I Read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed, So You Don’t Have To

propaganda2I only read Jeff Ackerman’s Op-Ed today (“Mailbox filled with bills, lies“) after my wife tried to explain it to me, and her explanation didn’t make any sense. It sounded like she was describing several unrelated editorials shuffled together. One about elderscam, one about lying government officials, one about the federal deficit, and one about poor insurance companies maligned by hypocritical government officials.

Now that I’ve read the editorial myself, I see that although it appears to discuss a number of unrelated lies and scams, it’s actually organized around a single overriding theme: No matter how badly you are harmed by private scammers and insurance companies, you should direct your anger primarily at the government.

Ackerman writes that “lying politicians, who have been stealing from the Social Security fund, now have the audacity to call insurance company liars.”

He also says, “the irony here, of course, is the notion that government is concerned about misleading information in the first place. Part of government’s job is to mislead its citizens.”

There’s an important difference between the banal observation that government often makes mistakes, often acts in a venal or murderous fashion, and the categorical assertion that government is always wrong, can never do anything right, is relentless in lying to us. The second idea is propaganda, made plausible by the grain of truth expressed by the first statement.

What’s most insidious in this propaganda/conservative talking point is the fallacy that government is an other, that it is — in fact — other than us, other than “we the people.” Pogo’s observation — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — is not liberal pap, but rather an expression of a deep and fundamental principle upon which our form of government is based.

The harm in such propaganda is that it teaches people that government is an other, an enemy to be hated and reviled, it encourages people to reach for their pitchforks rather than to seek the bully pulpit.

Government is “we the people.” The extent to which this sounds like a romantic fantasy is precisely the extent to which this insidious conservative propaganda has been effective.

Ackerman’s editorial merely parrots this tired propaganda.

Ironically, the long central section of his editorial, in which he describes the vulnerability of the elderly in our community to scams and fraud, could — if separated from the tired anti-government rhetoric —  stand by itself as a separate essay on that important subject.

Too bad Jeff Ackerman didn’t write that editorial instead of this confused and confusing one.

Krugman: Populism is Good Economics

bankerPaul Krugman, in his column of September 20th, talks about how the Federal Reserve, “now awakened from its Greenspan-era slumber,” is considering imposing new rules on financial-firm compensation (to reward long-term investment success, rather than merely short-term profits).

But, he recognizes that “the industry — supported by nearly all Republicans and some Democrats — will fight bitterly against these changes.”

“I was startled last week when Mr. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg News, questioned the case for limiting financial-sector pay: “Why is it,” he asked, “that we’re going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or N.F.L. football players?”

That’s an astonishing remark — and not just because the National Football League does, in fact, have pay caps. Tech firms don’t crash the whole world’s operating system when they go bankrupt; quarterbacks who make too many risky passes don’t have to be rescued with hundred-billion-dollar bailouts. Banking is a special case — and the president is surely smart enough to know that.

All I can think is that this was another example of something we’ve seen before: Mr. Obama’s visceral reluctance to engage in anything that resembles populist rhetoric. And that’s something he needs to get over.”

Hollywood Supports Health Insurance Companies

funny_or_dieHollywood stars speak out in support of besieged Health Insurance Companies.

It’s about time someone countered the growing contempt for these corporate health insurance executives.

Is Social Networking Harming Our Brains?

brain_scanBaroness Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, has been busy for the last few years warning the public about the dangers of computers.

One of her more sensational suggestions — “suggestions” because none of this is rigorously proved yet — is that computer games cause underuse of the prefontal cortex, the center of mature judgment, with a consequent increase in risk-taking of the kind that characterised our recent economic meltdown (by a cohort raised on such games). Miranda Devine, writing in “Digital Life,” explains it this way:

Speaking at a lunch at the Centre for Independent Studies in Crows Nest this week, the eminent British neuroscientist theorised that the global financial crisis may be a portent of worse to come, as recklessness becomes the norm for technology-warped brains.

The bankers, brokers and traders, mostly young and male, whose impulsive decision-making and poor judgments fuelled the collapse of financial markets last year, may very well have possessed a version of a newly evolved human brain, physically changed by prolonged time in front of computer screens.

From a generation “brought up in two dimensions”, they are used to playing computer games that deliver thrills and risks without consequences.

But Greenfield’s concerns go much deeper. She suggests that the new technologies — including social networking — may indirectly result in a sort of atrophy of the interior life. Again, from Miranda Devine:

Greenfield suggests prolonged computer use, particularly rapid-fire computer games, which drive the brain synapses into a frenzied state, may … lead to an underuse of the area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, the centre of higher executive functions, where judgment, planning, personality, goal-setting and social moderation occur.

[…]

Developing friendships on social networking sites means you miss the subtle skills essential for real-life friendship. You may avoid real people and become like the Japanese hikikomori, the 1 million young men who have withdrawn from society to their bedrooms to play computer games by themselves.

“Have we gone through 100,000 years of evolution for this … adults sitting in a room spending their leisure time on ‘yuck and wow’ activities [instead of] having love affairs, walking in the rain and thinking about things?”

Greenfield acknowledges she is straying from science into philosophy, but sees no distinction between the brain and the mind. The idea of an examined life, rather than an existence awash with sensation, is crucial to the idea of being human. It is the essence of what we call our soul.

I see a conundrum, or at least an irony, in Susan Greenfield’s warnings about the vulnerability of the human brain, as it has evolved over millions of years. Dianne Dumanoski, whose new book I recently reviewed here, found a shred of hope (for the fate of human civilization now confronting severe climate change) precisely in this plasticity of the human brain.

So, which is it? Will it be our salvation, as Dumanoski hopes, or our downfall, as Greenfield implies?

If you are interested in Greenfield’s work, you owe it to yourself to see the intelligent comments made by her critics, a good example of which may be found here.

Stephen Colbert on Corporate Personhood

colbert_geOn September 7th, I posted this article about Bill Moyers’ recent program concerning a current Supreme Court case — Citizens United vs FEC — which deals indirectly with the issue of  “corporate personhood.”

Stephen Colbert, in the following two videos, imparts almost as much information on the background of that issue as Moyers’ program does. Which may help explain why a lot of young people rely almost exclusively on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their news of the world!

Colbert on Corporate Personhood:

Colbert/Toobin:

Broken Wings (Celtic Festival)

dougie_maccleanI was trolling the KVMR website this afternoon, looking over the Celtic Festival performance calendar for the weekend of October 3rd, and ran across this sweet video by Scottish artist, Dougie MacLean.

Listening to it, I remembered again what I often forget … how important music is in my life. When I was young I wanted to make a career of music, one of many lives I never l ived.

Listen with an open … heart.

A tall tree
Turn and face the west
O we’re running with the wind
A high clifftop
We’re waiting with the rest
For this journey to begin

Chorus:

But these broken wings won’t fly
These broken wings won’t fly at all

And O how we laugh
But maybe we should crawl
And ask to be excused
We shout loudly
Have answers to it all
O but we have been refused

Chorus

Girl child
You’re dancing with the stream
Growing with the silver trees
Your young questions
You ask me what it means
O but I am not at ease

Chorus

Encore:

The waves crash in and the tide tide pulls out
It’s an angry sea but there is no doubt
That the lighthouse will keep shining out
to warn the lonely sailor
And the lightning strikes and the wind cuts cold
through the sailor’s bones, to the sailor’s soul
Till there’s nothing left that he can hold
except the rolling ocean

CHORUS:
But I am ready for the storm, yes sir, ready
I am ready for the storm, I’m ready for the storm

Oh give me mercy for my dreams
Cause every confrontation seems
To tell me what it really means
to be this lonely sailor
And when you take me by your side
you love me warm, you love me and
I should have realized
I had no reasons to be frightened

CHORUS

The distance it is no real friend
And time will take its time
And you will find that in the end
it brings you me, the lonely sailor
But when the sky begins to clear
and the sun it melts away my fear
I’ll cry a silent weary tear
for those that need to love me

CHORUS

Politifact: Good Resource for Fact Checking

politifactHere’s a good resource — Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com — for fact-checking political claims.

They report “without fear or favor.”

Here’s the look and feel of their website:
politifact_examples

Who Really Toppled Van Jones?

oil_rigThe dominant media narrative seems to be that Glenn Beck got retribution against Color of Change cofounder Van Jones after that organization led a successful campaign to drive advertisers away from the conservative talking head’s Fox News show.

The real backstory is quite different, and even more interesting.

The elements of the case against Jones — pushed by Beck — are largely true. Apparently Jones did refer to Republicans as “assholes,” an offense against public decency also committed by none other than George Bush in the 2000 campaign when he accidentally got caught — by an open microphone —  referring to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer as a “major league asshole.” Bush refused to apologize for that gaffe.

In Jones’ case

… the comment — recorded last February before Jones joined the White House Council on Environmental Quality — was in response to an audience member who lamented that Democrats were less effective than Republicans in using their majority to pass energy legislation.

Jones’ reply: “Well the answer to that is, they’re assholes.”

He added, “Now, I will say this: I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama, are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity.”

Beck also referred to Jones as a “black nationalist who is also an avowed communist.” This was also apparently true. Some years after his flirtation with communism and other forms of radicalism in his late twenties, Jones had an epiphany of sorts, after realizing that “our little movement … was much more destructive internally than anyone was talking about, and much less impactful externally than anyone was willing to admit.”

Jones’ fixation on solidarity dates from this experience. He took an objective look at the movement’s effectiveness and decided that the changes he was seeking were actually getting farther away. Not only did the left need to be more unified, he decided, it might also benefit from a fundamental shift in tactics. “I realized that there are a lot of people who are capitalists — shudder, shudder — who are really committed to fairly significant change in the economy, and were having bigger impacts than me and a lot of my friends with our protest signs,” he said.

First, he discarded the hostility and antagonism with which he had previously greeted the world, which he said was part of the ego-driven romance of being seen as a revolutionary. “Before, we would fight anybody, any time,” he said. “No concession was good enough; we never said ‘Thank you.’ Now, I put the issues and constituencies first. I’ll work with anybody, I’ll fight anybody if it will push our issues forward. … I’m willing to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends.”

Jones apparently realized that he was more likely to succeed by giving up radicalism and working within the system. He was “born again,” you might say.

The final damning piece of the recent brief against Jones is his signature on a petition calling for a full investigation of 9/11, a petition signed by many of the 9/11 widows and families, along with a lot of other distinguished Americans.

Whether all of this adds up to a compelling case against Jones’ fitness for his job in the Obama administration is a question about which people of good will may differ.

But even more interesting — and probably more important — is this question: Who really set in motion the case against Jones? And why? And what are they planning to do next?

The definitive account of the true backstory must surely be this:

Big Business’s Hidden Hand in the Smear Job on Van Jones
By Adele M. Stan, AlterNet. Posted September 8, 2009.

When word of Jones’ resignation from his White House post hit the airwaves, Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen, the group’s policy director, wasted no time in taking personal credit. In his column on FoxNews.comKerpen wrote, “The Van Jones affair … is one of the most significant things I’ve ever had the honor of being involved in.”

Progressives first became familiar with Americans for Prosperity because of its role, along with Beck’s 9-12 Project, in organizing the disruption of town hall meetings across the country at which members of Congress were scheduled to discuss pending health care reform legislation with their constituents.

Many assumed the AFP astroturfers, who are not required to disclose their funding sources, were aligned specifically with health care interests — and indeed they may be aligned with some. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find at the top of their agenda the derailment of energy reform, especially the cap-and-trade formula for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Naming defeat of clean-energy legislation his “No. 1 legislative priority,” Kerpen, in his Fox column, details his role in demonizing Jones in the right-wing echo chamber from which Jones, as an Obama aide, could not escape.

By his own account, Kerpen’s quest to fell Jones began on July 9 — weeks before Color of Change began to organize against Beck — when he was asked to appear on Fox & Friends to explain “what green jobs are”; and to discuss Obama’s green-jobs “czar,” Jones.

Get that? The successful campaign to derail Jones — if Kerpen is truthful — was launched prior to Beck’s comment on “Fox  Friends” on July 28th that provoked the advertiser boycott against him!

Why would Americans for Prosperity have it in for Jones? Sourcewatch Encyclopedia has a lot of in-depth information on that organization’s interests and activities:

The AFP is the third largest recipient of funding from the Koch Family Foundations, behind the Cato Institute and the George Mason University Foundation. Before 2003, when the AFP was still named the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, it received $18,460,912 in funding. 84% of that funding came from the Koch Family Foundations ($12,906,712) and the Scaife Family Foundations ($2,510,000). Koch Family Foundations is funded by Koch Industries. According to Forbes, Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held company, and the largest privately owned energy company, in the United States. Koch industries has made its money in the oil business, primarily oil refining. Presently, it holds stakes in pipelines, refineries, fertilizer, forest products, and chemical technology. Americans for Prosperity is also connected to oil giant ExxonMobil. According to ExxonSecrets, between the years 1998-2001, Citizens for A Sound Economy and Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation received $380,250 from ExxonMobil.

Let’s restate the question: Why would energy business interests have it in for Jones? Adele Stan puts it this way:

Jones’ approach includes the greening of American cities, the development of green jobs for inner-city citizens — and especially for repatriating ex-convicts into civil society — as well as wonky remedies like cap-and-trade.

It’s a fully integrated vision. As Jones told me in an interview last year, “If you … have to break up with oil and coal, you may as well break up with poverty and a bunch of other stuff.”

So what’s next? Here’s how Kerpen himself explains it:

Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions. The Van Jones affair is, as President Obama likes to say, a “teachable moment,” and we need to put not just him but the whole corrupt “green jobs” concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream.

Stay tuned for the next battle.

The war never ends.

Should Corporations Have the Rights of Persons?

scales_of_justice2While watching the riveting debate between Floyd Abrams and Trevor Potter on Bill Moyers’ latest and probably most important program ever, concerning the upcoming Supreme Court case, “Citizens United vs Federal Election Commisson” (which deals with the legality under McCain-Feingold of corporate funding of an anti-Hillary campaign movie), I had the melancholy fantasy that if only the Founders had foreseen the overwhelming power of today’s corporations to corrupt our political system with money, they would surely have erected a constitutional barrier between corporation and state as mighty (though besieged) as that between church and state.

Just as the church-state barrier has given us the most robust and diverse religious culture in the world, so would a corporation-state barrier give us a robust and healthy corporate culture (dedicated to profits), not to mention a healthier political culture (dedicated to the common weal, and not, as now, overly influenced by corporate financial power).

As Trevor Potter points out, corporations …

… exist to make money. They are profit-maximizing. That’s their job.

So, we’re not talking about political speech by people who care about their country, who are concerned about changes in society, who are dealing fairly with friends and neighbors and all the things that get involved in politics. We’re talking about a potential spender here that has a single-minded purpose, which is to make more money, to maximize their value. And I think what we’re looking at here is not a First Amendment speech right, because the individuals who head those corporations have that now, their PAC’s have it now, their shareholders have it now. We’re talking about using the funds that are amassed under the preferential corporate treatment, to go out and seek economic gain, what they call economic rents, through legislation, by electing people who will give the corporation what it wants, whether or not is in the greater good. And I don’t think that’s the essence of democracy. And I don’t think it has been or should be the way the First Amendment is read.

As you watch the Moyers program, remember that everything that Abrams says is predicated on the doctrine of  corporate personhood, the proposition — already established in law, possibly by accident — that corporations have many (if not most) of the same constitutional rights as persons. A good background article on how this doctrine came into being in our legal system can be found in this interview with Thom Hartmann.

If the United States Supreme Court decides in favor of the plaintiff, a vast increase in the already huge and corrupting power of corporations over our political life will occur.

Martin Sparky Van Buren at the Growers Market!

David_ParkerI met up with President Martin Van Buren yesterday a little after 11 AM at the Nevada City Growers’ Market, looking really fit after all these years.

What a nice guy! Not puffed up — prideful or vain — at all, especially considering that he was the first president born an American citizen (not born a British subject). Maybe it was that rout he suffered in 1842 when he tried to win a second term that has kept him humble all these years.

I struck up a conversation with him as he passed by when I inquired whether he was hot in his three-piece suit. He seemed not much concerned by the balmy 80+ degree weather, and allowed as how he was sure it would be well into the 90s next week for the Constitution Day Parade.

When I told him that we moved to Grass Valley a couple of years ago, he said that he has lived in the county for forty-four years! Wow! That’s impressive!

I also told him that I was finding our local politics worrisome, but he waved my concern away and said something to the effect that there are great people on all sides of most issues up here. I’m starting to see that too.

When he mentioned his long stint — 21 years (I looked it up when I got home) — as a trustee on the Sierra College board, his pride in his role in creating the Nevada County campus was justifiably evident.

Unaware (at the time) that he’d lost his trustee seat to Aaron Klein, I told him that I’d had some pleasant online conversations with “one of his fellow trustees, Aaron Klein,” but that “we are on different ends of the political spectrum.” The former Jacksonian Democrat (and later Free Soiler)  then said, “You must be a liberal?”

If I’m not mistaken, Sparky — whoops, I mean President Van Buren — was also there at the founding of the Constitution Day Parade. So he’s had a distinguished career of public service here in Nevada County in the last several decades. New York’s loss is our gain.

Look for President Martin Van Buren and the other presidents next week at the Consitution Day Parade.

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