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Sunday, December 16, 2012

What I Was and Who I Am Now

I was born in 1946, right after the end of WWII.  I am from Baltimore, at that time a major port and manufacturing center.  I grew up in the city and in the environs, the Baltimore countryside.  There was no Beltway, no skyscrapers, no Inner Harbor attracting tourists.  The major tourist attraction was Fort McHenry, featured in the War of 1812, and made famous by Francis Scott Key, a Marylander, when he penned the Star Spangled Banner (our national anthem based on an English pub melody).  I was as innocent and sheltered a child as we can even imagine.

In my early life, I played “war” and “hide and seek”, hopscotch, baseball and dressed in costumes my mother made us for Halloween.  Christmas was a magical, mysterious time such that Christmas Eve was overwhelmingly exciting.  My dad worked in the commercial real estate business, my mom was a homemaker.  I had girlfriends, beginning at the age of three.  I was terrified of school, teachers and being away from my safe haven of home.  I learned to ride my bike without even having training wheels, and a dad with a huge amount of patience.  I watched Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, and Winky Dink.  I loved my dad’s music, like Louie Armstrong and Bennie Goodman, Nat “King” Cole, and Patti Page.  I had lots of friends, kids in the neighborhood, and a younger brother.  I had a sand box and swing set, both of which my clever, industrious father, build from scratch.  It was a good time for me, and I would eventually learn to love school, become a student athlete, and learn to dance, sing in the choir at church and school, and ride horses.  I had a very full life.

A couple of years ago I decided to write my story, my memoirs, so that anyone in my family, and beyond, could really get to understand my world, both as a child and as an adult.  Progress on these isn’t going very well, mostly because I have allowed lots of things to get in the way, but, hopefully, they will be finished some day before my expiration date arrives.  The reason why I even mention this is that ever since I made the decision, I have been forced to take a hard look at how I have changed, especially the ways in which I think about life, the world, the universe, and even who, how and what I choose to have as a belief system.  The maturation of my cosmology, metaphysics and corresponding epistemology has been a long and winding road, and really not a topic for this article.  Each of us makes that sacred trip in the spiritual realm, and from that journey we develop a view which enables us to determine how we act (our ethics), how we interact with our environment, from the local to the universal, and how we come to terms with the finiteness of our lives.  At some point in our journey we know that our own death will take us from this world, and our chances to experience this life and contribute to it will end.

Ever the student of history, I am amazed at what I see in my fellow man.  I am chagrined and appalled, awed and excited, by what I see.  I am surrounded by news of the best (a little hard to find sometimes) and the worst (continually trumpeted by the media).  I have become a true cynic, expecting little good, but an unhealthy dose of the other, and continuum running the gamut from the simply disappointing to the freakishly scary and evil.  Mostly, when I hear of the latter, I simply can’t understand what it is that makes people do what they do, mothers drowning their own children, crazy shooters in malls killing innocent bystanders and then themselves, children teasing other children to the point of driving them to suicide, people buying massive numbers of assault weapons which have no logical purpose except to kill other people.  And this enumeration only barely scratches the surface.

I watch as politicians seem to forget why they even hold office, that is, to serve the needs of the rest of us for peace, justice, prosperity, opportunity, etc.  They have agendas which reek of ego and false dignity, but which result in a hodgepodge of essentially meaningless things, or, as a poet once said, much sound and fury, signifying nothing.  I love it when public figures claim to be “Christian” without a trace of his teaching apparent in their actions, only moralizing (which he forbade, counseling us to leave that to His Father), and criticizing others conduct while they make unsavory deals in the back rooms of power.

Recently, to make matters even worse, I have been watching Oliver Stone’s somewhat brilliant “Untold History of the United States” which turns on its head nearly everything we have had foisted upon us regarding the history of this country in the 20th century.  I am driven to watch it, because I feel that it is better to know the truth than to live in a fantasy world, but, with each hour long episode, I walk away more depressed than ever.  And, I look forward to the remaining episodes with rapt anticipation, knowing full well that the process with leave me even more non-plussed by that experience, and even more depressed.  It is a horror from which I can’t remove my eyes.  All I know is that, if you watch these hour-long journalistic historical essays, it will be hard to maintain a conviction that you live in a great nation.  Not that other nations are so much greater than ours, but simply that we can no longer extol the virtues of a wonderful democracy that many would claim to be essentially without sin.  Anyone who chooses to claim this in my presence will feel the sting of my intellectual middle finger extended in their direction with its appropriate supporting thoughts.

I know that all of this sounds harsh, but I have always been a believer that if we talk a big game, we better be able to support it through action, and that bluster is worse than meaningless, and is truly the depth of sinful behavior.  So, facing facts is vital.  And, perhaps more vital is making demands that facts be given to us.

We live in a world and a country truly out of balance, where things just don’t add up to being human.  Humanity has a lock on the irreconcilable.  Let’s be clear, we have, in the last few years brought cancer to its knees, built a telescope in space that has taken us to the very edge of creation, mapped the three billion components of the human genome, come closer than we could ever believe possible to extending a person’s life indefinitely, and after those things, still a long list of massive achievements for our potential betterment.  At the same time, we continue to kill our fellow man at prodigious rates (Wikipedia tells us that nearly 300,000,000 of us have lost our lives in war), failed to ban nuclear weapons, pumped enough carbon dioxide into our atmosphere to make future life on this planet a tenuous proposition, passed surveillance legislation guaranteeing our future paranoia about the Orwell “Big Brother” democracy in which we live, failing to assist the truly needy and desperate amongst our citizens while we engender multibillionaires who make more money in one day than most of us will earn in our entire lives.

This is where my worldview kicks in.  I am truly fatalistic about mankind’s future.  I am old enough that I will not see the worst happen to make the planet’s population miserable to a degree we can’t fathom by what is yet to come.  But that doesn’t prevent me from grieving the bleakness of the future human condition.  That said, I must say that my worldview is essentially existential.  I believe in the original sin (best descriptor I have, but not a good one), meaning that the biggest reason why humanity will fail to survive is the fact that we are not only alone, but lonely.  The poet John Donne wrote that “no man is an island” and the meaning in his context was true and good, that is that we are all interrelated by proximity, birth, experience, etc.  But, in reality, we all, in our heart of hearts, truly feel completely alone.  We reach out to those around us for solace, whether friends, family, lovers, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, etc.  The solace we seek is simply acceptance of who and what we are, and sometimes, just our very existence as having some meaning in the world we inhabit.  As human creatures, we need validation in such ways, and, many times, lacking it, we become depressed, despondent, and escape into a fantasy world which gives us what we need.  Of course, in this kind of hell, in our heart of hearts, we know that our fantasy is only that, and isn’t really proof of worth, validation, or even a reason for constructive engagement in life.  This kind existential imbalance can quickly metamorphose into some form of mental illness.  Many times it progresses into some form of paranoia, and, where it goes from there is mostly reliant on our brain chemistry (explaining why there are fairly successful pharmaceutical treatments for some forms of mental illness).

In everyday human society, the major upshot of this profound existential loneliness, from which there is literally no escape, only amelioration, the results are deep, abiding, and, in my view, inescapable.  This result is the ways in which we treat our fellow humans.  Most of us are willing to push back at the loneliness by participation in life, work, recreation, education, and constructive interaction.  This is the core 90% of all of us from whom you will never hear.  It is in the “fringes” of humanity where the problems seem to appear.  These fringes are the milieu of those of us who are desperate, whether at the bottom end, perpetrating crimes of all sorts from the petty to the extreme, or those who find that they can’t be happy unless they are massively wealthy and powerful and who find solace in domination and perceived control of their world.  My belief is that, in order for humanity to survive and thrive on this planet, the outliers must be given a way out, a way to overcome their loneliness as the 90% has figured out, in constructive ways.  This is wherein the key to human redemption lies.  Our goal, as a world society, must be to provide all with the opportunity for constructive participation.  Although we are all destined to suffer from the profound loneliness dictated by the milieu of our existence, we all can find redemption in love and care, in fellowship and participation, in sharing and giving.

The next time the news blares some unfathomable travesty propounded by one of the fringe dwellers, don’t think of legislative cures, but think of human cures, that is cures that come from love and understanding.  You will note that this is the way that literally every great religious leader has taught us to be, whether the Gautama Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Mohammed, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, or any other.  They all have counseled us to practice tolerance, love, acceptance, and extreme caring.  I would love to believe that we humans can figure this out, all seven billion of us, before it is too late.  Human life is truly beautiful at its best, and we should each strive to make a small contribution to its beauty and meaning.

LOOK TO THE MIRROR

Unfortunately, in the wake of the horrendous murder of twenty children, the nation cries out in anguish: Why?  Psychiatrists and psychologists fan the media with various mental conditions that could have caused the perpetrator to commit so heinous an act.  Theologians excuse their non-existent but professed omnipotent God on the grounds that it is simply evidence that we have been granted a free will, and we use these idiocies to excuse us from facing the real and truthful answer of:  Why?  Wikipedia tells us that there have been fifty-four such incidents in our country since 1950, and with each one we hear the same old clamor for gun control.  Doesn’t the fact that there are now more than 300,000,000 guns of all descriptions circulating in this country make control seemed a ridiculous solution? Then, of course, we hear the calls to clean up the violence found in our entertainment, the movies, television, and children’s toys and video games , but isn’t that ridiculous as well, since we are the ones that gleefully plunk down our dollars to satisfy the greed of those who gleefully profit from the production of such odious material.  

With our vaunted surveillance, we guard against the shameful possibility that our children might possibly be exposed to any suggestion of sex with no hint of violence, while we inundate them with a ubiquitous and most sadistic violence from which there is no escape.   

One call, however, that we will not hear as a possible solution, is a call to end violence as public policy. Our government, the government that we overwhelmingly support, is the purveyor, par excellence, of the most horrendous violence with its perpetual war, its admitted practice of “enhanced interrogation” and even the condoning of a president’s option to cancel habeas corpus and openly call for the assassination of American citizens.  We will also hear no calls for the abolishment of the tremendous inequality in our economic system that leads to poverty and its resultant violence.  

As a veteran of WWII, having witnessed many of the horrors of Nazi crimes, I have wondered how the German citizen of that time was able to sleep at night when those crimes had to be obvious to the casual observer.  Then it occurred to me that the individual German citizen, in order to prevent going mad themselves, had indeed become “well-adjusted” to a mad and neurotic society. They slept comfortably in their denial. The “mal-adjusted” were those that dared to venture opposition. Thus, it is, I believe, that we, by our own volition, have become just such a neurotic society, a society that can condone the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children by our military, a society that is oblivious to the inhumane sanctions our government imposes on any nation that would dare to stand in the way of its empirical goals, a society that will tolerate no deviance from the neurotic norm under the threat of being ostracized, or, in the event that the deviant should threaten the established norm, the retaliation could take the form of character assassination and even fatal assassination, as in the case of JFK, RFK and MLK Jr. 

This brings us to the question of how this came to be. For the answer, we must go back to our very beginnings and the violent subjugation of those savage Native Americans and docile African slaves, the effects of which have yet to be erased. Then, with the great western migration, the gun became the only justice to be found, and outlaws like Jessie James and Billy the Kid became virtual heroes to many for their defiance of authority, as did gangsters like John Dillinger along with Bonnie and Clyde during the great depression. Unfortunately all this reinforced the ridiculous idea of the “rugged individualist,” which we have adopted as a national trait.  It became, “Me against the world.”   And Darwin’s “Survival of the fittest” became “The law of the jungle.” This brought about a persistent alienation that, to this day, eventually destroys the human need for community and brotherhood along with the empathy and altruism that evidence now suggests we were hard-wired for at birth. 

So, why have we had 54 mass shootings in this country since 1950?  For an honest answer, I fear that we must stop the scapegoating and turn to the mirror. It is time to acknowledge that it is we, a sick and neurotic society, that have made violence a way of life by ignoring the violent crimes against humanity committed by our own government. It is we, a sick neurotic society that refuses to condemn the greed that has led to an insufferable poverty-ridden economic inequality denying its victims basic human dignity. It is we, a sick neurotic society, that has brought about an alienation in which cooperation is replaced by ruthless competition and with it a veritable denial of what it means to be human.  To make the situation even worse, this sick neurotic society then arrogantly but falsely proclaims “Exceptionalism” which allows it to reject the rules and norms of civilization.  The truth is that we are far less than exceptional when it comes to a claim of leadership in education. We rank 17th among leading nations.  We may, however, be exceptional in providing health care.  In spite of the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, we are number one in our per-capita expenditure for health care, we rank a poor 38th in its provision. 

One would think the time has come when we should face the truth of our neurosis. The time has come when we should stop shouting down those who have found the courage to speak out. The time has come when we should renounce the false patriot’s ignorant assertion “My country right or wrong.” 

Accurately read, it should conclude with, “If right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be set right.”  The time has come when we should look to the mirror and admit that we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.  Only then can we begin to answer the question:   Why?

By Hal O'Leary

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Time for Clear-Headed Thinking about the “Fiscal Cliff”


I have been reading that thinking for some time now about the vaunted “Fiscal Cliff” confronting our Congress.  It is the time when the Bush Tax changes expire and the rates return to Clinton rates, and, at the same time, certain cuts in spending, pursuant to the negotiations, which led to pushing the problem down the road, resulted in an interim agreement to a “sequestration” of certain budget cuts to kick in at the time of the tax cut expiry.  At this point, there is nothing but endless posturing on the parts of the leaders of the House and Senate, and also the White House, in an effort to control where the new negotiations will take us.

This is all a show.  It’s sad, because this is the Neoconservative game which has drawn in the progressives to a fight that is ridiculous.  The entire premise of having to reduce and/or eliminate the Federal Debt and Deficit is based upon the amazingly fallacious idea that the government must run its budget as a household would, or will ultimately default and find it difficult or impossible to borrow the necessary funds to operate by selling its bonds.  Even the credit ratings agencies have chipped into the battle, stating that if the government fails and/or refuses to take the appropriate steps, they will necessarily have to reduce America’s credit rating, which would result in it having to pay more interest on the bonds in order to sell them, and thus increase its debt profile.  This issue is after all, what has confounded the Eurozone in its striving to have member nations cut their budgets and raise revenues at a time when their credit is in the trash, thus leading into recession and, and dramatic increases in unemployment, as belts are tightened to the point where the governments there can no longer afford their social programs at all.  Five European nations, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain are leading the problem, each with major negative economic results from the austerity measures enforced by the European Central Bank (ECB).


This is where the clear headed thinking comes into play.  The Eurozone nations are not like America.  They are all operating from a common currency, the Euro, and have no control over deficit spending because of that.  They don’t have their own reserve currency.  They cannot print money, which, defacto, must be printed by the ECB.  They must, like our individual states, find a way to balance their budgets.  The fifty states in America must all balance their budgets or fail to pay their obligations.  The Federal government does not have to.  As we all know, the current deficit is in excess of $16.2 trillion, and growing.  How did it get to be so big?  There are lots of things which contributed to this, among them, the cost of the Iran and Afghan wars (which the Bush administration did not include in their budgets), the Medicare Drug Prescription (Part D) programs, and a failure, in general, to pay attention to the need to find a balance in our spending and taxation.  Now, ask yourself a few questions:

First, how come we have such a remarkably large debt, and yet our bond ratings have remained stable, our currency has remained stable in world markets, generally, and the only talk of “default” is associated with a Congressional mandate to maintain a debt “ceiling” above which we cannot spend? (Which obviously is essentially meaningless, since it has been raised every single time it needs to be to allow for more spending.)  If the US were a household, nervous creditors (our bond holders) would have long ago taken us into bankruptcy.  They not only haven’t done this, or even talked about it (after all, how can you put a country into bankruptcy anyway), and continue to purchase our bonds without even requiring a higher interest rate in order to do so.  There must be a reason for this.

This is where the story becomes interesting.  The major reason why our currency has remained so stable, and why our bond interest has stayed so low, is very simple.  Every owner of our bonds (our creditors) knows that the Federal Reserve can create money to pay them off any time it wants to.  That is the key difference.  So, let’s be clear.  We have a fiat currency over which we have complete control; that currency is the world’s chief “reserve” currency; and the US has never, in its history, defaulted on a bond payment.

The Federal Reserve controls our money.  It prints (creates) what is needed for the economy (money supply), and generally manages the value of the dollar by a combination of processes, between interest rates and money supplies, in order to effectively manage the value of the currency and assure that the economy can run.  Back in 2008, when our banking neared collapse with the failures of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, Congress voted to approve the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to bail out the banks and create the necessary assurances so that panic didn’t set in and so that the banks could remain solvent while they worked through all of the nearly worthless holdings related to the mortgage crisis.  TARP authorized the expenditure of $700 billion dollars, which was lent to the banks which were in trouble, and this now has been mostly repaid (some of it was used to reorganize Chrysler and GM), and is now essentially in our rear view mirror.  This, however, did set a dangerous precedent, that is that all banks would be essentially guaranteed by the Federal Government, at least those that are systemically important such that a failure of an institution so large (the top five are worth now more than $10 trillion combined) that the failure of any of them could cause a failure in the general economy with credit and all financial transactions.  The thing that most people don’t realize is that, since 2008, the FED has purchased several trillion of these banks bad assets, as well as run three programs of what is called Quantitative Easing.  QE, now in its third iteration, is where the FED “lend” large amounts of newly minted capital to the megabanks to place in their reserves, and with the primary purpose of causing them to open their credit business more and more, and thus generate more business activity and create a stronger, more active economy.  The banks can’t spend this “reserve” addition, but they can use the total amount of reserves as a basis for do more credit business (making loans), as they must maintain a certain safe ratio between loans and reserves.  The combination of these asset purchases by the FED and the QE programs total many trillions of dollars.  And yet, there has been little serious inflation, something which the FED watches closely and must deal with.  So long as our economic growth, measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a total of all economic activity within a standard), has remained anemic, that is around 1½ to 2 percent, there is no pressure to create inflation, and especially since general productivity has been growing significantly recently.  Something else that most of us don’t realize is that the FED has also participated in several banking rescues Europe over the past four years.

So, this is where the issue lodges in my craw.  We don’t have inflation, generally, the FED has been creating new money without apparent limits for now, and the government has continued to run deficits and increased debt without affecting the ratings or cost of borrowing.  So, why are we presently discussing the Fiscal Cliff?  It is a myth promoted by the austerian Neocons to promote their agenda.  Their agenda is simple.  Their goal is to create as many programs and as much legislation as possible to feed their election donors through giveaways, as tax breaks, and through legislative shenanigans to move money to the top in any way possible.  The manufactured panic over the national debt is a ruse, a lie, a deception, of the first magnitude.  One of the biggest lies in the balanced budget debate is that if we increase the tax rate on the wealthy, we will be suppressing business activity in the area of small business.  That is an amazing lie, since only a tiny minority of true small business owners make more than $250,000 a year.

What makes this all much worse is that the major media (which made ungodly profits from election spending by the oligarchic sponsors of the recent elections) loves that lie, and refuses to try to poke holes in it, even when it knows that it’s a lie.  There are only six corporations which control the entirety of the main stream media, and they make all of their profits by selling advertising to the other oligarchs.  They are raising no red flags, and, unless I am mistaken, are fanning the flames of panic over the Fiscal Cliff like nobody’s business.

So, the bottom line is that Congress and the White House are engaged in a fine kabuki theater of manufacturing red herrings to distract us from the truth, and these lies are going to have painful and even deadly outcomes for many thousands of our population, as social programs are raided to send money to the richest, and the average citizen is asked to carry more and more of the burden of supporting the super wealthy elites and their life styles.  This is a tragedy of truly monumental proportions, and ensures our general trend into third world economic status.  America has such an amazing heritage of caring for its people, and that is being completely destroyed in one generation.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

American History: The Era of Greed and Destruction

It is now 2012, and we are living in the first few years of a new era of American history.   Assuming that this country still exists, or even if it doesn’t in its present form, sometime in the future historians will be writing about this era as a specific era different in many respects from this country’s past history.  They will say that the nascent Era of Greed had its antecedents in the period following WWII, at a time when America was clearly becoming the greatest global power.

Looking back at the beginnings, they will say that the forces of today were beginning to take shape in Washington, New York and Chicago.  In Washington, we were finally digesting the New Deal, and coming to terms with changes engendered by the post war economy. 
The military industrial complex was getting its bearings, and had sponsored the first of many smaller “wars” in Korea.  The power in the Pentagon was afraid of being relegated to a back seat, now that WWII had been won.  They were still powerful, certainly powerful enough to have a second great general, beyond George Washington, elected President in 1952.  Later, nearing the end of his second term of office, Eisenhower actually took the time to express his version of founding father patriotism by warning us about the power of the Military-Industrial Complex (at term which he actually coined in his farewell address in early 1961, see his warning here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEbfVIuUtNE&feature=related).  Who would be in a better position to know about this than Ike?  He had lived within its grasp for an entire career, and, as President he was the Commander in Chief with probably the greatest understanding of military political power of any President in our history.
Around the same time, the University of Chicago Economics Department was starting a run of prominence in American economic circles.  Now under the domination of Milton Friedman, who joined its academic staff in 1946, and during the 1950’s led the formulation, with Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist, developed a monetarist philosophy of economics which has served as the basis for the Neoconservative movement in economics and has formed the underpinnings of our economy in many ways from Reagan through George W. Bush’s presidency and is alive and well in the present Congress.  Friedman was Barry Goldwater’s chief economic advisor, and in 1981 he was appointed as a member of Reagan’s Economic Policy Board.  He was the primary author of the “trickle-down” economic policies foisted upon us by President Reagan, and extended to the present by many key politicians, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan among them.
As an historical side note, the work of John Maynard Keynes, famed British economist whose theories form the basis for virtually all useful macroeconomic theory aside from Friedman’s meme, was attacked in 1962 with the publication of a pamphlet called “Keynes at Harvard” which attempted to directly connect Keynesian economists with socialism and ultimately with social wastage and communism.  Largely discredited, the pamphlet was circulated by many universities, as well as the John Birch Society.  It makes for some interesting reading, and has been the topic of heated debate and debunking.  You can find a modern, updated version here:  http://www.keynesatharvard.org/book/index.html.  There is a relatively recent movement in economic theory known as Modern Monetary Theory which has appeared only in the recent past.  It could be the cornerstone of a foundation for real progress, and applies specifically to countries like the U.S. which have their own currency.  I would commend you to reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartalism and going to the website:  http://neweconomicperspectives.org.  It is a variant of Keynesianism which actually preceded it in theoretical development.
New York, from the earliest times in the country’s history of commercial enterprise and entrepreneurship, has been the largest geographic bastion of banking and investment in the world.  No other city even comes close.  New York is where much of the “innovation” in financial markets has found its beginnings, and been taken to where it is today.  In the 1950’s, the city was getting its post WWII bearings.  The New York Federal Reserve Bank, from its beginnings with passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, has dominated as no other FED branch has.  Even today, its Board of Governors is like the who’s who of banking and finance in America.
Of course, this story could not be told without mentioning Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and forerunner to Ben Bernanke, its present chairman, arch Friedman follower, an Ayn Rand toady, and financial power monger.  Alan was made Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors by Gerald Ford in 1974, and in 1987, became the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, considered by many to be the most powerful position in finance and economics in the United States, following Paul Volcker in that position.  I would recommend that anyone who is interested in Greenspan to read the Wikipedia article on him and his career (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan).  It is most informative.
With the appointment of Mr. Greenspan, the stage had finally been set for a full blown neoconservative agenda; although the full brunt of its theory has only recently taken complete shape.  Interestingly, the libertarian side of the neoconservative philosophy took was formed at the end of the last century with the passage of financial deregulation passed in Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which established the ground work for the crash of 2007-08.
There has been much discussion lately in the media regarding the disparity between the wealthiest of Americans and the poor which has consistently grown over the past twenty years.  I won’t belabor the facts and figures, but suffice it to say that the separation between the very wealthiest and the those not so economically fortunate occurs within the first 1 to 2%, with the top .01% having truly incredible wealth.  This is a direct result of the political economic theories of neo-conservatism.  The country is now controlled by a plutocratic regime of government which is a nexus of the rich and powerful individuals, and the government controlled by their power and influence  (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutocracy). With the recent ruling of the Supreme Court referred to as Citizens United, this stranglehold has been nearly perfected, although it was not truly necessary to assure the continuation of this relationship, but simply to make it even less assailable.  Prior to Citizens United, corporate interests had never been viewed as having full standing under the First Amendment (freedom of speech) with individuals.
Interestingly, the major issue for America is the suppression of opposition by the oligarchies which control the American private economy (see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligarchy).  The major oligarchies in America are finance (banking, investment banking, insurance, etc.), energy (producers of petroleum products, natural gas, etc.), health care (hospitals, medical practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, etc.), media (owners of publications, television, radio, mass media, news and entertainment, etc.), agribusiness (Monsanto, Cargill, Archer, Daniels, Midland, etc.), corporate retail (Amazon, Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Kroger, etc.), information/technology (Microsoft, Google, etc.), communications (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc.), transportation (GM, Boeing, Delta, etc.), and the Military Industrial Complex (Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, McDonnell Douglas, et al).  There are others, but most are fairly minor.  The single feature of an oligarch is market control by whatever means necessary.  Their power is made far easier to control for two reasons, control of the media (a member of the club), and control of legislation and elections through lobbies and political contributions.
There are many ways in which I could highlight the power of the plutocracy.  The easiest way to look at it is by examining the Federal Budget for this year (see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_United_States_federal_budget).  One immediately is struck by the fact that the Military Industrial Complex, in testimony to its unchallenged power, controls more than one half of every dollar spend by the government in the “discretionary” budget.  This year it will consume more than $700 billion to execute its purposes.  It is even more striking is the fact that the amount spent is more than 45% of all military spending by all the world’s governments combined.  The primary informed critics of the MIC are Chalmers Johnson, and Andrew Blacevich, both of whom have written extensively on the topic and whom I heartily commend the reader who wishes to be more fully informed.
Let’s get back to the oligarchs.  The cornerstone of the oligarchy is its control over major media.  Only six corporate interests control over 90% of the media.  Media is defined as book publishing, newspapers, movies, television, radio, magazines, and internet sites.  The only one of these not under substantial control of the media is the internet, however the oligarchy has a major say in the regulations propounded by the FCC which has control of rules relating to the internet.  To check the real story of the media, I suggest you look at http://stateofthemedia.org/ a site dedicated to telling the story behind ownership of news outlets, and http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6, which clearly shows the level of control of this part of American (and, incidentally, foreign in many cases) oligarchy.  With this kind of grip on public information, it is nearly impossible for ordinary people to get real information.  Oh, the media does report on everything, but focuses on sensational and lurid topics more than digging behind the scenes to get the real truth to the public.  They virtually never tell the whole story of anything newsworthy, but rather craft their reporting to assure that little harm is done to the other oligarchs.
So, the American public, and even the global audiences, are mostly treated to unthreatening pabulum relating to the facts and truth behind our greatest threats and fears.
Frontline recently aired a show on the American security apparatus entitled Top Secret America, you can watch it online here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/topsecretamerica/ which was based upon a book of the same name written by Dana Priest and William Arkin (Dana is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter with the Washington Post).  This expose’ tells the story of the Bush doctrine developed immediately after 9/11, in conjunction with the CIA, and which has evolved into an effort led by the US government through 15 agencies, and which last year cost over $11 billion dollars, much of which was paid to contractors.  The participants include the FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, HAS, among others, mostly clustered around the nation’s capital.  Parts of the program have resulted in abridgment of our Constitutional rights, and led to legally mandated invasion of privacy and accumulation of secret data on the majority of American citizens.  There is a massive database housed in Colorado which contains virtually all obtainable information on every person living in this country.  NSA has the power to listen to every phone conversation occurring in the entire world every minute of every day.  The “stop and frisk” law is a part of this evolving world of national security.  The progress on the program to date is extremely frightening to citizens who are aware of it, and it is likely to become much more all encompassing in the future.  The Obama White House is fully dedicated to the program, and anyone to be elected in the coming elections will sign on as well, regardless of office or relative power.  We get regular information on this situation which results in further psychological repression of those who might be opposed to any part of this government program, and it works in close cooperation with the MIC oligarchs, as many of the same contractors who work on the program are veterans and current contractors for the Pentagon.  It might as well be a part of the MIC because much of what the security apparatus does it does in conjunction with or in cooperation with the Pentagon.
The American plutocracy is also extremely concerned with climate change, but not in the way one might imagine.  They are opposed to the entire movement that espouses a scientific rationale to support the fact of changing world climate being accounted for by human activities.  Of course the oligarchs most concerned with the movement are involved in making huge profits in energy production.  On October 23, Frontline aired a program called “Climate of Doubt” which describes the major attempts to discredit the movement and the huge majority of climatologically dedicated scientists around the globe.  It is available here:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/climate-of-doubt/, and is extremely informative and discouraging.  I would urge everyone to watch this program and to review the Wikipedia article on global warming which includes the views of skeptics and doubters.  It can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming .  This is simply another indication of aggressive disinformation foisted upon us by the plutocracy in an effort to control public opinion.
The issue for all of us in the 99%, the average citizen, is how to get good information on which to base our actions, whether personal, to protect ourselves, or political, to attempt to change the system back to a democratic system where every voice counts, and truthful and factual information is made available to all of us within easy reach.  The most important initiative that the public can take is to get involved in advocating for a change in the election process which would create fair elections and appropriate government to protect us from the immense harm that is being caused all of us by the predominance of the Plutocracy.  This action must start with changing the election process itself.  There have been many suggestions, but the most rational of those involve the creation of a Constitutional Amendment to change the process in several ways, and to eliminate the effects of money on the process, which is the critical factor in continuation of the plutocracy.  At present every election, federal, state and local, almost down to Dog Catcher, is controlled by the support of candidacies by moneyed interests.
So, here we are steeped in the New Era of American Plutocracy, with both major parties fully invested in what is being wrought to control the public, its actions, opinions, knowledge, etc.  It is only by a concerted action taken by all of us, essentially in unison, that will overcome what is being done.  I see the greatest problem as one of motivating those who prefer to ignore the problem to just “get along” and struggle to find a comfortable place which doesn’t require action or commitment.  It is clear that apathy and ignorance are our greatest enemies.  If we prefer to be ostriches and bury our heads in the sand, we will reap the whirlwind, something which many of us are doing.  Don’t be fooled into believing that the recent suits against the major banks are anything more than another passion play to make us believe that our interests are somehow being taken care of.  In the context of the massive ways in which we will lose in the future through the plutocracy, these are essentially meaningless.  If you have read what I have written, I recommend that you circulate it to family, friends, acquaintances, etc., so that they may become informed and involved.  Their futures depend upon it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

WHY WE FAIL (The American Eduction System)

As a high school failure and a college drop-out, I proclaim myself qualified to comment on the society and its educational system that failed me. I propose to point out the failings of a system designed not to educate, but to indoctrinate. I had to spend thirteen years instead of the requisite twelve to finally escape Warwood High School, in a most provincial suburb of a most provincial city, Wheeling, WV. Then came the WWII draft and three years of active duty in the army, half of which was spent in the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) in combat. Initially, we were with the First Army under General Hodges and then with the Third Army under the infamous General Patton. I recall having seen Patton once in Nuremburg with his riding boots, pearl-handled revolvers and lacquered helmet, He had once slapped a wounded hospitalized soldier accusing him of cowardice, and this one incident set me to questioning the surrender of one’s self to the unreasoned discipline and authority imposed not only by an army with force, but also by a society with coercion. I had been persuaded by that society, primarily through its disciplined system of education, that not only was it permissible to kill, it was necessary and even admirable. Having by attrition attained the rank of Sergeant, I learned that true respect came not from enforced discipline but by example. Because of this, it was obvious that for the military as it was constituted, I was a misfit. However, it was a learning experience and what is more, it provided me access to higher education through which I might discover why I seemed so out of step with life around me. The generous GI Bill of Rights made it possible for me to apply for admission to West Liberty State College. Dean Jessie Pugh took one look at my high school transcripts and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I said, “No, the Army says you have to take me.” The Dean’s response, “Yes, but we don’t have to keep you.” And they didn’t.

At the end of my sophomore year, I concluded that college was nothing more than an extension of the high school and the society that had failed me. They failed me with their insistence that I should become not what my intuition indicated, not what I could or should be, but that my first obligation was to meet the needs of their society. With a curriculum established by professional educators under the control of politicians, under the control of a corporate cabal, is it any wonder that three in ten high school and four in ten college freshmen fail to graduate, either through abject boredom or as an act of resistance, as it was in my case. The questions to be asked, however, is not how or why we drop-outs have failed our system, but how and why our system has failed us; has failed to meet our individual needs. To answer these questions we must first arrive at a revised understanding of the purpose of education. In reviewing popular remedies for the alarming drop-out rate, the question of why we educate must be addressed before we can consider any rational question of how. Rarely, if ever, is the question of why addressed or even mentioned. It is simply assumed that the purpose is, first and foremost, to prepare the student for success in our questionable society, which unfortunately has defined success as nothing more than the ability to “make a good living”. This is achieved by tailoring our own needs to the corporate needs of industry. Any thought of self-fulfillment runs a poor second. This whole approach defeats what should be the true purpose of an education, which should be individual self-fulfillment, or self-actualization as Abraham Maslow termed it. Indeed, the current system leans more toward indoctrination than education.

It is a system designed to meet the sometimes questionable needs of the society as opposed to one that meets the essentially personal needs of the student. It becomes a system designed to equip the society with an adequate work force and a sufficient number of sycophants to maintain social stability, rather than to equip the student with an adequate means of gratifying his potential for personal achievement and fulfillment in concert with what innate talents he may possess, which is the only source of true happiness. How we do this is to address the emotional needs of the student as opposed to his intellectual needs. This is accomplished through an increased attention to the arts and social studies, which are the first to be cut or abolished in times of financial stress, for they do not address the needs of the corporate world, or so their need for immediate return on investment might indicate.


As I said, my college experience was an extension of high school in that after I had exhausted all courses in the arts and social studies that addressed the questions that had arisen as to the meaning of my life; I could see no reason to stay. I left immediately for New York for what proved to be a less than glaring success. On my return to Wheeling, I became a political hack, like my father, and a toll-taker on a state owned bridge. I married and within a couple of months the toll was discontinued and I was without an income. With Community Theater as my only salvation, I began a decade of misery with my failure as a salesman. As a fairly accomplished actor, I was approached by the owner of a local furniture store, who suggested that anyone who acted as well as I did, should make an excellent salesman. Well, I didn’t, partially because of his practice of bait-advertising and the fact that my empathy for others got the best of me and I could not force myself to act in what I felt was not in the best interest of the customer. This led to a series of attempts at selling, Insurance, twice, for the reasons stated; then retail sales, fired for objecting to the theft by management of twenty-five cents from my pay envelope to pay for flowers for the grand opening of a new store without my permission, which I demanded to be returned; Awnings, for which one of my designs had taken third place in national competition, the only time Wagner Awning and Manufacturing Co., the largest manufacturer of canvas awnings in the country, had ever received a mention. When I asked the manager what he thought, he grumpily told me that while I had spent so much time on that one little job; their top salesman in Cleveland had sold six larger ones. Then finally long-life light bulbs. I was told by my manager that if I made the calls, I would make the sales. I couldn’t even bring myself to make the calls. The problem is that, in our overly competitive and thus neurotic society, empathy is considered a weakness. thus a hindrance. The great loss in all this is that the wonderful uniqueness of the individual and the contributions he can make, are sacrificed to the crass needs of that society. The great irony is that a society that champions “the rugged individualist”, in most subtle and devious fashion forces him to conform.

A truly just society should be one that addresses the needs of its citizens, as opposed to the needs of a society that in turn ignores their individual needs. The creation of a society that allows for each individual the maximum possibility for fulfillment and happiness, should, therefore, be the broader aim and purpose of education. Probably the most significant danger of the present system is that it seems to have forsaken Socrates. For Socrates, the mere passing on and acceptance of traditional thought and practice, which is what most of the current curricula consists of, is not education. Not only does such a practice tend to suppress the innate curiosity the first grader brings to class, but it discourages the critical thinking that Socrates insisted must lie at the very foundation of education. Unfortunately with the current system, critical thinking on the part of the student, all too often, represents an actual threat to the teacher’s conditioned need to simply impart knowledge and is met by the teacher with dismissal if not hostility. Critical thinking is actually suppressed in the need to meet the requirements of the accursed “standardized testing,” which has become the only criterion in assessing the merit of teachers, students and indeed the system itself. This practice, of course, carries with it the temptation for the teacher to “teach to the test” and for both teacher and student to adopt the most direct and sometimes questionable measures to achieve the academic goals, measures that they will carry with them into the big world of corrupt competition.


My personal problem was that, there was simply little call or reward for the unique and specific talents I had to offer. I speak generally of the arts. While most all the focus in the present system Is on the intellectual needs of the student and, precious little attention is given to the equally important emotional needs, the student loses an opportunity to, by learning to control and use his emotions, discover and then develop his unique human potential. Unless the student can learn to deal with his emotions rather than live in fear of them, he is unlikely to ever experience the true happiness of fulfillment, an emotion that all too many never experience. He is likely doomed to a life that is mediocre at best, and one that cannot truly be called his own.

After all the failure, however, there came finally success. My life did indeed begin at forty. In 1965, after a decade of volunteering my artistic services to Oglebay Institute, a rather unique arts organization in Wheeling, the director of Performing Arts finally persuaded the Executive Director to hire me. In my interview, he asked if I knew anything about Creative Dramatics. I told him, of course, I did. Then agreeing to develop such a program for the local elementary schools, I left his office to go immediately to the public library to find out what Creative Dramatics was. For the next six years I alone conducted the program with great success.

It wasn’t until I was offered a full-time teaching position in the communications department at Bethany College, which I readily accepted over the objections of my Director, that I dropped the Creative Dramatics program but remained with the Institute concentrating on the development of a theatre program which they sadly lacked. So, here I was, a college drop-out doing two full-time, degree demanding jobs and enjoying it like I had never enjoyed life before. The teaching job lasted until I came up for tenure and a new President and Dean, both PHDs and ministers, did not appreciate my lacking a degree and being an infidel in a Disciples of Christ College. Although two-thirds of the faculty voted for my retention in an adjunct capacity, it was not binding and I was let go. It was probably for the best for I turned my full attention to the Towngate Theatre which I founded, and I remained its Artistic Director until I finally retired at age eighty-four. In my retirement, I have turned to writing and to date my poetry and essays have been published by more than eighty journals, magazines and anthologies. I might also mention that I have been inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame for my contributions to the arts, and irony of ironies, I have been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. I became the very first to be so honored by the now and new West Liberty University. The lesson of my story, if there is one, is that there are more ways to live your life than the one society dishes out to you, And there is always a way to do what you were meant to do, even if it takes much blood, sweat and tears.
Note:  This essay is published with the permission of the author, Hal O'Leary

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

The idea that the pursuit of happiness might be an unalienable right was given to us two-hundred years ago by Thomas Jefferson, but how many Americans ever stop to think just exactly what that phrase implies? A right to the pursuit says little in the absence of an understanding of what constitutes happiness.  A right to the pursuit means little if our understanding of the phrase lies in conforming to the rhetoric of politicians who call for a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot. To equate happiness with, keeping up with the Joneses, is a complete misreading of what Jefferson intended, leading  less to happiness than to nothing more than an envy of one’s neighbor.

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson said it best.  “We are to seek our well-being as we define our well-being, and determine for ourselves the means by which it might be achieved.”  In pursuit of that well-being, the unique talents of each individual must be discovered and developed.

Since there are no two individuals alike, each must find his own path, which is to be found in the heart not the head, for It is there one finds a true potential for self-fulfillment which  is the only true source of happiness. Only in this way, can you become the best whatever and whomever you were meant to be. 

To understand Jefferson’s phrase, we must realize that the right he speaks of is that of seeking  self-fulfillment without governmental intrusion into the heart. This, of course, does not take into consideration the societal intrusion in the form of peer pressure the head might succumb to.  Herein lies the folly and the great failing of a competitive  economic system that urges conformity in assuming that happiness  is to  be found in the acquisition material assets. We wind up competing for happiness in acquisition. It simply does not exist. The source for true happiness lies not without but within. In truth, by the amassing of the material, one becomes a prisoner of one’s possessions, confined and restricted by them in a need to protect and preserve them. The alienation that results leads to a distrust of others which is contrary to the essence  of humanity and any hope for happiness. The folly of happiness with no thought of sharing it is folly indeed. Nay, it is an impossibility. There is no sacrifice in the sharing of one’s uniqueness.  Indeed, the double source of happiness, the fulfillment that comes from  the exercise of one’s unique talents and the gratification that comes with the recognition of and appreciation for  the sharing of those talents with others, may result in the only true and lasting happiness free of the competition and envy that is found in the fruitless pursuit of a material advantage. 

Jefferson’s phrase places the one’s unique onus for finding a proper pursuit for happiness on each individual, for it will only be found within one’s self in the development of talents.
 
This short essay is published on this blog with the consent of Hal O'Leary.

THE THIRD PARTY

For those of you disillusioned, disenfranchised American voters who might wish for a successful third party please know that we have one. However, it may not be the one you want or wish for. It’s not a party you can even vote for. Let us call it the Money Party. While its membership is extremely small, perhaps as few as one percent, and restricted to a select few international corporations along with a very select few wealthy individuals, make no mistake, it has managed to take control of both the Republican and Democrat Parties, making them both obsolete and insignificant. The Money Party does not represent the interest of America or your interest, nor does it owe allegiance to any nation. In fact, it would appear that we are now living under an entirely undemocratic system that Italy’s Benito Mussolini properly labeled Fascism. “America a fascist state? The man’s insane.” Isn’t that what many of you are thinking? But, hear me out in this, along with the vision and wisdom of our Founding Fathers: 

“The end of democracy and the American Revolution will occur when the government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”  Thomas Jefferson

Have we not indeed fallen?
 
“History records that money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit and violent means possible, to maintain their control over government, by controlling money and its issuance.” James Madison.  

It’s now referred to as The Federal Reserve. 

It’s not as though we haven’t been warned. More recently, of course, we’ve had Ike’s warning of the Military Industrial Complex, and if that were not enough, we suffered the assassination of JFK, who had the audacity to threaten the Federal Reserve System with Executive Order 11110. Look it up. Unfortunately, no president has since dared  to defy the Money Party in its quest for global military and economic hegemony with the hope of returning power to we the people .

One could and most properly should ask how this alarming situation was allowed to happen. It, too, goes back to our very beginnings. It rests on the age old question of whether or not we are, as the poet John Donne put it, “our brother’s keeper”.  Then back even further than that with the teaching of Jesus. “Truly I tell you that whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 How did this most sensible and simple wisdom get lost in what should have been the intellectual evolution of our kind? For an answer, let us return to our beginnings as a nation and the creation of the Great American Dream. Freedom was the key to all that one could desire, to happiness. And that was great, but with the assumption that  we could determine for ourselves what constitutes happiness.  Unfortunately, this is where we went awry. That Great American Dream came to mean nothing more than the accumulation of material wealth. This, of course, meant that such wealth must be derived in competition with, or in many cases at the expense of, our fellow man. Thus, followed the ridiculous concept of “The-Rugged-Individualist” the man who needed no one, the man who would “build it” by himself. This, of course, was in sharp contrast to what John Donne and Jesus had in mind. 

Of course, not everyone wished to be or became the rugged individualist. There were those who recognized that we, not the individualist, but we, were responsible for the creation of what was to be the great promise of an equal and just future for all. It would happen only through cooperation. This meant that there would be not one but generally two approaches to its realization throughout the population. One would insist that man should be free and unfettered by a government which he often viewed as an obstacle to his quest for material gain.. The other approach, recognizing his brother’s need as his own, viewed his government as the vehicle for assuring equality and justice for all. These two approaches grew into what we now term the conservative Republican and progressive Democrat Parties.

To hear the parties go at each other, one would think that one or the other must have evil designs in their attempts to force their erroneous convictions on the other, when actually, neither is without merit.  The conservative’s initiative cannot be denied, nor can his preference for continuity and stability. These can be viewed as admirable and even necessary traits. On the other hand, who can deny that the progressive’s willingness to risk change leads to progress as opposed to stagnation, and that his concern for others benefits both the others and himself. There is no doubt but that any society can benefit from the wisdom embedded in both, provided they can work together collectively, with the moderates of each curbing the extremes of both. This is what the founding fathers had envisioned. So how did it all go so wrong? 

For the answer to that question, we must return again to the warnings of those same founding fathers and the Money Party they cautioned us against. With the assassination of JFK and the continuous fear it generated, the Money Party, playing to and dividing the extremes of both parties, gained virtual control of each branch of the Federal Government. Elected representatives of both the Republican and Democrat  parties became treasonable accessories to the abolishment of constitutional rights and protections with the use  of lies, propaganda and false flag threats including the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, 9/11 and Iraq’s WMD. The Money Party has increased its power and obscene wealth through manufactured fear in a climate of a perpetual war on terror, which, like the war on drugs, was never meant to be won.
 
With this knowledge, I will refuse to vote, and I would encourage you to do the same. The argument that one should, in this situation; vote for the lesser of two evils may not be a wise choice. In fact, you have no choice but to vote for evil, for any vote you cast, even for one of the minority parties, will, in effect, be for the greatest evil of all, the Money Party which has, through its corporate media, succeeded in diverting and dividing you, by confronting you with relatively insignificant issues like the deficit, immigration, pro-life, gay marriage and taxation.  If you will take note that the illegal war in Afghanistan which should be our first and main concern with its untold cost in lives and money, was only slightly touched upon by the Democrats during their convention and not even mentioned during the Republican convention. Your vote will be an indication to them that you are still buying the Great American Dream, and so long as you can be persuaded it remains viable, their position remains secure, and our future dim. 

From the lexicon of modern day politics, “bipartisanship” seems to have been dropped completely. Only if the progressives and the conservatives can come together in the common cause of denying the Money Party’s enslavement of both, can we yet be saved. But, it will happen only if, in a true spirit of bipartisanship, the progressive can allow the conservative to check his exuberance with reason to avoid folly and if the conservative can allow the progressive to initiate necessary change, again, with reason to avoid stagnation.

Note:  This essay is published by permission of its author, Hal Oleary.