October 31, 2011
In retrospect we see movements like the rise of the German Nazis of the 1930 as if looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The things we see are real enough alright, but they’re now so distant, small and emotionally removed they have the taint and feel of unreality. Trying to imagine the grotesque facing us squarely face to face is something we’re not willing to do. And yet this unwillingness is how the nightmare of Nazi Germany was able to find a foothold in the daily intellectual lives of Germans. Absorbed in banality they refused to wrap their minds around the simple reality of looming evil.
In an article at thechristianleft.com Hedges recalls a time at Harvard Divinity School when his ethics professor, Dr. James Luther Adams, “…told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”
“The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.”
Writer Sam Harris has observed in his book The End of Faith that uniquely among realms of human endeavor the only place that irrationality and unreason are tolerated —no, lauded and held in high esteem— is in religion. In religion we’re not only permitted, but enthusiastically encouraged to believe anything we wish, no matter how off the wall, as long as we proclaim it to be revealed wisdom. In religion we may believe the most fantastic things without ridicule.
What makes Harris’ observation so troubling is that the segue from irrational belief in religion to irrationality in politics is just a short slide. In fact, with the grip of Christian fundamentalists on one of the only two political parties we have, Hedges is sending up the flare of his article to illuminate the fact that this segue is well under way in the USA. The cast-in-concrete nature of fundamentalist Christian thinking makes it impossible to conduct democracy because political compromise is bedrock to democratic government —you may even have noticed that democracy is in fact not being conducted in the United States these days. Nothing but posturing by the right is being conducted. Theocracies, Monarchies, dictatorships, and fascist regimes are rooted in authoritarianism; democracy survives only through compromise. Once we set unchanging doctrine and dogma as the standards of the state democracy is, first, dead stuck and, finally, a dead duck.
Considering the evidence of the effectiveness of three years of the PONO (Party of No) in which nothing can be accomplished to move the American nation out if doldrums, it’s chilling to be reminded by Hedges that his professor “…saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society.”
We can see this very thing happening today in calls by the religious right for the United States to be governed by Biblical scriptures; to be declared a Christian Nation, thereby leading to a situation in which all Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, agnostics and (especially) atheists shall be cast out of the main and instantly become second, if not third, forth, or fifth-class citizens. If you want to see the utter destruction of the idea of America simply acquiesce to go there.
Some do, and this is exactly the point of Hedges argument. The fight against fascism is not for the half-assed. It’s not for somnambulists. The left must be militantly awake to counter the irrationality that fundamentalists peddle.
Chris Hedges remembering professor Adams again:
“He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams . Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.”
I don’t know about you, but for the past three years I’ve been increasingly maddened by the chronic capitulation of Democrats and the president to the absolutely obvious reality that Republicans will never compromise on anything that does not meet their dogmatic rule —that they would in fact run the nation into the ground for the sake of their dogma. It should have become clear to anyone with a shred of common sense that trying to negotiate with a Republican is as futile as negotiating with an Imam with a sacred book in his skull instead of a brain.
If Republicans (now thoroughly absorbed into the twin evils of corporate and religious fundamentalism) are able to convince Americans (or bludgeon them with the club of their wealth) to vote them into effective power …. Jeez, I don’t even want to envision that grim possibility.
Really, please, I beg you, read Chris Hedges’ article and try not to dismiss it as impossible. It’s not impossible, it’s historically relevant. It actually happened not that long ago in another time and place. It can happen again; we’re not that blessed or special.
October 31, 2011
A current Washington Post Article intends to confuse voters about the status of Social Security funds. The article first invent a “treacherous milesstone” for SS, then goes on the expand the idea to instantly ominous reality:
“As the article notes the trust fund currently holds $2.6 trillion in government bonds, so it is nowhere close to being unable to pay benefits. The whole point of building up the trust fund was to help cover costs at a future date when taxes would not be sufficient to cover full benefits. Rather than posing any sort of crisis, this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.”
The intent of course is to make the tampreing with, and destruction of SS politically acceptable and inevitable, leaving the 99% of Americans to the mercy of the 1%. And given the last thirty years of the giant sucking sound of the national-wealth-diverting Vacuum of the Elite and the sociopathy of American richest top 1%, we can expect the elderly population to be living under bridges and eating out of dumpsters as soon as Wall Street starts overseeing your retirement.
“This “treacherous milestone” is entirely the Post’s invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as their is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefiits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.”
October 28, 2011
An excellent way to characterize the vision of modern conservative right-wing Republican Tea-Party corporate-think is that it is lethally myopic. It will raise any action, any policy, any wacky or diabolical idea to the level of the holy as long as it serves the short-term purpose of generating more profit and personal wealth for the benefit of those who already have plenty.
As David Atkins at Hullabaloo puts it:
“The notion that one should do everything one can to win in the short-term with no thought for the morrow is central to the conservative free market mentality in both business and politics. But for the “Greenspan Put,” almost all of Wall Street would be out of business right now due to short-sighted bets. The idea that we can invade other countries at will and worry about blowback later is a short-sighted bet. The notion that big business can ignore climate change today and just deal with the effects later is a shortsighted bet being proven wrong even today as the Thai floods disrupt industrial supply chains. The idea that a country can run up massive income inequality and massive deficits through tax cuts on the rich while imposing austerity, without fostering revolutionary sentiment, is a short-sighted bet that elites have come to rue time and again.”
This is the vision of the 1% as codified in law by the congress of the 1%, upheld by the courts of the 1%, hyped by the media of the 1% and enforced by the police of the 1% (In the case of the police of the 1% there is a poignant tragedy because the police of the 1%, though sworn to uphold the laws of the 1% at the expense of the 99%, are very much members of the 99% —which is a sad case of shooting yourself in the foot).
But codified or not, upheld by courts or not, hyped by Fox or not, enforced by swat teams or not, the trail of history is amply littered with the remnants of systems that were destroyed by myopic vision. But the pull of greed is deep and strong and as alluring as the Siren’s call that drove brave Ulysses nuts. As Homer tells it, if hapless Ulysses had not been tied to his ship’s mast he would have driven it into the rocks to answer that call. He would have sacrificed his crew to answer it. And, as Republican leadership is doing with its chronic No! and titans of the fossil fuel industry are doing, spewing carbon into the atmosphere at the mesmerizing call of profit and large compensation packages, Ulysses would have sacrificed himself as well.
This is the present state of the ruling class in the USA and their muppets in government. They are so nearsighted they can’t see with their mind’s eye the typhoon on the horizon that may just flatten them too.
There is a profound scene in the film Doctor Zhivago in which the Russian ruling elite are literally having a ball. In a grand, crystal-chandeliered hall they sip champagne, dance, munch cuisine punctuated with caviar, laugh and chat oblivious of their immanent end while outside in alternating shots the Bolsheviks are coming, fired-up and pissed off.
Didn’t the Romans perceive their decay? Didn’t the French aristocracy imagine the storming of the Bastille? Didn’t Mubarak ever have a clue he’d gone too far for too long? Was Gaddafi really that blind?
In a society as technologically advanced as ours you have wonder how it is that the 1%, weighted as they are with wealth, cannot read the writing on the wall for want of a cheap pair of glasses. It’s as if their good sense is being crushed by their dollars and cents —while for the 99% it seems the scales have dropped from our eyes so we can finally read a simple graph exposing the enormous and growing gap of wealth disparity not only in the USA but around the globe. The irony is that Occupy Everything and The 99% are not just the creations of disaffected youth (as the right has spun it), but have flowered from the manure of misappropriated wealth.
He who has eyes to see, let him see … short of that take thyself to a competent optometrist before your eyes bleed.
October 20, 2011
This morning I received an email from a friend who’d just returned from a trip to Occupy Wall Street. It’s certainly worth reading especially as regards some early (and continuing —especially from news sources such as Fox and talk radio) media hype characterizing Occupy Wall Street as a “dirty-hippy phenomena.” This is not a movement of radicals, this is a movement against radicalism —the radicalism of corporate government. As can be seen by my friend’s message this is a movement that has grown out of the frustrations of ordinary Americans of all walks of life who know they cannot get things done through our political process —who understand that process has been bought and sold and is broken; that it belongs to big money.
Read on and be heartened:
Thought you might appreciate hearing about our wonderful trip to Occupy Wall St yesterday. It was WAY too much fun…and, oh so, important.
John, our friend, Diane Poland, and I went by 7:10 am train from Springfield (MA), arriving at 10:30 in NYC. Take the subway and walk two blocks to Liberty and Broadway and there you are. Easy trip. Zuccotti Park is smaller than we anticipated, about the size of a Little League ball field. It’s sunken, has trees and cement surface. Two sides are bordered by active city streets with constant car and pedestrian traffic. A third side is lined with stores or restaurants and a huge number of press, including many foreign correspondents. The 4th is a line of about 20 parked police cars, including a portable tower that surveys all the activity in the park. The uniform police stay to the outside, looked bored and are cordial to talk with.
At the two street sides are people holding signs and posters, exclaiming their passions for being there. At one end is a constant drum circle where street theater happens. The sidewalks can’t be blocked for the pedestrians, but gets plugged up as the park fills. The Occupiers are sitting or catnapping within the park, with walkways meandering among them. This makes for wonderful interaction and communication for both sides. Some people arrive to challenge the position and dialog, but most are there to show their support and ask questions. This feels different from most demonstrations/protests, where two sides are kept from one another. In this case, though you don’t know who is with you or not until they talk with you, it encourages an exchange of ideas.
There are many, many onlookers, some standing off and others wandering through to get a closer look. There are many more, like us, who come to show their support. They mostly carry signs (theirs or ones already there), or have come to bring food or other supplies. There is a strong sense of everyone eager to care for the Occupiers, making sure they are comfortable and well-fed. For example, we met a man from Burlington, VT who is a baker, who filled his van with freshly baked breads and homemade signs, and had driven down for the day.
The Occupiers are impressive. They are smart, highly organized serious, energized, idealistic, committed and resolved. They have found a way to have their basic physical needs met. There are mats, sleeping bags and tarps, racks of warm clothes to borrow, pans of hot water for washing up. I visited for awhile with an Occupier from Springfield, a former teacher, wh was holding clean, pure white washcloths to his face for soaping up and shaving, using a reflective mat as a mirror. Many do trade off at times, showering in local apartments of supporters. The only store that is committed to being open for toilets is McDonalds. (Let’s hear it for Ronald, and go buy a bag of fries to thank them!) The park is very neat, clean and organized. They are sweeping the paths constantly, recycling and disposing trash responsibly. There is a huge blackboard that schedules obligations throughout the day. They are allowed a medical tent, and have internet access through a free tower, and a generator for charging cellphones.
I asked about their plans to stay through winter, wondering if they could move to a southern location and just call it Occupy Wall Street South. But no, they plan to stay. One fellow told me that a group of architects has approached them and are researching the building of a type of structure that can be brought in each evening, then removed during the day. They would do all this for free.
For food, there is a constant flow coming in as donations. They have a kitchen area for preparing food, as bags of produce, bread, desserts are donated throughout the day. In a church nearby, hot food is being prepared by a caterer from a high-end restaurant. We saw him carting in hot meals throughout the day. Supporter from off-site, in other cities, states and countries(!!) can donate food by going to websites of area restaurants that prepare food and deliver it there. Before we left we checked them out. You can order a bucket of chicken wings or cole slaw, or the Occu-Pizza Pie from anywhere in the world. The on- going blog showed entries of support from Paris, Madrid and Mexico City, to name a few, donating $20-$2000’s worth of pizzas at a time.
The community of support around them is the most impressive. Tourists and locals walk by calling out support, giving thumbs up and applause. Double-decker tourist buses drove by regularly, with tourists waving eagerly and more thumbs up. As we walked to and from the subway and train, folks spotted our signs an often made supportive comments or thanked us for going down there. I have been in many large peace demonstrations in large cities, but I have never felt this level o support. When you are crying out to end a war, the quiet ones may not like war either but feel it unpatriotic or that it’s being unsupportive of the troops to join us or show support. There is no hesitancy this time. People are angry and frustrated and want real change. This feels very vibrant and very big.
There is a good demographic mix among the Occupiers. There are students, retirees, unemployed and union tradespeople. Our favorite Occupier is Anna Armstrong, Bob and Judy’s daughter, who we met there. Anna flew from Grinnell College in Iowa, during her semester break to spend the week, sleeping there (i the rain tonight!), organizing and learning. She is accompanied by her boyfriend, who designed, set up and manages the free internet tower. Anna and we are fascinated by the structure for decision-making. There is no hierarchy and issues are discussed at evening General Assemblies. Simple hand signals are used to communicate choice. When announcements are made they create a human megaphone, which we had a chance to participate in.. There are no PA systems. A person speaks out one phrase or sentence, and those 25 around or so around them, then echo them. The next sentence is spoken and more then echo, until the whole group is included, and all can hear equally. Fascinating and effective.
The GA is heading towards a big decision soon. We had hoped to see it in action that evening, but had to catch our train. They are on the verge of deciding what to focus on next. They want to start defining their issues more succinctly, and are considering what demands they are requesting in the future. And when do you do that to be the most effective? Now, before energy fades or wait for the energy to grow?
We arrived with two large signs saying JOBS FOR TEACHERS NOW! and FUNDS FOR EDUCATION NOT CORPORATIONS. I was able to affix several eye-catching SOS (Save Our Schools) logos to the posters. Those really drew people to us. On the back of each sign I wrote “from Western Massachusetts”, which engaged lots of people and press. I wanted people to understand how far away people were coming and had hoped to encourage others to do the same. Many people left their signs for others to hold up…including ones like PERU SUPPORTS OCCUPY WALL STREET. Being from western MA didn’t seem that special…
As we entered the perimeter of the park, we were very quickly surrounded by cameras and microphones. We were all taken aback, stunned to be getting tha amount of attention. It turned out that it was the identification of being teachers. I think the press was waiting for a new angle on the Occupation, and today it was teachers.
We were pelted with questions, and throughout the day, I gave 5 or 6 interviews to television, radio and print media. Diane spoke to AP and Newsday. She was great at asking them their feelings and what brought them there. It was wonderful. There’s nothing I like more than to talk about public schools, politics and big ideas. I went almost non-stop, answering questions about merit pay, charter schools and school choice.
Some were supportive and some were confrontational. It was grand. Those in opposition to our stand were often poorly informed and the three of us worked hard at calm, confident rebuttal and information. I truly believe there were some attitudes changed.
We had to find ways to interweave our pro-public schools stance into the issues of the Occupation, talking, for instance, about corporations that benefit from the standardized testing program (robbing us of money that would pay for more teachers), textbook turnover for the sake of profit, corporations that donate money for their agenda and not consulting those in the field, teachers. Or that our nation’s priorities need changing, with our children’s education taking precedence over profit. That corporations have a right to exist but they have a mandate to pay back those that helped them get there.
That our schools have always been a reflection of the whole society. As in our country now, there is a huge divide between the haves and the have-nots, it is the same in our schools. It’s inequitable. Funding formulas are wrong, benefitting the wealthy and hurting the poor. When our country is in crisis, our students’ reflect that crisis. Mom and Dad are scared and anxious. They lost their jobs. They may lose their home. They are depressed and domestic violence increases. Our children are coming to school scared, sad, distracted and angry. And we have less and less staff to respond to their needs. We need more teachers as class sizes grow. (Okay, make me stop…)
If you teachers on this list want to get a morale boost, head on down and carry your sign. The cries of “We love teachers!” and “Thank you, teachers!” were grand. We got high-fives and hugs from so many, including a teacher who came from Brazil to be there. For about an hour and half we stood at the top of a staircase, near the drum circle (with an opera singer and jazz saxophone joining in!) and we held our signs. There must have been close to 1000 photos taken of us. They often zoomed in on us taking photos and videos on everything from iPhones to professional large lens cameras. Quite fun, indeed.
A highlight was around 1:00 when we knew we needed some lunch. Still holding our signs, we discussed where to eat…from a local panini place supporting local business or Diane’s choice of eating at the “People’s Table”, joining the Occupiers. We decided to wait another 20 minutes, eager to stay there for the huge Wall Street lunch crowd who came to see the park activity. A few minutes later a well-dressed, young man and woman (high, high heels and stunning black suit) started up the stairs to the park, carrying their pizza from across the street. We stepped aside in order for them to pass. But the young woman broke into a big smile, looked at me and said, “No, this is for you! My parents are both teachers!” She threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug! Oh my. We then felt so part of something so good and so right.
When reporters spoke to me, several asked, “What do you expect to get from all this?” I replied, “I don’t know. It’s very big and very complicated and requires huge shift in thinking about who we are as a country. I just know I can’t stand this anymore and I have to try to make change. I can’t vote it away. I can’t buy it or boycott it. All I can do is make a sign and stand in the street, so here I am.” I sat next to a non-profit lawyer heading home to Hartford from a Washington business trip. He asked me the same thing. I told him we needed to have these dialogs before real change can happen. That if we had sat next to each other last month, we woul never had had this conversation. Hurray for Occupy Wall Street!
We highly recommend that you try to take a trip down there. From our area, it’s a pleasant 3 hour train trip. They are asking that supporters come for as little as 2 hours. On so many levels, you’ll be glad you did.
Please feel free to pass this along. We want to spread the word, dispel untruths, and encourage others to participate in any way possible.
October 16, 2011
Occupy Wall Street is the best things that’s happened to the American and world psyche in many a year: demonstrations by ordinary people of many countries against the glaring sequestration of huge amounts of the world’s wealth. And, the best part is that it began right in the maw of raw capitalism; the place where capitalism has been allowed to run most rampant; at capitalism’s symbolic center: Wall Street USA. It makes me proud to be an American again.
“Thousands of anti-Wall Street protesters rallied in New York’s Times Square on Saturday, buoyed by a global day of demonstrations in support of their monthlong campaign against corporate greed.
“Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, protests on Saturday started in Asia and rippled through Europe back to the United States and Canada. Protesters fed up with economic inequality took to the streets in cities from Washington, Boston and Chicago to Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto.” —Huffington Post 10/16/11
Although the goal of the movement has been clear as bell from day one: curb the carnivorous greed of the financial industry and of corporations to bring fairness to our economic system, critics claim protesters do not have clear goals. What they really mean is that protesters don’t have the right goals. They don’t have goals approved by Wall Street. They don’t have goals that would render the whole movement moot.
But the path forward will be difficult because so many ordinary people have been intentionally bamboozled by rhetoric flowing from Wall Street and its stooges in government —people like John Boehner and Eric Cantor who, in displays of twisted reality, call our “job-shifters” “job creators” (if they’re job creators and doing as fabulously as they’re now doing, where, oh where, are the jobs?)
A for-instance of bamboozle is this reaction to the demonstrations noted at Huffington Post:
” ‘This is disgusting’ said Anatoly Lapushner, who was shopping with his family at Toys R Us in Times Square. ‘Why aren’t they marching on Washington and the politicians? Instead they go after the economic lifeblood of the city.’ “
It’s as if Anatoly has not heard of the financial understanding that exists between members of congress and Wall Street. Its as if he’s oblivious to the fact that The Supreme Court has ruled that corporate bribery of elected officials is perfectly legal. Its as if he really doesn’t understand the depth of the relationship between corporations and government and who really calls the shots in it. If Anatoly is an average American worker his shopping at Toys R Us while asserting Wall Street is the “lifeblood of the city” has a certain sad irony: Anatoly really doesn’t understand that he’s a consumer pull-toy of corporate government.
If Wall Street is the lifeblood of New York it’s only because its real name is Nosferatu and the corpuscles Anatoly is referring to are disappearing to the “giant sucking sound” made famous by one-time presidential contender, Ross Perot:
“…while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a solid pace of 2.7 percent per year from 1993-2000, these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from 2002-2007. As a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth.”
Anatoly may be high enough up the food chain to be only slightly affected by the economic downturn brought to us by Wall-Street-favoring policy decisions of congress and presidents —accelerated astronomically from 2000 to 2008— but if he’d just disengage from his pull string he might just walk across the street and join the dissenters, because if things don’t change what’s happening in Wall Street will eventually eat him alive too.
October 15, 2011
Link to photo/article above.
Now that Occupy Wall Street has gone global this ought to get interesting. Will the media still claim this is a hippy throw-back movement? It may (being very much a part of the top 1% and having the megaphone in its possesion), but how long will the media be able to play a dissing game when frustration with the excesses of wealth and the widening gap between rich and poor is being so consistently articulated by the other 99%, even internationally?
As reported at Hullabaloo, Berliner Herbert Haberl, 51 said, “I have no problem with capitalism. I have no problem with a market economy. But I find the way the financial system is functioning deeply unethical. We shouldn’t bail out the banks. We should bail out the people.”
Bail out the people; what a quaintly radical idea. Bail out the people —the nerve of the guy.
But let’s face it, the United States is anything but united these days. In the USA, among many on the right, there exists a very wild westy zeitgeist. Gun slinging is the rage out there where white male supremacy meets a Black President in a welter of color-changing demographics; in those quarters shoot-out resolutions still have cachet. In some states gun totin’ is legal in bars and college campuses. Can the streets and the halls of congress be far behind?
As we used to say when we were ten and playing cowboys and indians, “Bang, bang, you’re dead.”
No, really, you’re dead.
October 14, 2011
Mayor Mike Bloomberg (17th in the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires) has decided (unlike president Franklin Roosevelt during the last major economy-wrecking excesses of the rich) that his allegiance is with the upper class regarding Occupy Wall Street. This is no surprise, but it sheds further light on who he and his classmates think ought to be running things: Money! money should decide what happens to a legitimate peaceful protest, even in a democratic Republic. So Mayor Bloomberg says he is evicting protesters today to “clean the park”.
In case you’ve been bamboozled into believing the line of media outlets that the Zucotti park occupation is the incoherent brainchild of “dirty hippies” you might like to be enlightened. You might want to know about Occupy Wall Street’s sanitation dept., its library, its doctor and nurse-staffed medical facility, its solar energy dept. You might want to understand that the ordinary Americans young and old are dissenting not against the American ideal of opportunity and equity, but against what the American way of life has become under the auspices of corporate government pushing rampant, unsustainable consumerism. You might want to think about what it means to your children’s future.
You might want to or you might not. Maybe you think there’s something about the aquisition of wealth that is, in itself, proof of general superiorty. But, if you are an average, hard-working person, you then might want to look at that belief more closely and figure out how you came to it in the face of the evidence of what big money has done to bring the USA and the world to our present circumstance.