Thursday, August 27, 2009

American Empire

Last spring, the Peace Resource Center along with other interested groups sponsored a peace march in San Diego. The attendance was low; many believe that with President Obama in office, the urgent need to end useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been addressed. Sadly, Congress has appropriated $84.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year ending September 2009. This brings the total war costs in the last eight years to$915.1 billion--- almost a trillion dollars. Republicans and right wingers, with new found born-again zeal, now object to the deficit, claiming there is no money for health care. According to the National Priorities Project, which carefully reviews the budget, 42.2 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military. Only 22 cents goes to health care, and a paltry 8.7 cents goes to anti-poverty programs. About one in eight Americans lives below the federal poverty level.

In a stirring speech, Cindy Sheehan observed that the problem with America is empire. We don’t think of ourselves that way; empire is a superannuated term. Conservatives, like Aaron David Miller insist that America is not an empire: we are a “superpower.” What’s the difference? An empire is an empire is an empire. The shocking fact is, this country spends more on its military budget than every other country. We spend more per capita on war, and we spend more in total than every other country in the world combined. We invade countries at will, and have over eight hundred military bases all around the world.

In Central America, we are apparently so frightened of Hugo Chavez that we tolerate the military expulsion of Zelaya. The cause, the noble cause for which Casey Sheehan died is the protection of unregulated corporate capitalism. America must protect the interests of multinational corporations, most of whom don’t pay for the protection our military offers them. If we were policing the world to ensure personal liberty, freedom of expression and a high standard of living, that would be one thing. But to keep the world safe for cowboy capitalism is quite another.
America is the wealthiest country in the world. It squanders its wealth on the military-industrial complex. The American Empire protects multinational corporations that have no investment or interest in this country. Americans are disproportionately poor, uneducated, and increasingly, uninsured. What are we fighting for?

Dennis Kucinich has long advocated the creation of a Department of Peace. If we did, maybe other countries would respect us instead of despising us. Our nation’s wealth could be redirected to care for our sick, uneducated, and poor. Right wingers who “fear” supposed Big Government healthcare have no problem with Big Government warfare. And that’s the party of Jesus?
Peace, whether internal or international, is the only treasure worth fighting for. By reclaiming larger swaths of peace within ourselves, we may find the strength to reflect that peace to others, and find the hope to fight for worldwide peace. Without peace, there will be no salvation for us individually or as a species. Dare to wage peace. The messianic age is here. The revolution has begun. Tag, you're it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Compassion and Revolution

Walking the dog last night, I witnessed a troubling interaction between a homeless man and a well-dressed neighbor. The man asked for money. My neighbor not only refused, which was certainly his right, but chose to be deliberately rude and confrontational. My neighbor"s angry reaction was puzzling. A week earlier, I was having coffee with a friend who went on a rant against the homeless. My mind has a catastrophic bent, and I can easily imagine various scenarios which would make me homeless. Bad luck, bad choices--- it could easily happen. What is troubling is the anger people openly exhibit to the less fortunate.

Many are troubled by the anger generated at these town hall meetings, where conservatives are ranting against health care reform. Anger at political leaders is understandable: I spent the last eight years fuming at the arrogance and horrible decisions of the previous administration. But consider the anger Jane Fonda still generates. She did some stupid things for which she has apologized numerous times. Why are people angry at Fonda, and not at Macnamara, Nixon, LBJ--- the politicians who instigated a stupid and useless war? The right is adept at channeling anger inappropriately. Consider Reagan"s targeting of "Welfare Queens." We weren't supposed to be angry at poverty, and the conditions that brought it about. We were told to blame the victims. Of course, we all knew someone who knew someone who once met someone who worked at a welfare office, and who came across women who popped out babies so they could get more welfare. The paradox was that these "Welfare Queens," who were always African Americans, and overweight, simultaneously wanted to have more children and get government sponsored abortions. They must have been busy, as well as confused. Or could it be that we were confused?

Blaming the victim is the oldest trick in the book. Whether the victims are immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, Jews, blaming the victim is so much easier than asking "why." In "Prophetic Imagination," Walter Bruegemann writes "Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism." By feeling compassion, and acting on it, we realize that the pain and suffering of others is real, and we must help. Jeff Dietrich, in the San Diego "Catholic Worker" adds, "When Jesus told us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the imprisoned, he knew that such activities would cause us to ask questions of both ourselves and our society." Dietrich adds the clincher, the point where religion and politics merge: "To enter into the hurt is to realize that system is rigged."

Whether the prophet urging us to feel compassion is Moses, Jesus, Mohammed or Karl Marx, we come to realize that we live in a political system that is unfair, where there are many losers, and just a few winners, in the material sense. By acknowledging the suffering around us, we come to terms with our own complicity in a broken world.

In 1892, my great grandfather began a Populist/Socialist newspaper, "The Table Rock Censor." His family worked tirelessly for the campaign of James Weaver, a great liberal. Weaver's Populist party refused to join the Democrats, thinking they were just as corrupt as the Republicans. My great grandfather worked for the revolution, "Armageddon," as he called it, when the capitalist overlords would be displaced. Progressives of the era used religious terminology in their struggle. The revolution, the better world my ancestors fought for might have been called the Messianic Age by religious leaders. Both the religious and the political factions worked for change.

No one today remembers James Weaver, although man of his liberal policies, like the progressive income tax, eventually came about. Weaver was the only third party candidate ever to carry five midwestern states. In other countries, where actual political revolution happened, the results were decidedly mixed.

In his brilliant work, "The Evolution of God," Robert Wright traces the growth of God, or, if you prefer, the growth of the concept of God. Gradually, over the past 250,000 years of human history, God has become more loving, more ethical. If our species is to continue, God must keep changing and growing, as we ourselves grow. Salvation for humans is dependent up the salvation of the planet. We work for the growing good of people, of the planet. We work for change, revolution, the Messianic Age. We believe that the universe is here for a purpose, and that purpose is good. We don't know the end results: we don't know if we will succeed in saving ourselves and our world. God must continue to grow. When we feel compassion, God has a place to be born.

If you volunteer, work for a charity or political cause, or choose to manifest good will for all, you work because you must. The Messianic Age is here, the Revolution has begun. Tag, you're it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Teabaggers, Birthers and Deathers

Like a majority of Americans, I was overjoyed when Obama was elected. I cried when he was sworn in, and I booed when the cameras panned in on Cheney and former president Chucklenuts. I thought the eight year nightmare was finally over. After all, Bush was not even elected; he was appointed in the Supreme Court's right wing coup of 2000. Amereicans were not really nasty, stupid folks who always vote against their own self-interest. We are reasonable, thoughtful people who are just sometimes gullible. I am beginning to see that I was wrong.

Birthers, Deathers, Teabaggers all represent the ugliest and most violent aspect of this country. It seems like Republicans are not even trying to hide their racism. We're subjected to news clips of tearful women who moan, "I want my country back!" As Jon Stewart notes, these people should try telling that to the Indians. The ease with which people can be lied to and mobilized is astounding. Deathers bring guns to hear the President speak. Racism, right-wing media, and lack of education are three mains rasons why behave Americans behave so stupidly.

Lee Atwater, Nixon's brain, came up with the so-called Southern strategy. Republicans voted almost unanimously against the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills of the mid 1960's. Ford, Cheney and Rumsfeld were just some of the Republican congressmen who opposed equal rights for minorities. Race-baiting became an art form for conservaties, and now we see the fruits of this project, as Repulbicans increasingly become a regional, ethnic party. In the late 1970's, the religious right, which has long history of racism, joined the cause. Southern Baptists, like Mormons, historically refused to ordain African Americans. In addition, Presbyterians split during the Civil War, and the two largest bodies of that denomination didn't rejoin until 1980, when the denomination took a swing to the hard right. Now it seems that gays and lesbians are the new blacks.

Anyone who watches television or reads a newspaper can't help but be struck by the unequal time the right wing gets. Fox "News," which began around 1996, took advantage of media consolidation and Bill Cinton's media deregulation. I bet Clinton wished he could have a redo on that piece of legislation. I'm constantly amazed by the prominence idiots from Liberty College or conservative talk radio have in panels on Sunday news shows. Where's Amy Goodman? Why is there no voice of the left in the media? Where's someone from the Green or Worker's parties? Most liberal Democrats aren't leftists, even if they are represented. The American left was squashed by McCarthyism and the red scare. Who cares what Palin or Limbaugh thinks? Can Palin or Limbaugh think?

Finally, education in this country has suffered over the last forty years. Public schools have been drained of resources by anti-tax advocates. In California, the most populous state in the nation,spending on education ranks 47th. Thanks to the budget crisis, Schwarzenegger can slash spending with a smile. In the South, a proliferation of low-cost parochial schools means that even middle class whites can send their children to private school. The South has achieved de facto segreagation. Many states are in a budget crisis, and more and more children will have a poor education.

Is our country's darkest period over? Will America's Ice Age finally thaw? If any thinking person falls asleep for a second, the nightmare will recur.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Healthcare, Wealthcare

In 1980, the top 1% of Americans owned 9% of the USA's wealth. By 2007, the top 1% owned 20% of this country's wealth (see Robert Reisch, Supercapitalism). The Reagan revolution succeeded in this massive redistribution of wealth. During this same time, union membership dropped, real wages have stagnated, and millions have lost health insurance. Culminating in the bank bailouts, we have privatized profits by socializing financial loss. No one is screaming "reverse socialism" about this trend. In fact, capitalism itself remains unquestioned in this country. There are no socialist or Marxist commentators. Despite its massive failure and gross inadequacies, there is no debate about this country's fundamental economic structure. This isn't an anomaly: the plutocrats or corporatists of this country have always been artful in controlling the masses.

Now we have the healthcare debate. At least 47 million Americans have no insurance, no one knows how many millions are underinsured, and people who have insurance through their jobs can easily lose this coverage. Medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country. Recently, an elderly relative of mine tearfully worried that her family wouldn't love her anymore because of a secret. It broke my heart to see her crying, and I couldn't believe this gentle soul could have done anything that she was ashamed of confessing. She had to declare bankruptcy at age 85. She was unable to continue paying on her second husband's medical costs. Her husband had died at age 65, and never had Medicare. They had no idea how inadequate their insurance was. She spent all her retirement savings on hospital bills, and worked until age 80. Her vision failed, she had to stop working, and was forced to declare bankruptcy. The most painful thing about this secret burden was her shame about it. She never told her family why she wasn't able to retire sooner.

A disabled friend of mine has Medicare due to illness. His medical costs are about $12,000 a month for medication alone. He confided that all told, his bills came to $250,000 last year for surgeries plus medicine. "Am I worth that much?" he asked me. I know many people with catastrophic or chronic illness who have to stop working so they can qualify for Medicaid. For whatever reason, single payer insurance is not even discussed in politics any more. We are the country that spends twice what other countries spend on medical costs, yet we have millions who can't get healthcare. An estimated 18,000 people die every year because they are unable to access medical treatment before it's too late. We have the highest rate of infant mortality of any industrial nation.

As I told my elderly relative, and as I told my friend who doesn't think he's worth spending that much on, the system is rigged. Healthy people, and the insured, may not understand this. Fortunately, most sensible people do understand this inequity. Yet insurance companies and big Pharma are spending $1.4 million per day on defeating any reform of the healthcare system. Teabaggers and other goons are disrupting town hall meetings with Democratic politicians. Rush, Beck, Hannity, the insurance companies, have all mobilized pathetic people to act against their own economic interest.

Once again, the top 1% has mobilized the masses to act in favor of the plutocrats. As Thomas Frank observed in What's the Matter with Kansas, conservatives are artful in deploying people to fight against their own self interest. In the 1850's, Frank notes, only about 1% of Southerners owned slaves. This one per cent rallied people to fight a war of secession on their behalf. Are Americans stupid, or are we insane? Some speculate by eliminating spending on public education, the rich are able to keep people dumb enough to fight oil wars on their behalf. In California, Schwarzenegger is slashing both education and healthcare, perhaps hoping to keep the masses sickly as well as stupid.

Will there be meaningful healthcare reform? Will people learn to act on their own behalf, instead of on behalf of the uber-rich? Will anyone question the privilege of the wealthy? I wish I could be more hopeful.