Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Enough Bullets

I am struggling to remember an earlier time in my life when I felt like the world was as surreal as I find it now. We have a person in the drivers seat so self-absorb, most professional mental health experts I know concur  that he suffers from Narcissistic Behavior Disorder (NBD), based upon his public statements and behavior. 

        "Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism." (Mayo Clinic)

 As a result, he is making decisions that defy any rational worldview while bringing great embarrassment to the country he represents. If it was just the embarrassment, I would not be so worried. But his policy decisions are almost mind-numbing. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in his recent budget proposal that trades $54 billion for more militarization of our already overly militarized society, in exchange for a combination of tax cuts- mostly for the wealthiest, and reductions in social, environmental and diplomatic programs.

Three-Fifths of Cuts in Trump Budget Come in Low- and Moderate-Income Programs

The utter folly of this approach is clear to most serious economists.  CNN Money Magazine called it

"President Trump's first budget can be summed up like this: Big gifts for the rich, big cuts for the poor."

     He would give a lot more money to the defense industry and wealthy                      taxpayers, and he would pay for that with an unprecedented slashing of safety      net programs for America's poor. (CNN/Money)

Of course, when someone does offer criticism the NBD individual often exhibits the following symptoms:

    "At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. "(Mayo Clinic)

While our NBD leader continues to keep everyone off balance trying to anticipate his next decision, tweet, or comment, others are busy at the state level reeking havoc on our society. Our legislature here in Michigan tried to pass legislation to repeal the state income tax while our schools, colleges, infrastructure, health care and safety net are disintegrating as we race to beat Mississippi to the bottom of the rankings.

While we dodged that bullet for the moment - they are regrouping, another gang of NRA legislative servants have moved to do away with permits for guns, and therefore with any required training one might hope the vigilantes would receive. Of course, they argue that the 2nd amendment absolutely permits citizens the right to own and bear arms of any kind, any where, any time. As I left the hearing room last week after offering testimony urging the committee members to slow the arms race, not to accelerate it, I was followed out by an open-carry advocate all the way to the elevator, concerned that I was willing to allow the police to be the only perpetrators of violence.

I am not a psychologist, but I wonder if the ardent gun enthusiasts suffer from a syndrome not unlike the NBD. They seem either paranoid that they will be randomly attacked by some scheming criminal just waiting for them to walk by, or they get some strange rush from having the feel of cold steel next to their body. They talk as if there are criminals everywhere looking for strangers to assault, whereas we know that most gun deaths are among people who know each other. Such was the case of the young man I saw shot and killed a few hundred feet away nearly 50 years ago. They had been playing pool the night before.

The committee just passed this legislation on a party-line vote (guess who voted for and against). The insecurity industry that feeds the fear is aided and abetted by the television and motion picture industry which fill the airways and theater screens with endless violence. Violence, where the hero, like in the old westerns of the last century, always manages to shoot quicker, aim straighter. The villains are dispatched and everyone lives happily ever after. Of course, those fictions never have innocent bystanders harmed. We don't see the orphans, the widows, the maimed. 

Our addiction to violence in guns runs from the continued enlargement of the US military footprint - now more than 800 military bases around the world, the number one seller of arms of all kinds to almost anyone willing to pay. Heck, if you're a friend (especially if you're a dictator or monarch) we'll give you the weapons as foreign aid. Who wins - the weapons makers. Lockheed Martin's stock goes up every time there is a rumble somewhere on earth that the US might get involved with. Who stands to make a killing if the US follows through with President Obama's plan to spend $1 trillion on our nuclear weapon arsenal? Will the guy who now holds the launch key, up the ante? 

The arming of citizens in our public spaces is simply a parallel response to the fear that has been sold, often by those who can profit by it. The gun as solution prevents us from addressing the causes of violence, the lack of a hopeful future and the escalating inequality. The temporary elixir of superior power is an addictive drug that permeates our society. A war on this addiction is not the answer any more than was the war on drugs or the war on terror. Instead we need an investment in social and mental health therapies. Starting with the guy with the nuclear codes.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Oldies But Goodies

There is probably a built in mechanism in our culture's brain that the newest ideas and thoughts are better than older ones. Today's thinkers have the chance to stand on the shoulders of those who came before. I know I'm always looking for fresh new ideas in the books recently published, thus my almost weekly visit to the new book shelves at the Michigan State University Library. One doesn't have to travel far to recognize that some older works, many obscure except to a few readers, offer great insights usable today. That's why we read some of our more famous thinkers like Aristotle, Shakespeare, Plato, Darwin, Locke, etc.

So I stumbled into a few terrific reads from the 1968-69 era within the same week. They were inspired from different sources. The first one I completed last week. Simply titled The Choices, it was the final book of Norman Thomas' life. He completed it a month before his death at age 84 in December of 1968. Thomas was a remarkable figure of the 20th century from his early involvement against the first world war to his fight against American imperialism, inequality, and racism right up to his death. A Presbyterian minister, socialist, pacifist and six time presidential candidate from the Socialist Party, Thomas was considered one of the most powerful orators of his time. Having read and blogged on his biography last December I was compelled to find and read a few of his own writings. One of them was The Choices.

It is a short, small book not quite 90 pages in length. Kirkus Reviews noted in an early 1969 review that

          Here, in his last political credo, Thomas reiterates his democratic socialism. But except on the issue of "universal disarmament" with UN control, almost any American will accept his views. The prescriptions stress flexible social planning and regulation of air and water pollution, natural resources and the birth rate. He advocates abolition of the electoral college, but pointedly scores the New Left for its "apotheosis of violence." The issues of racism, poverty, civil liberties and war also receive scrutiny. Throughout, Thomas indicates the choices he favors for deciding the world's future.

There is a quiet gentle wisdom in this book. I find it amazing that his many political defeats failed to make him bitter or cynical. 

        "I made my first important speech to a large audience in Madison Square Garden in 1917, in support of Morris Hillquit, the very able Socialist Party candidate for mayor of New York. The meeting dealt largely with the First World War, our entrance into which the Socialists had opposed. To fashion a world without war seemed to me a primary concern. I also believed that to attain peace, the world would have to concern itself with creating a world in which social justice prevails."

         Almost fifty years from that day, I made what tuned out to be my last speech in November 1967. I spoke before a large audience of labor leaders in Chicago. Once again, the subject was peace. After fifty tumultuous years, years which saw victory for what was the better side in two world wars, the United States was involved in a very cruel war in Vietnam, and living under the constant threat of a third world war.
         ... I am very critical of what is now called the Establishment in Washington, Moscow, or Peking, but I have great affection for my own country and confidence -- especially with the oncoming generation -- in its salvation. To use symbolic terms, I am one of those who desire to wash the flag, not burn it. I recognize that washing the flag requires more than political or economic group action. It requires personal action, your action in the ending of violence, the achievement of fraternity and honesty."

His chapter titles gives a good hint of what he addresses:

  1. We Must Choose Peace
  2. Racial War or Racial Fraternity?
  3. Toward Racial Fraternity
  4. Economics I: Economic Justice
  5. Economics II: The Choice of Means
  6. Economics III: Some Further Questions
  7. Toward Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
  8. Toward Violence of Non-Violence
  9. The Electoral Process 
  10. Political Action 1968
It's hard to think of anyone of similar stature for our times. A voice that challenged the status quo with fervor, eloquence and passion. He may well have left us almost fifty years ago, but his ideas live on and are as timely as any written today.

The second book was referenced in a footnote of something I read recently. The context of the citation, which I also can't recall, made it seem worth looking into. As it happens so I found an old paperback copy of the book on our bookshelves. One of those books you might find at a used book sale but never get around to reading. I have quite a few more of these!

Michael Harrington was half Norman Thomas' age when he wrote Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for New Majority in 1968. 

Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority

It is a longer and more scholarly approach to similar contemporary issues. Like Thomas, Harrington was a socialist and went on to form the Democratic Socialists of America which he led for a number of years before his death in 1989. He was most noted for writing The Other America which was credited with inspiring President Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson into creating the Great Society. He won the prestigious George Polk Award for that earlier work. Unlike Thomas who believed in changing the system through the Socialist Party, Harrington believed that one had to work through the Democratic Party and that appears to be the focus behind this book.

I am only 50 pages into this 300 page tome so it's much too early to cast a final judgment on it. But early on I admire the temperament and the insights that again are so pertinent to our own times.

        "The old liberalism does not offer an adequate response to these massive historic trends and can even be used as a screen for corporate collectivism.  As long as new Leftism is only an opposition it may help people to change masters but not to free them selves. To deal with the crises it has officially certified at home and abroad, the United States will have to be quite concrete. It must, among other things, redefine economics, recover its passion for equality, and, in the doing, reduce the profit motive to fourth rate importance and raise the non-profit motive to the first rank." (p.17)

        "In short, there must be a social determination of what is economic. Building homes for the impoverished is not profitable from the point of view of a corporate investor because it does not provide a high enough rate of return on capital. But the social investor -- which is to say the democratic society -- has a different point of view. Poverty is, of course, enormously costly in terms of increasing the risks of crime, fire, disease and every other ill, and America already pays a high price for being unjust. But much more basically, human beings are being squandered, and this is a tragic waste from the point of view of both the individual and the society." (pp.20-21)

       "Yet these relatively functional concepts of money making are a far cry fro,m the profit mythology which is still taught to innocent school children in our society. For Americans are told that buying cheap and selling dear, gaining and advantage over one's neighbor, making a killing out of a rise in the value of stock or land which the individual did nothing to promote are the basic principles which should guide the citizen and the society. It is indeed a 'somewhat disgusting morbidity' that the country reverences." (p.26)

        "But homilies will not change the motivational structure of an entire society. What is needed in addition is action to create an environment in which it is more 'natural' to help one's fellow man than to profit from him." (p.26)

Harrington was first a believer in democracy and then a socialist as one can see in his explanation of the difference between an Adam Smith economic view and one of John Maynard Keynes

       "The next giant stride in American life will make Keynesianism social rather than Adam Smithian. This is not, let it be noted again, a proposal for democratic socialism. For it is possible for the people to insist that public moneys be spent on public purposes without changing the fundamental relationships of ownership in America. It is just when tax funds are used to support major transformations of society, the decisions should be democratic ally debated and decided on." (p.50) 

All this leads me back to kind of thinking we see in Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics that I wrote about ten days ago. It is amazing how quickly and how widely the ideas she has shared in a book that's been released for less than two months has received from other big thinkers. Last week we saw David Korten lead off his review of the work in Yes Magazine with these glowing remarks:

       "I see a lot of books presuming to explain what’s wrong with the economy and what to do about it. Rarely do I come across one with the consistent new paradigm frame, historical depth, practical sensibility, systemic analysis, and readability of Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. Especially unique and valuable is her carefully reasoned, illustrated, and documented debunking of the fatally flawed theory behind economic policies that drive financial instability, environmental collapse, poverty, and extreme inequality."

It is clear to this reader, that we need to revisit ideas that were floating around years ago and meld them with the ideas that are emerging about how we move forward as one human family, on a single planet with one future. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Good Jobs, Militarism and Doughnuts

I've spared any regular readers, both of you, from any drainage from my mental swamp for over a month. No real fancy reasons, just The MUSE has not visited despite having completed several good new books and lots of activism. And despite the current absence of The MUSE I feel compelled to put down a few words after hearing another pile of crap on NPR this morning.

It was some trite reference to the proposed Trump tax overhaul that will create "good jobs". I would love to hear what those in the Trump administration really define as a good job. For the Chamber of Commerce and its supporters it likely means jobs that pay as little as possible, which largely includes a growing trend of part-time and temporary work. Clearly, the takeover of higher education by the neoliberal faithful, has seen the increasing trend towards adjunct/non-tenured faculty. That lack of sufficient income coupled with non-existent job security make many a PhD a losing financial investment.

Of course, the 1% are doing exceptionally well with this formula, as the income gap between them and the rest of us grows, with no sign of slowing. If you don't quite have a handle on how this has been happening I refer you to a quick, poignant, readable new book from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy. Whitehouse walks through a series of chapters assessing how the Corporate capture has exercised its control of elections, regulatory agencies, courts, and even the citizen jury. As a former Attorney General he's experienced with their efforts at both state and federal levels. Based on this tome and his actions as a Senator I hope his name can someday reside in that mansion on Pennsylvania Ave.


I have spent a sizable portion of my time since my last blog entry immersed in both studying the hold of militarism on our democracy and organizing to push back against the unquestioned growth and expanse of the the U.S. militarization juggernaut. Where is the politician willing to question the unrelenting growth in military spending? Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation addressed part of this question earlier this week in her column Where is the Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders of Foreign Policy?  Prof. Rebecca Thorpe shines the light on part of the issue in her 2014 study of The American Warfare State: The Domestic Politics of Military Spending. Among other findings is pursuit of making rural and semi-rural areas dependent on military sector jobs and funding that then secures the votes of the elected officials that represent those areas.
The American Warfare State

Nowhere is this more evident than in my own backyard. Michigan two Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, along with every Representative from the state except Republican Justin Amash has signed on to a letter to the Pentagon begging for Ft. Custer (Battle Creek, MI) to be home for a third, but unrequested Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The $3.2 billion dollar boondoggle, besides being unrequested is for s system that fails as often as it has been successful, and that's even with the foreknowledge of when and from where a missile is being launched. The Union of Concerned Scientists recent report drills holes all through the arguments that such system isn't worth the paper it is written on. But politicians need to bring home the pork, regardless of how it smells to the rest of us. Studies show that if you want to create plentiful and good jobs investments in education, green technology, infrastructure or health are significantly better options than military spending.

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only courageous congressional member to vote against the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) after the 9/11 attack has remained an almost solitary voice of reason. Unafraid to stand alone among her peers in calling out the propensity to use violence to solve conflict. Fear seems to be the modus operandi of the neoliberal/militarists who stand up and raise new fears if we don't fall in line for their calls for more... more tax cuts for the wealthy, more military spending, more military bases (see the Nick Turse piece today on The US Military Moves Deeper into Africa, or more military actions.

Meeting with the staffs of our senators, and in one case a Representative himself (Rep. John Moolenaar)  all my elected federal officials seem to either buy-in to the American Exceptionalism mindset, or are too timid to challenge it and the militarization of our society. They are as Sen. Whitehouse makes clear - captured!

So, in a really fresh analysis of our many global challenges steps British economist Kate Raworth. Her new book based upon earlier  work she did with Oxfam not only briefly maps the growth of the neoliberal idea, she notes its many failures while offering a sober and hopeful alternative. Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist

Doughnut Economics

uses the simple graphic of a doughnut to help us realize that economics should ideally guide us towards the safe space between planetary and social boundaries. If we live outside either boundary we are destined for disaster, some of which we can see already.

Raworth doesn't claim to have all the answers,  but her argument to redirect the economy to work for all of us without destabilizing the natural world systems that make life habitable is worth consideration by all. She builds on the economic theorists that preceded her and gives credit to many working in the field who have helped shine the light on the fallacies of the neoliberal economic model so much in control today.

Good jobs - jobs that proved a livelihood while nurturing the social commons and respecting planetary limits are the kind of jobs we need. If we did it right, we might all have to work a little less, enjoy it more, and remove the drivers that feed militarism and dominance in our world.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Rush to Avoid Taxes

We now have less than 30 days to finish up our federal tax forms and get them to the IRS and state capitols. As I noted recently in this blog, "taxes are dues for living in a civilized society". So why do we all seek every advantage to reduce those taxes? We want deductions for our home (interest on mortgage, property taxes, etc.), for our charitable contributions, for state and local taxes paid, the list goes on.

There is an entire industry focused on how not to pay taxes - accountants, tax lawyers, tax preparation firms, all promising big savings if you know where to look and how to manage your affairs to minimize the dues we supposedly pay for a civilized community. Can we deduct our travel expenses for volunteer work, how about the tax credit for our solar installation, or the new energy efficiency changes made to the home?

Of course these are relatively small deductions that save many in the middle class a few hundred, or maybe even a couple thousand dollars in taxes per year. How can we actually minimize our overall tax rate we have to pay? Simple - by managing our funds so that more of our income arrives through capital gains than real work. Not surprisingly capital gains are almost entirely in the hands of the wealthiest. The wealthiest 1% make more than a third of their income from capital gains. The  New York Times reported that "estimates show that nearly 70 percent of all capital gains benefits go to the top 1 percent." 

While the plutocrats and their neighbors cash in at lower income tax rates than middle class citizens with larger deductions and the lower capital gains rate, it seems like nearly everyone is hooked on the notion that paying taxes is something you must avoid. And if you are wealthy enough, you can afford the services of the aforementioned tax consultants to help you do so.

Of course the corporate world, also run by the wealthiest among us, takes tax avoidance to a whole new level, whether it's from hiding income in offshore tax havens, or having their hired lobbyists create a specific tax loophole for them, in exchange of course for a nice little contribution to the legislators that are willing to fill their pockets. Oh yes, again let's not forget how they use their accumulations to take advantage of that low capital gains tax rate.

While I'll admit I don't own a PhD. in economics, looking at changes in the tax rates since World War II shows a striking parallel shift in income inequality. Every time we make yet another reduction in the taxes for the wealthiest, we increase the inequality. The trickle down "voodoo economics" plan boosted by Ronald Reagan never really trickled down. Surprise!!!

Mr. Trump's recent budget proposal accomplishes this not simply by cutting rates directly, which he is certainly aiming to do, but as a recent analysis, reported by the New York Times last week  of the TrumpCare proposal indicates, that $1 Trillion in tax cuts embedded in it will over a decade will find their way into the pockets of the richest Americans.

The House Republican Tax plan as reviewed by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows visually how the tax code may be further loaded to the wealthiest.

So the reduction in progressive taxation that gained steam with Ronald Reagan's "Voodoo Economics" continues.  Or does it actually get worse? If one looks at the holes collectively engineered into the social safety net by the Trump budget proposal,  we can see more and more people falling through it. But in Speaker Ryan's world, "it's their choice". 

If we are to live in a civilized society, that doesn't let our brothers and sisters fall through our porous safety net, we need to all consider paying taxes as our dues. Making that system fairer, i.e., more progressive, is essential to that end. The security of each of us is entangled with the security of all of us. 

One planet, one human family, one common future.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cashing in on Fear

While it seems obvious to me, evidently it isn't to many Americans. Donald Trump and other fear mongers among us are constantly trying to make us afraid of - immigrants, minorities, Muslims, LGBT, terrorists, criminals, axis of nauseum. If they can sell the fear, we're more likely to succumb to their proposed remedy - build walls, more guns, better locks, bigger armies and navies, yada, yada, yada. 

I've been thinking along this line for a long time, but an article recently passed my eyes that put some solid data behind it in "Why Are People So Averse to Facts"  by Prof. Tristan Bridges from the website Sociological Images. The article posted last week discusses the claims of a certain President that crime is on the rise along with the data that shows the opposite. While of course the make believe world of this detached fellow is of interest, what I found more interesting in the piece was data from annual Gallup polls between 1989-2016 that showed the majority of the American public has consistently believed crime was getting worse when it wasn't.

Interesting enough it was just a week ago that the very same author of the crime myth was selling another bag of fear around terrorism. This one comes with an additional $54 billion price tag, on top of the $600 billion we already spend on 'defense'. The lunacy would be laughable if it wasn't so harmful. If our major security concern is global terrorism why would one argue for building up a larger navy, adding 75 more ships to the 275 we already have floating around the world? Are nuclear powered submarines the answer to terrorism? This isn't defense, it's offense!!

Image result for navy

But, let's not let any facts get in the way of protecting us from hyped up fears. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and their collaborators are happy to sell weapons to the US government or any other nation that buys the belief foisted by the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC) that the latest weaponry and a larger military footprint will bring them peace and prosperity.

The US government even works as arms merchants for these purveyors of weaponry, greasing the palms of the buyer - whether the purchase be planes, landmines (we still haven't signed the convention to outlaw them- one of only 35 countries out of 200), tanks, missiles, whatever. Note simply recent huge arms sales agreements with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and even more recently Vietnam.

Image result for landmine ban

Juxtapose these increases with the announced cuts to diplomacy and foreign assistance announced announced subsequent to the military build-up. Do the proponents seriously believe that we will defeat terrorism with more bullets and less bread? Do they think for a minute that we will win the hearts and minds of those who see us as global bullies as our military might becomes even more expansive?

Image result for national priorities project

The National Priorities Project notes that the $54 billion that will be cut to pay for the expanded  militarism of this regime exceeds the entire budgets of the following:

  • Department of Homeland Security ($48 billion)
  • Housing and Urban Development ($38 billion)
  • Department of Energy ($30 billion)
  • Department of Justice ($29 billion)
  • Department of State ($29 billion)
  • Environmental Protection Agency ($8 billion)
  • National Science Foundation ($7 billion)
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($485 million)
  • National Endowment for the Arts ($148 million)
Meanwhile no mention of cutting the enormous waste in military spending, as noted by the Pentagon's own study last fall that identified $125 billion in waste. Since the Pentagon is never audited, that figure is probably low.  Regardless the American public takes it all in without barely a whimper of protest, evidently convinced that the fear mongering of the MIC and their current White House champion is true. 

If we don't challenge the madness of militarism, we will insure the bullets and landmines we deploy under the guise of 'defense' will continue to harm innocent civilians. Meanwhile robbing both American families and our less fortunate of investments in true human prosperity.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

There's A Change A-Comin', or Is There

One of the surprise results of the November election has been the stimulation of previously docile citizens to engage with the political and policy gears of our nation. I have attended many organizational meeting of groups I’ve been active with for some time, where attendance has doubled or more, seemingly overnight. The newcomers say something like, “I’ve been sitting quietly for too long and I now need to become active.”

With this onslaught of participation organizations, as well as the newly engaged citizens, seek to focus their energies to make a difference. Even for seeming veterans of grassroots, civil society efforts that call for making a difference has been re-energized. But a fundamental question is “How Change Happens”.  This happens to be the title of a new book by Duncan Green, published late last year by Oxford University Press and Oxfam. Green has been active in global development work for decades, most recently with Oxfam. He is a student and practitioner trying to understand what really works! This is written for both citizens and scholars of development in a very readable but well referenced work.

Cover for 

How Change Happens

What he has learned and shared in this insightful book is what he calls a “power and systems approach” (PSA). This is an approach that doesn’t put all of its eggs in a single basket or look for the one sure-fire linear approach to success. It assumes a deeper level of complexity in the systems one is trying to change and therefore the need for curiosity, humility, and reflexivity.

My own experience, not nearly as deeply rooted as Green’s, has been increasingly recognizing that reality. At its base is a recognition that we cannot control all the elements of a system, nor predict them all with any certainty. Green gives example after example of how the unexpected arrives and either thwarts or expedites the desired change of the best laid plans.

Green encourages curiosity, study, reflection, and willingness for trial and error at small enough scales that one doesn’t become trapped with a singular approach. He encourages the effort to understand the system. Where does the power lie? How does one learn to ‘dance with the system’, a recognition of the work of the late systems theorist Donella Meadows. He also looks at the importance of addressing social norms, the role and nature of good leadership, the opportunities and constraints of working through political parties and electoral politics, the concept of positive deviance,and the power of advocacy. Some very brief hints of his thoughts are excerpted below.

  •       Tone and language matter too. I find that a combination of tactical self-deprecation and humor can disarm critics expecting a bout of self-righteous NGO finger-wagging. (p.218)   

  •      A power analysis disaggregates power, exploring the role of ‘power within’ (empowering individuals to become more active), ‘power with’ (collective organization), or ‘power to’ (action of individuals and organizations). That helps move the focus to those people who are often excluded from decision making (women, poor communities, indigenous groups, those living with disabilities) and whose empowerment often lies at the heart of long-term change. (p.243)

  •       Since no amount of upfront analysis will enable us to predict the erratic behavior of a complex system, a PSA interweaves thought and action, learning and adapting as we go. (p.245)

How Change Happens won’t give veteran or rookie citizen activist a silver bullet approach to follow. But the analysis he shares should help situate one’s expectations for success in a more realistic mode. This is the kind of necessary reflection and analysis that is important for long-term change to occur. It provides an equal dose of long-term nourishment for activists to remain in the struggle for a better world for the long haul.

From Poverty to Power

Those interested in following Green’s thinking along this and other issues of human social development can read his blog, From Poverty to Power at Oxfam’s blog site. Or visit the website created around this book with access to parts of the book and links to other resources.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Do We Really Want to Build and Defend an Empire?

As veteran defense analyst William Hartung notes yesterday, the new Trump administration is poised to put an already immense defense budget on steroids. He's obviously thinks the condition of our military is deplorable and thus there will be endless flows of additional cash recommended, except perhaps for the boondoggle known as the F-35.

But while Trump is poised to offer a significant injection, all presidents since FDR and the end of WWII have been building our military apparatus in one way or another. As the former general turned Commander-in-Chief, Dwight Eisenhower so vividly warned us upon exiting the office he held for two terms, the behemoth engine of the military-industrial-complex(MIC), will drive us away from repairing and improving our own society.

     Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The cost of one modern day bomber is the modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

And so it has unraveled as Eisenhower warned. Nary a president has escaped its clutches. Even the Nobel Peace President Obama, was arguing for a $1 Trillion dollar modernization effort of our nuclear weapons system, while launching a record number of drone attacks in countries all over the globe. The problems with military spending are so significant and embedded, that hardly anyone in elected office is willing to publicly take them on. The Washington Post reported just last November that the Pentagon's on internal study found $125 BILLION was wasted. And of course, they tried to hide the report. But even since its release, there has been a deafening silence from the Washington beltway, as the lobbyists from McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed Martin,Boeing, and other (too big to fail) behemoths spread their loot and influence in the halls of Congress.

Then of course there is the revolving door between the Pentagon and the MIC, where former officers move with their significant pensions, to rewards aplenty from the scions of military hardware. Those scions have strategically scattered their plants and contractors around the country to insure that any cuts in government contracts can bring the many impacted congressional districts elected representatives to rise up to thwart them. Thus the long failed history of the  F-35.

Image result for washington rules bacevich

Insulating this cozy brotherhood from any rational questions has been the role of  fear-mongers and empire builders who have argued as former West Point graduate, Lieutenant-Colonel and Professor of International Relations Andrew Bacevich  has written about extensively. In his 2010 book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, Bacevich lays out the U.S. sacred trinity of  military policy and practice.

     an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism." [page 14, emphasis in original].

Bacevich is one of the few scholars willing to stand up to the MIC. Some others have joined him and are sharing their writing through the  American Empire Project, The late Chalmers Johnson, Jonathan Schell  and Howard Zinn as well as contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Tom Englehardt, Nick Turse, Michael Klare and a few more fearless scholars and journalists.

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Fortunately we have a few think tanks that collect and scour the available data and help us make sense of it. As the Pentagon waste study mentioned above hints, the Pentagon is the only department in the government has not had an audit performed. Legislation to require such and audit has been introduced in past years, but even the good old deficit hawks aren't interested is looking at the underbelly of defense pork.

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Nationally we have the National Priorities Project which continues to collect and to prepare useful charts and studies that give us a clue of how the splurging for military impacts us. Particularly useful is data on the impacts at the state level of that spending.

The Project on Government Oversight also hosts the Center for Defense Information where you can read much more on the troubled F-35 or numerous other serious investigations into the MIC.Image result for project on government oversight

Globally we have the highly regarded SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) that annually gathers global data on militarism, arms sales, and other related information allowing some measure of comparison among nation states.

Former cold warrior, turned critic of American empire, the late Chalmers Johnson wrote a series of acclaimed and powerful books beginning with Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000) in which he documents the control of the MIC over our foreign and domestic policy and the resulting consequences of that policy and practice. In his final book published shortly before his death in 2010 Johnson summarizes the argument.

       Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base. By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. (Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope).p.114

Johnson goes on in depth to show how this pursuit of empire, this ailment of American exceptionalism, not only robs from our own development and well-being, but sows the resentment that all imperial attempts to control other nations feeds. In a word, blowback. His concerns even before his untimely death were that the horrible events of September 11, 2001 were symptomatic of what will follow any nation that is hooked on militarism.

With the arrival and now solid ownership of the executive branch of government by the combination of the military mindset and the Goldman Sachs greed merchants, there is ample evidence to support the decision January 26th by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move the Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight. We better heed the calls of Johnson, Bacevich, and others who have seen war and its consequences and question our unfettered support for militarism over human well-being. It's not too late, but it's close.