Friday, October 28, 2016

That Exceptionalism Thing - One More Time

In my last blog two weeks ago I alluded to the American fixation with our own exceptionalism. Well, just last evening the US joined with the other nuclear powers and their clients to vote against a UN Resolution, L.41 that would call together a conference to draft  a treaty to legally ban nuclear weapons. The vote was 123 yes to 38 nays with 16 abstentions. This is the issue that our fearless leader trumpeted he would fight for and which essentially bought him the Nobel Peace prize.

Now his last budget called for a $1 TRILLION investment in modernizing our nuclear arsenal. I urge readers of this blog to read the short  (4pp.)resolution and try to determine how we could possibly be against beginning a process to make illegal these weapons of mass destruction. Only reason I can think of, is that we want to be able to use them again. Why else budget $1 Trillion for their improvement? 

1230 Schwartzberg – Transforming UN System FINAL Front Cover

Before I read about this vote from last night I began my morning with an engaging  thoughtful work by Joseph Schwartzberg, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World (New York: United Nations University Press, 2013). Schwartzberg, an octogenarian emeritus professor of Geography from the University of Minnesota has been studying global governance for a lifetime. He has traveled to more than 100 countries.

His careful, studious, and hopeful analysis of the numerous flaws of the UN system give birth to creative possibilities to shape a global governing system that would make the need for nuclear weapons an historical artifact.

     "It is not my intention to prescribe policies on such issues as climate change, sustainable development, human rights, migration, population growth, and so forth. Rather, I take the position that good decision-making systems will, in the fullness of time, be able to arrive at policies that will promote the good of our planet, rather than the interests of individual groups who happen to be militarily and/or economically powerful."

 I am only in the beginning pages of this lengthy analysis published in 2013, but already the breadth, depth, and passionate belief that we can create a better system of living together on this increasingly crowded and fragile planet is compelling. It flies in the face of blind obsession our nation's leaders with the notion of American Exceptionalism.

I have heard nary a word from any of our presidential contenders throughout the primary season, nor certainly after, with perhaps the exception of some comments by Martin O'Malley in one of the debates, that we need to strengthen our international governing system. Unless we do, the US will continue to believe that only we can save the planet alone. Such sentiment sounds remarkably like the egomania of our Republican presidential candidate.
Schwartzberg is not some pie-in-the-sky Utopian. He is firmly rooted in the realism of global affairs, but is a believer in the human evolutionary possibilities of moving towards violence as a means of conflict resolution.

Last weekend, as Ellen and I were meandering around the fabulous John L. King Bookstore in DImage result for john k king bookstoreetroit,

I stumbled into a few older tomes that I brought home. Two that I have begun feed Schwartzberg's faith that we are capable of creating a more democratic global governance system.
 Sissela Bok's A Strategy for Peace: Human Values and the Threat of War (New York: Pantheon, 1989) is in the words of the late Daniel Schorr's review in the New York Times

     "Toilers in the vineyards of diplomacy and arms control may find Mrs. Bok's ''moral framework'' rather abstract, but she considers it ''practical'' and ''nonutopian.'' She has no apology to make for trying to raise the level of thinking about peace at a time when ''the nuclear threat to humanity is intolerable,'' but continues to resist abatement because of ''mutual fear and distrust.''

Image result for power of nonviolence
The other tome added is the 2002 anthology, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace (Boston: Beacon Press). Readings from Emerson and Thoreau, Gandhi and King, and many more offer short readings from Buddha to Arundhati Roy to show that the idea has a long history and compelling possibilities. As the major purveyor of weapons of war, the US is indeed exceptional. That we might ultimately aspire to become a democratic global citizen seems a bit Utopian today as I scribble this short reflection. Nonetheless, these writers confirm that peace is possible, if we just join together to rid ourselves of the weapons of war, and of the egotistical notion that we are separate and exceptional.

Friday, October 14, 2016

That Exceptionalism Thing

I just finished reading Noam Chomsky's latest work, Who Rules the World this morning, As the craziness of this presidential election unfolds around us both the major party candidates share the dominant script of America the Exceptional.

Who Rules the World?
In fact, both not only wish to preserve and protect that image, but one would even expand it. Both candidates are bully on the War on Terrorism and see nothing that more military punch and power can't fix. Neither willing to consider that perhaps that expansive military approach only accelerates that which they are attempting to end.

Chomsky's work was completed before Mr. Trump had locked up the Republican nomination earlier this year.Nonetheless, all should read his heavily documented review (more than 629 cited references) of the forces alive in our world, their antecedents, and specifically the US actions that have nurtured the world we face together. Whether one disagrees with the complete analysis Chomsky offers, any reader would at least have to begin to be skeptical of the utterances of the dominant narrative that engulfs conservatives and liberals alike.

No one relishes reading about misdeeds of their home team. We might occasionally accept the idea that 'one bad apple' doesn't spoil the whole bushel. Or that OK, no one is perfect (we hear that one a lot during this presidential campaign as supporters of both major candidates defend their support for their favored candidate). Chomsky challenges us to consider why the rest of the world thinks that the US is the "greatest threat" to world peace ( this reported in an international WIN/Gallop poll p.222). He constantly contrasts the myths we live in with the facts that display our utter blindness to the reality as others experience it.

Nowhere is this more evident than the use of the word 'terrorist'. Chomsky, as he has written for decades, notes that we (US) use the term to describe the acts of those we disagree with (our enemies), but absolve any acts by us or our surrogates that have similar if not worse consequences for people outside our borders. So when we send a drone to take out someone we don't like and blow away innocent civilians, that's not terrorism but our right to defend ourselves. Yet when a Palestinian attacks an occupier in his own country, it's terrorism. From the Vietnam War to the debacles in Libya and Syria, Chomsky shines the light on the hypocrisy.

This is hard to read as an American who wants us to live up to the vision of a just, compassionate democracy among democracies. It certainly cries for what Rabbi Michael Lerner so eloquently expressed in a blog this week, "American Politics: The U.S. Needs Repentance and Atonement".
Political Wisdom and Spiritual Vision from Rabbi Michael Lerner

      "We need a New Bottom Line of love and generosity that could reshape every dimension of our economic, political, cultural and spiritual assumptions about reality. To get there, we need a fundamental transformation of consciousness. Although not in the same league of outrage as what Trump has done to legitimate misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, the Democrats would also be challenged by a New Bottom Line–and even Hillary Clinton’s call for a “no fly zone” in Syria would have to be scrutinized against the alternative approach to foreign policy a New Bottom Line would suggest (namely, seeking homeland security through generosity and a Global Marshall Plan so that the US becomes known as the most generous and caring society in the world, not the toughest and most militarist)."

In another penetrating analysis of our current wave of political upheaval Charles Eisenstein actually finds a ray of hope in his "The Lid is Off."
The Lid is Off

     "Clinton and Trump are a product of their conditions, playing the “game of thrones” according to the secret rules of the insiders, in a system that has long allowed, encouraged, and in some ways nearly required hypocrisy. That system is coming to an end. We are entering by fits and starts an era of transparency in which, we may someday hope, secret rules and hypocrisy will have no purchase."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Sell-Off of Democracy

In the past few months we have seen an acceleration of mergers among giants in many industries. Dow Chemical and Dupont, followed by Monsanto and Bayer, Marriott and Starwood, Microsoft and Linked-In, Verizon and Yahoo, and recently Miller and Budweiser. Each of these firms were giants before a merger. By combining they not only grab more market share, they concentrate wealth and power in fewer hands. And of course, we always hear about the increased 'efficiency' that comes with the new combo. Translated into our vernacular that means many folks lose their jobs while a few people at the top get wealthier and wealthier.
Image result for antitrust

Back at the turn of the last century there arose the idea of 'antitrust' to combat the growing concentration wealth by the robber barons. But his time around antitrust is not in any vocabulary use within Washington. Michigan's late great Senator Phil Hart, whom colleagues named the 'Conscience of the Senate' and named a new Senate office building for him,was the last of the antitrust leaders.

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These new mergers will cast a long shadow. Already in Midland, Michigan, headquarters of Dow Chemical, city officials and citizens are worried about jobs moving and declining. It was a single company town that lived off Dow's largess, and numerous well-endowed Dow family foundations have supported the arts, gardens and other community enhancements over the years. Of course, they also leave a toxic legacy they have been reluctant to repair, especially the dioxin levels in the Tittabawassee watershed. But I digress from my larger concern with this unchecked merger mania.

The late 19th Century response to the increasing concentration of wealth through anti-trust has been abandoned, even before the Citizens' United ruling that now allows unidentified funds to flow into electoral politics.

Jason Hargrove/ Flickr

For example, Public Citizen published a report this week, Big Business Ballot Bullies, that notes that the corporate sector has been outspending the grassroots on state ballot proposals 10 to 1. And this is the reported money. Dark Money is by design harder to scope out. But we should harbor no doubts that the growing concentration of wealth and power is funneling more and more cash to protect their profits, the public good be damned.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Even conservative Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) is concerned with the "tsunami" of mergers"Concerns have been raised whether these transactions will result in foreclosure of market access by competing seed companies to traits and germplasm, and whether they will enhance these companies to engage in exclusionary conduct."

Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, said the mergers will have "potentially adverse effects that could reduce innovation, increase seed costs and raise consumer food prices." She said the Dow-DuPont and Monsanto-Bayer mergers could be particularly devastating.(USA Today 9/20/2016). Like Grassley, her concerns are primarily economic ones. I found no mention or concerns with the loss of jobs, abandonment of communities, or perhaps my biggest concern, the increased power the largest firms exert on ours and other democracies.

But the Senate has no power to block mergers. There are three main ways in which the Federal antitrust laws are enforced: 
• Criminal and civil enforcement actions brought by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.
 • Civil enforcement actions brought by the Federal Trade Commission.
 • Lawsuits brought by private parties asserting damage claims.

We already have banks and automobile manufacturers that are "too big to fail". Shall we further concentrate every industry in the false name of 'efficiency' and free markets so that all the behemoths that drive our growing inequality have even more power and become 'insured against failure and malfeasance' via too big to fail?


I continue to circle back to the landmark study by three highly regarded political scientists from a few years ago, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American DemocracyIn this hefty, 693 page multiple award winning tome, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady review a huge number of studies and discern, what a reasonable person might easily infer, that the growing economic inequality parallels a growing political inequality.

Following that epic work was another report by two other noted scholars further confirming this increasing political power that as one reviewer of their study,  Professor Allan J. Lichtman notes,

      "The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups."

My biggest concerns with the merger mania we are facing in light of Citizens United is the selling of our democracy to the wealthiest among us. Perhaps the penultimate result of which we may be watching unfold before our eyes as former Wall Street executive turned journalist Nomi Prins notes in an blog this week. Read it while you are sitting down.
Voting clearly matters, but the forces already unleashed require that it is not sufficient if we want to live in a democracy.