Uncommon Sense

June 28, 2012

It is About Control and The Controllers Are . . .

In the first blog post of this arc, I tried to establish that “all of the political machinations of recent history are consistent with the past and show one overarching theme: power to control.” In a democracy, if the “masses” aren’t controlled then power isn’t overt and, if discovered, it may be eradicated.

In the second post, I pointed out that the main lever of control is fear and that a constant state of fear allows all kinds of shenanigans to occur that otherwise would seem crazy.

In this post, I will expose the controllers. I have already stated previously that this whole effort had no particular leadership, that it was organic and amorphous. Even so, the forces employed create their own systems of control and of continuing their own existence.

Without further ado I name these controllers: the monied interests of this country (not necessarily citizens). In the past they were often referred to as “the monied powers.” These are not just rich people or very rich people. They are rich people who feel that their wealth means something, something about them. It is an indicator of their superiority, as it were.

Ask yourself the question: are rich people more or less likely to be conservative? Of course, if one has substantial wealth, one can have whatever political leanings one wants, but I would venture that whatever definition one has for substantial wealth, that if you were to survey those people, you would find that the number of conservatives was at least two to three times the number of liberals if not more. Obviously, even before one has substantial wealth, one has to think about protecting it. But the monied interests are not just conservative and fearful for their money.

These people are not wired like you and me (and I am not trying to paint these people as “others” but as extraordinary). Consider the eleven hedge fund managers who, in 2011, made over $1 billion. In another post, I commented that this amounts to over $500,000 of income per normal work hour. Now, in my 35 years of work as a college professor, I made about $2,000,000 of income. All of these guys made that much money in one afternoon. What would you do with that kind of money? If you made $500,000+ per hour, for an entire year, what would you do? Most people of the “middling sort” would probably quit their job and take up something they were passionate about but couldn’t afford to do because it didn’t provide for themselves and their family. That’s what I would have done. That’s what a great many lottery winners do. But the monied interests can’t be satisfied with having “more than enough” money to do anything they wish, because their wealth means something; it says something about them, not to the general public, per se, I don’t think the monied interests care about what the public thinks of them; it’s about what their peers think of them.

There is also a certain amount of gamesmanship involved here. A real “player” can exercise power in accordance with their elevated self image.

What drives these people is not what is uttered by their defenders. They don’t think of themselves as “job creators,” or “captains of industry,” or any of the other idiotic labels that are bandied about. Their wealth means something about them, so to increase it is to increase their own value on some sort of scale only they can see.

So, how is it that these people exert their power? They exert it in ways that increase their own self esteem, that is they exert their influence to expand their wealth, even though they already have more money than they can conceivably spend to support themselves and their families. They support their churches, they support politicians who will do their bidding, and they target their enemies. An old saying is that “one is known by one’s enemies.” Their enemies are any forces arrayed in such a way that they could oppose their will. They loathe labor unions. In the last 100 years, only a few forces have stood up to them and each has been decimated time and again. Labor did it, as did the occasional federal government. The monied interests loathe anything to do with the New Deal as President Roosevelt restructured the federal government to serve the interests of the people more so than just their interests, which all of the prior governments had done. Some go so far as to connect opposition to the will of the monied interests to assassinations, an example of which . . .

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson declared his disdain for the international bankers: “You are a den of vipers. I intend to rout you out, and by the Eternal God I will rout you out. If the people only understood the rank injustice of our money and banking system, there would be a revolution before morning.” There followed an (unsuccessful) assassination attempt on President Jackson’s life. Jackson had told his vice president, Martin Van Buren, “The bank, Mr. Van Buren, is trying to kill me, but I will kill it.” (Andrew Jackson, referring to the Second Bank of the United States to Martin Van Buren)

Such conjectures are impossible to verify, but are at the least believable.

In my next post I will address how they got us to where we are now.

June 26, 2012

(It Is About Control) Fear is the Mind Killer

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:04 pm
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“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total
obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”
(Frank Herbert, “Dune”)

In my previous blog “It Is About Control,” I promised I would address the role of fear being used to control our behavior.

The tools of the controllers are few but powerful. The most powerful is fear. For example, fear has been the primary power behind Christianity. I know, I know, the spirituality people are going to have kittens over this one. Fortunately, most of our people no longer live on the edge of life and death as we have over the vast majority of our history. Unfortunately, we have forgotten what it was like to live that way. (We have forgotten intellectually what it is like to live on the ragged edge of life and death but we haven’t forgotten emotionally.) Spirituality was not a factor in controlling people’s behavior then, and not so much now either. Spirituality meant very little when you spent most of your time worrying where your next meal would come from (or how to pay the rent, or afford the new baby, or, or. . . .) Now fear, that’s a tool.

Consider the fact that the Christian religion grants everybody immortality. Yes, everybody. The only difference for people is whether “eternity” will be spent in Heaven or in Hell. Consider this question: what do you know about Heaven? The answer is: very little. If you count up the words used to describe Heaven in their holy scriptures and related writings and preacher/prophet pronouncements and compare that number with the number of words used to describe Hell, it is no contest. Hell wins hands down. Why? Fear of Hell is a more powerful controlling lever than Lust for Heaven.

Political fear is the major controlling mechanism used to control political behavior. (All they want is your vote; they will take care of the rest.) Most politicians learn to use the lever of fear or they cease to be politicians. Consider the 9-11 incident. Even before we knew what had happened, the words “terror,” “terrorists,” and “terrorism” had been spoken thousands of times on our communication media. I was in California at the time. Was I afraid? No. Politicians use the media to amplify the message of fear. Yes, this was in New York, but it could happen to you in . . . rural California!

But, how great a threat was al-Qaeda? We are talking here about a few hundreds of people with a great deal of wealth behind them. A threat? Yes, possibly. A great threat? No, in no way. Oops, Code Orange, there is a Code Orange Terrorism Threat! Danger! Danger!

There are people steeped in fear who hoard rifles and pistols and ammunition, just in case . . . in case our government becomes tyrannical and we have to take it back by force (a Second Amendment solution, that). Really? A handful of tyranny buffs against the 5th Cavalry? No contest. Fear makes us do strange things.

Our own Pentagon considers the current economic situation a significant threat to the existence of the U.S. Is any attention paid to this? No, because that threat has no leverage and does not work in the direction that is desired . . . by the controllers.

Consider what happened when we elected our first black President. A great many Americans don’t know any Black people. Sure, they have met them and they have worked with them but they haven’t taken the time to really know them. So, black people are “others” to those folks. Psst, Barack Obama isn’t even a U.S. Citizen! Psst, he was born in Kenya! Psst, his birth certificate is a fake. (Message: He is not one of us. He is to be feared.) He was “a socialist;” he “hated white people;” he was “a radical liberal,” “a communist.” All of these outlandish claims (Barack Obama isn’t even a liberal, for Pete’s sake!) were attempts to paint our new President as something “other,” something to be feared. Psst, he and Eric Holder are trying to take away your guns and the fact they haven’t done anything to do that is evidence that we are closer and closer to when they will!

Fear is the mind killer.

Fear is the slayer of rationality.

Have you noticed that political discourse has very little use for facts at the moment?

Facts are needed for rational decision making . . . but not emotional decision making and when decisions are based on emotion, fear trumps most of the rest put together.

So, whenever you feel fearful, ask yourself: “Is that fear real or hypothetical/made up? (“We need to take back our country! From whom?) If it is made up, you have to ask yourself: “Who benefits if I am fearful?”

I will try to answer that question in my next blog.

June 25, 2012

Redistribution of Wealth My Ass!

This is not what I promised to write on next but I have to get something off of my chest. Mitt Romney is going around the country talking to people about the difference between his America, where people get to keep their “hard earned income” and what he characterized as the “entitlement culture” which is based on the “redistribution of wealth.” This speech resonates because it gets people to think about freeloaders. Nobody wants to support freeloaders; I don’t know anybody recommending for that to be so.

But this whole argument is a scam because Romney’s scathing remarks about “government redistributing wealth” are entirely disingenuous. In fact he is flat out lying.

Let me give you just one of a great many facts that are pertinent to this discussion: in 1950, corporations paid $3 in taxes for every $1 paid by an individual. In 2011, corporations paid 22 cents for every dollar paid by an individual.

In other words, corporations paid 75% of corporate and income taxes in 1950, but only 18% now. How is do you think this shift in the tax burden, off of corporations and on to workers, got made? It got made by politicians being bribed to change our government’s tax laws to favor corporations over ordinary folks. And the corporation executives that arranged for that got really big bonuses, which drove up corporate pay for CEOs.

And there are many, many other examples: just one is that hedge fund managers making over a billion dollars a year pay only the very lowest rate (15%) on all of their income while you get that rate on only the first little bit of your income—the reason?—because they don’t actually have to work hard for their money; they never even break a sweat.

So, Mr. Romney is in effect saying “Don’t do what we did and get your government to redistribute the wealth in this county because we are enjoying all of that money very, very much.”

His gall is astonishing.

It Is About Control

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:19 am
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If you have noticed a theme in my recent blog posts I hope it came through loud and clear: all of the political machinations of recent history are consistent with the past and show one overarching theme: power to control.

As we became civilized, we were given a real big hint as to what was in store for us. The normal definition of becoming civilized was that we gave up our hunter-gatherer lifestyle that we had had for, oh, two million years or so and “settled down.” This was fueled by the invention of agriculture. When we first had the idea of planting (or at least tending) crops, we had to stand by them, otherwise predation by animals would consume our crop before we could harvest it. It was a big gamble, but from much experimentation, humans learned to grow crops. The key crop turned out to be grains as they could be dried for storage and future use. Try drying vegetables or fruits just using the sun: a few successes, such as raisins and prunes are possible but most of the rest rot before they dry sufficiently to be preserved.

Stored food became a form of power. Enough stored food and job specializations became possible: occupations such as: warrior, king, priest. They didn’t have to work in the fields to make enough to eat. They just had to convince the others in their group to do that work for them. The warrior fought off predatory animals and members of other tribes intent on stealing their wealth. Kings (princes, potentates, whatever) supplied leadership and showed people paths to the future which were successful. Priests . . . priests protected people from nameless fears and various bogeymen by making sure the sun came up in the morning. Basically they were con men, living off their wits and the sweat of others brows.

But, the privileged few were just that . . . few. How can the few exercise control over the many? This is the major theme of human history over the last 10,000 years or so (since the invention of agriculture and stored food).

One need not look very far to see how this might be so. Consider Christianity. The scriptures of this religion state definitively that the central figure, Jesus, was a Jew, who preached apocalyptically to other Jews, even to forbidding his disciples from preaching to non-Jews. An educated Jew, Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, changed his name to Paul and then sold his version of “Christianity” to non-Jews. His version was wildly at odds to the version held by, oh, Jesus’ surviving family and his disciples, who actually knew Jesus and also wildly different from the version held by most Christians today. This mishmash of a religion was hard to distinguish from a great many other religions but it took root at a turning point in history. Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire decided that Christianity would become a state religion of Rome. His motivation? To control a troublesome group of argumentative citizens who avoided military service amongst other obligations of the Roman public. Had Constantine not see Christianity as a means to control a population, that religion would probably have ended up on the back benches of history.

For those of you who can’t imagine Christianity as a control mechanism, consider that the Jerusalem sect of Christianity, the one led by Jesus’ brother and the rest of his family and disciples (which was pretty much broken by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70) eschewed a hierarchical priesthood. The Romans, on the other hand, knew that a command structure was necessary, so bishops accumulated power and the Bishop of Rome, became the Bishop of Bishops, the Pope. (The word “pope” is equivalent to “papa” which is about as controlling as a patrilineal society can get.)

Consider the Inquisition, the Crusades, the power of Excommunication, and the power exercised by Christian churches over the European and American populaces throughout history and it becomes clearer. The churches are so secure and arrogant in their power that they think they can just shrug off widespread priestly pederasty.

In my next blog I will address the biggest control level that the unseen masters wield: fear.

Oh, the big hint we got when we adopted agriculture: let’s see: we had more tooth decay, had lower body weights, suffered from more diseases, we became less tall, basically we became far less robust, less healthy. The question I will continue to ask is: who benefits? Obviously it was not the working class which benefited from the invention of agriculture.

To Occupy or Not . . . Nothing New Under the Sun

The sentiments of the Occupy Wall Street Movement are easily heard and seen:

“Is it equitable that the 99, rather 999, should suffer for the extravagance or grandeur of one, especially when it is considered that men frequently owe their wealth to the impoverishment of their neighbors?”

“An enormous proportion of property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the rights, and destructive of the common happiness, of mankind; therefore every free state has a right by its laws to discourage the possession of such property.”

Unfortunately these two quotations are from 1776, not 2012. As has been often quoted “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

Equally oft quoted (and misquoted) “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” (Wendell Phillips).

Have were learned our lesson?

The enemies from without will never triumph until the enemies from within have weakened us to the point we become vulnerable. (Who said this?)

June 23, 2012

Sandusky 0, Catholic Church 1

Filed under: Religion,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 9:05 am
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The headlines screamed the verdict: Sandusky Guilty! So, an assistant football coach was finally convicted as a serial rapist of young boys. Therefore, we do have some evidence that our criminal justice system does work, even though it took a decade of criminal complaints to even get the guy to trial.

Buried on the back pages was a story of similar ilk. According to Maryclaire Dale (Associated Press) “Monsignor William Lynn helped the archdiocese keep predators in ministry, and the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches, prosecutors said.

Lynn has been on leave from the church since his arrest last year. He served as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, mostly under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Bevilacqua had the final say on what to do with priests accused of abuse, transferred many of them to new parishes and dressed down anyone who complained, according to testimony. He also ordered the shredding of a 1994 list that warned him that the archdiocese had three diagnosed pedophiles, a dozen confirmed predators and at least 20 more possible abusers in its midst. Prosecutors learned this year that a copy had been stashed in a safe.

Apparently the big fish got away. As usual, some flunky gets taken down while the higher ups go fancy free. And, also apparently, our criminal justice system functions differently when it comes to religious organizations. This priest was conviced of one count of “child endangerment” but acquitted of criminal conspiracy.

Worldwide hundreds of Catholic priests have been exposed as child sex abusers. Few have been brought to trial. Covering up crimes is also a criminal offense, and almost none in the Church Hierarchy have been brought to trial for criminal conspiracy.

This is the same Catholic Church which argues that gays should not be given “special privileges,” such as gay marriage, when all gay people are asking is to be treated equally under the law, not “special,” just “the same.” The organizations with the special privileges are the churches: they have tax exempt status, they are exempt from labor laws, etc. And, apparently they have some sort of immunity from criminal prosecution, even for the most despicable crimes and for covering up such crimes.

So much for “we are all equal under the law.”

June 21, 2012

Rich and Poor: An American Story

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:29 pm
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Quite unlike the historical fantasies we were told in grammar school, the first century of the American Experiment (roughly 1650-1750) was rife with poverty. The difference between the resources of the few rich and the many poor was vast. Plus, those who we might today call the middle class were manipulated to serve the interests of the rich. Far from being a classless society, all yearning to be free, most were yearning for a good meal or a day not full of back breaking labor.

We have entered another era in which the rich are exerting their influence to dominate the “official” activities of this country. Their most obvious influence is through the Supreme Court which has bestowed benefits on corporations far beyond anyone’s imagining prior to the date of the Citizen’s United Decision. That decision basically said that corporations can spend unlimited funds on what are termed “independent expenditures” in political causes.

For example, Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, outspent his opposition in his recent recall election by an estimated ratio of 8 to 1. For every $1 spent trying to unseat him, Walker’s people spent $8. What is interesting about this is that Walker raised 60% of his funds from people who did not live in the State of Wisconsin. I can do the math, this means that Walker’s out-of-state backers outspent Walker’s opposition by 5 to 1.

Is this not corruption . . . the corruption of money, supplied by monied interests? The Governor of a State going outside of his state to secure funds to thwart the will of the people of his state. This is not corruption?

It isn’t if you ask the Supreme Court: “For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” (Majority Opinion of Justice Kennedy in the Citizen’s United case).

The sheer audacity of the opinion, which was not based on the actual case but a reframing of it by the majority on the court, leads me to recommend that either we need a senility test for Justices, or a way for the people to recall them.

The rich are back in the saddle riding herd on us “middling types” once again. It seems time for another revolution, as we are back to “taxation without representation”—we pay the taxes but they have bought all of our representatives.

If a stronger argument is needed for “tax the rich” policies, I would simply point to what they have done with the wealth they have amassed. Not much good and a great deal of harm.

June 20, 2012

Why the Founding Fathers Get So Much Republican Love

I have been puzzled as to why Republican politicians and conservative Supreme Court Judges harken back to “what the Founding Fathers intended” so often but I think I have finally figured it out.

Our “Founding Fathers” (the term wasn’t used during the revolutionary period) were universally . . . men who were unwilling to give any rights to, let’s see: women, Indians, blacks, indentured servants, and “free people” who owned no property. They were almost universally slave holders. (One of my favorites, James Madison (because he recorded so much of the proceedings of the Continental Congress), is quoted as having gushed that he could make $257 on every Negroe slave per year, only having to spend $12-13 dollars in upkeep.) They enshrined slaveholder’s rights into the Constitution. They were generally snobbish toward common people and, at least those who survived the War, were shocked that so many “middling men” (merchants and their ilk) were involving themselves in government. They thought the government should be guided by the steady hand of the better educated aristocratic upper classes.

So, it is entirely logical that Republicans would like to see the U.S. once again become a country where only land owners could vote, certainly not women and minorities. And, the government should be run by those of wealth because only they have the means to see everything clearly. Certainly they don’t have to be scurrying around for mere wages.

Slavery would not be needed, but certainly the Minimum Wage laws need to be repealed along with all those burdensome regulations, like child labor laws, the 40 hour work week, overtime laws, OSHA regulations, health and safety laws, anti-discrimination in employment laws, all laws empowering unions, etc. Markets need to be unfettered to function properly. Obviously tax breaks for corporations and other special considerations are not considered “regulatory” or as being “fetters.”

It makes emminently good sense that Republicans would invoke the spirits of the Founding Fathers and the concept of small government, now when us middling types are wanting more and more from government. Don’t you think?

June 19, 2012

Are We a Fascist Country?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:40 am
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I have yet to repost an article, but there is a first time for everything. I received a blogpost from thejumbledmind (http://thejumbledmind.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/warning-signs-of-facism/) that I found disturbing, so I did a little research and found the article by Lawrence W. Britt below. Mr. Britt’s article was first published in Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Since I hate taking anything without paying for it, I subscribed to Free Inquiry for the priviledge of posting Mr. Britt’s article. I know that doesn’t put any money in Mr. Britt’s pocket, but it was the closest I could come to doing that. (As an editor, protecting author’s rights is second nature.)

Many of these points are debatable but then what isn’t? Think of this as a game plan for Fox News if you must. SPR

Fascism Anyone?
by Laurence W. Britt

For the purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power. Further, all these regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible.

Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Does any of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.

June 17, 2012

Business is King! (Really)

I have been watching a Link TV presentation by journalist and author Chris Hedges who was making his point that in the contest between “the people” and “the corporations” for American Democracy, the business interests have, in essence, won. He gave as one example the State of West Virginia, a state wholly owned by coal interests. Coal mine owners have decided that digging tunnels to remove underground coal is way too much trouble, so they are just dynamiting the top 400 feet or so of Appalachian mountains so they can scoop up the coal in broad daylight. In so doing, they are violating Federal laws by the bushel, destroying whole river systems simply by bulldozing pulverized mountaintops into them, and destroying whole towns. So, where are the lawmakers during all of this? Paid or threatened to keep quiet. Where are the law enforcers? Paid or threatened to keep quiet. Where are the unions? Emasculated. Where are the liberal organizations who protest such things? Gone.

But what can one find in the common spaces in rural West Virginia? TVs playing Fox News and only Fox News as a public service (I can hear the drums from here.), residents with eyes glazed, and with no interest in taking on “the man.” In fact, West Virginia is a solid Republican state with millions voting against their own interests.

I would add to this dismal picture that for a Presidential contest we have in this corner President Obama, who killed Bin Laden, got us out of Iraq as promised, passed a Health Care for all law, etc., and in that corner we have an empty suit, Mitt Romney, who has already exclaimed that “He is not worried about the poor” and “He wasn’t running for President to raise taxes on millionaires” and Obamacare is anathema because it is almost identical to the plan he got passed in Massachusetts. And it is a dead heat between the two! Huh?

How is it that so many vote against their own interests? Mr. Hedges paints a picture of what he sees and it goes back nearly a century, to the re-election of President Woodrow Wilson. In his campaign of 1916, Wilson used the slogan: “He kept us out of war.” But in 1917, we were marching off to Europe to engage in WWI. What happened? The “standard” view was that the Germans were sinking U.S. ships willy-nilly and we had to put a stop to that. Hedges view was different. According to him, the collapse of the Eastern front due to the Russian Revolution meant that Germany could move as many as 100 divisions of troops to the western front, almost guaranteeing a win for Germany. But Wall Street had loaned England and France a great deal of money and if they were to lose the war, Wall Street wouldn’t be paid back. In addition, since Wilson had vehemently urged people to “stay neutral” and not get involved in the incessant wars of Europe (a common theme since the Revolution) he had a PR problem, but public relations hadn’t been invented yet. So, with the help of “propaganda” experts (modern propaganda methods hadn’t yet been invented but it was high time) Wilson got support for the war. Well, that, and a great deal of high-handedness. Wilson was staunchly pro-labor but all of a sudden if a union wasn’t pro war, they were on the outs. Similarly, all of the anti-war organizations (which tended to be liberal, socialist, or communist) were vigorously suppressed.

After the war (and Wall Street secured their promissory notes), the “Fear the Hun” campaign became the “Fear the Reds” campaign. Sure the Russians were establishing a democracy (government by the people) but it wasn’t a capitalist democracy, so it didn’t count (to the extent we invaded Soviet Russia in the early 1900’s, did you know). Anti-communist favor was fanned for decades and I can remember as a boy people using the phrase “He’s a communist” as a generic slur. Wilson’s propaganda experts ended up on Madison Avenue building the foundations for modern marketing and mass communications strategies.

After “Fear the Reds” came “Fear the Nazis” and “Fear the Chinese Reds” and “Fear the Domino Principle” and . . . and we have had an emotional context of constant fear ever since. And, how exactly does propaganda work? Through the manipulation of emotions, the most powerful being fear. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and China becoming our nation’s banker, “Fear the Communists” doesn’t quite hold water any more. Mitt Romney labeled Russia as our “greatest geo-political enemy” and almost got laughed out of the race.

So, what is the “fear train’s” next stop? Well, if you have been paying attention, since the 1980’s it has been “Fear the Liberal.” When President Obama was elected president, and even before, he was labeled a “dangerous liberal” and when that didn’t create enough fear he was labeled a “socialist.” (“Keep your government’s hands off my Medicare, you Socialist!”) Of course, President Obama isn’t any kind of socialist, he isn’t even any kind of liberal, but there are few alive today who would notice that.

In the early 20th Century, there were liberal groups in proliferation, even socialist and communist groups had power. Today, can you find any of these groups? The NAACP of Martin Luther King is today toothless. The unions have been defanged and defeated. And, if you look at history at all, all of the major democratizing aspects of American society were begun as popular movements: the Revolution itself, the Anti-slavery movement, the Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, Social Security was begun due to a private movement, and on and on. And, the organizations responsible for such democratizing movements are going if not gone. They have succumbed to propaganda supported by big business until today all of our politicians owe their positions to corporate power, the Supreme Court has succumbed to corporate power, the news media have been corporatized, Wall Street is running itself, and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has sealed the deal.

Business interest have won, at least for a long, long time.

Interestingly there was no mastermind behind this whole affair. It was done with money and memes. Corporations just followed their own interests and like a river being moved by dropping a few stones in a creek, diverting its path, so has this come into being. Now, of course, the dropped stones have been replaced by bulldozed mountaintops. More recently, since the 1970’s, things became a bit more organized with the financing of “conservative” think tanks which could organize the memes better, but it was all in all an uncoordinated effort.

Did it have to be this way? Absolutely not. Look to our northern neighbor. Canada, has universal health care. Why? Because its unions fought for it for everybody. Why did they do that? Because they weren’t under continuous attack and defending just themselves (Canada still has about 30+% union jobs as once we did). Canada’s recession was caused by our drop in demand, not because their financial system collapsed as did ours. Why? Canada didn’t succumb to Wall Street efforts to drop the firewall between public banks and private investment backs.

So, is there anything we can do? If history is any guide there is only one thing to do! And the only organization doing it all effectively is the Occupy Wall Street movement: protest, put electoral pressure on your representatives, and don’t listen to corporate propaganda, the most current form being “political ads.”

Protest or die poor! You can start by checking out the Link TV presentation by Chris Hedges and go from there.

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