June 28, 2013

Afraid to understand

GUEST: Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and executive director of the Council for the National Interest, talks about his recent article, "A Necessary Reckoning With Torture," that was published in the "American Conservative."

How is it that we got here, and what is our political reality? Good questions for a Twenty First Century American. 

Our guest gave us a view from the CIA. He didn't go in a disbeliever, but once he realized how the government operated, he needed the distance of cynicism. Philip told us pretty much what we expected, that everyone in government lies about US foreign policy. The idea that the US  invades countries to better the lives of their citizens isn't believed by anyone in the know. The "reasons" for the Iraq war were lies, something that most people in Washington were well aware of. Only the people of the US get fooled. Citizens in the rest of the world know better and don't indulge in the fantasy of American good intentions.

Richard Nixon once called the American people, the "child in the family." The one lacking enough sophistication to really know what was going on. How did we get this way? Maybe empires develop such people, afraid to understand lest they have to risk something to change it.

June 23, 2013

Shun the Criminaloids!

It has been five years since the titans of Wall Street, emboldened by decades of deregulation, brought the global economy to the brink of disaster.  The vast majority of Americans suffered – and continue to suffer – as a result of their recklessness and greed, and there is a justified sense of outrage at the fact that none of the prominent banksters has gone to jail.  In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Americans who had seen their life savings evaporate at least had the satisfaction of seeing several top bankers go to jail.  The Justice Department in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration kept faith with the law and the American public in a way that the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations have failed to do.

As with Adolf Hitler’s “big lie,” a fabrication so enormous that most people cannot believe that anyone would have the nerve to tell it, “big crime” is behavior that contravenes law and decency with such sweeping disregard for the consequences that it often elicits sputtering incredulity rather than full-throated condemnation.  When the Attorney General of the United States acknowledges that these financial institutions are too big to fail, as Eric Holder has done, the rest of us should understand that to mean that the banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds, are OUT OF CONTROL.  Corporations are going to continue to dodge regulations and taxes, and play high-risk games which reap obscene profits, and trash communities, leaving us, the American taxpayers, holding the bag for the inevitable losses.   For the financial manipulators, it’s a heads-we-win, tails-you-lose proposition.
The question is: What can we do about this intolerable state of affairs?  To the extent we are able, we should support the important work being done to tighten financial regulations, strengthen labor, and protect the social safety net (among other worthy causes), but there is something we can all do right away: stop reflexively treating the ruling class (which is what the 1% is) with respect simply because they are rich and powerful.  The fact of the matter is that, with very few exceptions, the oligarchs have amassed their wealth at the expense of the rest of society.  They are robbing us blind, and they should be treated with the scorn and disdain that one would afford to any common thief.

There’s a blueprint for this type of public shaming.  Two decades before the Great Depression, a Sociology professor by the name of Edward A. Ross wrote a book called Sin and Society in which he described the “criminaloid” type – the “franchise grabber, the fiduciary thief, and the frenzied financier“…the “prosperous evil-doers.” He viewed the deeds of these people not as the result of evil or even pure greed, but as one of moral insensibility.  Because they wear what Ross called a “breastplate of respectability,” they not only evade responsibility for their dastardly deeds, but act as if the plundering of the economy was, in the words of Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, “God’s work.”  Clearly, it falls to us, the 99%, to make sure that their misdeeds are recognized and that they suffer ignominy as a result.

As we consider the criminaloids (I nominate JPMorgan Chase honcho Jamie Dimon as the poster child), let us not forget that the effects of the 2008 economic meltdown are still being felt.   As unemployment continues at unconscionable levels and average American worker actually takes home LESS money today than he/she did before the recession, the rich are raking it in.  According to the Pew Research Center, between 2009 and 2011 the wealth of the richest 8 million families in the U.S. went up an astonishing $5.6 trillion while the rest of us (93% of the population) lost $669 billion.  Poof!

Mitt Romney called the oligarchs “makers,” ostensibly because they “make” wealth, but it is more accurate for the rich to be described as “takers,” while those who the rich consider “takers” deserve to be considered “makers,” both because, to the extent we make anything anymore, it’s the working man/woman that makes it, and because only labor creates sustainable wealth.  The 1% are geniuses at “taking” (exploiting) the fruits of the labor of the 99%.
We are in a bad way.  In Edward Ross’s day, the Industrial Age was the driving force of social change.  While this process remains problematic – automation goes hand-in-hand with globalization and weak labor laws to kill middle class jobs – the Information Age has brought a new sense of ideological isolation and alienation that leads to a feeling of hopelessness.  The 1% really do seem to be above the law.  The top cops and regulators may not have the gumption or the political will to bring us the accountability that we need and deserve, but we are not totally without a voice.   

What is needed is a fundamental paradigm shift in the way the average American understands and regards wealth.  When we read of a person who made a fortune, instead of thinking “achiever,” we should think “criminaloid slimeball.”  The assumption should be that they took advantage of people every step of the way up the ladder of financial success.  They lied and cheated, relying on a battery of lawyers and accountants to keep them beyond the arms of the taxman and the lawman.  Our default attitude, until such time as they demonstrate that they did no harm in amassing their fortunes, that they are repugnant, a scourge on society.
It should no longer be sufficient for a rich person to say, “I played by the rules.”  Aside from the fact that the rules are too lax (the historical data shows that more regulation leads not only to a more equitable society, but to greater long-term economic growth), to remain within the confines of the law is the LEAST we should expect; we need to hold people to higher ethical standard.  And the main tool available to us to is to confer shame upon those who put profit above people and the planet.

I have no illusion that this sort of shunning will significantly alter the behavior of corporations or banksters like Blankfein and Dimon, at least not in the short run.  But properly placed social blame has two things to recommend it.  First, it has the salutary effect of removing these predators from their superior perch, restoring middle-class and lower-class wage-earners to their rightful place at the center of American life.  Second, there’s nothing like expressing justified self-righteous anger to help us regain the country’s moral equilibrium.
-- Gary

June 21, 2013

Their rightful place: prison

GUEST: Lawrence S. Wittner, award-winning American historian, writer, and activist for peace and social justice, talks about his most recent book, "What’s Going On at UAardvark?"

It was a pleasure talking to Larry. We both had been active in the 1960's, and we are both still working for social justice today. There was something hopeful about that era that has kept us at it all these years.

Not to equate my efforts with his. Larry is a tireless activist who has written several books and advised large peace and justice groups like Peace Action. We talked about his latest plans for getting his message to a larger audience, his first novel.

Towards the end of our interview, we talked about Cuomo's plans to turn the State University over to even greater corporate influence. He invited them to take up residence the state's colleges and universities free of charge. Even their employees won't pay state taxes. Of course, it will be a big loss of revenue for the state, meaning less support for students attending college. Even worse, however, is their official presence on campus, offering suggested courses and bribing professors to make their curriculums more pro-corporate.

I asked Larry what could possibly reverse this corporate invasion of higher education. He responded by urging all of us to educate and organize. The corporations and Wall Street certainly call all the shots in our country right now. But get enough people angry, and there is a chance that we can reclaim our democracy, and put the filthy rich corporate elites back in their rightful place: prison.

June 14, 2013

Declaration of Independence from corporate rule

GUEST: Corinne Rosen, from Food and Water Watch, and New Yorkers Against Fracking, talks about our hopes to save the environment from this type of environmental destruction.

Corinne could make a believer out of me. She is so confident that grassroots organizing can take on the corporate/government nexus of power that I feel like taking to the streets myself.

Howard Zinn wrote that movements make change, and the corrupted politicians are the last to fall in line. The People's History is all about grassroots organizing and how the process of struggle is the only thing that really improves the lives of working people. 

But what of changing the system itself? Must we be continually threatened by the corporate elites of the world, forever victimized by their greed and warmongering? In our efforts to make change, can we afford the largest change of all, that of our system of government? Without a return to democracy, small changes won't solve our longterm problem. Our Constitution has been destroyed by the few who rule us with an increasingly iron fist. When we will we join together and declare a Declaration of Independence from corporate rule?