Economics and Politics 2010

April 15

America: The Exploitation Nation

To tell the truth, I have always had mixed feelings about the nation to which I was born. The following essay explains why this is so. Remember, a nation unexamined is not worth living in.

America, land of the free, home of the brave! What the memes about America's history that rule our propagandistic training don't say, is that our nation has thrived on the exploitation of both the environment and people from its inception. From slavery, to indentured servitude as a means of creating permanent debt, to the subjugation and even mass destruction of native peoples, to the exploitation of a wide open, resource filled environment, the history of the United States has been one of the rule of voluntary immigrants over a vast land, its native peoples, those they imported against their will, and each other. The form which the exploitation has taken, has changed over the years, but the exploitation continues. As a nation, we have much to be proud of, and historically have been at the forefront of democratic, progressive politics, but in terms of our ultimately unsustainable dependence upon exploitation, we should be ashamed of both our history and our current state. This is all the more reason to give us impetus to form a "green" economy, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, and to make our concerns for the welfare of people and environment worldwide, not local.

Rather than delve into the history of exploitation in the United States, something which I know of but am not particularly knowledgeable about (compared to history experts who have studied in depth what was going on in our nation's past), I wish to refer to the current state of exploitation in and by the United States.

A new study comparing environmentally sustainable happiness in different nations, ranked Costa Rica the best in the world out of 143 nations ( Why is Costa Rica Smiling?) Where did the United States rank? It ranked number 114 -- a dismal result for "the world's greatest nation." The three major indices in this calculation were ratings of personal happiness, life expectancy, and the amount of resources used per person. A major reason for the United States' poor ranking was that Americans use more resources than those in any other nation. In fact, if all the peoples of the world used resources at the rate that Americans do, it would take several planets to sustain them. Furthermore, we are using up non-renewable resources at an alarming rate, while the world's population continues to grow at an alarming rate. Clearly, the lifestyle of Americans is unsustainable. In fact, it could well be argued that the current lifestyle of peoples all over the world is unsustainable, except for those who live the simplest, most untechnological lifestyles. However, the United States leads the pack in terms of unsustainable lifestyle, while many other nations have made much greater strides toward using technology to create a sustainable economy and lifestyle. Costa Ricans use an average of 1/4 the amount of resources that Americans do, yet have a very good standard of living. Similar findings apply to many other nations around the world. Costa Ricans also have a somewhat longer life expectancy than Americans do. In fact, the life expectancy of Americans is mediocre, due to a variety of causes including our for-profit health care system which exploits its customers rather than serves them. Another pertinent fact about Costa Rica which was not mentioned in the study, is that Costa Rica is the only nation in the world that has no national military force. I discovered this last year when I was blogging about the psychological nature of war. I also discovered that the more emphasis placed by a nation on military endeavors, the worse its violent crime rate tended to be, which helps explain the high murder rate in the United States.

Actually, the military is not a tangential issue to the current topic. I postulate that there are 3 reasons explaining why the United States is the most exploitative nation in the world - its history, its capitalistic economy, and its militarism.

1. A tradition of exploitation: Since this is a nation built by opportunity seeking immigrants, who discovered a vast nation (although already populated), the behavior of early Americans was relatively uninhibited by tradition or legal prohibitions. Thus, immigrants tended to feel free to take advantage of their environment, native peoples, and each other, without much fear of retribution. There was also a positive side to this freedom from the past, which resulted in the blossoming of progressive ideas among the intelligentsia among the colonists, and our democracy. We usually only focus on this positive side, but it is equally important to consider the antisocial, negative side of this phenomenon. It is my contention that this history of freedom from restraint, and the exploitative mindset that it encouraged, continue to be part of the American landscape to this day, much like a gang of rowdy teenagers who have gone on an unsupervised trip.

2. Exploitation for capitalistic profit: The capitalistic business model which predominates the economy of the United States, encourages the exploitation of workers, customers, and resources. The criteria of success according to this model, is simply the amount of profit generated by the business, especially for the business owners. Whatever trickles down to the employees is more or less incidental, unless the business owner actually has enough conscience (as many small business owners, in particular, do), to ensure their employees' welfare at the expense of their own wealth. When local workers demand too much pay, or minimum wages are too high, business owners find overseas workers who will work virtually for peanuts, or illegal immigrants who will do likewise (all the while calling for the deportation of these people). As a result, many millions of people work in sweatshop conditions, or worse, in nations such as China and India, among others. In fact, it is estimated that their are more slaves around the world than ever before in history. Of course, there are more people, as well, and what is being called slavery by some is not in the open, but the conditions under which millions of people labor certainly resemble slavery, and the United States is more to blame for this slavery than any other nation. Think about that the next time you buy cheap, imported products in a local store. Of course, as an American of modest means, I fall into what I call "The Wal-Mart Trap." In order to live within our means, we are compelled to shop at Wal-Mart, where the cheapest products are found. Otherwise, we risk bankruptcy. I suspect that most Americans are in more or less the same situation. Thus, the biggest businesses such as Wal-Mart continue to become more and more powerful forces shaping our society and politics. We have become unwitting accomplices in the exploitation -- even enslavement -- of peoples all over the world!

3. The world's biggest bully: I have long ago concluded that America has become "too big for its own britches." Based on my study of the psychology of war and militarism, it seems to me that one of the worst things that ever happened to the United States was the decision to join World War I by Woodrow Wilson. That lead to the bloating of our national ego, particularly that of our politicians, and to the United States' involvement in World War II, which further ensconced the United States in a unique position of worldwide military power, with all the feelings of entitlement that goes with that exalted position. Basically, the United States has become the "top dog," the world's only superpower. Unfortunately, it seems to be human nature to feel a sense of entitlement to one's own good fortune. During the age of emperors, they almost always felt that they had been granted a divine right to rule over other people. I feel that more or less, this is what has now happened to Americans, especially to its politicians, and to those (largely conservatives) who are psychologically inclined to accept this ego-boosting nonsense. Big American business uses the American military to protect its interests, which has become the realization of the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about. The United States' military not only occupies Iraq (still) and Afghanistan (even longer than Iraq) against their will, but occupies hundreds of military bases around the world, paying many billions of dollars in rent for the use of those bases. While all of this is sold to us as being in the interests of peace, freedom and the American way, I contend that the rampant worldwide American military presence primarily serves the purpose of allowing the exploitation of foreign peoples for the benefit of Americans and most especially, trans-national corporations. The message is: Get out of line, and you will suffer the wrath of the Great American Military Machine! Ironically, the international presence of the United States' military, actually encourages terroristic activities. To paraphrase Peter Ustinov, when governments wage terrorism against the people, it is called war, but when the people wage war against governments, it is called terrorism. Of course, the financial cost of American militarism is also enormous.

The exploitation of peoples and resources by the United States, I have come to conclude, continues to prop up our relatively high standard of living. For how long this can continue, I do not know. However, I suspect we are seeing the beginning of the end of this lifestyle in our current economic crisis. If so, I think this will actually turn out a good thing, in the long run, though painful in the short term. I don't want to be an exploiter, and neither should you! We need to use our vaunted American ingenuity and work ethic to create not only a "green" economy, but a lifestyle which has long term sustainability and does not degrade our planet's ecosystem -- or, we could finally decide to learn from other nations who do so. I know it won't be easy, and much damage to our planet and the psyche of the world's peoples has already been done, but all the peoples of the world must do our best to work together to create a sustainable, good quality of life. We Americans could start by following Costa Rica's lead.

April 5, 2010

Conservatives Aren't Idiots, But ...

This is sort of an education post, although that may be a bit of a stretch.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving our new Honda Fit (rated as the least expensive car to own over 5 years, according to Consumer Reports, in keeping with our cheapskate Reagan pee-on lifestyle), and switching to various radio stations, since it was a relief to actually have a car with a good radio. I was hearing a number of stations and programs I have never heard before, including a progressive FM station from Los Angeles, an FM NPR station, and this local conservative talk station. (I had heard the conservative talk station before, but never so clearly, and had not heard this particular program before.)

The conservative station had a host named Hugh Hewlett (or something like that on), holding the conservative line about how the health care bill would be a disaster. (He forgot to mention that the people it would be a disaster for were the Republicans.) Then he had a caller from Hawaii, who sounded like an island dude, reminding me of my college roomate, but this guy was suggesting that conservatives start a website called "We are not idiots." That gave me the idea for this blog post.

I concede that conservatives are not idiots, by and large, but it seems to me that they have less than their share of smarts and education, on the whole. There may have been a time when they did have their share of intelligence and education, possibly, although I doubt it. My study of the progressive nature of education has revealed that most college graduates with bachelor's degrees used to be politically conservative, while those with advanced degrees have always tended to be progressive. Now, however, even those with bachelor's degrees tend to be progressive. Most conservatives are well-intentioned, I believe, but have been thoroughly duped by their leaders into believing a false world view.

With this in mind, consider that...

Conservatives aren't idiots, but progressive high school students have an average IQ of 106, while conservative high school students have an average IQ of 95;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but except for those few who count themselves among America's wealthiest, they consistently vote against their own economic interests;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but they seem especially susceptible to believing propaganda. Anything that is repeated often enough, that appeals to their own self-interest, greed, world view, religious training and sense of patriotism, they have no trouble accepting as true even when it is certifiably false;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but they believe that our representative government which is the people's greatest hope, is bad, and big business, which has only its own financial interests in mind, is good;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but they cling to the false belief that the rugged individual represents freedom, and that the natural oppnent of the individual is government, with its odious government intervention, while failing to realize that the real dichotomy is between corporatism and government, rather than between individualism and government;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but they identify with people such as Sarah Palin;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but as soon as a Black person becomes President, these predominantly blue-collar, white people are ready to revolt, and of course, they don't think it has anything to do with race;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but they seem willing to defend our broken health care system to the death (literally, since our health care system may kill them), against any reform;

Conseravtives aren't idiots, but they somehow manage to believe that sending our young people overseas to militarily occupy other nations is actually defending our freedom;

Conservatives aren't idiots, but when Republican Presidents ruin our economy with their coporate friendly policies, and spend fortunes on their military misadventures for their own edification and to help out their big business buddies, turning America into the world's bully and increasing terrorism activity around the world, they think that is good policy. However, when a Democratic President tries to start undoing the economic, military, and international relations damage done by the Republican Presidents, they think his policies represent profligate, needless liberal spending, and they suspect that the he is probably a treasonous, foreign Muslim in disguise with a nefarious plan to obliterate what they consider to be the world's greatest nation.

Perhaps you can think of other examples of conservative gullibility and stupidity. It is true that conservatives aren't idiots, but their lack of intelligence definitely does not point the way to progress. Personally, I feel blessed to have a relatively progressive, highly intelligent, former Professor of Constitutional Law as President, and a Congress which has been moving in a progressive direction over time. We must continue to show all people that progressive policies work better than conservative ones. Eventually, even conservatives will grow wise to the duplicities of conservative politicians and media. I think most of us already have.

March 7, 2010

This is a revision of a post which I originally wrote on July 25, 2008. Ordinarily, I am not one to engage in apocalyptic or pessimistic visions of the future, but I think it would be appropriate to take a glimpse into the future in the case that political conservatism and corporatism prevail. I do not think this will happen, but if it does, we could wind up with World-Mart in charge. By happenstance, my wife asked me to take her shopping this afternoon to a place near the relatively new Super Wal-Mart here in Moreno Valley, after I had already started revising this post. Thus it was that we decided to go there for the first time ever, to buy some things she wanted. While there, I couldn't help but think that this represented the future of our world -- huge megastores with relatively little competition, and relatively fixed, not-so-cheap prices. My wife agreed with me about the not-so-cheap prices, for sure. Once we went inside, we heard a tremendous thunderclap, followed by the nearly deafening sound of heavy rain on the aluminum roof. When we left, the downpour was still ongoing, yet the late afternoon sun was shining, and a huge, beautiful complete rainbow was visible just to our east, from end to end, perhaps the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. Was that an auspicious sign? I don't know; I try not to be superstitious, but it seemed like a good sign.

World-Mart
After finishing their educations at the World-Mart chain of high schools, colleges and universities, where each receptive young mind was indoctrinated with World-Mart approved information, including its version of history, every young man was expected to apply for a position at World-Mart. Of course, it wasn't really a matter of being hired or not, so much as a matter of what position the individual would get. The better connected the applicant, the better the position, in general. Women could apply also, but only single women, and they only were given the more menial positions (greeter, cashier, stock clerk), especially since women had been banned from going to college. On the other hand, World-Mart was extremely generous. They could afford to be, since they basically owned everything, including our government. Every new employee was assigned a house in a World-Mart community. They had a choice of World-Mart doctors, and local World-Mart stores in which to fulfill their shopping needs. Of course, only approved World-Mart products were allowed. And prior to going to live in a World-Mart community, each person had to sign a document absolving World-Mart of any legal responsibility. Furthermore, since World-Mart controlled the entire housing market, there was no place to live other than a World-Mart community. Consequently, no one could sue World-Mart. At home, television viewers and radio listeners had a choice of several World-Mart stations, all plying the individual's psyche with appropriate propagandistic drivel chosen by World-Mart executives. On Sundays, all citizens were required to attend one of several World-Mart run churches.

Welcome to the world of 2110, a world in which World-Mart, the winner of a world-wide unrestrained capitalistic game of Monopoly, is in charge of the entire world. World-Mart had begun as a state run department store named Ah-Geng, in China, the world's most populous nation, and had used it's privileged position and the fact that other nations such as the U.S. were greatly in debt to China, as leverage to eventually gain world domimance. The corporation changed its name from Ah-Geng to its final form, World-Mart, after acquiring Wal-Mart. Also used to gain power was the all-to-easy to sell meme that "government is bad," which was promoted by companies such as World-Mart. Of course, they failed to mention that the alternative to government was corporate control, which is worse than even bad government, and infinitely worse than good government. In fact, there was only one viable political party left in the United States, the ironically named People's Party, which had effectively squelched all opposition one way or another, until there was barely a whimper of protest remaining. The presidential elections of 2000, 2004, and 2008 in the United States, all close and controversial elections, were looked back upon by historians and World-Mart's owners as crucial in the story of World-Mart's ascendency to power. In 2000, conservative Republican George W. Bush became president despite losing the popular vote, and despite the fact that he should have lost the electoral vote, as well, thanks to his friends in high places. In 2004, George W. Bush won another close election, although there were suspicious circumstances occuring in some areas, especially Ohio. In 2008, despite African-American Democrat Barack Obama's historic victory, the corporate class warfare on the middle class continued. Strangely, even when supposedly progressive Presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Democrat dominated congresses, were elected, U.S. government policy continued to become more and more corporate friendly, as though these administrations were operating under some sort of never-mentioned dire threat from corporate America. Also crucial in humanity's slide was a decision by the conservative dominated Supreme Court approximately one year after Obama's election, giving corporations the right to spend as much money as they wanted to in order to promote candidates and political causes who favored them. After that, not only American history, but world history was all downhill, as corporations solidified their worldwide dominance of life in the 21st century. Even relatively affluent socialist minded nations which resisted the tide of World-Mart's dominance, were boycotted, harassed and even militarily invaded into eventual submission by World-Mart. Of course, the historians who wrote the history were all empoyees of World-Mart, so their version of history celebrated these events as great turning points for the better, and failed to mention anything about the controversies and suspicious circumstances surrounding these elections. Similarly, politicians, being funded soley by World-Mart, voiced the official World-Mart version of history.

Meanwhile, executives at World-Mart's world headquarters in Beijing were in charge of setting policy. For example, the official policy for the United States included teaching its citizens that the United States was the "world's greatest nation" and the "world's greatest democracy." America was "the land of the free and the home of the brave" as it had always been. Now that China's government had control of the entire world's business, the world had been made to resemble a 1950's style Chinese commune, except that its citizens were being duped into believing that they lived in some sort of great democracy, in which people went to the polls every so often to vote for World-Mart's chosen politicians, and except that its citizens had more technology, but fewer actual choices to make. There were occasional grumblings among the citizenry about World-Mart's total domination, but people, even though secretly miserable with the situation, felt helpless to do anything about it. Mostly, they were too busy working like servants permanently indentured to World-Mart to really think about it. Meanwhile, use of the internet had been restricted to only World-Mart approved parties, and only for World-Mart approved purposes. And since vices such as smoking, liquor and gambling were rampant, as well as crimes both petty and violent, the food of the masses was cheap and of poor nutritious quality, and health care had deteriorated to third-world quality, except for World-Mart's executives, average life expectancy in the United States had decreased to 55 years.

In contrast to the rest of the world, World-Mart's executives lived like emperors, with a jet setting lifestyle, and numerous mansions to occupy. Over time, these people's behavior, already extravagant, greedy and self-centered, became increasingly pathological. Disregard for the welfare of their fellow humans, and narcissistic disregard of the law, became the norm. Children of World-Mart executives grew up in a world apart from the rest of humanity, shielded from the true conditions under which their workers labored. They were told that people were happy to be under the benificent auspices of the great leader class of the world who ran World-Mart, and they seldom learned any better. If they had, surely many of them would have been appalled and would have tried to change things in ways which merely contemplating, scared World-Mart's leaders as nothing else could. People who acted as servants to the World-Mart leadership felt lucky to work for these executives. The situation in the United States was typical of the entire world. World-Mart had taken over everywhere. "People's Party"s and their annointed representatives dominated politics in nation after nation. Just as in the United States, they had "elections" in which World-Mart's chosen candidate ran virtually unopposed and was "rubber-stamped" the leader of a relatively hapless and powerless government in low-turnout elections. The basic role of government was to enforce the will of World-Mart's executives, who came from a variety of nations, although the real chiefs were Chinese.

Even though individual governments were relatively ineffectual and weak, there were still wars and skirmishes between nations, many of whom, including the United States, continued to harbor the illusion of independence, despite the fact that it was really World-Mart which was pulling their strings as though they were puppets. In fact, World-Mart manipulated nations into conflicts, in order to distract nations from the real problem, and to keep any one nation from becoming too independent of World-Mart. Most of these wars were over meager resources. Meanwhile, psychopathology had reached record levels, with depression and suicide being epidemic. Why had life deteriorated so? In fact, World-Mart's leaders wanted life for ordinary citizens to be this way. The feared that a well-fed, well-rested, well-educated, physically and psychologically healthy populace would represent a threat to their power. When the standard of living rises among ordinary citizens, and people become well-educated, people start thinking for themselves, and when people think for themselves, they want freedom and want to reshape the world for the good of the people, rather than the glorification of its leader/owners. They get ideas, and that is not what World-Mart wants. Ideas -- especially in combination with time and energy -- can lead to revolutions. Thus I say, let us get the idea, and make sure that World-Mart never happens. Let us start by working to reverse the Supreme Court decision in the Citizen's United case, and continue to encourage the Obama administration to engage in progressive policies. Finally let us work to help our world enjoy a future in which good government prevails.

March 6

Republicans are Baptists; Democrats are Methodists

Last Sunday, my faithful Christian wife, Eunice, had me accompany her to a Methodist church, which is a periodic event. Usually, she makes me take her to a Baptist church, which I barely endure, while opening my eyes to how far off the mark these people's thinking is, and the depth of their brainwashing through what passes for "education" in their schools. The pastor of the Methodist church is a nice, roly poly fellow named Roy, who often writes letters to the editor of the local newspaper supporting the democratic side of politics. He even had a sticker on his car last year from a group of pastors who opposed the proposition in California which banned gay marriage. I like Roy, although I don't agree with all of his religious convictions. Still, I don't particularly mind going to his church, although the attendance at the Methodist church is rather modest. The pastor of the Baptist church is a fairly new one, who took over after the previous one, the founder of this church, went awol, probably going off the deep end into some sort of psychopathology involving self-loathing and depression. The new pastor, Matt, is more affable than the old one, and less scary, but still endorses without fail the same rigid party line, without being quite as offensive or damning as many people as the old one. Regardless of who the pastor is, or how much they are in debt, the big, shiny church packs in the faithful, as well as probably a considerable number of people who would rather be somewhere else. I can say that Matt is a nice person, but I find it difficult to respect his beliefs. Willful ignorance is something to be loathed, in my opinion.

After going to the Methodist church last Sunday, I came to a realization that might help explain our current political situation. Both major political parties are worshippers of laissez faire (or as I call it, "lazy unfair") capitalism. There is a difference between the two parties. The fundamentists are the Repubicans. They worship the word of capitalism as the pure and true word of God. They believe in an angry capitalist God, who punishes the unfaithful majority with the poverty of the masses. Fortunately for them, they are the chosen few, whose faith is rewarded with unimaginable wealth. They steadfastly oppose as by their own faulty definition untrue, any ideas which do not agree with their doctrine, labeling them as examples of the dreaded "socialism," which is anathema to them much as evolution is anathema to Baptists. They meet as often as possible to affirm their rigid faith in the Great American Way of free-market capitalism, packing in the crowds. Even though they are a small minority of the population, they are so commited to their cause, that they generate the biggest, most faithful crowds of devotees. Their fanaticism probably accounts for their political influence being far greater than their proportion of the population.

The Democrats are also true believers, but not as fundamentalist. Rather, they are Methodists. Capitalism can be viewed or practiced in different ways, but there are some things about it which are non-negotiable -- thus, the "method" part of capitalism as practiced by Democrats. It's worshippers gather to affirm their faith, though in crowds not as large as that of the Baptists, by going through their regular rituals. Much as the Presbyterian minister father in the movie and book "A River Runs Through It" announced, "Methodists are Baptists who can read," Democrats are Republicans who can think. They can tinker around the edges of the system, but all but the most progressive Democrats are too easily intimidated, and too committed to the "lazy unfair" free market capitalism ideology to really do anything to seriously change the system. After all, it is big business which funds their campaigns, lobbies them, and provides extremely lucrative employment for them when they retire from politics. It is all too easy to believe in that which keeps one virtually swimming in money.

Until we start having a much greater diversity of political beliefs among our politicians, we will never be able to address the problems which plague our political system. This will never happen until we figure out a way to take the "money is power" equation out of our political system. As citizens, we must demand that money stops telling politicians what to do. We must tell them what to do, and they must not forget that. No matter what happens, no matter how much money corporations spend to advance their own interests, it is the voters who vote, not the corporations.

February 5

The Truth Assassins

Progressives have been talking about this topic for many years. I have written about it in one way or another myself. However, sometimes a new meme occurs to me. I was lying in bed a few days ago, when the term "the truth assassins" occurred to me. The truth assassins are those in the media who kill the truth, and knowingly pass a false view of the world as the truth, to the world.

This term actually occurred to me in the context of sports. I saw some political pundits a few weeks ago talking about sports. One of them said that sports was a most "egalitarian" endeavor. He meant that it was not racist, and that performance is what matters. However, it has become increasingly apparent to me over the years that professional sports as an industry has lost its soul. In fact, it could be said that, performance is all that matters. Cheaters abound, but are rarely caught. The profit motive prevails, and big business has taken professional sports under its vulture-like wings. As for being egalitarian, a check of the gender difference in professional sports belies that delusion. The great majority of athletes are men, if for no other reason, because the rules of sports themselves are designed for men -- large, strong men. I knew something was wrong when I was a kid and found out that one had to be approximately 7 feet tall in order to play one sport -- basketball -- or weigh around 300 pounds in order to play another -- football. That is anything but egalitarian. It is an extreme physical bias, especially given the enormous salaries that professional athletes at the highest levels are endowed with.

Despite this, the worst thing about professional sports is the "ends justifies the means," low level of morality engendered by the industry. This is a perfect example of the immorality of the capitalism about which I wrote recently. Owners invest in their teams, and expect a return on that investment. The way to have a good return on that investment, is to have a winning team, especially a championship team. The way to have a championship team is to purchase the best team that money can buy, and bail out any player who runs afoul of the law, or is caught apparently cheating. The more important and better the player, the greater the impetus to protect that player's reputation. I think my "Oh no!" moment in this regard was when I realized that both our football and basketball champions of 2009 were lead by accused rapists -- Ben Rothlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. The point was further brought home last week when I was called away by my wife to do yardwork, from a nationally televised game between the Lakers and the Celtics, which the Celtics were leading at the time. (Yes, I do still sometimes watch sports in spite of myself; I think I need to quit this habit.) Although I really don't care for basketball nor the Celtics, either, I was glad that they were leading. However, when I returned, the Lakers had won, having taken the lead on what was described by the idiot announcer as a "miraculous" shot by Kobe Bryant -- just another small part of the massive reputation rehabilitation effort being undertaken on Kobe Bryant's behalf by the sports media. When I saw the shot, it seemed pretty ordinary to me, especially for the son of an NBA player who has spent his entire life playing the game. It reminded me of a game a few weeks ago in which Bryant charged into an opposing player at a crucial moment in overtime, and the other player was called for a foul, when even the Lakers' announcers were expecting a foul to be called on Bryant. As a result the Lakers "won" this game too and Bryant was hailed as a "hero." During the game with the Celtics, the announcers mentioned that the Celtics and Lakers have cumulatively won more than half of the NBA championships -- 17 for the Celtics, 15 for the Lakers. That hardly seems like fair competition to me. Frankly, I was also somewhat disturbed to see President Obama recently honoring the Lakers at the White House, even though I know that honoring sports champions is a Presidential tradition. I hope Obama told the players to behave themselves.

Misbehavior off the playing field is much more common than sports fans seem to realize. In doing some research on the topic, I found that the few brave journalists -- females, by the way -- who have delved into this topic have found that marriages of professional athletes tend to be subject to what one described as socially sanctioned adultery. In other words, most players, married or not, usually have sex with women they barely know, or mistresses while on road trips. Tiger Woods is not the exception, according to these journalists. He has merely been singled out due to his prominent status, apparent "good guy" nature, and especially, the fact that his wife, who is from Sweden where such behavior is not normal, did not accept his infidelity. Frankly, even I was surprised that Woods was being unfaithful to his wife. Living in southern California, I am often exposed to stories about local athletes' misbehavior. They usually surface and quickly are denied and swept under the rug. Kobe Bryant's accuser was subject to death threats and intimidation, more than she could handle, I suppose. The same probably has happened to Rothlisberger's accuser. Lakers' players Kwame Brown and Shannon Brown have both been accused of rape or sexual assault in recent years, only to get out of it one way or another, perhaps by having the Lakers' organization intimidate or pay off the accusers. Looking back at Lakers' stars of earlier eras, there was Wilt Chamberlain and his "20,000 women" he claimed to have had sex with, and Magic Johnson, who was sexually indiscriminate enough to catch the HIV virus, while engaged to be married. Even the baseball team of which I was a lifelong fan, the Anahheim Angels (now subsumed by Los Angeles), turned out to have several steroid using players in 2002 when they finally won a championship, plus a pitcher, Jarrod Washburn, who was accused of having sex with his child's babysitter. Of course, some accusations of misbehavior are probably false, but I find it impossible to believe that all of them are false, despite the truth assassins' attempts to convince the public to the contrary. In fact, the consistent denial of sexual misconduct by the media and sports teams represents the derogation of women in its worst and most insidious form. Real men love women, respect them and take them seriously, not derogate them and mistreat them. But don't worry, sports fans, your teams and the media will always cover for these guys when they don't behave as real men should. And disgruntled fans such as myself, while watching less sports than we used to, will still feel compelled to watch for one reason or another at times.

While what happens in the world of sports represents a sort of truth assassination, it is "small potatoes" compared to what goes on in politics, or perhaps even religion. Our news media and politicians have become experts at framing things in an unrealistic way. To an extent, they may believe some of their own nonsense, but they clearly must be aware that much of it is untrue. Political spin ranges from mildly disingenuous bending of the truth, all the way to outright lies. The same applies to news reporting of politics. For example, it seems that this year, we ceaselessly hear about how 60 votes are needed in the Senate to pass any legislation. What!? Since when did 51% turn into 60%? A simple majority is all that is needed to pass health care reform, or any other legislation. It is true that the master truth assassins of the Republican Party can try to delay or block the voting process. (Maybe they learned this strategy from Tom Delay.) However, there are ways that a bill can be reconciled between the house and senate versions, and passed with 51 votes in the Senate. It has happened many times before. Why is it that we never hear of this problem when a Republican is President, even though it has been many years since the last time that there were 60 Republican Senators. The fact that no health care reform legislation has been passed seems to represent dissatisfaction on both sides with the demands of their opponents. The amount of compromise being asked for is too much for progressives to stomach, and much more than conservatives are willing to accept, especially since they see blocking any meaningful legislation as being to their advantage. Apparently, the so-called "mainstream," that is, corporate media sees any meaningful progressive reforms as being detrimental to their interests, as well.

For many years, Republicans have been painting themselves as friends of the common person, on their side along with God. They have formed an unholy coalition with evangelical Christians who may or may not believe all that they say, but are clearly self-serving and delusional. They have represented themselves as champions of the American family and the American way, while in fact, they have always represented monied interests of economic royalty who fear having their fortunes taken from them by inferiorcommoners. Although I have never been privy to the thoughts of Republican leaders, nor the wealthy persons who move them around like puppets on a string, it is hard for me to imagine that they are not lying. Ronald Reagan seems to me the consummate liar, emblematic of politicians who have sold their souls for political gain. Modern conservatives have taken their cues from him. Together with the media, lobbyists, and those Democrats who cannot resist the temptation, Republicans have managed to assassinate the truth in America, leaving the average citizen puzzled, and haplessly trying to understand what is going on amidst a sea of misinformation.

Let us insist on those in the news media and politics who broadcast their messages, live according the ethic of honesty which they presumably learned as children. If not, they should be banished from the business of attempting to wield influence over others through the use of words. While hate talk, with its delusions, misinformation and lies, still predominates the airwaves, at least people are starting to find more and more refreshingly honest, forward looking, progressive voices. We are also finding that the internet is a good way to communicate with other citizens, of our own nation or of others, and find out what others are really thinking. May honesty prevail. If it does, we cannot fail to progress.

January 23

The Biggest Pigs Have Taken Over

The biggest pigs have taken over. Their bank accounts are huge

The humongous hogs have taken over; they rule by subterfuge.

They buy the politicians; they buy the network news.

They've got their own spin doctors, and "think tanks" they've got too

To tell us that what's good for them is also good for you.

They lobby for their points of view; "we're good for you" they spew.

 

These piggies run the highest court, and rule all the land;

They've got things going their way, now they do proclaim

"Pigs and banks are people now, and corporations too;

We know because the Supreme Court announced that is their view"

Whoever put a bank in jail? I say this is insane.

They never really let us know, how vicious is their plan.

We cannot see 'til its too late, just how things really stand.

You find them in the boardrooms, and find them in D.C.

In movies, music, sports and more-- they've got their own celebrities.

They wallow in their money pits, the only thing that's green

And keep their bank vaults safely locked, the only thing that's clean.

 

They have the most expensive suits, and plastic surgeons too

Their piggy wives wear lipstick, and fashions old and new

They fancy themselves slim and sleek, and drive expensive cars

But no matter how they cover up, gigantic pigs are what they are.

When they look in the mirror, they see something unique

Amazingly endowed with looks, of beauty at their peak.

They cannot see that they are pigs; delusion rules their minds.

They only can see what they want, and speak to their own kind.

We must percieve how men of greed, as their power grows strong

Through lack of regulation, turn surely into hogs.

 

Faithful Social Darwinists, they praise their own success.

"Greed is good" they sing and shout, "and I'm the greediest"

Greed is good" they dance and sing "and I'm the very best."

They sit down at their obscene feasts and eat the smaller pigs

As cannibals, they are quite proud; it makes them feel more big.

 

If we were pigs, we'd take them in and slay the fatty hog

Eat pork and bacon all day long and wallow in the bog,

But being civilized, I say, our task is justice based

Jail for some, strict diets for all; let them join the human race.

Let's make sure that this kind of pork, never grows again

Humans unite! Let's claim our human rights once more and then

Let rule of law and regulation always be our guide

The greater good for all this earth, always be in mind.

Let us resolve to do these things, for change we can believe in

To rule by greed, money and might, we say "Never again!"

January 18

Here is a final update on this strange saga. In late December, I received a letter from the Superior Court of Riverside that my petition to waive the $300 fee was approved. I was very pleasantly surprised, as can be inferred from my cynical stance on the issue taken in the following post. I guess the court is more forgiving than I thought they were, or else my circumstances were so distressing and my letter written so masterfully that it persuaded the court even though my circumstances bore no resemblance to the examples given as excuses, and I had no further documentation. I suspect the forgiving explanation applies better, although I do think my argument was pretty compelling. After that, I expected some sort of renumeration, but received none. Finally, I called the court last Wednesday, when I found out that an "8" had been transposed for a "4" by some court employee in the next to last digit of my address, and the mail carrier was consequently unable to figure out where I lived, even though I have lived here since 1993. Thus, the check for $300 was returned to the court with "addressee unknown." I corrected the error, and received the check on Friday -- Hallelujah! We really need the money at this time as our supply is the lowest it has been in quite a few years. However, I have more classes to teach now, luckily, so my paychecks will be larger over these next several months at least, although the classes are keeping me really busy.

The Immorality of Capitalism

I have never been a businessperson, which probably makes this easier for me to write. Once you have read this, you will probably realize that I would most likely be a total misfit in this world's current business environment, anyway. In fact, I have experienced the fleecing of the people at the hands of capitalists my entire life, and there has always been something which bothered me about the way that capitalism operates in the world, although I have never had the slightest inclination toward communism (which is a system of government with centralized economic power, not an economic system, and coexists better with pure capitalism than democracy does). There has always been something about capitalism beyond the obvious tolerance or even encouragement of greed which has bothered me, but had been difficult for me to pinpoint until the fact that I am blessed to be an academic psychologist exposed me to the root reason for my discomfort. The underpinnings of my fundamental problem with the capitalistic system lies in its lack of morality.

I touched upon this topic in one of my letters to President Obama "Please Be Our Moral Leader," but did not really explicate it there. (Yes, I checked after my previous post because I had a feeling I had written something similar, but found that it was not really what I intend to write today.) Morality can be viewed as being cognitive, emotional, or behavioral. Psychologists such as myself tend to believe that it is cognitions -- our ways of thinking about things -- which underlie most of our emotions (i.e., "affect") and behavior. Thus, theories of moral development which focus upon cognitive processes have been fairly prominant. The best known theory of moral development is by Lawrence Kohlberg. In a nutshell, people at the lowest levels of moral development base their moral judgments on whatever the consequences of their actions are. Thus, in their world, might makes right and the ends justifies the means. From what I have observed of the business mentality over the years, it is abundantly clear to me that this form of thinking dominates the business world. To put it clearly, the profit motive is the might that makes right and the ends that justifies the means. The astounding thing is that this type of thinking is normally supposed to be limited to children of the ages 4 to 7 years old! It is important to note that just because a business person may operate a business with the notion that anything, or at least anything which is legal, that can be done to increase profits and decrease costs is good, that does not mean that the person operates on that level in all relationships. The person may do so, in which case the person is probably a miscreant with a narcissistic or antisocial personality, or the person may employ the business model in the business situation, and operate at a higher level morally when not dealing with business situations, which is probably the more common case. Nonetheless, I must wonder to what extent the business model of "anything for a buck" permeates the lives of the average business person.

Higher levels of morality, from a cognitive perspective, include, advancing toward the highest level as we go: the wish for everyone to get along harmoniously, if rather conformingly (seen in older children); a law-abiding, obligation fulfilling orientation (seen in many adults); a creation of a "social contract" between oneself and society to best benefit the greater good (seen in some adults); and finally, the highest level which is based upon personal conscience which acts in accordance with universal ethical principles (seen in some adults). These stages by Kohlberg have received numerous criticisms, and rightly so, but it does remain clear that moral judgments based merely upon the favorability of the consequences to oneself are tantamount to no morality whatsoever. That is a wholly hedonistic approach. Yet this is what is encouraged in the general business environment.

From an emotional perspective, as described by Carol Gilligan, lower levels of morality correspond with more selfish concerns, while higher levels correspond with putting into action advanced meta-emotions such as compassion (concern for the suffering) and empathy (experiencing emotions from another's perspective). From this perspective as well, the profit motive is a prime example of the lower, selfish level of morality. Although employers may wish their employees to prosper, to a degree, they are not directly concerned with benefitting the public, much less acting on selfless emotions such as compassion or empathy. In fact, for most businesses, profits are inversely proportional to any benefit the business does to the public. That is, the more the business profits, the more the public's money is drained away, or worse, the public suffers unhealthy consequences such as dependencies on the product or reduced services. It is a competitive game of monopoly that big players in business play. To the few who can claim to be winners, goes the power, prestige and influence that enormous wealth brings. It is my fear that the mindset required to run large, heartless businesses attracts people who operate at the lowest level of morality. (I have heard Thom Hartmann voice the same concern.) Furthermore, it is my concern that rich influence peddlers have so internalized their prestigious positions in society, that they have come to think of themselves as deserving of all that they have and more, think of their prestigious positions as only being "natural," having found various ways to justify their financial dominance and reinforce the notion that having a great wealth and power differential between the annointed few and the rest of us is the way the world should be.

In an ideal world, everyone should be paid what he or she is worth, and income should be dependent upon some sort of benefit to society resulting from the person's actions. It is important to note this on Martin Luther King day, as he was an avid advocate not only of civil rights, but also, of economic fairness, as well as an advocate for peace and the disarming of the American military-industrial complex. For me, in an ideal world, people would not "make money" by merely playing with other people's money. There would be no stock market. Financial planners would not be allowed to deal speculatively with other people's money. Most importantly, those who have the most money would not have unfair advantage to parlay that into more money by holding the public essentially hostage, asking for fealties for the privilege of using their product, in essence. Worse, we now see that when businesses become too large, they can claim that they are so important to the American economy that they cannot be allowed to fail -- thus, the governent bailouts. As Senator Bernie Sanders says, too big to fail is too big to exist.

There is not much of an alternative to having capitalism in some form, nor am I suggesting ridding the world of capitalism. Even farmers saving grain for the next year's crop is a primitive form of capitalism. However, capitalism can be regulated in order to make business people's behavior more ethical in their business dealings. Business people can also be educated about the importance of conducting business ethically, in conjunction with such regulation. Putting greater social concerns ahead of the "bottom line" can be encouraged. Consumers also can vote for ethical business practices with their pocketbooks. Refusing to buy goods made in sweatshops would go a long ways toward this end. Buying organically grown produce or ethically harvested products such as dolphin-safe tuna are already common practices here in the U.S. Also, cooperative, employee owned businesses should be supported, although there is a place in business for individual persons with good ideas and a business which sells that person's product. Most importantly, we need to look at business as a relationship between producers of goods and services, and the public. As such, business practices are just as important to conduct in an ethical manner as are relations between friends, lovers, and family members.

January 11

Big Government versus Big Corporations: Choosing Government Over Corporatism

Today, I will take another detour from the education topic to discuss something which I have been thinking about and talking about for years in conversations -- why we should entrust government with power, and divest power from corporations. Yesterday, I was watching Bill Moyers journal, when his guests David Corn and Kevin Drum (made up names, objects of death threats from conservative business people?) mentioned that polls have consistently shown that Americans have more distrust of big government than of big corporations. This is a travesty, the result of many years of anti-government propaganda. Meanwhile, major corporations have gotten a free ride to the top of our social structure.

The first point I make in political discussions regarding this topic is that corporations have their own financial interests at heart, while the government ostensibly has the public's interests at heart. Thus, trusting corporations more than government is stupid and counterproductive. But there is much more. We live in a representative democracy. The government is ours. At least, it is supposed to be. If it is not, that is because our system has allowed monied corporate influence to take it over! We need to make our voices heard, and assert a populist government. On the other hand, corporations are run as though they were monarchies, with the business owners in the position of kings. This is antidemocratic. I believe in democracy -- true democracy -- not monarchy. I think almost any self-respecting American, and most people around the world, would say the same. Thus, to trust corporations more than government is antidemocratic. Yet these same people who believe in corporatism also believe in democracy. To realize that this is the case would create great cognitive dissonance, but apparently, few people realize this contradiction. Why not? Probably because it has never been pointed out to them. I am pointing it out now. Alternatively, perhaps many Americans don't really believe in democracy. Perhaps they believe that "Jesus is King." Perhaps those who are rich enough believe that they are the Kings themselves.

How can business become more democratic?

1. Regulation so that they cannot amass so much ill-gotten money and influence, and so that some semblance of economic fairness exists in society. The public must insist that congress pass legislation to regulate business more effectively, or enforce existing law.

2. Co-ops -- employee owned businesses and credit union banks. People can create co-op businesses and move their money to non-profit credit unions.

3. More non-profit organizations, such as non-profit health insurance, need to be instituted.

But wait -- there is more. We can elect people to run our government. We cannot elect CEOs. We can "fire" politicians by electing someone else, or even impeaching or recalling them. However, we cannot fire the banksters or the corporate moguls who are trying to run and ruin our nation, any more than people would be allowed to fire a king. That is why it is so important to trust government rather than big business. Moreover, we should have a large government; we have a large nation, which requires large, cooperative efforts to effectively administer. Only government can bring people together as an entire culture to accomplish what must be done as a people. We have long been exposed to a false dichotomy between government and the individual. Once again, the spotlight has been averted from big business, and focused on government instead, largely by conservative and big business forces within society. "The government is the enemy of the people" goes the big business supported conservative refrain. "We need to make government smaller so it does not get out of control." However, the fact is that as individuals, we depend upon others. We live in a society, and must cooperate in a socialist manner in order to survive and thrive. As individuals, we have freedom to make certain choices and do certain things, but as a society, our power is collective, not individual. The way that power can be expressed, is through government, not through corporations!

The true dichotomy is big government versus big corporations. When we downsize government, we actually upsize corporate power. That is the real equation; the power of the government is inverse to that of the corporations. The power of government is not inverse to the power of the individual; in fact, it is good government which can empower individuals and allow us to seek actualization as persons, and as a society. It is true that government can abuse people; so can corporations. Any entity which has power can be abusive. But the fact is that in a large and populous world, with we humans running the show, there is great power in humanity. We need to ensure that it is collective power. The way to do that is through true democracy -- people making informed decisions democratically, acting cooperatively, electing representatives, and holding those entrusted with power accountable.

The fact that our culture's focus has been on the problems of big government, not big business, has also been encouraged by the democratic process itself. Since we have elections every so often, and since candidates campaign and make widely broadcast speeches, the spotlight is put upon the role of government, while the role of business in creating our problems is easy to ignore. I have never heard a public policy speech by a CEO. They operate in private -- in the dark, as far as the public is concerned. However, there is no reason why we could not put the focus on the role of big business in society when discussing politics. More and more people are waking up to the fact that the financial industries, and corporate power as a whole, has gotten out of control. That, and how we can use good democratic government in plentitude to counteract this problem, should be the focus of political discussions, rather than how to control government. After all, the government is ultimately under our control as a people.

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