Conservatism

Imagine

apollo11Reading time – 2 minutes 31 seconds  .  .  .

It was 1961 when President Kennedy proposed – challenged us, really – to send a man to the moon and bring him safely back to Earth by the end of the decade. It was a daring choice. At the time we didn’t have propulsion technology for the job. Not just the propulsion itself, the rocket engines, but the technology to construct the massive engines that would be needed. We didn’t have the metallurgy or computing capability that would be required and didn’t even know how we would provide food for astronauts on a lunar journey. We just had a bunch of people with slide rules, most doing things that had nothing to do with NASA and who weren’t prepared for such an enormous, complicated and dangerous endeavor.

And on July 20, 1969 Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong put their footprints on the dust of the moon, as Michael Collins circled above in the command module. Imagine that.

Now we are faced with a far bigger challenge and we don’t have a choice on this one. The climate of the Earth is heating rapidly, perhaps as part of a natural cycle, but this time it is exaggerated because of human activity, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels. The heating of the planet is making each successive year the hottest on record and it is already creating disasters of storms and drought. Sarah Palin, most of the Republican presidential candidates and the rest of the ostrich community may refuse to see that, but, as John Adams was fond of saying, facts are stubborn things. Things are getting worse regardless of whether the ostriches acknowledge that fact. Further, doing nothing about global warming is inherently self-defeating.

And that is a major driver of why Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) is promoting a bill to slash carbon emissions in California 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, based on a 1990 emission levels baseline. He is being opposed by Republicans and some moderate Democrats in the California legislature who represent economically suffering districts in central California and who fear the impact on their communities and perhaps on their political careers.

He is also opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association, which is airing fear mongering ads on television projecting awful things that they say will happen if this legislation is passed. All of this is detailed in a New York Times article which captures well the mindset of this organization, which at its core is designed to protect the profit of its fossil fuel selling member companies. The president of the association, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, is quoted:

“I can’t figure out any other way to reach a 50% reduction in that [time] frame without doing some pretty dramatic measures. If it isn’t gas rationing, what is it?”

“We think there should be a lot more detail and it should be articulated pretty clearly about how one thinks they are going to be about this super-aggressive mandate.”

And that’s it. Ms. Reheis-Boyd can’t figure it out. It’s simply beyond her; therefore, the legislators of California should scuttle Brown’s proposal. And she needs all the details before anything is done, so nothing should be done. It’s all about her and her limited abilities, so make this legislation go away, she tells us.

Compare that to President Kennedy’s challenge to America, when nobody had a clue how to do what he proposed, yet we proceeded anyway, figured it out and succeeded.

Here’s a piece of Human Being 101: Change always involves moving from what is known to some unknown future where we don’t know what the consequences may be. Change feels scary and is always resisted.

Here’s a piece of Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.

Here’s a piece of observation: When a group of 10 people are presented with a new idea, 8 will immediately explain all the reasons why it cannot be done. One will sit quietly with a deer in the headlights face. After all the naysayers have calmed down a little, the 10th will offer an idea for how to start.

We Americans are fond of seeing ourselves as can-do and proudly announce to ourselves and to the world our American exceptionalism. We have done wondrous things that have benefited not only ourselves, but the entire world and we continue to have the natural and human resources to do so much more. What is puzzling is how people with a big public voice can extol the wonders of our American exceptionalism and at the same time tell us how we can’t do anything about global warming. It is further puzzling that our fossil fuel industries, having such enormous resources, are doing nothing to create the new energy technologies that will be required when we run out of oil within the next 100 years. Where is the exceptionalism in that?

It is time to stop resisting change that is inevitable and to imagine a healthy, sustainable energy superstructure. It is time to imagine a planet that can sustain the billions of us who don’t want to die in a climate catastrophe.

To Ms. Reheis-Boyd, Sarah Palin and all the others with myopic vision or who willfully blind themselves: Stop resisting and instead, imagine.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Spirit

Reading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

Religion is all about rules laid down by people who lived a long time ago, rules commonly called dogma. Those people said (or somebody else said) that the words of their dogma were given to them by God or inspired by God. It is an act of faith to believe what cannot be proven, like the holiness of those written words. Billions of people make that leap of faith willingly. That is their religion.

Spirituality is different. It has no rules. There is no dogma and it requires no faith. It is simply about how we live our lives and the energy and passion we put into the world. Whether we’re living in the tiny cracks of life or on the mountain tops, we are all spiritual. The only question is whether we recognize it and the effect of our spirit on ourselves and on others.

And that is what has me troubled these days, as we see that about 30% of people who self-identify as Republicans say that they support Donald Trump. He lashes out in mean spirited ways and declares his judgment of doom on those he doesn’t like. He has simplistic and misleading answers for any question and everything is metaphorically punctuated with a middle finger. The more he does his crazy, angry dance, the more Republicans seem to like him. Compounding that are the other candidates who carpet bomb the country with their negativity, their mean attacks and their outright lies. Each of them has followers, too.

What is that saying about the spirit of all these followers? Not their religion. I’m talking about the spirit in them. It’s looking pretty mean and angry, judgmental and vindictive.

Spirit is about how we live our lives. We demonstrate our spirit in that way and it appears that a lot of Americans are living in very dark ways. That’s an evil spirit that affects all of us.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Advice From Marvin

Marvin GayeReading time – 26 seconds  .  .  .

This is amazingly good. The current Quinnipiac Poll shows that only 28% of Americans approve the Iran nuclear deal, while 57% oppose it. That means that 85% of Americans have read the 159 page, very technical document and have considered its provisions and the likely consequences. They have conversed with people of both similar and differing views and formed their well thought out opinions on this issue of critical importance to our country. Hooray for our well-informed and involved public!

What’s that you say? You didn’t read the agreement? And you don’t so much as know of anyone who did? And neither does anyone else? If that’s true, how come 85% of us have such clear, firm views about it?

The answer, of course, is simple: We’ve been fed a fire hydrant flow of misinformation by political blatherers who created their opposition long before they knew a thing about the provisions of the agreement.They have formed organizations with fear stoking names, like Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran and American Security Initiative in order to bend your brain to their liking, which is to dislike with mindless consistency everything proposed by this administration. Once again we are being fed Big Lie propaganda designed for the benefit of a few rich guys and with no concern for the welfare of the country.

Marvin Gaye gave us some good advice for this situation in his song Heard It Through The Grapevine:

“People say believe half of what you see,

some or none of what you hear.”

When you’re listening to political mouthpieces, I recommend following Marvin’s direction.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Gaseous

Cassius Clay, aka Muhammed Ali

Cassius Clay, aka Muhammed Ali

Reading time – 109 seconds  .  .  .

Cassius Clay renamed himself Muhammed Ali shortly after becoming the boxing heavyweight champion of the world in 1964. He was known for his speed, his agility and for the prolific and colorful nature of his speech. He was dubbed “Gaseous Cassius” by the press, but the public enjoyed his remarkable presentation. And he was black, a Muslim and he refused to participate in the establishment’s war, so he gave the haters many opportunities to show off their skills. Remarkably, he never returned their hatred. During his public decades he was always a class act, regardless of one’s views of his bombast.

Sadly and destructively, our politics hasn’t had that same class for a long time. Perhaps ’twas ever thus, but it has been much more in evidence for many years, certainly since the Republicans decided that scorched earth was their best strategy. They have made fear, hatred and sheer meanness their tools to achieve power and have consistently appealed to the worst in us.

Doubt that? Donald Trump is all about demonizing, hating and meanness. Amazingly,  one-quarter of Republican voters now favor him to be their presidential candidate for 2016 and he is the personification of exactly the fear, hate and meanness that Republicans have been practicing for decades. He is also the poster boy for the fact-less spraying of of idiotic slurs.

Other examples: George W. Bush knocked John McCain out of the Republican primaries in 2000 by questioning his patriotism, just as he did with war hero and triple amputee, former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA). He did the same to former senator (D-MA), now Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

And it’s not just Trump and Bush who have appealed to fear, hate and meanness. It’s the birthers and the fools now criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, the stupid and fact-devoid attacks on the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the dozens of substance-free congressional hearings and investigations into the Benghazi incident. It’s former Representative Darryl Issa (R-CA) refusing to allow any woman to testify about reproductive rights and former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who continues to this day his baseless WMD accusation, as well as former national security adviser Condoleeza Rice and her imaginary mushroom cloud.

Gasseous

Gaseous

All of that and more is at the heart of Republican strategy. Read Timothy Egan’s column in the July 26 New York Times article, Trump Is the Poison His Party Concocted. The only difference for Republicans now is that their own poison strategy is being used by Trump on them. Oddly, they don’t seem to like that.

That Trump is gaseous is self-evident. That he and his Republican cohorts do it without class is equally self-evident.

Blog Bonus: Here is a special quote for our politicians who haven’t grown beyond the narrow-minded notions they had when they were 19 years old:

“Power-lust is a weed that grows only in the vacant lots of an abandoned mind.”

                                                                                                                Ayn Rand

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Education

Iran DealReading time – 53 seconds  .  .  .

Robert Dold (R-IL) represents the 10th congressional district of Illinois and it is quite obvious that he not only took a speed reading course, but he may have invented a hyper-eyeball version of it. I say that because he delivered a blistering rejection of the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a 159-page document, on the floor of the House of Representatives mere minutes after it was released. As you know from reading this column, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) verbally blasted the agreement on Morning Joe on MSNBC immediately after it was announced. How do these guys absorb so much complex material instantaneously?

Of course, the answer is that they don’t. What they do is to prepare in advance carefully worded, vacuous attacks for the purpose of their own self-interest and especially in order to ensure the goal named by the 15 Republicans who met the night President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 – that he would be a one-term president. Oh, wait – that didn’t turn out too well for them. Regardless, the tactic of opposing anything President Obama supports, the strategy decided by the 15, is still in play, the needs and best interests of America be damned.

The point is that a lot of Rs are slinging partisan red meat into the cages of their “base.” I love that term, as though it forms some kind of foundation. Its true identity is a bunch of knuckle-dragging angry guys who believed Ronald Reagan when he told them that government is the cause of the problems in their lives and who fondly remember good old days which actually never happened.

Don’t bother yourself with the noise of the hyperbolic rhetoric of bloviating politicians. Instead, listen to this podcast from the Wilson Center and consider what a group of well-informed and thoughtful people have to say about the Iran deal. If you’re feeling ambitious, read the deal yourself and make up your own mind. Free yourself from Washington bumper sticker talking points and doomsday idiocy crafted for election season.

This is all about your own education about one of the most important international agreements of the past 50 years, one destined to have critical long term impact for the United States and the world.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Understanding Charleston and That Flag

Confederate Battle FlagReading time – 4 seconds  .  .  .

If you want to understand Charleston, the Confederate battle flag and U.S. history, read this.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Stop Pretending It’s Not Happening

Can you identify this?

Can you identify this?

Reading time – well worth it  .  .  . 

Something’s going on. You can feel it even if you can’t name it. Things are changing from what they used to be or should be or could be to what you don’t want them to be.

We humans aren’t very good at noticing small changes. Incremental stuff just doesn’t reach our consciousness until it accumulates into something big and we become aware of it well after the fact.

And that’s what is happening to America. There have been lots of changes over the past 35 years and especially since 9/11. Now, if you take a good look, eyes wide open, you won’t recognize your country.

Tom Englehardt wrote a stunning piece in his blog www.TomDispatch.com in an effort to make some sense of what you already sense but as yet have no words to describe. His piece is reprinted below with permission. Pay special attention to his last sentence: “Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

READ THE POST BELOW. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. THAT’S WHY THESE SENTENCES ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Print Tom’s brilliant essay, grab your second cup o’ joe and settle into your reading chair for 15 minutes. Some things that haven’t made sense will suddenly begin to take on a solid form. Just be forewarned that you may not like it.

Thanks to JL for pointing us to Tom’s clarity.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt: Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

The New American Order 
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People” 
By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of de-legitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to de-legitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counter terrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Reprinted by permission

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Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Your Freedom

Reading time – 49 seconds  .  .  . 

For our absolutists  .  .  .

You’re an absolutist and you believe fervently in individual liberty. You don’ need no stinking gub-mint messing with your life.

It seems that we have a national epidemic of “You can’t tell ME what to do!” causing uncontrolled inflammation of amygdalas (reptile brains) across America. We have gun owners going hyperbolic, declaring something testosterony about their guns and cold, dead hands and making it clear that the gub-mint can’t have their guns or tell them what to do. Never mind that President Obama, who has been vilified by Second Amendment enthusiasts since 2008, has never proposed anything that would limit lawful gun ownership. Obamacare has been lambasted for its intrusion into people’s lives, even as it doesn’t intrude. And recently Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) announced in the name of freedom that it is government over-reach to require food industry workers to wash their hands after using the bathroom. That seems to suggest a food workers motto, “Je suis ick.” And bon appétit to everyone at the lunch counter.

Those are just a few examples of the continuing drumbeat of imagined intrusions upon freedom and a response of, “You can’t tell ME what to do!”

As you, absolutist, go explosively red in the face and cross-eyed demanding your complete freedom, it’s critical that you understand that the harsh truth is that your complete freedom stops at the tip of my nose. Go ahead and own your Glock – it just better not affect me or mine. Go ahead and refuse to buy healthcare insurance. Just don’t come whining to me about the bill you get from the emergency room, because that’s on you, buddy. Pay up. I suggest that you spend a little less time demanding what is not yours – absolute freedom – and a lot more time honoring your responsibilities.

Like getting your kids vaccinated both to protect them and so they don’t infect my kids. Yes, you have a right to stupidly leave your kids at risk. What you don’t have a right to do is to put my kids at risk. It’s that tip of the nose thing. Try being responsible this time instead of having another temper tantrum about your absolute freedom.

There. Is that absolute enough for the absolutists?

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Breaking News

lightningReading time – 74 seconds  .  .  . 

In what some are calling a bold move, President Obama held a press conference today and declared, “Political silly season is officially over. No more of it. Not on my watch.” Then he grounded all Republican extremists in Congress, mandating that they report to detention hall every day from 4:00 – 7:00PM. “That should help to reduce the number of dumb things they say on cable news while standing in the Rotuda, acting as though they are saying something intelligent,” President Obama explained.

He further said that the detentions are to be enforced in perpetuity or until an detention inmate writes one thousand times, “I will never again promote extremist propaganda, not even on Fox News, and I will say ‘I’m sorry’ to every American I’ve offended.” After that, if they go back to their former ways, the President said he will invoke his executive authority to re-start the entire process, but that he will double the penalty to two thousand written apologies and two consecutive lifetime sentences in detention hall.

Interviewed by Sean Hannity on his Fox News program, Sarah Palin was wild-eyed and speaking at a pitch audible only to dogs. She said that she was devastated by this news, exclaiming, “Who will I play with after school?”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) looked particularly vexed after hearing the President’s announcement. Fresh from the recent Iowa “Look At Me” event sponsored by self-promoter Steve “calves like cantaloupes” King (R-IA), Cruz made the letter Z with each of his eyebrows in perfect mirror image of one another and announced that he was going to tell on the President. Said  Cruz,”The President is gonna be sorry.”

Question by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if his objection to the President’s actions was just the standard Republican opposition to everything the President favors or if it was possibly racially motivated, Cruz responded, “This is America and we believe all presidents should be born in this country, not in Kenya.” Blitzer apparently thought the segment was over, but was heard to say, “Huh?”

After lurching for his bottle of water, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reached over and patted Cruz on the back, congratulating him for his comment, all the while staying in front of the camera. Rubio cautioned that he is, ”  .  .  .  not a scientist, but if 97% of political scientists say that political stupid stuff is man made and is on the rise, there might be something to that.” He cautioned, though, that, “Such things require more study but we shouldn’t divert federal funds into that sinkhole while the needs of large banks are going wanting.” He also said, “Diplomatic recognition of Cuba was  .  .  .  ” His voice trailed off and became nearly inaudible as he was looking over his shoulder and saw that President Obama was watching him and mouthing the words, “I see everything you do.”

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Hogs and Bread

RJoni Ernsteading time – 51 seconds

Freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) delivered one of five Republican responses to the President’s State of the Union address on January 20, 2015, and it’s a good thing she did. Mitch McConnell told us that she was the perfect person to deliver the establishment Republican rebuttal and, clearly, he was right.

Bear in mind that this is the same woman who campaigned vigorously to win her Senate seat and convinced Iowans that she has the necessary experience for that job by reminding them that she grew up castrating hogs. See the connection?

Okay, no you don’t because there isn’t one. It appears that she was trying to show herself as “just plain folks,” someone Iowans, overwhelmingly farmers and ranchers, could relate to. Don’t you want someone like to you represent you in the Senate? Of course you do, and so do Iowans. So they sent the Iowa Castrater-in-Chief to Washington, bringing along all the legislative and leadership abilities her well established personal skills imply.

In her perfect-person-to-deliver-the-Republican-rebuttal function, she continued to help us to relate to her by telling us that in growing up she only had one good pair of shoes and that Mom would tie bread wrappers around her shoes and ankles during wet weather to protect her footwear. That leaves us with an unusual visual of her in the hog pen while wearing bread wrappers.

After that she told us that the Keystone Pipeline project is a jobs bill – she actually called it “the Keystone jobs bill” – never mentioning that it is an oil pipeline proposal designed solely to benefit a Canadian oil company. She failed to acknowledge that the plan is for all the oil to be exported from our Gulf Coast, so it will never provide for American energy needs. She also failed to mention that at most there would only be 35 permanent jobs created by this “jobs bill.”Wonder Bread

That’s what you get when the perfect person to deliver the establishment Republican rebuttal is a person whose qualifications are that she castrated hogs and wore bread wrappers on her feet.

For more on Sen. Ernst, read Andy Borowitz’s satire here. (Thanks to FL for pointing me to Borowitz.)

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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