There are cycles to history because the same forces that bring nations together can also rip them apart.
The history books tell us that the American Revolution began with "the shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord. But that's not so, according to John Adams, who famously said that the real American Revolution was effected "in the minds and hearts of the people" when Americans first began to think of themselves as Americans.
"This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people," said Adams, "was the real American Revolution."
And yet, four score and seven years after a distinctly American sense of nationalism brought 13 separate and squabbling colonies together into a single unity of states, another kind of provincial nationalism ripped that country apart.
As I've tried to argue in various ways over the past few years, the world is experiencing a right wing revival, riven with tribal and sectarian conflict and cursed to live through William Butler Yeats' Second Coming, where "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."
Two more pieces of evidence arrived this morning in support of my general thesis. The first, an essay in the Washington Post by long-time congressional scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein of the Brookings Institute and American Enterprise Institute respectively.
The two have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years and yet "never have we seen them this dysfunctional."
No one is blameless, they say, but the core of the problem lies squarely with the Republican Party.
"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics," Mann and Ornstein report. "It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, they say, "it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges."
To say that both sides are equally guilty and that there is plenty of blame to go around - "the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias" - is a lazy abdication of responsibility. It is to walk away from the problem and, intentionally or not, legitimize and empower political extremism by making it seem normal, part of the mainstream.
Self-styled bipartisan groups such as "No Labels" and "American Elect" that claim to seek common ground and solutions that move both parties closer to some idealized political center, are engaged in a strategy that "is simply untenable," say Mann and Ornstein, "when one side is so far out of reach."
It is clear, they say, "that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate - think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel - are virtually extinct."
This is a party that cynically attacks Democrats for what it claims is a refusal to treat Republican opponents with greater tolerance and respect at the very instant they administer ideological litmus-tests to weed out non-conforming heretics of conservative orthodoxy.
I, and many of those I've worked with in Republican politics and government in the past, are also casualties of this deliberate campaign to purify Republican ranks by purging the party of all but the most reactionary and doctrinaire true-believers.
Democrats, by contrast, even after losing most of their conservative Dixiecrat factions, have still retained a more diverse base, Mann and Ornstein say. "While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post."
The second piece of corroboration comes from Mother Jones' Kevin Drum who says every time he turns around he's confronted by some new form of growing extremism.
"The Catholic Church is, increasingly, little more than an angry collection of reactionary old men who hate the modern world," says Drum. "The Republican Party is a refuge for bright-eyed true believers intent on tearing down the modern state. The state of Israel, unable to break the grip of its most expansionist zealots, is busily wreaking its own destruction and doing its best to drag us along with them. Large swaths of the Muslim world remain captured by the fever dreams of its most radical factions."
All of these phenomenon are connected in some way as if part of some global right wing contagion. Yet none of these groups seem to be crashing and burning - not yet anyway, says Drum. "So when does the wave finally crest and start to break?"
Maybe in 2012 -- if the best among us can find our own passionate intensity.
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Most of the changes for the blog have been completed. Please let me know what you think. An interesting study of crime looking at six cities ? Philadelphia, San Diego, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Austin, and Toronto was carried out by the police executive research forum. One of the central messages from the sample study is that
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Memo to our idiot politicians in Washington: Stop trying to come up with schemes to ?regulate the Internet.? Every time you try, you screw up even worse, largely because you insist on freezing out the content creators and people who would otherwise innovate on it, creating new industries and ? dare I point this out? ? J-O-B-S (and I don?t mean that Apple dead guy - more here...and here is more on the clown behind CISPA)...
...and with this in mind, here is a Saturday morning cartoon.
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Lambasting the diploma mill hacks "who are less interested in helping our men and women in uniform get ahead and more interested in making a buck," President Obama uses this week's address to talk about his Executive Order to "Stop Deceptive and Misleading Practices by Educational Institutions that Target Veterans, Service Members and their Families".
Calling some educational institutions' deceptive practices "appalling" and "disgraceful," Obama describes how:
They bombard potential students with emails and pressure them into making a quick decision. Some of them steer recruits towards high-interest loans and mislead them about credit transfers and job placement programs. One of the worst examples was a college recruiter who visited a Marine barracks and enrolled Marines with brain injuries so severe that some of them couldn?t recall what courses the recruiter had signed them up for.... and says that:
We?re making sure veterans and service members get a simple fact sheet called ?Know Before You Owe? that lays out all the information they need about financial aid and paying for college. We?re requiring schools to offer counseling to help students finish their degree even if they have to move or deploy. And we?re stepping up our efforts to fight dishonest recruiters by strengthening rules about who can come on base and making it easier to file complaints.Obama concludes by vowing to "make sure that anyone who serves this country gets every opportunity they deserve." As well they should.
Complete transcript below the fold
by WALTER BRASCH
For years, my father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol.
My father had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue- eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife. Once back home, he faced discrimination because neighbors thought he was Mexican; the ones who knew better discriminated because he was a Jew.
When I was 11 years old, we moved about 120 miles north to a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents bought a house in a new tract of about 150 houses, all owned by Whites and a few Hispanics. Three or four years later, a Realtor came by, plastering flyers on all the houses, announcing he had a special real good, one-time only deal. A few wouldn't sell their houses at any price if it was a Black who was planning to move into the area. Someone in the tract finally took up the offer, and a Black family-he was a mechanical engineer-moved in. It didn't take long before other White families began putting their houses up for sale. Only this time, they weren't getting as much as the first family that sold out. Soon, the prices began tumbling as other Blacks and Hispanics moved in.
Eventually, the first Black family moved out. But my parents refused to sell their house. They had no intention of becoming involved with what was now known as "block busting." A few of our Hispanic and Black neighbors wondered why we stayed; some even said we were crazy. But, until my father died in 1983, he owned that house in a neighborhood that went from almost 100 percent White to almost 100 percent Black, Hispanic, and lower-class White, refusing to be sucked in by racism.
Discrimination occurs throughout our country, whether we want to believe it or not. Just in the past year, thousands of incidents show that America still has a long ways to go.
At a synagogue in Sunbury, Pa., someone painted a swastika. In New York City, unidentified individuals threw several Molotov cocktails against a rabbi's residence. These weren't isolated incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,239 reported incidents in 2010. (The 2011 number is still being tallied.)
Several American communities and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted oppressive anti-immigration laws. On the surface, it appears they want to rid their areas of illegal immigrants, acting only to protect law-and-order. But, the deeper structure is that they fear Hispanics, more of them legal immigrants or citizens of the U.S. than undocumented workers, will get political, educational, and financial power and would reduce the influence of the ultra-conservative White population.
At the University of California at San Diego, a fraternity of Whites sent out invitations to a "ghetto-themed" party, which it called the "Compton Cookout." The invitation noted that "ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes." At that same school last year, a Klan hood was placed on a statue of Dr. Seuss.
In Kentucky, two men shouting anti-gay slurs kidnapped and beat a gay man. In Tulsa, Okla., an 18-year-old was beaten unconscious by men shouting slurs.
Several firebombs were thrown at an Islamic cultural center and a Hindu house of worship in New York City. Throughout the country, local government and citizens, in defiance of the First Amendment, are trying to prohibit the building of mosques and cultural centers.
At innumerable local schools, where the teachers had "cultural diversity" classes in college and on-the-job "diversity training," it's not unusual to hear a few teachers telling racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes, not just among themselves in a faculty lounge but also with students.
White supremacists shout for "White Pride!" and Black militants call for "Black Power!" Each claims they aren't planning to destroy any other race--although myriad Klan and Skinhead actions prove otherwise--but merely to strengthen their own. Add into the mix, a few who will shout "racism" when no racism occurs and, thus, make it difficult for those with true compassion for justice to separate the truth from the fiction. Peel the rhetoric, and the core is still fear.
And that may be why the death of Trayvon Martin is so important. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., killed Martin, Feb. 26. Zimmerman acknowledges he killed Martin, but claims it was in self-defense. Under Florida's reactionary "stand your ground" law, borne from fear rather than logic, people who feel threatened can take whatever action they think necessary, even shooting Black teenagers who are armed only with a pack of Skittles.
There are numerous versions of what happened, all of them advanced by myriad people with social and political agendas rather than a search for justice, no matter what they claim. But, fear is at the core of the rhetoric. Mistrust and distrust, often fueled by the mass media with their own agendas, may lead some to irrationally believe that entire demographics of people-White, Black, Hispanic, gay, Jew, Muslim-may pose threats to their own safety, leading them to react as if the threats were real rather than imagined.
The reasons no longer matter to Trayvon Martin. The lesson however, should matter to the rest of us.
[Walter Brasch is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. humanitarian service award. His latest book is Before the First Snow; a major theme of the book looks at issues of racism and bigotry. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers or amazon, in both hardcover and ebook formats.]
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Artist: Luther Vandross Tune: Bad Boy - Having a Party
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That headline isn't mine, it's Taibbi's, and it's nicely direct. In addition, this post has an Action Opportunity, something you can actually do.
As you may already know, the USPS is going broke, thanks to Bush II and a 2006 law that forces it to fund its pension obligations completely for the next 75 years ? and complete that funding in 10 years.
As you'll read below, because money earns money, no one (literally, no one) funds pension funds more than 30%.
Now Taibbi (all emphasis mine):
In 2006, in what looks like an attempt to bust the Postal Workers' Union, George Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This law required the Postal Service to pre-fund 100 percent of its entire future obligations for 75 years of health benefits to its employees ? and not only do it, but do it within ten years. No other organization, public or private, has to pre-fund 100 percent of its future health benefits.And the reason is obvious ? unions, plus privatization:
"No one prefunds at more than 30 percent," Anthony Vegliante, the U.S. Postal Service's executive vice president, told reporters last year.
The new law forced the postal service to come up with about $5.5 billion a year for the ten years following the bill's passage. In 2006, before those payments kicked in, the USPS generated a small profit. Not surprisingly, the USPS is now basically broke.
The transparent purpose of this law, which was pushed heavily by industry lobbyists, was to break a public sector union and privatize the mail industry. Before the 2006 act, the postal service did one thing, did it well, and, minus the need to generate profits and bonuses for executives, did it cheaply. It paid for itself and was not a burden to taxpayers. ... This is a classic example of private-sector lobbyists using the government to protect its profits and keep prices inflated.Taibbi's piece explains all the non-postal benefits of having post offices in a great many places not served by profit-hungry businesses.
Sen. Sanders is pushing a bill that would delay the end of Saturday delivery for two years, and prevent a number of post-office closings, but the writing is on the wall, unless there's a public outcry.We have more about that bill here.
Yesterday we took a look at the congressional campaigns that pit progressive Wayne Powell against reactionary Eric Cantor, progressive Ken Aden against reactionary Steve Womack, and progressive Wenona Baldenegro against conservative Ann Kirkpatrick. The less and less relevant Democrat/Republican nomenclature is barely worth mentioning. There are three progressives dedicated to the interests of working families, all of whom are independent-minded Democrats, and there are two reactionaries (both Republicans) and a conservative (a completely corrupt Establishment Democrat) dedicated to the interests of Wall Street and other venal corporate interests.
The Republican part of this equation is simple as pie. There are no good Republicans, no honest Republicans, no patriotic Republicans, no Republicans even worth considering against the most horrible of Democrats-- and there are plenty of them in Congress, at this point at least half. The Democratic half is more complicated and more troubling. Too many Democrats-- Ann Kirkpatrick is just one-- have just given in to the cash corruption that defines DC politics... and they're crowding out real Democrats. Because the cash allows them to establish themselves as power players, you find third rate minds like Joe Crowley, Steve Israel, Steny Hoyer, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Allyson Schwartz in leadership positions-- although most of them are utterly devoid of any leadership capacity beyond aggregating bribes and passing them out to other Members in return for personal loyalties. That's what makes DC politics go round and round.
We saw the breathtaking number of corrupt lobbyists flocking to join Steny Hoyer in supporting Kirkpatrick against a candidate of and for the people of Arizona's first CD. Why do you think so many lobbyists are so desperate to get a weak loser like Ann Kirkpatrick back into Congress? Think about it. Or read what cutting edge populist economist David Korten had to say about this kind of politics in his brilliant book, Agenda For A New Economy. Here he is articulating a vision for a democratic America that isn't there to serve the special interests of a few super-wealthy families and corporations:
The life-serving market system we want and the life-destructive capitalist system we have feature very different structures and operate by very different rules. A healthy market system in designed to facilitate the beneficial self-organizing exchange of goods and services in response to people's self-defined needs. The capitalist system, by contrast, is designed to concentrate economic power to support the expropriation of wealth for the exclusive private benefit of the system's most powerful players.
The rules formulated and enforced by government ultimately favor one or the other of these competing systems. The tension between them defines the political struggle of our time. Government makes the rules that determine the economy's structure and priorities. Its choices commonly favor Wall Street capitalism over Main Street markets, because Wall Street controls the money and the media that drive Washington politics. The public rarely hears about options supportive of a healthy Main Street market system, and such options do not find their way into the platforms of the major political parties.
If you could vote on whether the Frankenfood in your grocery store should be labeled as such, how would you vote?
If you lived in California, that wouldn't be a what-if question.
Last week Ronnie Cummins kept sounding the alarm about how a for-profit corporation-- and we're talking about Monsanto here-- can use its political influence and economic clout to force through dangerous food policies that could ruin the health of a nation while enriching its management team. A top Monsanto executive, Norman Braksick, whined to the Kansas City Star: "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it," and another, Phil Angell, the company's director of corporate communications told the NY Times that "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."There's a problem with that. Mosanto spent $6,370,000 lobbying, just last year! And in 2010 they spent $8,030,000. And that doesn't count the millions in bribes to Members of Congress. So far this year, for example, Monsanto has handed out $231,725 in legalistic bribes to congressmen, 69% of it to Republicans and most of the rest to Blue Dogs and other corrupt conservatives. They're not lobbying and they're not bribing Members of Congress because they want to do the American people any favors.
For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and regulatory agencies, supermarket chains, giant food processors, and the so-called "natural" products industry.
Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry's contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We're fighting back.
This November, in a food fight that will largely determine the future of what we eat and what we grow, Monsanto will face its greatest challenge to date: a statewide citizens' ballot initiative that will give Californians the opportunity to vote for their right to know whether the food they buy is contaminated with GMOs.
I am at the Drone Summit. A well-known peace group, CODEPINK, the legal advocacy organizations, Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and others are gathering now in Washington, DC, for the first international summit on drones. The[...]
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