludge can be converted into an oil feedstock for further refining, but to call it "heavy crude" conceals what it really is and why a spill is much worse than conventional oil.
Toxicity is one of the reasons for blocking the XL Pipeline, which may be why even supposedly "objective" media outlets misled. Tar sands money has corrupted Canada's politics, and is adding to the endemic, legal corruption here. It may inspire right-wing billionaires, like the Kochs, to purchase media outlets like the LA Times.
Look at the contrast between India and the US: here the courts are influenced by major corporations, especially after Citizens United, and demand outrageous privileges, like patent monopolies indefinitely extended.
India is famous for its petty and not so petty corruption, personally observed when I lived there 33 years ago. Contemporary accounts imply it's as bad now. However, in some ways it might be less corrupt than the US, where corporations get anything they want, like Novartis' minor tweaking of an AIDS drug allowing indefinite monopoly protection. An Indian judge did something our Congress and courts have rarely managed: he stood up to Big Pharma, striking down Novartis' claim that its minor modification justified a new patent (monopoly protection) for the 20 years the Indian patent law permits.
In the US, regulators, courts and Congress bend over backwards to give corporations what they want--like the covert insertion of the "Monsanto protection act" into the Food bill.
The US may have fewer officials and politicians with their hands out, but the powerful use legal corruption. Their bribes are more lucrative: campaign funds, insider info, high paying jobs, and promotions when they recycle back from private to public sectors.
They are in service to our ultimate Roman Senators--the Koch brothers, Murdoch or Lockheed Martin--who know that control of the media is key.
Outside the US, people get freer news: in the US, Congress is writing a law to more strictly control the Internet, our best remaining source for a free flow of information.
Are we already a corporate state, a plutocracy like the later Roman Empire? Hard to tell with the managed information we're fed.
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Social progress seems slow, but in societal terms it's probably moving about as fast as it can: acceptance of gays, even if the Supreme Court can't keep up with the changes in society, is lightning fast.
On the other hand, environmental progress is moving in reverse along with economic equality. War and instability have become more destructive, even if there is no "world war."
Post-Citizens United: corporatist conservatives must punch themselves with glee: successes small: sneaking through "the Monsanto protection act" in the Food bill, and big: persuading the chattering classes inside the Beltway that the deficit/debt is an urgent problem that only can be solved by cutting what they derisively call "entitlements," not subsidies to the burgeoning wealthy.
Our media is so skewed towards the agenda of the wealthy and corporations, that it doesn't seem absurd that we're slashing government spending when unemployment is far too high. Our media is more controlled by wealth and corporate interests than it was in Venezuela before Chavez. He opposed it with state-owned media, and selective de-licensing.
US media excoriated Chavez as a dictator, while he won landslides in at least five elections, elections certified by Carter as freer than the US.
Venezuela may have more democracy than we do, since Republicans work assiduously to deny the right to vote to likely opponents, and a Supreme Court Justice derides Voting Rights Act Section 5 as establishing voting rights as a "racial entitlement."
The US claims it's exceptional; it isn't, except in things we shouldn't crow about, like the highest per capita rate of incarceration, the most expensive and least effective health care system, a falling working wage, soaring inequality, and endemic violence fueled by our wide open "gun culture."
We don't, any longer, score high on educational attainment: almost every other OECD nation has higher college graduation rates: the US used to lead.
Our military is exceptional: the US had the world's most effective killing machine--long before we started using drones. But it still loses wars: Vietnam, Iraq (really), and now Afghanistan.
The size of our military is also exceptional, but that demonstrates another American failing: like North Korea, we spend more money on war-making than on any other "discretionary" government function--we substitute brute strength for sense. We value guns over children, even our own children (100+ days since Newtown and no new Federal gun control law). But the Bible is "brought to you by Walmart," an American company. Exceptional!
The American Empire hasn't lasted long; it's failing progressively and making enemies everywhere. Soon the muscle-bound US will be only the second wealthiest nation.
Targeting immigrants and homegrown terrorists with drones, disenfranchising minorities (those we haven't jailed) and the poor, the US is also becoming almost as authoritarian as China, our successful competitor.
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Humans are predators and the US is the most effective of all.
change is accelerating, creating marvels, insability and crisis.
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This (the Apocalyptic idea) is one of the single worst perspectives our leaders can have and is a part of why we will have trouble working out of our problems.