“Class is a Dirty Word”

December 27, 2008

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Forces of Darkness

February 9, 2008

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By John Crowley
Sunday, October 20, 1996 True scholars rarely take up their fields of study purely out of intellectual interest, or even for reasons of fashion or academic advancement. The interest is often deeply personal, obsessive even; the scholar’s work can proceed out of a primitive wounding or longing just as the poet’s can. A scholar who takes a lifelong interest in sex or magic or power or divinity can do so because there is something he or she very passionately needs to know or to avoid knowing.

Ioan Culianu was born in Romania and came to questions of sorcery, religion and power — and the connections between them — as a birthright. He was a brilliant synthesizer and would perhaps have gone on to be a brilliant original thinker as well, who might have transformed the study of the history of religion. He was 41 when he was shot in the head in the men’s room of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School on May 21, 1991.

I am obliged to say that I came to know Culianu just before his murder and was interviewed on a couple of occasions by the author of this book, though I could tell him very little. Ted Anton reports that the effect Culianu had on me he had on many others, including the poet and radio commentator Andrei Codrescu, the Israeli scholar Moshe Idel, Umberto Eco, and his own graduate students, one of whom described Culianu as inducing in his acquaintances “a sense of self-discovery, and fantastic wish-fulfillment that was mildly hallucinatory.” “Yet many people,” Anton says, “realized afterwards they did not really know him.” The most valuable and interesting part of Anton’s book is the tracing of a remarkable journey of self-creation that I, at least, was largely unaware of.

Born into a noble family of notable intellectual achievements, Culianu grew up in the few rooms of his ancestral estate which the new communist regime allowed his family to occupy (whenever they made trouble, they risked losing another room). He also grew up within a tangled and (so it would prove) inescapable history.

Romanian mystic nationalism of the prewar period, anti-Semitic and authoritarian, which his father and uncle had battled in intellectual life, had not so much been defeated or suppressed by the communists as absorbed by them. Many former “Iron Guard” fascists found homes in the secret police; other factions escaped abroad; a contingent ended up in Chicago. To that city also came Culianu’s early intellectual hero Mircea Eliade, the Romanian historian of religion who had not only studied but practiced yoga and tantra and whose early romantic novels were lifeblood to trapped young Romanians.

Culianu joined the Communist Party in order to be able to travel, study and publish; he also, after much wavering, defected while on scholarship in Italy. He wrote to Eliade in Chicago and received ambiguous replies. He nearly starved. All that kept him going was an astonishing capacity for absorbing knowledge and a steely will to work and survive. He eventually won international renown, though it was not unshadowed by the suspicion that he was somehow faking something: No one could know so much about so many things in so many languages.

In his most far-reaching book, “Eros and Magic in the Renaissance,” Culianu recovers the Renaissance theory of magic as personal power arising from the heart — not the organ that today only pumps the blood, but the spirit synthesizer that since antiquity had been located in the same place. The heart was where the sense-impressions were gathered. If the spirit that the heart contained was pure and hot, it formed a brilliant mirror of the world; passion and feeling did not cloud it but made it brighter; the mind saw and judged what was shown there and willed and acted on the basis of what the heart knew.

So the greater the strength of feeling — of eros — directed toward the world, the fuller and greater was the world contained in the heart to be acted on by the mind. Magic is love, said the Renaissance magus Giordano Bruno, whom Culianu studied, and love is magic. He meant not the gentle empathies or mild assent we sometimes call “love” but eros, the fire of transcendent desire.

We who could not really know Ioan Culianu could not know the strength of his desire nor how far it had carried him: It was at once the motor of his intellectual inquiries and their object. Bruno says that two things are necessary for magic to work between souls: The operator must believe that his processes work, and the subject must believe the operator. Ioan Culianu was, or aspired to be, a magician: a good magician, in all senses. It was a game, but he played it for keeps.

Eventually he came to Chicago, still a somewhat louche figure but on his way to becoming an American (he loved being a consumer and ordering things from glossy catalogues). Eliade, old and ill, sponsored him, in part to have someone to take over his own work; he couldn’t know that Culianu, though devoted, was moving away from the older man’s ideas. And among the papers he put in order for Eliade was evidence supporting the long-rumored connection between Eliade and the Iron Guard.

Not long after Culianu inherited Eliade’s position in Chicago’s School of Divinity, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse. Culianu’s sister and brother-in-law were active in the liberation movement. How would Romania go? Culianu published a Swiftian fantasy of an almost magical prescience, describing an imaginary country, Jormania, in which the aging and unpopular dictator and his wife are destroyed by the secret police of the neighboring Maculist empire, using specially bred housecats called Zorabi. In the succeeding pseudo-revolution, the economy is captured by the dictator’s former henchmen, and the secret police declare themselves Immaculists. Little changes except that pornography is allowed to be printed.

Something roughly like this began happening late in 1989, though few Americans perceived it then. A plan by the KGB to eliminate the unpopular Ceausescus under the guise of popular reform got out of hand and became a revolution, forcing the Communists to become, or appear to become, democrats in order to retain power. In the new regime, ultra-nationalism again became a political force, and the suppressing of enemies abroad — something the Romanian Securitate had always taken seriously — continued on an even broader front.

Many of Culianu’s American friends didn’t know how involved he was in post-Communist Romanian public life and how much danger he was in because of it. In his scholarly work Culianu was able to project an astonishing grasp of the most recondite materials and make them seem vital, even urgent; in the scathing political and cultural criticism he now began to publish in Romanian emigre papers, he continually “left the disquieting impression that its author was only hinting at deeper ideas that he planned to disclose later.” He told his students and friends — but not the police — that he thought he was being followed, and took out additional life insurance.

In “Eros and Magic” Culianu studies a little-known work by Bruno in which Bruno shows that the bonds of desire, in the broadest sense, can be manipulated by the worker who understands how to project images that can compel the hearts of all men. Culianu saw in Bruno’s prescriptions a more sophisticated Machiavellianism, not using the brute tools of force and fraud but foreshadowing the whole panoply of propaganda, public relations and mass media that all modern states would be based on.

Anton errs in supposing that Culianu saw in the lies and manipulations of the Communist regime an expression of the bonds Bruno described. Culianu distinguishes between two types of polity: the magician state — such as the United States or Italy, where he lived when he came to the West — and the police state. The police state becomes a jailer state, “changing itself into a prison where all hope is lost,” repressing both liberty and the illusion of liberty in order to defend an out-of-date culture in which no one believes. It is bound to perish. The magician state, on the other hand, can degenerate into a sorcerer state, providing only the illusion of satisfaction, keeping the controls hidden; its faults are too much subtlety and too much flexibility. “Yet the future belongs to it anyway,” Culianu says. “Coercion and the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present, and of the future.”

Odd tone to be taking in a scholarly work. But is it strange that those who live by language and ideas should think the world and reality are in fact made from them and can be changed by changing them? Culianu was a believer in puns, premonitions, coincidences and codes, a man who was entranced by the game of Logos, or Meaning. Whoever shot him (the case remains open, though political assassination is assumed) chose to do it in a toilet, on the victim’s mother’s name day, a near-sacred day in the Romanian ethos. Culianu was not the only one who believed in the power of pattern and connection.

Ted Anton, an associate professor of nonfiction writing at DePaul University, assembles a dazzling, even obscuring, array of connections, hints, foreshadowings, and plots from his many years of research, but he is clear that at the center of this hall of mirrors is a real life, ruined by the operations of brute power. “Chance and fate, truth and fiction, murder and illusory disappearance,” Anton sums up. “In many ways, Culianu said, these opposites are the same. The deepest tragedy is that, in the only way we understand, they are not.”

John Crowley’s novels include “Little, Big” and “Love & Sleep.”

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BILLIONAIRE investor George Soros said the world was facing the worst financial crisis since World War Two and the US was threatened with recession, according to an interview with the Austrian daily Standard.

“The situation is much more serious than any other financial crisis since the end of World War Two,” Mr Soros was quoted as saying.

He said over the past few years politics had been guided by some basic misunderstandings stemming from something which he called “market fundamentalism” – the belief financial markets tended to act as a balance.

“This is the wrong idea,” he said. “We really do have a serious financial crisis now.”

Asked whether he thought the US was headed for a recession, he said: “Yes, this is a threat in the United States”.

He added he was surprised how little understanding there had been on how recession was also a threat to Europe.

European shares fell nearly 6 per cent overnight, their biggest one-day slide since the Septemer 11 attacks of 2001, as fears of a US recession and more debt write downs.

Monsanto is satan

January 23, 2008

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He was portrayed as an environmental David who stood up to the corporate Goliath, and became a figurehead of the battle against the introduction of genetically modified crops everywhere. When Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto for growing the firm’s GM crops, which he claimed blew on to his land, the company’s eventual victory in the Canadian supreme court was overshadowed by accusations of aggressive tactics and corporate bullying.

Now, Schmeiser, of Bruno, Saskatchewan, is back to launch another slingshot at Monsanto, and this time he is suing the billion dollar business for £300 in his local small claims court. At stake, he says, is millions of pounds of compensation for those who have seen their land contaminated with GM material, and the rights of organic farmers and others to produce GM-free crops. Monsanto calls the case “specific and local”.

Schmeiser and his wife, Louise, are suing for the C$600 (£300) it cost to hire contractors to dig up several of Monsanto’s GM oilseed rape plants he found growing in a field he was preparing for a mustard crop in 2005. Schmeiser argues the stray plants are pollution, and the polluter should pay. The company refused unless he agreed not to talk about it.

Schmeiser said: “No corporation should have the right to introduce GM seeds or plants into the environment and not be responsible for it. It doesn’t matter if it was $600, or $600,000. It has now become a very important case, even though it is small, because if we win then it could cost Monsanto millions and millions of dollars across the world.”

He says the rogue GM seeds were probably spilled from a road beside the field. GM crops such as herbicide-resistant oilseed rape are grown in huge quantities across the US and Canada.

“It was almost unbelievable that Monsanto didn’t pay, because it came out and admitted it was their GMO [genetically modified organism] on our property,” he said. “But they said they would refuse to pay unless we signed a non-disclosure statement. No way would we ever give that away to a corporation.”

The case was due to be heard in Saskatchewan tomorrow, but Monsanto said it will be delayed at Schmeiser’s request. Schmeiser said he had not requested a delay.

He said: “If Monsanto had come and removed the plants, it would have been over. We didn’t want another case, but we have to stand up to them again. As long as we have the strength to continue, we will fight for the rights of farmers.”

A spokesperson for Monsanto said: “Mr Schmeiser approached Monsanto about this in 2005. Monsanto has a general policy in Canada to assist in such matters if and when they arise with growers. However, Mr Schmeiser refused our offer to assist and decided to pursue this small claim through the courts.”

Bin Laden is dead?

January 6, 2008

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If Benazir Bhutto was correct then Bin Laden is dead. If Bin Laden is dead, he can’t make tapes. If Bin Laden is dead, everything the US government has said about bin Laden is either wrong, mistaken, or, most probably, a bald-faced lie. If Bin Laden is dead, then everything Bush has been telling you about the war on terrorism over several years is either wrong or a lie or both. In any case, there was never any hard evidence linking Bin Laden to the events of 911! If Binny can’t make tapes, Bush cannot exploit them to wage a “war” about which he has never told the truth.

A few hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Bush administration concluded without supporting evidence, that “Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation were prime suspects”. CIA Director George Tenet stated that bin Laden has the capacity to plan “multiple attacks with little or no warning.” Secretary of State Colin Powell called the attacks “an act of war” and President Bush confirmed in an evening televised address to the Nation that he would “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them”. Former CIA Director James Woolsey pointed his finger at “state sponsorship,” implying the complicity of one or more foreign governments. In the words of former National Security Adviser, Lawrence Eagleburger, “I think we will show when we get attacked like this, we are terrible in our strength and in our retribution.”Meanwhile, parroting official statements, the Western media mantra has approved the launching of “punitive actions” directed against civilian targets in the Middle East. In the words of William Saffire writing in the New York Times: “When we reasonably determine our attackers’ bases and camps, we must pulverize them — minimizing but accepting the risk of collateral damage” — and act overtly or covertly to destabilize terror’s national hosts”.– Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa, Who Is Osama Bin Laden?

The news that Bin Laden is dead is an inconvenient truth. The Bush administration had much more than money invested in Bin Laden. Bushco had built around Osama an “evil empire” worthy of a James Bond film –The World is Not Enough, the story of oil, intrigue and pipelines.

Sir Robert King, a British oil tycoon and close friend of M, is killed by a bomb attack inside MI6 Headquarters. The assassin was working under orders from Renard, an international terrorist who survived an assassination attempt by 009 and is continually gaining strength as the bullet eliminates his senses of pain and touch before inevitably killing him. James Bond uses an unfinished Q Boat created by his ally Q and chases the killer until she commits suicide.M assigns to protect King’s daughter, Elektra; Renard previously abducted and held Elektra for ransom, and it is believed that he has once again targeted her. Elektra assumes control of her father’s business at a pivotal time, overseeing construction of an oil pipeline that would travel through the Caucasus, from the Caspian Sea to Turkey.–The World Is Not Enough, 1999, Synopsis by Wikipedia

The non-fiction version was already afoot even as the motion picture moguls were writing the script for The World is Not Enough.

Despite complex geopolitics and considerable risks, major oil companies have been acquiring development rights and preparing for production since the early 1990s. Offshore drilling operations are underway in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and are set to commence elsewhere.

The majors have also invested significantly in the future construction of oil and gas pipelines to distant ports and refineries. By 2010, they expect to invest at least $50 billion in production and transportation.The first big move was a joint venture between Chevron and Kazakhstan, signed in 1993 to develop the huge Tenzig oil field on the Caspian coast. Three years later, ExxonMobil purchased a 25 percent share. Another consortium focused on Azerbaijan’s offshore fields, with estimated reserves of 32 billion barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, making it the third largest potential regional source.In 1994, BP Amoco, Lukoil, Unocal, Penzoil, Statoil, and others joined with Azerbaijan’s state oil company to form the Azerbaijan International Operating Company. Bush family adviser James A. Baker III, who spearheaded George W. Bush’s victory in the Florida election dispute, headed the law firm representing this consortium and sat on the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce advisory council, as did Vice Pres. Dick Cheney before him. But before their investments could produce profits, roadblocks would have to be removed. The biggest was how to get the fuel to markets.Prior to 9/11, the U.S. government’s preferred future route, known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) project, went from Azerbaijan through Georgia and then south to the Turkish coast. The goal was to reduce reliance on Russia and bring the southern Caucasus into the U.S. fold. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is a former director of Chevron, a lynchpin of the BTC consortium with extensive operations in Azerbaijan. Until 2000, Cheney was chief executive at Halliburton Co., named a finalist in 2001 to bid on engineering work in the Turkish sector.–Toward Freedom, Oily footprints on the path to 9/11

Early on, it was easy to conclude that the real beneficiaries of a US adventure in Afghanistan would be the big oil consortium that had planned the pipeline across Afghanistan. In 1995, UNOCAL had apparently concluded a deal with Turkmenistan. Members of the Taliban met in the Houston suburb of Sugarland.

A senior delegation from the Taleban movement in Afghanistan is in the United States for talks with an international energy company that wants to construct a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan.A spokesman for the company, Unocal, said the Taleban were expected to spend several days at the company’s headquarters in Sugarland, Texas.Unocal says it has agreements both with Turkmenistan to sell its gas and with Pakistan to buy it.[ image: The Afghan economy has been devasted by 20 years of civil war] The Afghan economy has been devasted by 20 years of civil warBut, despite the civil war in Afghanistan, Unocal has been in competition with an Argentinian firm, Bridas, to actually construct the pipeline.Last month, the Argentinian firm, Bridas, announced that it was close to signing a two-billion dollar deal to build the pipeline, which would carry gas 1,300 kilometres from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, across Afghanistan.In May, Taleban-controlled radio in Kabul said a visiting delegation from an Argentinian company had announced that pipeline construction would start “soon”.–BBC, Thursday, December 4, 1997 Published at 19:27 GMT

All would not go smoothly; Pakistan and Ahmed Shah Massoud’s government in Afghanistan, meanwhile, had already signed a pipeline deal with an Argentinean company.

BBC – American government told other governments about Afghan invasion IN JULY 2001.The wider objective was to oust the Taleban

By the BBC’s George Arney

A former Pakistani diplomat has told the BBC that the US was planning military action against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban even before last week’s attacks. Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October.Mr Naik said US officials told him of the plan at a UN-sponsored international contact group on Afghanistan which took place in Berlin. Mr Naik told the BBC that at the meeting the US representatives told him that unless Bin Laden was handed over swiftly America would take military action to kill or capture both Bin Laden and the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.The wider objective, according to Mr Naik, would be to topple the Taleban regime and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place – possibly under the leadership of the former Afghan King Zahir Shah. Mr Naik was told that Washington would launch its operation from bases in Tajikistan, where American advisers were already in place.He was told that Uzbekistan would also participate in the operation and that 17,000 Russian troops were on standby. Mr Naik was told that if the military action went ahead it would take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.He said that he was in no doubt that after the World Trade Center bombings this pre-existing US plan had been built upon and would be implemented within two or three weeks. And he said it was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if Bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taleban.–US ‘planned attack on Taleban’, BBC

By July, 2001, the US State Department was reported to have been threatening the Taliban with carpet bombs.

U.S. Policy Towards Taliban Influenced by Oil By Julio Godoy, Inter Press ServicePARIS, Nov 15 (IPS) – Under the influence of U.S. oil companies, the government of George W. Bush initially blocked U.S. secret service investigations on terrorism, while it bargained with the Taliban the delivery of Osama bin Laden in exchange for political recognition and economic aid, two French intelligence analysts claim.In the book ”Bin Laden, la verité interdite” (”Bin Laden, the forbidden truth”), that appeared in Paris on Wednesday, the authors, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director John O’Neill resigned in July in protest over the obstruction.Brisard claim O’Neill told them that ”the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it”. [emphasis mine, EC] The two claim the U.S. government’s main objective in Afghanistan was to consolidate the position of the Taliban regime to obtain access to the oil and gas reserves in Central Asia.They affirm that until August, the U.S. government saw the Taliban regime ”as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia”, from the rich oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean.Until now, says the book, ”the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia have been controlled by Russia. The Bush government wanted to change all that”.But, confronted with Taliban’s refusal to accept U.S. conditions, ”this rationale of energy security changed into a military one”, the authors claim.”At one moment during the negotiations, the U.S. representatives told the Taliban, ‘either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs’,” Brisard said in an interview in Paris.According to the book, the government of Bush began to negotiate with the Taliban immediately after coming into power in February. U.S. and Taliban diplomatic representatives met several times in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad.To polish their image in the United States, the Taliban even employed a U.S. expert on public relations, Laila Helms. The authors claim that Helms is also an expert in the works of U.S. secret services, for her uncle, Richard Helms, is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).–US Policy Towards Taliban Influenced by Oil

The negotiations with the Taliban broke down. In that summer of 2001, the American people were distracted by the American media noise machine. See: All Condit All The Time“. The US Government was informing other governments that the US would be at war in Afghanistan no later than October. The US timetable for war was set before 911 would conveniently provide the pretext. Pure luck? I don’t think so.
Thoughtful folk were demonized for daring to raise the issue: how fortuitous, how convenient for Bush that Bin Laden would organize one of the most outrageous, the most unbelievable conspiracies in world history! Bin Laden would recruit and arrange to train a rag tag bunch of “terrorists”. They would all but flunk lessons in how to fly puddle jumpers but would hone their airliner skills in a coin-operated simulator.

Nevermind the question of how they got on board airliners without showing up on flight manifests! Let’s give the liar in the White House the benefit of the doubt. Nevermind that wreckage from four planes completely disappeared –the first and only time in history that such an improbable and incredible thing had ever happened outside David Copperfield’s magic show. Nevermind that the space shuttle, by contrast, entered the stratosphere at speeds up to 10,000 miles per hour yet failed to pop through a wormhole into another dimension. Unlike Flight 77 which left not a trace, the Space Shuttle Columbia left wreckage and identifiable human body parts strewn over three states. The only time in history that four planes completely vanished was on 911. How convenient for Bush! How convenient for Bush that just when he is planning to invade and/or carpet bomb another country, he is given a pretext on a plate! How convenient for Bush that a “terrorist” attack occurs that could be pinned on Bin Laden!

How inconvenient it is for Bush now that Bin Laden has been dead for several years! How inconvenient for Bush that he cannot credibly roll out another fake tape with which to scare the beejeebers out of gullible Americans!

An essential resource: Election 2004: The Urban Legend by Michael Collins

http://existentialistcowboy.blogspot.com/2008/01/another-inconvenient-truth-bin-laden-is.html

Gaeity” is a term denoting joyful exuberance or merriment, but in the hands of today’s Republican party, I would not be surprised to find it reinterpreted to a bastion of misleading and negative connotations almost as confusing as the definition and use of the word gay. The “Party of Moral clarity” has demonized the use of any word, term or action that could even hint at homosexuality in order to key into the knee-jerk prejudice of millions of “Christian” voters everywhere. (Note that I put quotes around “Christian” — I can’t duly insult those who actually practice the teachings attributed to Christ, when I’m only targeting those who simply claim to.)

Whenever I hear GOP leaders or pundits screech about a “homosexual agenda” and accuse someone of being gay as though it is a crime against humanity (unlike torture, or melting the flesh off children), I wonder why nobody asks them to clarify.

I mean, are they talking gay like Mark Foley, or not gay like Duke “Hookergate” Cunningham?


(Cunningham pic source: madcowprod dot com)

Are they talking gay like former Rep. Ed Schrock, or not gay like Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig?


(Hat-tip theblacksentinel)

Perhaps they mean not gay like David “Diaper Man” vitter, or not gay like former Speaker Dennis “A Finger in Every Pie Scandal Hastert? (Dennis, cont’d)


Vitter pic source: wis.dm)

Perhaps it is the overall example of moral clarity and focus — his idea of it, at least — that Tom “The Bug Man” Delay (see also) set for his Republican brethren that first initially got them all confused with the meaning of certain terms. Who knows?


(Hat-tip The Dood Abides)

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Republicans are playing the “moral values” card more and more often, desperately attempting to reinforce the misplaced meme that — bolstered by their strong “faith” — they are somehow not only above reproach but also in a position to be forgiven for any minor inequities while denouncing the slightest failing of others. Indeed, the capacity of the Right-Wing Noise Machine1 to gather and swarm like a colony of killer bees attempting to decimate their enemy is almost legendary.

It also appears to be a defense mechanism deeply rooted in fear, self-loathing and some weird form of psychological denial and projection whereby they find the illness within themselves that they most detest and project it upon their enemies, making it — and the enemy — a target of vitriolic hate to be destroyed, a scapegoat2 upon which they heap all their poison and failing and then drive off a cliff in order to feel justified, cleansed and reaffirmed in their self-appointed role of society’s sole benefactors.

It is all a delusion, of course.

The Republican Party of the past two decades has distinguished itself as the Party of Penultimate Corruption, working steadily toward subverting the law and preventing due process as well as oversight in their quest for dominant power. The increased spread of “conservatism” has marked the insidious growth of deceptive practices and manipulation in order to build, reinforce and spread support of their methods, and the sickness that this signifies is spread: the “group mind” that Jung once theorized becomes the “mindless mob” of Republican punditry and zealous disciples, moving en masse in knee-jerk reactionary style to the slightest twitch or tweak of the exposed, raw nerves of once stable moral fibre running the breadth the land.

In short, today’s Conservatives (and hence most of todays Conservative Republicans) are a disease upon the land. It may sound harsh, but even the US Government knows what ill now infests the nation: the government even produced a report3 concluding that “conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in “fear and aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity.”

As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report’s four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the rightwing talkshow host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction.All of them “preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality”.

Ouch. Even worse, the authors — realizing the predictable swarm that their report would likely produce — issued a disclaimer that their study

“does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false”.

Heh. Riiiiiiight… So, that would mean that the poor, mixed-up souls listed above are simply a deviation from the norm of upstanding Republican behavior, right?

Er…no. [Note: Many of the references following come from the same source.]

  • Republican Congressman Dan Crane had sex with a female minor working as a congressional page.
  • Republican Congressman Donald “Buz” Lukens was found guilty of having sex with a female minor and sentenced to one month in jail.
  • Republican Congressman and anti-gay activist Robert Bauman was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old boy he picked up at a gay bar.
  • Republican legislator Peter Dibble pleaded no contest to having an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl.
  • Republican legislator Keith Westmoreland was arrested on seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious exhibition to girls under the age of 16 (i.e. exposing himself to children).

Perhaps there’s a reason: could it be the help?

Republicans may be unfairly disadvantaged in the realm of hypocritical sexual misconduct. It could be that they just can’t find folks who actually embrace those idealized Republican Family Values they prize so much.

  • Republican politician and former GOP Committeeman Andrew Buhr was charged with two counts of first degree sodomy with a 13-year old boy.
  • Republican campaign chairman Randal David Ankeney pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault on a child and was arrested again five years later on the same charge.
  • Republican Committee Chairman Jeffrey Patti was arrested for distributing a video clip of a 5-year-old girl being raped.
  • Republican Party Chairman Donald Fleischman was charged with two counts of child enticement, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child and a single charge of exposing himself to a child.
  • Republican Party leader Paul Ingram pleaded guilty to six counts of raping his daughters and served 14 years in federal prison.

If they can’t depend on reliable help throughout the foundation of their party, what hope have they got of preventing corruption from reaching (or leaking out of) the upper echelons of their party?

Perhaps that explains their party’s obsession with fundamentalism and the reason behind the GOP getting into bed with the radical right. (Oooops…was that a pun, or just the sad truth…?)

What kind of Christians are these guys? The “Party of Christian Values” is, of course, formed from the bedrock of radical fundamental Christianity. What could possibly taint such a solid, upstanding image? Well, perhaps a few bad apples that had rotted through to the core:

  • Republican benefactor of conservative Christian groups, Richard A. Dasen Sr., was found guilty of raping a 15-year old girl. Dasen, 62, who is married with grown children and several grandchildren, has allegedly told police that over the past decade he paid more than $1 million to have sex with a large number of young women.
  • Republican preacher Stephen White, who demanded a return to traditional values, was sentenced prison after offering $20 to a 14-year-old boy for permission to perform oral sex on him.
  • Republican pastor Mike Hintz, whom George W. Bush commended during the 2004 presidential campaign, surrendered to police after admitting to a sexual affair with a female juvenile.

And let’s not forget Ted Haggard or the “Right” Rev. Jimmy Swaggart (Warning: YouTube video).

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. – William Shakespeare

With such upstanding examples to lead the way, no wonder these fine leaders see no reason to justify things such as denying the mandatory vaccination of young women against a sexually transmitted virus, or pushing to overturn the right for a woman to have an abortion — particularly a young, underage woman? After all, if we would simply adhere to a successful program of teaching abstinence, wouldn’t all our young men and women be safe, and therefore not need any contraceptives, abortions, sex education or fear any sort of STD?

…well…not so much. It appears that Republican hypocrisy sets a somewhat backward example for our younger generations:

  • Republican anti-abortion activist John Allen Burt was found guilty of molesting a 15-year old girl.
  • Republican anti-gay activist Earl “Butch” Kimmerling was sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting an 8-year old girl after he attempted to stop a gay couple from adopting her.

Surely, these must be isolated incidents and not a sign of pervasive perversion, right?

Well…again, not so much.

There are some older historical references that allege that senior Republican stateman and former President George H.W. Bush’s Whitehouse had some sordid affairs that ~almost~ came to light:

Republican lobbyist Craig J. Spence organized child sex parties at the White House during the 1980s.

These, of course, are no longer shocking particularly after the Gannon affair(s?).

Much to our collective shame, we also hold the unabashedly disgusting distinction that in recent years our military and defense intelligence networks have allegedly engaged in the most heinous of tortures, human rights abuse and outright crimes against nature and humanity:

Republican Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the rape of children in Iraqi prisons in order to humiliate their parents into providing information about the anti-American insurgency. See excerpt of one prisoner’s report here and his full report here.

This stain upon the soul of nation emerged during the reign of “Bush the Younger” — George W. Bush, and his cabal of criminal enablers. Could it be that our Republican friends, in their drive to be loyal to God and Country (but Party above all), have overlooked the basic “quirks” that denote such twisted deviants so clearly for the rest of us? Combined with the efforts to flush the faithful to the polls and suppress “the opposition” by hook or by crook, these well-meaning loyal party members may simply require another reminder about the type of people they are actually pushing to the forefront to represent themselves. Candidates for President and Exemplars of Model Conservative Republican Family Values

John McCain:

McCain was still married and living with his wife in 1979 while, according to The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, “aggressively courting a 25-year-old woman who was as beautiful as she was rich.”

Rudy Giulianni:

Giuliani informed his second wife, Donna Hanover, of his intention to seek a separation in a 2000 press conference.[…snip…]

In the acrid divorce proceedings that followed, Hanover accused Giuliani of serial adultery, alleging that Nathan was just the latest in a string of mistresses, following an affair the mayor had had with his former communications director.

And the serial hopeful, serial adulterer, serial hypocrite Newt Gingrich:

But the most notorious of them all is undoubtedly Gingrich, who ran for Congress in 1978 on the slogan, “Let Our Family Represent Your Family.” (He was reportedly cheating on his first wife at the time).

That would be an example of blatant hypocrisy, which has come to symbolize the true nature of today’s conservative Republicans — and Republicans in general, for that matter. To continue from the piece,

In 1995, an alleged mistress from that period, Anne Manning, told Vanity Fair’s Gail Sheehy: “We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, ‘I never slept with her.'”

This, too, is an example of Republican strategizing: pre-planning an excuse, a workaround or a loophole in order to ensure a degree of plausible deniability. It’s the Republican way of having to avoid the prevarications required to figure out what the definition of “is” is. A few more facts from the same paragraph:

Gingrich obtained his first divorce in 1981, after forcing his wife, who had helped put him through graduate school, to haggle over the terms while in the hospital, as she recovered from uterine cancer surgery. In 1999, he was disgraced again, having been caught in an affair with a 33-year-old congressional aide while spearheading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

And there we have “family values” and hypocrisy4 all neatly bundled up in one disgusting package — the same package responsible for delivering a Contract on America that resulted in setting the stage of faux credibility and morality while enabling the start of one of the most massive subversions of truth, justice and integrity ever undertaken and premeditated by any political party in American history.

It is, in my estimation, one of the very keystones to the overall foundation of corruption that led to ultimately to the disgraceful sham that is now the George W. Bush and Republican Party legacy: the most inept, criminal and subversive incarnation of the United States government ever to exist, and it is spearheading America’s entry into the twenty-first century. It is a major black mark in the history of our nation, and sure to taint, stain, smudge and smear the efforts of all who strive to overcome it in the next few years.

For you suffer fools gladly, seeing yourself as wise. – II Corinthians 11:19

There is no option, at this point, for any Republican follower to continue to support the words and deeds of the currently entrenched political elite: the ideology of “conservatism” has not only proven to be a dismal failure, it has also negatively impacted the nation and the world for at least the next fifty years. Only through the embrace of a progressive, forward-thinking agenda can we hope to undo the damage of the silver-tongued devils who road the coattails of propriety into power and then swiftboated sanity en masse.

For any true Republican, the only way to undo the legacy of evil that has culminated in the Bush regime is to wholly reject the dangerously subversive and deluding hypocrisy of the far right, and move leftward toward a true center with progressive Democrats and the rest of America. ________________________________________________

1. “Reich”-wing is more like it, if you ask me.

2. The link is to an earlier piece of mine on dKos called “The Pet Goat” that delves into the traditional symbolism of the scapegoat and the GOP’s practice, particularly in George W. Bushworld, of always having one in order to deny accountability. The piece appeared several places, and can also be found on ePluribus Media, Booman Tribune, My Left Wing, ProgressiveHistorians, Political Cortex and Never in Our Names. An important companion piece is Juxtaposition: Edgar Lee Masters and Lessons of Life from Death on the old ePluribus Media scoop site and the short informative blurb on DailyKos called Failure, Scapegoats and the Juxtaposition of Life from Death.

3. Source: The Guardian Unlimited, Study of Bush’s psyche touches a nerve, Julian Borger in Washington, 13 August 2003.

4. More on Gingrich’s hypocrisy during the Clinton affair can be found here: Gingrich Had Affair During Clinton Probe, by Ben Evans, The Associated Press, 8 March 2007 via The Washington Post online.

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BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S BLOG

Mark Karlin, Editor and Publisher, BuzzFlash.com

December 28, 2007

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

It all comes back again in a flood of sickening shock.

The despair that comes with violent political deaths — attacks on the effort of us as humans to govern ourselves in an orderly and peaceful fashion – just breaks your heart and shatters your hopes.

Pakistan has been “Ground Zero” for the largely Saudi financed Al-Qaeda and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. As one blogger noted, it says it all that Benazir Bhutto is being buried today in Pakistan – victim of an assassination – while Osama bin Laden (the mastermind of 9/11 that Bush swore to capture “dead or alive) is alive – and a “protected man – in the same country.

Elements of the Pakistani intelligence and military have been involved with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda since the rebel war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has long played a role of tolerating, at a minimum, and even cooperating with and sometimes “running,” the Islamic extremists.

As a Los Angeles Times article written in the wake of Bhutto’s assassination notes:

Complicating the situation is the fact that many of the extremist groups have ties to Pakistan’s political establishment, including elements of the government loyal to President Pervez Musharraf, as well as close ties to the military and its intelligence agencies. Bhutto had long criticized such links, and in the wake of her killing Thursday, some of her supporters accused the government of playing a role. One senior U.S. counter-terrorism official also said Washington suspected that rogue officials within the military or intelligence agencies could have been involved, noting that though there is no evidence, they have detested Bhutto for more than a decade.

U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies, and groups such as the Sept. 11 commission, have said that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in particular has cultivated relationships with radical groups, using them as proxies to wage war against India while protecting Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan.

Given the murky area of relationships between the Pakistani military/intelligence infrastructure and the terrorists, the assassination of Bhutto is likely to remain as unresolved as the JFK assassination.

Someone will be blamed, probably Al-Qaeda or one of its many offshoots operating in Pakistan – and one of these groups may very well have provided the shooter – but putting Musharraf in charge of finding out if his own military command was involved is like having Bush investigate the Plame leak.

All we know is that such a murder assaults us all in a way that makes us feel horribly vulnerable.

We have known so much disappointment as a nation: the promise of the civil rights era and the empowerment of women in the ‘60s was whiplashed by a wave of assassinations against liberal icons.

The killing of Harvard- and Oxford-educated Bhutto just gives us that sinking feeling that whenever there is the hope of progress, someone steps in with a gun. These are indeed shots heard round the world because they threaten the very notion that we can be self-governing.

If it can all be taken away in a hail of bullets, how can one not be broken hearted?

BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S BLOG

As always, music can provide some small measure of solace. We recommend Joan Osborne’s emotionally stirring “cover” of the Motown classic, “Tell me, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”

The secret library of hope

December 25, 2007

BOOKS REVIEW
The secret library of hope
12 books to stiffen your resolve

Reviewed Rebecca Solnit

Hope is an orientation, a way of scanning the wall for cracks – or building ladders – rather than staring at its unyielding expanse. It’s a worldview, but one informed by experience and the knowledge that people have power; that the power people possess matters; that change has been made by populist movements and dedicated individuals in the past; and that it will be again.

Dissent in the United States has become largely a culture of diagnosis rather than prescription, of describing what is wrong with them, rather than what is possible for us. But even in

English, a robust minority tradition can be found. There are a handful of books that I think of as “the secret library of hope”. None of them deny the awful things going on, but they approach them as if the future is still open to intervention rather than an inevitability. In describing how the world actually gets changed, they give us the tools to change it again.

Here, then, are some of the regulars in my secret political library of hope, along with some new candidates:

Monks, slaves, prisoners and the power from beneath
When the monks of Burma/Myanmar led an insurrection in September simply by walking through the streets of their cities in their deep-red robes, accompanied by ever more members of civil society, the military junta which had run that country for more than four decades responded with violence. That’s one measure of how powerful and threatening the insurrection was. (That totalitarian regimes tend to ban gatherings of more than a few people is the best confirmation of the strength that exists in unarmed numbers of us.)

After the crackdown, after the visually stunning, deeply inspiring walks came to a bloody end, quite a lot of mainstream politicians and pundits pronounced the insurrection dead, violence triumphant – as though this play had just one act, as though its protagonists were naive and weak-willed. I knew they were wrong, but the argument I rested on wasn’t my own: I went back to Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People, by far the most original and ambitious of the many histories of nonviolence to appear in recent years.

When it came out as the current war began in the spring of 2003, the book was mocked for its dismissal of the effectiveness of violence, but Schell’s explanation of how superior military power failed abysmally in Vietnam was a prophesy waiting to be fulfilled in Iraq. Schell himself is much taken with the philosopher Hannah Arendt, whom he quotes saying, in 1969:

To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power.

I hope that his equally trenchant explanation of the power of nonviolence is fulfilled in Myanmar. Schell has been a diligent historian and philosopher of nuclear weapons since his 1982 bestseller The Fate of the Earth, but this book traces the rise of nonviolence as the other half of the history of the violent 20th century.

That’s what books in a library of hope consist of – not a denial of the horrors of recent history, but an exploration of the other tendencies, avenues, and achievements that are too often overlooked. After all, to return to Myanmar, there has been some change since September: a number of companies have withdrawn from doing business there. and the US Congress just unanimously passed a bill, HR 3890, to increase sanctions, freeze the junta’s assets in US institutions, and close a loophole that allowed Chevron to profit spectacularly from its business in Myanmar.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected as Myanmar’s head of state in 1990 and has, ever since, been under house arrest or otherwise restricted. She nonetheless remains the leader of, as well as a wise, gentle, fearless voice for, that country’s opposition. Since the uprising, her silencing has begun to dissolve amid meetings with a UN envoy and members of her own political party; some believe she may be on her way to being freed. The Burmese people were hit with hideous, pervasive violence, but they have not surrendered: small acts of resistance and large plans for liberation continue.

The best argument for hope is how easy it ought to be for the rest of us to raise its banner, when we look at who has carried it through unimaginably harsh conditions: Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom recounts his unflagging dedication to his country’s liberation (imperfect though it may still be); Rigoberta Menchu dodged death squads to become a champion of indigenous rights, a Nobel laureate, and a recent presidential candidate in Guatemala; Oscar Oliveira proved that a bunch of poor people in Bolivia can beat Bechtel Corporation largely by nonviolent means, as he recounts in !Cochabamba!; and Nobel Laureate and Burmese national icon Aung San Suu Kyi radiates – even from the page – an extraordinary calm and patience, perhaps the result of her decades of Buddhist practice.

She remarks, toward the end of The Voice of Hope, a collection of conversations with her about Myanmar, Buddhism, politics, and her own situation, “Yes I do have hope because I’m working. I’m doing my bit to try to make the world a better place, so I naturally have hope for it. But obviously, those who are doing nothing to improve the world have no hope for it.”

For a book about those who did their bit beautifully long ago, don’t miss Adam Hochschild’s gripping Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves. It begins with a handful of London Quakers who decided in the 1780s to abolish the institution of slavery in the British Empire and then, step by unpredictable step, did just that. It’s an exhilarating book simply as the history of a movement from beginning to end, and so suggests how many other remarkable movements await their historian; others, from the women’s movement to rights for queers to many environmental struggles, still await their completion.

If only people carried, as part of their standard equipment, a sense of the often-incremental, unpredictable ways in which change is wrought and the powers that civil society actually possesses, they might go forward more confidently to wrestle with the wrongs of our time, seeing that we have already won many times before.

Indians, environmentalists and utopians
One spectacular book along these lines already exists: Charles Wilkinson’s Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. For us non-native people, Native Americans became far more visible during the huge public debates around the meaning of the Quincentennial of 1992 – the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in this hemisphere. They reframed the history of the Americas as one of invasion and genocide, rather than discovery and development. But the story was not a defeatist one; simply in being able to tell their own stories and reshape their histories, native people of the Americas demonstrated that they were neither wholly conquered, nor eradicated; and, since then, the history of the two continents has been radically revised and indigenous peoples have won back important rights from Bolivia to Canada.

In the United States that reclaiming of power, pride, land, rights, and representation began far earlier, as Wilkinson’s book relates. A law professor and lawyer who has worked on land and treaty-rights issues with many tribes, he begins his story of ascendancy with the 1953 decision by the US government to “terminate” the tribal identities, organizations, and rights of Native Americans and push them to melt into the general population. This represented an aggressive attempt at erasure of the many distinct peoples of this continent and their heritage. Told to disappear, “Indian leaders responded and by the mid-1960s had set daunting goals … at once achieve economic progress and preserve ancient traditions in a technological age … Against all odds, over the course of two generations, Indian leaders achieved their objectives to a stunning degree.”

Wilkinson’s monumental history of the past half-century concludes:

By the turn of this century Indian tribes had put in place much of the ambitious agenda that tribal leaders advanced in the 1950s and 1960s. They stopped termination and replaced it with self-determination. They ousted the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] as the reservation government and installed their own sovereign legislatures, courts, and administrative agencies. They enforced the treaties of old and, with them, the fishing, hunting and water rights. Nowhere have these changes been absolute and pure. In most cases the advances represent works in progress, but they have been deep and real.

Late this November, Canada set aside 25 million acres of boreal forest as a preserve to be managed, in part, by the Native peoples of the region, a huge environmental victory for the largest remaining forest on Earth – and for all of us. How did it happen?

I am still looking for an environmental history with the strength and focus of Blood Struggle or Bury the Chains. An exhilarating 2006 article in Orion magazine by Ted Nace describes how a bunch of North Dakota farmers killed off Monsanto’s plans to promote the growing of genetically altered wheat worldwide. The essay concludes:

On May 10, 2004, Monsanto bowed to the prevailing political sentiment. It issued a curt press release announcing the withdrawal of all its pending regulatory applications for [its genetically altered] Roundup Ready wheat and the shifting of research priorities to other crops.

We need books on victories like this, books that tell us how this dam was defeated, this river brought back from being a sewer, that toxin banned, that species rebounded, that land preserved.

In fact, a broader history with some of those threads did appear this year, geographer Richard Walker’s The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. It describes generations of struggle to preserve something of the richness of this extraordinarily diverse region by defeating some of the most awful proposals most of us have never heard of – to, for example, completely fill in the San Francisco Bay – back in an era when water and wetlands were just real estate waiting to happen.

The book does justice to a whole unexpected category of unsung heroines – the often-subversive affluent ladies who have done so much for the environment and the community – then moves on to document the emerging environmental justice movement that took on toxins, polluters, and the overlooked question of what ecology really means for the inner city. It’s a great, hopeful history of a region that has long created environmental templates and momentum for the rest of the nation – and Walker makes it clear that this trend was not inevitable, but the result of hard work by stubborn visionaries and organizers.

A decade ago, Alan Weisman wrote a profile of a town in the inhospitable savannah of eastern Colombia, a miraculous community in which that unfortunate nation’s turmoil and our age’s environmental destruction was replaced by a green, utopian approach that involved reinventing the roles of both technology and community. It worked, though Weisman ended his 1997 book, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, on a prophetic note of caution:

[The] fading of the Cold War has revealed clearly that a far more incandescent and protracted battle a potentially apocalyptic resource war – has been stealthily gathering intensity throughout the latter part of the 20th century … Yet a place like Gaviotas bears witness to our ability to get it right, even under seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

Weisman’s deservedly successful 2007 bestseller, The World Without Us, takes an extreme approach to getting it right, by showing how the planet might – in part – regenerate itself if we were to go away, all of us, for good. The chapters on nuclear waste and plastic are dauntingly grim, but the descriptions of New York City reverting to nature go two steps past Mike Davis’s Dead Cities in praise of entropy, weeds, and the power of natural processes to take back much of the Earth as soon as we let go.

While Gaviotas stands out as a rare, realized utopia, our choices among the unrealized ones – except as literature – are legion. In 2007, I finally got around to reading what has already become my favorite utopian novel: William Morris’ News from Nowhere. Best known during his life as a poet, Morris is, unfortunately, now mostly remembered for his wallpaper. He designed it as part of his lifelong endeavor to literally craft an alternative to the brutality and ugliness of the industrial revolution through the artisanal production of furniture, textiles, and books – all as models of what work and its fruits could be.

That attempt had its political and literary faces, which is to say that Morris was also a prolific writer and an ardent revolutionary. He was more anarchist than socialist, as well as an antiquarian, a translator of Icelandic sagas, and so much more. News from Nowhere, published in 1890, portrays his ideal London in the far-distant future of 2102, a century and a half after “the revolution of 1952”.

It’s a bioregional and anarchic paradise: The economy is localized, work is voluntary, money is nonexistent and so is hunger, deprivation, and prison. The industrial filth of London has vanished, and the river and city are beautiful again. (They were far filthier in Morris’ time, when every home burned coal, while sewage and industrial effluents flowed unfiltered into the Thames.)

Most utopias, of course, aren’t places you’d actually want to live. Admittedly, Morris’ is a little bland and mild, as life on earth without evil and struggle must be. But his utopia is prophetic, not dated, close to many modern visions of decentralized, localized power, culture, and everyday life. It is, in short, an old map for a new world being born in experiments around the globe.

Dreams on the southern horizon
Morris provided the name for the present-day News from Nowhere Collective, a group that has edited one of the more rambunctious handbooks for activists in recent times, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism. A visually delicious, horizontally formatted little chunk of a book, it features a lot of photographs, a running timeline of radical victories in our era, and short, punchy essays from people immersed in changing the world all over that world (from Quebec and Nigeria to Bolivia and Poland). Playful, subversive, and far-reaching, the book – even four years after its publication – demonstrates the scope of constructive change and activism around the planet.

There are other such handbooks, including my brother David’s Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World, out from City Lights Books a few years ago. It was in the course of editing some of the essays in that book that I discovered the beautiful, hopeful voice of Marina Sitrin, a sociologist, human rights lawyer, and activist who has spent a great deal of time among the utopian social movements of Argentina. Her encounters become ours in her new book Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina.

That country’s sudden economic collapse and political turmoil in December of 2001 was largely overlooked here, but the crisis begat an extraordinary grassroots response – about as far from shock and paralysis as you can imagine. Neighborhoods gathered in popular assemblies to protest the political structure, and then stayed together to feed each other during the fiscal crisis; factory workers took over shuttered factories and ran them as cooperatives; the poor organized and mobilized; but more than these concrete actions, Argentinean society itself changed.

People began to talk across old divides and create new words for what mattered now – none more valuable than horizontalidad, which Sitrin translates as “horizontalism”, a direct and radically egalitarian participatory democracy, and politica afectiva, the politics of affection, or love. The 2001 crisis was soon transformed into an opportunity to overcome the legacy of the terrifying years of the Argentinean military dictatorship, to step out of the isolation and disengagement that fear had produced, to reclaim power and reinvent social ties. With this, Argentina moved a little further away from hell and a little closer to utopia.

It’s not a coincidence that Weisman’s Gaviotas is in South America (though it is a surprise that it’s in Colombia). After all, the most powerful voice coming from the Spanish-speaking majority of the Americas is that of the Zapatistas, and Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings of Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, edited by Juana Ponce de Leon, is still the best English-language introduction to that indigenous movement’s non-indigenous spokesman and raconteur Subcommandante Marcos. Via his poetic, playful, subversive, and ferociously hopeful manifestoes, tirades, allegories, and pranks, he has reinvented the language of politics, pushing off the drab shore of bureaucracy and cliche, sailing toward something rich and strange.

Ponce De Leon’s book, however, only covers the first several years of Marcos’ contributions. City Lights recently brought out his The Speed of Dreams: Selected Writings 2001-2007. On page 102, he advises an indigenous audience: “It is the hour of the word. So then, put the machete away, and continue to hone hope.” By page 349, he’s quoting a possibly fictional elderly couple in San Miguel Tzinacapan, who say, “The world is the size of our effort to change it.”

Not that all resistance, all hope, comes from the south. It can be found everywhere, or at least on many edges, margins, and in many overlooked zones – and one of the most exhilarating histories of it is The Many Headed-Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. Their book traces a plethora of acts of resistance to capitalism, exploitation, authoritarianism and the generally sorry lot meted out to the poor in the eighteenth century. That resistance was exuberant, inventive, and occasionally ferocious, and it found its own utopias. The book begins with a 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda, in which the shipwrecked sailors and passengers begin to form their own convivial utopia that the Virginia Company forcibly disbanded. The Many Headed Hydra covers some of the same ground – and ocean routes – as Hochschild’s book, and they make good joint reading.

I wish Linebaugh’s The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All was out in time for this list, but look for it in February. (I read it in manuscript for the University of California Press, loved it, and learned a lot from it.) Beginning with Bush’s breach not just of the constitution, but of Magna Carta’s grant of habeas corpus, Linebaugh returns to that moment at Runnymede when King John was forced to concede rights to England’s citizens. Linking that despot to the one in the White House, he ventures back and forth between the two times to explore the once evolving – and now revolving or maybe even regressing – territory of rights and liberties.

The climate of change
One thing becoming increasingly clear in this millennium: Human rights and the environment are all tangled up with each other – and not only in environmental injustice hotspots like Louisiana’s Cancer Alley or oily places like Nigeria. Democracy and an empowered citizenry are the best tools we have to make progress on climate change in this country. The issue of climate change may be global, but in the US a lot of the measures that matter are being enacted on the local level by cities, towns, regions, and states. Together, they have pushed far ahead of the recalcitrant federal government in trying to take concrete measures that could make a difference. Global measures matter, but so do local ones: The change here is likely to come as much from the bottom up as the top down.

One common response to climate change is to try to limit your own impact – by consuming less. An issue, for instance, that’s front and center in Britain but hardly on the table in the US, is taking fewer airplane trips. (The state of California, however, did recently start looking into ways to regulate and reduce airplane carbon emissions.) So there’s personal virtue, which matters. Then there’s agitating and organizing like crazy, which might matter more. Certainly, Bill McKibben makes a rousing case for it in his introduction to Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement. The book, edited by Jonathan Isham and Sissel Waage, covers a lot of ground when it comes to how policy gets made and how to make it yourself, as does McKibben’s own Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community.

Maybe the best news of 2007 is that we’re finally doing something about the worst news ever: that we’ve royally screwed up the climate of this planet. After all, the rest of that news is: We still have a chance to mitigate how haywire everything goes, even though no one is yet talking about what a world of low to zero carbon emissions would look like.

Maybe one thing we really need (just to be a little more visionary and less grim about the subject) is a modern version of News from Nowhere portraying what a good life involving only a small carbon footprint might mean – most likely a more localized, less consuming life with some cool technological innovations, including many we already have (some of which are described in Weisman’s Gaviotas). In ceasing the scramble for things, there would be real gains; we’d gain back time for sitting around talking at leisure about politics and the neighbors, for wandering around on foot – and for reading. But you don’t have to wait for everything to change: change it yourself by seizing these pleasures now.

Rebecca Solnit’s secret library of hope
Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People.
Aung San Suu Kyi, The Voice of Hope.
Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves.
Charles Wilkinson, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations.
Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Alan Weisman, The World Without Us.
William Morris, News from Nowhere.
News from Nowhere Collective, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism.
Marina Sitrin, Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina.
Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, The Speed of Dreams: Selected Writings 2001-2007.
Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All.
Jonathan Isham and Sissel Waage, editors (introduction Bill McKibben), Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement.

Rebecca Solnit blurbed a lot of books this year, wrote the foreword for Marisa Handler’s Loyal to the Sky, and provided editorial services on another book of her brother’s, this time with conscientious objector Aimee Allison: the counter-recruitment manual Army of None. Her own book for 2007 is Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, a collection of 36 essays including several that first appeared as Tomdispatches. She is the author of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.

(Copyright 2007 Rebecca Solnit.)

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I could have just as well replaced “conservative elite” with “Bush/Cheney administration” in the title of this post, and the point would have been virtually identical. The Bush/Cheney administration is in fact the perfect representative for the conservative elite in the United States. But since the issue is much larger than the Bush/Cheney administration, and since they are not running in the 2008 election (assuming we have one), I think it makes more sense at this time to speak more broadly of the conservative elite in our country as a whole (which includes all the Republican presidential candidates with the exception of Ron Paul), rather than limit the discussion to the Bush/Cheney administration.

Six months ago I posted an essay on DU titled “The Five Pillars of George W. Bush’s Republican Party”. The five pillars that I discussed in that post were:
 The economic royalists
 The militarists
 The propagandists and destroyers of our First Amendment rights
 The crooks
 The gullible

This post is, in part, a refinement of the concepts that I used in my previous post, with emphasis on how lies and propaganda are used to further conservative elitist goals. I noted at the time that there is a good deal of overlap between the five pillars, with many people participating in more than one of them.

However, it may be more useful to look at this in terms of goals, methods, and tools rather than simply as five pillars: The term “economic royalist” represents the goals of the conservative elites, which is the accumulation of wealth and power for themselves. The next three pillars that I listed represent methods. These include stealing and bribing their way to electoral victory, lying and propagandizing about their intentions and the intentions of their political opponents, invading and occupying other countries, and conducting a “War on Terror” where every means, no matter how hideous or evil, is considered justified in the cause of winning their so-called “war”. And last but not least, the gullible make up a large part of the base which they need to maintain their power.

THE GOAL OF THE CONSERVATIVE ELITES

Since the main goal of the conservative elite agenda in our country is to accumulate ever more wealth and power, an understanding of how they do this starts with a review of income inequality in our country over the past several decades:

A brief review our last century’s history of income inequality in the United States

Under the Reagan/Bush/Quail administrations of the 1980s and early 1990s, as with the current Bush/Cheney administration, income inequality in the United States increased tremendously. To put this in historical perspective we need to consider the following, described in economist Paul Krugman’s new book, “The Conscience of a liberal”.

1) Prior to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt great income disparity existed in our country, with the top 1% of individuals accounting for 17% of annual income and the top 10% accounting for 44% of annual income. (And that’s not even counting income from capital gains, which create even greater income inequality.)

2) FDR, after ascending to the presidency in 1932, initiated a wide range of policies – collectively referred to as the New Deal – which had the effect of substantially reversing income inequality for the first time in U.S. history. These policies included: Progressive taxation; labor protection laws; and several policies to provide a social safety net for Americans and otherwise reduce income inequality, including the Social Security Act of 1935, the GI Bill of Rights, and the development of several policies to facilitate job creation.

3) FDR’s New Deal was so successful that it lasted for several decades, despite tremendous opposition from the conservative elites whose wealth had been reduced.

4) Beginning in the 1980s, right wing conservatives began to have success in dismantling the New Deal, such that today we have income inequality in our country that equals that seen in the pre-New Deal days.

Krugman describes how this has all translated into median family income levels, as shown in this chart, beginning in 1947, when accurate statistics on this issue first became available: Median family income rose steadily (in 2005 dollars) from $22,499 in 1947 to more than double that, $47,173 in 1980. Then, for the next 25 years, except for some moderate growth during the Clinton years, there was almost no growth in median income at all, which rose only to $56,194 by 2005 (85% of that growth accounted for during the Clinton years).

The stagnation of median family income during this period of time was accompanied by a tremendous rise in the wealth of a tiny proportion of our population. This is vividly described by Jack Rasmus, who points out that “More than $1 trillion a year in relative income is now being shifted annually – from roughly 90 million middle and working class families to the wealthiest households and corporations.”

The consequences have been devastating for the middle and working class and the poor: Today, 46 million Americans are without health insurance, which results in thousands of premature deaths every year, including thousands of infants; approximately 7 million Americans who want jobs are unemployed; 12% of American households lack adequate food; approximately 3 million Americans are homeless in any given year; and 37 million Americans are in poverty, while the poverty rate continues to rise under George W. Bush’s administration.

The use of lies and propaganda to transfer more wealth to the already wealthy

How did they do this? I noted above that the transfer of wealth to the wealthy came about largely through a reversal of FDR’s New Deal policies, beginning with the Reagan presidency and accelerating under Bush/Cheney rule. In addition, this is done through direct subsidies to wealthy corporations and deregulation – meaning among other things the relaxing or reversal of laws and regulations that protected worker health and safety and limited the right of corporations to pollute our environment. But how were they able to make these things acceptable enough to the American people that they would tolerate it? The answer of course is lies and propaganda.

Perhaps the biggest lie was “trickle down economics” – the wholly unsubstantiated theory that the creation of policies that increase the wealth of the wealthy will cause a wave of economic prosperity that will “lift all boats” and cause everyone to prosper in the long run. A simple look at the stagnation of median family income and the rising ranks of the poor in our country, concurrent with the accumulation of great fortunes by a tiny percent of our population, reveals that theory for the sham that it is.

Another trick is simply to provide names for bills which do the exact opposite of what the name implies. For example, pass a bill whose main feature is to deregulate pollution controls on corporations, and name it the “Clear Skies Initiative”. Or, in the name of “tax relief”, pass laws that reduce taxes almost entirely on the wealthy while driving our country into bankruptcy and creating the need to starve social programs which benefit the good majority of Americans.

Al Gore, in his book “The Assault on Reason”, describes the basic mode of operation of these conservative elites. Borrowing the term “Economic Royalist” from FDR’s 1934 Democratic Convention speech, Gore describes this group as those:

who are primarily interested in eliminating as much of their own taxation as possible and removing all inconvenient regulatory obstacles. Their ideology – which they and Bush believe with almost religious fervor – is based on several key elements:

First, there is no such thing as “the public interest”; that phrase represents a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose unfair burdens on the wealthy and powerful.

Second, laws and regulations are also bad – except when they can be used on behalf of this group, which turns out to be often. It follows, therefore, that whenever laws must be enforced and regulations administered, it is important to assign those responsibilities to individuals who… reliably serve the narrow and specific interests of this small group…

What members of this coalition seem to spend much of their time and energy worrying about is the impact of government policy on the behavior of poor people. They are deeply concerned, for example, that government programs to provide health care, housing, social insurance, and other financial support will adversely affect work incentives….

THE METHODS OF THE CONSERVATIVE ELITES

Since the methods that conservative elites use to maintain and increase their power would be repugnant to most people if they understood the truth behind the methods, those methods must be disguised as something that people can accept:

Legalized bribery disguised as “campaign contributions”

Bribery has been defined as “a crime implying a sum or gift given that alters the behavior of the person in ways not consistent with the duties of that person.” Since bribery of public officials usually requires a great deal of money, those who bribe public officials are almost always powerful and wealthy individuals or corporations – in other words, the conservative elite.

Bribery is technically illegal in our country.

However, largely due to the influence of the conservative elite, bribery of public officials by corporations is legal, as long as two fictions are maintained. The first fiction involves a practice called “money bundling”. That is where a corporation collects small donations of up to $2,000 from a large number of its employees and presents it as a package to a public official whose actions it wants to influence. This practice prevents technical violation of the McCain-Feingold cap of $2,000 on individual contributions, even though the good majority of individuals who contribute the money would never do so except for their felt need to please the corporate owners on whom their jobs depend. George Bush made good use of this practice in his presidential runs by awarding the designation of “Bush Pioneers” to those elites who contributed $100,000 and “Bush Rangers” to those who contributed $200,000.

The other fiction that must be maintained is that the money doesn’t influence the actions of the public official in the performance of his/her public duties. For example, the oil and gas industry contributed over $180 million to Congressional candidates since 1990, including many millions for the 2006 election. During this time, the 2005 energy bill gave out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, provided exemptions from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and relaxed regulations against the consolidation of utility companies. In order for that to be legal we’re supposed to believe that the contributions had no role in influencing Congressional votes on the energy bill.

Stealing elections – disguised as free market efficiency and preventing “voter fraud”

In 2000: After George Bush’s brother, the governor of Florida, illegally disenfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans from the presidential election on the grounds that they were close computer matches to felons; after a Republican orchestrated riot in Miami-Dade County stopped the vote counting there; and after various other types of election fraud as well, five Republican Supreme Court “Justices” stopped the manual recount of the votes in Florida on grounds that had no Constitutional justification whatsoever, thereby declaring George W. Bush our 43rd President.

Here is evidence of vote switching fraud in national elections from 2002 to 2006; here is evidence of widespread election fraud in 2004; here is evidence of widespread election fraud in 2006; and we learned earlier this year that the Bush administration fired their federal attorneys for either refusing to investigate non-existent election fraud by Democrats or for pursuing too aggressively cases of election fraud perpetrated by Republicans. In fact, the main purpose behind the whole U.S. attorney firing scandal appears to have been the stealing of elections.

Why all this election fraud with so little investigation or even publicizing by our conservative corporate news media?

With respect to the 2000 election, we were told that the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of African Americans who were close computer matches of felons had to be done in order to stop “voter fraud”. To justify the stopping of the hand counting of votes that would have awarded Al Gore the presidency in 2000, we were told that the hand counting of votes was not reliable. For example, Mary Matalin explained (i.e. lied) on the Chris Matthews show that simply holding a cardboard ballot in one’s hands could produce marks which indicated the presence of an attempted vote.

With regard to the potential for electronic mediated election fraud, most conservative elites say that it is ok to have our votes counted by computers using secret vote counting code, with no means of determining whether or not the vote count is accurate. After all, these are private companies that supply the machines that count our votes. Therefore, it would be interfering with the “free market” to insist that the government conduct investigations or exert controls to ensure that the vote counting is accurate. Furthermore, machines are much more “efficient” at counting votes than are humans – or so goes the logic of the conservative elites.

Propaganda disguised as news

Largely because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which relaxed monopoly restrictions on news media ownership, control of the news media in the United States has become much more concentrated in the hands of smaller and smaller numbers of extremely wealthy people and corporations.

As a result, to a large extent what now passes for “news” or serious “journalism” is instead more akin to propaganda with the purpose of delivering a message favored by the wealthy corporations and individuals who own our news media. Eric Alterman described this phenomenon in a recent article in The Nation. With respect to the so-called “mainstream news media”:

Its members consistently defer to conservative Republican Presidents with a history of deliberate deception, allowing them to define their terms… Its members invite Republican Congressmen, known to be not merely unreliable but delusional, to lie about Democratic Congressmen. When challenged, they reply that they cannot be bothered to discern the truth…

And to compound the problem, George Bush has made sure that the news we receive gets twisted in a variety of ways. In order control the news that Americans receive he has denied our First Amendment rights through the use of so-called First Amendment zones to prevent protesters from being heard, by denying access to journalists who criticize him, by threatening to jail reporters who criticize his administration, and by paying shills (with taxpayer dollars) to write government propaganda disguised as news.

Militant nationalism disguised as “patriotism”

War is a prime method that the Bush administration has used to funnel tens of billions of dollars to its cronies. Antonia Juhzs, in her book, “The Bush Agenda – Invading the World, One Economy at a Time”, explains that war with Iraq provided a bonanza of opportunities for Bush and Cheney’s already wealthy corporate friends and supporters. Juhasz explodes the myth that George Bush didn’t have a well thought out plan for post-conflict Iraq:

There was at least one clear plan – an economic plan – the blueprint for which was ready and in Bush administration hands at least two months prior to the invasion. The 107-page three-year contract between the Bush administration and Bearing Point, Inc. of McLean, Virginia, lays out the president’s economic agenda in Iraq. In return for $250 million, Bearing Point provided “technical assistance” to the U.S. Agency for International Development on the restructuring of the Iraqi economy to meet Bush administration goals…

Bearing Point wrote the framework to restructure Iraq from a state-controlled economy to one that guarantees “free markets, free trade and private property” – among other goals… to recommend changes to laws “that impede private sector development, trade and investment”… undertaking a “mass privatization” of Iraq’s state-owned industries.”

Bearing Point’s Draft Statement of Work, “Stimulating Economic Recovery, Reform and Sustained Growth in Iraq”, was completed on February 21, 2003. While it was not available to the public, I was made aware of the document…

The extent to which the Bearing Point contract sets out to transform the Iraqi economy is astonishing. The company specifies changes in every sector of the Iraqi economy… It even specifies propaganda tools to sell these policies to the Iraqi public.
Thus explains why George Bush and Dick Cheney lied us into war with Iraq. And it’s interesting to note that purposeful ignoring of relevant sections of our National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) played a crucial role not only in the Bush/Cheney plan to justify the Iraq War (by noting “claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium {i.e., yellowcake} in Africa are highly dubious.”), but threatens to do the same for the purpose of providing a justification for war with Iran as well.

It’s hard to understand how anyone could fall for this a second time (or a first time for that matter). Undoubtedly, the fear of being accused of being “unpatriotic”, as Republicans do whenever Democrats question their war motives, provides a major motivation to even Democrats to fall in line behind Bush war plans.

UP IS DOWN AND DOWN IS UP

You can get a pretty good idea of the truth by just translating everything the conservative elites say into the opposite. Yet, by slavishly and shameless sticking to their ridiculous messages, repeated a million times, they manage to convince a lot of people – that’s why I refer to much of their base as “the gullible”.

They have actually convinced a good many people, for example, that it is us liberals who are the “elite”, rather than them. Never mind that Republicans, until recently, had control of all three branches of government plus the news media. Never mind that wealth was one of the strongest predictors of voting for George Bush in 2000 and 2004. Liberals are “elites” because…. well, because conservative elites say we are.

They twist the word “patriotism” to make it mean support for the Bush/Cheney war agenda, or the war agenda of whatever conservative elite happens to be in power at the time. If “patriotism” is a virtue then it means concern for our fellow Americans or for the progressive ideals on which our country was founded. If it means what conservative elites imply it to mean, then there is no virtue attached to it, and it’s just plain evil.

With regard to the “culture of life” that George Bush and other conservative elites so often claim to live by, George Lakoff pretty well nailed that in his book, “Whose Freedom – The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea”:

So-called pro-life conservatives are typically in favor of the death penalty… They favor conservative policies that result in American having the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world… These deaths are a result of conservative policies against prenatal and postnatal care, universal child health insurance…, Medicaid…

If they were really pro-life… they would support programs for pre- and postnatal care, health care for all children, programs to feed and house the hungry and homeless, antipollution programs, and safe food programs. Instead, they let strict father morality dominate over issues of life – that the poor are responsible for their own poverty and that they and their innocent children should suffer for it, and that government should not interfere with corporate profits through public health regulations for clean air and water.
And Lakoff also pretty well nailed their ideology concerning freedom:

The focus of (George Bush’s) presidency is defending and spreading freedom. Yet, progressives see in Bush’s policies not freedom but outrages against freedom. They are indeed outrages against the traditional American ideal of freedom… It is not the American ideal of freedom to invade countries that don’t threaten us, to torture people and defend the practice, to jail people indefinitely without due process, and to spy on our own citizens without warrant.

In short, the success of the whole conservative elitist agenda depends upon making Americans believe that up is down and down is up. Once the smokescreen is cleared, their whole ideology is revealed for what it is – just an excuse to expand their wealth and power and do whatever they want, at the expense of everyone else.
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×2431676

ggdub_camo.jpgAs I read my Monday morning (Oct. 1, 2007) San Jose Mercury News a headline jumped out at me: “Cigarette tax would hurt poor“.

How often do we hear that taxes “hurt” or “punish” one group or another? How often do we hear that taxes are a “burden on the economy” or “cost jobs?” How many politicians talk about providing “tax relief?”

George Lakoff, of the Rockridge Institute writes that this language “frames” taxes as an affliction:

For there to be “relief” there must be an affliction, an afflicted party harmed by the affliction, and a reliever who takes the affliction away and is therefore a hero. And if anybody tries to stop the reliever, he’s a villain wanting the suffering to go on. Add “tax” to the mix and you have a metaphorical frame: Taxation as an affliction, the taxpayer as the afflicted party, the president as the hero, and [people who believe in government] as the villains.

This anti-tax rhetoric results from an anti-government worldview that is pushed by conservatives, in which they portray our government as some kind of enemy of the public. Ronald Reagan is famous for sayings like, “Government is the problem, not the solution” and, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ” The constant use of negative framing like this to describe government and taxes leads regular people to think about their government as a negative, malevolent force. We have been hearing this drumbeat for so long, and with so little pushback to counter these ideas, that many people just accept that this is the way it is.

But are taxes really an affliction? Is government really a negative force in society? Let’s step back from the affliction frame for a second and take a different look at the idea of taxes and government.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is the government? The Constitutions of the United States of America and of the state of California both begin with the words, “We the people.” So “we, the people” are the government. The government is US — you and me! When you think about it this way, it makes the things Ronald Reagan said sound contradictory. How can we, the people be the problem? How can it be scary that we, the people are here to help each other?

What does our government do? Again, back to the basics, our government builds the roads, hires teachers and police and firefighters and judges, and, in the bigger picture, sets up the rules for the society we want. We build roads and the roads allow us to get to the schools, businesses, stores and parks where we work, shop, study and relax. And because we have our schools and jobs and stores and parks, and the rules for the society we want, in theory we are able to live a little better every year. When the government is functioning as it should, these rules enable all of us to pursue happiness and our businesses and people to prosper. And these rules are decided by us through our elections.

In other words, WE decide what our government does and how our money is used to our mutual benefit.

So how can government and taxes be bad if the government is us? Looking at things this way, doesn’t this all mean that taxes are like a savings and investment account where we get back so much more than we put in? And, building on that, since we use the taxes to our mutual benefit aren’t we all better off if there are more taxes rather than less? Doesn’t that just make us all stronger?

What about all the “government bureaucracy” that conservatives complain about? Well, looked at in this new way, the government’s money is our money, so of course we want to be able to account for how it is being spent. That means it has to be tracked every step of the way. We want to know that it is spent honestly and efficiently, and the necessary transparency and the oversight that accomplishes this does require people and procedures.

Conservatives also say government is “inefficient.” But anyone who has worked in a corporation has experienced the alternative. In many corporations a few people at the top decide how things are going to be, and they pass commands down from the top. Anyone who disagrees has the choice to do what they are told or leave. It’s great for the people who are at the very top – but sometimes not so great if you are not.

The processes involved when lots of people get together to decide how to utilize our shared resources can get somewhat cumbersome. Anyone who has ever been in a homeowners association understands this. But in our system of government everyone is involved in making the decisions. This can take longer than it can take in a business, but it also lets all of us have a say.

This is how democracy works. This is the price we pay for letting everyone have a say in how our society is set up. Together we mutually decide how best to build and manage our society, and this can take some time and effort. We decide the best ways to spend our money and we want systems in place so that we know that the money is being used properly.

So we all have a choice. If we want firefighters and police to be there for us when we need them, and if we want good schools and teachers so all of our children have an opportunity to succeed, then we have to pay the necessary taxes to pay for those things. And if we want to continue to have a say in how our government works and what it does, we have to put up with the decision-making process. It’s a part of growing up and taking on the responsibilities.

Or, we go a different way. We can hand those choices and responsibilities over to the “private sector” – the corporations – and let others decide how things are going to be done and how our money and common resources will be used. Thinking about Enron and Katrina and Iraq and our current privatized health care system, I wonder how we can expect that will work out for us?

by Dave Johnson

http://www.seeingtheforest.com/