Greed, Exploitation and Deceit in Sheep’s Clothing:  Answer is, “What’s Neoliberalism?”

For at least 10 years, I’ve become increasingly distressed about the rapid and dramatic growth of economic injustice and inequality in the US. People in all walks of life, our elected officials, and the media have talked about stagnating wages, unemployment, and accelerating homelessness, but seldom is there any deep, critically-minded discussion of the underlying dynamics.  At best, we hear that unemployment this month is down or up.  We know that in the aftermath of the “mortgage crisis there was a major “recession” (really a “depression”), but the media, and the powers that be, didn’t want to call it that)

Liberal Democrat President Obama bailed out the banks and talked about the importance of taking care of “main street”, but neither he nor any significant number of elected officials of either party have done anything for us who live on main street.  Certainly, nothing has been done for those living in blankets in the alleys off of main street. Now, with Trump in office and Republican control of both houses (with the help of gerrymandering), there may be tax cuts for the wealthiest and most fortunate, and along with that, greater belt tightening and increasing debt for those of us in the “middle” class, and poverty and homelessness, for the rest, who are the most marginalized. And, we have heard about similar things going on in Europe, and perhaps worse in some countries, like Greece.  Ever since the era of Regan in the US and Thatcher in Great Britain in the 1980s, we have heard about “austerity” policies. “Austerity” is a euphemism, which is part of the deceit used to conceal the exploitation and greed that is at the heart of an economic policy called “neoliberalism”. “Austerity” sounds like what parents implement when their kids are spending too much of their allowance on candy, or video games.  However, most people have been simply spending “too much” on food and housing, and trying to get out debt. The real problem is not the lack of self-discipline by the vast majority of citizens, but rather the economic policies of neoliberalism—with the runaway greed and exploitation promoted by the wealthiest members of our society and their (not, our) elected officials,

What’s going on? Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Naomi Klein and others have written about it, and they, and others call it “neoliberalism.”  Sounds pretty good? Right? “Neo” means “new”—that sounds nice and shiny, and “liberal” sounds, well, it sounds “liberal”—conservatives may not like “liberal” but too many of us who like to think of ourselves as cosmopolitan, open-minded and forward thinking, so that sounds pretty good, too.  Right?

Wrong!!! We need to probe beneath the surface here.  That’s something we try to do at WISR—look beneath the surface appearance of things to see if we can figure out the underlying dynamics.  And, although we take seriously immediate problems, we also try to look at the “bigger picture” and take a long-term view of things.

That’s why I was delighted when WISR alumnus, Dr. John Borst, emailed me a link to his excellent power point presentation and analysis of “Economic Justice: Reversing Runaway Inequality” (available at:  http://yestoeconomicjustice.net/ )  As a result, John came up from Southern California this past week to lead a three-hour seminar with 9 WISR students, 3 faculty members, and one community guest participating, about half of them joining in by phone or video conference. The rest of this blog post is devoted to sharing some of the ideas put forth in John Borst’s presentation and comments added by the participants, along with some of my further thoughts that were stimulated by the excellent discussion.

Craig McCaleb pointed out that the phrase “Neoliberalism” does not communicate well to others, so “Predatory Capitalism” might be a better phrase to use in explaining the social ideology underlying the forces that are contributing to runaway inequality.  We turned our attention to a discussion of some of neoliberalism qualities. A key goal and outcome of neoliberalism is the privatization of all sectors. John added that neoliberalism is a “utopian” (utopian for the top less than 1% at least) project to achieve social control.  The interests of the business community and those owing capital supersede the interests of all others.  As WISR student, Mark Wilson added, “The country IS on the right track (but only) for the people who own it.”   Some of the ensuing discussion pointed to the disturbing reality that in the US today, we no longer have Government by the people, by the citizens (i.e., Democracy), but by those who have the power, money, and wealth. Also, the government is for the wealthy power elite and their corporations. This is a problematic extension of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United–corporations are people. In effect, as such, they “vote.”  And, there is strong evidence that the weight of their vote is based on the extent of their “size”—that is, their power and wealth as corporations. We no longer have one person, one vote, since in practice, votes are acquired by having the funds to pay for media ownership, lobbyists, and manipulative campaigning strategies.

The harsh political realities and challenges to creating change are very much related to what’s going on with the economy.  The power grab that is eroding our democracy is deeply intertwined with what’s going on economically—the privatization of most everything—schools (e.g., charter schools) and prisons (with profitable slave labor), the proposed privatization of retirement (ending social security), and the continued privatization of health care (even under Obamacare), among others. With increased privatization, comes not only less governmental control, but the removal of citizen engagement and decision-making over the future of our country. Further, given the growing environmental crisis, those of us who live on this planet and who will pass on to future generations what’s left of this planet, have been taken out of the game of life and put on the sidelines.  Only those who are among the extremely wealthy and powerful are left on the playing field. The best we can do is to cheer for one team or the other. With the two-party system as it is, with both parties beholden to the interests of the most wealthy and powerful—no matter which team wins, we all lose.  As John Borst aptly emphasized we need to study Political Economy—politics and economics as interrelated, if we’re going to see how to change things.

Still, we all need to find ways to get back on the what’s left of our democracy’s playing field and try to make a difference. However, in the midst of this runaway inequality, which weighs so heavily on so many people, it’s not easy to have the time and energy to read, listen and think about why things are so bad.  The media obscures what’s going on. And, for most people, it’s hard to even take a deep breath in the midst of trying to meet one’s immediate everyday needs. Mobilizing and organizing people to make a change is not easy.

I would suggest that a first step, but only a first step is to learn more about neoliberalism, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The clothing talks of freedom and liberty, the right of everyone to have an opportunity to succeed, to become wealthy and powerful. Terms like “free trade” sound good—the word “free” is cherished by most everyone, except “free trade” isn’t so great the way it’s framed. It doesn’t give blue collar workers more freedom of access to the outsourced jobs resulting from the free trade policies.  We’re also told by the clever advocates of predatory capitalism, “Don’t let government stifle your initiative, don’t let government tax you and give your hard-earned money to welfare deadbeats.”  According to the neoliberal theory and practice, Government—defined as an institution to protect everyone’s interests, and especially those less fortunate—is corrupt because it is not based on a “free market economy” where supposedly everyone has control over their destiny.  Except it’s a lie.  The deck is stacked.  The rules of the game are written by those powerful and wealthy enough to buy legislation.  Legislation primarily serves the interests of the powerful, and makes just enough concessions to others to keep the sheep’s clothing intact.   Some liberal Democrats will support and even propose mild reforms, by criticizing the harshest versions of neoliberalism—that is, they will advocate for modest, but limited, spending on welfare, education and health, while keeping the free market economy in place and protecting the interests of the most powerful and wealthy. They will advocate for valuable and just social reforms like gay marriage, which cost those in power little or nothing. Obamacare is a perfect example of a mild and ineffective reform—somewhat improved access to health care for many, while allowing insurance companies to continue their profiteering.  As a result, Obamacare is unnecessarily costly (it provides profits to the insurance companies), and it is subject to criticism by the neoliberal colleagues who have a position that takes a harder line. And, we spend twice as much per capita on health care as do Canadians, and with poorer health outcomes.  Cuba does better as well.  If you are born poor, or with even a modest income, you are likely to have access to much better (and free) health care in Cuba.  For example, their infant mortality rate has been lower than the rate in many low-income US communities.  And of course, many European nations have high quality, free health care.

Don’t take my word for these assertions–observe what’s going on around you, use your curiosity and critical-mindedness, and quite importantly, seek out and evaluate alternative media. I recommend that you consider the following excellent online sources of information and food for thought: Nation of Change, Truthout, Color of Change, In These Times, and Southern Poverty Law Center, among others. Seek out your own sources, and share them with me and others.  Don’t rely only on CNN and The New York Times. For revealing stories from one former insider about the severe limitations of such media as the New York Times, read Chris Hedges book, Unspeakable. Freedom of the Press is eroded by the monied interests who own the major and most visible sources of the “news”.

Still, the predatory capitalism that is supported by the neoliberal philosophy continues to shout out its commitment to freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, this view of “freedom” is warped, hollow and without integrity. The neoliberal political economy is based on the freedom to NOT abide by the Golden Rule. The Neoliberal political economy leads to a society where we are NOT “expected to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Here’s just one illustration. The US tax code, even without the harsh tax cuts for the rich currently proposed by Trump and the Republican politicians, does not support the Golden Rule. Why? Those advocating for increasingly lower taxes on the rich are those who benefit most from our society—from our military that fights wars serving their interests, and from our infrastructure on which they rely very significantly, for example. They would not be so unconcerned about homelessness, stagnating wages, lack of affordable health care, deteriorating public schools, and mass incarceration of African Americans, if they thought that they or their relatives might end up being in a vulnerable circumstance where they might be so seriously hurt by the tax system and our economic priorities. The philosopher, John Rawls, has suggested a theory of justice that requires people to make decisions about society as if they did not know what their place in society might be.  This hypothetical (and unrealistic) circumstance is a way of stating that if we abide by the Golden Rule, we will make decisions, not based on our narrow self-interests, but rather based on what would be the fair, compassionate, and just thing to do. Thus, we will treat the interests of everyone as important without using the prejudice of knowing about our own (sometimes, fortunate) circumstances.

The neoliberal “ethics” of a predatory capitalist political economy is based on the abstract ideal of a “free marketplace”, and it puts profits over people, and competition over justice and the Golden Rule. Trickle down economics argues that the masses will benefit from the increased wealth of the very elite class, because a little bit of their wealth will trickle down to everyone else.  This assumption is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s infamous statement about the French masses, prior to the revolution, when she dismissively commented upon learning that many people did not have bread to eat, “Let them eat cake.” I would suggest that the political economy of neoliberalism, at least as it is currently gathering greater momentum is not “trickle down economics” but  “suck up economics”.  Increasingly the most powerful and wealthy people in our society are proposing, passing and implementing laws and policies which suck up as much of the little remaining funds from the middle and lower classes as they can get away with doing.

 So, going forward, look at the political economy of our country, and ask yourself, “is this ‘suck up economics’?” And, “how can I join with others to redirect our country toward a more just political economy, one that is consistent with our democratic ideals and perhaps also an ideal of justice that is more in line with the Golden Rule of ‘Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You’.”

 There is much more to write about John Borst’s recent seminar (and one planned for January), and I have more of my own thoughts to share about this crucial matter.  I plan to write another blog post on this very soon.  Please look for it.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

President Obama’s Legacy

The past month my e-mail inbox has been flooded with e-mails asking me to complete a  survey about what I think of President Obama’s legacy. Invariably, these e-mails are filled with loaded questions asking me to specify “which of the following” of President Obama’s accomplishments do I feel we need to preserve.  Then, the punch line, how much money will I give to some political organization that is promising to build on and preserve his legacy. I have not been impressed, especially because these emails don’t give me the opportunity to say what I really think of his legacy.

When I first think of a President’s legacy, I think of what will be in history books about that President several decades or more later.  With this view, what will history books say about President Obama when my 18 year old twins are my age, 71?  A lot depends on what happens in the next half century. Legacy is a judgement made on the past by the future. Also, “legacy” is usually a judgement made by those in power, or at least by those powerful enough to write textbooks, publish mainstream books and articles, and be interviewed by the major news networks.  I’m going to think out loud about President Obama’s legacy in both this conventional way, and in some other ways that allow me to do some critically-minded thinking out loud—as food for thought.

In the conventional way, his legacy almost certainly includes the invaluable importance of his being our first African American President—the first President not to be a white male.  The Affordable Health Care Act, “Obamacare” as it is called, is possibly, but not certainly, going to be another one of his accomplishments. In the face of Republican domination of the Federal Government as we begin 2017, there are calls to repeal Obamacare. That’s not likely to happen, and Obamacare hopefully will pave the way for the health care reform that President Obama and the Democratic Party should have pushed for all along—single payer health care. Government-run, truly cost-effective health coverage, not turned over to insurance companies who can skim profits off the top, thereby making such care more expensive and less accessible to those who are most in need of assistance in obtaining the health care they need and deserve as a human right.

I fear that President Obama has earned some other, not so flattering, items on his legacy’s resume. Accelerated use of drones in the Middle East, resulting in what is euphemistically referred to as “collateral damage”—really the mass murder of innocent children, women and men. Continued use of torture—the kind of torture people in the US decried when perpetrated by the enemy during World War II. Some would argue that, today, the methods of torture are more “sophisticated”, psychologically speaking, even if ineffective and as inhumane as ever. We’ve been told that we successfully climbed out of the “Great Recession” of the previous decade, but most indicators suggest that income inequality is, if anything, worse today than it ever was. Democratic Party politics, as well as the mainstream media’s controlling the narratives about our candidates for office in 2016, and the questionable  electoral processes themselves—resulted in our having as our two main choices for President, the two most unpopular, and least respected, candidates in the history of political polling. An extremely unpopular candidate defeated an extremely unpopular candidate. Quite notably, many white men who voted for President Obama in the crucial rust belt states (among  other states) decided in 2016 to vote President Trump into office. Those who previously voted for a Black man for President were so unhappy and desperate about the state of affairs in this country at the end of President Obama’s eight years in office, that they voted for a candidate who made more blatantly racist comments than any major candidate in recent memory (except perhaps for George Wallace who ran a strong campaign as a third party candidate when I was still a minor).

Certainly, during his eight years in office, President Obama has had to deal with loads of racist criticism and unfair opposition—from hateful segments of the population and from the Republican party. Hopefully, from this, we have learned that despite the important milestone of a Black man being elected President,  it is obvious that our society continues to be very racist, and we do not live in a “post-racial” world.

I would be dishonest, however, if I did not share some of my very major disappointments with President Obama. When he was elected in 2008, my wife was in the hospital recovering from surgery and celebrating and partying with everyone around her, as was I.  His inspiring speeches had given us such great hope. A couple years later, despite the “ending” of the “Great Recession”, things were still bad for most of us on “Main Street.” He rapidly had appointed Wall Street leaders to key, inside positions of power in his administration after his glorious Inauguration as our first Black President.  The symbolism of our election of a Black man who had delivered such wonderful speeches of hope, was inspiring, and yet gradually, but relentlessly, I came to see my hope wither to disappointment, and then my disappointment turn to grunting disgust, and then finally to vocal contempt.  The torture continued. Weekly meetings to decide whom to kill on the other side of the world, with drones, with the push of a button, like a video game—the collateral damage, even if denied (or only very occasionally apologized for) was simply like a few-point deduction in this “game”.  One could rack up a lot more bonus points by eliminating one of the planned targets.  And with the President’s weekly meetings, we could always come up with more targets, and the prospect of big scores, earning multi-digit bonus points. Throw in his active politicking for the TPP (the privatization of national and international decision-making), and for continued and even more expansive fracking. Arguably, his tolerance and  promotion of fracking in the poisoning our neighborhoods has been second only to the Republican-controlled State legislatures that outlaw the right of local communities to decide to ban the fracking that is poisoning their water, land and families. Obamacare was a gift to insurance companies, although admittedly, still lifesaving for more than a few people. At best it was a pathetic compromise hailed as a huge victory, at worse, it was dutifully playing out the good cop-bad cop game, so that we would be thankful that we had the good cop to save us. Meanwhile, life continued  to get worse for almost all of us, and to make matters worse, we were grumbling about each other, even hatefully screaming, while the good cop and the bad cop (our two main political parties) laughed all the way to the bank. Different banks, but with their funds backed by the same people who were reaping the benefits of these investments.

Certainly, all politicians and elected officials have major failings, and their accomplishments, should be judged in relation to their failings. I do not know if President Obama was a bigger failure than recent Presidents, but, for me at least, he was certainly a bigger disappointment. I believed his speeches, which seemed to be so hopeful and heartfelt with the stated agendas for justice and increased equality. In the first 40 years of my adult life, I was not enthralled by Nixon, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, or Clinton. Nor by Johnson–the Vietnam War was on my mind, despite his record on Civil Rights and with the very significant legislative victories to create the “Great Society. As a youngster, I knew little of Truman, Eisenhower or JFK.  JFK was inspiring, but I didn’t know much of the details about him. Everyone around me “liked Ike” and indeed, when Eisenhower was President multi-millionaires paid their fair share of taxes (close to 90% on the highest earnings!) and the middle class thrived. He reluctantly sent the National Guard into the South, but did so. However, very significantly, during his tenure, McCarthyism placed fear and conformity in the hearts and minds of most adults, although I only learned about this years later.  But I did worry about the threat of nuclear war with the Russians when I was in grade school, even though somehow I wasn’t convinced that the Russians were the “bad guys.” Certainly, a very “mixed bag” (as we used to say in the 60s), in evaluating the legacy of Eisenhower and Johnson. If Truman was going to be graded for his Presidency–and I didn’t know anything about him when I was pre-school kid, or for many years later for that matter–it would be like giving an A+ to a student for acing an exam (ending World War II), while at the same time the student was burning down a school house across town with all the teachers and students inside of it (dropping two A Bombs on Japan).

So, regardless of what the history books will say years from now, I don’t think much of the legacy of any of the Presidents in my lifetime. To me, this does NOT mean we should be cynical, or stop having high expectations, or more importantly, demands that we make on our Presidents and other elected officials. To the contrary, we should hold them to high standards; our democracy depends on it, and more so today than in the past, for as many have argued with extensive evidence to back them up, inequality in power (not just income alone) is getting worse and worse. However, in the course of thinking about how to write about President Obama’s legacy, I’ve had an important, added insight. Each of us needs to begin to think about what OUR legacy will be. What is my legacy during the Obama years? What do I have to say to my children, to my friends, to others in future generations about what I accomplished during the Obama years? For now, I give myself a “D”. I didn’t do much during the past 8 years to actively fight the spread of drone warfare, fracking, or income inequality. However, at least I “woke up” to how bad things really are; I did begin to discuss issues and such problems with others, and stress how important it is that we have dialogue and educate one another about the deeply rooted problems that must be addressed. For these reasons, I give myself a “D” rather than an “F.” Faint praise. I’m proud that my three adult children speak out on issues and are inclined to take action—I’ll take partial credit for that. My wife and I discuss these issues and our concerns are growing, and I’m proud that my wife bought a bunch of “Black Lives Matter” signs and then went around our “liberal” neighborhood trying to distribute the signs to neighbors to put in front of homes. Rude awakening–only a few would accept the signs! My adult children are way ahead of where I was at their age in the 1960s and early 70s (participation in student protests notwithstanding), and my wife and I are mobilizing ourselves to take more action in the future. I have a long way to go to earn a legacy as a good citizen.

With all this in mind, I have a new interpretation of how we can make use of what JFK said when I was just beginning high school:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I now interpret this wisdom as follows. The President of the United States may have more power and authority than anyone in the world. However, I, and every other citizen—all of us—have the greatest responsibility.  Instead of evaluating President Obama’s legacy, I should be evaluating MY legacy during President Obama’s administration. And the point of the evaluation is to figure out how I can do better during the Trump Presidency, and each succeeding Presidency for the rest of my life. I hope to be able to earn a higher grade for my legacy at the end of President Trump’s administration. President Truman said, “the buck stops here”—meaning that the buck stops with the President of the United States, because of the enormous authority and power of that office.  When I now say, “the buck stops here”—I mean that the main responsibility for creating a better world rests with me, and with each of us. I expect more of myself, and of all of us, than I do of the President of the United States! Our legacy is the one that matters most! It is the legacy that we will pass along to our children and to future generations, for better and for worse. Let’s get to work!

[Author’s note: I’ve just written this blog post (1/13/17)—the first one I’ve put here on wisrville in several years, with hopefully a couple blog posts to come every month for the foreseeable future.  Comments are very much welcome and encouraged!]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

WISR AS AN EXPERIMENTING COMMUNITY: NURTURING GROUPS, CIRCUMSTANCES AND SUBCULTURES FOR PROGRESSIVE SOCIAL CHANGE

Larger social change and permanent institutional change is not easily created by working within the system, by working within existing institutions to create that change. When working within the existing institutions, we are limited by the ways those institutions “frame” problems and solutions, and by the existing powers-that-be and by habitual routines to which people are accustomed. At best, very minimal, gradual, incremental changes result, and it is virtually impossible to pursue successful, major efforts to take needed, completely different approaches to change.

At the same time, there are many significant problems with trying to create change completely outside existing institutions. First of all, it is hard, if not possible to be “outside the system.” Alternative schools, for example, may appear to be outside the system, because they are separate from existing schools, but they are still inside the dominant system of education and subject to legal, funding and attitudinal constraints. Alternatives “outside the system” can present worthwhile models to emulate, but in order to have impact they must somehow begin to be in “contact” and dialogue with the existing system.

This is the role of what, over the years, I have called “experimenting communities.” And to a significant extent, WISR was founded as an effort to create an “experimenting community.” Such groups/institutions . . .
• are committed to engaging their participants in ongoing participatory inquiry and collaboration, in order to improve their groups/community’s practical efforts, AND to continually re-evaluate their values and purposes;
• are open to people from all walks of life, and honor the knowledge and experience that each person brings to the effort, including for example, the powerful and the disenfranchised, people of all generations, people from wide ranges of ethnic groups and economic circumstances;
• are concerned with both immediate tasks and the bigger picture (of long-term, larger-scale change);
• promote meaningful relationships among their participants, and provide their participants with the interpersonal support and intellectual stimulation to aid their participants efforts to create change BOTH within and outside existing systems; and
• more specifically, help participants to build bridges to their sought-after, next important steps in their lives, and in their endeavors to collaborate with others in creating constructive, imaginative, changes.

To further dialogue about this notion of “experimenting communities” that are both “inside” and “outside” the system, and their role in helping to support progressive social change, I wish to mention to previous articles that I co-authored. Both articles give important insights into some of the ideas behind WISR’s founding and subsequent efforts to keep WISR alive and “true to its early principles.” And they provide food for thought for others who wish to use similar ideas to form their own groups and institutions that will support others working for social change.

The first article was written with a colleague of mine in the College of Community Services at the University of Cincinnati (1971-73), Harry Butler. Upon my arrival at the U of Cincinnati as a very young idealistic professor, I persuaded Harry to work with me to convince others at the College to allow us to initiate an experiment there–an “Individualized Learning Program.” We got the program off the ground in the 1972-73 academic year, with about 30 undergraduates participating, and with Harry and I as the main faculty involved (along with several others on a more peripheral basis). Most of these 30 students helped us to plan the implementation of the program, and when I left to return to the Bay Area after that academic year, the students who had not yet graduated worked energetically and resourcefully to preserve the program’s integrity at least for a couple of years. The program continued to exist on paper quite awhile after that, however. Harry and I felt it was important to articulate many of the nuances which distinguished this experiment (kind of an early version of WISR that existed within a traditional university) from most other efforts to create “innovative” and “individualized” approaches to higher education in the 1970s. In reading this article again tonight, I am aware that the distinctions that we emphasized then still hold true today, and the qualities of the “experimenting community” and script improvisation approach that we were attempting to practice are qualities that are very important even today in what some of us call the “WISR way.” Those who wish a copy of this article should request a copy by e-mailing me at: johnb@wisr.edu
The second article was written in 1980 by three of us who founded WISR (along with a fourth colleague, Barbara Valentino). That article looks at the “bigger picture” of needed social change for social justice, and asks the critical question, “does alternative higher education need an alternative.” In re-reading the article tonight, I believe that we saw even then how most of the best efforts to create alternatives in higher education were being co-opted, and despite the best intentions of some, these efforts were moving toward support of the status quo rather than progressive social change. This article may be found at: href=”http://commons.wisrville.org/files/2012/02/ihe.bilorusky.et_al.pdf

I believe that a critical examination of the valid points as well as the limitations of these articles and perspectives may provide for further dialogue at WISR as we discuss how to move forward in ways that keep the best of WISR and WISR’s integrity intact, while aiming to enable WISR to make a most significant impact on society, for example, by supporting some of the most important sentiments and commitments thus far expressed in the 99 percent/occupy movement.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let’s Give Thanks for the Occupy Movement—it’s holding a place in line for each of us, so we can all speak out.

This Thanksgiving, I am very thankful for the good fortune that my family and I have had, in comparison to millions of Americans. We have a roof over our head, no imminent mortgage foreclosure, enough food to eat; we have one another, many friends, and my kids attend a public school in an affluent community that pays extra property taxes that fund previous necessities, like art and language classes, sports programs and a library staffed by librarians—these things are now luxuries and unheard of in many public schools across the country and especially in lower-income communities.

I am also thankful for the 99%/occupy movement. This movement includes committed people from all walks of life—young, elders, the unemployed, homeless, police officers, veterans, people of all colors of the rainbow, academicians, medical professionals, and even some stock brokers! Many of activists of the 99% movement have braved attempts by the media to ignore them, and then cold weather and police brutality, in order to speak out, not only for themselves, but for the rest of us. I am thankful for the voices of this growing movement, which calls out an alarm more important than any Emergency Warning System, more important than calls for alarm in the face of terrorism or fleeting but powerful natural disasters. This movement warns of economic injustice, of impending environmental devastation due to reckless, unsustainable exploitation of the natural environment. It warns us of the jobs that have ceased to be, of the educational opportunities that have dried up, of the sense of hopelessness and cynicism that has been created by run-away, greed and legalized corruption.

I am thankful that this movement is, in effect, holding a place in line for all to speak out. Not everyone will stand in a long line to have their voice heard, much less in a line that is subject to intimidation and police state bullying and brutality. But this growing movement is standing strong and holding a space in line for each of us, so to speak. Even if most of us aren’t out in the cold, staging a sit in, or living in a tent in the cold, or cover our face from a police officer who is generous with his use of pepper spay–many others are there for themselves, and for all of us–so that each of us of the 99% can have our turn in speaking out, in having a chance to speak of the injustices that are putting our hopes at risk of not being fulfilled. The 99% still want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of us-—and this movement is determined to hold a place in line for all of us to speak out and to take action, to make a difference and to work toward more equitable, just, sustainable and meaningful lives for all of us.

On Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the 99%movement and we let’s show our thanks by joining this movement, so we can hold a place in line for others to have their turn to speak out!

As further food for thought, here are some worthwhile, readings, and let’s be thankful that we are starting to listen to each other, and distill wisdom from so many in the 99%, in order that we can continue to plan actions and help this movement evolve into a sustainable presence for social justice and for better lives for all of us, and for future generations.

http://www.nationofchange.org/foreclosed-homeowners-re-occupy-their-homes-1322152600 [people re-occupy their homes in the face of foreclosures]

http://www.nationofchange.org/10-tips-reduce-food-waste-during-holidays-1322153327 [practial food conservation awareness]

http://front.moveon.org/bankers-and-police-stick-up-for-occupy-wall-street/ [remember, the 99% includes people from all walks of life and is beyond stereotyping]

http://front.moveon.org/the-single-most-important-robert-reich-clip-you-can-share-today/?rc=daily.share&id=33211-6103776-knxATfx [words of wisdom from former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich]

http://www.truth-out.org/uber-vultures-billionaires-who-would-pick-our-president/1317769580 [if you ever need extra motivation to work for social change, read this]

http://www.truth-out.org/occupy-colleges-now-students-new-public-intellectuals/1321891418 [what is the role of WISR students and faculty as public intellectuals?]

http://www.truth-out.org/ten-immodest-commandments-lessons-fumbling-and-bungling-lifetime-activism/1321797658 [let’s continue to pool our knowledge and wisdom about what works and what doesn’t in our efforts to create a more just society]

And on this Thanksgiving, I conclude with this link to some eloquent and thoughtful proposals, and a call to action for all of us–from Michael Moore:

http://www.truth-out.org/where-does-occupy-wall-street-go-here/1322057279

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For Inquiring Activists! Latest Important News and Commentary in Search of Justice and Progressive Social Change

As part of my continuing efforts to educate myself and others, I’m devoting this blog to highlighting eight news stories and commentaries from this past couple of weeks, and to sharing with everyone a couple of key sources of insightful commentary and research about current events and about challenges and prospects for bringing about
progressive social change.  We should all be heartened by the resilient, continuing “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, and we should increase our energy–our efforts to take informed action in the face of the many challenges to be addressed–in light of this, and other hopeful developments.

First, here are links to eight especially worthwhile articles—commentaries and news items of interest to those of us who remain curious, inquiring and committed to social justice:

http://www.nationofchange.org/rev-jeremiah-wright-recalls-obamas-fall-grace-1316497078

http://www.truth-out.org/taking-back-vote/1316612404

http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779

http://front.moveon.org/video-the-elizabeth-warren-quote-every-american-needs-to-hear/?id=31551-6103776-3mrcD%3Dx

http://www.truth-out.org/got-class-warfare-occupy-wall-street-now/1317760461

http://www.nationofchange.org/congressman-koch-uninterested-investigating-koch-industries-business-deals-iran-1318091268

http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/just-whose-values-are-promoted-at-the-values-voter-summit?ondntsrc=MBC111070WVE&newsletter=newsgen-20111007

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/protesters-against-wall-street.html?_r=1&hpw

Next, I want you to know that I have added to my “links” page, the following two key sources of important commentaries and latest news and research on progressive social change:

1. Nation of Change

NationofChange is a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization that provides an online magazine, daily newsletter, and community platform free to the public. We report 24/7 on critical issues affecting our democracy with a focus on positive solutions to social and political problems.
We are committed to peace, social equality, human rights, and environmental conservation. We believe that dedicated individuals armed with knowledge and fueled by compassion and optimism can enact dramatic change even in a world fraught with corruption and injustice.
NationofChange accepts no advertisements or corporate financing. We are directly funded by small donations from the public whom we serve. We believe that this distinction is essential to the production of reliable journalism and truly independent thought.

2. In These Times

In These Times is a nonprofit and independent newsmagazine committed to political and economic democracy and opposed to the dominance of transnational corporations and the tyranny of marketplace values over human values. In These Times is dedicated to reporting the news with the highest journalistic standards; to informing and analyzing movements for social, environmental and economic justice; and to providing an accessible forum for debate about the policies that shape our future.

I would be very interested in hearing from you about your thoughts and ideas, in light of these, and related commentaries and news items!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do you know about ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council? If not, why not? Why is it important to know about ALEC?

To learn more, read this blog post and/or participate in WISR’s September 22nd Seminar (6:30 pm to 8:15 pm at WISR), or contact me [johnb@wisr.edu] for access to a conference call phone line if you want to participate in the seminar from afar.
Those of us who are interested in promoting social justice, in working for constructive, progressive social change must be curious. We must continually ask questions, but oftentimes it is hard to know all of the important questions to ask and for which answers are needed to lead to new, relevant questions, and possible strategies for social change. For example, until the past several months I had never heard of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Why not? For one thing, this powerful group’s operations and huge impact are not well reported on by the mainstream media. I’ve begun to learn about places to look for news and insightful commentaries outside the mainstream media (see my blog page: http://johnbilorusky.wisrville.org/links/ ).

Rather than trying to give the information in this post, I’m suggesting a few links so everyone can begin to do their own research and learn more. Once you start reading, I’m confident you will soon see how very, very important it is for us to educate ourselves and others. Here are some links. . . .
First, a few links growing out of the story published in the July 2011 issue of the progressive journal on democracy and economic justice, In These Times:
http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/11603/
and for more detailed information . . .
http://dbapress.com/archives/2040
http://dbapress.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/DBA-Press-Publicopoly.pdf
http://dbapress.com/front-page/legislative-laundry-how-alec-funnels-millions-of-dollars-in-corporate-gifts-to-state-lawmakers-for-the-express-purpose-of-promoting-corporate-backed-legislation
http://dbapress.com/front-page/brownskins-and-greenbacks-alec-the-for-profit-prison-industry-and-arizonas-sb-1070
http://dbapress.com/source-materials-archive/publicopoly-alec-and-the-bid-to-make-private-all-that-is-public-source-materials-directory

In addition, here are a few other stories about ALEC found from recent news and commentaries in the “alternative” media:
http://www.truth-out.org/secretive-corporate-legislative-group-alec-holds-annual-meeting-rewrite-state-laws/1312911539

http://www.truth-out.org/hidden-history-alec-and-prison-labor/1312553212
http://www.truth-out.org/hidden-history-alec-and-prison-labor/1312553212
http://www.readersupportednews.org/off-site-news-section/69-69/6863-understanding-alecs-influence-on-your-state-law

And, if one wants to know more about ALEC, it is important to know more about the Koch brothers, who, by the way, supply a lot of funding to the non-profit (!!) ALEC. Here are several recent articles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mbJhjCbwo8&feature=youtube [On why do the Koch brothers want to end public education?]
http://www.nationofchange.org/koch-responds-buffet-my-business-and-non-profit-investments-are-much-more-beneficial-society-13139[Koch Responds to Buffet: My Business and Non-Profit Investments are much more beneficial to society.]
http://www.nationofchange.org/strategy-seminar-koch-refers-obama-saddam-hussein-be-defeated-mother-all-wars-1315324303[Koch declares war on Obama.]

Certainly there are many other noteworthy recent articles not so easily found in the mainstream media. To illustrate this, I am citing a few here, so that the inquisitive-minded can see some examples, and learn about some sources of a lot more news and commentaries like this:
http://www.nationofchange.org/first-federal-reserve-audit-reveals-trillions-secret-bailouts-1314633089[First Federal Reserve audit reveals trillions in secret bailouts!]
http://www.nationofchange.org/do-liberals-have-be-losers-1314715963[Do Liberals have to be losers? –this article is a very interesting, seldom-heard economic analysis of why economic inequities result from much more than unfair tax laws.]
http://www.nationofchange.org/putting-corporate-tax-dodging-table-1315151420[Putting Corporate Tax Dodging on the table.]
http://www.nationofchange.org/what-does-student-centered-learning-really-mean-1315233966[What does student-centered learning really mean?]
http://www.truth-out.org/live-stream-protesters-occupy-wall-street/1316354502[Protestors occupy Wall Street, ignored by mainstream media.]
http://www.truth-out.org/corporate-media-still-censoring-stories/1315505645 [An article about “Project Censored,” based at Sonoma State—about stories censored by corporate media—and how the top 25 such stories are selected each year. . . . Indeed, we might ask whether or not students and faculty at WISR could be involved with them in this process of inquiring into important stories censored by corporate media.]

I encourage others to add their comments to this post–both about the content of these, and related articles, but also about other noteworthy stories, commentaries and important sources of hard-to-find information!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No Representation Without Taxation–A Call To Action this July 4th!

There are many challenges ahead if we wish to transform our dysfunctional, unsustainable and unjust government and economy into ones that are fair, humane and functional. One starting point is, I believe, to rephrase, the “no taxation without representation” call to arms from the revolutionary war to a more aptly worded call for change in the face of the trying times in which we find ourselves today: “No Representation without Taxation!”

The current debates surrounding what is labeled a “financial” or “economic” crisis of balancing the national budget conceal the more deeply rooted, growing, and more profound and troubling crises of politics and culture.  There is  an alarming and widening gap in power between the haves, on the one hand, and those who have-a-little-but-less-and-less and those who have not, on the other hand.  Or maybe I should say, between those up “above,” who are exceedingly well-represented and those down “below” whose interests and aspirations are not at well-represented.  This widening gap is fueled in great part by the trend over the past 30 years to shift a greater and greater portion of the tax burden away from those who are most well-represented in governmental decision-making.  The laws passed  and the social policies set forth are designed to support their successful quest for greater profits—at the expense of the most vulnerable:  our children, those who are ill, our elders, those born into poverty, those who fall into hard times including the growing  ranks of the unemployed, the underemployed, and the underpaid, and last but not least, the environment, our mother earth.  Hence, more than facing a financial crisis, we either sleep through deeper crises of nightmarish proportions out of which it is difficult to wake, or we finally wake up to find ourselves stuck amidst many crises resulting from skewed values and priorities.

In light of all this, we should join together to demand, “No representation without Taxation!”

The pursuit of this call for justice and sanity, by itself, will not solve all of our problems but it would be a very important start.  For one thing, greater tax revenue from those who are really benefiting from our system, is a practical and ethical way of dealing with some, even if not all, the problems underlying our economic crisis.  Secondly, and probably more importantly, it reframes many contemporary debates by identifying the “elephant in the room”–namely, that for the most part, our government is a collaboration between “politicians” and corporate leaders. Politicians are financed by powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations, and they are supported or opposed by debates framed by corporate controlled media.  We should no longer act surprised if our elected “representatives”of the people can seldom be counted on to work for the interests of the broad, diverse cross-section of people and groups who comprise our society, nor can they be counted  on to work for the long-term, sustainable health of our society.

This political and economic dysfunctionality profoundly affects that quality of our lives in many ways.  At a very basic level, the political and economic structure promotes a culture in which we are discouraged from even thinking about the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—much less are we reminded to call on this ageless principle to inform personal action and public policy-making.  Sound bites in media commentary and political speech-making including, quite notably, public policy debates about “compromise” and finding a “middle ground”—inhibit creative dialogue, thwart curiosity, and impede inquiry and social justice.

Indeed, in my first post, I made reference to the inspiration and wisdom provided by Thomas Paine during the Revolutionary War, and just today, Richard Eskow of “Campaign for America’s Future” referred to Paine’s wisdom about the limitations of our elected leaders in this sort of cultural climate (see his article on “The New War of Independence Against Corporate Politics” —  http://www.truth-out.org/new-war-independence-against-corporate-politics/1309788086 ):  “In this corporatized system, we can’t expect many leaders to heed Revolutionary pamphleteer (and ur-blogger) Thomas Paine, who said ‘Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead.’ Paine also made this timely observation: ‘Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.’”

The time has come for all of us to work together to lead, because our elected representatives, with some very notably exceptions, cannot be counted on to represent us, Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Am I a commodity? Are you? Who is, and who isn’t?

In the past week, Iowa Congressman, Steve King, argued against protections
on the wages of laborers employed under Federally-funded projects–emphasizing
that labor, people performing work, are commodities, just like rice, beans, or
oil:

“For the federal government to tell me that I can’t say to my own son, I’d like to climb
in the seat of your excavator and sit there for $10 an hour, federal government says I can’t, he’s gotta pay me some $28 rate or whatever that is. But the government has no business interfering and no business driving up these costs.  And we must go through this period of austerity. That requires that we not impose federal union scale on federal construction projects. […] And I think the free market should set the wages. Labor is a commodity just like corn or beans or oil or gold, and the value of it needs to be determined by the competition, supply and demand in the workplace [bold typeface added for emphasis here].” [from http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/rep-steve-king-compares-workers-commodi ]

So, should I see this as an outrageous speech by a right-wing Republican, or simply an honest, and very revealing, argument on behalf of a long-standing American tradition.  That tradition includes, in its most vile form, slavery, and in a seemingly matter of fact way, the view that corporations are entitled to make large profits at  the expense of less fortunate citizens who should feel lucky just to have a job, and therefore would be wise to accept most any wage that an employer is willing to pay.

Moreover, and unfortunately, this view, that people are primarily commodities, is played out in many other ways in our society.  Let’s consider the world of sports—all the way from youth summer sports camps to college athletics and beyond.  For example, let’s look at Sports lllustrated’s recent article Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Eli Pariser’s “Filter Bubble” and How the Internet May Stifle Our Curiosity Without Our Even Knowing It

Eli Pariser, former Executive Director of MoveOn and current President of their board, has recently written a book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, and has been speaking out about the book’s message of how search engines keep track of our preferences and have a tendency to filter out information and views that oppose the tendencies suggested by our previous internet searches. [ http://networkeffect.allthingsd.com/20110520/eli-pariser-on-the-downsides-of-personalization-video/?mod=googlenews ]

In my view, Eli Pariser has called out attention to a current and powerful phenomenon—that strongly suggests that our Internet searches, and the Internet searches of others in our society and around the world, are biased, and narrowing in ways that none of us realize. This not only limits our own inquiry, but it perpetuates the ability of those who might be even less curious from being exposed to ideas and information different from our current inclinations. We all have biases and tend to filter out information.

One of the ways to engage in “better” inquiry is to consciously seek out a breadth and diversity of perspectives and information on whatever topics we’re current concerned with. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Criminalization of Question-Asking by Ethical, Responsible Professionals: Today, Pediatricians in Florida, Tomorrow?

Special interest groups are no longer relying on the corporate control of the mass media, alone, in order to limit and control public dialogue, question-asking, curiosity, inquiry and information sharing.  Now, they are also securing passage of laws that make it a crime to share certain kinds of information, raise questions and stimulate thought and dialogue, even in the interest of human life. Some of the same people who shout “pro-life” when they really mean to prevent any abortion are not only seemingly unconcerned with the well-documented dangers that household firearms pose to life–to our children, and to the children of our neighbors, relatives and household guests–but they wish to make certain that the mere discussion of these dangers is a crime.  This made me even more curious.  I’ve recently learned that about 40% of US households with children have guns, and in 2005, “The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children aged less than 15 years was nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.”  (Yes that’s 12 times higher than all of the other countries combined.)[ http://www.kidsandguns.org/study/fact_file.asp ]

We’re not talking about the National Rifle Association lobbying for the right to have
guns in one’s home.  We’re talking about a law recently passed by the Florida legislature, soon to be signed by their Governor, that will make it a felony for pediatricians to ask questions and engage parents of their child patients in discussions about the dangers posed by household firearms and the steps that need to be taken to insure the safety of children in their home—their own children and the children who may visit or play with them  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment