Ask Not …

On January 20, 1961, a young(ish) man stood before the world and laid down a challenge for every American.  Not that Americans of 1961 weren’t used  to being challenged – two World Wars and a variety of other conflicts were fresh in their minds – but this was different.  This guy asked America to prepare to take the reins of world leadership and look so far forward that we’d never be able to look back.

“… My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.  My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

We seem to have forgotten how that works. Forty years later a president told us the best we could do for America – for the world – in the face of terror and tragedy was to go shopping.

Here in 2013, most of us have quite a list of demands for America, many of them perfectly reasonable and altruistic, but demands from our country nonetheless. What are we prepared to do for our country today?

Hmmm … most of us are willing to pay taxes, as long as they’re not too high.  Some of us are willing to show up to vote now and again.  Maybe serve on the PTA if we’re pushed.  Read our favorite news sites on the internet, argue with the talking heads on cable news shows.

Really?

Is that who we are today?

What should we be doing instead?

I’m glad you asked.  Right now, in your community – in every  community – you are needed.  You don’t have to be willing to risk your life, your fortune or your sacred honor.  How about starting with serving on a municipal board?  Maybe getting involved with an actual, real-life political advocacy group (as opposed to “liking” a cause on Facebook)?  Perhaps you could even step so far outside your comfort zone as to run for office.

Yes, you.  Your community needs you.  Your country needs you.  If you feel the need to critique your local elected official (And don’t we all?), maybe it’s time for you to step up and challenge that official.  Offer yourself for leadership.  Maybe that’s too much.  Not everybody is ready for that, and who could blame you?  It’s a buzz-saw of criticism.  But there’s something you can offer.  Something more noble than shopping.

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An Open Letter to Male Gamers

Dear Male Gamers –

Seriously guys? What is wrong with you?

You’re better than this. And this.

On what planet do you think its okay to talk to another human being like that? I’m assuming you have mothers, and how do you feel about someone calling her a “slut”, a “cunt” or making jokes about raping her for expressing her opinion? What if it was your aunt? Or your sister? Or your daughter? Or would that be alright, if you disagree with her too?

I can answer those questions for you. It is never okay under any circumstances to speak to a woman, or person like that. Just like an other human being, women are just that, humans. We are not just baby-makers, “sammich-makers”, or there for your aesthetic pleasure. We are integral parts of nature and society. Women make strides to improve our world every day. We are as capable as men. We are forces of nature. And we will be reckoned with.

“But, women don’t play as much as men!” Well, WHY SHOULD THEY?! Would you want to play with other people when you’re going to be demeaned like that? Seriously, if you were met with derision and inhumane comments, for expressing a fact or opinion, would you want to play? I doubt it.

“But Sam, I don’t like it when people talk like that, but if I say something, I get made fun of also.” So your option is to just sit back and do nothing? That’s a piss-poor excuse. You stand up for people. That’s what a community does. And if you speak out, you will inspire others to do the same. We can change things, if we really want to. It just needs to start with one person. One voice, sticking up for someone else.

I really enjoy playing console games, and having spent years in the gaming community, I know you’re better than this. You are a highly intelligent group of people and are better than this misogyny. If you want to be taken seriously as a force in the entertainment industry, you’ve got to stop this behavior. You cannot alienate an entire demographic of consumers and expect to make it as a business. Developers will make games for women, with women characters. Women will play them, and games with male protagonists.

So push back all you want. Call us whatever you want. Women aren’t going anywhere. Rise above this. I implore you to prove me right. You are so much better than the links above, I know it. Change your words, change your attitudes. Leave a better gaming community for your daughters.

Love,

Sam

Dear Dr. King and President Johnson:

I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  Back in 1965 when you and so many other brave Americans managed, after years of struggle, to pass the Voting Rights Act, it seemed like our nation had finally begun to turn a corner on the ever-present spectre of Race.  It was a gift you gave future generations assuming we would treasure it, or at the very least, keep it.

I wonder if Clarence Thomas, he of Pin Point, GA, had been born a few years earlier and been denied the vote if he would taken beter care of your great work?  I note that by the time he was old enough to vote, Section 4 was in full swing.

Buffalo, NY native John Roberts, who came of age well-after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, tells us “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional.”  I wonder if Justice Roberts has ever been denied anything, much less his right to vote.

I could go down the list of the other over-privileged white men who voted with the five-justice majority to gut your outstanding legislation, but suffice to say they were all appointed by Republican presidents.  The four who still think the (whole) Voting Rights Act is a good idea?  Yes sirs, they were all appointed by Democratic presidents.  That won’t surprise you.

You would be proud of Justice Ginsberg.  As a Jewish woman of a certain age, I’m pretty sure she knows what bigotry looks like.  Maybe that has nothing to do with it, however.  Maybe she’s just smart enough to know to stick with a good idea: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” she wrote.

Part of me wonders why, after nearly fifty years, suddenly Section 4 is “unconstitutional” according to Justice Roberts.  But I know why, and so do you gentlemen.  Roberts also tells us, “Our country has changed,” and that’s true in many ways.  America’s demographics have changed.  They’ve changed almost to the point that if those of traditional privilege do not derail the rules you put in place back in the 1960’s, there will be fewer and fewer old white men running the show.  I think that scares Justice Robert and his ilk.

The sad truth is that it took Texas – a state where the demographics are changing faster than anywhere else – less than a day to capitalize on the Court’s shameful work.  Texas won’t be the last.

So I apologize, Dr. King and President Johnson.  I’m sorry that we weren’t tough enough to keep the freedoms you guaranteed for us.  We got lazy.  Some of us thought that even if a few Republicans were elected, and even if they managed to get a majority of their appointees to the Supreme Court, no decent Justice would do such a fool thing as to take the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act.

We were wrong.  We’ll try to do better.

Everblog’s Deborah Ludwig wrote a fine explanation of the issue when the Court considered it earlier this year.  You’d be well served to read her article here.

Get Ready, Enrollment for “Obamacare” begins October 1

Despite House Republicans’ 37 attempts—yes, 37— to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it will be fully implemented on January 1, 2014, including the state health insurance exchanges, the mandate to buy insurance, and no more pre-existing condition clauses in insurance policies. Congressional GOPers have worked diligently over the past couple of years to undermine the law. You must give them credit—they are persistent. Now, instead of trying to make it fail, they should help Democrats try to make it work and even improve upon it. I know, that’s asking a bit much, but I am an eternal optimist.

My last post about the ACA bemoaned the fact that the Obama Administration and the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department had done very little to raise awareness for the open enrollment period that commences October 1. Participation is important to the success of the exchanges. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April found that 42% of people were unaware that the ACA was still being implemented. Since then Organizing for Action, HHS, and healthcare advocates have begun a campaign to raise awareness and set-up a platform for enrolling Americans in the health insurance exchanges and answer questions.

This effort should have been initiated well before now, so timing is a concern for many involved in operating the exchanges. As of June 14, only 26 states have committed to expanding Medicaid, so many low-income people will remain uninsured. Further complicating the roll-out is how the exchanges are being established: some states are handling the exchanges themselves, some are working in tandem with the federal government, and others, like New Jersey (my state), are leaving it up to the federal government to organize.

DB_medicaid_map

Guaranteed there will be confusion and systemic glitches in the beginning, but hopefully not so many that healthcare reform opponents can fan the flames of opposition more than they already do. Healthcare advocates are hoping, as with Medicare Part D after its problematic roll-out in 2006, once the initial ACA problems are resolved, people will discover not only do they benefit from the program but they like it.

Steps are being taken to increase awareness and assist with the enrollment process. Organizing for Action and other pro-healthcare reform groups are spending millions of dollars on an advertising and public relations campaign, “Get Covered America,” and Doctors for America is training 500 doctors and medical students to educate patients about the enrollment process. The Enroll America website is a comprehensive resource for information about the healthcare law and provides enrollment assistance.

It is important for people to educate themselves about the provisions included in the ACA because there is much misinformation floating around about it. It is shocking the number of people who do not know what is in this legislation. There is a health reform quiz on the Kaiser Family Foundation site. I encourage you to take it. Knowledge is power and you may find that knowledge to be quite beneficial in making insurance coverage decisions for you and your family, especially those not covered under an employer-paid plan.

Wendell Potter, author of Deadly Spin and a former health insurance industry insider turned watchdog, has been writing extensively for several years about the topic of healthcare reform and how insurance companies manipulate the American public against reforming the system through media and public relations spin. Visit his site for articles that will help you separate fact from fiction. There is a lot of fear mongering about the ACA; Mr. Potter alleviates many of those fears.

The healthcare  reform legislation is far from perfect. However, there are many benefits people have already been receiving since March 2010. Sadly, the ACA won’t cover everyone—there will be people left out. Some individuals will have higher premium costs but with those costs should come better coverage as opposed to the “junk insurance” that is akin to having no coverage at all.

So, ready or not, Obamacare is happening. Are you informed and prepared for it?

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal

Let’s Talk About Capitalism

Merriam-Webster defines “capitalism” thusly:

“An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”

Let’s be crystal-clear about this.  Capitalism is an economic system.  It’s not a religious creed, a system of government, a political party or a way of life.  With a variety of tweaks and alterations it’s an economic system that has served the US pretty well, most of the time.

Capitalism is enshrined neither in the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution (Go ahead, take a look).  For that matter, I’m reasonably certain Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, et al, would have a hard time recognizing 21st-century America’s economic system.  They were all businessmen of one sort or another  but the sort of businesses they ran (with varying degrees of success) would bear little resemblance to the likes of Bank of America, Monsanto or Enron.

There are giants of the American political mythos who would recognize leviathans like the ones listed above:  Teddy Roosevelt would recognize them as exactly the sort of trusts he built his reputation busting.  His cousin Franklin built his reputation rebuilding the American economy after corporations like these created that little fiasco known as the Great Depression.

I’m not here to try to convince you that capitalism is bad.  I don’t believe it is.  To the contrary, I believe it’s an ingenious system that, when efficiently regulated, has created tremendous wealth and a fine standard of living.  Handled with care, capitalism incentivizes citizens in a free society to optimize the use of their, well, their capital, to make their communities – their world a better place.

See what I did there?  It’s not the economic system that matters.  It’s the citizens in the free society that matter.  The people.  The economic system – in this case, capitalism – is a tool.  An important tool, but a tool nonetheless.

You’ve heard the old maxim that if the only tool you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail?  I think that’s at the root of some of our current problems as a nation.  We’ve allowed capitalism to become synonymous with Americanism.  We’ve allowed some people with vested interests to convince us that the greatest measure of America’s health is the Dow Jones Index, not the actual health of We The People.

But we have evidence that capitalism isn’t the only economic tool in our collective belt.  We’ve used limited versions of socialism since 1776, and we continue to do so.  When we’ve been most successful as a nation (see the FDR reference above, as well as Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System and Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon’s NASA) we’ve been unafraid to mix healthy doses of socialism with capitalism and created all sorts of interesting hybrid systems.

When we allow capitalism to be fetishized to the degree it is now and the degree it was in the 1880’s and 1920’s, bad things happen to the citizens, and our free society is at a high risk.

The key, the thing that makes capitalism work for us as opposed to making us work for it, the thing that makes it a tool instead of a way of life, is the tweaks and the alterations.  When we handle it with care and use it efficiently – as with any tool – capitalism makes the job easier.  And the job is making life better for every American.  When we worship at the altar of the (deeply misunderstood) Invisible Hand, capitalism works like an out of control reaping machine or an unshielded nuclear core:  It chews people up and makes them sick.

Isn’t it about time we decided to focus on the job at hand, and that we’d better start using every tool in the toolbox to get it right?

State Terror in the Twentieth Century, IV: Beyond the Century of Terror

This is the fourth and last in a series. Earlier installments are The Century of Terror, Internal Security, and Foreign Policy. A companion video can be found here.

Over the course of this series, we have looked at the practice of state terror in the twentieth century from several different vantage points. I have tried to make the point, that from the outset, mass state terror is a defining characteristic of twentieth century political evolution. In internal security matters, states such as Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Pinochet’s Chile embodied internal terror structurally, publicly, and deliberately, on a massive scale, while the Western democracies adopted a less-intense, and covert form, a paradigm necessary if they were to maintain their public’s faith in their own national identities and Enlightenment foundations. This is a fundamental point, especially for the United States: the adoption of the methods of covert warfare requires the democratic government to lie to its citizens, and subverts the basic ideals upon which democracy-whether parliamentary, republican, or whatever-depends.

There is certainly an irreducibly complex set of causes for this: the death of reason amidst the mindless carnage of the First World War, the technological perfection of the means of mass terror in the Second, the importation of  colonial counterinsurgency tactics and strategy into the domestic spheres of the Western democracies, the collapse of the Empires, the embrace of a ruthless “no rules” ethic, and most importantly, the fear. Fear of communism, of Stalin, of Hitler, of the nukes, but mostly a strange, formless, all pervasive, low-grade fever of worry about a future shrouded in doubt and uncertainty. This fear was both the reason for and the result of terror: a feedback loop, in which a general terror of the unknown became a the rationale for specific terror to counter that which cannot be defined; the integration of state terror as internal security policy in the US that began with the Palmer raids and the organized campaigns against labor and social movements was professionalized by the foundation of the FBI, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the OSS; the passage of the National Security Act in 1947 provided the framework of secrecy that would enable this combination of secrecy and lawlessness to grow slowly over time, like all evolutionary processes do, until something new suddenly shifts the paradigm. The punctuated-equilibrium model of the evolution of state terror.
In the US, this punctuation-this shift- was COINTELPROthe nationwide “Counter-intelligence Program” by the FBI to infiltrate, disrupt, and destroy progressive organizations and movements across a wide spectrum, including civil, women’s, and gay rights organizations, anti-nuclear weapons groups, anti-war and a whole spectrum of other New Left organizations. The tools-the infiltrator, the informer, the agent provocateur, break-ins, false charges, set-ups, fake documents, “snitch jackets,” legal harassment, intimidation,and killings that resulted bear no resemblance to law enforcement, but a lot of similarity to the way an intelligence agency attacks a hostile enemy agency. This is fundamental: the enemy to be destroyed were citizens of the US, mostly just trying to exercise their rights. Believing that the government would play by its own rules was only their first mistake.

What Cointelpro really represents is the institutionalization of terror in the US; by the time of  its revelation and shut down in 1971, it didn’t really matter anymore. The means and methods of counterintelligence, including, first and foremost, deceit, became standard in police departments across the country, and the FBI maintained a national coordinating capability in any event, as seen in the subsequent destruction of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the infiltration of the anti-nuclear power movement, and the covert infiltration of anti-US Latin American policy groups like CISPES well into the Eighties.

Draconian anti-drug laws and the establishment of a parallel secret police agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973, added a whole new dimension to the US covert-terror infrastructure, and further brought the tools of counterinsurgency, the agent network and the strike team, into the domestic sphere. The incredible proliferation of paramilitary forces called SWAT teams, by several orders of magnitude, has created tens of thousands of available  troops for these covert forces. The NKVD in 1937 could hit a million homes in a night. How much more capable is the US now than the Soviet Union was then?

Much like the NKVD, it is important to note the erosion of anything like compartmentalization between the various local,State, and national intelligence agencies in the US; this means that there is no real separation, that they are all, really, in effect, one force. Local law enforcement SWAT and antidrug forces cross train with counter-terror and federal authorities with great regularity. Another good example of this is the reciprocal relationship between the NYPD and the CIA, in which the CIA maintains an office inside the NYPD despite  legal prohibitions against CIA operations inside the US-they have to say that, because, like everything else, it is a cover story. The further metastasis of this condition that occurred with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the Total Information Awareness program (the brainchild of Iran-Contra conspirator John Poindexter), the DoD’s CIFA program, the NSA’s multiple warrantless wiretapping programs, and the privatization of intelligence agencies into private enterprises with a vested interest in war and terror.

I have largely avoided mention of Russia this week, for a very simple reason: state terror in Russia is an enduring feature of the culture, and has been for several centuries. The relatively normal secret police operations against the Left by the Okhrana both foreshadowed later US efforts against its own leftists, and also trained the Bolshevks in secret police methods. Lenin’s Cheka added revolutionary Communist fervor to the Tsar’s tradecraft and created the first real, modern secret police agency, whose structure and operations would be copied by like-minded authoritarians around the world. The point is, that for Russia, state terror has been a constant, ubiquitous feature, whether it be the Cheka or the NKVD or the KGB or the SVR or the FSB (in an echo of US structure, after the fall of the USSR, the Russian government, rather than abolish the KGB, divided it into the SVR, the successor agency to the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of the KGB, and the FSB, the internal security service). In the years since, the Russian government has ran a relentless campaign of terror against Chechen separatists, domestic whistleblowers, dissidents, and uncooperative leaders, assassinating people at a rate not seen since the 1950s. The tragedy is, of course, that this is nothing unusual in Russia.

It is, however, something unusual in the United States, at least in the United States of the Constitution, of laws, of citizen self-government–or at least it should be. However, covert operations-state terror-is now a permanent feature of US government. It has been, as we’ve seen in previous weeks, for a long time; only now, decades too late, is it becoming so apparent that even the apathetic public finally notices. The reforms that followed the Church Committee were largely an illusion, as seen by US action in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and against critics of policies in both. The surveillance laws of the 1990s, CALEA, the Antiterrorism Act of 1996, and the subsequent creation of the CARNIVORE and ECHELON monitoring programs created the foundation for the drastic upscale of the surveillance after 9/11. The USA PATRIOT Act, the subsequent reauthorizations and extensions, and PRISM just extend it further, protestations of restraint notwithstanding: as has been revealed just lately, their public statements cannot be believed.

And now? The continued coordinating ability of the FBI was again visible during the destruction of Occupy Wall Street. A remarkably peaceful, populist movement that was mostly just demanding that Federal financial regulators do their jobs was destroyed by a national program of infiltration, subversion, and police violence. In other words, the covert action authority worked exactly as it was supposed to. What is happening  under the current Administration is not so much the creation of a covert terror apparatus as cracking of the shell of deniability around it, and the same industrial process that occurred in US industry 30 years ago: the replacement of humans with robots,as the armed, remote-piloted drone has become the most capable assassination weapon ever, and the symbol of technological state terror raised to a whole new level… Here it is, in all its foul glory: The National Covert Security State, where there is no problem that cannot be solved by the appropriate covert action, where there is no problem, foreign or domestic, that cannot be addressed through an appropriate dose of state terror. A few liters in some cases, gallons in others.

This is the world, the covert political world of the 21st Century. We are beyond the Century of Terror now; what made mass state terror so noteworthy in the 20th century was its alien nature, the way it obviously violated every principle of government or law, and was yet enthusiastically adopted across the ideological spectrum, for its sheer, brutal utility. It was a conflict between the constraints of an Enlightenment-inspired democracy and the efficacy of force; and in the end, the normalization of terror in the 21st century represents the triumph of force over reason, of fear over hope, of reaction over progress, and of exploitation over cooperation. The conflict was settled, when the last chance to roll back the NCSS passed in the 1990s. This is the 21st Century; state terror is the new normal, worldwide. Future cultural historians will have to look for some other distinguishing feature to differentiate it from its fellows.

We’re #1 ..er..

America.

Wealthiest nation in the world.

It’s no wonder our middle class is number one in the world!

middle class

As the chart above clearly shows, America’s median income is the best in the…

Wait…WHAT??

We are not number one?  Or two, ten, or twenty?

According to this, America is #27.  Our middle class is being beaten by the likes of Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.  Topping the list is Australia.

But how can this be?  Our economy produces hedge fund managers that earn more per hour than the average family earns in two decades!

Surely, that kind of wealth is trickling down!!

So, why aren’t we drenched?  Hell, at least misted?

  • Healthcare:  We continue to pay more while becoming no more healthy.  And becoming seriously ill lands many in bankruptcy court.
  • Minimum Wage:  Our wage is indecent in comparison to the likes of Canada ($9.75), New Zealand ($11.18), and Australia ($16.45).  So much for claiming the top spot, again, right?  Not to mention that many other developed nations provide a month of guaranteed paid vacation time on top of paid sick days.
  • Wall Street:  Has gone wild.  Enough said.
  • Tax Structure:  Our code favors the wealthy with loopholes, tax havens, ridiculously low capital gains taxes, etc.
  • Higher Education:  The more you know, the more you owe.  In America.  Our counterparts are offering higher education practically tuition-free.

So, yeah.  No drenching, no mists, no trickles.

I think we were… PUNK’D!

deregulation

Financialization.  (Note when the two began to split.)

Financialization means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies.   – Economist, Gerald Epstein

Financialization was labeled the most important factor in our stagnant middle class.  Deregulation of the 80’s has given rise to a whole host of problems.

  • It “made shareholder value the ultimate goal.”
  • Hedge fund growth began destroying the “productive wealth” in the economy.
  • “Too big to fail” institutions were created, and basically granted license to gamble with the economy.
  • Barely regulated world markets became responsible for financing globalization.

Why don’t we know how throughly we were played? Good question.

Wealth dominates the mediaThe idea of conservative media or main stream media is foolish.  There is but one media.  Corporate media.  And do we honestly believe that the guys ripping us off will tell us that they are doing so?  Pfft.  Just go back to fake scandals and Hollywood hook-ups, if you please.

Here’s another good question.  Why aren’t we working, with due diligence, to reverse this?

Wealth dominates our politics, it is true.  Corporate lobbyists are boldly buying representatives and co-authoring legislation.  They are using their extreme wealth to their advantage.  Who needs or wants a level playing field when pulling in the kind of dough they do?

They are buying the team, the field, the equipment, the concession stand, and referees.  But that is not all they are buying.  It seems they have also purchased quite a few fans.

There are actually those among us who don’t realize or acknowledge that they have been, are being, and will continue to be fleeced in this economy.  They believe more corporate freedom is an appropriate action.  They believe, and loudly regurgitate, policy that will only serve to keep them from ever seeing the trickle they so patiently await.  To do anything else would make you a “taker”.    They have difficulty separating who built that from who purchased that.

Looks like there is nothing left to do, but sit in the stands and clap.

Uhm, .. no.

The first thing we can do is recognize this for what it is.  Class warfare.

Next, we need to forget about changing the minds of the purchased fans.  If the past few years haven’t demonstrated the damage deregulation causes, nothing will.  The information about corporate greed destroying the economy is out there, and it is plentiful.

Protest what is being done.  You don’t necessarily have to stand in a picket line.  Petition.  Support local businesses over big box chains.  Start a garden.  Use the services of a local credit union in lieu of a banking institution.

Most importantly, instruct and supervise your elected officials, while keeping an eye out for their replacement.

  • Republicans:  we will not tolerate your policies of carrying the rich on the backs of the poor.
  • Tea Party/Libertarians:  Atlas Shrugged is fiction.
  • Democrats:  the pretty words are nice, but the time has come to try on a backbone, thank you very much!
  • Progressives:  Come out, come out..wherever you are.

They need to know this is our game, too.  Comply or face ejection.  Period.

Because… We’re #27… is  pathetic!  As a standing and a chant!