Dec 15, 2014

December 14,2014: Thank Lyndon Johnson, Measure in the Details, Because Liberalism Works


On Thursday morning, December 10, my wife suffered her second stroke in 7 years. The first occurred in October of 2007 while she was in the employ of the University of Georgia engaged as the administrative assistant to the Chief Information Officer. The stroke damaged 3 of the 12 main nerve bundles that make up the cerebral cortex, leaving her with some difficulty with motor skills, some weakness, and a propensity for scanning speech to return when fatigued. She soldiered on nonetheless, returning to work within a couple of months and working for an additional 4 years. As the stresses of employment became more and more obvious we were able for her to leave her employment fearing another stroke would surely result if some dramatic changes were not forthcoming. What followed was a period of unemployment and then, when it became obvious that she could no longer work, a claim for disability. In mid summer of 2012 she filed her claim and was speedily granted the benefit after a review of her medical records. Because, for some insane reason, health insurance does not become available for two years she was unable to seek medical care until she qualified for medicare under the social security disability act. Previously there had only been a one year wait but ‘Ol Two-Cows’ extended the waiting period doubling the time one has to wait until on qualifies for medical assistance. So the nation now poses the absurdity of denying medical treatment to disabled persons for two full years. Such is the logical consistency and the compassion as exemplified by political conservatives.

In any case she was able to first get health insurance when she became eligible nearly a year ago with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, or ObamaCare as it is widely known. This, in effect, reduced the two year wait to see a doctor by about four months. She then qualified for Medicare under the Disability Act. Having insurance she could now seek treatment. 

While it has been stressful dealing with the events of the last days, one would have to ponder what would have befallen us if this had happened a year or two earlier when we had no insurance and could get no insurance given her medical history of ‘prior conditions’? The answer is at once obvious: the resulting expense would have been financially devastating, reducing the household to poverty, facing trade offs between medical expenses and food.

I’ve had the misfortune of encountering many a swine and the larvae of the swine on the internet, as I have commented on various issues of the day. Often I will get some knuckle dragging bonehead who will tell me straight out that taxes are theft, and that no government is the best government. The fool, if pressed, would no doubt reveal that he is in his twenties or early 30's and doesn’t see why ‘he’ should pay for someone else’s benefits. Of course he can, afford this ignorance, or thinks he can, because he is presently covered by his employment or is in pristine health at the prime of his life. What he doesn’t understand, and will make no effort to understand is that we are what he will be. At some point he too will no longer be employed and will have to either insure himself or will have to rely on government insurance.

The experience of my wife is a text book case; a standing justification of Lyndon Johnson and the liberalism that he exemplified. She lost her job at the prime of her productive years not because of incompetence or failure but because she could no longer physically deal with the stresses and strains. Having suffered already a major brain injury (brought on by stress) she was forced from the labor market long before she reached her golden years. Did her employer step up and see to it that she would keep her insurance and, therefore, her medical security? No he did not. The institution did what every employer does in this country, viewing the employee as a commodity, an interchangeable part, much as any piece of office equipment. They simply let her go, and replaced her with someone else, leaving her to fend for herself. This is the situation millions of workers in this country face every day as they are downsized, let go, forced by medical issues to leave the workplace early, or the company simply declares bankruptcy and wiggles out of its obligation to its workforce.

The point should now be obvious. If you are relying on your employment to care for your medical needs you may be in for a rude awakening, especially if you develop a serious, chronic, or end of career illness. Some may step up and do what is right, but most will not and you will find yourself damn thankful that Lyndon Johnson and now Barack Obama have come to the rescue.

When Medicare was passed it cut poverty among seniors by nearly two thirds. There are reasons for that, given that most of what one will spend on medical care occurs in the late stages of life, at a time when one no longer works and is on a fixed income. For this reason Lyndon Johnson set up a government insurance program in which everyone is compelled to contribute through payroll taxes. The program works. It isn’t perfect, but it sure as hell beats the alternative. As someone who has faced the real prospect of an event like this happening with no insurance at all, it is of some great comfort that for the last year or so we have had a measure of security, secure enough to make that ambulance call last Thursday morning. For that I take a moment and thank my stars for Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Ask me why I’m a Liberal? Because liberalism works.

Dec 3, 2014

December 2, 2014: Generation of Swine, The Idiot, Bad Citizenship


“To stand outside the state is to stand nowhere”
—from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”.

Americans think of themselves as a democracy, which we are not, but nevertheless point to ancient Athens as the origin of the American democratic experience.  That we are a republic, not a democracy matters little for “We the People” have taken sovereignty from the clutches of the self-appointed monarchs who had hitherto lorded over the masses by means of the pious fraud known as ‘divine right’.  We are rightly proud of our experiment in self governance, now entering it’s third century.  But lost in the din of contemporary political discourse and discord are some rather fundamental precepts of self-governance that were passed down through the ages to our founding fathers, but have been lost on the ‘generation of swine’.

If one cares to read not only the founding documents of this republic but the body of work representing its rationale, principally “The Federalist Papers”, one is confronted immediately by the realization that our founding fathers were steeped in ancient history, languages and, most especially of the political institutions of the ancient and medieval world.  They understood not only how ancient Greece and Rome were instituted but were well versed in the Conceptual nature of how the ancients saw themselves, their community, and one’s place in that community.
For the ancient Greeks specifically, the political community, the city-state, defined by the concept polis was all encompassing.  It defined everything, it was in essence the totality of the social arrangement.  For the Greeks to be outside the polis, is to be outside society.  To be outside the polis is to be nowhere.

I remember, as a young man, watching an episode of “The Waltons”, a serial saga about a semi-rural family in small town America.  The son, called ‘John-Boy’ declared to his father that he was a writer.  “You’re not a writer John-Boy”, replied the old man, “until someone else says you are”.  Herein lies the abiding truth about our existence.  It is the community that defines the individual, that is the point that old man Walton was trying to impress upon his impressionable young son.  You are what the community says you are, what–in large measure–the community has made of you.  Herein lies the overarching lesson of life.

It begins in the cradle, who brings you into this life, the station in which one finds oneself.  What one then makes of it is in large measure determined by the influences, be they familial, of the community, or of the institutions in which one is increasingly nurtured.  Later in life, individual initiative is either enhanced or retarded by the opportunities opened by one’s earlier upbringing and experiences or closed as the case may be.  But it is, in large measure, determined by the greater society.  Finally one knows when one has ‘made it’ when, as old man Walton, so inelegantly expressed it, someone else says you have.   The currency of success is always a social currency; one becomes a writer when one becomes ‘recognized’, one becomes an economic success only when society heaps wealth upon your shoulders.  To stand outside society was, to the ancients, an absurdity.  Likewise in every society be it tribe, city-state, confederation, church (as in the middle ages), or modern nation-state to be outside it’s boundaries is to be an ‘alien’, to be an ‘outcast’, to be nowhere.

The word “Idiot” in this context derives from the Greek “ idiotes” meaning someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[6] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.” (1) Indeed democracy was first introduced to Athens as a means of making the affairs of state public as opposed to the state being run by a group of oligarchs for their own personal gain. By expanding the franchise the ‘people’ acting directly and on their own behalf served to reign in on the abuses of the oligarchy, not by expanding the definition of the polis, but by expanding the participation in it.

Two concurrent threads are interwoven in this tapestry; the all-encompassing definition of citizenship and the participation in that citizenship for the purpose of reigning in and controlling the dominant economic interests of the state.  It was, therefore, anathema to the Greeks that one would place private concerns ahead of the public interests and to see in every concern, in every issue, in every domain merely narrow private interests was, to the Greeks, to be the original idiot.

It is the Greek word polis that is the root of our term ‘politics’, as the word commune is the root of its variant community.  One is born with an understanding of neither; however, it is hoped that through education the citizen develops an understanding of his rights, privileges and responsibilities to the greater society.   Indeed in this context “idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.” (1) Idiocy, then, is the opposite of citizenship.  ‘"Idiots" were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters”. (1)

This, by degrees, leads us to the swine.  We have witnessed in the last election one of what one hopes will be one of the last hog-calls of the swine, but I fear not.  In any case, the Koch (read coke) addled knuckle-dragging tea baggers have now made a complete pig’s breakfast of the political process in effect paralyzing the politics of the republic.  This has been a long time coming, beginning with the Young Asses for Fascism (2) and their support of Barry Goldwater to the modern Tea-Bagger we have seen a four decade assault on the very idea and legitimacy of governance itself.  When Reagan declared in his first Inaugural Address that “Government IS the problem” he, in effect, declared war on the polis and in so doing not only demonstrated bad citizenship, but revealed himself to be the political mouthpiece of a growing number of idiots in the truest meaning of the word.

 ____________________________________

1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot,
                                For a partial explanation of the ancient meaning.
2. Known as the “Young Americans for Freedom” they were referred to, in my youth as the
“Young Asses for Fascism.”  And so they have become. 

Nov 28, 2014

November 7, 2014: Generation of Swine, Pig HO-O-O-O-O-O-EY , HO-O-O-O-O-O-EY, Both Front Trotters.


Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich posted this on Facebook earlier today:
“If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big Tuesday it’s this: Median family income continues to drop, the first “recovery” when this has occurred. Meanwhile, all the economic gains are going to the richest Americans. If the Republicans think they can reverse this through their supply-side, trickle-down, fiscal austerity policies, they’re profoundly mistaken. The public will soon discover this. But if the Democrats believe they can reverse it simply by raising taxes on the rich and redistributing to everyone else, they are mistaken, too.

We need to raise the minimum wage, invest in education and infrastructure, lift the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes, resurrect Glass-Steagall and limit the size of the banks, make it easier for low-wage workers to unionize, raise taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to average worker pay, and much more. In other words, we need an agenda for shared prosperity. Over the next two years the Democrats have an opportunity to advance one. If they fail to do so, we’ll need a new opposition party that represents the interests of the vast majority”

This, in my view is precisely what was behind the horrible outcome of last Tuesday’s debacle   While other economic indicators are trending upward at a very favorable pace, including yesterday’s unemployment figures which are the lowest in six years, median household income not only continues to lag, but have actually declined precisely because the pigs have been at the trough with the snout and both front trotters.  Other statistics have long born this out showing the top 1% making off with 95% of the economic gains since the economy bottomed out in 2009.

What is needed, clearly, is an agenda as the former Secretary has here stated.  Our ancestors met a similar reality with exactly that, a “Progressive” agenda that included a graduated income tax, public works programs, strengthening and enforcing labor laws and, through the hard experience of trial and error, embracing a concept known as Kenysian economics.

It is worth noting as well that during the last decades of the 19th century and early decades of the last century forward thinking reformers formed their own third parties, first the Greenback party, then later the Progressive party which served to not only highlight the gross maldistribution of economic rewards for hard work, but siphoned off enough votes to make both major political parties embrace most, if not all, of the Progressive agenda.  First the Republicans under Theodore Roosevelt, enforcing the anti-trust laws, and introducing modest changes in labor laws, followed by the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson and the introduction of the graduated federal income taxes and further more robust trust-busting, and finally with the administrations of FDR and LBJ which created and extended the social safety net.  For well over half a century this country labored to institute the Progressive agenda with both parties, by degrees, adopting and implementing what turned out to be sound public policies.  For the last 40 years the Swine have been about the business of making a complete pig’s breakfast of what we inherited and, instead of building upon this record of accomplishment have instead taken a wrecking ball to the edifice.

I’m afraid the time has come for right-thinking progressives to exercise sound judgement and, as the Secretary suggests, form a new political party.  Perhaps an American Labor party if, for no other reason, to force the two dominant parties to take the middle class seriously.  

Oct 26, 2014

September 22, 2014: I Am a Log, Serious Stuff, Platitudes Bromides and Certainties.


As I recall it, well now over 40 years after the fact, I was sitting in the classroom studying psychology when Professor Morgan asked the assembled to draw pictures of who we thought we were, with a few notes of explanation.  Shortly we began to go around the room and each student duly presented his or her artwork and accompanied by a brief oral discription of who they were.  When he got to me I produced a picture of a log, explaining that I was just sitting there like an old log observing the world as it passed by.  Professor Morgan, a bit taken aback asked incredulously, “What’s a log, man?”  “I don’t know, but whatever it is its more natural than being an electrical engineer or administrator” was my reply.  A hush settled about the room generated by a certain uneasiness as the assembled moved about a bit in their chairs.  “Explain, if you will”, intoned the professor.   “I am not my occupation”, I said, “I am more than that.  I exist, I occupy space in this time on this planet, while I’m here I am many things, most of all a social animal embedded in a web of social relationships all of which define who I am.  It’s more than a question of vocation, or economics, we are all larger than the pidgeonholes in which we sometimes all too willingly allow ourselves to be contained and defined”.   “That’s serious stuff” remarked the professor. 

 My contributions to the class consisted of scoring two principle points.  First the infamous “I am a Log” statement in which I tried to drive home the point that the essence of personhood is not and should not be narrowly defined by one’s occupation.  The second point came at the end of the class.  The students were asked to tell the class what their grade should be and defend it.  There were two, what seemed to me at the time, ‘old’ ladies who commuted together each day down from Whitehall to take classes.  The ladies in question were, I suppose, in their 40’s at the time working on their degrees in hopes of becoming elementary school teachers.  Now it transpires that it just so happened that this class, all about child development and pedagogy, was at the vangard of a new approach to teaching little Jane and Johnny.  In the hopes of stirring latent ‘creativity’ it was thought, the old school approach of sitting at desks and being confronted with a structured program was hopelessly outdated to be replaced by an ‘open’ classroom where the young charges would be allowed to wander about and, when he or she became ready, the student would naturally, following some inherent curiousity, sit down and master the task at hand.  I saw the movement as a passing fad, like modern Rap, but just like the modern musical abortion this proved to be one of those institutional movements that would endure.  In any case when the ladies presented their case for their grades to the class, a rather condescending classmate opined that it was refreshing indeed that the old foggies should, at such a late date, still have the mental abilities, as well as the extraordinary courage to adopt new ideas.  The exchange, after a time, went beyond unsettling and began to resemble harrange bordering on harrassment.  I moved to step in.

 I raised my hand and had no trouble at all getting the attention of Professor Morgan who by this time was becoming visibly uneasy.  Gaining recognition and the floor I began my observation.  “You know I’ve been at this institution for four years now and have read many books. I have labored long and hard over this time and at quite an expense.  It is at once gratifying and depressing that I find myself here today.  Gratifying that I have at last found, between the covers of this textbook the TRUTH.  I need look no further, for alas, we have indeed reached the pinnacle if not the end of the quest for knowledge.  I can, therefore rest from my labors and enjoy a lifetime in quiet repose.  I am depressed though because the TRUTH, it transpires, has been right beneath my nose all the time and it has taken so long for me to find it and for this institution to lead me to it.  I suspect, though, that in 40 time some enterprising ‘expert’ in the field of education will make his or her reputation by proposing a program of matriculation that is wholly at odds with what we have learned here and this program will likewise be received with all the enthusiasm and certainty that we currently are showering on the authors of this text.”  The dear Doctor simply nodded with a wry smile, acknowleging the point and relieved that the tension had left the room. One must be careful with platitudes, bromides and certainties.  One must not be about the business of erecting monuments lest one be slain by a falling statue.  A healthy skepticism is in order for without it one loses one’s peripheral vision and what is presented to us as certainty all to often is simple illusion. 

 Alas, Professor Morgan, one of those cherished few souls with courage to wander outside the ‘box’, was soon pressured to leave my alma mater, soon to be replaced with god know’s what since the Governor had placed the likes of Richard DeVos, he of the Scamway company, on the Board of Control.  But before he left, I was priveleged to be among those who benefitted by his insights and willingess to have his students confront life and the meaning of life. 




Oct 24, 2014

September 21, 2014: Radio Daze, Canned Platitudes, He Hasn't Read His Marx


Back in the 1970’s an old college buddy was deeply involved with a local community radio station in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Among his storied duties included hosting an hour long talk program dealing with current affairs and observations.  To this end, he would occasionally invite me to observe or participate.  One Sunday evening I was at the station awaiting our turn in the studio when I overheard the guest on the radio defend the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.  It transpired that the person in question was one of those faux radicals present on campus in the late 60’s and early 70’s reincarnated here as a hopeless apologlist for anything the Commissars in the Kremlin were engaged in.  When the program was over, I confronted old Jim.

 The question quickly boiled down to basic, as he understood it, Communist Ideology, with me questioning the legitimacy of the actions taken by the state.  It was a reiteration of the old Orthodoxy, at least as it is past on in American schools, and I quickly pounced.

  “What’s the difference between the state expropriating the fruits of labor and the Capitalist doing so.  Is not the state simply the Capitalist writ large?”,  I inquired.  He was taken aback by the question, clearly not anticipating it.  As I remember he responded with the usual canned platitudes. 

  “So I take it you’ve never read the ‘Paris Manuscripts of 1844’ (1) have you?” I asked.

  “What’s that?” was his befuddled response.

 I went about trying to explain to him that this is the work that preceeded all others.  It was here that Marx began to hone his famous Theory of Alienation and lay the groundwork for his critique of Capital.  It is the underpinning of all that will follow, including his ‘withering away of the state’.  Marx, I contended would have been appalled at the spectre of the Soviet Union.  If you want to see Communism in action, he would later write, look to the Paris Commune.  This was an elected government briefly formed in Paris when the regime was toppled by the German invasion in the Franco-German war of 1871.  It was, in fact, light years from the heavy handed Stalinist regime the remnants of which were still in place.   Later, one of our mutual friends, taken aback by the exchange, said “he wasn’t ready for that was he’?  “No,” said I, “He has not read his Marx”. 

 __________

 (1)   Published under the title “Economic and Philosophic          Manuscripts of 1844”       
              The work is commonly referred to simply as the  
               "Paris Manuscripts"                                      

Oct 19, 2014

September 20, 2014: Most Assuredly Wrong, See For Myself, One Chapter Ahead


“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
 It’s a wonder I can think at all”        
                             ----Paul Simon “Kodachrome”

“I’ve discovered later in life that, with the possible exception of basic reading and mathematics, most of what I was taught was most assuredly wrong."
                           ----from "The Quotations of Chairman Joe".                                              

Nineteen years ago I found myself substitute teaching in what is now called a “middle school” (formerly a Junior High) a class in sociology, which had become the format for teaching a combination of sociology, history and government.  In the course of the conversation a rather perceptive student opined that he thought that schools were nothing but indoctrination centers.  I was a bit taken aback by the observation, but I recalled reading in my history that the French Minister of Education proclaimed at the end of the 19th century, as the state had wrested nearly complete control of education from the church, that “now we will make good nationalists of them”.   I found myself unable to mount an effective reply and simply nodded in agreement.  It is hard to see it in any other way.

 From making ‘good christians’ to making ‘good nationalists’ the educational system is designed to meet the demands of a certain agenda, whatever that agenda may be.  It may be parochial, or it may be public, but whatever it’s agenda it is certain to entail the adoption of some belief system leading to the veneration of certain established institutions otherwise known as the “Box”.  To think outside the “Box” is to risk heresy, ending in certain chastisement, marginalization or outright banishment.  To that end, certain forces are at work to see that the material is presented in an ‘acceptable’ if not official manner.  In the United States, agencies like the Texas authorities comb every textbook to see that they meet their preconcieved ideas of what the true history and governance of this country is, reflecting true ‘American’ values.  It is like that in every country. And so atrocities, betrayals, chicanery, and outright mendacity are expunged from every textbook leading the young to believe that theirs is a ‘chosen’ lot in life be it Divine Providence or the ‘Manifest Destiny’ of the nation into which one is born.

 I first became aware that something may be amiss when I visited the “Farm” in my youth.  In previous posts (see “Northwest of Custer” and “Return to Custer”) I have mentioned that visits to my grandparents were seen by the ‘folks’ as much as an opportunity to teach as it was a time of reaquaintence.  During one such visit my great Uncle Lionel closely questioned me concerning what they were teaching at my parochial school.  I could tell by his body language and the nature of the questioning that he was dismayed if not appalled.  It was the complete rejection of Natural History, I would later come to appreciate, as well as the implied war on science that he could not sanction. I returned to school with, I think, a greater peripheral vision but when I answered a ‘science’ question stating that the world was 4 billion years old, I was not only marked down but singled out for reprimand.

 And so began my long questioning of what were presented to me as established ‘truth’.  I remember the tirades against the forces of ‘evil’ prominent among them were the works of Marx and Nietszche.  I began to suspect the interpretation and, when I emerged from my ‘studies’ later in life, the first thing I did was purchase a copy of every work still in print by these two writers  I just had to see for myself.

 As I suspected, what was presented to me so authoritatively turned out to be a mere characterization of their works, betraying a blinding ignorace of what these people were trying to say. I suspected, even as a boy, that perhaps the truth was more encompassing, now I found myself face to face with the genuine article and it was revealing.

 Nietszche in his work “Thus Spake Zarathustra” has the protagonist coming from the mountaintop and dispensing his newly formed observations concerning the human predicament to anyone who will listen.  Soon he gathers a group of followers who take his every utterance as nearly Divine Revelation.  Zarathustra becomes uneasy, continually protesting that “I have not been understood”.  Finally, in exasperation he warns his followers that one should not be about the business of erecting monuments lest one be slain by a falling statue.  And so it is.  Every writer, every thinker, must be painfully self conscious.  Every philosopher or theologian must be continually vigilant lest he be laid waste not only by his opponents but by his very adherents. 

 Nietsche warned his readers that he was not the answer, but possibly only a steppingstone in the long quest for truth.  “To disagree with him and to know why”, as Kaufman his translater would so succinctly and aptly put it, is the real challenge facing every reader.  It is the real challenge and the real pleasure in reading any great work. To critique it instead of blindly and submissively accepting or rejecting is the great treasure. By reading such works with such an approach one can engage in a kind of dialogue with the greatest minds of humankind.  But alas, that is not how one is taught to read in any school I’m familiar with.

Indeed it gets worse.  I am currently near the end of reading Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” I found a complete set of this work at a bookstore in Winder Georgia and had to lay my hands on it.  This was another work held up as testament for the need to follow the ‘straight and narrow’.  Gibbon, we were told, was one of the truly great historians. He wrote, we were assured, that the reason the Roman Empire fell was that the people no longer followed the true religion and that decadence had finally been the undoing of the great historical experiment.  If only the Romans had been faithful to the Church….. I discovered reading this work that my suspicions were well founded for Gibbon wrote no such thing.  True enough, the empire fell from within as the people no longer felt it was worth defending against the barbarian hordes and in fact hired the barbarians as mercenaries to defend the empire for them.  So it was, to a great degree, a loss of faith but it was a loss of faith in the efficacy of the state, not a religious question.  To cast the fall of the Roman Empire as a theological question, stemming from a growing ‘degeneracy’ and loss of a moral compass, is to greatly strain the historical record.

 In fact, I was to discover later, that was precisely the theological cunundrum confronting St. Augustine.  How could it be that the Empire began to unravel soon after the adoption by the state of Christianity as the state religion.  For Christians everywhere this was the great paradox.  Augustine did his best to explain it away but Gibbon, I was later to learn, never made the attempt. 

 So began my introduction with historical criticism creating as it did a lifelong passion for the subject.  Entering the public schools I was likewise harranged by my instructors concerning the shortcomings of so-called ‘heresies’.  Nietzche never got much attention in the public schools largely because they aren’t fixated with his “god is dead” proclamation, but Marx—considering the “Cold War” at the time—got more extensive, if not less biased treatment.  There were classes in Marxist “Dialectical Materialism” and “Historical Determinism” and, of course, his wild prognostications were always fodder for ridicule. We even held a “Communist Classroom” in our “American Problems” class in High School as a way of demonstrating what school may have been like behind the Iron Curtain.  We each had to choose a ‘Russian’ name, and sit ramrod staight and salute when called upon.  I took the name of Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov a point lost on my peers as well as my instructor.  

 By reading Marx I discovered many more dimensions.  First his historical analysis as to the orgin of modern Capital and his statistical discription of Capitalism in Dickensonian England are worth reading simply because they are so accurate, a point the ‘folks’ back at the farm impressed upon me all those years ago.    Of all the criticisms leveled at Marx no one takes umbrage with his economic analysis.  Engles has been widely criticised for his methodology, not so Marx who was the better historian and economist.  Secondly, there is the Marxist Theory of Alienation, a part of his thinking so far reaching and so penetrating so as to be at the very foundation of his philosphy.  The alienation of man, town from country, rich from poor, even from himself lies at the very foundation of the moral—yes moral—outrage that permeates his work.  In the eyes of Marx the Capitalist, by appropriating a portion of the fruits of a man’s labor, steals not only his wealth but his personhood.  He is expropriating part of the very ‘selfhood’ of the laborer. This is a deeply penetrating part of Communist ideology, as formulated by Marx, but wholly ignored in the treatment of it—if the subject gets any serious attention at all—by our schoolmasters and schoolmarms. 

 Back in college we were tasked with reading the ‘historical novel’ “The Sotweed Factor” by John Barth.  It is an 800 page tome cast in Colonial America (Maryland as I recall) which we had to read for one of our weekly book quizzes.  In it the Protagonist teaches school for a short period of time observing that the mark of a good instructor is to always be one chapter ahead of his students. I soon began to suspect that my instructors were running the race only a mere chapter ahead of me.

 And so it is. It’s not simply that my instructors in a parochial primary school were passing along theologically driven characterizations, its that none of them, be they private or public, primary or secondary, or even university level had ever read their material in the original (or translations of same).  In high school history and government tend to be taught by the coaches of the sports teams, meaning that they majored in physical education in college and minored in the subject at hand.  This means that they rarely got much past the required ‘survey’ classes in college, putting them precisely one chapter, more or less, ahead of the class.  That’s why Americans have no idea what a Communist is, let alone a Socialist, or Fascist.  They have no idea the difference between an authoritarian regime and a dictatorship, let alone between a democracy and a republic.  This is why the Teabaggers can characterize our President as a socialist, a communist and a fascist, all in the same sentence.  And this is why most Americans don’t know that the words “Capital” or “Free Market” never appear in the founding documents but the word “Regulate” or varients of it, do.  


Mar 2, 2014

March 3, 2014: Assault on the Middle Class, State-Sanctioned Greed, Don't Agonize...Organize


Senator Corker is not alone in this headlong assault on the middle class.  Everywhere, across the country, diligent Rescumlicans are about the business of conducting a headlong assault on both the New Deal and organized labor rolling back a century of progress.  There’s Scott Walker in Wisconsin waging war on the public employee unions, Rick Snyder, a former hedge fund tycoon, turning Michigan into a ‘right to starve’ state further solidifying it’s position as the Alabama of the Midwest.  Then there’s John Kasich of Ohio, previous congressman best known for leading the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton while in the House, now as governor of Ohio he first led a battle to savage public employee unions and, after the voters overturned the law by public referendum we now find him leading the fight to keep as many voters away from the polls as indeceny will allow.  Across America we see a concerted effort to wage war on the workers of this country, first by seeking to limit the ability of workers to organize, second by seeking to roll back worker’s hard earned gaines by , as Corker demonstrated, using real or imagined crises to wring draconian concessions from the working class, and lastly by seeking to protect their political backsides from an associated political cost by restricting access to the ballot box.  The result is that, as the aforementioned graph demonstrates, the percentage of the national wealth held by the middle class of this country is on the decline.

Bill Moyers featured as a guest on his PBS program last season former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.  Reich, now economics professor at Berkley, has recently published a book dealing with the state of the economy in the post-Bush era.  It transpires that the top 1% made off with 95% of the economic gains made since the crash of ’07.  Below is a graph illustrating the relative gains by each of the 5 economic groupings in recent years. 




If one were to further break down this income distribution, one would find that most of the gains within the top 5% went to the highest 1%, with the lion’s share going to the top one half of one per cent.  Meanwhile, as this graph so aptly demonstrates, the bottom 80% are falling behind. 

To see the impact of the state-sanctioned greed let’s look at what has happened to median income in recent years, but first a word of explanation for those unfamiliar with the arcane ways of the statistician.  Conservatives gloss over what is happening to the middle class by using income averages.  The average household income and the mean household income are not the same standards of measure because averages can, in this case, be misleading.  For instance you could put Bill Gates in a room with 40 homeless people and the average wealth of everyone in the room would be well over a Billion dollars. But if you measure by Median wealth and you would get a quite different and quite startling answer, for Median wealth would approach, in this example, near zero. For such measurements real wealth or yearly household incomes are measured by the median and by deviations from the median known to the statistically obtuse as “standard deviations”.  Think of the median as the true middle, like the median on the road.  Here, in this statistic, one can measure the relative position, success or the struggles of the ‘average’ american—that is the American Middle Class. 








As you can see, since 2007 the “average” or median household income has gone down by roughly $4,000.00 per year. The Middle Class has lost, in the wake of the recession, 7.8 or roughly 8% of its purchasing power.  So while the top one percent has made off with 95% of the economic gains since the last recession the middle class has lost nearly 8% of it’s income. Only belatedly has this administration begun to address this problem.
The consequences of allowing these trends to continue unabated is amply illustrated in the graph below.
The graph clearly shows that the percentage of the national wealth held by the middle class, adjusted for inflation to 2012 dollars, reached its peak in 1968. A whole host of problems and issues arose in the 1970s from the election of Richard Outhouse Nixon to the Arab Oil Boycott, to the introduction into the labor force of the Baby Boomers (otherwise known as the ‘generation of swine’), which set the stage for the downward decent of the purchasing power of Main Street America.  What has been so troubling has been the governmental response, or rather lack of response to this trend.  In fact governance has mostly involved creating new and novel means to accelerate the trend either by nearly eliminating any semblance of ‘progressivism’ in the tax code, shifting taxation so that work is now taxed at a much higher rate than wealth, and by turning a blind eye when we are not turning back the clock on regulations (principally financial regulations) and anti-trust.  Here we see that administrations, be they Democratic or Republican have not altered the general shape of the curve, giving damning testament to the growing dominance to the now near dictatorship of Capital. 
 There is a solution to this, one that is best expressed by an old adage “don’t agonize…organize”
If you're part of the middle class, thank a union.