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Some Thoughts on Freedom From Want

September 3rd, 2015 by Andy in Taxes, The Commons & The Social Contract

I’ve been hearing a lot of uninformed and misinformed internet chatter recently on the subject of the minimum wage. The lack of any political resolve to deal with it has reminded me that we have in the past had politicians in possession of sufficient courage to do what is right on the subject of worker payment.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke eloquently and acted decisively on the matter. FDR declared in no uncertain terms that businesses which refused to pay a living wage to workers had no place in America. He acted to secure for workers the right to organize on their own behalf, a right corporations had enjoyed in the form of incorporation with limitless abandon, but had vigorously opposed for their employees, and mostly still oppose today. Yes, this means UNIONS.

He successfully introduced and convinced Congress to enact a federal minimum wage for the first time in US history. It was a modest effort at that point, but was clearly intended to be improved to the point of creating a living wage.

Then, in January of 1941, FDR unveiled one of the most inspired and impassioned speeches he ever gave on the subject of rights. It was the 1941 State of the Union speech, but is widely remembered as the Four Freedoms Speech. In it, he enumerated and discussed the freedoms that are central to the sustenance of any democratic society. Two of the freedoms he discussed were freedom of speech and freedom of worship, paralleling the First Amendment to the Constitution. The other two, the real and unique core of his contribution to the advancement of freedom, were Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. (For more on this, read historian Harvey J. Kaye’s work FDR and the Fight For The Four Freedoms).

These sound abstract, or even Utopian, but Franklin Roosevelt was a pragmatic political thinker and doer, not a purveyor of pie in the sky. Our understanding of these principles becomes much more concrete when we grasp the fact that we have the means to do something about economic inequality and poverty. There are real socially and macro-economically effective steps that can be taken to combat want, the lack of basic needs in this country. NO ONE working a full time job in America should be living in poverty.

One of those things is to increase the minimum wage, so that it gradually becomes a real living wage. Even if we merely increase it until it equals the buying power it had at its previous peak in 1968, it would have a profound effect. Even if you completely ignore technological productivity factors, it would be around eleven dollars per hour. We must note, though, that this math is very conservative, because inflation indices from the Congressional Budget Office do not factor in food costs (because they say those are seasonal-despite the fact that most food budgets of low income people include very few or no seasonal products), or medical expenses, because they are volatile (although there is a clear trajectory to observe there too).

According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research done in March, 2013, a real calculation of value of hourly work compared with 1968 would produce a minimum wage of $21.72/hr today. Between FDR’s time and the late 1960s, both wages and productivity grew steadily. Since then however, only productivity has grown significantly, with few and paltry wage increases, seen mostly as band-aids on US poverty.

No one is proposing anything near that. But even the $15 an hour minimum wage that is being put forward as an eventual ideal now would have profound positive effects on the lives of millions of people and on the economy.

Before we get into those, let me be crystal clear on the subject of jobs. There are no reputable or credible studies that demonstrate a significant job loss ensuing from a minimum wage increase.

Business interests who sell expensive products to well compensated people often employ people for low money to make their products. They have a vested interest in keeping wages low. These special interests have historically warned that wage increases would lead to job loss. This has never once proven true.

The people of the United States must recognize that the interests of the National Association of Manufacturers are NOT the same as our nation’s interests.

Now, lets touch on some points in favor of raising the minimum wage:

If we increase the minimum wage enough, millions of people would be free of the need for federal and state food assistance. The tax money that now goes to food assistance could be spent instead on infrastructure, education, and paying down the national debt. Not only would raising wages not cost taxpayers a dime, it would save many millions of federal dollars in that way alone.

Then there is the spending effect. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The current federal minimum wage provides a full time employee with a pre-deduction income of roughly $15,000 Dollars per year. This is NOT enough money after deductions (taxes, health insurance, FICA . . .) for even a single person to live independently in any state in the union.

(Never mind the facts, kneejerk rightwing website Breitbart threatened that increasing the minimum wage would cause 20-30 year-olds to lose their jobs and move back in with their parents. That would be scary, except that many already must live with parents despite working full time! Back to the drawing board, fearmongers).

The spending effect: Since most people who would be affected by a wage increase from the current $7.25/hour federal minimum are desperate, they would not be socking their newfound riches away in offshore bank accounts. They would buy luxurious items like fresh vegetables, children’s shoes, car repairs, work clothes, appliances, and other equally extravegent goods.

What, we might ask, would this do for the retail economy?

It isn’t hard to figure out. Businesses would thrive, new ones would open, and the currently sluggish economy would liven up. This is not mere conjecture. There are historical examples. Even Henry Ford knew better than to underpay his workers. He wanted to sell them cars!

In addition to stimulating the private sector, a higher minimum wage would free funds that are being spent for food assistance to the poor, and result in a larger tax base. There are any number of ways that this would further stimulate the economy, by creating more public sector jobs in infrastructure and research, both of which are chronically underfunded now.

Aside from the purely financial benefits of a living wage economy, it has ethical ones as well. People who earn a decent income can consider purcheses based on factors in addition to price. Will this product work well? Is it durable? Does my purchase keep money in the community? Is it environmentally responsible? Do the people who made it earn a good living?

Does choosing it support my neighbors, our planet, and my values?

When you have no money, you can’t afford to ask. Buy an electric car? Ridiculous! I’ll just have to keep driving my old Buick Toronado with the missing catalytic converter, leaking power steering fluid, and tail pipe held in place by a wire hanger. Too bad I don’t live in a city that has light rail or I could just sell it to the crusher and ride the train.

When your income is dramatically insufficient as the minimum wage is now (such as the wage earned by the typical food worker, a twenty-nine year old parent), the ability to consider any of those ethical questions evaporates utterly, and even then the very idea of freedom from want seems impossible. People living in these sorts of circumstances cannot clearly perceive the value or benefit of democracy. Democracy itself appears rarified to the economically oppressed. In such conditions, when our corrupt national and local political classes are utterly unresponsive to the issue of poverty, freedom of every sort seems like a fantasy to the poor, and freedom from want seems to be the ultimate fantasy.

But it isn’t fantasy. It can be achieved. It is right for the people, and it is right for the nation. We just need to exercise the political will to do what is right.

- Ed Lacy, USTV Media


Julian Assange and The Yes Men on the Corporate ‘Trade’ Treaties and on the Dangers of Mass Surveillance

August 17th, 2015 by Andy in Corporations, 'Democracy' & USA Inc.

This video featuring Julian Assange of WikiLeaks with of The Yes Men is rich with insights and information, most particularly in regard to the triumvirate of global corporate treaties now being thrust upon the good majority of nation state societies on this planet. These are taking the shape of the TTP, the TTIP and TISA, which when combined, represent the enclosure of two-thirds of the global GDP.

Combined, these three ‘treaties’ represent the largest proposed change in the basis of world governance since the UN or the EU, and quite possibly ever. It is equivalent to the creation of the United Nations, but this time only for the rights and powers of corporate entities, not of people as citizens. They effectively change the locus of governing power from the citizen-represented nation state, to that of the investor-shareholder represented corporation.

These new ‘trade’ laws would encompass almost every aspect of human life; from health to commerce to manufacturing to the internet to the arts and beyond. They are highly symptomatic (and causal) of the continuing corporate colonization of every aspect of the public space.

You can read more on them Here.

They also broach the subject of mass surveillance, and all of its highly dangerous and corrosive implications. When asked what is the single greatest threat posed by it, Assange responds quickly and succinctly - CONFORMITY.

Citing East Germany, one of history’s most disturbing test laboratories of the effects of it, Assange points out how it led to an extremely conformist atmosphere throughout society. “People learned to lie about their interests and intentions from a young age - even to themselves. If you deal with some East Germans today, they still have that quality” of hesitancy and suspicion to them. Mass surveillance produces a society that is extremely constrained, and one in which there is little tolerance for individual difference. These effects, when taken to their likely end point, will result “in extreme injustice and suffering for people not towing the line, whatever that line is.”

And it is important to note that in the DDR approximately 10% of the citizenry provided information to the Stasi. This is small fraction of the limitless amounts of personal information and communication that state and corporate power can acquire from people today, thanks to the hyper-connected networks of digital activity through which so much of life is filtered through.

Another example that is insightfully referenced is that of China. And not the modern, one-party corporate surveillance state that it is, but to what it was before being opened to the West. There was that time when it was the most advanced country in the world for at least 500 years. But as Assange points out here, it “ended up forming a stasis, because it didn’t have proper contact with the outside world. It ended up essentially having one culture - Confucianism,” one that provided for rigid conformity, stopping its long-history of progress.

And when we talk of progress, we need to make a distinction that we talk not of progress in new technologies or advanced weaponry - but in our ability to increase learning, and about how to stop suffering through the implementation of new political systems that more fairly represent people.

“So when we connect the entire world to itself, which is what we have done with the internet; and where we connect the largest power centers with the smallest power centers; and then when we have the largest power centers surveil all the communications that is occurring across our new global society, there is an inevitable result - and that inevitable result is extreme conformity.”

All of this connectivity, this new world of the internet, its advent Gutenbergian in its effects and ramifications, is proving to be an ever-more disconcertingly mixed blessing. With its being utilized as the greatest vehicle for mass surveillance ever devised, it admittedly also provides the means for responding through the development of new counter measures, and “new ways to challenge and combat this kind of power.”

But its existence also tells everyone that they are constantly being watched - and this results in an inevitable diminishment of communication and expression. This is the very converse of what we want and need right now for effectively developing and implementing the kinds of solutions needed to deal with the tremendous, even existential problems of our time.

With these new technological and political capacities for mass surveillance, “we have created a new god, one that even atheists believe in - the National Security Agency”; because it sees everything and knows everything.

“And when people carry around inside them that view, that there exists and omnipotent, omnipresent organization, able to see everything and record everything you’ve ever done in your life, then people start to turn their minds to how not to piss it off. And they adjust their behavior, including even the behavior they have when they talk to their friends. And that means certain conversations get shut down and don’t occur. Certain thoughts don’t even occur.”

Amen to that.

They do wind it up on a bit of a more uplifting note, talking about what is really important about The Yes Men, and the power for real change, comes in humor. “For humor is about creating fear for a moment, and then taking that fear away. Relieving it. Every joke is based on that premise.”

It’s also darkly hilarious to hear at the front end of this video Assange’s description of how WikiLeaks, if it was truly evil, could be used as front to get all sorts of inside information, not to provide more transparency to power, but to exploit that information for insider investment tips to enrich itself.

Learn more about The Yes Men’s film The Yes Men Are Revolting

Donald Trump: The Vince McMahon of American Politics, Blowing The Curtain Off The Fraud

August 8th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

Donald Trump is like a Vince McMahon of American politics. The owners are supposed to buy and sell the players, not become one themselves.

McMahon made news when he stepped out from his privileged place as the owner of the World Wrestling Federation, and decided to join the fray, becoming a wrestling star himself. A creative example of total horizontal and vertical integration of one’s power over the sport, in not only owning the game, but making one’s bid to stand atop it as a performing champion, as well.

Trump and his fellow plutocrats have spent decades buying and selling those who play the political game, but now he’s blowing apart the status quo of the game by interjecting himself directly onto the playing field itself. Where this will go, and what its longer term impact may be, well… it could be creatively destructive of the ossified oligarchic domination of the processes. Or, more likely, it could very well be a harbinger for the ascendency of the total dominance of the military-industrial-surveillance-incarceration-entertainment complex (i.e. modern corporate fascism) over our society.

The man is a demagogue, and one who we laugh at at our own risk, as William Astore warns of in his posting on Donald Trump and American Fascism at The Contrary Perspective

Before he got his grip on power, many in Germany thought that Hitler was a joke: bad haircut, ill-fitting clothes, vulgar accent. Hitler was known as the “Bohemian Corporal,” a euphemism which in colloquial American English translates to “Hillbilly Grunt.”  As a result, “good” Germans just couldn’t take Hitler that seriously.  They underestimated him — and when they tried to move against him, it was far too late.

Of course, I’m not saying that Trump is some kind of Hitler.  The circumstances have some very important differences, in particular the lack of a large, organized left, particularly in the shape of a Communist Party vying for power, nor the levels of economic destitution that afflicted Weimar at the time. What I am saying is that popular demagogues are easy to make fun of — easy, that is, until they gain power.

And Twitter blogger Billmon makes some quite salient points with some recent postings on “The Donald”…

“One of Trump’s secret weapons is his ability to bring every argument down to kindergarten level — the same emotional level as his supporters.

“For Trump, it’s always about him, his opponents are always motivated by personal jealousy or resentment of his greatness.

“The Trump crowd just eats this shit up: The swaggering, blustering, egotistical guy who personalizes every issue. A vicarious thrill ride, as his followers live through him, as he says & does things they could never actually say & do themselves. He rescues them from their impotence.”

“Trump is shallow, vain, petty, emotionally stunted? “So what!” his audience roars. “So are we!

“The emotional bond between Trump and his mob is something the elites will never get — their minions are his loyalists.”

All of that said, there is a reason that Trump resonates with so many. Like with the original rise of the Tea Party (before its rapid co-option by the interests of corporate capital), it spreads onto the scene because it taps into a deep and legitimate grievance. In this case, a fundamental understanding by the great majority of the electorate that the system is thoroughly rigged and fatally flawed, serving as simply a purchased commodity of the rich to do their bidding.

And as Bill Astore referenced, the use of the Hitler analogy, regardless of any criticisms of having invoked Godwin’s Law, has some applicability to this situation. For the Nazis *did* generate sympathy and support in spite of their often politically vulgar approach, and the use of what were often dismissed as clownish characteristics. This was because they were the only ones to tap directly into the nature of the suffering that the German people were experiencing at the time, and some of truths regarding the injustice of it. Trump is doing the same in regards to people’s disgust with the American political system, and it is why the elite interests who currently own and control governance in the U.S., are determined to derail him, for making explicit what they have fed off of implicitly for so long.

Mike Whitney highlights in Counterpunch on how Trump’s triumph is in how this bloating billionaire exposes our fake political system.

How often does a fatcat billionaire-insider appear on TV and announce that the whole system is a big-fat scam run by crooks and patsies?

Never, that’s when. But that’s what Trump did last night. And that’s why the clatter of ruthless miscreants who run the system behind the smokescreen of fake politicians are sharpening their knives right now before Manhattan’s rogue elephant does even more damage to their precious system.

Just think about what the man said. He not only explained that the whole system is rigged (Baier: “And when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”…TRUMP: “You’d better believe it.”), he also said that the politicians will do whatever they’re told to do.  (TRUMP: Well, …with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”)

Doesn’t that confirm your darkest suspicions about the way the system really works, that money talks and that elections are just a way to get the sheeple to rubber-stamp a corrupt, fraudulent system?

Of course, it does.

So, let’s summarize: Moneybags capitalist loudmouth explains to 80 million dumbfounded Americans watching prime time TV, that the system is a total fraud, that the big money runs everything, and that even he thinks the system is broken.

Pointing out the obvious in a way that may meaningful enlighten people, and to do so with impunity, is not something the elites of power can nor will afford. Trump is dangerous; to some because he tells the truth they don’t want told, while others will be threatened by his ability to hijack these truths, not to enlighten and liberate people, but to attain dominance over them. The only person Donald Trump is interested in liberating is himself, from all constraints over his capacity to wield power.

Trump both blows the curtain off the fraud, while simultaneously and flagrantly exploiting that very same fraud. Brilliant really. Or perhaps simply sociopathic in its execution.

Regardless, we may laugh at antics, but in the end the joke is on us.

POST NOTE: We should be on the look out for elite power, the guardians of the neoliberal order, to more and more attempt to conflate right wing populist nationalism with left wing social democratic initiatives, in order to discredit both for the threats they pose to established power. We’re seeing it in examples like This and This.

Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? An Interview with Sheldon Wolin

August 7th, 2015 by Andy in Corporations, 'Democracy' & USA Inc., Video

This is an extensive and wide ranging interview between journalist Chris Hedges and the insightfully astute political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. Though long, it is well worth the time for anyone and everyone interested in better understanding historical basis for our current political order, and the forces we are up against in regards to what it takes to change and advance it.

Wolin, a noted biographer of Tocqueville, has particularly good insights on the nature of democracy. Here he goes into some detail on how it requires continuous opposition and vigilance by the citizenry to keep it alive and functioning, and that the greatest threat to it is centralized power. Such centralization leads to uniformity, which is a key to exercising such power in a way that can change (and control) an entire society. Individual differences, tolerated, even encouraged within a liberal society, must be suppressed within these forms of control.

And today, because of the scientific and technological developments of the modern mass technological era - such concentration of power “has assumed a quality of menace that it simply didn’t have before.” It used to be just the ability of consolidated power to wield itself through raw oppression and coercion, but today it has “the ability to shape and direct society in much more of a lockstep manner than was ever conceived by Tocqueville.” Or I might add, Orwell or Ellul, whose works on mass persuasion are essential texts, and align themselves thoroughly with the ideas of Wolin.

Watch The Full Interview

Letter To Pope Francis

July 19th, 2015 by Andy in General Topics

The letter below was crafted by Catholic Workers and members of our group, Friends of Franz. Franz Jagerstatter was an Austrian Catholic family man who knew his fate when he refused to cooperate with the Nazis in 1943. He was beatified by the Church in 2007.

On September 12, 2015, the following letter will be published in the National Catholic Reporter, the largest lay Catholic publication in the United States. If you are a Catholic or of another Christian denomination and wish to sign on, please read the letter and respond. You need not assist financially, but if you can it would be helpful, for the cost is $2800. - Jack Gilroy

Dear Pope Francis,
We are Catholics and fellow Christians living in the United States where you will be visiting this September. We respectfully ask that you listen to our request and publicly respond to it with resoluteness equal to the gravity of the matter here raised.
In your recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, you proclaim that “War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons.” Visiting the United States, the most prolific polluter and, not coincidentally, the greatest war maker on the globe, is a challenge and an opportunity that we pray you do not fail to take advantage of.
You have rightly denounced the terrorism of ISIS and similar organizations, and you have appropriately named the murder of more than one million Armenians by the Turkish state in 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” There were no Catholic chaplains in the Turkish military in 1915 and the banners of ISIS are not displayed today in Catholic churches. The U.S. military, on the other hand, is predominantly Christian with one-third of the force Catholic, so that it might be hoped that your denunciation of terrorism and genocide might have a more positive effect here and now. We beg you to speak out just as clearly and publicly denounce the terrorism and genocide that your host country, the United States, is even now inflicting on the Muslim and Christian Arab people of the Middle East and the people of Afghanistan . Decades of aggression including sanctions, bombings, invasions, arming of insurgents, have left millions dead, many more millions displaced and homeless. Assassinations by remotely controlled drones destabilize civil societies and kill thousands of innocents. Thousands have been imprisoned and tortured. Many lands are being made desolate and poisoned, and ancient communities are being devastated.
In September you will be visiting a nation that is committing a trillion dollars to the development and production of a whole new generation of nuclear weapons, threatening unprecedented destruction of creation, while many of its own people lack the means needed to live lives of simple dignity. The global inequality that you decry, wherein the poorest suffer the brunt of diminishing resources and the ravages of chaos in the climate, is not judged by those who control the government and the economy in the United States as a problem to be solved, but an advantage to be defended at all costs. With more than 800 U.S. military bases already around the globe, the lands of indigenous people are still being plundered against their protests to construct even more bases.
We do appreciate the pleas for peace and justice that you and your predecessors have made over these horrible years. These good words are only rarely taught by the Catholic bishops, pastors and educational institutions in the United States . They have been systematically undermined by U.S. Catholic institutions to the point where the vast majority of the Catholic faithful, Catholic soldiers especially, are completely unaware that they have ever been spoken.
At the end of World War II, Albert Camus lamented that, even as an unbeliever, he was one of millions who waited for but never heard any word from Rome against the carnage he witnessed. The condemnation from Rome was voiced, he later discovered, but voiced in a style “not at all clear”.
We hope that you will not repeat the error of your predecessors. “What the world expects of Christians,” Camus insisted, “is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest person.”
Pope Francis, we understand that you come to the United States as a diplomat and as a pastor, but in these perilous times we need you here as a prophet most of all. Please do not speak to President Obama, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Catholic bishops, and the American people, without making a clear denunciation of the complicity of our nation’s government, its people, its institutions and its churches in crimes against humanity and God’s creation.


If you would like your name added as a sign-on to the letter to Pope Francis, simply reply to with your full name. Organizations as well as individual names are welcomed.
Suggested donation is $20. If you simply want your name used without a donation, that is acceptable, as well.
Send checks to:
Friends of Franz, c/o Jim Clune, Treasurer, 89 Pine St, Binghamton, NY 13901

Challenging The Increasing Levels of Inequality and the (Derisively Distracting) Accusation of ‘Hating Rich People’

July 14th, 2015 by Andy in Video, Banks, Banksters & The Financial Crisis

As July 14th came rolling around and Bastille Day was once again the subject of commemoration (a date which is also, appropriately enough, Woody Guthrie’s birthday), it got me thinking again about the piece published in Politico back in 2014 by Nick Hanauer, the extremely wealthy entrepreneur, on how The Pitchforks are Coming For Us Plutocrats. That piece went viral and became a hot topic of conversation, especially among the social media sphere.

However, there seemed to be a lot of accusations leveled at those who joined in the critique on the growing and dramatic imbalance of wealth in this world, as if such critiques were somehow examples of people “hating” on the rich, or being driven by some kind of “class envy.”

This argument is a red herring, one designed to distract from the legitimate and required discussions regarding the underlying causality of the current situation, and the solutions that may be required to help solve it. It is an argument that serves only to personalize the issues at hand, which is the very chum that the corporate entertainment complex feeds off of.

The nature of the problem should no longer be in question. It has been cogently described by everyone from Thomas Piketty to Tom Petty, who pointed out the problem isn’t about people wanting to make money. It’s about people who want to make all the money.

After all, one can obviously make money doing very constructive, contributive things to society, which is a great (and to a certain degree necessary) thing. What should be rejected are those who enrich themselves by gaming the system, manipulating processes that are destructive to people’s lives and well-being, as opposed to supporting and benefiting those lives.

There can be no respect for those who acquire vast wealth through playing games by, say, getting clever with the books in the selling of financial derivatives through a form of control fraud or mortgage backed securities and other forms of market rigging and price fixing, of which the Libor scandal is the most grotesque example.

The corrosion is also manifested in the corporate health insurance scams, where profit is amassed not by providing care to people, but by denying it. It is embodied in the work of the vulture hedge fund capitalists who buy businesses and tear them up, selling off the parts for profit, but leaving the workers and the communities they live in decimated. Operations like these are the poster boy for all of the clichés regarding capitalism at its very worst.

Yet when the fact is pointed out that the typical household income is now worth a third less than even just a decade ago, and that this state of affairs should be considered fundamentally wrong, out come all kinds of defensive and accusatory responses. The fact that critical analysis of the systemic flaws and injustices in our current system can be so readily dismissed as the rantings of class warring “Marxist-loving leftists” who “hate the rich” is testament to the kind of BS that our well-heeled, Frank Luntz-infused propaganda system has managed to frame such criticism as.

Take a term like “job creators.” It’s an attractive enough, yet simultaneously distractive phrase. It is designed to spin perceptions regarding many of the near sociopathic figures responsible for this current state of affairs, from being that of oligarchs to ones of altruists. For these “job creators” to actually realize the kind of world they propagate, they would actually need an environment conducive to the creation of the needed consumer demand necessary to support those jobs. For it is the willingness and ability of the people to purchase those goods and services who are the real “job creators.” For it is a fact that business owners don’t hire in order to support the workers. They hire them only when there is the necessary demand that needs to be filled, and when they need the support and infrastructure of an additional and enabled workforce to be able to fulfill that demand.

Our corporate-backed media provides a more than an ample share of defenders of the current systemic status quo. This even includes platforms like NPR, with its Marketplace program, and their report on the supposed commonality of people’s ability for making it to the 1 percent. This feature has so many things to take issue with one wouldn’t even know where to start. This story reiterates why this may be my least favorite program on public radio, as here it serves to provide an effective advertisement for an ideological framework which is seriously and fundamentally flawed. For one, using the slogan of “the 1%” as a specific metric for measuring the degree of wealth inequality itself misses the mark. The most shockingly dramatic disparity of wealth is found among the .001%, the ramifications of which was disturbingly laid out in a recent Oxfam report on global wealth inequality. Additionally, it is stories such as the Marketplace feature (in this case about someone writing a song and acquiring a lot of money for it, which is an outlier of an experience for the vast majority of musicians and songwriters in this country), which have little to nothing at all to do with the point of a society becoming an oligarchic plutocracy. Or much more dangerously, it serves to advance the conflation of ideas that to oppose oligarchy means to oppose someone’s ability to financially succeed.

A listener’s comment on the Marketplace website left a related, and probably more effectively thorough response in regards to these issues, and in pointing out a couple of the glaring deficiencies of the story (and I would say that entire program)…

“I’m surprised that Marketplace reported on this research so uncritically, as if it somehow blunted the very real issue of income inequality raised by the Occupy movement. The protesters were not shouting themselves hoarse about a songwriter or an app designer lucky enough to make a few hundred thousand one year. They were talking about the investment bankers and corporate tycoons whose wealth gives them access to political power the vast majority of Americans will never have–the people whose unbridled greed and hubris brought the economy to the brink of collapse with almost complete impunity. This is in fact NOT a group that millions of Americans move in and out of each year. If the Occupiers got something wrong it was their math–rather than “the 1%,” it’s probably more like the .01% or maybe even the .0001%. But then again, “We are the 99.999%” doesn’t quote have the same ring….”

“Two things about this report: First, it seems that the more relevant “1%” is not income but wealth. I doubt that that population fluctuates nearly as much as income. Second, if Rank and Hirschl were actually interested in a fair discussion of government policy, they would also discuss what portion of the population spends time in the bottom 10% or 20% of the income scale. This report is silent in that regard, even though Rank and Hirschl probably have access to that data….”

This video on how literally ‪The 1% Are Literally Rich Beyond Measure‬ details some of the key points of the reporting on the topic…

We cannot provide even a brief addressing of this topic without noting what is possibly one of the most disgraceful aspects of mass wealth inequality, that of how Inequality Affects Health. As friend and colleague Dr. Karen Korn once pointed out, “Inequality damages us all. Human health. Environmental health. Political health. It’s unhealthy for any society to have great disparity of income, and even more unhealthy to have a great disparity of wealth. This is clearly demonstrated in history. Why do we even want to question this ‘fact’ unless if it is to attempt to create some sort of collective cognitive dissonance?”

Good question. And speaking of inequality and health, there’s the always relevant Yves Smith, who posted a piece featuring David Llewellyn-Smith on how ebola is an economic black swan, highlighting some of the dramatic consequences which transpire when we default our response to collective problems to “individual incentives” and traditional “market forces.” This specific case is regarding the economic causalities behind the ebola outbreak, but it could very well be about any number such health crisis caused by such related neoliberal economic policies. For in the end, we all pay when this kind of inequality becomes systemic throughout the very processes that our society functions upon, and the kinds of problems it responds to.

Unfortunately, many of the evangelists of neoliberal ideology seem no closer to understanding that “the market” may not be the most efficient and effective arbiter for solving many of the social problems and civic challenges we face. These zombie policies of “trickle down” economics seem to continue to be paraded through the corridors power and the media outlets that serve it, no matter how much damage they do and suffering they demonstrably inflict.

What might be most disingenuous about these efforts is the rather effective propaganda campaign waged in its defense, as if any alternatives are somehow a kind of un-American, leftist commie undermining of our free society, no matter how many times they have been effectively implemented throughout the nation’s history (worker’s rights, social security, public education including state-supported higher education, the public highway system, the list goes on).

Perhaps most ironically, many of these self-perceived patriots would never dare to question the efforts or intentions of America’s so-called “Greatest Generation,” who were fighting explicitly for many of these very things now dismissed as “socialist welfare statism” (see Harvey Kaye’s work on FDR and The Fight for the Four Freedoms). Not only that, but the Second World War itself was won not by letting the “market” solve it, but through the implementation of a form of command economy. It was one that worked by tapping into entrepreneurial business, but on the terms and objectives set by the government. (One would think there resides some historical lessons here regarding approaches to tackling the problems of climate change).

It took the implementation of such a system to win that war, just as it is going to take an increased level of shared effort to address the rapidly growing economic problems being inflicted upon the dwindling middle classes (to say nothing of the already suffering poor), ones caused by the ever-expanding wealth gap. This is a gap which has been politically engineered over the previous decades, particularly since the rise of Reagan and Thatcher. The political re-engineering of such a system, one which increasingly works only for a small minority, is way overdue. And it is becoming not simply about providing needed relief to those in need, but for many, including one could argue for the nation itself, is now a matter of survival.

And one doesn’t have to ‘hate rich people’ to understand that.

Forget a Sanders or Clinton Candidacy - It’s Jim Webb For The Democrats

July 12th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

This is not a bad analysis of the prognosis for who will end up being the Democratic nominee for the presidency next year. There are of course so many factors involved that come into play that who really knows. However, what can be stated is that whatever change is made in that office will have little to do with the changes needed and necessary. Whether those needed structural changes begin to truly manifest remains to be seen. What we do know is that whoever ends up as the poster boy or girl figurehead for executive authority in this country will be a reflection of those changes, not an agent of them.

It’s looking to me like Jim Webb is going to be the democrat’s nominee, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve been living on another planet if this country is going to elect an avowed socialist. It’s not only the corporate sponsored fear pandering that will be employed, though have no doubt, they have the power to make almost anything convincing against any sanity and reason (just look at the Republican slate for a ready example). Hillary is toast without progressive support, and I just can’t see that support. And no self respecting Republican, in spite of her record, could bring themselves to vote for her.

Now look at Webb. He’s an ex-Republican with all the quirky, 20th century idealism that I’m pretty sure any pundit will recognize as transcending party lines, and the oligarchs know it. He is the only candidate with tattoos, which will deliver the throngs of intellectually impaired libertarians into his camp, as they find someone they can identify with. Progressives will be marginalized into an insignificant bloc, masturbating in the shadows to “the Bern.” Webb reportedly once kicked Ollie North’s ass in a Marine Corps boxing match. This will ignite liberals and conservatives alike; liberals because North was a prototypical Nixon-style example of chauvinistic patriotism, and conservatives because he smeared Reagan’s regime. Webb’s also got some deep military credentials, and if I recall correctly he left the Senate because he was fed up. People will like that. He also holds southern values in high regard. He’ll be seen as the perfect guy for this country.

By the way, in regard to Trump’s surging poll numbers, there is a significant minority among us who subscribe to the notion that presidential leadership requires corporate skills, and they like his candor in all the racist pandering. I’m seeing a Rubio/Webb contest, and I’m pretty sure in that context Webb will kick ass. We will get what we deserve I guess. Just be grateful I don’t know what I’m talking about.

- Denny Zappin

Perhaps Denny has a better grasp on what he is talking about here than he gives himself credit for. At least in regards to the cultural context within which such elections are constructed and directed towards.

We have yet to see the political pandering machines go into overdrive regarding the candidates, particularly against Sanders (though its coming). As USTV Media co-producer Ed Lacy has pointed out, Hillary Clinton will likely attempt to co-opt the Bernie Sanders constituency into their campaign if he isn’t nominated (Clinton has already started by launching her campaign from the memorial to the most progressive American president in the last 150 years, Franklin Roosevelt). If they try, “I think they have a big surprise in store.” HRC is a DLC fraud, and Lacy and many others are increasingly vocal about how they “would never trust her or vote for her no matter what she says now. If she or Jim Webb or any of the rest of that New Labour/New Democrat/Goldman Sachs crowd think that they can just pivot Bernie Sanders constituency if he isn’t nominated, I think they have a big surprise in store.”

Pope Francis Challenging The Theology of ‘Unbridled Capitalism’

July 11th, 2015 by Andy in Religion and The State

Pope Francis is not letting up. This guy is doing the Lord’s work, that seems for sure. This recent report of his visit to Bolivia, and his critique of unbridled capitalism being the “dung of the devil” is a direct challenge to our era’s competing theology of market fundamentalism. (though a spanish-speaking connection of mine has informed that was a mistranslation, that it was in reference to a “drug of the devil,” something I can’t confirm).

The notion of “unbridled” is the key here. Too many marketeers can’t take the disconcerting truth that their preferred system has metastasized out of control, and is a cancerous plague on human dignity, and on life itself. I’m all for market exchanges and the tools of capital within how we operate economically within society, but its truly diseased, fatally so, when capital becomes an “ism,” the dominant religion of society, and becomes not a tool in the system, but the system itself. It will, when left to its own devices and logic, turn into a revolutionary force, a cancerous process that eventually devours and destroys everything. That’s not an extreme position to take. That’s a rationally lucid analysis of what is happening right before our eyes; one not hard to see if we have the intellectual honesty to overcome the ideological blinders and incessant market propaganda that our society is saturated in.

“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” the pope said, decrying a system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature”.

“This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, labourers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable,” he said in an hour-long speech that was interrupted by applause and cheering dozens of times.


The pontiff appeared to take a swipe at international monetary organisations such as the IMF and the development aid policies by some developed countries.

“No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice,” he said.

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor,” he said.

And not to get lost within this, was the striking declaration from the pontiff…

In one of the longest, most passionate and sweeping speeches of his pontificate, the Argentine-born pope used his visit to Bolivia to ask forgiveness for the sins committed by the Roman Catholic church in its treatment of native Americans during what he called the “so-called conquest of America”.

Read The Full Article

Thoughts of an American on the Celebration of ‘Independence’

July 4th, 2015 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

It’s the Fourth of July in America. And here we are with shark attacks and burning churches, presidential candidate’s poll numbers rise on the strength of immigrant stigmatization… I feel as if I am just a minor character in a dystopian novel; insignificant but driven by quixotic delusion.

It was in such national celebration that I took my grandson to watch fireworks from his boat club’s downtown docks last night. There were a lot of families milling around, tables of food and a couple grills going. I approached a lady working one of the grills and asked if the food was free or if we had to pay. She informed me it was a pot luck and people were supposed to bring their own meat. Not easily offended, I overlooked the obvious surplus and quietly walked away.

The note the expressions of patriotism as they continue to proliferate around me. I still have a couple of friends posting confederate flag reverence, and one who even went so far as to conflate gay marriage with government intrusion. I watched the fireworks last night wishing I could just enjoy the lit up sky with everyone else. It’s the sound of not so far away guns. It confuses me that this stirs a patriotic pride.

My patriotism began to shape almost 50 years ago. I was at the Nha Trang airport trying to catch a flight to Cam Ranh. I was sitting quietly on a bench, smoking cigarettes, when a grunt drags this Viet Cong prisoner to the floor in front of me and sits down. The shackled VC was wearing those cut off white pants they wore and nothing else. He had a super hero’s body but was covered in dirt, slime and he stunk. He sat there defiant and he caught my stare. Our eyes locked. Another GI came up and spit on his face, uttered some vindictive shit and walked away. The prisoner’s stare never broke. I don’t think I had ever been the object of so much hatred in my young life. It was his unyielding, proud defiance that got me. This guerrilla warrior, probably off of some small, struggling farm, in this moment of irrepressible, glaring defiance, may have been the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. I think it was one of my most profound moments in that war, questioning what the fuck we were doing there, and experiencing an admiration for an “enemy” defending his country. It started me thinking in a way that has cursed me all these years. Interesting how this memory always resurfaces as we celebrate our “independence.”

I’m sharing this story in the hope that maybe a few of us might take a moment and stare with me, back into that guy’s eyes. I mean, sharks are attacking, churches are burning, an entire field of misanthropic theocrats are dominating one of our thoroughly owned, lock stock and barrel political parties. Enjoy the skies but listen to that sound, it too is a sound of terror.

All said and done, I do love my country. I am awed by how visually beautiful she is, even in our cities. However, once I get past what seems to me to be a superficial sheen in our new developments, cool as the architecture may be, I just don’t feel any “spiritual” connection. I much prefer experiencing the power in the ghost of our seemingly bombed out industrial ruins, with the neighborhoods that have within a generation gone from being sources of life to being boarded up windows and high weeds.

I love the imposition of our historical reality. I am also drawn to and often overwhelmed by our natural landscapes and the magic they evoke. As a people, it is expressed by the clashing of cultures. Well, maybe “marriage” of cultures would be a better term (much to the chagrin of certain political forces), that have made it possible for the birth of such amazing musical genres, as just one example of our national potential.

Make no mistake, there is plenty I see to be critical of, but I consider that on an historical world scale, we are just making our way through a difficult adolescence. It is through this perspective that anyone who has endured the parenting of a teen will understand my long term optimism. It is with that thought in mind that I wish all my countrymen a contemplative and calming celebration in consideration of our potential, and a good Fourth.

- Posted by Denny Zappin

Social Democracy Is 100% American

July 4th, 2015 by Andy in Politics In America

My friend, the author and scholar Harvey J. Kaye, delivers this missive on BillMoyers.comfor the 4th of July, reminding us that social democratic principles are, contrary to right wing rhetoric, not “leftist extremism,” but at the very heart of the creation and evolution of America’s political purpose.

Social democracy is 100 percent American. We may be latecomers to recognizing a universal right to health care (indeed, we are not quite there yet). But we were first in creating a universal right to public education, in endowing ourselves with ownership of national parks, and, for that matter, in conferring voting rights on males without property and abolishing religious tests for holding national office.

But there’s even more to the story. It was the American Revolution’s patriot and pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, a hero today to folks left and right, including tea partiers, who launched the social-democratic tradition in the 1790s. In his pamphlets, Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice, Paine outlined plans for combating poverty that would become what we today call Social Security.

As Paine put it in the latter work, since God has provided the earth and the land upon it as a collective endowment for humanity, those who have come to possess the land as private property owe the dispossessed an annual rent for it. Specifically, Paine delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property. The funds collected were to provide both grants for young people to get started in life and pensions for the elderly.


The social-democratic tradition was nurtured by Americans both immigrant and native-born, by the so-called “sewer socialist” German Americans who helped to build the Midwest and, inspired by the likes of Eugene Debs and Victor Berger, radically improved urban life by winning battles for municipal ownership of public utilities. By the Jewish and Italian workers who toiled and suffered in the sweatshops of New York and Chicago but then, led by David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman, created great labor unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. By the farmers and laborers who rallied to the grand encampments on the prairies organized by populists and socialists across the southwest to hear how, working together in alliances, they could break the grip of Wall Street and create a Cooperative Commonwealth. By African-Americans who came north in the Great Migration to build new lives for themselves and, led by figures such as the socialist, labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, energized the civil rights movement in the 1930s.

And beyond simply the struggle for civil and labor rights, the very premise of the efforts of the so-called “Greatest Generation” reiterated

Moreover, those we celebrate as the Greatest Generation, the men and women who confronted the Great Depression and went on to defeat fascism, fought for the decidedly social-democratic Four Freedoms, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear, and the chance of realizing them at war’s end.

Polls conducted in 1943 showed that 94 percent of Americans endorsed old-age pensions; 84 percent, job insurance; 83 percent, universal national health insurance; and 79 percent, aid for students, leading FDR in his 1944 State of the Union message to propose a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee those very things to all Americans. All of which would be blocked by a conservative coalition of pro-corporate Republicans and white supremacist southern Democrats. And yet, with the aid of the otherwise conservative American Legion, FDR did secure one of the greatest social-democratic programs in American history: the G.I. Bill that enabled 12,000,000 returning veterans to progressively transform themselves and the nation for the better.

I do take issue with Harvey on this rather overly generous inquiry regarding the perspectives and intentions of Hillary Clinton…

Though she never did actually pronounce the words of FDR’s Four Freedoms, her speech revealed some awareness of a reviving - dare we say it? - social-democratic spirit? Whether simply tactical or genuine on her part is an important question that remains to be answered.

I think that question has been clearly and thoroughly answered by a lifetime of policy decision making by this woman, whose politics are aggressively neoliberal in content and militaristic in application. Her latest political feint’s in this direction are simply designed to fend off the surging wave of support for Bernie Sanders, and to corral the insurrectionary spirit surging up among the American electorate back into the dead end of the Democratic Party.

So on this 4th of July, here’s to reinvigorating that revolutionary spirit within the trajectory of the American political scene. The very creation of UnCommon Sense TV Media was predicated upon awareness of that need, one seemingly required more than ever today by the circumstances of our time.

For the political revolution of 1776 was in many ways a fundamentally radical act (though the English Civil War of a century earlier helped set the precedent). If the American Revolution was about anything, it was about challenging the notion of government being a tool to confer privilege on insiders, on power being wielded by the few in order to benefit the few at the expense of the many; an age old dilemma we continue to confront generation after generation. Though highly imperfect in what it defined as the “many,” and the “people,” it was a major step in a progressively expansive direction, a notable act towards increased justice on that “long arc of history” that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of. Long live the Revolution.

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