Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Correction Column


And she’s a senator!

The plutocratic masters intensely want the public to feel cynical and powerless.  They foment it at every turn.  Because the thing they fear most is that the people will awake and mobilize and take back their creature (government) the plutocrats have weakened and ensorcelled.

It is why they go to extraordinary lengths to deny, obstruct, or make hard the vote to those who would use it to strike back at them.  They fear the vote of the majority.  More on that in a bit.

“I can’t do that.”  Well, what someone who says that really usually means is that they won’t do that.

Ok, Lao Tzu said begin with where the people are.  If someone can’t “get involved,” they should at least end the silence.

That’s right, readers and friends the readers talk to.  All these things you learn about here and elsewhere, share them.  Even snippets.  Talk.  Silence implies consent with the status quo. 

Inform first.  Persuasion can come later.

At least you will know, and will be able to tell yourself and your loved ones: “I spoke up.  I told people.”  So keep hammering.  I am detecting some faint cracks in the ranks of those who traditionally follow the plutocrats and their lackeys.  Even when you think they are not listening to you at all, some actually are.  Truth, like water, has a way of making itself in despite all the deflections and obstructions.

I must make a correction to my post here on November 9th, where I said: “Voter suppression, while alive and well in far too many places, was not a deciding factor in hardly any of them.”

It appears my statement about not being a deciding factor in very many of them was off the mark.  Nate Silver, the highly accurate analyst who is coldly analytical about polling data, with no sensitivity toward Democratic or Republican feelings,  was puzzled at the voting results.

They were off almost consistently 4% or more from his turnout predictions. Off in that 4% of the Democratic turnout was missing. 

The plethora of voter restrictions and repressions in various states and localities—prompted by the plutocrats and their fearful white Repub allies—takes on many forms, from onerous ID requirements for even the elderly, restricted registration, reduced registration and voting sites (causing some lines in minority areas to be half a mile long), etc.  The most insidious is the new “duplicate voting” cross-check lists devised and disseminated by the Katherine Harris of Kansas—Kris Kobach, who is the Republican Secretary of State.  These lists delete voters with common last names—and thus are heavily weighted against African-American, Latino, and Asian-Americans, on the ridiculous “suspected crime” of double voting.  The middle names can be different, the ages can be different, but if first and last names match, they are removed from the registered voter rolls.   Even though duplicate voting even across precincts, let alone across states, happens almost never (statistically, effectively not at all).

People who are removed from the rolls can be given a “provisional” ballot when they show up at the polls.  Provisional ballot.  That palliative placebo-deception foisted on the poor and less educated.  That’s assuming one is even told of the option voting provisionally, which is many times not even mentioned.  And good luck getting it actually researched and counted.  Each state, and oftentimes, each voting precinct, has utter discretion on if, how, when, etc.  to make determinations on provisional ballots. 

The data is still being analyzed, but the number of voters—and who those voters were likely to vote for—impacted by restrictions/suppressions apparently made a potentially determinative impact in senate or governor races in at least Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Don’t get depressed, cynical, disillusioned, disengaged, America.  Get infuriated.  You should be.  Your on-life-support democracy is only that way because of your inattention.  Apply better care, citizen-doctor!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Everything in Excess

Professor J,

Hmm...yes, I see your point. I should perhaps have chosen an individual. Jefferson would have made more sense than some random Egyptian slave, and a figure more recent in time might have made much more sense, Teddy Roosevelt perhaps. Or someone closer in time still, and who did a bit of forewarning about things we face now, Eisenhower might have been good. Next time I shall remember to be more precise and not give your imagination such free will. I sense 20th century authors of dystopian novels might look smugly upon us given the chance.

I think you are right in imagining that one of the things that our hypothetical visitor from the past would find discouraging is how distracted we are and how often we choose escapism. I often imagine that people who (except for the wealthy) had little leisure time would be appalled at how uneducated and ill informed we are while we sit in front of magical screens that put the world at our fingertips. And our choices, oh...our choices! Which makes whatever we've chosen quite possibly not the right thing whether that's coffee or a spouse. We are perpetually discontent.

Thank you, Madison Avenue.

I wonder too what they would make of our imagined "needs." As I drift (slowly because the ship is full!) toward minimalism, the amount of things I own (without appreciation, often) seem ridiculous to me. I am trying to make conscious gratitude a part of every day. Even with that attitude it is hard.

Next week we'll be marking a national holiday for that exact thing, yet we cannot spare a moment to stop accumulating possessions long enough to enjoy it. Black Friday is creeping into Thursday and we are becoming a nation who cannot be thankful for what we have before making grabbing more a competition.  We would have made such good Romans. And why settle for snatching up the latest electronics (individual greed) when other countries' resources (national greed) are available? Yes, the Romans would see much of themselves in us.

The Princeton Study and its findings are chilling. I think the ease with which news like that is cast aside however has something to do (in addition to the things you mention) to the feeling that most citizens have deep down. It may be responsible for that lack of voter turn out, those Millennials who just can't be bothered, people who have checked out of politics altogether. I think it's both a cause and a symptom. More people have a gut feeling that the game is rigged. They may not know how or by whom, but they know.

Something besides greed, weariness, and distraction has moved from the individual into the national psyche and there's a growing cynicism and feeling of powerlessness. It takes a lot of hope and determination to bring about real change.

And what's more--a conscious effort and focus. Not strong points for us unless things shift drastically.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Judging Countenances


It is always laden with high risk of inaccuracy to speculate what predecessors, if they were mortally alive today, would think, feel, and say.  Just as if you were thrust into the future, with all its unpredictable, unimaginable changes, what could you say now for certain about how you might react?  And we would have to be asking, are we talking about elites, commoners, what, because their understanding and perspectives would likely be far different.  And how far back? 70 years? 100?  150?  200?  500? The time frame makes big differences.

Yet despite the caveats, I accept a bit of your speculative bait. :)

On the one hand, the more aware would see parallels to their own times, and recognize how much stays the same about the human condition,   regardless of material, technology, and knowledge changes.

The more discerning would see that we have as a people gotten better in some things, worse in others. That our characters are both better and not as good.

Of course, they would marvel at how much disease has been subdued (and maybe marvel at our hysteria over trifles).  How far women and minorities have come, and yet how much regresses.  How fast travel and fast, broad communication have shrunk regional differences, and yet splintered us uncommunally into self-centered echo chambers.  How real journalism—the valued-by-the-people counterweight in the robber baron era—has become too often corrupted, co-opted, or ignored in this one.  And how much opportunity for beneficial possibility there is—and how much of that is utterly squandered or never reached for.

What I think they would be most struck by is the ability of too many of us to stay near-constantly distracted, diverted, escapist, and disconnected.  The willing embrace of so much un-reality, and with it, the denial of so much reality.  And all the consequences thereof.  The wage-slaves of the robber baron era had few diversions, and most of those dipped into the vice arena, so it’s hard to say if they would be any different given different circumstances—probably not. 

Our predecessors were, however, as a culture more focused on the building (often relentlessly or even ruthlessly, to be sure—ask the natives) of the society and the various aspects of civilizational “wealth” as they tried to form their own futures.  They often dampened down expectations, delayed gratification, and were more willing to sacrifice.  One sees little of that among regular folks today—and almost none among “elites.”  The bad example of those  “elites” has either rubbed off on the regulars, or disillusioned them to the point that they don’t want to be the chumps adhering to the rule-set while the elites get rewarded for unethical or even illegal behavior.

In other news, Obama and China’s leader reached a deal this week on climate change.  Yes, it isn’t awesome at all, but considering the non-progress before, it’s a start.  And yet the plutocrats’ mouthpieces in Congress already oppose it.

As wealth is concentrated into the hands of the few and shifts to places far removed from the middle class, or even America at all, there will be a mirror of what happened in Italy as the economic center of Roman civilization shifted east.

Tronto, in her 1993 work and again 20 years later, coined the term “privileged irresponsibility” to denote that willful insulation of the upper class from concern how the 99% live, and with it any responsibility for the conditions that 99% must live under.

It is unfortunate (but understandable given plutocratic control of the corporate media) that more attention has not been paid to the Princeton study, released in April, that stated the US is effectively not a democracy anymore, but an oligarchy.  How did the study come to its conclusions?  Since the 1980s, when the plutocratic transformation really took off, the policies that have made it through to become law and regulation have almost entirely been those favored by the plutocrats.  And the ones that did not make it through, that were obstructed, were largely those that the wealthy elites (individuals and corporations) did not favor.

What should be a chilling reaction to such a revelation from so noted an institution insteads becomes—if even noticed—shrugged at in this land of the lotus-eaters.

We need another Progressive Era like the one that eventually—with the final help of an awful Depression—upended the robber baron era.  We should just know that this one will be harder, because the plutocrats have learned well from history and have either co-opted or made quite weak most of the usual counter-engines.

If we don’t initiate, and prevail, our predecessors would be quite right to judge us as not being made of their stern stuff.   A bit like the Romans of year 100 would have judged the Romans of year 300! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Would Past Generations Think of Us?

Professor J,

First, "The Four Horsemen of the Plutocalypse" is positively brilliant wording and imagery. And "mindlessly zealous" is perhaps the most apt description of so many voters.

Thanks for clearing up what you meant about getting involved in the primaries. Your pointing out that a voter showing up at these local meetings because not that many people care to get involved is true. My husband went to what was advertised as a community meeting on issues. Our state representative sent a staffer to listen to what the constituents had to say. I couldn't go but assumed the event would be crowded. Wrong. My husband was the only person to show up and so got 45 minutes of uninterrupted time to discuss things he is concerned about.

Imagine the message these politicians are getting-- that we don't care and they can really do whatever they want. 

Isn't it interesting that in an age of information when anyone can find out pretty much anything anytime they want, that we so lack wisdom. Our ancestors only dreamed of having all the knowledge that we have at our fingertips at a moment's notice within reach in their entire lifetime.

You often wonder what those who come after us will think of us. I can't help but imagine what those who came before us would think of how we are using what they would surely see as miraculous gifts of freedom and knowledge, not to mention leisure time.

Care to reach back into history and share something along that line? A fascinating exercise for sure.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Post Mortemus Minimus


My state did not give us more to work with.  It was, with few exceptions, a stream of the shallow or the mindlessly zealous, put into office—or back into office—by voters that mirrored them.  Multitudes that would have voted for the better candidates—when there were ones—and easily gotten those candidates elected, stayed diverted instead.  Just like they did in the primaries.

I was less than clear about what I meant.  I did not mean get involved in the primaries, although that is fine.  I meant, get into the process where the rules for, and likely candidates put forth, are formulated.  Oftentimes, these local gatherings are quite small and a single voice can carry greater weight.  When work and direction and ideas are inserted, it can create a momentum mix that propels better ideas and people forward.  Especially when you can bring along 2, 3, 4, 5, or more people with you (you look even more like a force to be reckoned with).  That influence at the micro-local party level leads to influence at the next party level, and so on.  People who bring ideas that can be executed next time to give a great chance of winning get even more attention, of course.

And yes, voting grants one the right to whine with credibility! :)

While the YouTube link you provided could be criticized by some as (self-identified though!) biased, and in some respects it might be, it points out something important (although it conveys it in less than clear fashion) that is missing from the mindless bromide of “that will get the moochers/takers off their duff to get a job.”

There aren’t that many jobs.  And there are darn few good (livable wage) ones.  
The plutocratic world-economy affects even a socially conscious place like Denmark.

Much IS redundant about election coverage, because once again, in a mid-term election especially, we had less than half (often far less than half) of voters turning out.  For elections of people who largely have no agenda of the common good, but only self-serving or plutocratic-serving ones.   Put into power—or back into power—by barely a fourth of the electorate, sometimes less.

As is common of elections in the middle of a presidential term, voters tended to be older and whiter (and race as a factor appeared not insignificant).  Minorities, young people, and unmarried women largely stayed away.   Ironic, and self-defeating, given the policies (or the obstruction thereof) that will affect those same minorities, young people, and unmarried women. 

Spending by plutocrats and their connected organizations were steep this election, and drowned a lot of the opposition.    Dark money—the hidden kind—was especially strong. 

Many Democrats of course fed the low turnout by their hapless, weak, evasive, self-defeating ways.  I’m no particular fan of this president, for many reasons, but to watch his own party members distance themselves from him was nauseating, and while I might not agree with the staying away from the polls, I could at least understand the reasoning: to Democratic voters, such Democratic politician behavior fed apathy about candidates and lack of motivation to turn out, and to true Independents, it appeared weak and deceptive.  To Republican average voters, many of whom were oddly sympathetic to many progressive ballot initiatives (and many of those initiatives passed), it only confirmed their perception that Democrats aren’t strong enough or confident enough to govern, and certainly don’t deserve it.  To Republican true believers, it helped embolden them to turn out in droves, helped along by a media that is always bored with sameness and instead looks for upsets, defeats, and turnarounds, and which edged along the perception before it actually became the reality.  Rural areas, relatively sparsely populated, tend to turn out to vote anyway, and given their sea of red characteristics, was another factor in the rout.  So was the simplistic drivel about the election—for representatives—being solely about an “unpopular” president (whose popularity rating is no worse than most presidents at this point).  Once again, the inability of American voters to show discernment--or to understand or care which branch budgets--led to too many voters casting their vote and choosing their representatives because of dissatisfaction with their lives or conditions (often economic)—which they, toddler-like, blamed on a single individual (the president) and punished those associated by party.   There was a dearth of ideas, a dearth of values, a dearth of discussed real issues in this election, even though pressing real ones abound.  Hedges could be all sorts of smug justified about this triumph of spectacle and shallowness, but I’m sure he’s repulsed instead—and that’s even with his disdain for what the Democrats have become.

Voter suppression, while alive and well in far too many places, was not a deciding factor in hardly any of them.  The rout was that strong.  By the voters who turned out.  Politicians only care about citizens who actually vote.

Democrats lick their wounds and comfort themselves that the 2016 elections look a good deal more favorable to them, that they will not be battling uphill, as they were this time, in states that characteristically vote Republican.  That the Republican advantage could be quite short lived. 

Some of that is real; some delusional.  Here’s why: While the media is focused on the Senate, the plutocratic consolidation of power continues elsewhere—in local and state elections, and in the gerrymandered districts of the House of the Representatives.  Four truly awful governors—The Four Horsemen of the Plutocalypse—were returned to power, some regrettable ones as well, and many newly suspect ones have arrived, including three in traditional blue states.  State legislatures have flipped to control by the plutocratically-connected in the last few years, almost unnoticed by the general public.  As the national legislature and governing apparatus creaks and stalls, the subtle changes to cement plutocratic favoritism and control are happening at the state and local level.  Good government will get weakened and more feeble, while bad government will get stronger.

All because people don’t vote, don’t care about voting, don’t get incensed about it.

Not for themselves, and certainly not for others.

We’re a big country, with big resources and big advantages.  But those won’t magically save us if we don’t save ourselves. 

If regrettable history is a reliable guide, only when the people have let slip their protections and power, and/or when colossal, urgent calamity and tragedy has come upon them, will enough turn out to attempt real change.  In the 1920s, for example, big business/loose regulation majorities reigned.  Then came the economic catastrophe.

Until something similar, the uninvolved Americans will deceive themselves that it either doesn’t matter or that they can’t do anything anyway.  They will schlep from thing to thing, event to event, holiday to holiday, season to season, but they won’t escape their deep inner dissatisfaction.  Because they know they are being irresponsible.

The above message is brought to you by the P&H Grinch, in keeping with the irritating trend where the holiday season keeps moving forward.  Cue up that deep voice. :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stepping Off the Merry-Go-Round

Professor J,

The election is over. I voted and got some things I wanted. Not any decent candidates I could actually feel good about but I'll settle for wine in the grocery store. Finally.

Hopefully your state gave you more to work with. I understand what you were saying about getting involved in the primary process if you don't like the candidates but even then it is sometimes tough to cast a ballot for any of them. Yes, I'm whining. But I voted so I'm allowed, right? ;)

This morning a blogger friend of mine in Denmark posted this.

We discussed it a bit and she said that while it was good that the experiment had been done, the politicians "ignore the situation." She also said that there is a stigma attached to being unemployed and that people thought those collecting benefits just didn't want to work. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

This is the first election I can remember where I haven't spent hours watching national coverage. I made a deliberate effort to focus on the things I'd actually be voting on. What was happening in other states or what this politician or that elected official had to say interested me not at all. It felt good. Today when I tuned in to see some results from across the country, it could have been two years ago, or four. It was all so redundant.

You may remember that I posted something similar a few month ago about my current news fast. At times I can feel a bit out of the loop, but a quick search online catches me up quickly and I can control how much opinion I take in as opposed to facts. No time or tolerance for rants, raised voices, and diatribes. It's freeing. Then this morning I was listening to a meditation course I'm working through and the professor listed various things under toxins we shouldn't be taking in (including alcohol, but who are we kidding?). He suggested a media fast because so much of all of what we see, hear, and read is negative or at least, mindless.

Practicing a political mindfulness feels so much better than what I use to do which was listen to all of it, get angry about it, yell at the TV, and argue with people who disagreed with me. Still looking for that balance of being properly informed, while guarding my sanity. But so far, like in other areas of my life, less is more is working quite well for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Little Braveries


Welcome back.  Your second paragraph so accurately reminded me that I need a get away to do that very thing.  My last two vacations, while interesting and enjoyable, were not renewing, and I believe it is for all the reasons you have so ably stated.

Your third paragraph may have hit a note as well.

There is an adage that for every person who speaks up bravely, 9 more often agree with him or her but were afraid to speak.   Many people think that brave means being “big” brave—fearlessly confident and bold.  Only a few people are like that. Most people have in them though the capacity to be a little brave—to say what they are thinking and then return to listening mode. 

It is often the little braveries that coalesce together to make the biggest difference.

That Roseanne clip was superb!  While disturbing that it is 20 years old and yet just as timely today, it is what the working class and middle class should internalize.  Not just as protection against slimy demagogues and their blindly plutocratic-serving ideologies, but as a movement for change.

Those who say they don’t vote because they are tired of trying to choose the least bad of two bad candidates:  Don’t fail to vote, because choosing the least problematic or least destructive of the choices IS a choice—the alternative is to choose MORE destruction.    Sometimes of course, there are independent or 3rd or 4th party candidates one can vote with a clearer conscience for—and more enthusiasm—and while they may not win, if you keep voting in enough numbers, eventually the sides will start adopting some of the positions.  If the race is going to be very close between the two “established” candidates, you will have to make a judgment call whether to possibly inadvertently help the worst candidate by denying your vote to the other.

Whatever you decide, after the vote is over, get to work on change.  Real change comes at the local level.  Get influence to make a change.  How?  Influence who the primary candidates are, who are the rule makers, etc.  You will be surprised how often how small the meetings often are, the groups are, that start to choose who candidates are.  If the party or parties of your choice aren’t getting you the candidates you want, there is where to begin to change that. 

Of course, the established status quo is counting on that you don’t care and won’t care enough.  Yet when thoughtful “ordinary” people start to take that kind of interest, parties begin to change.
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