Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“How Do We Right The Ship and Where Do We Go From Here?”

I have had a burning desire to address the deteriorating state of this country, the forces that are operating contrary to the interests of the common people and what, if anything, that might be within the realm of improving our common lot. That has led me to correspond with a few notable individuals in Congress with whom this will be shared. Out of respect for them and to avoid any appearance of trying to apply pressure on them, I have chosen to preserve the anonymity of those people. In the final analysis, they are in far better positions to “put the meat on the bones” of this issue than am I. They all are seasoned statesmen who are among the “movers and shakers,” and in whom I have the greatest confidence.

As I reflect on the wasteland of what remains of our democracy and the human toll that has been taken by the chain of events on our national stage going back to the administration of George H. Bush, followed by the decimation of a financial system that had served this country extremely well, all at the hands of William Jefferson Clinton and his unholy alliance with some of the most notorious and skilled white-collar bandits of our time, I am awe struck by how fragile and fluid the foundation is when evil is tolerated, legitimized and becomes the norm.

Clinton is what he is. Nothing will ever change that and no amount of effort to remake the man will make him any more respectable. His record stands. However, in the lead up to the spoils of 2008 by the charming and mesmerizing personality of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and his happy band of thieves rose from the ashes and gave the Obama administration all of their experience and dubious successes, self-serving and otherwise. President Obama has become just as disingenuous as his mentor. The same rogues were imported from the Clinton camp directly into the administration of Barack Obama. And what did we get for it? We got more of the same from President Obama at the expense of the health and welfare of this nation, and at significant cost to the people. We are the victims and the rogues remain the profiteers.

When, I ask you, are we going to say “enough is enough,” and it is time to restore our national commitment to a deep-seated sense of morality, honesty and integrity that is the hallmark of what we are as a people. Ill-gotten wealth and the power it nurtures do not make those who covet it any more respectable than they have always been. They are what they are and that is just an inescapable fact of life.

I doubt that time is on the side of virtue for this country and all who believe in what it stands for. We must get serious, stop the process of redefining the merits of wrong and how irrelevant good is to us all. Wishing will not make it so, and a cultivated and perverted regard for everything material and pleasurable does not change a thing. We remain what we have become and what we are. At the end of the day, the most precious and valuable among us are the human beings that are the backbone of this democracy. They are what it is all about. This country belongs to all of us; not just to those who have led us to believe that somehow they are superior and their sense of entitlement and privilege trumps our common membership in the club of mankind. That is not what the Founding Fathers foresaw and it is not what today, tomorrow and the future should be.

I happen to believe that the terms we use when we speak of morality, honesty, decency, integrity, and all the other forms of nomenclature we attach to our finer angels is a language of the absolute. They are not to be twisted and redefined in order for those who seek our demise to invoke in order to appear to be acting on behalf of the interests of us all. It is time to stop according them the dubious respect and authority they claim, and to start calling them out for all they have been, all that they are and all they are destined to become.

Every institution of our federal government is no longer there to primarily serve the people of this country and to work for our common welfare. Rather, they are there to serve the oligarchs, the plutocrats and all of those who have managed to delude themselves and to seduce us into believing they are, indeed, the superior among us and whatever they deem is theirs and what little is ours is, somehow, akin to Divine Will. Now I ask you, how can any sane and rational mind buy into all of that nonsense? If we are to be the people we are intended to be, we must cast off all the forms of manipulation and mind control they so skillfully use to further tighten the noose around our necks and cast us into the dungeons of irrelevance by their insatiable greed and avarice. It can and must be done, and soon. It has to be done within the framework of the law and the bounds of decency. But it won’t be easy. It will take a lot of determination and an iron-clad will, but it can happen if we manifest the will to make it happen.

What we euphemistically refer to as a “government of the people” is, in reality no longer a democratic government. It is a club of exclusivity that has laid claim to all this country is and which, rightfully, belongs to all of us. We have a two-party system that has managed to elevate themselves to positions that were the purview of kings and emperors in days gone by. We have become the serfs who live in a complacent state while they decide the ration of crumbs they will throw our way in order to keep us quiet and obedient. Is that the mettle of an American? I think not.

The time has come to call on those few but noble and courageous leaders who, also, believe that the time has come to restore this nation to all its people; “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” It has to be an effort with the avowed purpose of restoring our government and all it represents to the will of the people who are the governed. It will require a renewed commitment to egalitarian principles with no special privileges and entitlements that are not shared by all of us.

We need an independent citizens’ commission for good government that has no ties to those who currently serve in government. It has to be clearly in the hands of citizens who have the talent to organize such an endeavor, and that is clearly an instrument of all the people of this country. For it to be anything less simply compromises the fundamental premise of what it is all about.

Let’s stop belaboring what we have been led to think we are. Rather, let us look it squarely in the eye, call it out for what it is and do something about it. We have an abundance of some of the greatest minds and thinkers to be found on earth. I have no doubt that most of them would respond to such a call and, moreover, would give their hearts and souls to seeing it through to the end.
  • Economists: We are awash in some of the best economists in the world. We routinely see and listen to many of them on a regular basis. There is Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and the experience and wisdom of Robert Reich to name just a few.
  • Legal minds and Constitutional Lawyers: Jonathan Turley and Glen Greenwald, for starters.
  • Investigative Journalists and watchdogs on government in the persons of David Cay Johnston and William K. Black, both with a long history of standing on the side of what is right and in what is in the best interests of the common man.
  • Matt Taibbi, Chris Hedges and a whole cadre of those who regularly write for various contemporary publications are a wealth of insights into what our reality is, what it should be, and what we have to do in order to make it our reality.
  • Bill Moyers and the staff around him are all well versed and committed to the principles on which this country was created and what needs to be done in order to recover from this respite in darkness.
  • Then, of course, there are those who serve in government and whose service is based on the finest ideals that should underscore the efforts of all those who genuinely believe in the concept of service that we revere and which we have every right to expect.
  • There is no point in my belaboring this further. Suffice to say there are many superior minds and more notable people than I who could, and would, provide all the skills, experience and knowledge such a commission would require.

I believe our system of government is so compromised that any semblance of what we have vs. what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers is, at best, coincidental. Rather, I see a system that is rigged in favor, not of those who have a desire to give of themselves, but largely comprised of those who seek to indulge themselves from the treasures that belong to us all. They must and need to be stopped from their plunder and the gross misuse of power they flaunt for their own ends.

It is time to abandon the notion that ours is a two-party system. That is nothing but a ruse for keeping exclusive control of our government in the hands of the Republicans, Democrats and the mutations within each. There is absolutely no reason why legitimate political parties who have a genuine interest in actively participating in government should not be accorded the means to do so. It should begin with an open invitation to all those who seek the highest office in the land to have equal time on the stage at all presidential debates. There should be no exclusive club of just two from which to choose. Further, representatives of all of those parties should be invited to participate in the activities of any commission that might be created along the lines I have proposed.

The Office of the President: It has all the earmarks of a reigning monarch with far too much exclusive and discretionary power than is reasonable. Those who serve on the White House Staff should be there for the knowledge and experience they carry with them, rather than the political clout and influence they may offer.

The Senate and House of Representatives: The air of superiority and the absolutely vulgar display of compensation and perks they have garnered for themselves at the expense of the taxpayers gives them the aura of a privileged few who are, in the final analysis, there to serve themselves, not to serve the rest of us. Their compensation and perquisites should be determined by a vote of the people, not at their own discretion. Further, they should work full time. That is why they are where they are! Contrary to what we have come to believe, they are not imperial. They perform all of the same basic functions we do and, I suspect, in the same manner.

The Supreme Court: Say what you will, but the “Court” has come to represent the elite among us and it plays to that constituency. They engage as much in litigation as they do in adjudication, if you ask me. They, too, should be elected by popular vote of the people, with only the appointment of the Chief Justice determined by the President. I think their sense of superiority has inflicted far more harm on this country than has accrued to our benefit. In the final analysis, it is the common people who should determine issues such as the status of corporations and other organized forms of self aggrandizement; not those who are destined to become their benefactors and “colleagues.”

The Press & News Media: I think it was made perfectly clear by the framers of the Constitution that there should be “a free and unfettered press.” My notion of that term means the press should be independently owned and its sole purpose should be to serve as the watchdog for the people on the institutions of government. Nowhere can I find any indication that it was to be owned by corporate institutions of commerce, government or any other organized form of business and commerce. I think it is time for us to revisit the “intent” and “wisdom” of the Founding Fathers and restore real independence to every aspect and brand of anything that could remotely and reasonably be classified as a member of an independent press.

Some of the specifics that I believe should be inherent within our institutions of government and should be universally applied to each member are:
  • Term limits
  • Public financing of political campaigns
  • Salaries and perquisites that must be universally applied to members and must be ratified by a majority of the voters from the district of each office holder.
  • Gifts and gratuitous favors should not be allowed.
  • There must not be as much as the appearance of a conflict-of-interest or a self-serving practice on the part of any office holder bound by these requirements.

I sincerely believe that the only way we can restore any semblance of what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers is to have a citizens’ commission that is organized and operated independently from any alliance other than to that of the common people who comprise the population of this country. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a cadre of people out there who have the will, the means and the desire to restore this country to the true democracy it was intended to be. It can and should be done with all due haste before we have nothing left but a landscape of ruin, ashes and hopelessness.

The work of such a commission must, obviously, be transparent and operate exclusively in the light of day. It must have the support of the people and it must clearly be devoted to carrying out the will of the people. It cannot have the slightest appearance of exclusivity. There is no shame in being common. If anything, that is a long-forgotten virtue. The essence of what it is all about must be rooted in what serves the many, not the few. Most importantly, its work and its conclusions must be clearly rooted in the intent of the Founding Fathers who laid the groundwork for all this nation should be, not for what it has become.

In the final analysis, its work must be published for all to see and its work must be ratified by the common people who will live by what it accomplishes. If its advocates do not serve the public interest, then their participation should be suspect and their role in this endeavor should be re-evaluated.

In conclusion, I believe a cardinal rule regarding business and commerce, in particular, is “if it is essential to the public interest, then it must be publicly owned by and accountable to the people.” That is not, nor should it be, the stuff of the oligarchs, plutocrats and ruthlessly ambitious among us. All they have done, and continue to due, may be the stuff of those who see themselves above the rest of us, but if it does not serve the common good, it is by definition suspect. Nothing is sacred that does not serve all of us. We live in perilous times and we live on a planet in peril. This is not to be taken lightly and no few should denigrate or dismiss the will of the majority. Time is no longer on our side.

Let us join in a common commitment to, once again, give new life to and full support for the principle that we are “A government of the people, by the people and for the people.” We must hold tenaciously to that belief and protect it with our very lives.

Cowboy Bob The Sagebrush Philosopher October 7, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

" The Sparks of Rebellion"

Few writers and activists capture the temper of our times as well as Chris Hedges.  His ability to articulate the essence of the reality of contemporary life in the United States is a rare gift and he has been an inspiration to me in a great many ways. 

As you can readily see, this article was originally published by Truthdig on September 20, 2013 and re-published on www.commondreams.org on October 2, 2013.  I claim no credit for anything contained in this article.  However, I do believe that the message is of such import that I am taking the liberty of sharing it with those of you who have taken an interest in my blog. 

All caring and concerned Americans should read and contemplate the profound insights provided by Chris Hedges in this article.  I think the time has come for us, as a good and decent people, to stop deluding ourselves into believing that those infected with greed in its most virulent form have a modicum of concern for the plunder in which they have engaged and the misery they have inflicted on this country.  The time for niceties and tolerance for their evil must end.  For as long as we remain complacent in the name of civility, the more blatant they will become and the greater peril they will pose for all of us.

I genuinely thank Chris Hedges, Truthdig and Common Dreams for bringing this wise and timely message to all of us.

Cowboy Bob
October 3, 2013  

Published on Monday, September 30, 2013 by Truthdig

The Sparks of Rebellion

I am reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries about the mechanisms of social change. These debates were not academic. They were frantic searches for the triggers of revolt.

Photo by Poster Boy NYC (CC-BY)

Vladimir Lenin placed his faith in a violent uprising, a professional, disciplined revolutionary vanguard freed from moral constraints and, like Karl Marx, in the inevitable emergence of the worker’s state. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon insisted that gradual change would be accomplished as enlightened workers took over production and educated and converted the rest of the proletariat. Mikhail Bakunin predicted the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, something we are likely to witness in our lifetimes, and new autonomous worker federations rising up out of the chaos. Pyotr Kropotkin, like Proudhon, believed in an evolutionary process that would hammer out the new society. Emma Goldman, along with Kropotkin, came to be very wary of both the efficacy of violence and the revolutionary potential of the masses. “The mass,” Goldman wrote bitterly toward the end of her life in echoing Marx, “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!”

The revolutionists of history counted on a mobilized base of enlightened industrial workers. The building blocks of revolt, they believed, relied on the tool of the general strike, the ability of workers to cripple the mechanisms of production. Strikes could be sustained with the support of political parties, strike funds and union halls. Workers without these support mechanisms had to replicate the infrastructure of parties and unions if they wanted to put prolonged pressure on the bosses and the state. But now, with the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base, along with the dismantling of our unions and opposition parties, we will have to search for different instruments of rebellion.

We must develop a revolutionary theory that is not reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers. Most manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and, of those that remain, few are unionized. Our family farms have been destroyed by agro-businesses. Monsanto and its Faustian counterparts on Wall Street rule. They are steadily poisoning our lives and rendering us powerless. The corporate leviathan, which is global, is freed from the constraints of a single nation-state or government. Corporations are beyond regulation or control. Politicians are too anemic, or more often too corrupt, to stand in the way of the accelerating corporate destruction. This makes our struggle different from revolutionary struggles in industrial societies in the past. Our revolt will look more like what erupted in the less industrialized Slavic republics, Russia, Spain and China and uprisings led by a disenfranchised rural and urban working class and peasantry in the liberation movements that swept through Africa and Latin America. The dispossessed working poor, along with unemployed college graduates and students, unemployed journalists, artists, lawyers and teachers, will form our movement. This is why the fight for a higher minimum wage is crucial to uniting service workers with the alienated college-educated sons and daughters of the old middle class. Bakunin, unlike Marx, considered déclassé intellectuals essential for successful revolt.

It is not the poor who make revolutions. It is those who conclude that they will not be able, as they once expected, to rise economically and socially. This consciousness is part of the self-knowledge of service workers and fast food workers. It is grasped by the swelling population of college graduates caught in a vise of low-paying jobs and obscene amounts of debt. These two groups, once united, will be our primary engines of revolt. Much of the urban poor has been crippled and in many cases broken by a rewriting of laws, especially drug laws, that has permitted courts, probation officers, parole boards and police to randomly seize poor people of color, especially African-American men, without just cause and lock them in cages for years. In many of our most impoverished urban centers—our internal colonies, as Malcolm X called them—mobilization, at least at first, will be difficult. The urban poor are already in chains. These chains are being readied for the rest of us. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread,” Anatole France commented acidly.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements in their book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings. Violent movements work primarily in civil wars or in ending foreign occupations, they found. Nonviolent movements that succeed appeal to those within the power structure, especially the police and civil servants, who are cognizant of the corruption and decadence of the power elite and are willing to abandon them.

“History teaches that we have the power to transform the nation,” Kevin Zeese said when I interviewed him. Zeese, who with Dr. Margaret Flowers founded PopularResistance.org and helped plan the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., continued: “We put forward a strategic framework that would allow people to work together in a common direction to end the rule of money. We need to be a nationally networked movement of many local, regional and issue-focused groups so we can unite into one mass movement. Research shows that nonviolent mass movements win. Fringe movements fail. By ‘mass’ we mean with an objective that is supported by a large majority and 1 percent to 5 percent of the population actively working for transformation.”

Zeese said this mass resistance must work on two tracks. It must attempt to stop the machine while at the same time building alternative structures of economic democracy and participatory democratic institutions. It is vital, he said, to sever ourselves from the corporate economy. Money, he said, has to be raised for grass-roots movements since most foundations that give grants are linked to the Democratic Party. Radical student and environmental groups especially need funds to build national networks, as does the public banking initiative. This initiative is essential to the movement. It will never find support among legislative bodies, for public banks would free people from the tyranny of commercial banks and Wall Street.

The most important dilemma facing us is not ideological. It is logistical. The security and surveillance state has made its highest priority the breaking of any infrastructure that might spark widespread revolt. The state knows the tinder is there. It knows that the continued unraveling of the economy and the effects of climate change make popular unrest inevitable. It knows that as underemployment and unemployment doom at least a quarter of the U.S. population, perhaps more, to perpetual poverty, and as unemployment benefits are scaled back, as schools close, as the middle class withers away, as pension funds are looted by hedge fund thieves, and as the government continues to let the fossil fuel industry ravage the planet, the future will increasingly be one of open conflict. This battle against the corporate state, right now, is primarily about infrastructure. We need an infrastructure to build revolt. The corporate state is determined to deny us one.

The corporate state, unnerved by the Occupy movement, has moved to close any public space to movements that might reignite encampments. For example, New York City police arrested members of Veterans for Peace on Oct. 7, 2012, when they stayed beyond the 10 p.m. official closing time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The police, who in some cases apologized to the veterans as they handcuffed them, were open about the motive of authorities: Officers told those being taken to jail they should blame the Occupy movement for the arrests.

The state has, at the same time, heavily infiltrated movements in order to discredit, isolate and push out their most competent leaders. It has used its vast surveillance capacities to monitor all forms of electronic communications, as well as personal relationships between activists, giving the state the ability to paralyze planned actions before they can begin. It has mounted a public relations campaign to demonize anyone who resists, branding environmental activists as “ecoterrorists,” charging activists under draconian terrorism laws, hunting down whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden who shine a light on the inner secrets of power and condemning them as traitors and threats to national security. The state has attempted—and in this effort some in the Black Bloc proved unwittingly useful—to paint the movement as violent and directionless.

Occupy articulated the concerns of the majority of citizens. Most of the citizenry detests Wall Street and big banks. It does not want more wars. It needs jobs. It is disgusted with the subservience of elected officials to corporate power. It wants universal health care. It worries that if the fossil fuel industry is not stopped, there will be no future for our children. And the state is using all its power to stymie any movement that expresses these concerns. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show Homeland Security, the FBI, the Federal Protective Service, the Park Service and most likely the NSA and the CIA (the latter two have refused to respond to FOIA requests) worked with police across the country to infiltrate and destroy the encampments. There were 7,765 arrests of people in the movement. Occupy, at its peak, had about 350,000 people—or about 0.1 percent of the U.S. population.

“Look how afraid the power structure was of a mere 1/10th of 1 percent of the population,” Zeese said. “What happens when the movement grows to 1 percent—not a far reach—or the 5 percent that some research shows is the tipping point where no government, dictatorship or democracy can withstand the pressure from below?”

The state cannot allow workers at Wal-Mart, or any other nonunionized service center, to have access to an infrastructure or resources that might permit prolonged strikes and boycotts. And the movement now is about nuts and bolts. It is about food trucks, medical tents, communications vans and musicians and artists willing to articulate and sustain the struggle. We will have to build what unions and radical parties supplied in the past.

The state, in its internal projections, has a vision of the future that is as dystopian as mine. But the state, to protect itself, lies. Politicians, corporations, the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and our ridiculous television pundits speak as if we can continue to build a society based on limitless growth, profligate consumption and fossil fuel. They feed the collective mania for hope at the expense of truth. Their public vision is self-delusional, a form of collective psychosis. The corporate state, meanwhile, is preparing privately for the world it knows is actually coming. It is cementing into place a police state, one that includes the complete evisceration of our most basic civil liberties and the militarization of the internal security apparatus, as well as wholesale surveillance of the citizenry.

The most pressing issue facing us right now is the most prosaic. Protesters attempting to block the Keystone XL pipeline can endure only for so long if they have nothing to eat but stale bagels. They need adequate food. They need a system of communication to get their message out to alternative media that will amplify it. They need rudimentary medical care. All of these elements were vital to the Occupy movement. And these elements, when they came together, allowed the building of a movement that threatened the elite. The encampments also carried within them internal sources of disintegration. Many did not adequately control some groups. Many were hijacked or burdened by those who drained the political work of the movement. Many found that consensus, which worked well in small groups, created paralysis in groups of several hundred or a few thousand. And many failed to anticipate the numbing exhaustion that crushed activists. But these encampments did provide what was most crucial to the movement, something unions or the old Communist Party once provided to militants in the past. They provided the logistics to sustain resistance. And the destruction of the encampments, more than anything else, was a move by the state to deny to us the infrastructure needed to resist.

Infrastructure alone, however, will not be enough.  The resistance needs a vibrant cultural component. It was the spirituals that nourished the souls of African-Americans during the nightmare of slavery. It was the blues that spoke to the reality of black people during the era of Jim Crow. It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting were the fire and drive of resistance movements. The rebel units in El Salvador when I covered the war there always traveled with musicians and theater troupes. Art, as Emma Goldman pointed out, has the power to make ideas felt. Goldman noted that when Andrew Undershaft, a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” said poverty is “[t]he worst of crimes” and “All the other crimes are virtues beside it,” his impassioned declaration elucidated the cruelty of class warfare more effectively than Shaw’s socialist tracts. The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state, the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, severs the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems.

Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

Artists, like rebels, are dangerous. They speak a truth that totalitarian systems do not want spoken. “Red Rosa now has vanished too. …” Bertolt Brecht wrote after Luxemburg was murdered. “She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out.” Without artists such as musician Ry Cooder and playwrights Howard Brenton and Tarell Alvin McCraney we will not succeed. If we are to face what lies ahead, we will not only have to organize and feed ourselves, we will have to begin to feel deeply, to face unpleasant truths, to recover empathy and to live passionately. Then we can fight.