Time to Choose Your Revolution

peaceful revolution - JFK

In the wake of the most recent “Super Tuesday,” it is time to consider that a revolution may yet be coming to America.  The races are not over, by any stretch, but one thing that we have clearly seen is that among all of the candidates who have thrown hats into the ring this election cycle, two have garnered more attention and enthusiasm than any other, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  And, while the two are vastly different as men, as political figures, and as representatives of particular economic classes in our society, there is one constant between them.  Each is calling for a revolution.

In Sanders’ case, he is calling for a political revolution which involves more and more people becoming involved in the political process, such that the leaders we elect better reflect the desires of the broader base of the population and will work together to point our country in a new direction.  His is a revolution based on leveling the playing field for all of us, so that no one economic strata of our society foots the bill for everyone else.  Instead, his desire is for the wealthiest members of our society to pay their fair share, for our country to guarantee as a right, decent health care to all Americans, for the greed that has taken over corporate America and Wall Street to be tempered so that working people have a chance to own a decent standard of living, for us to look to the future and provide all of our children the opportunity to become the best and brightest that they can be, because we will be relying on them to take over for us.  And he is calling for a nation that has given its young men and women to two decades of purposeless war to finally, give peace a chance.

Trump is calling for a very different kind of revolution.  His is based on the idea that our enemies are already in the process of taking over our country from within and without, with the solution that we need to send our immigrant populations home, deny aid to refugees who might be coming instead to attack us, force our economic will upon the world in the form of “great deals” which would strengthen our economy against those of China and third world nations, and secure our borders with a wall which would be visible from space.  He points to outsiders and says, “They hate us.”  He wants to “bomb the shit out of” our enemies abroad and enter into a database all of the ones at home who might be conspiring against us. 

One revolution is about including people in the process and one is about excluding anyone who does not think like him and his.  These two candidates have consistently drawn larger crowds than all of the others. That alone speaks to an understanding among our people that some manner of change must come.

What merits this revolution?  What is different this cycle or has mysteriously managed to focus all of our attention on something we previously had ignored?

Bernie Sanders points to the rigged system and there has been ample evidence of it.  Since the passage of Citizen’s United and the legislated understanding that “corporations are people,” the rise and overt nature of the Super Pacs has become abundantly clear.  Aside from Sanders and Trump, all of the other candidates receive their funding in large part from Super Pacs, organizations of wealthy individuals and corporations who choose candidates to support based on their willingness to endorse the agendas of those individuals and corporations.  There is an old story about Henry Ford, who once said that people could “have a Model T in any color they wanted, as long as it was black.”  As voters, we have come to see that we can vote for any candidate we choose, we just weren’t the ones choosing who ran in the first place.

We have also seen that the mainstream media has attempted to shut out Sanders and his campaign in favor of Hillary the Inevitable and the ever entertaining media darling, Donald Trump.  Understanding that 90% of the main stream media in America is owned by six enormous corporations, which lobby and own their own candidates, makes it easy to understand why they want nothing to do with a candidate who can not be bought.  And, even the DNC itself, has shown that it is part of that same rigged system, organizing debates to run at times when the fewest number of people would be watching, shutting out voters from the process by arriving without sufficient number of ballots, and disregarding President Obama’s own expressed desire to keep Wall Street money from buying Democratic candidates.  When the DNC looks us in the eye and tells us that their Super Delegates exist to make sure that the party is not subject to the will of voters choosing a grass roots candidate, we know the fix is in.

For his part, Trump has asserted time and again that he is self-funding and cannot be bought.  Instead, he exemplifies the section of our society doing the buying.  He is a classic, self-styled “power broker,” able to cite the law and rationalize why he is not to be bound by it.  Rather than come to a fuller understanding of the principles at the heart of our system of government, he deals in expedient and entirely whimsical reasons to thumb our collective noses at those values.  His ignorance shall be our strength.  His defiant scowl, reason enough.  As the world bows to Donald Trump, so shall it bow to America.  I am reminded of a line from an old episode of the Firesign Theater, “All for one and all for one.  Let’s hear it for me!”

But the foundations of this revolution run far deeper.

What we have come to understand about America since the start of this election cycle is deeply troubling.  Where we once thought of our government as sitting at the top of our society, perched like Olympus atop the mountain, we have now come to see that the government is not at the summit of our nation.  That is the playground of the wealthiest people and institutions in the country, the same ones who buy the candidates and the elections themselves.  Instead, the government serves as a buffer between them and us.  The laws are passed to benefit them, to benefit big corporations and big money, to insure that they become bigger still.  And in just the same way that a corporation shields, in a legal sense, the owners from the threat of loss due to lawsuit, the government shields them from us.  We can replace the government, but we can not replace them or their influence on our nation.

Karl Marx once called religion, “the opiate of the masses,” and John Lennon sang that “they’ll keep you doped on religion and sex and TV.”  What we have come to see is that on certain fundamental levels, nothing in our country ever changes.  Bones are thrown our way, to be sure.  The Affordable Care Act promises that we will all be able to purchase health insurance.  But just like something called a Smart phone, it is neither smart nor affordable. 

More often than not, those who own and run the country find ways to pit us against each other.  The rise for example, of evangelical christianity to a point where some 25% of the country’s population identifies itself as evangelical, directly corresponds to the time frame over which this country has become so polarized that Republicans and Democrats have become the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Through a calculated fear mongering aimed at an element of the religious right, evangelicals have been taught to believe that they are under attack from all sides.  Their understandable response has been to rise up in opposition of this perceived threat.  And that keeps everyone’s attention focused like Don Quixote on dragons that are not really there at all.

The endless battle over issues like abortion rights, gay marriage, gun control, corporate taxation, the role of the bible in our government and judicial system, even the birthplace and citizenship of the president, are all issues designed to divide us.  Like a magician’s sleight of hand, they serve the purpose of distracting our eyes from the real issues.  Today, our magicians are all in politics.  And what is politics but the art of convincing people that you are saying one thing, when in reality you are saying something completely different?

The still recent and lingering (despite what Washington tells us)  recession has illustrated what the real issue is; in America, the very wealthy are becoming more and more so, while the rest of us slip a little further down the slope with each year.  When the wealthiest fifteen individuals in the country have seen their earnings grow by $170 billion dollars in two years, and the wealthiest 1% of the country controls more wealth than the bottom 90%, all while they pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than your average secretary, one must see that there is something fundamentally unjust in our system.  When the richest nation on the planet sees 40% of its population with no savings, living hand to mouth on the edge of poverty, worried that the next rise in health insurance or the cost of energy, might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, something is fundamentally unjust in our system.  And when our politicians stare stone-faced at us and say that providing health care as a right to our people or free college tuition to our students, is impossible, despite the fact that much of the industrialized world does exactly that, something is fundamentally unjust in our system.

After all, is ours not a system of justice?  For so long, we have been taught that ours is not a democracy (where the mob can rule), ours is a republic, where there are laws which bind everyone, high and low.  Prove it.  The truth has become all to obvious; there is a class of people in this country who are above the law.  As Bernie Sanders pointed out, of the people on Wall Street who destroyed our economy, stole the retirement savings of countless Americans, and bankrupted cities to the point where they could not pay their retired workers the pensions they had bought and paid for, not a one went to jail.  Not a one was even indicted. 

And well we remember that even on the off chance that a scum bag like Marc Rich could be charged or convicted, the system, in the form of then President Bill Clinton, would pardon him and absolve him of his crime.  When Hillary Clinton laughs at the camera and tells you that she will never be indicted, you can believe her.  It matters not that there is or is not evidence against her that would merit an indictment.  What matters is that like Achilles, she has been dipped in the River Styx by the ruling class, and is nearly impervious.

But Sanders and Trump each know her Achilles’ heel.

And so a revolution may yet be coming to America.

Where establishment candidates like Clinton and Cruz are content to blame each other’s party, whilst wrapped in the flag or clutching their bibles, Sanders and Trump, like the majority of the voting public, know that the apple doesn’t rot far from the tree.  The system is broken, perhaps hopelessly so, and the engine of government needs to be completely overhauled or even replaced.

It is then up to us to decide.  Which revolution shall we choose?

Bernie Sanders has been careful to say, “I can’t do this alone.”  He needs the help of all of us, joining in the political process.  He understands the gridlock that is Washington and just how easy it would be for the Republicans to block his efforts as they have blocked President Obama’s.  But there is a difference this time around.  It just so happens that 88% of the House of Representatives is up for re-election this year.  If the grass roots movement is really paying attention, the chance is there for us to throw the bastards out, and make a real change, from within.  It will be hard, for certain, but if it is truly the will of the people, and the people choose to stand together, it can be done.  Unless, of course, the DNC does not print enough ballots, or the Super Pacs run enough smear campaigns.

Then, we might be left with Trump.  Why it has taken so long for him to terrify the Republican party, I do not know.  But terrify them, he has.  Today, there is even talk of running an independent candidate against Trump in the general election.  It would not be because that candidate might win; it is simply because that candidate might split the ticket and cause both to lose.  Many Republicans would rather see Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in office, than to endure a Trump revolution.

It has been very interesting to me to see all of the comparisons of Trump to Adolph Hitler.  It is easy to make them, based on his attacks on minorities, outsiders and a particular religious group.  His posturing and scowl may owe more to Mussolini, but the comparison to Hitler is certainly warranted.  What worries me more is the style of his revolution.  In some ways, it has a greater resemblance to that of the Bolsheviks.

When the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar and took control of Imperial Russia, they had before them the task of bringing the revolution to all corners of the empire.  So, while they could easily have exiled the Czar and his family to any one of a number of european countries (the royal families were all inter-related by birth or marriage), they chose instead to line them up against a wall and have them shot.  Years later, they acknowledged that this was done for one simple reason.  After the execution, there would be no turning back.

Trump’s rhetoric is increasingly backing him and his adherents into a corner.  The cult of Donald Trump allows for no errors of judgement, no statements of remorse, no admission of fallibility.  Any such event could topple him like a house of cards.  Instead, his revolution is targeted specifically at those who can not defend themselves.  His followers have been groomed for a generation to believe that they are already under attack and they have armed themselves to the teeth to defend their god, their freedom and their guns. 

Would Trump do something to advance the agenda of his revolution from which there could be no return?  If it was good for business, he just might.  He just might start a third world war with the Islamic world, because our country would then be mobilized into full industrial productivity, full employment for the war effort, and a booming economic forecast.  Think not?  Remember that World War II brought this country out of the Great Depression.

If this election is bringing revolution to America, our saving grace may be that it appears we will at least have a choice.  We can overhaul the engine from within or we an drive off the lot in a shiny new convertible, paid for in the misery of generations to come.  If we make the peaceful revolution impossible, we might make the violent revolution inevitable.

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Putting Some Perspective on Income Inequality

A number of different campaign strategies have evidenced themselves during this presidential election cycle.  Among the Republicans, much, if not most of the campaigning has been focused on the need to undo everything President Obama has done, and to insult anyone who holds a different idea or who may have smaller hands than yourself.  For Hillary Clinton, her primary strategy has been one of touting her years of experience, while distancing herself from what she actually said and did during those years of experience. 

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has spent a great deal of his campaign energy on the issue of income inequality in America and its impact upon the middle and working classes of this country.   He has expressed a number of plans for the country, chief among which are implementing a single payer health care system, creating a massive infrastructure rebuilding program to put many Americans back to work in meaningful jobs, and creating a program whereby our young people could go to state colleges and universities, tuition free.

Many pundits and the Clinton campaign have gone out of their way to say that Sanders’ ideas are unworkable, and on the surface it is very clear that they would indeed be costly.  So, as a matter of gaining some perspective on this, it is illustrative to actually break down some numbers and see how some aspect of his ideas could be made to work.

In a recent campaign video from Bernie Sanders on the nature of income inequality in America, he pointed out that the wealthiest fifteen people in America have seen their wealth increase by a combined total of $170 billion dollars in just the past two years.  Let us come to a deeper understanding of that.

For starters, who are these people?  According to Forbes Magazine, the wealthiest people in America are, in order: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Larry Ellison (Oracle), David & Charles Koch (energy interests), Christy, Jim, Alice and S. Robson Walton (Walmart), Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sheldon Adelson (casino mogul), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google). 

Did they really see their wealth increase by $170 billion dollars?  According to Statista.com, yes they did.  We think of their increase in wealth, rather than in earnings, because “earnings” has the suggestion of wealth gained through work.  For people in this income bracket, their money comes from many sources, most of which are outside of what we would traditionally think of as “working for a living.”  Essentially, their net worth as reported in 2013 was set against their net worth in 2015 and the difference was a gain of $170 billion dollars.

Now, you might think that these people pay out a tremendous percentage of their net worth in taxes, but, according to Forbes Magazine, their Fortune 400 pay on average about 22.9% of their income to the IRS.  That is less than the income tax rate on a single person earning $38,250 per year (remember when Warren Buffet said that he pays less by percentage in taxes than his secretary?).

For the purposes of discussion, let us look at this in a different light altogether.  First, we’ll divide that $170 billion dollar figure in half and call it one year’s earnings, $85 billion dollars.  Then, let’s imagine that we are taxing that income at a rate of 90%.

If we taxed $85 billion dollars at a 90% rate, the tax collected would be $76.5 billion and the amount retained by the wealthiest fifteen people in America would be $8.5 billion.  Divide that evenly among the wealthiest fifteen and each would see a net increase in their earnings of just $565 million. That is quite a chunk of change, lost to the taxman.  How would the wealthiest fifteen survive?

Well, if Bill Gates or Alice Walton or Charles Koch were to go into full on panic mode, and determine that he or she might never be able to work again, that $565 million could be stashed in one of the safest investments going, a United States Government Treasury Note.  Now, these notes pay only a very modest return, but they are backed by the federal government and as safe an investment as you can get.  Currently, they have a yield of 4.625% interest per year.  So, if $565 million was stashed in your name in a Government T-Note, and you were to live on the interest from it, never adding another dime to your savings, what would you get per year?  The answer is $26 million, 131 thousand, 250 dollars per year, every year.

Could you eke it out on $26 million a year?

The first part of putting income inequality into perspective is this.  If we took from the fifteen wealthiest people in America 90% of their earnings and forced them to survive on the interest alone from the investing of the 10% left to them, they would each still earn more in a year than the overwhelming majority of Americans could dream of earning in a lifetime.

Now, what of that $76.5 billion in tax that was collected?

In a simple equation, let’s assume that every penny of it was to be spent on providing free college tuition to students attending public (rather than private) state colleges and universities.  In 2015, the average cost of tuition and fees to in-state students at public stage colleges and universities was $9,410 per year.  The cost for same to out of state students was $23,893.  If we divide the tax collected by the cost of the tuition, we get the number of students who could attend college, free of charge.  In this example, those “in-state” students would number 8 million, 129 thousand, 649. 

So, the second part of putting income inequality into perspective is this.  If we as a nation determined that it was in the best interests of the country to educate our young people as fully as possible, so that they might take on leadership roles in business, science, medicine, education, government and the arts (!), and through their leadership, better support the rest of us as we slip into middle and old age, we could send over eight million of them per year to college, tuition free, on the taxes levied against just fifteen people.

Think that a 90% tax bracket is too high?  Remember the lyric to George Harrison’s song from 1966, “Taxman”:

“Let me tell you how it will be, there’s one for you, nineteen for me”

One for you and nineteen for me (the Taxman), is a tax rate of 95%, what the Beatles were paying in England in the mid 1960’s.  AND THEY STILL GOT RICH!

In fact, in the United States, the wealthiest income bracket between the years 1944 and 1963, had a tax rate which vacillated between 90% and 92%.  And what was the cut-off point?  Two hundred thousand dollars.  So, if you earned $200,000 in 1960, your tax liability was $180,000 of it.  That would leave you with just $20,000, but in 1960, $20,000 was roughly four times what an average school teacher earned per year, and three times what your average NFL star earned.  In other words, you would still be very well off.

In 1964, that tax rate dropped to 77% (still on $200K and up) and then to 70% as a top tax rate on the $100K and up bracket from 1965 until 1981.  In 1981, the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans dropped to 50% and it has continued to decline until today, where it stands at 39.6%.  Of course, that tax rate is on W-2 reported earnings, not on dividends, and it is set against various write-offs and tax havens.  This is why Forbes reports that the wealthiest four hundred people in America only pay about 23% of their earnings in taxes.

In the illustration of what taxing the wealthiest members of our society would do to provide for free tuition to public colleges, we looked at just fifteen people.  Bernie Sanders refers to the top 1% of our income earners, a group of people who collectively earn more than the bottom 90% combined.  If we get our priorities straight and make the wealthiest people in America pay their FAIR share (and it need not be as much as 90%), they would still be rich beyond our wildest dreams, and our country would be able to provide for its citizens and our own future.

Disregard the rhetoric; look at the candidates’ records.  And by all means, do the math.  That is why we send you for a free public education.

The Richest People in America:

http://www.statista.com/statistics/201426/the-richest-people-in-america/

How Much the Richest People in America Make:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/31/news/economy/richest-americans/

Information on T-Bonds, T-Notes and T-Bills:

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/making-sense-of-treasury-securities-treasury-bills-notes-and-bonds/

Cost of a College Education:

http://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064

Federal Tax Rates by Year:

http://taxfoundation.org/article/us-federal-individual-income-tax-rates-history-1913-2013-nominal-and-inflation-adjusted-brackets

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The Role of Judgement & the Other Government

Today, I was reminded of a conversation I had had with one of my sons, when he was about seven years old.

“Dad,” he said, “what is government?”

Of course, as an adult I knew that government is a very complex organism, but I tried to give the seven year old a basic understanding of it.

“Well, government is a group of people whom the rest of us choose to go to a special meeting place and work with each other to express our wishes for how to change the country and keep making it the best place it can be for us to live.  And, since the rest of us don’t agree all the time on what changes need to be made, we send these people, called representatives, to talk to each other, argue out the details and try to come up with solutions that benefit everyone.”

“Okay.  And what if we don’t get what we want?”

“We can change the person whom we send to speak for us.  We do that in an election, every few years.”

“Okay.  So Florida sends a person, and Pennsylvania sends a person, and Texas sends a person?”

“Right.  Every state sends people to speak for them in the government.”

“And France and England send people?”

“Well, no, the government is for the people from the fifty states and a few other places, like Puerto Rico and Guam and the Virgin Islands.”

“How do England and France get what they want?  I mean, from us?”

“Well, we have this part of the government, called the State Department, and their job is to work with the governments of other countries, to make friends where they can, and to make sure that American people and American businesses are safe and protected by the governments of other countries when they are living or working there.”

“Okay.  But we choose the people in the State Department, right?”

“Umm, no, some of the people in the State Department are there because it is a job that they were hired to do by the other people that we did send to the government.  And some of the people, the leaders at the State Department, are given their jobs by the President that we elect.”

“But the State Department does what we want it to do.  Right?”

“That’s the idea.  But truthfully, we often don’t really know what the State Department is doing.  A lot of it is kept kind of quiet.”

“Oh.”

Thinking this way, trying to take a complex issue and boil it down to its essential components, makes you realize how onion-like our government really is.  In that sense of layers upon layers, we get to vote for a President or a representative to Congress, and we are somehow led to believe that these are the people at the center of the government.  It might be argued that they represent only the outermost layer.  What is inside the onion, hidden at the core, are the layers of government who are appointed, hired into the mailroom and brought up through the ranks, or given a position out of nepotism or the sense of a favor owed.  And it is these people, people who do not answer directly to the voters of this country, who do the bidding of the government behind the scenes, the Other Government.

Of course, they answer to the people we elect (or at least, that is the plan).  But we often fail to get “progress reports” from our elected officials.  And so, much of what they do, behind the scenes, is also under the radar, and not necessarily in our best interests.

Of chief concern to most of us, would be the actions of the FBI / Homeland Security and the State Department / CIA.  As citizens, we want to know that our guaranteed freedoms remain guaranteed, so we want to keep tabs on the FBI and Homeland Security Departments and their surveillance of or spying into our own affairs.  And it is with the State Department that we need to know that their actions are making the world safer for Americans to inhabit, both at citizens and as business people.  The CIA?  Well, that has become a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, entirely.

In recent weeks, and particularly since the addition of Representative Tulsi Gabbard to the Bernie Sanders campaign, the issue of judgement in terms of our foreign policy has come to the fore.  We have already heard from the Republican side of the aisle, in the form of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and their plans to “carpet bomb” or “bomb the shit out of” ISIS.  As an expression of foreign policy, it is direct, to say the least.  It also is manifestly illegal by any and all International Conventions on war.

Recently, Donald Trump had stated that he would ramp up the use of torture as a means of leveling the playing field between us and ISIS, and that the military would follow his orders to torture prisoners and even murder the families of terrorists.  They won’t.  The United States military swears an allegiance to the Constitution, not the President.  They follow the laws of our land and the International Conventions on warfare.  They do not do the President’s bidding.

That is the job for “the other government.”  That is the job for the government which we do not get to elect, and it is the number one reason that we have to focus on the judgement of the people we do elect.

The State Department functions, in many ways, like its own government.  It makes agreements with other nations and establishes laws that exist between multiple countries.  It gathers information.  It has the task of making the world a better place for Americans and American business.  And, since the end of the Second World War, it has had its own army to act as an agent of change.  That army is the CIA.

At the end of the Second World War, the CIA grew out of the old OSS and became the chief tool for gathering information and implementing “compulsory change” in our dealings outside our own borders.  As an organization, it is tasked with two responsibilities, gathering intelligence and covert operations.  And, since about 1953, these operations have often involved the changing of regimes in other countries.  There is not enough room here to delve into too many specifics, so there is a link at the bottom of this article to a timeline of CIA operations.  Suffice it to say, the United States, through its agent, the CIA, has played a large part in the changing of numerous regimes in the Caribbean, South and Central America, and the Middle East:

1953 – Iran, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh overthrown in favor of the Shah

1954 – Guatemala, President Jacobo Arbenz forced from power

1959 – Haiti, CIA installs Papa Doc Duvalier and his private police force, the Tonton Macoutes

1960 – Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba assassinated by the CIA

1961 – Ecuador, President Jose Velasco forced to resign

1961 – Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo assassinated with CIA support

1961 – Cuba, CIA led attempt to remove Castro from power fails in Bay of Pigs disaster

1963 – South Viet Nam, puppet leader Ngo Dinh Diem, originally installed by the CIA in the late 1950’s, removed and executed with CIA support 

1963 – Dominican Republic, Juan Bosch overthrown and military junta installed by CIA

1964 – Brazil, President Joao Goulart, thought to be moving toward a communist style government, removed in a coup with CIA support and Humberto Castello Branco, chief of staff of the military, installed as head of government

1973 – Chile, Salvador Allende, socialist President elected in 1970 is overthrown in CIA backed coup, and General Augusto Pinochet is installed

1989 – Panama, Manuel Norriega removed from power and President Guilllermo Endara sworn in

2001 – Afghanistan, CIA works in support of US led invasion to oust the Taliban

2003 – Iraq, Saddam Hussein is ousted from power.  The CIA had originally supported Hussein with arms, training and intelligence as an ally against the Iranian revolutionary regime

2011 – Libya, CIA support of rebels in Libya leads to the capture and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, but many of the arms we delivered found their way into the hands of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist factions, culminating in the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi

2016 – Syria???

2017 – Mexico??

The general idea is that the President sends as his or her emissary, the Secretary of State, to pursue the interests of the United States in foreign locales.  In recent years, John Kerry has fulfilled that function.  Prior to Kerry, that job belonged to Hillary Clinton for a four year stretch under President Obama’s first term.  And today, Hillary Clinton is running for Obama’s office. 

While she can certainly lay claim to having the most foreign policy experience of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, running for President in this cycle, she can not lay claim to demonstrating particularly good judgement in that capacity.  Under her watch, the efforts we had made in rebuilding the nation that is Iraq unraveled into chaos that allowed for the rise of ISIS.  Her leadership in Libya provided for the arming of rebels who in may cases turned out to be the very terrorists we hoped to suppress.  And now, in Syria, we are still trying to sort out the disaster that she left as she attempted to oust Assad and the influence of the Russians with him. 

It is now becoming clearer that along with the support of the CIA, then-Secretary Clinton entered into an arrangement with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to support their countries with arms and materiel, while they provided the ground forces to overthrow Assad and fight ISIS.  A lot of American armaments have been moving into that often unstable and unpredictable area of the world, much to the dismay of our largest ally there, Israel, and to one of our chief adversaries in that region, Iran.  One supposition is that our recent agreement in economic support of the Iranian regime, was really an overture meant to calm tensions which had arisen from our arming of its neighbors.

One of the reasons that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal refuses to die is simply this; by refusing to establish a secure, government provided server for her email correspondence, Secretary Clinton created a situation in which our own government was not immediately privy to the complexity of her dealings with foreign governments.  No one knows what quid pro quo may have transpired outside the realm of government business to “grease the wheels.”  While the Secretary was negotiating the arming of Saudi Arabia, for example, the Saudi government was contributing millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.  In total, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the State Department approved $165 billion dollars in commercial arms sales to twenty countries which had all donated sizable sums to the Clinton Foundation.  And sixteen of those same countries received a further $151 billion in separate deals through the Pentagon.  Not too surprisingly, a number of American defense contractors, the beneficiaries monetarily of those sales, were also large donors to the Clinton Foundation.  While that might just be a coincidence, it would certainly require that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

Our country has a history of involvement in the world outside its own borders, going all the way back to Stephen Decatur and the Barbary Coast Pirates in 1801.  Since the end of the Second World War however, much of that history has been written with the aide of the CIA, and that history is not very glorious.  Nearly every instance of regime change that we have undertaken has ended disastrously and has spoken to the poor judgement of our State Department and the hubris of our own intelligence community.  What we have seen from Mrs. Clinton is poor judgement on a grand scale and the lingering concerns that her office was corrupt, for sale to the highest bidder, and actively engaged in flying under the radar of her own government.

Whomever becomes the next President of the United States is going to appoint his or her own Secretary of State and that person is going to do the bidding of the American government and by extension, the American public in the world of foreign affairs.  That President and that Secretary of State needs to exemplify sound judgement in order for this country to repair its relationships with much of the rest of the world.  As voters, we need to think not only of the government that we will elect, but also of the other government which our elected officials will install at the heart of the onion.  We can always vote out a President if we feel we have made a mistake in our judgement.  But mistakes in his or her judgement can haunt this nation for generations.

Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Disasters:

http://observer.com/2016/03/its-time-to-talk-about-hillarys-foreign-policy-faux-pas/

Arms deals and the Clinton Foundation:

http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

Timeline of CIA operations:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/a-timeline-of-cia-atrocities/5348804

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Why Do You Keep Voting For These Guys?

In the clip from Rachel Maddow’s show below, Bernie asks and answers this all important question, one which we all have to ask of ourselves.  Why do we keep voting for people who drive our country further into the hole?  Our political process, much like society itself, has devolved into a stream of vacuous soundbites, personality cults, fear mongering and knee-jerk responses to what are more often than not, the wrong questions.  And from that, we somehow are expected to find our leaders?

While Bernie’s response in the clip below is focused primarily on the phenomenon that has become Donald Trump, it really is a plain spoken assessment of what we as receptors have allowed the senders to accomplish as a means to their own ends.  We are afraid of the now and even more so of the future.  We have become powerless against the demons under the bed, monsters which most likely would vanish in the light of day.  But the curtains are held closed, the light extinguished, and those who profess to hold the answers keep pulling the covers over our heads.

The American people, the real people of this country, are indeed in trouble.  This has become the first generation who will undoubtedly be providing their children with a lower quality of life than they had, themselves.  It is hard to be all you can be when you are just barely hanging on.  We are working harder, and for increasingly less, but never quite for nothing.  And that is significant.  For, as the old song goes, if we had nothing, we’d have nothing to lose.  Instead, the power brokers and institutions who benefit from the rest of us following blindly like sheep are sure to leave us with just enough that we fear that someone will come and take it.  Why do we keep voting for these guys?  We have been conditioned to respond to that fear by electing, time and again, the man with the plan, the candidate with the answer to the very fear he or she has been spreading across the countryside.  It is as though the knight in shining armor has arrived in our town, bringing his own dragon, just in case we don’t have one of our own.

It is easy to blame the far right for their calculated use of fear as motivator for their brand of conservatism.  They taught us to be afraid of women taking men’s jobs, blacks  moving into white neighborhoods, gays becoming teachers in our schools, the government coming to take our guns and drive our religious beliefs out of our culture, Mexican rapists crossing our borders with drugs, and Muslim terror cells waltzing into the country on refugee visas.  But the Democrats are as much to blame in the dispensation of fear, teaching us to be afraid of conservative Supreme Court justices taking away women’s rights to control their own bodies, the imposition of an Evangelical belief system upon our laws, and a government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.  In short, both sides have taught us to fear the other.

These architects of fear have become the builders of our modern political system.  I’ve said this part before, but I believe it bears repeating.  We need to understand that in America, our politics have come to function as a form of religion.  And it is an Old Testament style of religion, built on fear from a house of cards.  Our politics are like a religion in that increasingly, they are built upon assumptions that are unproven or unprovable.  Candidates from each party rail against perceived injustices and Machiavellian designs of the other party, but seldom, if ever, is any injustice really probed, does any design really come to fruition. 

Without the pudding, we never experience the proof.  But there is reason for that, as well.  Just like a religion, if any of our unprovable assumptions were to become provable and demonstrated to be unfounded, that part of the house of cards collapses and possibly takes the rest of the structure with it.  Here we have two churches, Republican and Democrat, and each holds their congregants in large part through fear of the other.  But each instructs those congregants not to look too closely at those fears, not to test the waters of their fear to judge the depth.  As a result, Washington is more devoted to posturing than a Vogue runway.  Very little of substance is attempted or accomplished for fear that if it works, the party that suggested it is validated and the party that feared and opposed it has another wall removed from its own house of cards.  Similarly, if a bill is passed and the results of it merit a failing grade, we pull a card from the stack of the party that suggested it in the first place.  Thus we have replaced bustle with monolith.

An interesting manifestation of this development of the “immovable object” as government can be found  in the candidates running for President.  If you dare not risk validating the ideology of the other church, you do not want to run a candidate who has had much experience mingling with its congregation.  And so we see many candidates for office who have very little real experience of government, very little experience of real political compromise, very little experience of getting legislation passed into law.  The one thing they know is that the fault lies somewhere in the other party.

By way of example, here are the political tenures, at a national level, of the major candidates we have seen thus far (with a couple of ringers thrown in for good measure):

Marco Rubio – one term in the Senate

Ted Cruz – one term in the Senate

Donald Trump – zero political experience

Ben Carson – zero political experience

Carly Fiorina – zero political experience

Rand Paul – one term in the Senate

Interestingly enough, we used to elect former governors to the Presidency, in large part because we found them to have had a great deal of relevant administrative experience and of having worked across the aisles in their own states to get things done.  Aside from John Kasich, who is still trying to get a leg up in the Republican party, three others have run during this election cycle.  All three washed out fairly early on:

Jeb Bush – two terms as governor

Chris Christie – two terms as governor

Martin O’Malley – two terms as governor

Beyond Martin O’Malley, the Democrats present a somewhat different resumé:

Hillary Clinton – one and a half terms in the Senate, four years as Secretary of State

Bernie Sanders – sixteen years in the House, two terms in the Senate

Jim Webb – one term in the Senate

Barack Obama (remember him?) – one term in the senate

John F. Kennedy (remember him??) – one term in the House, one term in the Senate

Why would either political party want to run candidates with little to no demonstrable experience of government?  Perhaps they fear that experience makes agnostics of us all.

Now we are down to five candidates.  On the Republican side, the front-runner has no experience of government, though he does have numerous bankruptcies and a track record of failed business schemes to his credit.  The two candidates chasing him each have one term in the Senate to their credit.  What did they actually manage to accomplish?  Not a whole lot.  Ted Cruz sponsored fifty-seven pieces of legislation and Marco Rubio one hundred and six.  Each has had only one piece of legislation passed into law. 

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton proposed seven hundred and thirteen pieces of legislation, but only three were passed into law.  And those three were fairly nondescript, the Kate Mullany National Historic Site (Troy, NY), the renaming of a post office in New York City (Major George Quamo Post Office Building) and the renaming of a section of State Route 20A as the Timothy J. Russert Highway.  Her tenure as Secretary of State has been the ongoing focus for much of the political discourse in both parties this cycle, and we may have to wait for numerous shoes to drop before we make a final assessment of it.  That being said, she did preside over the mess that has become Libya, Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The lone outlier in this election cycle and the only independent who also possesses a proven track record in government of working across the aisles and passing legislation is Bernie Sanders, whose accomplishments in some twenty-five years on Capitol Hill are too numerous to mention (so they are attached via a link below).

Perhaps it becomes a little easier to understand the level of enthusiasm people have felt for Sanders (due to his accomplishments) and Trump (due to his lack of political failures), the resignation to practicality which has greeted much of the Clinton campaign,  and the vitriol from both Cruz and Rubio, who really do not have much of a record on which to run. 

Each of the candidates has introduced a level of fear into their respective campaigns, often directed at the candidates of the other party.  The Republicans would have us fear immigrants, Muslim extremists, Socialist governmental programs, and the chance that the balance of power in the Supreme Court might switch, meaning the end of gun ownership and Christianity itself.  The Democrats are less unified in their expression of fear (aren’t they always).  Bernie Sanders fears the continued erosion of the middle and working classes and widening economic inequality in the country, while Hillary Clinton seems to fear that the nation will not settle for incremental progress toward hazy aspirations.

What should we fear?  From my vantage point, we should fear exactly what we now have, a society and a government so polarized that we cannot come together, compromise, and seek mutually beneficial solutions to stop the downward slide of the American Dream.  We may choose to imagine it differently, but in the end, we all have the same monster under the bed.  Fear, itself.

Rachel Maddow’s interview with Bernie Sanders:

https://www.facebook.com/aamir.pvz/videos/980505895331895/

Bernie’s record of accomplishment as member of the House and Senator:

https://pplswar.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/what-bernie-sanders-got-done-in-washington-a-legislative-inventory/

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Teddy Roosevelt had it Right

I have long believed there is a very good reason that Teddy Roosevelt is the most recent president to appear on Mount Rushmore. He may be the last truly great president we have had (for so many reasons, chief among them the protection of the environment). I also believe that in this instance he is absolutely right. Notice that he does not say that we need to be all of one faith. Faith is a private matter; being American is a shared philosophy. The former is aimed at the afterlife, the latter, the here and now. I think about the current refugee situation and realize that many if not most of the people coming to our country do not wish to stay; they are escaping a war for the protection of their families with the intent of one day going home. In that case, we should treat them as guests with all that American hospitality has to offer. But for those who would choose to stay and live here permanently among us, this, not their religious persuasion, should be the litmus test. In every prior wave of immigration to this country, it has been that desire to become American that has revitalized our nation with new blood, new ideas, and a renewed commitment to freedom and all that it represents and demands of us. What are your thoughts on this?

Teddy Roosevelt quote

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52 Years and We’re Still Waiting for Answers

Well, it’s November, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But, for many of us, old enough to remember, so is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in our history. It has now been 52 years since the assassination of JFK and there is more that we don’t know about the killing than that we do.

The film linked below, from 1966, is by Mark Lane, a defense attorney from New York who had been asked by Marguerite Oswald to represent her son’s interests at the Warren Commission Hearings. As Oswald was already dead, the Commission refused to allow Lane to participate as Oswald’s counsel, thereby removing any voice on Oswald’s behalf from the proceedings.

In September, 1964, the Warren Commission released an 889 page report at the end of its investigation, which named Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole assassin in the death of JFK and promoted Arlen Spector’s “single bullet theory.” Many people read the report and found it difficult to believe. So, once again, Mark Lane was engaged, this time by the members of a “Who Killed Kennedy” committee who supplied him with the resources to look deeper into the report. In November, 1964, the Warren Commission published 26 volumes of evidence which they claimed supported the findings of the report. After reading through all of the evidence, Lane and his assistants were able to demonstrate that in many cases, the evidence was in fact, contradictory to the findings.

Out of this came Lane’s first book on the subject, “Rush To Judgement,” an essential read for anyone interested in the assassination and its aftermath. The film serves to point up a number of notable examples of eye witnesses whose testimony was either suppressed, altered or rejected by the Commission, and which would have pointed the investigation of the crime in an entirely different direction, possibly exonerating Oswald.

For my younger (than compulsory retirement!) readers, one of the real points of all this is that by December of 1963, less than a month after the assassination, the majority of Americans believed that their government, through its institutions like the FBI, was not telling us the truth about the assassination of the president. The Commission’s findings only cemented that feeling and the faith (blind, perhaps) that the average American had in his or her government has never been the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w4sQtwWfBo

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What Do You Know and How Do You Know It?

What Do You Know and How Do You Know It?

If you had lived your life in Europe during the dark ages, you most likely would never have traveled more than twenty miles from your home from birth to death.  Unless you had lived in Ireland, you were also almost undoubtedly illiterate.  And what you knew was limited to what you had seen, heard or otherwise experienced first hand.  This was fine, really, because you had no need of knowledge of events from outside your own daily experience.  Economies and social interactions were all, local.

If you did have the rare opportunity to learn something of the wider world, it probably came from the lips of a traveling troubadour, an itinerant musician cum journalist who brought you the news of the day in the form of a song.  The combination of melody, rhythm and a rhyme scheme made it possible to memorize the songs, sing them and thus retain and pass on the knowledge.  But what was this “knowledge?”  The troubadour generally embellished the news of the day or the exploits of the local royalty in order to curry favor with local authorities and to just present a more entertaining story to his audience, from which he hoped to obtain food and lodging.

Moving into the middle ages, life remained remarkably the same.  News and knowledge remained, for the most part, local, as did the life experience of the average person.  Literacy remained a priority with the Irish and with the church (for clergy, not parishioners), but was not a priority with the government.  It did not suit their needs to have a literate public; if the King needed to tell you something, the crier was dispensed to read it to you.

Fast forward into the early 1800’s and America and some changes have taken place.  Just as in western Europe, some degree of compulsory education has become the norm and people are remarkably literate with just four years of schooling.  Listen to the letters home from soldiers in the American Civil War as Ken Burns used them in his PBS series, and you will hear how literate these people were.  But what did they “know?”  Newspapers moved across the country at a snail’s pace in the U.S. mail, but you might only see one, once in a great while, and the depth of the articles was limited by the medium itself.  Your life experience was still largely a local phenomenon and would not change for the majority of the population until the invention of the automobile.  The men and boys who fought in the Civil War saw more of the country in the course of their service than anyone else would see in a lifetime.  Photography was still in its infancy and was at that time still incapable of freezing a moving subject.  As before, what you really knew was what you had seen and experienced first hand.

Growth in the industry of printed newspapers, telegraph, the advent of radio and motion pictures, and two world wars, jettisoned our understanding of the world into the twentieth century.  Very suddenly, the average person in America could feel informed of what was happening in Europe, Africa and Asia, often with moving pictures to support the written word.  Magazines like National Geographic and Life brought you photojournalistic essays which delivered the world to your door.  By comparison to the world of the late 19th century, it was most certainly a case of information overload.  But we know now that that news had to pass government censors and came to us from comparatively few primary sources.  In other words, it was by design watered down and highly selective.

Today, we live in the “instant gratification” information age.  We don’t have to wait for the newspaper to land on our front steps.  The news is on-line and on cable twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  If we choose, we can listen to or watch the news as presented from sources outside our own country.  Everything that goes on in our world is subject matter for journalists, cable news networks, documentary film makers and government or corporate propagandists.  Surely, we must “know” more than any era of people before us. 

But what do we really “know,” today?  Something very interesting happens each time the focus of our news sources shifts to one specific event.  If terrorists blow up a building in a major western city, we can find an ongoing news stream of it on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the BBC, RTV, Al Jazeera, PBS and the evening national news from NBC, ABC and CBS.  What we see though, is that the pictures are the same, but the story, the interpretation or analysis of them is different, and often decidedly so.  How can this be?  Isn’t reality a knowable, tangible, definable thing unto itself?  Apparently not.  Apparently, reality is dependent upon agenda.

In a Zen sense, we’ve gone from the old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?” to the 21st century variant, “If a tree falls in the forest and everyone is there, just what sound did it make?”  In each case, as to the nature of the sound, we are left with the same actual knowledge.

In an interview about his film making, Alfred Hitchcock once said that the plot line of his films was really unimportant.  It was just the “McGuffin,” the thing that was the focusing agent for the actions of the people in the film.  The story was really about the people and their relationships, not the thing they were after.  That was just the glue that bound the characters temporarily together.  In an analogous sense, today’s news is less about what happened than it is about how what happened is being spun, about the agenda behind the reportage.

So, if we are paying attention (and many of us, unfortunately, are not), what do we really know?  We might say that we know a building in a major western city was blown up and that many people or institutions with differing agendas want us to believe something different about that explosion. If nothing else, that should open the floodgates of new questions.  Who wants us to think what, and why do they want us to think that way?

For most of us, today’s information overload demands that we make decisions to find the truth in one source while ruling out others.  If we think that the conservative agenda at Fox is coloring their reporting, we tune them out and listen to CNN.  But ruling out one understanding of the world in favor of another does not result in knowledge.  In that case, we don’t “know” something, we are choosing to believe something.  That is faith.  And faith and knowledge are two different creatures altogether.

So here it is, 2014 and some thirteen hundred years from the beginning of the dark ages.  And what we can say that we really “know” today is still what we have experienced unfiltered with our own senses, first hand. 

That is a sobering thought and could leave us feeling particularly jaded about the world.  But jaded doesn’t do us any good.  Jaded doesn’t get us the knowledge we crave, though it may well serve those with the agendas who want to impose their vision on our world without our interference.  What is left for us is to experience all that we can, first hand, and try to find the truth in it, beyond our own agendas (it’s okay, agendas and opinions are like rear ends; we all have one). 

The challenge becomes one of first knowing ourselves, before we can know the world in which we live.  And that has its own set of problems.  First, we must see in ourselves the belief systems we have developed and which may color our understanding of what we experience.  Then, we must learn how to learn, how to observe, how to ask questions, how to hold authority accountable.  We must do this on an individual level and we must show each other that we can be trusted with this responsibility, so that others can trust us as we trust them in return.  In that way, we will rebuild the community of mankind and give the earth a true knowing. 

This sense of not knowing what is going on in a world in which we should by rights know everything, is starting to feel like an old problem.  It is certainly one which has plagued us since the beginning of the twentieth century, when we could reasonably feel that we “should have known better.”  If “we” are ever to have a chance against “them” who make the policies, report the reality and redact that which we need not know, we must not wait for the knowledge to be disseminated.  We have to reach out and take it.  And we have to do so together.

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

– W.H. Auden

from “September 1, 1939”

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