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Who is the Real Terrorist?

March 25th, 2016 No comments

drone-killed-children

Radio host Paul Harvey was known for his trademark storytelling that seemed to lead to certain conclusions, but which he ended with a punchline that revealed a very different, often inspirational, reality. He would end his presentation with his trademark phrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.” The strategy of encouraging his listeners to reconsider facts hearkens to a time when people were not so certain that they didn’t need to question, as so many are now.

We are saddened but I think few are shocked by the most recent terrorist bombings in Brussels. Rather than causing us to question how anyone could perpetrate such brutality against innocent civilians, the event rather confirms what we already believe: that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims hate the West and are committed to bring about an end to Western civilization through mindless violence.

This narrative can be, and has been called into question. There is little evidence that the operations of ISIS or al-Qaeda or any other so-called “Islamic” terrorist organization represents the consensus of the nearly one-quarter of the world population that identifies as Muslim. In no other case would we take the actions of three or four, or in this case even three or four thousand, criminals to be representative of 1.6 billion people.

Be that as it may the war narrative is fixed in the Western imagination. What gains little attention is the issue of causation. If Islam is at war with the West, why? George Bush, declaring his “War on Terrorism” before the US Congress explained it this way: “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”[1] It’s an easy conclusion, jingoistic enough to be eagerly swallowed by a gullible population in shock and mourning. Another facile way to settle the question is to just assume that Muslims and Christians have always hated each other, pointing to such historical events as the Ottoman conquests in Europe and the Crusades. But that doesn’t really address causation. My guess is that if you ask most people why Muslims hate us you are likely to get at best a fuzzy, half-formed opinion in response.

The real answer is less ideological and more immediate. It is true that Western liberalism is seen as an affront to the traditional values of Islam. That really shouldn’t come as a great surprise when we note that the spread of liberalism accompanied Western imperialism, which filled colonized minds with the ideals of the Enlightenment while it kept their bodies in subjugation and deprived them of both self-determination and resources. Anti-colonial nationalists such as Mohandas Gandhi, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Ho Chi Minh and others, all non-Muslims, also decried negative aspects of Western individualism and materialism. While Westerners, Americans in particular, promote hedonism, selfishness, and greed as indicators of the “good life,” people in more traditional cultures are shocked and offended by Western licentiousness. In truth, the ideals of Western Capitalism are at odds with traditional Christian ideas of morality as well, as Pope Francis has so eloquently affirmed throughout his papacy.

With this ideological difference as a backdrop we can turn our attention to what is seen in the Middle East and Central Asia and elsewhere as the greater and more immediate concern: that the United States and its Western allies can and do rain death upon innocent civilians on an almost daily basis. Western governments project deadly force throughout the region with impunity. The ostensible justification is couched in the (false) narrative of the war being waged against the West. Governments are careful not to characterize that war as one between either religions or civilizations, but both Western populations and the targets of their governments do see the conflict in just that way.

Imagine your reaction if a foreign government was able to fly drones over your neighborhood and kill people seemingly at random. It may be true that the intended targets are criminals, but more often than not it is the innocent who suffer. A Washington Times article from 2015 reported that American drone strikes “caused the deaths of unintended targets nearly nine out of ten times.”[2] Imagine that your own government was powerless to stop it. Would your response be to try to reason with the perpetrators, or would you lash out in anger? We may hope our reaction would be the former, but our human nature would dictate the latter.

Muslims may not like our values nor the arrogance with which we try to impose them, but their real anger is driven by real injustice. If someone can push a button and kill your kids by remote control without provocation, without warning, and without consequence who is the real terrorist?

And now you know the rest of the story.

[1] George Bush, “Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001, accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_092001.html.

[2] Andrew Blake, “Obama-Led Drone Strikes Kill Innocents 90% of the Time: Report,” Washington Times, October 15, 2015, accessed March 25, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/oct/15/90-of-people-killed-by-us-drone-strikes-in-afghani/.

Opinion Doesn’t Trump Fact, & Lies Are Killing America

March 23rd, 2016 No comments

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altercation-in-the-houseThe [American] Revolution of 1800

Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States after a contentious election in 1800 that narrowly avoided resolution by military action and the abrupt demise of constitutional government. Political passions were particularly high. Jefferson and his great antagonist Alexander Hamilton, both of whom served in George Washington’s first cabinet, had very different ideas about the meaning of the Revolution. Those who agreed with Hamilton’s vision, called Federalists, still held the reins of power as the election of 1800 approached. Those who agreed with Jefferson, Democratic-Republicans, believed the Federalists had betrayed the spirit of the Revolution and were on the road to creating a monarchy. Jefferson had resigned from the government and was agitating for another revolution. Hamilton and the Federalists viewed the Democratic-Republicans as threats to the nation. Both sides believed that power in the hands of the other group would be the death of the nation. The stakes seemed enormous.

During the campaign leading up to the election supporters of both sides hurled vicious media attacks at the other side’s candidate. In the spirit of the adversarial system basic to British politics, writers on both sides stretched the truth about themselves and their opposition to the breaking point. In fact much of the discourse that led up to the election was untrue. Using tactics we in the 21st century are painfully familiar with, the candidates and their supporters preyed on the fears and prejudices of the electorate. “Truth” was whatever the press proclaimed it to be, and if it was twisted to the point it could neither be confirmed nor even reasonably believed, so much the better. As Voltaire noted, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Few people know about the election of 1800 and its influence not only on US history but world history, which is symptomatic of Americans’ general lack of regard for factual knowledge in general and history in particular. For most people history is whatever they learned in school before college and whatever they last heard on the television or talk radio or internetkooks.com. When the election was resolved, Jefferson in his first inaugural address extolled the system of government that had (barely) worked in the election and even acknowledged a place for the falsehoods that had made the ordeal so fractious. He called for unity. “We are all Republicans,” he said, “we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”[1]

It is a remarkable statement, expressing a belief that “error of opinion” may be tolerated because “reason is left free to combat it.” It calls forth an optimism that, to use language much less eloquent than Jefferson’s, lies can’t hurt the commonwealth as long as the truth is readily available.

Now, I do not believe that the truth was any more readily apparent in 1800 than it is today. In fact, quite the opposite. If anything, we do not suffer from a dearth of information, but from information overload. For any question there are answers from almost every angle, and it matters little whether the answers conform to anything akin to fact. For every event there are as many variations in telling as there are tellers, with the same lack of devotion to facts. Yet, even given this, it takes only rudimentary skills and minimal effort to learn what is more likely to be true than not. The problem is not that reason is not left free to combat lies, it seems to be more that people prefer to construct their own imagined realities.

Again, I don’t think this is particularly characteristic of Americans, but when coupled with characteristic American anti-intellectualism, it becomes a cancer on the body politic. The idea that all people have an equal say in the way the nation should be run gives rise to the notion that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, whether based on serious consideration and research, or what I just read this morning on Facebook. We learned from the X Files that “the truth is out there,” but a large portion of today’s voters appear gleefully content to leave it “out there” if it doesn’t conform to whatever twisted vision of reality one wants to believe.

I am daily appalled and frightened to notice the preposterous things people put forward as certified facts. I am frightened because where the desire to know the truth is absent, even scorned, voters become participants in the destruction of their own liberty. American liberties have been fast disappearing since 9/11 and in the current election cycle fear mongering politicians have millions of angry people clamoring for even more restrictions. Keeping the people’s anger focused against each other based on false divisions keeps intact a system geared to feed more and more to the unquenchable hunger of corporate criminals and their puppets in government.

At a time when people in the United States were at least as polarized as today, Jefferson called for unity. We are all Republicans, he said. We are all Federalists. He believed, and I still believe, that we are united by our common love of liberty. We do not always agree on what that liberty entails or how it may best be preserved, but a commitment to truth, understanding, and civil discourse is the only path forward. The alternative is civil war. Jesus said (in quite a different context) “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

But you must put forth the effort to know the truth before you can be freed by it.

 

[1] Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address” (speech, Capitol, Washington, DC, March 4, 1801), accessed March 23, 2016, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jefinau1.asp.

Time For These Two Democrats To Go

March 23rd, 2016 No comments

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emmanuel-wasserman-schultz-composite-1024x576

March 22, 2016 by and

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com.

There are two Democrats whose resignation from office right now would do their party and country a service.

Their disappearance might also help Hillary Clinton convince skeptical Democrats that her nomination, if it happens, is about the future, and not about resurrecting and ratifying the worst aspects of the first Clinton reign when she and her husband rarely met a donor to whom they wouldn’t try to auction a sleepover in the Lincoln Bedroom.

In fact, while we’re at it, and if Secretary Clinton really wants us to believe she’s no creature of the corporate and Wall Street money machine — despite more than $44 million in contributions from the financial industry since 2000 and her $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, not to mention several million more paid by other business interests for an hour or two of her time — she should pick up the gauntlet herself and publicly call for the departure of these two, although they are among her nearest and dearest. And we don’t mean Bill and Chelsea.

No, she should come right out and ask for the resignations of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee Chair — and Florida congresswoman — Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In one masterstroke, she could separate herself from two of the most prominent of all corporate Democratic elitists.

Each is a Clinton disciple and devotee, each has profited mightily from the association and each represents all that is wrong with a Democratic Party that in the pursuit of money from rich donors and powerful corporations has abandoned those it once so proudly represented — working men and women.

Rahm Emanuel first came to prominence as head of the finance committee for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, browbeating ever-increasing amounts of money out of fat cat donors, and following Clinton into the White House as a senior adviser attuned to the wishes and profits of organized wealth. Few pushed harder for NAFTA, a treaty that would cost a million or more working people their livelihood, or for the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” crime bill which Clinton later admitted was a mistake. After alienating most of Washington with his arrogance and bluster Emanuel left in 1998 and went into investment banking in Chicago, making more than $16 million in less than three years.

He came back to Washington as a three-term Illinois congressman, chaired the fundraising Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (calling on his Wall Street sources to get in on the gravy by electing so-called New Democrats over New Deal Democrats), and soon was back in the White House as Barack Obama’s chief of staff. There, he infamously told a strategy meeting of liberal groups and administration types that the liberals were “retarded” for planning to run attack ads against conservative Democrats resisting Obamacare. Classy. Writer Jane Hamsher described him as tough guy wannabe but really “a brown nose for power ready to rumble on behalf of the status quo.”

And now he’s mayor of Chicago, reelected last April for a second term, but, as historian Rick Pearlstein wrote in The New Yorker a couple of months ago, “Chicagoans — and Democrats nationally — are suffering buyer’s remorse.”

Remember that shocking dashcam video of a black 17-year-old named Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago policeman while he was walking away? Of course you do; who can forget it? Remember, too, that for 400 days the police kept the existence of the video secret and did nothing about the shooting. Meanwhile, the City of Chicago paid five million dollars to McDonald’s family, who at that point had not filed a lawsuit. But despite the large sum of money coughed up by his own administration, Emanuel claims he never saw the video. If that’s true, he was guilty of dreadful mismanagement; if he did know, he’s guilty of far worse.

Only after his re-election was the cover-up of the murder revealed. In Pearlstein’s words, “Given that he surely would not have been reelected had any of this come out before the balloting, a recent poll showed that only 17 percent of Chicagoans believe him. And a majority of Chicagoans now think he should resign.”

The Laquan McDonald murder is just one of the scandals on Emanuel’s watch: crime and abuse by police run rampant, the city’s public schools are a disaster, the transit system’s a mess. Yet while Emanuel has devoted little of his schedule to meeting with community leaders, Pearlstein reminds us that he did, however, “spend enormous blocks of time with the rich businessmen, including Republicans, who had showered him with cash…” Now many of them have deserted him, including one of his richest Republican — yes, Republican — contributors, multimillionaire Bruce Rauner, who became governor of Illinois.

Emanuel should go — and Hillary Clinton should say so. But while Senator Bernie Sanders, campaigning during the Illinois primary, said he would not seek and would not accept the mayor’s endorsement, with Secretary Clinton it’s business as usual. Emanuel has held fundraisers for her campaign since 2014 so chances are she’ll stay mum, take the money and run.

As for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she embodies the tactics that have eroded the ability of Democrats to once again be the party of the working class. As Democratic National Committee chair she has opened the floodgates for Big Money, brought lobbyists into the inner circle and oiled all the moving parts of the revolving door that twirls between government service and cushy jobs in the world of corporate influence.

She has played games with the party’s voter database, been accused of restricting the number of Democratic candidate debates and scheduling them at odd days and times to favor Hillary Clinton, and recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper that super delegates — strongly establishment and pro-Clinton — are necessary at the party’s convention so deserving incumbent officials and party leaders don’t have to run for delegate slots “against grassroots activists.” Let that sink in, but hold your nose against the aroma of entitlement.

But here’s just about the worst of it. Rep. Wasserman Schultz — the people’s representative, right? — has aligned herself with corporate interests out to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s effort to create national standards for the payday-lending industry, a business that in particular targets the poor. Payday loans, as Yuka Hayashi writes at The Wall Street Journal, “are quick credits of a few hundred dollars, with effective annual interest rates ranging between 300% and 500%. Loans are due in a lump sum on the borrower’s next payday, a structure that often sends people into cycles of debt by forcing them to take out new loans to repay the old ones.”

According to the nonpartisan Americans for Financial Reform, this tail-chasing cycle of “turned” loans to pay off previous loans makes up about 76 percent of the payday loan business. The Pew Charitable Trust found that in Wasserman Schultz’s home state, the average payday loan customer takes out nine such loans a year, which usually has them mired in debt for about half a year.

No wonder radio host and financial guru Dave Ramsey describes the payday loan business, which loans $38.5 billion a year, as “scum-sucking, bottom-feeding predatory people who have no moral restraint.” The very people, it must be acknowledged, who now have an ally in the chair of the Democratic National Committee, who has so engineered the rules of the current Democratic primary process so as to virtually assure her unlimited access to a Clinton White House where she can walk in freely to press the case for her, ahem, “scum-sucking, bottom-feeding predatory” donors and pals.

So imagine now the Democratic National Convention this July. Presiding over it will be, yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tribune for a party of incumbency, money and crony capitalism. Follow her as she makes the rounds of private parties where zillionaire donors, lobbyists and consultants transact the real business of politics. Watch as she and Hizzoner Rahm Emanuel of Chicago greet and embrace. Then imagine those thousands of young people outside the convention hall who have arrived from long months of campaigning earnestly for reform of the party they see as an instrument of their future, as well as members of Black Lives Matter and other people of color for whom Rahm Emanuel is the incarnation of deceit and oppression.

This is why Emanuel and Wasserman Schultz must go. To millions, they are enablers of the one percent, perpetuators of the Washington mentality that the rest of the country has grown to hate. What a message such servants of plutocracy send: Democrats — a bridge to the past.

It’s not over until we say it’s over!

March 19th, 2016 No comments

It’s Over Gandalf. We Need to Unite Behind Saruman to Save Middle Earth from Sauron!

I’ve been on Team Gandalf ever since he first visited the Shire. It was so nice to see a wizard who was truly a wizard of the people. The kind of wizard who wouldn’t even throw you in a dungeon for smoking a little Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby.

Trump vs. Obama: Dealing With Protesters

March 15th, 2016 No comments

BuzzFeed News | Facebook

Trump vs. Obama: Dealing With Protesters

Hillary. Feel the Bern. For Her.

March 13th, 2016 No comments

Hilarious SNL Hillary ad. “I’m whoever you want me to be guys.”

Which of the evils is really the lesser?

March 12th, 2016 No comments

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reverse-course

I am a Bernie supporter for the very simple reason that he has a long record of moral and political integrity, which is almost unheard of in American politics. He doesn’t adjust his sails to every change in the winds of popular opinion, and he’s not afraid to voice an unpopular opinion – witness his address to the students at Liberty University. You won’t see Hillary Clinton doing that. I don’t agree with everything he agrees with but I do agree with his underlying theme of ensuring the dignity of every person. I doubt many can say they are in 100% agreement with any candidate at any level.

In regards to the question of whether one should vote for the “lesser of two evils” I am informed by the following observation by Thoreau in his work Civil Disobedience (1849):

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

This statement along with the larger message of the piece – that cooperating with a government that commits evil is itself evil – once convinced me that if I had nothing to vote for it was immoral to vote at all, and I didn’t for a long time. I have since changed my mind about that but the experience helped me to realize that politics and voting are really the least of my obligations as a man and as a citizen. My obligation involves action. If I want to see justice, it will not be enough to vote for someone who I think will be more just than the other candidate, I must go out and work for justice myself. I think too many of us place too much weight on politics and too little on our call to be agents of change in the world.

Who Do You Serve?

March 11th, 2016 No comments

It wasn’t the capitalists who created middle-class prosperity, it was popular progressive government forcing the capitalists to reluctantly share the wealth with those who created it. If you want to see more content like this please like my Facebook page Dispatches From Exile.

cokkies

Socialism has never fired the American imagination in the same way it has economically distressed people in other parts of the world. I think the biggest reason for this is summed up in an observation by Canadian author Ronald Wright, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The people of the United States, the first nation in the world to implement an economic system based on free market capitalism, have from the beginning been inspired by a hope that the promise of capitalist theory is true.

What promise? Adam Smith in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776,  theorized that in an economy where everyone is free to pursue their own enlightened self-interest, unhindered by government interference (laissez-faire), entrepreneurs would create wealth for themselves, everyone else, and the nation. I’m not sure if Smith was thinking this when he wrote, but his theory about hard work and wealth agreed with the ideas of John Locke, who wrote in his Second Treatise on Civil Government (1689) that only those who acquired property through the efforts of their own labor were entitled to it. Locke also proposed that it was property owners who instituted civil government for the purpose of protecting their property, and thus property owners who should control the government. These ideas together, foundations of the American republic, create a perspective on the acquisition of wealth built on the proposition that everyone has an equal chance to gain wealth and that the only barrier to acquiring great wealth is the individual’s lack of willingness to work for it. In a very real way this creates a sense that those who are able to achieve wealth are morally superior to those who are not. The wealthy are so because they worked hard and earned it; the poor are poor because they are lazy. That’s the American Way.

But capitalism doesn’t work that way and it never has. Socialism, communism, positivism, and other economic and political proposals of the nineteenth century came into being as reactions to the grim consequences of free market capitalism. The reality of unrestrained capitalism is that a tiny group of individuals can become extremely wealthy, but on the labor and livelihood of large numbers of people left with little more than enough to barely survive, in miserable conditions. Even before Marx and Engels published their Manifesto in 1848 reformers in industrializing European countries were decrying the brutality of industrial capitalism. As the rest of the world strove to industrialize or fell victim to industrial imperialism, the suffering of the masses became an international issue. In Europe and elsewhere these conditions would eventually lead to revolutions and unrest driven by socialist ideas. But not in America.

It is telling that after the Civil War, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, at the time when wealth inequality was at its highest level and industrial capitalism was triumphant in its covetous brutality, a popular theme in literature was represented in the “rags to riches” tales of Horatio Alger. These stories gave voice to the common American belief that with hard work, moral uprightness, and maybe a little luck, anyone can achieve prosperity. Starting with the publication of Ragged Dick in 1867 Alger wrote and published as many as 100 rags to riches novels all with the same theme. They were wildly popular well into the twentieth century. Their popularity is indicative of the widespread American attitude that opportunity might be found around any corner. Socialism, with its focus on the welfare of the collective, seems to present an obstacle to individual achievement.

Some will argue that the rise of industrial capitalism created the middle class. In the pre-modern era there were essentially two classes: the wealthy elite and the peasants. But in industrialized countries a new class that was neither extremely wealthy nor extremely poor – a middle class – arose. The material standard of living of this middle class was far superior to that of the peasants or the industrial proletariat. This seems to offer proof that free market capitalism benefits not only the rich but people in general. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” so the saying goes. But in fact what created this middle class was progressive reform: restrictions and controls placed on laissez-faire capitalism. The time when the middle class was strongest in the United States was when trade unions were also their strongest and the government was more friendly to labor than capital. It wasn’t the capitalists who created middle-class prosperity, it was popular progressive government forcing the capitalists to reluctantly share the wealth with those who created it.

There isn’t any better demonstration of this than the massive redistribution of wealth to an increasingly tiny group of obscenely wealthy individuals and the near disappearance of the American middle class in the last three or four decades, since government began removing restrictions and controls on capitalists and suppressing trade unions. These policies and outcomes – the deregulation of capital and the disappearance of the middle class – are not unrelated.

Today we see American politics driven by the anger of the disappearing middle class who feel their chances at prosperity slipping away. They seek someone on the one hand to blame and on the other to fix it. Many are convinced that out of control government is to blame, and they are right. But the narrative that American prosperity is being taken from those who create it and given to the indolent is patently false. American prosperity is being accumulated by a tiny wealthy elite. The false narrative of the bloodsucking socialist welfare state successfully redirects the righteous anger of those who are harmed by this system against others who are in the same boat, rather than against those who are foreclosing their opportunities.

Now, there is nothing new about this. It is characteristic of the industrial age. Frederick Engels wrote about the concept of “false consciousness” as a capitalist strategy to convince workers that the free market system represented their interests, even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. This false sense of solidarity with the wealthy among certain groups of workers caused them to act in ways that were detrimental to their own well-being. They came to believe in and expended effort to defend and perpetuate a system that was keeping them from advancing their material interests. Various distractions have been put forward to foster this behavior: divisions based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any one of a hundred other baseless fears fueled by a capitalist controlled press. As long as those being exploited could blame their troubles on someone other than the capitalists, the capitalist system could continue unmolested.

That is the economic system we have come to equate in our national mythology with liberty and democracy, even though in effect it decreases individual opportunities and keeps power out of the hands of the people. The system as it is does not benefit the people. Twenty individuals in the United States control more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population. It’s not the Democrats, the Republicans, the “liberals”, people of different races, ethnicities, or religions that keep this system in place or are causing the disappearance of American prosperity. It is politicians and media outlets bought and paid for by the wealthy, doing their bidding by removing government protections of the people.

So yes, the middle class is correct to blame their distress on out of control government. The government is out of the control of the people, controlled by those who concentrate the vast majority of wealth in the hands of only a few. The solution isn’t going to be to elect a member of the billionaire class who promises to protect the people. Billionaires always promise to protect the people. But they rarely do. The solution is not to take control from one group of billionaires and give it back to them under a different guise. It is for the people to retake control of we the people’s government.

Think about your political ideas. What are you opposed to? What makes you angry? Are you opposed to the government offering support to people who have been unable to achieve prosperity on their own? Are you angry that providing help in the form of refuge, health care and education takes money out of your pocket and gives it to those who refuse to work, keeping you from advancing? Do you believe that the greatest threat to your prosperity is “socialism”?

The term “socialism” can be applied to a number of different things ranging from theoretical Marxism to Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship. It is nearly as slippery a term as democracy. Nearly all western capitalist countries implement policies that can be labelled “socialist,” including the United States. Socialism almost never represents a theory of government except to the extent that government is employed to create and maintain social (not wealth) equality – the very thing industrial capitalism prevents. Ultimately the aim of socialism is to serve society as a whole by ensuring that everyone pays their fair share. It would be ludicrous to suggest that those who control the vast majority of wealth in America are paying their fair share when the governments they have bought and paid for have given them loopholes and tax breaks that allow them to avoid paying, in many cases, anything. And what they can’t avoid paying by controlling government they deposit in offshore accounts so their assets are beyond reach.

The socialism that American progressives espouse is the socialism that removes the government from the grip of the capitalists and puts it in the hands of the people. It is the socialism of the Progressive era that gave America the 40 hour work week, child labor laws, regulation of out of control capital, and women’s suffrage. It is not communist. It is not even anti-capitalist. It simply seeks to ensure that you enjoy the fruit of your own labor, rather than allowing others to take it and to enjoy it.

Think about whose interests you are serving when you ridicule those who want to make real the promise of American democracy by ensuring the dignity of each citizen (you). Are you really acting in your interest? And educate yourself on what those who are fighting for justice really seek. You may find it is very different from the Facebook memes you cling to so tenaciously.

Jesus and the Two Party System

March 3rd, 2016 No comments

Adams v Jefferson

As a student of US history I learned that at least since the Washington administration there have been two competing visions of America. These visions can be understood by considering the formation of what is called the “First Party System” pitting the ideas and followers of Alexander Hamilton against those of Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton’s vision of the United States was a commercial and industrial empire that would rival Britain in wealth and power. Jefferson’s was of a vast landscape of liberty, occupied by prosperous yeoman farmers enjoying freedom from the political and economic difficulties accompanying Europe’s emergence into modernity.[1] Both of these men and their allies strove to harness the new national government to their purposes.

Washington himself had a very different idea about the purposes of the national government. He believed that the national government should not work for only a faction of the population, but for all Americans. That is why he appointed men to his cabinet with such divergent views as Hamilton and Jefferson. But Washington was exceptional in many ways, and his warning against the dangers of factionalism and party politics in his Farewell Address went unheeded by his countrymen.[2]

Washington’s warning that the “spirit of party” might bring about the destruction of the fledgling republic almost came true in the first presidential election held after he left office. Throughout the Washington administration and continuing even more intensely during the Adams administration the disagreements between Hamilton and Jefferson were hardened. The animosities were so great that Jefferson, who by a quirk of the Constitution in its original iteration had become Vice President to his rival the Federalist John Adams, resigned his post and returned to Monticello to consider how to bring about the end of his political foes’ influence. In his mind the revolution had been betrayed and the republic endangered by the excesses and monarchical leanings of the Federalists and needed to be rescued. When the election of 1800 approached Jefferson decided to run against Adams for the presidency.

Jefferson had been elevated to the Vice Presidency in the administration of his rivals because the constitution at that time gave the office to whoever obtained the second most electors in the Electoral College. To prevent a similar circumstance in 1800 Jefferson conspired with New Yorker Aaron Burr to run simultaneously, under the assumption that Burr would receive enough electoral votes to be named Vice President. Then the Executive would be controlled by a single faction: Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, and Federalist policies could be vanquished.

The election resulted in a deadlock in the Electoral College, which sent the election to the House of Representatives. The House was controlled by Federalists, who did not want to see either Jefferson or Burr become President. A deadlock in voting in the house resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, leaving none of the other candidates (including Adams) with a chance of winning. The stalemate in the House nearly led to the fall of the government, as Federalists steadfastly refused to elect either Jefferson or Burr, and the Democratic-Republican Governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia threatened to call up the militia to install Jefferson as President by force.

Hamilton was the power behind the scenes. He detested Jefferson but he hated Burr even more (he would eventually be killed by him in a duel), and he realized the importance of maintaining unity among the States, which were not yet fully committed to union. Hamilton realized that without union his dream of a great commercial empire to rival Britain was unlikely. So he cut a deal with Jefferson, that he would persuade the House to elect Jefferson President, and that Jefferson would not dismantle the fiscal policies Hamilton had championed, that had pulled the country from its crippling Revolutionary War debt. Jefferson would deny for the rest of his life that he had made a compromise, but he did leave intact the Federalist financial policies, and there is enough evidence to indicate that he did negotiate to leave little doubt of it.[3]

In my estimation this election and its outcome was one of the most momentous events in world history. It had two enormous consequences. The first was that it established trust in the political system contained in the Constitution. The peaceful transfer of administration from one faction to a rival faction was unheard of. Subsequent revolutions in France and Latin America would be unable to duplicate it and would suffer decades of civil unrest. But that stability that resulted allowed the United States to avoid become factionalized and succumbing to internal and external threats and to prosper and grow. Trust in the system would only be broken when a divided Republic found its politicians unable to compromise as had Hamilton and Jefferson, and that failure resulted in Civil War. But by 1860 there was a real established union to defend. There was not in 1800.

The other consequence was that the rivalry between the two visions of America became institutionalized in the two party system. Where in other countries similar rivalries resulted in bloodshed, in the United States the appeal of the two factions was confined to the electoral system and their weapons to the ballot box. This is not to deny that there has been plenty of scandal there, but the effect was to perpetually postpone the final decision about what the United States was to be. The subject of American domestic politics and foreign policy ever since has been the tension between these two visions.

In effect, the two irreconcilable positions became the basis for American politics. US history shows periods when one side or the other prevailed. When the ideas of one were in the minority, they were content to agitate and await their next turn at bat in the next election. What bound the two rival factions into one people was faith in the system. Both sides could experience setbacks and not have to concede defeat. This isn’t really compromise, but over the years it has tended to prevent the United States from straying too far toward one side or the other.

Now we are astonished by the state of our national politics. Americans have lost faith in the institutions of government. Many fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of duly elected officials. The reins of government are held by Wall Street oligarchs. One faction in the national government has sworn not to compromise with the other, leading to strains on the system of checks and balances. Whole populations feel alienated from their government and from each other. Numbers of people have begun to see defiance of the national government as patriotism. Some have suggested that true patriotism lies in the destruction of the Republic.

The problem here isn’t really that there is no spirit of compromise. Americans have never been very good at compromise. The problem is that more and more people have lost faith in the entire system of our government based on the Constitution, the system that has throughout America’s history fostered the sense that even if we vehemently disagree we are all still American. Rather than seeing each other as fellow countrymen we are dividing into rival tribes, even to the point of fraternal violence.

Today I read in my morning meditation about Jesus casting out demons, and some in the crowd accusing him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub. Jesus responded to those accusers “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” (Lk. 11:17 NABRE) As I read this I though how appropriate to describe the current state of our nation.

The demon we must exorcise is our alienation from each other. As Americans we are not called to agree with each other or even to like each other. But we are called to respect each other as fellow citizens, and to respect the laws and institutions that make us so.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same … manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes….[4]

[1] By “emergence into modernity” I mean the rise of industrial capitalism and its accompanying effects such as the creation of an exploited working class and the race by European powers to colonize the resources of every corner of the globe.

[2] “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.” George Washington, “Washington’s Farewell Address 1796,” The Avalon Project, 2008, accessed March 3, 2016,http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp.

[3] See Ferling, John E. Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. Pivotal Moments in American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

[4] Washington Farewell Address.

What have you done for the least of mine?

March 1st, 2016 No comments

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[Source: http://theweek.com/cartoons/607027/political-cartoon-pope-decision-2016]

The coming again of Christ is his coming in judgment. The question that will sound through the heavens and the earth will be the question that we always tend to be deaf to. Our lives as we live them seem like lives that anticipate questions that will never be asked. It seems as if we are getting ourselves ready for the question ‘How much did you earn during your lifetime?’ or ‘How many friends did you make?’ or ‘How much progress did you make in your career?’… Were any of these to be the question Christ will ask when he comes again in glory, many of us in North America could approach the judgment day with great confidence.

But nobody is going to hear any of these questions. The question we all are going to face is the question we are least prepared for. It is the question: ‘What have you done for the least of mine?’

It is the question of the just judge who in that question reveals to us that making peace and working for justice can never be separated. As long as there are people who are less than we, in whatever way or form, the question of that last judgment will be with us… This question makes the coming of Christ an ever-present event. It challenges us to look at our world…and to wonder if we have not fallen into the temptation to think that peace can be separated from justice.  – Henri Nouwen, CHRIST OF THE AMERICAS

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