Tactical Piggishness

March 29, 2011

American text books typically gloss over the underbelly of American history. Our virtual genocide of native American peoples; slavery; our support of dictators, tyrants, and authoritarians to achieve political ends; our role in the overthhrow of democratically elected leaders of foreign nations to advance our interests; this is typical behavior in a political world. We may even find comfort in our banality in torturing truth. For obvious reasons regimes prefer to obliterate an unsavory past and create myths to counter it. But the truth is unbiased. It sheds its light on good and evil with equity; humans meanwhile are not so even-handed and will stoop to any means to substitute a useful lie for a vile truth if it will advance a political postion.

But regimes also gloss over aspects of history and torture truth in less spectacular ways, again to advance ideologies; to slowly, but relentlessly, cut and snip-off the better parts of the fabric of who and what we have been to shape us into what they would have us be. Right now this reshaping is being done by Republican-dominated state governments in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maine, among others. This reshaping is intended to transform us once and for all from a democratic republic into a
plutocratic oligharcy —a government of a wealthy few. In these states Labor is being marginalized to advance the interests of the business and corporate class.  The problem is that Labor consists of none other than the sum of average American workers.

This can be seen most clearly in the pettiness of the Republican Governor of Maine, Paul LePage. LePage has had a mural removed from the waiting area in the state’s Department of Labor because it depicts labor in a positive light. He says it is offensive to business. My father probably would have said, “It’s the Department of Labor, for Christ’s sake!” 

So a mural that extols labor is a bad thing for this Republican. But, although his move is petty it doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, especially in light of the implacable efforts of the Republican Party to denigrate labor, to undermine its interests, to minimize its power, and to marginalize average Americans in the process for the sake of the wealthy. This shows in almost every aspect of Republican policy from fiscal to social. To solve our fiscal problems (as evidenced by their tax policies) Republicans would rather strip average Americans of of the fruits of our wealth and transfer it to the rich, as if Labor had no part in creating it. Althought Governor LePage’s tactical piggishness may be symbolic by comparison to the GOPs more practical assault on American workers, it clearly falls into the Republican strategy of twisting history in small and huge ways to establish a psychological climate for the acceptance of a political reality at odds with the intent of our Declaration of Independence and our constitution. Not only by revolution, but by constant erosion, through steady streams of lies, political maps are transformed.

Artists Judy Taylor says her mural was never meant to be political, just a historical depiction of Maine’s labor history; but Maine’s governor is up to his ass in a political swamp. From the vantage of that part of his anatomy there’s no such thing as “apolitical”. For modern Republicans anything that elevates the role of American workers —Labor— to the heroic, or to just “valuable”, is out of line and must be dealt with.

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Regarding the other major area of American culture rife with doublethink (the war between science and religion) Americans, who claim to be 80% religious and who, in significant numbers, believe in biblical literalness to the point of dismissing scientific thought, ironically owe their lifestyle and national power to the wonders of science.

In fact, the Theory of Evolution is pummeled on a regular basis. From the Scopes “monkey trial” to current efforts to equate religious myth to science in our schools, doublethink goes on. For example, despite scientific data suggesting the earth is approximately (with humility science doesn’t claim the exactitude of religion) 4.5 billion years old, creationists insist it’s 6000 years old.

Using the precision of biblical computation creationists count backward from the fall of Jerusalem to the division of Solomon’s kingdom through the building of the Temple to the Exodus and continue (with remarkable inerrancy in the age before paper) to the time between Exodus and Abraham entering Canaan (exactly 430 “to the day”) and so on, through The Flood back to Creation, winding up at 4000 B.C. making the earth 6000 years old. Meanwhile, using methods such as carbon dating, science comes up with the wildly different number of 4.5 billion.

Creationists dismiss the Theory of Evolution on the same basis. The Bible says “Adam and Eve!” and that’s it, no monkey business for them. The logic of evolution may be as plain as their opposing thumb or the near-identity of chimp to human DNA, but it doesn’t matter —science may bring me flat screen TV, but with doublethink and God all things are possible!

But can this be? Oh, it be: how science/holy-book doublethink comes into play may best be characterized by a story told to me by Roshi Bob, my go-to guy for common sense. Said Roshi:

One of my creationist students with a wart the size of a gumball on his nose told me science is overrated and anathema to God. In the same breath he said he was seeing a dermatologist about the wart. 

I asked, “Have you prayed about this?”

He said, “All the time.”

I asked, “Has it helped with the wart?”

He said, “I don’t pray about the wart. I pray for forgiveness for consulting a dermatologist.”

As his guru, I told him it would be smart to meditate upon his inclination to view God as an idiot.  He looked at me as if I’d told him the earth revolves around the sun and sulked off to call his dermatologist on his iphone.

by Jim Culleny, 3/25/11
for The Greenfield Recorder, 4/2/11


George Orwell coined the term “doublethink” for his model of a distopian society in his classic book, 1984. Newt Gingrich embodies it in 2011. Orwell was characterizing political thought in fiction, Newt does it in flesh and blood.

Orwell’s doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at one time and accept both. It can reasonably be compared to schizoprenia or multiple personality disorder if we want to get clinical, or to plain old-fashioned hypocrisy in everyday human terms. In the political realm doublethinking and its expressive mode, doublespeaking, requires that practitioners have no shame. Having said one thing on tape one day then completely contradicting it a few days later (also on tape) for national TV without blushing requires a high degree of shamelessness. If there were a Nobel Prize for shamelessness Gingrich would be an obvious candidate.

But while doublethink may be a symptom of mental disorder, doublespeak is not necessarily so. One may doublespeak because one doublethinks as a result of brain disease, or momentary confusion caused by blunt force trauma, or by being born Newt Gingrich; but one may doublespeak without actually doublethinking. The first condition may evoke sympathy for doublethinkers, but the second should evoke nothing but contempt for doublespeakers —at least as much contempt as self-serving doublespeakers have for their targeted audience. Newt wears his contemptiousness as Muammar Qaddafi wears his military clown suits –and with as much dignity.

Before Obama joined with Europe to bash Qaddafi, Gingrich explained in an interview what he would do about Libya  (Think Progress):
 
“Exercise a no fly zone this evening. … We don’t need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening.

 “This is a moment to get rid of him (Qaddafi). Do it. Get it over with.”
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Now that Obama has done what Newt castigated him for not doing, this is Newt a few days later:

“…it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity. I would not have intervened.

“I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot. I think that the problems we have in Pakistan, Egypt — go around the region. We could get engaged by this standard in all sorts of places. I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces…” Today Show
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This along with his former hypocrisies (domestic and otherwise) show Newt Gingrich to be an opporunistic, amoral pig. Blunt force trauma or being born Newt Gingrich …not much difference.

by Jim Culleny, 3/24/11

Waifs in a Dream

March 22, 2011

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Here’s something: billionaire Warren Buffet says his secretary pays taxes at a higher rate than he does. Meanwhile, Exxon paid zip in 2009, but I bet you did. By the way, “…the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses.

Here’s another thing: in 2008 Goldman Sachs paid less than 1%  while the American middle class routinely pays 25%.  Rub salt into wound: during the financial crisis we bailed out Goldman Sachs with the 25% in taxes you and I paid. But Goldman Sachs is too big to fail and the American Middle class is too powerless to matter.

One more thing: you can tell billionaire hedge fund managers also matter because tax laws written by their congressional moles award them a tax rate of 15%. You can tell that you don’t because your tax rate is 10% higher than a billionaire hedge fund manager’s (their bonuses alone typically equal several annual middle-class incomes). Why this does not lead to at least coffee-shop talk of revolution is because Warren Buffet and his secretary, Goldman Sachs and billionaire hedge fund managers all participate in the economy of the U.S. of A, a land awash in disinformation, ignorance, and a middle class with dreams of personal financial grandeur concurrent with an apparent death wish (“Some day when I might be a billionaire I want to pay a lower tax rate than the losers, meanwhile I’ll take odds I won’t be squashed.”).

I say “death wish” because, against common sense, TV ratings show that most Americans get their information from sources that operate solely in the interests of the rich and powerful. If you want to hear how the corporate class is working for you go to Fox news. Sean Hannity will set you straight: your financial woe is caused by greedy union employees wanting a fair deal rather than relentless efforts by the corporate class to drive the American middle-class to extinction.

Warren Buffet is an unusually honest billionaire. Maybe he’s even in the category of the elite founders of the nation: rich men who (though far from being saints) went against the natural inclination of the rich to mercilessly milk the small —to wring out of poverty every last drop of sweat and hope to insure that the realization of their own hope does not involve sweat.

For a relentless thirty years or so the wealthiest Americans have been waging a class war against poor and average Americans while denying their piggishness with every breath and buck they peel from workers. The minute anyone quotes a statistic or report that indicates the truth of this every mouthpiece of the rich, every corporate news source, rolls out its array of perfectly coiffed and brilliantly-toothed talking heads to “refudiate” it (thanks for that gem, Sarah Palin). They label their adversaries “socialist anti-Americans”; they cry, “Foul!” as if the truth itself was foul.

The wealthy elite hide behind clichés that really have no rational justification, but which have entered mainstream discourse as if they did. George Orwell warned us of this. He coined terms for such perversions of language and truth; terms like “doublethink” (the ability to hold contradictory ideas in your head simultaneously and accept both); and “blackwhite” (the ability to accept party propaganda no matter how absurd). What Orwell predicted is now as real as the hole in your wallet and the existence of corporate TV. The rich mask their tactics in terms such as “supply side economics”, “free market economy”, and the magic-bullet of “privatization”. With short-hand shibboleths such as these they manipulate the public discourse and distort reality. They’ve convinced the terminally gullible that by incantation of these magic words Americans will prosper. But the plain truth is that our prosperity diminishes while that of the top 10% flourishes. This is why reports of economic recovery pertain only to that top echelon. The middle-class is being supply-sided, free-marketed, and privatized to death.

As if it hasn’t been obvious, Warren Buffet explicitly told Christiane Amanpour on This Week that the economic argument that wealth trickles down is a fraud. He said, “The rich are always going to say that … just give us more money and we’ll all … spend more, and then it will trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

But counting on the American public to fathom the extent to which it is being duped is a questionable hope. The American public is more spooked these days by “socialism” than by outright theft and disfranchisement. While the Tea Party fights “socialism” with inane placards and the disruption of civil discourse at town halls Republicans (especially) and many leaders of the Democratic Party fight from positions of power to undermine anything that will contribute to the wellbeing of poor and average Americans. If they can use the dissatisfaction of the Tea Party to move their agenda forward they’ll do so. Their strategy is simple: divide and conquer. This has been one of Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker’s techniques: to pit private workers against unionized public workers; to claim that collective bargaining rights are unfair to taxpayers. Union members are taxpayers!

Busting unions is one more step in the diminishment of the power of working Americans. If the middle-class can’t see this, U.S. workers will not only be perpetually out of work but will be waifs in someone else’s American Dream.

by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent, 4/1/11

Depending upon the depth of your racial animus or lack of it you may or may not be interested in the story or Worcy Crawford. Crawford was the owner of the only black-owned bus company in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era. His bus company provided a vital service to African-Americans in Birmingham during the boycott of the white-owned bus companies.

Since Worcy Crawford’s story was easily eclipsed by the more prominent ones of Rosa Parks and civil rights protest in general, his only surviving son is trying to set the record straight in behalf of his dad.

The NYT is ran a story yesterday about Worcy and his son Donald Crawford, 62, “a longtime Birmingham high school band instructor and jazz musician.” Donald would like to have people be more aware of his father’s contribution in making the lives of Birmingham blacks a little easier during their struggle to have the Declaration of Independence and Consitution of the United States actually mean what they said. 

It’s been easy to overlook the story of an ordinary man doing his part to right wrongs. The stories of ordinary people seldom make it into history books. They don’t have the sexiness of the reigns of warlords and regimes of politicians. Yet such ordinary people are often what make life good and endurable for all of the small people caught in the cogs of history. Donald Crawford understands this.

“I don’t think they intentionally left him out of the history books,” he says,”but because he operated so under the radar they didn’t know what he did.”  Not having the bloated egos of many of the blowhards who blow hard only to topple the best of who we are, Donald’s father quietly did his work for the good of those who needed it.

As the NY Times reports, “To try to make things right, his son sat Mr. Crawford down a few years ago and recorded his story, turning it into a self-published book. He titled it “The Wheels of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement,” which is what a pastor called Mr. Crawford at an appreciation the community held for him in 1999.”

I hope Donald Crawford’s book is successful in raising Worcy Crawford’s efforts into the view of increasingly jaded Americans

Go here to buy Donald Crawford’s book.

by Jim Culleny
3/19/11

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What will it take to inject rational thought into US politics and policy? I’m prone to say it can’t be done, but if it could we might actually move to alternatives instead of suffocating the planet with coal and oil.  Some visionaries are actually working on it.  I would not include most politicians in that category, but there may be a few. 

One set of practical visionaries works for Columbia Power Technologies, Inc., an Oregon-based wave energy company. CPT  successfully deployed a prototype of their flagship offshore technology named SeaRay in Puget Sound, Washington, moving it towards commercial availability.

If we can turn the tide (no pun intended) against the Palinization and Beckification of the USA and come up with remedies for Hannititis and Bachmannia there may be hope. Otherwise we’ll may go from over-easy to hard-boiled within 75 years.  How you gonna ‘splain that to your children –or are planning to abandon ship in a coffin-pod before you have to fess up?

If you do stick around you can always

pull up a chair
and watch the Greenland glacier melt
but put it on pontoons
or wear a speedo, ’cause
the glacier is becoming svelte
and oceans will be rising soon.

Jim Culleny; May 2006

There goes that Newt Gingrich again, making excuses for being morally challenged, but being so in such a traditional, family-values sort of way.  It’s as if he thinks he ought to be beatified for screwing around.  Gingrich, like Sarah Palin, just won’t quit prenteding to occupy the moral high ground. And it is all pretend as PZ Myers says. It’s like living on the lee side of a landfill.

“It’s a strange situation where the political party with more ex-wives than candidates, that houses and defends a disturbingly amoral network of fundamentalist operators is regarded as the protector of the sanctity of the family. They’re anything but,” says Myers.
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Newt’s excuse for cheating on his former wives rings as hollow as a Fox News officianado’s skull. See how believable this sounds to you —this is Newt explaining himself in an interview last week:

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing it. I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness.”
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If what Newt means is that he was so horny for the next available woman he made dry runs screwing the USA in off-hours while he stalked, then it makes sense. But anybody who believes that line besides Newt (and he probably does, he’s that far gone) oughta have their heads examined, as dad used to say.
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Meanwhile, proud atheist Myers reports, “Today is my wedding anniversary. I’ve been married to the same woman for 31 years, without ever straying. Newt Gingrich has been married 3 times, divorced one wife while she was recovering from surgery, and has had extra-marital affairs.
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It is strange politics and morality that condemns a professed aethist despite the fact that he’s doing exactly what a professed believer in god can’t seem to manage. If guys like Newt and Vitter and Ensign can get away with saying “God” out of one side of their mouth and “Baby, let’s do adultery” out of the other,” maybe that’s the lure of religiosity in conservative circles that any “head of the wife” can appreciate.

Check the PZ Myers’ blog post here; it makes such sensible sense.