How Old Are You?

July 28, 2012

When large-scale done-in-daylight vote rigging becomes legal can revolution be far behind?

I mean, remember this touted 4th of July opening line: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”

Republicans have been in the process of stifling minority voters for a long time through the use of various nefarious means (I’ve always wanted to use the word “nefarious” in a column. It sounds like what it means: wicked, vile, an offense against the divine or moral law. For instance, there’s so much about Wall Street and its relationship to congress that’s nefarious the word begs to be used. And it’s the perfect term to describe the modern Republican party —especially its leadership).

As Harold Myerson of the Washington Post says, “It’s not that Republicans haven’t run voter suppression operations before, but they’ve been under-the-table dirty tricks, such as calling minority voters with misinformation about polling-place locations and hours.”

But dirty tricks are small potatoes next to the current in-your-face voter suppression tactics of Republicans in the states they control.

Republicans say they are trying to prevent voter fraud, but you’d have to be born yesterday to buy that. First of all, in their efforts to rig the upcoming election in their favor by challenging the voting rights of minorities, the elderly and the young, they are claiming to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. A study of the prevalence of past voter fraud shows it’s almost too small to measure.

This is not a case of oh-what-the-hell-both-sides-do-it. In his analysis of voter suppression measures for the Harvard Kennedy School, Alexandar Keyssar  notes,”The new (voter) ID laws have almost invariably been sponsored—and promoted—by Republicans, who claim that they are needed to prevent fraud. (In five states, Democratic governors vetoed ID laws passed by Republican legislatures).

Voter suppression is not new. “Historically,” Keyssar writes, “voter suppression seems to arise when organized political forces aim to restrain the political participation of particular groups but cannot, politically or constitutionally, disfranchise them outright.”

This happened in post-reconstruction South when “organized political forces” utilized violence, complex ballot arrangements, poll taxes and oral “understanding” tests to suppress votes. Today, using the clout of Tea-party Republicans elected to state legislatures and governor’s offices, Republicans are presenting the idea of voter suppression as a deterrent to fraud. But the only fraud being perpetrated here is being done by a party which sees the demographic hand-writing on the wall.

Which are the groups most likely to vote Democrat? This is not a test. Really— just skim the political surface, which?

Blacks? …Republicans being almost exclusively the party of old white guys. Hispanics? …Republicans being almost exclusively the party of old white guys. The young? …Republicans being almost exclusively the party of old white guys. Women? …Republicans being almost exclusively the party of old white guys. The elderly (well, at least those without racial animus) ?…Republicans being the party most likely to kill Social Security and Medicare.

See, that wasn’t hard; and Republican leadership has undoubtedly answered the question the same way.

Ok, now which (coincidentally) are the groups targeted by Voter ID laws?

In a nation in which the population of minorities is fast approaching the point of outnumbering old white guys the GOP is being perfectly rational in its attack on the voting rights of minorities. Grab power now, they must be thinking, while we old white guys still have an edge.

In 2010 in an article for the Smithsonian Magazine writer Joel Kotkin wrote, “…the United States of 2050 will look different from that of today: whites will no longer be in the majority. The U.S. minority population, currently 30 percent, is expected to exceed 50 percent before 2050. No other advanced, populous country will see such diversity.”

This projection is what is most likely at the heart of current Republican politics. This is what has the party of old white guys shivering in its boots. This is what’s driving it to extremes of obstructionism, plutocracy and voter suppression. Republicans are just trying to make sure they’re in a position to retain power as the demographics of the U.S. moves minorities closer to political plurality  —that and the risen consciousness of women who expect and demand equity with men across the board in politics and in the work place, and who insist on the right of sovereignty over their own bodies.

There is an inclination of very frustrated Americans to say to Democrats and Republicans, “A pox on both your houses!”and there are historical reasons to be angry at both parties (it was Southern Democrats who wrote Jim Crow laws). And corporate media nurtures this tendency.  But the fact is that today average Americans are under attack by our wealthy elite and the Republican Party is by and large the party which represents that elite, and it is the Republican party that is the problem with the U.S. government according to Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

If you happen to be among the members of that elite, or simply aspire to be, then it’s rational for you to support the GOP in its voter suppression efforts and to do your best to elect a president and representatives who will work tirelessly to promote laws that marginalize average people. This was the case in the early 20th century leading to the Great Depression, it was the case from Ronald Reagan through the Bush administration’s 30-year dive into our Great Recession, and (if the past is prologue) it will be the case as Mitt Romney, who brags about carrying yours, your broker’s, your banker’s and trickle-down econimcs’ banner, leads us to a new and Great who-knows-what?

But consider this you aspiring elites: should your plans tank (as plans often do) and you fall through the gaping cracks in our crooked system which already protects the rich, levitating them to the peaks of mountains of hoarded cash sequestered in off-shore tax havens around the globe; should you be unfortunate (or average) enough to have to work for a living instead of making a killing, who will be there to give you a leg up —John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, The Koch Brothers, Mitt Romney, the GOP?

How old are you?

Jim Culleny


Uh, Oh!

July 21, 2012

We often hear abouttipping pointsin the news.

Have we reached a tipping point in this or that matter? Are we approaching one? If we have what happens after the tip? It’s important to know these things —anybody who’s ever danced in a canoe knows a thing or two about tipping points.

But first, what is a tipping point? says it’s the “…critical point in a situation that leads to (a) new and irreversible development. The term (originated in) epidemiology to note when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading…”

In short a tipping point is an, “Uh, oh!” or “Oops” awakening.

There’s something in’s definition that sounds ominous; namely the part about being “beyond any local ability to control”?  It doesn’t appeal to my illusions of superhuman technological ingenuity.

“But we’re technological masters —real geniuses!” I think.

Not only have we invented the wheel, but super hadron colliders! We smash atoms with our bare brains! We even thought up fast food, for god’s sake, and drive-up windows so we don’t have to walk inside to pick up our sack of excess calories.

Except for epidemic obesity what could go wrong?

What we failed to anticipate was that there are points at which even average-sized people, after years of super-sizing, will collapse a standard chair or just keel over with a coronary. These would be tipping points.

Although having both a structural engineer and a good nutritionist on staff might have avoided such circumstances, McDonalds and Sonic do not seem to have considered such experts necessary. Number crunchers, however, are well regarded under the golden arches.

But as sad as tipping points of chronic obesity are they pale in comparison to other precipices. Yet some of us are still so ignorant of tipping points we think they’re the moment we decide the gratuity percentage our waiter deserves.

Here’s a tipping-point regarding current events: according to an op-ed in the NY Times, “So far 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record.”

Global warming deniers think this is ho-hum. Big deal, they say, the world gets hot, sometimes you have an ice age, stuff happens, it’s normal. But many of us go on to wonder, as the Times’ article does, “…does this mean that we’ve reached a threshold — a tipping point that signals a climate disaster?”

It would be arrogant for anyone to absolutely predict any future. As the Times says, “The problem is no one knows if there is a point at which a climate system shifts abruptly.”

While this is true, an analysis of facts has given science a pretty good record in the area of prediction, and “…some scientists are now bringing mathematical rigor to the tipping-point argument (which) gives us fresh cause to worry that sudden changes are in our future.”

Ecologists and climatologists think in terms of systems. Many of the rest of us don’t. Americans especially are locked into myths of individual identity and control which makes it political heresy to think in terms of systems —myths that are probably killing us.

Biologist Marten Scheffer, for instance, looked into what was transforming the clear, lowland ponds of his youth into turbid pools. After studying them he “…solved this problem with a key insight: the ponds behaved according to a branch of mathematics called ‘dynamical systems,’ which deals with sudden changes.”

For too many of us math is limited to calculating the difference in height between a plain hamburger and a double quarter-pounder with cheese & bacon. But Scheffer has fatter meat to fry. He and climate scientist Tim Lenton are now trying to identify the early signals that precede abrupt climate transitions, a.k.a. tipping points.

Mr. Lenton has uncovered the vulnerability of the Indian monsoon upon which more than a billion people depend for rain for crops. The monsoon is “…being affected by two forces: the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (and) soot from fires and coal plants…  Monsoons are aspects of weather and climate systems and when one part of a system fouls up the whole system changes.

If clear ponds become turbid through systemic changes, why would world climate systems not change also?

They will, and are —changing and tipping, that is.

Global warming deniers do not succumb to facts so I wouldn’t expect the following to even dent the evidence-free zone of their skull; but here they are (Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone):

1. June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records in the US
2. The record warmest month for the northern hemisphere this year was May
3. May was also the warmest consecutive month when global temperatures exceeded the 20th-century average (odds of this being a fluke are 3.7 x 1099, a number larger than the stars in the universe)
4.This spring was the warmest recorded in US history (the largest temperature departure from average of any recorded season)
5. Despite a temperature of 109 degrees it rained in Mecca making it thehottest downpour in the planet’s history.

To step outside the ideological, theological and economic arguments usually applied to global warming and grasp the seriousness of our predicament, McKibben says it takes a little math.  The math involved hinges on three drop-dead numbers:

2° Celsius: the global temperature increase beyond which scientists just say, “good luck”
565 Gigatons: estimate of the maximum CO2 we can add to the atmosphere by 2050 and still hope to stay below the “good luck” factor
2,795 Gigatons- the amount of carbon in global fossil fuel reserves now available for corporations to burn

OK class, here’s your assignment.  Solve problem #1 below:

1. If a man or woman is allowed a max of 2° Celsius of temperature increase, and may add only 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere before reaching that magic number and roasting, but has 2,795 gigatons immediately available to burn, is he or she (having rejected the construction of mass transportation systems and continuing to subsidize oil companies) equal to the restraint of not committing suicide by lethal tipping point?

After reading the articles assigned above turn in your answers to me in the morning. I’ll be at the school pool enduring another torrid day without rain. I’ll be tipping into its turbid water wearing a fireproof hazmat suit slurping and super-sizing to death.

by Jim Culleny

A Mass of Mutes

July 7, 2012

Every since I learned the Supreme Court in 1886 endowed corporations with personhood in the case of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, I’ve been scratching my head wondering how they pulled that off.

What were ordinary Americans thinking when they went along with the ruse, I thought? The court assumes the mantle of  Judges of the Heavenly Host, calls certain business entities “persons” and, aping the Lord, gives them the rights of human persons and nobody raises enough of a row to call them out?

We should’ve been banging on pots and pans!

I don’t know, maybe it was done in innocence. Maybe they just didn’t think it through. A lot of that goes around among folks who think of themselves as brilliant. This is how we got our carbon-soaked atmosphere —we didn’t think things through. By the law of unintended consequences, what seemed like a good idea at the moment (a few Model-T’s belching exhaust) often morphs into something threatening and unmanageable.

In the head note of the 1886 decision the Chief Justice’s oral argument began, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”


Suddenly a thing without a heart, which never breathed a breath, never tasted the sweetness of life or its bitterness, which never knew love, compassion or the beauty of empathy, is raised to personhood by nine men in black robes with the crack of a gavel.

So the morphing began.

Even though a head note is not part of the court’s decision, and therefore does not set precedence, corporate personhood was set in stone two years later in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania when the court ruled that “Under the designation of ‘person’ there is no doubt that a private corporation is included (in the 14th Amendment).

“There is no doubt.” Sounds religious doesn’t it?

Ok, that ruling was ridiculously bad enough, but bring the legal fiction of corporate personhood together with a later absurd ruling and you have a stew as lethal as any dreamed up by MacBeth’s three witches:

“Double, double toil and trouble,” the court may as well have said, “Fire burn, and caldron bubble. For a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

In 2010 the Supreme Court doubled down on its corporate bias. In the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission it ruled that the 1st Amendment, “prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditure by corporations and unions.”

Do you know how much money a corporate person makes? Think millions and billions.

How much does your own personal person make —oh hell, throw in your wife’s or husband’s personal wages too— my guess is, combined, your two persons are not making anything close to millions and billions. So, in strictly financial terms, can we agree that corporate persons probably have more clout than natural persons?

This is not s stretch.

So here’s our present situation as former labor Secretary Robert Reich sees it:

“A funny thing happened to the First Amendment on its way to the public forum,” he says. ” According to the Supreme Court, money is now speech and corporations are now people. But when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with the political consequences of this (Occupy Wall Street), they’re treated as public nuisances and evicted.”

Bottom line (no pun intended): if money is political speech then most of us are right now petitioning our representatives, mouths gagged with off-shore-manufactured socks, through which we can yell our muffled cries until we’re blue (or red) in the face —trying to broadcast the effects of income inequity on the middle-class and poor. But we’ll be doing this until all the U.S. chickens come home to roost (which will probably be a tad too late with the Supreme Foxes guarding the hen house).

Corporations are people and money is speech, how odd. We must be in Wonderland where, as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean…”

Since Ronald Reagan’s one-sided proclamation that “government is the problem” the right has vilified government and pressed for the privatization of just about everything that would lead to the vast accumulation and concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands at the expense of the common good.

But brighter and nobler minds have seen the dark side of Reagan’s distraction:

“There is an evil,” founder James Madison said, “which ought to be guarded against.”

Madison then went on to define that evil as “…the indefinite accumulation of property (and) the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by…corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.”

With this year’s obscene attempt by corporate persons to purchase the United States government we are experiencing what so troubled Madison.

We can only undo  the damage done to the  democracy of the U.S. by the Supreme Court in its Orwellian corporations-are-persons and money-is-speech rulings by
1.) not electing a president who says “Corporations are people, my friend.” (Romney) and
2.) following up with a constitutional amendment to eliminate the court’s conceit of corporate personhood.

Regarding the first, do your best to ignore the corporate hype that spews from the lips of  Mitt during the next few months. As for the second, run, do not walk to  Move to Amend (  and join before we find ourselves a poor mass of mutes sucking on socks, picking at the crumbs of a plutocracy populated by big, wide-open mouths.

by Jim Culleny
for the West County Independent


…the full Leviticus

July 7, 2012