America’s False Divide

“According to polls, most Americans think the nation is more divided than it’s been since the Civil War. And these divides are getting worse…”

Really? Exactly what divides America? Well, there are polls and there are polls. In November 2016, a Gallup poll suggested shortly after Trump’s election that 77% of the people perceived the nation as divided. Certainly, if you watch Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, the traditional networks, or participate in social media, you can easily get that impression. Conflict makes the news. Certainly, the nation is going through some major changes, some of which produce more denial than contemplation. That tends to escalate the ‘blame game.’

Nostalgia for imagined “good old days” leads many to wish to “Make America Great Again.” Generational losses of income and status breed fear, resentment and anger. Trump has deftly exploited such fears and resentments, inciting anger and even violence among his base of mostly working and former middle-class white males and some of the women who love them.

We hear formerly politically incorrect expressions of racism, sexism, and xenophobia uttered more openly now in public and semi-public arenas. However, it seems clear that many of the voters who put Obama in office also voted for Trump. That may seem crazy, but it was a complex electoral dynamic that would take many pages just to describe no less explain.

Institutional Divisions by Racism

Did we really become that divided between presidents? Well, of course, the big political division between Obama Democrats and the racist Republican Congress of his second term has grown wider and wider, resulting in unprecedented partisan practices that border on violating at least the spirit of the Constitution.

Is it really that the American people are so divided, or is the actual division between the growing power of the corporate state in conflict with the public interest in seeking a safer more livable world for the American people? Establishment Democrats like to treat Trump as an anomaly, an outlier so bizarre that he does not fit into the standard assortment of political positions.

To be sure, Trump’s impulses are weird and vastly ignorant of national norms of the political process, civil behavior, and the constitutional constraints on his pretentions to unlimited personal power. He blatantly exposes his racism, misogyny, and narcissism in daily Tweets. But is that so different from the perverse behavior of those old white men on the Senate Judiciary Committee who dismiss the entirely credible story of Dr. Christine Blaisey Ford as they did decades before with Anita Hill?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley speaks as Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Chuck Grassley ~  HuffPost

Political operative Brett Kavanagh would surely guarantee a plutocratic majority on the Supreme Court. He represents the same culture of elitist white male entitlement to power embodied in Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Lindsay Graham. For Trump, it is a matter of protection from prosecution even more than plutocracy; for the senators, it is a matter of achieving the corporatist goals of their PACs to dominate the federal government by executive action as well as voter suppression.

Plutocratic Unity and the Veil of Division

Trump’s policy choices – however dangerous in international relations for example – fit well with the notion that his presidency is the logical extension of the trends of the corporate state over several decades, whichever party was in power. The cooperation of Senate Democrats in the unconstitutional Republican wars of choice, just like the bailouts for Wall Street criminals of 2008, but not for their victims, reflects the unity of the plutocrats that underlies and belies surface “party differences.”

One might even conclude that the great divide today is between the people and a federal government that now almost entirely serves the interest of corporate elites and the super-rich. Despite the distortions of demagoguery, the trends now deeply entrenched in the corporate state run counter to some of the most basic of American values.

Because of the dominance of corporate money in national politics, federal elected officials are less and less connected to the people they are supposed to represent. The “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision and the injection of blatant representatives of corporate polluters as executives in the EPA along with sweeping executive orders unwind decades of gradual improvement in modest environmental protections. Abandoning our commitment to the international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, like many other actions, runs counter to the interests of the public in safety, security; others constrain the ability of average Americans to earn a decent living.

The demagoguery, confusion, anger, and resentment run high and as usual in such situations, a charlatan who Michael Moore terms a master of performance art. Trump deftly turned that resentment toward scapegoating vulnerable minority populations, including refugees, in order to energize the base of those who resent their losses of status and income under the policies of the same corporate state he serves. The falsely generated divisions among the people conceal a much deeper divide.

No, the real division in America is between the plutocrats and the people.

To Vote or Not to Vote: Is That Really the Question?

No, it’s another false dilemma. In the U.S., we are obsessed with two beliefs. One is the idea that the world can be changed and/or everything can be made right again if we only vote in the right politician as president. This contributes to the corporate-media driven “horse race” mentality that buries the issues under the personalities and blunders of the candidates. Well, Obama proved many such idealists (optimists) wrong. The second idea that many have come to believe is that to vote is to accede to a rigged system that oppresses us and only pretends to give us a choice. These pessimists find the political process entirely futile. Optimists and pessimists are both fatalists – they assume that our fate is sealed. Partial truths coexist with outright illusions. The illusions tend to dominate.

Let’s take the current example of the Bernie-Hillary dilemma and the brace of buffoons in the Republican Clown Car. One position I’ve heard expressed on social media recently goes something like this: Don’t vote at all; it’s a betrayal of your independence and freedom since they are all liars and crooks and none of them will act in our interests; anyway, the system is rigged. Well, even that extreme statement is a partial truth. But is it something we should act on, or refuse to act on? Absolutes are always illusions.

Socialism, Centrism, and the Clown Car Entering the Arena from the Far Right

Of course, politicians usually frame their messages to avoid offending as many constituents as possible and play to voters’ hopes and fears to curry our favor. They also try to steer clear of any statement that would offend their large contributors. They even sometimes give weak criticisms of, for example, Wall Street financial manipulators. However, they know that the Wall Street money in their campaign coffers is secured by private commitments of support. But that is also a matter of degree. Messages change over time, for either good or bad reasons. A genuine change of heart is to be commended for its honesty, if that is what has actually happened. The label, “flip-flop” has been applied ruthlessly, sometimes with a strong basis – think Mitt – and sometimes without justification. But it is not always easy to measure.

Hillary has changed her messages quite a lot over time. Is that a case of genuine evolution or merely a history of pandering to political fashion? The debate over that continues. Hillary supporters affirm the former; Bernie supporters suspect the latter. Tea Partiers “know in their hearts” the absolute truth, evidence be damned, literally. Parenthetically, Republican attacks on the pseudo-issues of Benghazi and her email server are pure smokescreen and demagogic attempts to smear her – one has even admitted so publicly. But Hillary’s coming to her currently – and equivocally – more “progressive” positions on several issues was so slow and tentative that it makes one wonder. How much of it was her “feeling the Bern” on her left?

Bernie, on the other hand, has been an eminently consistent politician for decades. His independence is characteristically Vermonter. That alone, of course, is an important factor in drawing the crowds despite a virtual mass-media blackout. (And, like them or not, he actually advocates specific programs meant to directly address massive growing inequality and the takeover of politics by the super rich, whose corporations own the media.) After all, we Americans love an underdog and we are so tired of the slick consultant primed-and-scripted candidacies. This alone makes Bernie refreshing. We get the clear impression that the Bernie you see is the Bernie you will get. Yet, nobody is without flaws. Progressives wonder about his seeming ambiguity over gun control – Vermont hunting interests – and his seeming ambiguity over Israel-Palestine – American Israel lobby. Well, two out of dozens is not so bad.

Messaging and Performance

The performance of Barack Obama, like that of so many others who gain office on high sounding promises, has not achieved much of the “change we can believe in.” Of course, he was ultimately stifled by the racist Republican Congress, leaving us to wonder what he might have accomplished. Like so many, I was initially taken by his eloquent oratory. But early on in his candidacy I saw figures showing where his big-money donations were coming from. That’s when I began to worry that he would be too beholden to the financial elites to act fully in the Nation’s economic interest. Sure enough, he appointed all the usual suspects from the financial elite, which had dominated the Clinton and Bush incumbencies. These were the guys serving the interests of Goldman Sacks and the other elite financial institutions that have been hell-bent on ruling the nation with their casino capitalism. It was their policy recommendations Bill Clinton had enacted, leading eventually, with Bush-Cheney help, to the collapse of the Wall Street casino in 2008. So, Hillary’s close corporate ties and the people she hires to run her campaign give one pause. Her “Third-Way” international interventionist tendencies demonstrated while Secretary of State, are a great concern too. So, who is one to vote for in an imperfect world? Or, should we bother?

Changing messaging to first gain the radical right and the Republican nomination then trying to appeal to the general electorate may have been the major factor that did in Mitt Romney. His father was not terribly inspiring, but he was believable more or less. The Donald’s “charm,” strange as it is, stems from his blatant exposure of the brash fact of “who he is” while demonstrating total lack of self-reflection. His aggressive denial of any fact he wants to hide about his questionable business practices is accepted out of public ignorance. Along with Carly Fiorina, he might be termed a “successful” failure. It would be pointless to go through the RCC (Republican Clown Car) to elucidate the paucity of serious intellect or realism on the campaign trail – it is sort of obvious. So, it is understandable that some would be so disgusted by the whole charade that usually makes the outcome of elections pretty much the same no matter who is elected. Style aside, that’s pretty much what happened in the Bush-Obama sequence, at least in the areas of endless war and endless subsidizing and covering for the financial elites.

Take What You Can Get and Demand More

So, this is where hopeful realism ‘trumps’ optimism and pessimism. Our reality is truly grave. Yet, while still breathing we can have some glimmer of hope. However, hope is delusional without action. So, I must vote (among other things), if only to write in Ralph Nader, who would do more to clean up the mess than anyone, if not assassinated first. As Chris Hedges has put it, “I fight fascism not because I will win, but because it is fascism.”

No president will be able to do much, no less all, of what is needed absent a massive transformation of congress. Real change must rise up from the people in a mass peaceful social movement for rescuing the planet and defending the greatest victims of the tyranny of wealth and the corporate state. But no small opportunity for any bit of progress should be dismissed. I will vote for the imperfect over the straight-up total disaster, in hopes that some benefit will accrue to the people and planet, rather than give up or knuckle under to the two-party party of plutocracy.

The Death Dance Continues: “There is no excuse for …” But there are Reasons

The upsurge of rage over the apparent police killing of twenty-five year old African American Freddie Gray in Baltimore is emblematic of widespread public discontent with law enforcement. It is just the latest incident demonstrating the continuing chaos in the relationship of American law enforcement to the citizenry. There is little point in listing here the seemingly endless number of citizen videos documenting inept and mean spirited police aggression against citizens, especially young men of color.

Media reaction to the events in Baltimore has been predictably distorted. As with Ferguson and numerous other cities, public protest is framed primarily as potential or actual violence. The police violence that sparked the protest is given scant coverage despite clear evidence of brutality. “The authorities” fail to openly address the grievances by fully informing the people. Some teenagers begin rock throwing and other vandalism. The immediate media response is: “There is no excuse for this violence!” Young African-American female Baltimore prosecutor, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, with only four months on the job and not part of the old-boy network, is from a law enforcement family. To the surprise of many she swiftly – and bravely – handed down indictments against the six officers involved. But the problem is much larger than individual Baltimore officers.

No Excuse
Baltimore is no exception; it reflects a national pattern. Despite local variations, as more and more evidence of institutionalized police misconduct and brutal behavior across the country is exposed, the pattern becomes clearer. From this general pattern and its specific incidences can be gleaned the elements of a deep pathology of law enforcement, which is inexcusable and requires radical excision. Sadly, that pathology is not likely to be seriously addressed unless the systemic social pathology that breeds it is faced and eliminated.

The typical crisis unfolds something like this: First, an incident where police appear to have overstepped their authority and committed gratuitous violence or murder upon a citizen is caught on cell-phone video. Second, the video “goes viral” and is picked up by local or national media because of its sensationalistic elements and social-media exposure. Typically, a young (or not so young) man of color (or homeless man or other vulnerable person) is killed or maimed by police. Third, outraged citizens exercise their constitutional rights and engage in peaceful protests. Fourth, police characteristically over-react to what should be an acceptable expression of public concern and/or outrage. They define the situation as a threat to “law and order” and to their own authority. They bring in heavy military weaponry, riot gear, armored vehicles, and swat teams, as if they were confronting a foreign enemy military force. Police then force protesters into some confined area or force them to move or disperse, leading to sporadic confrontations. Fifth, some unruly teenagers throw some rocks or smash some windows, enabling the police to define the entire protest as a “riot.” The police then move in with full military force and as often as not break heads, fire rubber bullets or bean bag rounds, or launch flash-bang grenades. More often than not, it is the peaceful protesters who are injured and/or arrested. Any distinction that police may have recognized between peaceful protesters and “rioters” is quickly lost. Usually the next night, the peaceful protesters prevail upon the angry youth to remain calm or go home. Further protests are greeted by admonitions from both “the authorities” and the media that, “There is no excuse for violence!” Public pressure and media exposure by this point restrain further police aggression.

Well, there is no excuse for violence. Rampaging or rioting crowds must be controlled for the sake of public safety. Out-of-control police violence against citizens also must be controlled for the sake of public safety. There is no excuse for the media to dismiss police violence and only focus on violence that results from anger over repeated patterns of police violence on vulnerable populations or excessive use of force in crowd control.

There Are Reasons
“Everything happens for a reason.” Well, not exactly. We live in a chaotic world. Explaining everything by reference to some ‘higher purpose’ is usually unproductive or worse counter-productive, though psychologically comforting. However, events do have causes and many causes are quite complex and are best understood by looking to their history. If we fail to recognize complex causes of problems, then we are unlikely to find effective solutions. So it is with police violence and social unrest.

Police violence is not new. Nor is it unique to the U.S.A.  Anywhere authority is enforced by an armed group, violations of human rights are likely if certain controls are not in place. Law enforcement institutions must maintain a high sense of public purpose, a high level education, a strong tradition of self-discipline, and a strong humanitarian value structure. And they must be held publicly accountable whenever they misbehave. Otherwise, they will be subject to growing corruption of their proper mission: keeping the peace and catching criminals. In many places around the world, such conditions of effective law enforcement do not exist. In the U.S., we pretend to uphold such high standards, but we do not. The public purpose of law enforcement has been subverted and corrupted by a “we vs. them” mentality and an increasingly militarized framing of mission as that of the “warrior cop” defending power elites against the people.

“No justice, no peace!” That protest slogan reflects the growing frustration among vulnerable populations and many others with the continual violation of human rights by police. It also reflects the demand that this corruption of mission be eliminated. As long as law enforcement is not radically reformed, we have no reason to believe that peaceful protests against police abuses will not be exploited by those who are prone to violence – including the police.

The conditions of urban life for populations that are essentially isolated from the new economy of little opportunity are increasingly oppressive. It is unlikely that the elites of the corporate state will relinquish their control over the economy to the extent needed for the economy to actually serve the public interest. In order to make the economy reflect the needs of the people rather than the greed of the plutocracy, major changes will have to be made to re-balance power toward economic and political democracy.  Indictments are not enough; they address individual cases, not systemic change.

Without democratic politics and an economy serving the public interest, the radical reformation of law enforcement to reflect its most common motto, “to protect and to serve,” is highly unlikely. At the same time, a national culture that glorifies violence in the exercise of imperial ambitions around the world will continue to view subject populations in “the homeland” as the evil other. Our violent culture, institutional racism, self-selection of violent persons as police officers, a culture of punishment, and institutional corruption must be changed.

Overcoming Ideology: New Actions and New Ideas

Efforts to find a viable path to mitigating climate chaos and forging an ecologically viable economy are just not moving fast enough. They seem bogged down in struggles over old ideas and inadequate actions. Even some of the most esteemed liberal economists who are not on the corporate bandwagon have failed to escape this trap.

Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, both highly respected liberal economists, oppose the crass neo-conservative economic ideology of corporate imperialism. Yet, in his own way each remains trapped in the general economic ideology of extractive capitalism as the only way forward. Krugman imagines robust restrictions on carbon emissions without curtailing economic growth. Stiglitz imagines a ‘reformed’ capitalism where healthy competition can be restored. The imaginary and the possible are not necessarily the same.

French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has received vastly more attention and sales than ever expected of a heavy economic tome. Piketty seems to expect inequality to be reduced by expanding economic growth. A simpler version of the myth of sharing a “bigger economic pie” or the “rising tide lifts all boats” story is available in any Econ. 101 class. Unfortunately for these fables, inequality is a positive feedback loop – greater power begets greater power.

Meanwhile, Krugman argued in his September 18, 2014 New York Times column, that carbon emissions can be reduced cheaply amidst strong economic growth. He does not mention the skyrocketing depletion rates of many important industrial materials – including petroleum – upon which continued economic growth depends. The connection between economic growth, growing poverty, and climate disruption is nowhere to be found.

Stiglitz writes in last September’s Harper’s Magazine, that Piketty is wrong in concluding that inequality is an inevitable outcome of capitalism. Instead, he says, ‘capitalism as we know it’ isn’t truly competitive like a capitalist system should be. Our system’s growing extreme disparities in income and wealth have been engineered by the wealthy. Stiglitz would reform capitalism.

Ending Economic Ideology

Stiglitz and Krugman are stalwart and articulate critics of the neoliberal economic ideology that attempts to justify corporate dominion over economic and political policy. However, despite their rather sophisticated economic analyses, our present economic system is what it is because it is not allowed to be reformed. The concentration of both wealth and income in the hands of a small elite is inherent in any economy in which excessive political power accrues to the financial elite. Inequality is becoming extreme, extractive demands of industrial production grow ever stronger as resources are depleted, and the devastation of the planet continues. Reform? You can’t get there from here.

As the international death dance continues around failed commitments to reduce carbon emissions, sufficient national and international actions to curtail climate chaos seem ever more unlikely. We know a lot about carbon emissions and the most important sources. Technically, the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be planned as effectively as the U.S. mobilized the entire economy upon entering World War II. But execution is a political matter and therein lays the collective failure. Another way is needed and not even the most sincere and smart conventional economists seem able to help.

Increasing poverty, massive concentration of income and wealth, and accelerating climate disruption all have the same cause. The economy of endless growth required by the debt-driven imperatives of extractive capital is not susceptible to political reform. The very financial and corporate elites that drive the economy have captured and completely control the key players in the political process. We must look elsewhere for solutions. And elsewhere we will find them.

Resistance and Replacement: Actions Reforming Ideas

The people and the planet desperately need resistance to and replacement of the very institutions that even the most liberal critics of economic and environmental failure cannot give up. As neo-conservative economic policies still seek to solidify the empire of growth, progressive leaning conventional economists seek to reform what needs to be replaced. Powerful financial and corporate elites do not give up easily. Consider Jamie Diamond’s arrogant dismissal of Elisabeth Warren’s desire to regulate Wall Street’s excesses. The conversation in which it occurred is noted in the Afterward to the paperback re-issue of her book, A Fighting Chance.

Neither resistance nor replacement will be easy. But both will be nurtured by the growing sense among more and more people that we are on a path to catastrophe and need an immediate course correction. There is much to learn from non-violent movements of resistance that have succeeded, as reported in Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall’s A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Even so, new models of resistance must involve accelerated withdrawal from the consumerist complex – no easy task. There is still a place for the forms of resistance seen in the Occupy and Arab Spring movements. But Gene Sharp, whose From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, inspired those movements’ strategies, urged practical agility and creativity in fighting oppressive forces.

Today’s forces of oppression, especially in the ‘industrially advanced’ nations, are of a different order than the old dictatorships. The “inverted totalitarianism” with a façade of democratic formalism, as Sheldon Wolin describes in Democracy Incorporated, calls for new creative forms of resistance. Naomi Kline argues for ideologically driven forms of resistance in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. However, new ideologies of humane social and economic relations, economic justice, and ecological society must be shaped by resistance that has direct and meaningful relationships to the immediate crises we face.

Replacement of the failed perpetual-growth political economy and its extractive energy-production and consumption practices requires even more creativity and organization. Various books, magazines, and Web sites, such as John Brown Childs, Trans-Communality, David Korten, Change the Story, Change the Future, Yes! Magazine, and Resilience.org – to name just a few – seek alternative cultural and political as well as economic paths. Works like that of Juliet B. Schor, author of True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy, point to the formation of a new society grounded in humanity’s relationship to the earth and all its inhabitants. The idea of the good life is captured in that title. Many families and communities are experimenting with new ways of living outside of institutional entanglements. But much more is needed and on a much larger scale.

The hard part, of course, is getting it done, especially with so little time before catastrophic consequences of our current path become unavoidable. Some argue that it is too late. But that claim is pointless. We fight not because we will win; we fight because we must win.

Chaotic Convergence

In the New Age idea of “harmonic convergence,” there are a few “power centers” around the world. Near the beautiful cliffs surrounding Sedona, AZ, for example, people are said to experience converging forces of spiritual energy. But another convergence is taking place and it has nothing to do with stunning red-rock landscapes or mystical feelings of harmony. Far from it. Instead, I have noticed an extraordinary set of outwardly unrelated indicators of increasingly chaotic societal trends in the U.S.A., cascading throughout the world. And they appear to be converging.

Random Anomalies?
A recent Homeland Security report* concluded that “sovereign citizens” are perceived as a greater threat by law enforcement than are “Islamic terrorists.” Of course, it’s hard to even find an Islamic terrorist in the U.S. – racist targeting of any Muslim aside. But the Cliven Bundies are definitely out there and growing in numbers.

The extreme individualist anti-government meme has taken hold for a growing number of people. But these folks usually don’t understand the source of the dysfunctions of the governmental they hate. Of course, their hyper-libertarian ideology itself is seriously dysfunctional. It sees all problems as inherent in government itself. But in politics the biggest problem for democracy is the widespread distortion of governmental functions by the corporate imposition of money and power.

“Stand your ground” legislation and its expression in morally unjustifiable shootings point to a growing cultural need to express personal power with violence. Bizarre “open carry” imbeciles marching into restaurants with their AR-15s appear to be expressing their twisted juvenile sense of manhood. But there is more to it than that. Instability breeds fear; fear breeds hatred; hatred finds its target, even school children.

Racist Congressmen refuse to act on anything proposed by the African-American president they find inherently illegitimate and “un-American.” They even reject his proposals that originated in Republican ideas. The obsessiveness of their loathing is quite astounding, though consistent only with rabid racism and the gut urge to bring down that “Other.” There is no “post-racial America.”

Automated programmed trading at hyper-speed by powerful financial institutions obtains market information nanoseconds ahead of ordinary traders. This allows them to make pennies a trade so fast that they skim millions of dollars from the stock market every week. What is a “free market,” really? Cheating is pervasive and tolerated in U.S. business and political culture, and markets are not free.

Cities are going bankrupt and are forced to raid their retirees’ pension funds because Koch brothers funded politicians legislate to serve their rich patrons, not the public. The people are an inconvenience. Who protects the public interest? Almost nobody with any power, actually. Corruption is rampant.

The “change we can believe in” president elected on an ‘end the wars’ platform, bombs wedding parties in Afghanistan and funerals in Yemen. His lawyers draw up secret legal opinions authorizing him to assassinate American citizens along with anyone else he deems a “threat.” His drone kills a teenage American boy visiting his grandparents in Yemen. In response to disclosures about the CIA crimes, he responds, “we tortured some folks…and it’s important for us not too feel too sanctimonious in retrospect…”
Absurd levels of secret “intelligence” spy operations capture nearly all the private communications of Americans. No particular reason or authorization is needed other than the stated institutional goal of amassing full-spectrum of information about everyone. You may “have nothing to hide,” and foolishly accept it. But spying on everyone by powerful agencies whether federal or local, has ominous implications for everyone’s political freedom. The NSA director lies to Congress and is tolerated. That alone heralds an emerging totalitarian corporate state retaining only a thin veneer of democratic formality.

The Convergence
Collectively, these ostensibly uncharacteristic and unrelated trends provide a context for understanding part of where the “sovereign citizens” paranoia comes from. They seem unconnected, though each is disturbing. But are they simply anomalies? I doubt it.

The personal, the social, the economic, and the political uncertainties we experience or observe today are real, if confusing. They are exacerbated by the recognition, sometimes subliminal, that we live in a society that is increasingly unstable and violent – a bad combination. As if that were not enough, the stability of the biosphere we are part of is itself is being placed at accelerating risk by our institutions and our way of life.

We look around and find little to justify a sense of security. Many escape into the smaller worlds of their everyday lives or stupefying mass media. We see the largest institutions, whether military, corporate, financial, or governmental, and notice the growing trend. Each is expanding its own surveillance/security programs. And in all institutional sectors, the security and secrecy measures are directed at protecting those institutions’ ability to control the population – us – in some way. Why? Because we know that as they grow more irrelevant and opposed to our needs, these institutions increasingly resort to force and violence.

Yet, those hierarchical control structures are themselves engaged in increasingly chaotic reactions to environments that they cannot control. The most powerful institutions in the world were not designed to engage conditions they never anticipated. It seems clear that we need a process of non-violent “creative destruction” to transform these institutions. But what we are getting is a growing process of destruction of humanity emanating from the institutions supposedly serving the public.
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* David Carter, et al, Understanding Law Enforcement Intelligence Processes. Report to the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (July 2014), p. 7. Accessed at: https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_UnderstandingLawEnforcementIntelligenceProcesses_July2014.pdf

In Defense of Education

We have been converted from citizens to consumers. That conversion has been helped along by the dumbing down of education in the waning decades of the industrial era. The once lofty goal of building a viable democratic society by assuring that citizens were adequately educated in all things human, including art, science, music, culture, and political economy – the full range of human knowledge – has been replaced by narrow technical training for those willing to be trained to be obedient employees rather than be educated as citizens. It’s flipping Big-Macs for the rest.

The ‘captains of industry’ realized along time ago that they only needed obedient workers and ready consumers – active citizenship would be a major inconvenience. No need for civic participation in an oligarchy – better, in fact, to restrict it. No need for an engaged thinking public if the plutocrats are in charge. [Plutocracy: “a country ruled by the richest people” Miriam-Webster online.] The power elites have known all long that the general population, for the most part should be kept as ignorant and subservient as possible. At the same time, a big part of American culture was a vision of a growing energetic entrepreneurial spirit spurring innovation and the potential for anyone to succeed. That, of course, is a rather large contradiction. Nevertheless, education was seen as the path to achieve the “American Dream.”

Most of the “educational reforms” over the last century have served the purpose of generating profits for consultants, salaries for bureaucrats, and the management of students moving through the system until at some point most jump or are pushed out. When I was in college, I thought that if we just got everyone properly educated we could solve all the world’s problems and live happily ever after. I think I still held on to that hope, tempered by a certain realism, when I began teaching university courses. Gradually, though, it became clear that education was failing America, or maybe America was failing education.

Bottom line: bureaucracy grew and teaching and learning declined as the key elements of the process became “objectified” by various “standards” and procedures (mostly formal “objective” testing and formal “learning objectives”), all of which distract from and consume the funds needed for the actual engagement of teacher and student. More and more pressure, especially on primary and high school teachers, forced them further from direct personal engagement with students, which is the essence of effective teaching and learning.

In thirty-five years of teaching in the California State University system I watched it decline in budgeted support and grow in diverse bureaucratic distractions from the reason we professors thought we were there: teaching and research. At the same time, I learned more and more about how the primary and secondary systems were destroying the chances of very bright individuals in the poverty ridden central areas of Los Angeles. The university students I taught were increasingly unprepared for the work. The hardest part was realizing that innately intelligent individuals simply had not been prepared with the skills needed to succeed in college and there was little I could do about it by that stage. I also discovered that colleagues in other cities and states were experiencing the same decline on their campuses as I was, including some of the nation’s most elite institutions.

Now, the power elites have just about what they want, except for an adequate supply of technical drones for their operations. Today, the plutocracy’s growing problem is that people are not as stupid as the elites expect them to be by depriving them of a real education; they are increasingly angry at being effectively cut off from even modest economic success, and they are ready to do something about it. As in other areas – the economy, politics, community relations – people are organizing themselves to achieve what the conventional institutions have failed to make possible. No, I’m not talking about corporate ‘charter schools’ or ‘privatized’ trade schools. Community based schools are emerging with a human focus. That is where the defense of education will be based and where the full education of citizens will be found.

The massive problems of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty wages caused by the trajectory of the failing growth economy will not be solved by education alone, despite pundits’ claims that workers are not prepared for the good jobs, which are insufficient in number anyway. The larger question is whether we are willing to support the broad public education that is necessary if we are to transition to a new ecological economy as a strong democracy, or whether we will fail entirely and devolve into social chaos. We must choose, and act now, because we have a long way to go.

Necessary but Unlikely Total Mobilization to Curtail Climate Chaos

The inevitability of climate chaos leading to species extinction of humans, along with many other species, now seems assured without massive mobilization and collective action on a scale never before achieved by humans.  Necessary but seemingly impossible – that is not a comforting thought.  Yet, here we are, contemplating whether or not the president will even slow the juggernaut of fossil-fuel burning by rejecting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport the most polluted crude oil from the environmental disaster called the Canadian Tar Sands Fields to Texas refineries for distribution on the world markets — not for “energy independence.”  Approval would be a purely financial act of enriching the industry at the expense of the planet.  To refuse approval would be a small step toward slowing the rapid slide into climate chaos.

Yet, many major actions, some much more complex, will have to be taken to make the difference between survival and extinction.  Here are just a few:

  • Massive retro-fitting of insulation of existing buildings.
  • Rapidly accelerate the installation of local photovoltaic solar electricity generation and local-regional wind farms and smart grids.
  • Execute broad water conservation strategy.
  • Tax all CO2  and externalized costs of fossil-based energy production and use revenue to fund conversion to carbon-neutral economy [lots of jobs in that].
  • Convert transportation from fossil-fuel to carbon-neutral energy and build required infrastructure.
  • Curtail intercontinental trade and shipping of goods easily made in the destination nation were it not for corporate “free trade” agreements favoring capital over labor.
  • Transform the corporate-driven international exploitation of local labor by mobile capital and shift production to the geographic region of consumption.
  • And even reconfigure the Internet to reduce wasteful giant server farms (including those of the NSA) that store massive quantities of data “in the cloud.”

These are just some of the major undertakings that are essential to slow global warming and minimize resulting climate disruptions.  The only example I know of a total mobilization of the kind required, but which occurred at a much smaller scale, was the rapid transformation of the stagnant American consumer economy into a booming war-production economy at the beginning of WWII.  (And Depression era unemployment was eliminated.)  Automobile production was stopped and factories were converted to production of tanks in a matter of weeks.  The iconic P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft was designed and put into production also in a few weeks.  In a variety of ways, the entire society was mobilized en mass, and with the full participation of the citizenry.  Why?  Because the focus and the stakes were clear to everyone – concerted action was the result.  We have not yet achieved that focus or clarity.

Could that level of collective commitment to, and implementation of, a conversion from a fossil-fuel based economy of perpetual growth and waste to a fully carbon-neutral economy of stability be accomplished in less than the maximum twenty-year window for action?  Theoretically, yes.  Practically, very unlikely, given the huge institutional and cultural obstacles we face.  Some scientists calculate that it would require changing about eighty percent of our production and consumption practices to achieve the carbon emissions goals that are necessary to not stop but just minimize climate disruptions over the next half century – that’s all the time we have, if that, and only if those changes are achieved in the very short term.  That would entail a Herculean collective effort – while the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Fixed News scoff.

Yet, necessity can overcome seeming impossibility, once necessity is fully recognized.  No political issues like who is to blame, who should go first in cutting emissions, etc., can even be contemplated in any scenario leading to success.  In our present situation, a massive collective effort must start now and accelerate rapidly.  I’m assuming that if such an effort were initiated in the U.S., most nations would quickly follow, for several reasons.  But how can it be done?

It would seem that only an FDR level of singular focused executive action by the currently farcical “all of the above” energy-policy president could turn the tide.  But how is that possible?  When we look at the record of presidential pandering to the financial and petro-industrial elites so far, hopes dim.  But history has also shown that public mobilization can direct the actions of “leaders” if the will of the people is expressed at a sufficient scale and intensity.

Naïve liberals wonder why their obviously smart-enough president kowtows to the power elites (who gave him all those big campaign contributions) and Republican obstructionists, instead of fighting for social programs in the “yes we can” vein on which they believe he was elected.  At the same time, the evolving totalitarian plutocracy is extremely unlikely to accept necessary drastic actions without a fight – indeed, such actions reach far beyond the mere social programs that are also in direct opposition to its short-term interests.

Racist congressional obstructionism aside, the fact is that the power structure cannot be moved without massive public pressure, no matter who the president is.  Keystone XL may be the key bellwether. Besides, most of the political “liberals” – the Democratic Party incumbents who are also well oiled by the corporatocracy – don’t really get how seriously threatening this crisis is, or, they are simply holding to their own short-term political/economic interests.  They will not be the agents of change; the people will be…if they will.

All sorts of questions about the future of democracy are raised by the massive-mobilization prerequisite to fending off the worst effects of the accelerating climate chaos we are already experiencing.  But in a system where a plutocratic alliance of corporations and government already manages a hollow shell of a defunct democratic process, such questions are mostly moot.  Survival is a precondition anyway if we are to ever return to a real democratic polity.  If massive mobilization is driven by grass-roots demands of the citizenry for concerted action, as it must be, that very same citizenry can establish new democratic forms during the Great Transformation, but only if it happens within the rapidly closing window of opportunity remaining.