patriotism

Far Too Much Love

Reading time – 64 seconds  .  .  .

Concord, New Hampsire, June 26, 2015

Seventeen announced and presumptive Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 election, all campaigning in New Hampshire today, hastily called a press conference in response to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage throughout America. Surrounded by the presidential wannabees, Mike Huckabee spoke from prepared text, saying,

“I’m speaking for all of us when I say that this is a very sad day for America. Everyone knows that there is far too much love in America and this airhead ruling by the Supreme Court that makes same sex marriage legal in all 50 states threatens to expand what already has flooded our land. And the story is even worse than that.

“We all agree that it’s sad that those nine people were gunned down in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, but now some southern states are talking about getting rid of the Confederate battle flag. That flag was created and hoisted up the capitol flag posts as honorable resistance to the menace to the United States made by the civil rights movement and in honor of the Confederate dead in the War of Northern Aggression. We were just keeping their memories alive and it had nothing to do with slavery. No, really. The very suggestion of allowing full citizenship of those people now smacks of – what? – maybe respect? It’s just too much.

“Now we may be on the brink of getting ready to think about possibly preparing to have a tentative conversation about immigration – immigrants! – as though there might be room in this country for those people. That would be a horrendous abdication of our centuries old superiority over other people. How can we tolerate dropping that and allowing some liberal wave to drown our red, white and blue conservative bones?

“Perhaps it is time for term limits for our Supreme Court justices. It might even be time to begin impeachment proceedings against a few of them.

“I say again, there is far too much love in America and we are on a slippery slope toward destruction of what we hold dear. It is time to stand strong against this invasion, this attack on our establishment.”

With that the presidential candidates left the room, refusing to take reporters’ questions, although Donald Trump was heard to say that this issue is “huge.” In reply, Rick Perry admitted that he didn’t know what the issue is.

Note: The above is satire. However, Huckabee actually did lose it following the Supreme Court decision. Read about his brainless rejection of the First Amendment here.

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Addendum

Writing for the majority in the same sex marriage case (officially Obergefell v. Hodges right side of the SCOTUS home page under Recent Decisions), here are the closing comments of Justice Anthony Kennedy:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the  highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

“The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

“It is so ordered.”

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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.

Butch

"Rooster04 adjusted" by User:Fir0002 - Uploaded by Didactohedron. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rooster04_adjusted.jpg#/media/File:Rooster04_adjusted.jpg

Photo credit: “Rooster04 adjusted” by User:Fir0002 – Uploaded by Didactohedron. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rooster04_adjusted.jpg#/media/File:Rooster04_adjusted.jpg

Reading time – 41 seconds  .  .  .

Thanks to reader JL for forwarding this cautionary tale.

Sarah was in the fertilized egg business. She had several hundred young pullets and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs. She kept records and any rooster not performing was replaced and then went into the soup pot.

This took a lot of time, so she bought some tiny bells and attached them to her roosters. Each bell had a different tone, so she could tell from a distance which rooster was performing. Now, she could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.

Sarah’s favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen, but this morning she noticed old Butch’s bell hadn’t rung at all. When she went to investigate, she saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.

To Sarah’s amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn’t ring. He’d sneak up on a pullet, do his job, and walk on to the next one.

Sarah was so proud of old Butch that she entered him in the Fouritch Competition and he became an instantaneous sensation among the judges. The result was the judges not only awarded old Butch the “No Bell Piece Prize,” they also awarded him the “Pulletsurprise” as well.

Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most coveted awards by sneaking up on the unsuspecting populace and screwing them when they weren’t paying attention?

Vote carefully in the next election. You can’t always hear the bells.

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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.

Extreme Agreement

Don't turn this over to corporate lawyers

Don’t turn this over to corporate lawyers

Reading time – 61 take-action seconds  .  .  .

It’s almost midnight on the Doomsday Clock to sell out our children  .  .  .

There are lots of reasons that people who have seen the ugly fine print of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) don’t like them. Here is a short list:

  1. Millions more American jobs will be sent overseas, just as happened with NAFTA.
  2. American wages and benefits will be cut, our standard of living will continue to fall and tens of thousands more Americans will be dumped into poverty.
  3. The environment will be irreparably harmed by inadequate or nonexistent regulation in third world countries.
  4. These deals will help big business and will harm American small businesses where 80% of Americans work.
  5. The Fast Track provision gives this president and every president too much power.

That’s why Americans overwhelmingly oppose these deals. Truly, though, as important as all of those are, they pale in comparison to this:

Adopting these trade deals will relinquish American sovereignty to a panel of three corporate lawyer/lobbyists.

Yes, really. Don’t take my word for it. Have a look at the examination of this issue by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker magazine. Perhaps you think this is just a lefty issue, so have a look a what a slew of righties have to say about this. And I can’t believe that I’m offering a link to what Phyllis Schlaffly has to say, but here it is. They all dislike these deals and for the same reason.

Okay, the righties also hate them just because President Obama is in favor of them. But they don’t like the idea of relinquishing American sovereignty any more than you do. So, even the extremes agree. Still, there’s all that big corporate money twisting the arms of legislators to approve these deals.

So the issue is getting our legislators to wake up and do what they were sent to Washington to do – represent you and me. And they will be voting again on Fast Track. That’s why you must

CONTACT YOUR SENATORS TODAY

Do it here:           http://www.senate.gov/

Just enter your state in the top right corner of the web page, then click GO. Then click the Contact line for each of your senators.

In Illinois, call:

Sen. Dick Durbin   (202) 224-2152
Sen. Mark Kirk      (202) 224-2854

Tell them or copy/past into your email:

I am a constituent and I want you to vote NO on all votes related to the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, including Fast Track. Defeat these bad deals for Americans.

Email or call now. And forward this blog to your righty and lefty buddies so that they take action, too.

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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.

Some Get That It’s Hotter

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Reading time – 53 seconds  .  .  .

Galileo Galilei published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632 in order to defend his heliocentric theory of the universe, his theory being based upon his scientific findings. For his exacting efforts he found himself tried and convicted by the Roman Inquisition for being “vehemently suspect of heresy.” He spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest because of his reprehensible notion that the Earth is not the center of the universe.

It took over 400 years – into the 1950s – for the Catholic Church to admit that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution just might be a useful and credible scientific notion. Pope Paul VI rejected all forms of contraception except abstinence (Q: What do you call couples who  use the rhythm method of birth control? A: Parents). Pope Benedict XVI told us in 2009 that condoms would make the HIV/AIDS scourge worse, not better.

The history of the Catholic Church accepting and embracing advances in knowledge is rather spotty.

But now Pope Francis, the new guy, has a very different view of science, even proposing the crazy notion that our planet actually is warming and that we humans are making things worse. Go ahead and read his Encyclical Letter and you just might be amazed that it was written by a pope. Apparently, this pope doesn’t have his head stuck in the understandings of 2,000 years ago and really gets that we’ve learned a few things along the way.

Wouldn’t it be just great if our climate denying legislators had as much sense?

Worse, if they do have as much sense but continue to act as though they don’t, what is motivating that behavior? Another way to ask the question is, “Who benefits from their baseless denials?” As always, follow the money.

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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 blog 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.

President Obama’s Nefarious Ad Campaign

TPP-Fast-Track-Congress-400x209Reading time – 21 seconds  .  .  .

President Obama is pushing a million dollar ad campaign to twist the arms of Dems in the House to vote to fast-track the Trans Pacific Partnership (Read: Global Rule by Corporations).

Just get this: it’s a  BAD DEAL FOR AMERICANS, because it will:

  1. Kill millions more American jobs, just like NAFTA did. (Remember that “sucking sound” of jobs going to Mexico? They’ve moved on since then, but they’re still gone from America.)
  2. Allow the Banksters to continue to be unregulated, too big to fail and a threat to our entire nation and to your savings.
  3. CEDE OUR NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY TO A PANEL OF INTERNATIONAL CORPORATE LOBBYISTS.

The list of bad things TPP will do  is so long and so bad that there’s no way to detail it all here. But just the three things listed above ought to boil your blood. So stop being a passive victim of organized governmental crime and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

The House votes Friday, June 12, 2015 on Fast Track. Call your representative and demand a NO vote. It’s easy:

Call (202) 224-3121

and ask to speak to your congressperson – they’ll ask for your zip code.

or go to

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

and enter your zip code to find the phone number of your congressperson. Then dial your phone.

Tell the nice staffer who answers the phone (they really are pleasant and easy to talk to) that:

  1. You are a constituent
  2. You want your congressperson to VOTE NO ON FAST TRACK.

DO THIS RIGHT NOW. STOP READING THIS BLOG AND DIAL YOUR PHONE OR CLICK ON THE LINK. REALLY, NOW.

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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.

Fear Mongering

President George W. Bush at the Cincinnati Museum Terminal, October 7, 2002, claiming Iraq had WMDs and Saddam was in partnership with al Qaeda
President George W. Bush at the Cincinnati Museum Terminal, October 7, 2002, falsely claiming Iraq had WMDs and that Saddam Hussein was in partnership with al Qaeda

Note: On Friday there was an error in the link from the email notification of this blog to the blog itself. Apologies for the mistake and thanks to all who sent a heads-up that the link didn’t work. JA

Reading time – 17 seconds  .  .  .

I’ve been wondering and worrying for many years about the enormous rise in worldwide fear and anger. The world seems so much more polarized today, more us-versus-them. What is driving that?

Today I got a piece of the answer via this essay on the Daily Kos. The short answer is that for years our government and political mouthpieces manipulated us by means of fear. They made sure we stayed scared by flashing in our faces the idiotic color-coded threat levels, by telling us to line our windows with duct tape and by warning us to scan airplanes for bad guys. And they did it with outright lies.

Fear mongering was and still is being used as a propaganda tool. And don’t think for a minute that you’re somehow immune to this sick use of power, because it doesn’t work that way.Goebbels

Just click through and read the essay. Do it now and you will understand. And you won’t like what you read because it is so – what’s the word? – Goebbels.

Be sure to give some thought to exactly who benefits from the fear mongering. It isn’t you.

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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.

Absolutely

Finger pointingReading time – 91 seconds  .  .  . 

To the best of my ability to understand them, our far right religious conservatives believe:

  1. That they got it right – about God, about religion, about right and wrong, good and bad.
  2. That anyone who disagrees with point #1 is wrong and eternally damned, because there’s no heaven for them.
  3. That this should be a Christian nation, but not because of what demographics indicate. Rather, they think this should be an expressly Christian America ruled by biblical laws – a theocracy – because of what they think God has said to them.
  4. That following their notion of biblical laws is both required and it is self-justification for pretty much anything.
  5. That compromise in any way from the above is unholy and, therefore, intolerable.

Now, substitute Islam for Christianity, the Qur’an for the Bible and make a geographic adjustment. Somebody please tell me what the difference is between these two groups of fundamentalist, absolutist, arrogant people. I say “arrogant” because these absolutists seem to be saying, “I’m not just right; I’m divinely right.” That’s a lot of turf grabbing for a mere mortal.

Setting aside the Islamist fundamentalists for the moment, explain to me how to deal with the Christian absolutists, because they are making a lot of noise and politicians are getting elected by sucking up to them. Then the politicians are incrementally distorting America to create the theocracy the absolutists want, as recently happened in Indiana. That’s why we need to know how to deal with these people, because this isn’t supposed to be a theocracy, regardless of what Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum  and Sen. Ted Cruz want you to believe. Check with Thomas Jefferson and his pals about that and you’ll see that it’s true.

As for the Islamist fundamentalists, we have the same intractability problem with them. Their world view is steeped in centuries of absolutism, making it a brain contortion to deal with them for those from a Western culture. It’s complicated, frustrating work and every step of every path is fraught with cultural impasses and Through The Looking Glass contradictions.

If you’d like to explore how difficult this is, read Mark Bowden’s remarkable bookGuests of the Ayatollah  Guests of the Ayatollah, which chronicles the Iran hostage crisis. This book was recently recommended to me personally by one of the former hostages whom I met while delivering a leadership workshop. It is a major insight into a critical piece of recent American history. The double benefit of reading this book is getting a peek into the tent of militant Islamic culture in the MIddle-East and its apparent house-of-mirrors world view. Indeed, it provides some understanding of what we will be dealing with for a very long time and with a great deal at stake.

Back once more to our American far right religious conservatives, we need to deal with the challenge they bring, because if this is to remain America, it’s critical that we both stop and roll back the absolutists’ spread of theocracy. What are your thoughts? Post them in the Comments section below.

Source: The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/23/ted-cruz-presidential-campaign-evangelical-christian-voters-gay-marriage-values

Source: The Guardian, March 23, 2015

Note: Click on the bar chart on the left from The Guardian for an expanded view. One way to interpret the results of this poll is that of the 58% of American voters who identify as white and Christian, roughly 2/3 of them see themselves as Republicans and are susceptible to the theocratic appeals espoused by the Bible-thumpers. That’s very dangerous for a democratic (small “d”) America, as these people are reliable voters and because it assaults the First Amendment. That Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution, which the far right religious conservatives say with fierce absolutism that they honor. That yes-we-do-no-we-don’t  support of the Constitution is the same kind of up-is-down logic used by militant Islamists. Are you afraid yet?

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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.

Exceptionalism

The Louisa, Portland, OR Yes, that's the roof

The Louisa, Portland, OR
Yes, that’s the roof

Reading time – 61 seconds  .  .  .

America is an exceptional country in many ways. The problem is that without a mindfulness about it, we can easily assume that America is exceptional in every way. That myopia can lead to the arrogance of dismissing the ideas, capabilities and the accomplishments of others, which many do as a matter of course, and that can lead directly to a Chinese 21st century. Follow the logic.

There are many people in America who look down on the French. They seem to consider them to be backward or unproductive or lazy. But I ran across this short article about the French, courtesy of S.G. (thanks for the pointer), and it seems that they are doing something about global warming, energy consumption and beautification of their cities all at the same time.

The French government has mandated that buildings being constructed in commercial zones must have roofs that include plantings, solar panels or both. These “green roofs” are popular in several other countries, too, but the technology has not been widely embraced in the U.S. Sadly and self-defeatingly, this technology might be further ignored, since it’s the French now leading the way. After all, we prefer our “freedom fries” over those lowly French fries. Okay, that part was snarky, but the American dismissing of the French is quite real.

The Germans supply 4% (and the number is climbing) of their energy needs with renewable technology, but we resist that path, mostly because our energy companies make their money by burning fossil fuels and use their profits to turn the heads of our legislators. On top of that, many Americans wouldn’t want to emulate the Germans.

Come to think of it, we probably wouldn’t want to emulate the Swedes either, since theirs is a socialist state, meaning they don’t have a single good idea in their whole country. I guess we should ignore all of Europe. That isn’t snark, as our legislators routinely invoke that very sentiment.

And we routinely assume that because the Chinese are communists that our superior attitude toward them is warranted. Our leaders imply that we can just ignore the enormous hydroelectric plant they are constructing on the Yangtze River to bring electric power to the entire central portion of their country. We can close our eyes to their modern cities that make ours look like medieval hamlets and their ground transportation system that makes ours seem archaic. They are pouring hundreds of billions of yen – actually, our dollars – into building infrastructure across their country while our politicians dither in Washington solving no problems, mounting no challenges and watching our own infrastructure crumble, all the while telling us about American exceptionalism. There is, indeed, something exceptional about that, but it isn’t good exceptional; it’s bad exceptional and that is what will lead to a Chinese 21st century.

The problem with American exceptionalism is that we assume a superiority that isn’t warranted everywhere. That doesn’t make us exceptional.

But we could be.

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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.

Be Like Monica

MonicaReading time – 61 seconds  .  .  .

Monica Lewinsky was a 22 year old intern in the Clinton White House when she engaged in her youthful indiscretion with the President. At the time President Clinton was 49, old enough to be her father and certainly old enough to know better. He was supposed to be an adult.

– John Boehner is supposed to know not to invite a leader of a foreign government to speak to a joint session of Congress without first getting approval from the President.

– Mitch McConnell is supposed to know that hostage taking by withholding a vote on a new attorney general is harmful to our system of justice. He is supposed to know that shutting down the government and shuttering homeland security are assaults on America.

– Mitt Romney is supposed to know that 47% of Americans are impoverished, not moochers.

– Ted Cruz is supposed to know something – anything.

– 47 Republican senators are supposed to know not to meddle in foreign policy, that it is under the purview of the Executive Branch of government. And they should at least quote the Constitution accurately and they should never direct a foreign government to distrust the United States of America.

– Governor Scott Walker is supposed to know that he should not be in the pocket of the Koch brothers.

– Sarah Palin is supposed to know – oh, forget it.

What each of these people have in common is that, like President Clinton, they are old enough to know better. They are supposed to be adults. Their indiscretions are anything but youthful and theirs are enormously damaging to America, which Ms. Lewinsky’s activities most certainly were not.

She has moved on, with several painful lessons having been learned, including how our sensationalist press feeds our sensation-seeking citizenry and how that is instrumental in the painful bullying and shaming of so many people. Watch her powerful TED talk here. She has grown and is intentionally being of service to others.

Too bad so many of our “pubic servants” in Washington, people who are supposed to know better, are intentionally refusing to be of service to America.

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TODAY’S ACTION STEP: Corporations that receive government contracts secretly funnel undisclosed piles of cash to help elect and re-elect the very same lawmakers responsible for awarding those contracts.

The President has the authority to shine a light on these influence payments with the stroke of a pen on an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending. Tell President Obama we want disclosure by federal contractors both HERE and HERE.

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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.

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