Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012-01-31 "Rhode Island Tea Party State Senator Who Introduced “Right-to-Work” is a 21-Year-Old College Student Whose Last Job Was Cracker Barrel Dishwasher"
State Senator Nicholas Kettle has introduced legislation in Rhode Island that would place “Right-to-Work” restrictions on teachers unions [http://www.wpri.com/dpp/news/local_news/providence/rhode-island-lawmaker-senator-nicholas-kettle-to-introduce-teachers-right-to-work-bill]: “Teachers in Rhode Island deserve a choice,” Kettle said. “The National Education Association uses questionable tactics when dealing with our legislature…harming the reputation of many fine teachers and placing our children at the bottom of our priority list.”
Kettle, who is 21, is a prime example of the unqualified candidates that were swept in by Tea Party momentum at the state level in 2010 and the damage they can do once they are in “power.” Saying Kettle is “unqualified” may well be a glaring understatement. Before defeating 20 year political veteran Leo Blais by the narrow margin of 23 votes, Kettle had been employed as a dishwasher at Cracker Barrel.
This blog has nothing against Cracker Barrel (we love dumplings, in fact) and, quite obviously, nothing against starting at the bottom and working your way up.

But let’s get real.
Kettle appears to have employed a bit of the old bait and switch since becoming a member of the Rhode Island Senate. He has been called out by those he claimed to support on the campaign trail but ignored once he get to Providence. One of those groups is Rhode Island’s LGBT community. Kettle said he supported gay marriage to get votes and then promptly “changed his mind” once elected [http://www.anchorweb.org/news/ric-student-changes-politics-1.2477701#.TylgifnJnq0]. The Political Action Group Marriage Equality for Rhode Island responded by passing out fliers at Rhode Island College where Kettle is currently enrolled. Yes, the man that is trying to enact “Right-to-Work” in Little Rhodey is STILL STUDYING HISTORY.
Kettle has also had trouble watching what he says since his surprise election in 2010. He has used his position on the Housing and Municipal Government committee to insult homeless people [http://www.rifuture.org/state-senator-nicholas-kettle-has-learned-what-exactly.html]:
In an e-mail before the hearing, freshman Sen. Nicholas D. Kettle urged Tea Party supporters to question homeless advocates and “fill up the room before the homeless folks! Help me ask why this homeless person has better clothes than I,” he said.
Kettle promised to ask tough questions and called Tassoni’s hearings a “dog-and-pony show.”
But during the hearing, Kettle apologized for the message, after homeless advocate John Joyce read it aloud and asked why Kettle hated the homeless and the poor.
Kettle said he didn’t hate the homeless, but that he sent the e-mail “out of frustration” and because he thought the hearing was one-sided.
“Don’t apologize to me,” said Joyce, who was once homeless. “Apologize to the homeless people of the state.”
Every young adult is allowed to make mistakes as long as they learn lessons from them. Sure, Kettle apologized, but he also suggested that the only lesson he really learned was to “watch what you put in writing.”
Kettle will have to defend his record, or lack thereof, when he runs for re-election this November. Now that he’s 21, he can use the “guy you’d want to have a beer with” argument to rally his base. Or, at least, his classmates.

Scan of the "Stars" magazine which originally revealed the young fascists work history:

2012-01-31 "ExxonMobil Makes $41 Billion, But Pays Estimated 17.6% Tax Rate, Lower Than Most Taxpayers (But Not Romney)" by Rebecca Leber
ExxonMobil had the largest profits of the Big Five oil companies in 2011, raking in $41.1 billion for the year [http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Files/news_release_earnings_4q11.pdf]. This 35 percent jump from last year is driven in large part by record-high oil prices. Today, the oil giant announced its fourth quarter profits of $9.4 billion, a 2 percent increase since 2010. Here are a few other facts about ExxonMobil:
• Exxon’s $41.1 billion in 2011 profit translates into nearly $5 million in profit every hour, or more than $1,300 every second. The annual profit comes near the record revenues of $46.23 billion in 2008.
• Stock buybacks for Q4 were $5.4 billion, and $ 21.60 billion for the year, equivalent to 53 percent of total 2011 profit. This enriches executives, the board of directors, and largest shareholders.
• Exxon pays a lower tax rate than the average American [http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/31/415337/economy/2011/05/11/165367/exxon-pays-less-taxes/]. Between 2008-2010, Exxon Mobil registered an average 17.6 percent federal effective corporate tax rate, while the average American paid a higher rate of 20.4 percent.  [In 2010, Mitt Romney paid an effective tax rate of 13.9%.]
• The company paid no taxes to the U.S. federal government in 2009 [http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/31/415337/politics/2010/04/06/90299/exxon-tax/], despite 45.2 billion record profits. It paid $15 billion in taxes, but none in federal income tax.
• The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States [http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/04/06/exxon-zero-taxes/].
• Exxon is sitting on $11 billion cash on hand as of September 30 [http://ir.exxonmobil.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=115024&p=irol-sec&seccat01.1_rs=21&seccat01.1_rc=10].
• Exxon spent nearly $13 million on lobbying expenditures in 2011 [http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000129]. The company gave nearly another $900,000 in federal campaign contributions [http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/totals.php?id=D000000129&cycle=2012]. 92 percent of contributions went to Republicans.
• Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson made $29 million in 2010 (according to the latest records): He made $2.2 million in salary, a $3.4 million bonus, and stock awards valued at $15.5 million.
• Exxon is drawing out a legal battle for damages on a spill from 22 years ago. Exxon hasn’t paid $92 million in cleanup for the devastating Valdez Alaskan oil spill [http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/10/will-exxon-have-pay-ongoing-valdez-damage]. In its Sept. 30 court filing, Exxon argued the damages it agreed to pay only covers “restoration” and not additional “clean-up.”
• Far from a job creator, ExxonMobil — together with Chevron, Shell, and BP — reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees between 2005 and 2010 [http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/content/files/2011-09-08_RPT_OilProfitsPinkSlips.pdf].
2012-01-31 "Why the GOP Loves Keystone XL and Wants Congress to Approve the Pipeline" by Mike Ludwig from "Truthout"
 Senate Republicans announced a bill on Monday that would allow Canadian oil company TransCanada to begin construction of its proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas.
 The bill's top sponsors - Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), David Vitter (R-Louisiana) - are the same lawmakers who authored a provision in the payroll tax cut extension in December that required President Obama to approve or deny the pipeline within 60 days.
 Blaming the deadline, President Obama rejected a permit for the project earlier this month because the State Department had recently decided to push back its final decision another year to allow officials in Nebraska time to explore alternative pipeline routes that avoid environmentally sensitive areas and a large freshwater aquifer.
 Lugar's bill would allow TransCanada to begin construction in other states while Nebraska works to find an alternate route.
 Obama said the rejection was not based on "merits" of the project, and in the past week, the president unveiled plans  to expand domestic oil and gas production that include leasing 38 million underwater acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
 On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC news that the House would attach similar pipeline approval legislation to an infrastructure and jobs bill that will be introduced next week.

The GOP's Pipeline Politics -
 The Republican obsession with the Keystone pipeline is exacerbating a political headache for Obama and fellow Democrats, whose voter base is split on the issue, with environmental groups and climate activists opposed to the pipeline and some labor unions supporting it.
 Putting a bill on Obama's desk that would approve the pipeline could force the president to take a position on the controversial project during an election year. A veto would give the GOP more ammo to call Obama a job killer, who canceled a infrastructure project during tough economic times, but signing the bill would enrage the environmental movement that brought thousands to the White House to protest the pipeline last year.
 When asked about the pipeline approval bill, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that he had no opinion on legislation that "may or may not come to pass" and took the opportunity to blame Republicans for politicizing the project and creating a deadline that forced Obama to reject it.
 Neil Brown, a spokesperson for Senator Lugar, said the Keystone XL pipeline is worth supporting regardless of the surrounding politics.
 "If you look at the numbers, it speaks for itself," said Brown, who pointed out that it's better to get oil from Canada than from politically unstable oil producing countries.
 The pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day, most of it heavy crude extracted from the Alberta tar sands, a process climate activists and environmentalists also oppose.
 Lugar and his colleagues continue to claim the project would create 20,000 jobs, a number under heavy debate in the media. Independent researchers at Cornell University estimated the pipeline would directly create about 2,500 to 6,000 temporary construction jobs.

Big Oil's Deep Pockets -
 Here's some other numbers to consider: the oil and gas industry is the top contributor to the campaign committees of Lugar's top co-sponsors, with Senator Vitton receiving $523,850 and Senator Hoeven receiving $263,289 since 2007.
 At a protest at Boehner's district office in Ohio last week, environmentalists pointed out that the House speaker, who has hammered Obama for rejecting the pipeline, has received $1.2 million in contributions from "dirty" energy firms connected to coal, oil and gas production. According to Boehner's 2010 financial disclosure forms, filed last year, the speaker had $10,000 to $50,000 in investments in several energy firms involved in Alberta tar sands extraction, including Exxon Mobile and Canadian Natural Resources.
 "It's quite amazing to watch how Capitol Hill works - to realize that many of these guys are less public servants and more employees of the oil industry," said author and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who organized protests against the pipeline. "Two weeks ago the head of the American Petroleum Institute promised 'huge political consequences' if Obama didn't do what they wanted, and now they're trying to make good on the threat."
 The bill that would approve the pipeline has 44 co-sponsors. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is currently the only Democrat on the list.

Comment compilation from original web posting:

Pipelines are construction projects that require due process of review by appropriate governmental agencies and the public. Furthermore, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not your ordinary pipeline. It is a 1,700-mile, $7 billion behemoth that would bring 700,000 barrels per day of carbon-heavy tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Here are some disturbing facts:
 1. Keystone XL is an export pipeline that will NOT reduce dependence on foreign oil, but transport cheap Canadian tar sands to American refineries on the Gulf Coast for tax-free export to markets in Europe and Latin America. Most of the refined fuel will never reach U.S. drivers' tanks. XL would not improve our energy security or independence from Mid-East oil imports, which can only be done through increased fuel efficiency.
 2. Keystone XL WILL increase gas prices for Americans - especially farmers. It would remove the oversupply of discounted Canadian crude from U.S. Midwest markets, and provide an increase of billions in Canadian oil annual revenue. Per-gallon prices in the Midwest would rise by 20 cents/gallon, or 21% by 2013 from 2009 levels. This would be passed on to the public in the form of higher food prices.
 3. TransCanada's jobs projections are vastly inflated. In South Dakota, of the construction jobs on the Keystone I pipeline (first phase of the system now bringing Alberta crude to Illinois), just 11% are estimated to be filled by South Dakotans - most of them for temporary, low-paying manual labor. Labor unions oppose XL, and call instead for jobs to repair, improve and expand water and sewage pipelines, bridges, tunnels, public transportation infrastructure, energy conservation and the electrical power grid that will help to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency. In short, XL will not boost local employment nor assure energy security.
 4. A rupture in Keystone XL would cause a massive oil spill in America's agricultural heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people, and could devastate the environment. The U.S. Pipeline Safety Administration (PSA) has not yet conducted an in depth analysis of XL's safety. There have been 12 TransCanada spills on Keystone I in one year. Government-ordered tests indicated that defective steel may have been the cause. XL will cross the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers, the Ogallala aquifer, sage grouse habitat, walleye fisheries and more. PSA has not adequately accounted for threats to wildlife, increased pollution in distressed refinery communities, accelerated climate change and other issues.
 5. Keystone XL will exacerbate North America's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A Rockefeller Foundation report concluded that climate change, if not addressed, will be the greatest threat to national security. The State Department's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) fails to adequately analyze XL's GHGs. Extraction and refinement of oil sands are more GHG-intensive than those of conventional oil. Although the EIS estimates that XL's annual GHGs could exceed those of Mideast crude by the equivalent of 2 to 4 coal-fired power plants, the EPA believes that the EIS estimate is short by as much as 20%. Thus, over its projected 50-year lifetime, XL could spew an extra 1.15 billion tons of GHGs into the atmosphere.
 In short: The Keystone XL pipeline requires further review and deep study before being approved, if ever.
 Tar sands producers are pushing for the type of “safety procedure waivers” provided to BP, prior to the Gulf disaster of last year. Additionally, TransCanada – the Keystone XL producer is seeking permission to pump tar sands oil at pressures EXCEEDING normal safety limits, while using pipes made from thinner steel than are the industry standard. Tar sands crude oil often causes “false pressure warnings in pipelines” making the identification of a true leak almost impossible. Tar sands oil is also thicker than conventional oil and has higher concentrations of heavy metals, which require higher concentrations of energy and water to separate the oil from the sands. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report tar sands contain:
 “15 to 20 times higher acid concentrations than conventional crude oil, five to 10 times as much sulfur, high concentrations of chloride salts and higher concentrations of abrasive quartz sand particles.”
Furthermore, the NRDC report explains, “This combination of chemical corrosion and physical abrasion can dramatically increase the rate of pipeline deterioration.” (Source: Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks Report, February 2011) The Guardian Environmental Network explained further, “In order to get it to flow through pipelines, raw tar sands bitumen is diluted with natural gas condensate and then moved in heated pipelines under high pressure. The study (NRDC report) asserts that the higher temperatures and higher internal pipeline pressures can create gas bubbles within the pipelines, deform the metal and lead to ruptures caused by pressure spikes.” So, when you combine the more highly corrosive tar sands crude oil with thinner steel – you have a recipe for a blowout disaster. In fact … just another Canadian tar sands pipeline built by Enbridge, experienced such a rupture.
The Enbridge Lakehead Pipeline Rupture took place along what was been benignly labeled “Line 6B.” This line feeds into the Great Lakes in Michigan and the ramifications for additional water contamination are dire. The rupture wasn’t a pinhole or a few inches in diameter – it was six and one-half feet long and has gushed in excess of 800,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River system. Enbridge asked permission to use the same type of thinner steel that TransCanada is seeking permission to use. To make matters worse, Enbridge had begun applying for a permit to operate this pipeline at higher pressures than is scientifically advised. In terms of government oversight regarding the engineering and scientific safety questions – the agency charged with pipeline regulations, namely the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), fails to differentiate between crude oil and tar sands oil safety requirements. PHMSA law governing transport of these two compounds requiring different treatment – views them as identical. Ironic how the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) frets more over a cancer patient sporting a colostomy bag being a danger to a plane of passengers than they do concerning inadequate pipeline safety of toxic tar sands oil – containing enormous amounts of known toxics and carcinogens
Ahhh, and then there's the PIG (a robotic Pipeline Inspection Gauge) whose software has INTENTIONALLY flawed software to low ball any negative findings. Whistle blower pointed out the software problems, software stayed in. On purpose.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Truth About the Conservative Mind: Why Reactionaries from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin Have Fought Real Liberty; Conservatism is a reaction to democratic movements, like OWS, that challenge the authority of elites" from "The Chronicle of Higher Education" by Corey Robin
Corey Robin is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and CUNY's Graduate Center. He blogs at coreyrobin.com. This essay is adapted from his book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, published by Oxford University Press.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Corey Robin's "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin."
 It's been a rotten few months for the nation's wealthiest 1 percent. From the senatorial candidacy of Elizabeth Warren to Occupy Wall Street, economic elites have faced a concerted attack on their riches and power, their arrogant and unaccountable ways. And you can hear it in their voices, or at least the voices of their spokesmen. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared, "I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country." Mitt Romney told an audience in Florida that "I think it's dangerous—this class warfare." So rattled is George Will that he's been forced to pull out a playbook from an older time. All but calling Warren a Communist, he accused the Oklahoma-born scholarship kid of believing that the government "is entitled to socialize—i.e., conscript—whatever portion" of an individual's property "it considers its share."
After decades of "compassionate conservatism," "a thousand points of light," and "Morning in America," dark talk of class warfare on the right can seem like a strange throwback. So accustomed are we to the sunny Reagan and the populist Tea Party that we've forgotten a basic truth about conservatism: It is a reaction to democratic movements from below, movements like Occupy Wall Street that threaten to reorder society from the bottom up, redistributing power and resources from those who have much to those who have not so much. With the roar against the ruling classes growing ever louder, the right seems to be reverting to type. It thus behooves us to take a second look at the conservative tradition, not just its current incarnation but also across time, for that tradition provides us with an understanding of why the conservative responds to Occupy Wall Street as he does.
Since the modern era began, men and women in subordinate positions have marched against their superiors. They have gathered under different banners—the labor movement, feminism, abolition, socialism—and shouted different slogans: freedom, equality, democracy, revolution. In virtually every instance, their superiors have resisted them. That march and démarche of democracy is one of the main stories of modern politics. And it is the second half of that story, the démarche, that drives the development of ideas we call conservative. For that is what conservatism is: a meditation on, and theoretical rendition of, the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.
Despite the very real differences among them, workers in a factory are like secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a plantation—even wives in a marriage—in that they live and labor in conditions of unequal power. They submit and obey, heeding the demands of their managers and masters, husbands and lords. Sometimes their lot is freely chosen—workers contract with their employers, wives with their husbands—but its entailments seldom are. What contract, after all, could ever itemize the ins and outs, the daily pains and continuing sufferance, of a job or a marriage? Throughout American history, in fact, the contract has served as a conduit to unforeseen coercion and constraint. Employment and marriage contracts have been interpreted by judges to contain all sorts of unwritten and unwanted provisions of servitude to which wives and workers tacitly consent, even when they have no knowledge of such provisions or wish to stipulate otherwise.
Until 1980, for example, it was legal in every state for a husband to rape his wife. The justification for this dates back to a 1736 treatise by the British jurist Matthew Hale. When a woman marries, he argued, she implicitly agrees to give "up herself in this kind [sexually] unto her husband." Hers is a tacit, if unknowing, consent, "which she cannot retract" for the duration of their union. Having once said yes, she can never say no. As recently as 1957, a standard legal treatise could state, "A man does not commit rape by having sexual intercourse with his lawful wife, even if he does so by force and against her will." If someone tried to write into the marriage contract a requirement that express consent had to be given in order for sex to proceed, judges were bound by common law to ignore or override it. Implicit consent was a structural feature of the contract that neither party could alter. Through that contract, women were doomed to be the sexual servants of their husbands.
Every once in a while, however, the subordinates of this world contest their fates. They protest their conditions, join movements, make demands. Their goals may be minimal and discrete, but in voicing them, they raise the specter of a more fundamental change in power. They cease to be servants or supplicants and become agents, speaking and acting on their own behalf. More than the reforms themselves, it is this assertion of agency that vexes their superiors.
American labor history is filled with complaints from employers and government officials that unionized workers are independent and self-organizing. Indeed, so potent is their self-organization that it threatens to render superfluous the employer and the state. During the Great Upheaval of 1877, striking railroad workers in St. Louis took to running the trains themselves. Fearful that the public might conclude the workers were capable of managing the railroad, the owners tried to stop them, starting a strike of their own in order to prove it was the owners, and only the owners, who could make the trains run on time. During the Seattle general strike of 1919, workers went to great lengths to provide basic government services, including law and order. So successful were they that the mayor concluded it was the workers' ability to limit violence and anarchy that posed the greatest threat to the established order:
[begin excerpt]
The so-called sympathetic Seattle strike was an attempted revolution. ... True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution, I repeat, doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practiced in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet. ... That is to say, it puts the government out of operation.
[end excerpt]
Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument for why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty; agency, the prerogative of elites. Such was the threat Edmund Burke saw in the French Revolution: not merely an expropriation of property or explosion of violence but an inversion of the obligations of deference and command. "The levelers," he claimed, "only change and pervert the natural order of things."
[begin excerpt]
The occupation of an hair-dresser, or of a working tallowchandler, cannot be a matter of honour to any person—to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively, are permitted to rule.
[end excerpt]
By virtue of membership in a polity, Burke allowed, men had certain rights—to the fruits of their labor, their inheritance, education, and more. But the one right he refused to concede to all men was a "share of power, authority, and direction" they might think they ought to have "in the management of the state."
One of the reasons the subordinate's exercise of agency agitates the conservative imagination is that it takes place in an intimate setting. Every great political blast—from the storming of the Bastille to the March on Washington—is set off by a private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power. "Here is the secret of the opposition to woman's equality in the state," Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote. "Men are not ready to recognize it in the home." Behind the riot in the street or debate in Parliament is the maid talking back to her mistress, the worker disobeying his boss. That is why our political arguments—not only about the family but also the welfare state, civil rights, and much else—can be so explosive: They touch upon the most personal relations of power.
When the conservative looks upon a democratic movement from below, this is what he sees: a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. "The real object" of the French Revolution, Burke told Parliament in 1790, is "to break all those connexions, natural and civil, that regulate and hold together the community by a chain of subordination; to raise soldiers against their officers; servants against their masters; tradesmen against their customers; artificers against their employers; tenants against their landlords; curates against their bishops; and children against their parents." Nothing to the Jacobins, he declared at the end of his life, was worthy "of the name of the publick virtue, unless it indicates violence on the private."
Historically, the conservative has sought to forestall the march of democracy in both the public and the private spheres, on the assumption that advances in the one necessarily spur advances in the other. Still, the more profound and prophetic stance on the right has been to cede the field of the public, if he must, but stand fast in the private. Allow men and women to become democratic citizens of the state; make sure they remain feudal subjects in the family, the factory, and the field.
No simple defense of one's own place and privileges, the conservative position stems from a genuine conviction that a world thus emancipated will be ugly, brutish, and dull. It will lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse. This vision of the connection between excellence and rule is what brings together in postwar America that unlikely alliance of the capitalist, with his vision of the employer's untrammeled power in the workplace; the traditionalist, with his vision of the father's rule at home; and the statist, with his vision of a heroic leader pressing his hand upon the face of the earth. Each in his way subscribes to this statement, from the 19th century, of the conservative creed: "To obey a real superior ... is one of the most important of all virtues—a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of anything great and lasting."
The notion that conservative ideas are a mode of reactionary practice is likely to raise some hackles. It has long been an axiom on the left that the defense of power and privilege is an enterprise devoid of ideas, that right-wing politics is an emotional swamp rather than a movement of considered opinion. Thomas Paine called counterrevolution "an obliteration of knowledge"; Lionel Trilling described American conservatism as a mélange of "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas."
Conservatives, for their part, have tended to agree. Playing the part of the dull-witted country squire, conservatives have embraced the position of the historian F.J.C. Hearnshaw that "it is commonly sufficient for practical purposes if conservatives, without saying anything, just sit and think, or even if they merely sit." While the aristocratic overtones of that discourse no longer resonate, the conservative still holds on to the label of the untutored and the unlettered; it's part of his populist charm and demotic appeal. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Conservatism is an idea-driven praxis, and no amount of preening from the right or polemic from the left can reduce or efface the catalog of mind one finds there.
Others will be put off by this argument for a different reason: It threatens the purity and profundity of conservative ideas. For many, the word "reaction" connotes an unthinking, lowly grab for power. But reaction is not reflex. It begins from a position of principle—that some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others—and then recalibrates that principle in light of a challenge from below. This recalibration is no easy task, for such challenges tend by their very nature to disprove the principle. After all, if a ruling class is truly fit to rule, why and how has it allowed a challenge to its power to emerge? What does the emergence of the one say about the fitness of the other?
The conservative faces an additional hurdle: how to defend a principle of rule in a world where nothing is solid, all is in flux. From the moment conservatism came onto the scene as an intellectual movement, it has had to contend with the decline of ancient and medieval ideas of an orderly universe, in which permanent hierarchies of power reflected the eternal structure of the cosmos. The overthrow of the old regime reveals not only the weakness and incompetence of its leaders but also a larger truth about the lack of design in the world. Reconstructing the old regime in the face of a declining faith in permanent hierarchies has proven to be a difficult feat. Not surprisingly, it also has produced some of the most remarkable works of modern thought.
There is another reason to be wary of the effort to dismiss the reactionary thrust of conservatism, and that is the testimony of the tradition itself. From Burke's claim that he and his ilk had been "alarmed into reflexion" by the French Revolution to Russell Kirk's admission that conservatism is a "system of ideas" that "has sustained men ... in their resistance against radical theories and social transformation," the conservative has consistently affirmed that his is a knowledge produced in response to the left. Sometimes that affirmation has been explicit. Lord Salisbury, three times prime minister of Britain, wrote in 1859 that "hostility to Radicalism, incessant, implacable hostility, is the essential definition of Conservatism." In his classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, George Nash defined conservatism as "resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive of what conservatives at the time deemed worth cherishing, defending, and perhaps dying for." More recently, the Harvard political theorist Harvey Mansfield has declared, "I understand conservatism as a reaction to liberalism. It isn't a position that one takes up from the beginning but only when one is threatened by people who want to take away or harm things that deserve to be conserved."
Those are the explicit professions of the counterrevolutionary creed. More interesting are the implicit statements, where antipathy to radicalism and reform is embedded in the very syntax of the argument. Take Michael Oakeshott's famous definition in his essay "On Being Conservative":
[begin excerpt]
To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.
[end excerpt]
One cannot, it seems, enjoy fact and mystery, near and distant, laughter and bliss. One must choose. Far from affirming a simple hierarchy of preferences, Oakeshott's either/or signals that we are on existential ground, where the choice is between not something and its opposite but something and its negation. The conservative would enjoy familiar things in the absence of forces seeking their destruction, Oakeshott concedes, but his enjoyment "will be strongest when" it "is combined with evident risk of loss." And while Oakeshott suggests that such losses can be engineered by a variety of forces, the engineers invariably seem to work on the left. Marx and Engels are "the authors of the most stupendous of our political rationalisms," he writes elsewhere. "Nothing ... can compare with" their abstract utopianism.
There is more to this antagonistic structure of argument than the simple antinomies of partisan politics. As Karl Mannheim argued, what distinguishes conservatism from traditionalism—the universal "vegetative" tendency to remain attached to things as they are—is that conservatism is a deliberate, conscious effort to preserve or recall "those forms of experience which can no longer be had in an authentic way." Conservatism "becomes conscious and reflective when other ways of life and thought appear on the scene, against which it is compelled to take up arms in the ideological struggle."
Where the traditionalist takes the objects of his desire for granted, the conservative cannot. He seeks to enjoy them precisely as they are being—or have been—taken away. If he hopes to enjoy them again, he must fight for them in the public realm. He must speak of them in a language that is politically serviceable and intelligible. But as soon as those objects enter the medium of political speech, they cease to be items of lived experience and become incidents of an ideology. They get wrapped in a narrative of loss—in which the revolutionary or reformist plays a necessary part—and presented in a program of recovery. What was tacit becomes articulate, what was practice becomes polemic.
In defending hierarchical orders, the conservative invariably launches a counterrevolution, often requiring an overhaul of the very regime he is defending. "If we want things to stay as they are," in Lampedusa's classic formulation, "things will have to change." This program entails far more than clichés about preservation through renovation would suggest: Often it requires the most radical measures on the regime's behalf.
Indeed, some of the stuffiest partisans of order have been more than happy, when it has suited their purposes, to indulge in a bit of mayhem and madness. Kirk, the self-styled Burkean, wished to "espouse conservatism with the vehemence of a radical. The thinking conservative, in truth, must take on some of the outward characteristics of the radical, today: he must poke about the roots of society, in the hope of restoring vigor to an old tree half strangled in the rank undergrowth of modern passions." In God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley declared conservatives "the new radicals."
There's a fairly simple reason for the embrace of radicalism on the right, and it has to do with the reactionary imperative that lies at the core of conservative doctrine. The conservative not only opposes the left; he also believes that the left has been in the driver's seat since, depending on who's counting, the French Revolution or the Reformation. If he is to preserve what he values, the conservative must declare war against the culture as it is. Though the spirit of militant opposition pervades the entirety of conservative discourse, Dinesh D'Souza has put the case most clearly:
[begin excerpt]
Typically, the conservative attempts to conserve, to hold on to the values of the existing society. But ... what if the existing society is inherently hostile to conservative beliefs? It is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture. Rather, he must seek to undermine it, to thwart it, to destroy it at the root level. This means that the conservative must ... be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical.
[end excerpt]
By now it should be clear that it is not the style or pace of change that the conservative opposes. Burkean theorists like to draw a distinction between evolutionary reform and radical change. The first is slow, incremental, and adaptive; the second is fast, comprehensive, and by design. But that distinction, so dear to Burke and his followers, is often less clear in practice than the theorist allows. In the name of slow, organic, adaptive change, self-declared conservatives opposed the New Deal (Robert Nisbet, Kirk, and Whittaker Chambers) and endorsed the New Deal (Peter Viereck, Clinton Rossiter, and Whittaker Chambers). "Even Fabian Socialists," Nash tartly observes, "who believed in 'the inevitability of gradualness' might be labeled conservatives."
More often the blurriness of the distinction has allowed the conservative to oppose reform on the grounds that it either will lead to revolution or is revolution. Any demand from or on behalf of the lower orders, no matter how tepid or tardy, is too much, too soon, too fast. Reform is revolution, improvement is insurrection. "It may be good or bad," a gloomy Lord Carnarvon wrote of the Second Reform Act of 1867—a bill 20 years in the making that tripled the size of the British electorate—"but it is a revolution."
Today's conservative may have made his peace with some emancipations past. Others, like labor unions and reproductive freedom, he still contests. But that does not alter the fact that when those emancipations first arose as issues, his predecessor was in all likelihood against them. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, is one of today's few conservatives who acknowledge the history of conservative opposition to emancipation. Where other conservatives like to lay claim to the abolitionist or civil-rights mantle, Gerson admits that "honesty requires the recognition that many conservatives, in other times, have been hostile to religiously motivated reform," and that "the conservative habit of mind once opposed most of these changes." Indeed, as Samuel Huntington suggested a half-century ago, saying no to such movements in real time may be what makes someone a conservative throughout time.
Given the reactionary thruST of conservatism, Occupy Wall Street may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the right. Thoughtful conservatives have long understood the symbiotic relationship between the right's intellectual—and ultimately political—vitality and insurgencies from the left. Friedrich Hayek accurately observed that the political theory of capitalism "became stationary when it was most influential" and "progressed" only when it was "on the defensive." Frank Meyer, intellectual architect of the fusion strategy that brought together the libertarian and traditionalist wings of the Republican Party, noted that it was "ironic, though not historically unprecedented," that bursts "of creative energy" on the right "should occur simultaneously with a continuing spread of the influence of liberalism in the practical political sphere."
Conversely, conservative writers like David Frum and Andrew Sullivan have worried of late about the intellectual flabbiness of the contemporary right: A movement that once seemed the emblem of heterodoxy has succumbed to stale thinking and rote incantations. But if Occupy Wall Street turns out to be a movement rather than a moment—if it has real staying power; if it moves from public squares to private institutions; if it starts to divest the elite of their privileges and powers, not just in their offshore accounts but in their backyards and board rooms—it could provide the kind of creative provocation that once produced a Burke or a Hayek. The metaphor of occupation is threatening enough; one can only imagine what might happen were it made real. And while the mavens of the right would probably prefer four more years to four good books, they might want to rethink that. They wouldn't be in the position they're in—when, even out of power, they still govern the country—had their predecessors made the same choice.
2012-01-30 "What Happened to Canada?" by Chris Hedges from "Truthdig"
What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.
 But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.
 The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.
“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”
 “My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”
 The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. This, I suspect, is why the tactics to crush the Occupy movement around the globe have an eerie similarity—infiltrations, surveillance, the denial of public assembly, physical attempts to eradicate encampments, the use of propaganda and the press to demonize the movement, new draconian laws stripping citizens of basic rights, and increasingly harsh terms of incarceration.
 Our solidarity should be with activists who march on Tahrir Square in Cairo or set up encampamentos in Madrid. These are our true compatriots. The more we shed ourselves of national identity in this fight, the more we grasp that our true allies may not speak our language or embrace our religious and cultural traditions, the more powerful we will become.
 Those who seek to discredit this movement employ the language of nationalism and attempt to make us fearful of the other. Wave the flag. Sing the national anthem. Swell with national hubris. Be vigilant of the hidden terrorist. Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, responding to the growing opposition to the Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway pipelines, wrote in an open letter that “environmental and other radical groups” were trying to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” He accused pipeline opponents of receiving funding from foreign special interest groups and said that “if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.”
 No matter that in both Canada and the United States suing the government to seek redress is the right of every citizen. No matter that the opposition to the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines has its roots in Canada. No matter that the effort by citizens in the U.S. and in Canada to fight climate change is about self-preservation. The minister, in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry like the energy czars in most of the other industrialized nations, seeks to pit “loyal” Canadians against “disloyal” Canadians. Those with whom we will build this movement of resistance will not in some cases be our own. They may speak Arabic, pray five times a day toward Mecca and be holding off the police thugs in the center of Cairo. Or they may be generously pierced and tattooed and speak Danish or they may be Mandarin-speaking workers battling China’s totalitarian capitalism. These are differences that make no difference.
 “My country right or wrong,” G.K. Chesterton once wrote, is on the same level as “My mother, drunk or sober.”
 Our most dangerous opponents, in fact, look and speak like us. They hijack familiar and comforting iconography and slogans to paint themselves as true patriots. They claim to love Jesus. But they cynically serve the function a native bureaucracy serves for any foreign colonizer. The British and the French, and earlier the Romans, were masters of this game. They recruited local quislings to carry out policies and repression that were determined in London or Paris or Rome. Popular anger was vented against these personages, and native group vied with native group in battles for scraps of influence. And when one native ruler was overthrown or, more rarely, voted out of power, these imperial machines recruited a new face. The actual centers of power did not change. The pillage continued. Global financiers are the new colonizers. They make the rules. They pull the strings. They offer the illusion of choice in our carnivals of political theater. But corporate power remains constant and unimpeded. Barack Obama serves the same role Herod did in imperial Rome.
 This is why the Occupy Wall Street movement is important. It targets the center of power—global financial institutions. It deflects attention from the empty posturing in the legislative and executive offices in Washington or London or Paris. The Occupy movement reminds us that until the corporate superstructure is dismantled it does not matter which member of the native elite is elected or anointed to rule. The Canadian prime minister is as much a servant of corporate power as the American president. And replacing either will not alter corporate domination. As the corporate mechanisms of control become apparent to wider segments of the population, discontent will grow further. So will the force employed by our corporate overlords. It will be a long road for us. But we are not alone. There are struggles and brush fires everywhere. Leah Henderson is not only right. She is my compatriot.
2012-01-30 "Indiana GOP Withdraws Drug Testing Bill Because Lawmakers Would Be Tested Too!" by Judy Molland
A bill proposed by one Indiana Republican has been withdrawn after its provision to drug test recipients of government largesse was widened to include lawmakers themselves [http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/01/28/indiana-welfare-drug-testing-bill-withdrawn-after-lawmakers-included/].
As Care2′s Robin Marty wrote here recently about a similar plan in Florida [http://www.care2.com/causes/drug-testing-welfare-recipients-is-compassionate.html], Florida quickly learned that regardless of the legality of their plan, the actual testing itself showed that despite the Republicans’ assumptions, very few welfare recipients actually were using drugs.  In fact, the percentage of welfare recipients using drugs was actually lower than that of the regular population.

But Back To Indiana -
From Raw Story [http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/01/28/indiana-welfare-drug-testing-bill-withdrawn-after-lawmakers-included/]:
[begin excerpt]
Republican lawmaker Judd McMillan (R-Brookville) removed the bill from consideration by the Indiana General Assembly after Democratic colleagues amended it, but, the Republican says, he intends to reintroduce it on Monday once he has reworked it.
“I’ve only withdrawn it temporarily,” said McMillan, stating that he crafted the bill to elude questions of constitutionality with regards to illegal search and seizure, issues that caused a Florida judge to overturn a similar rule earlier this year.
[end excerpt]
McMillan’s bill includes a “tiered” testing system, by which some people can opt out of random testing, but will be tested if the government deems that there is “reasonable suspicion” that they may be engaged in drug use. Testing could be triggered by an applicant’s demeanor, arrest or conviction for a crime, or failure to make appointments mandated by the welfare office.

Republicans In More Than 30 States Have Tried To Create Welfare Drug Testing Programs -
No compelling evidence exists that individuals on public assistance or more likely to engage in drug use or other illegal behaviors and yet Republicans in more than 30 states have attempted to institute a drug testing requirement to receive benefits. Some laws have even attempted to make it impossible to collect food stamps or unemployment benefits without being tested.
From The Raw Story:
[begin excerpt]
The amendment to the Indiana bill was proposed by Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend), who said, “After it passed, Rep. McMillin got pretty upset and pulled his bill. If anything, I think it points out some of the hypocrisy. If we’re going to impose standards on drug testing, then it should apply to everybody who receives government money.”
[end excerpt]
The Indiana General Assembly will reconvene on Monday morning.

Republicans Have Pursued Welfare Drug Testing In More Than 30 States -
In the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug testing in more than 30 states and in Congress, and some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs. Democrats in several states have countered with bills to require drug testing elected officials.
McMillan, for his part, said he’s coming back with a new bill on Monday, lawmaker testing included. He said he has no problem submitting to a test himself.
“I would think legislators that are here who are responsible for the people who voted them in, they should be more than happy to consent,” he said. “Give me the cup right now and I will be happy to take the test.”
2012-01-30 "Rogers Challenges Truth in Advertising, Citing Civil Rights" by Joel Boyce
Canadian communications giant, Rogers, is going to court this summer in hopes of overturning a federal “truth in advertising” law [http://www.care2.com/causes/first-major-ad-taken-down-for-too-much-photoshopping.html], part of the Competition Act. Specifically, Rogers is challenging a section of the law requiring “adequate and proper” testing of its products before advertising claims on the efficacy of their performance can be made. Rogers is citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claiming that the federal law violates the right of freedom of expression.
The federal law recently upped the stakes for offenders, increasing the first-time offence penalty from $250 thousand to $10 million in 2010 (it’s a penalty rather than a fine, since the law is civil and not criminal). In 2011, Bell Canada had to pay the $10 million penalty for misleading customers as to the true cost of their various communications services in advertising campaigns. Of course Rogers is accused of violating the act as well, when the Competition Bureau brought a case in late 2010 with regard to a recent campaign for their discount cellular phone service, Chatr.
The bureau investigated claims made by Rogers that their service had “fewer dropped calls than newer wireless carriers,” and that their customers have “no worries about dropped calls.” After reviewing technical data from multiple sources, Rogers service turned out to be no more reliable than its competition. Rogers’ new constitutional argument is the latest move in their ongoing battle against the bureau and this particular suit.
Of course it would be a cell phone company that does this. Remember Verizon and AT&T’s cell phone coverage battles of the last couple of years [http://flowingdata.com/2009/11/24/verizon-vs-att-battle-of-the-coverage-maps/]? It started with Verizon showing side-by-side coverage maps of their own nationwide coverage compared to AT&T’s. Then AT&T started their own ad campaigns where their coverage maps turned out to be much more solidly filled in than Verizon’s. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was sitting there confused as each company told a different story and held up contradictory data.
Who was lying? The solution turned out to be in the fine print. The reason each company had different coverage maps in their own campaigns is they were each focusing on different kinds of specific coverage. Verizon had the best 3G coverage, while AT&T was better with a different kind of coverage. Both companies did their best to mislead consumers, by focusing on the big maps and letting it slip that they represented data for very specific services rather than general network performance.
The moral of the story is that companies are out to make money, and advertising is a tool designed to separate you from that money. Consumers have a civil right not to be overtly lied to, but companies will constantly push the boundaries if they think they can get away with it. Selective statistics, graphs and charts are very useful tools to that end, since they imply that an advertisement has educational goals rather than propagandizing ones. They make a consumer think they are learning something when they are really being convinced of something.
Big surprise that Rogers feels that being legally impelled to tell the truth is a major constraint on its business plan. Or maybe it’s just that the they really, really don’t want to fork over that money.
2012-01-30 "Who Are The Real Advocates For Oil?" by Joel Boyce
If the world’s climate were not changing as a result of the greenhouse gases we’re adding to the atmosphere, there would still be several strong arguments against the use of fossil fuels. Burning coal and oil pollutes the air, contributing to smog and acid rain. Coal mines are notoriously dangerous to the miners, who may die quickly in mine collapses, or slowly, from black lung disease or certain cancers. Oil spill disasters are frequently epic in scale, the BP event practically destroying the Gulf of Mexico.
Yet the fossil fuel industry, especially “Big Oil,” has its defenders, as well. The question is: does anyone support the industry without receiving massive personal gain for doing so? It seems like the apologists for oil are industry execs themselves, or conservative politicians receiving massive campaign contributions. Are there any independent, objective observers with an argument against transitioning away from non-renewable fuel sources?
Let’s run through the list. This Maclean’s article [http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/01/20/crude-awakening/] quotes some of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statements on the subject. The PM warned Canadian citizens as early as November that “significant American interests” were trying to screw up Enbridge’s Northern Pipeline Project. Harper knows that if there’s anyone Canadians are more suspicious of than the prime minister himself, it’s those damn Americans. His concerns seemed partly based on President Obama’s failure to commit to the Keystone XL project. (The president did indeed kill the project this month, but the reasoning was hardly based on environmental considerations. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/corbin-hiar/keystone-xl-pipeline-future_b_1214605.html])
Harper has argued time and again that he is looking out for Canadian interests. With the power of the entire government of Canada behind him, he’s “stood up” against small environmental groups, declaring them enemies of the country when they haven’t fallen in line [http://www.care2.com/wp/causes/wp-admin/www.care2.com/causes/forestethics-declared-enemy-of-the-people-of-canada-for-criticism-of-oil-sands-projects.html]. But do most Canadians want more and more drilling, more and more tar sands, more and more pipelines? No! [http://www.care2.com/causes/half-of-canadians-oppose-keystone-xl-pipeline.html]
The PM has tried to marginalize critics of Canada’s oil projects, characterizing them as “environmental and other radical groups.” But is concern for the environmental and human health such a radical ideology? Especially in this day and age?
A major talking point with Harper and his ilk has been this odd new slogan, “ethical oil.” It started out with a book by Ezra Levant of the same title, which was focused on the further development of Alberta’s tar sands. Levant is a Sun News TV host. Sun Media is Canada’s major conservative media conglomerate.
Now there’s an advocacy group. Ethical Oil (with capital letters this time) has recently been attacking the BC not-for-profit, West Coast Environmental Law, unleashing a series of TV attack ads. But as West Coast writes in their response [http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/ethical-oil-attack-ads-expose-un-fairness-vivian-krause], Ethical Oil is the group that a) commands enormous funding that most not-for-profits could not dream of, b) refuses to provide the financial transparency most not-for-profits willingly provide, for example in disclosing its mysterious funding sources, c) won’t even reveal the identity of its board of directors.
Ethical Oil accuses West Coast Environmental Law of secretly working for American interests, because they (openly) receive some funding from American environmental organizations. Whose interest does Ethical Oil represent? They attack the critics of tar sands development [http://www.care2.com/causes/big-oil-attacks-chiquita-for-denouncing-tar-sands.html], but on whose behalf? Would it surprise anyone to find they are completely funded by oil companies, have oil execs sitting on their board of directors, and disperse money for ad campaigns and political contributions under the identity of this third-party advocate?
And if the organization is indeed funded by oil companies for the ultimate purpose of promoting oil development, this isn’t really a non-profit in any meaningful sense of the word, is it? They don’t need to provide transparency; the situation is transparent enough as it is.
There are advocates for oil. But if you look closer, they’re really advocates for themselves.
The proof is embedded in the image at the bottom. Click on the image to get a better picture of the link URLs.

2012-01-30 "Why Are so Many Americans in Prison? We ask if the US should reconsider its 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' approach to crime and punishment" by Al-Jazeera
2012-01-30 "Immobility Nation: For most people facing poverty today in the United States, the concept of America as the land of opportunity is just a fable" by Salvatore Babones
Salvatore Babones is an American sociologist at the University of Sydney and an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His book on the American economy, Benchmarking America, is due out in 2013. www.ips-dc.org
America is becoming "a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," President Barack Obama declared during his State of the Union address.
The numbers back him up. Executive compensation and the poverty rate are both at or near all-time highs.
Surprisingly, it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum who first made economic mobility an issue in the 2012 elections. Three months ago, he pointed out that children born to poor families rarely grow up to become rich, or even middle class.
"Believe it or not, studies have been done that show that in Western Europe, people at the lower parts of the income scale actually have a better mobility going up the ladder now than in America," he said during the October 19 Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas [http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2011/10/republican_las_vegas_cnn_debat.html].
In early January, when The New York Times picked up on Santorum's comments and explored the fact that American incomes are increasingly immobile across generations, it made a big splash in the media. Now, Obama's aspiration to "restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot" is going viral.
Santorum is right about mobility. Academic studies typically show that around 40-45 percent of income differences are transmitted from one U.S. generation to the next. This is about twice as high as the equivalent figures in Western Europe and Australia.
Unfortunately, American immobility is an even bigger problem than that.
In a highly technical report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, economist Bhashkar Mazumder shows that prior researchers have seriously underestimated the degree to which children inherit their parents' positions in society.
The new best estimate is that the intergenerational stickiness in income is around 60 percent. In other words, over half of a person's economic status in life is predetermined at birth.
Mazumder, the director of the Chicago Census Research Data Center, concludes that it would take an average of five generations for a family's offspring to rise from low income to middle income.
This doesn't mean that all of a poor family's descendants will be poor for six generations, but it does illustrate just how slowly family incomes change in America.
It wasn't always this way. Time was when opportunities for advancement in America were expanding, not contracting.
Another study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago [http://www.chicagofed.org/webpages/publications/working_papers/2005/wp_12.cfm] shows that intergenerational mobility increased continuously from 1940 to 1980. Only then did it start to fall.
By 2000 (the final year of the study covered), mobility in America was lower than where it had started in 1940.
Obama and Santorum are right to argue that the government has a responsibility to foster an economic environment that encourages intergenerational mobility. And the American people agree with them.
A 2011 poll from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project found that 83 percent of Americans "support a government role in promoting upward economic mobility."
The top three things Americans told Pew that the government should do? Provide all children with a quality education, promote job creation, and ensure equal opportunity — all of which Obama called for in his address.
In the end, the best way to promote upward mobility is to give people a helping hand. It's not enough to get government out of the way. Government can and should be part of the solution.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012-01-29 "DEA inquiries into medical marijuana industry include legislators" from "Missoulian" newspaper
Diane Sands is used to having her name taken in vain. That’s just part of being a liberal from Missoula in the Montana Legislature. But her name surfaced recently in a way that offended and troubled her at a profound level. A possible witness in a federal drug investigation was asked whether Sands might be part of a conspiracy to sell medical marijuana. The questions came from Drug Enforcement Administration agents from Billings who were investigating medical marijuana businesses, and Sands learned about the inquiry from the witness’ attorney. “So now, if you’re a state legislator who has been working on medical marijuana laws, you are somehow part of a conspiracy,” said Sands, who represents House District 95 in Missoula and works as development director for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. “It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s also threatening to think that the federal government is willing to use its influence and try to chill discussion about this subject.” Sands isn’t the only one with concerns. At least one other legislator declined comment regarding DEA questions about the legislator’s duties out of concern over “additional harassment.” And the American Civil Liberties Union in Montana, which is itself full of attorneys, spoke with an outside attorney in regards to its advocacy work regarding marijuana. “When you hear this sort of thing, there’s a part of you that just gets irritated, but there’s a part of you that knows you have to, as an organization, make sure you’ve dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s,” said the ACLU’s executive director, Scott Crichton.
Sands and the ACLU aren’t actually worried about criminal charges. They’ve done nothing wrong other than advocate a point of view counter to the opinion held by federal law enforcement.   But both have played high-profile roles in the discussion over medical marijuana in Montana, and the ACLU has been vocal for years in its support for the legalization of marijuana. And they find abhorrent the idea that mere advocacy might be questioned. “It’s chilling, and it dredges up darker days from the ’50s and ’60s,” said Crichton. Sands is more blunt: “Can you say McCarthy? This sounds like stuff from the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joe McCarthy. So once you talk about medical marijuana in reasonable terms, you’re on some sort of list of possible conspirators.” Sands was chairwoman of an interim legislative committee that went to work before the 2011 Legislature to try to fashion a fix for Montana’s medical marijuana laws, which many viewed as responsible for the unregulated, Wild West atmosphere that seemed to be part of Montana’s medical marijuana industry. The committee’s efforts, which would have imposed new regulation but kept the industry substantially intact, ultimately were swept aside as the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a far more rigorous regulatory scheme. In June, after the session ended, Sands suggested that the federal government “delist” medical marijuana – as it had done with wolves – and leave the issue to state control. Control is the issue. Medical marijuana businesses and advocates took heart when the Obama administration, through U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, appeared to suggest that the federal government wasn’t much interested in prosecuting marijuana cases.
As recently as December, Holder sounded a similar tone, when he answered questions from a member of Colorado’s congressional delegation.   “Where a state has taken a position, has passed a law and people are acting in conformity with the law – not abusing the law – that would not be a priority with the limited resources of our Justice Department,” Holder said. That statement is open to interpretation, and the government’s actions don’t precisely match Holder’s words. “I think you can draw an opinion on how the federal government feels about (Montana) when you consider that the government announced a series of raids just as the Montana Senate was voting on our medical marijuana laws,” Crichton said. “It’s no coincidence.” Those raids came on March 15, one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill a bill that would have repealed the state’s initiative-passed medical marijuana law. More than 25 search warrants were served that day on medical marijuana businesses all over the state, and four civil seizure warrants looking to confiscate about $4 million were also executed. Now those cases are working their way through the legal system and, apparently, that’s where Diane Sands’ name surfaced in the DEA investigation. Neither the DEA nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office will say why Sands’ name came up. In fact, Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter’s office answered questions about the incident by emailing a reporter a handful of opinions, memos and court decisions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr said the office can’t respond to specific inquiries about cases, and declined to talk in general about the U.S. attorney’s goals in terms of prosecuting medical marijuana cases. And that leaves legislators like Sands irritated.   “All you really want from them is some sense of direction,” she said. “But you can’t get it. Instead, you get vague answers about policy, which you can only judge by the way those things seem to be put into action.” State legislative leaders wrote to Cotter in mid-April, requesting guidance on the state’s proposed regulatory scheme, and got a response that reiterated basic facts about federal law and said nothing about the state’s plan to regulate the industry.
“While the Department of Justice has not reviewed the specific legislative proposal for licensing and regulating medical marijuana that you indicate is being finalized, the Department has stated on many occasions that Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and, as such, growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities,” Cotter wrote. And that, Crichton said, is where the seemingly arbitrary nature of federal prosecution rears its head. “So, it’s all illegal, they’re saying, but it’s not all going to be prosecuted,” he said. “That’s a very difficult playing field for people to navigate.” In fact, John Masterson of Montana NORML, which works to reform marijuana laws, said he flatly tells people interested in the medical marijuana business to stand aside for now. “If people ask me now how to start a business, I just tell them to stay the hell away,” Masterson said. “There’s simply no way that you could go into business with any degree of certainty about what the federal government might do.” Sands’ name surfaced close to the time that other public officials’ names appeared in search warrant applications in federal medical marijuana cases. In a case involving former University of Montana football player Jason Washington, such an application was accidentally unsealed for several days and acquired by the Associated Press and the Missoulian. That affidavit revealed a possible plan by alleged conspirators to bribe public officials, including Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and state Sen. Dave Lewis.   It’s precisely that sort of information that might lead to someone like Sands surfacing in a DEA investigation, DEA Special Agent Mike Turner said. Turner is a DEA spokesman in Denver, and he handles questions regarding actions taken by the Montana field offices of the DEA. Turner said he couldn’t comment on any particular case, but he said the DEA has a duty to track down names that emerge in investigations.
“Does that mean the person has done something wrong just because their name shows up?” Turner said. “Certainly not. But it’s our duty to investigate why it came up.”Turner said the DEA is not in the business of making political statements through name-dropping in its investigations. “We’re certainly not out there dropping people’s names with the intention of doing them harm,” he said. “We’re not in the business of scaring people.” On the other hand, Turner said anyone who is “profiting significantly” from the sale of marijuana should be concerned. “We’re not interested in sick people, but we are interested in people who are profiting significantly. If they are, they are fair game as long as there is a reasonable expectation for a successful prosecution.” Turner agreed that the debate surrounding medical marijuana is wracked by confusion, but he is clear about where the DEA’s interests fall. “It is true that we’ve got competing laws in place here with states with medical marijuana laws, but federal law is clear,” he said. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. If you are involved in selling marijuana, trafficking marijuana, profiting from marijuana, you are in jeopardy. We get questions about what we’ll investigate and what we won’t, and we can’t give that answer. But if you’re involved with profiting from marijuana, you’re in jeopardy.” That might provide some small comfort to Sands, but she’s not convinced that the federal government and DEA aren’t in the business of sending harsh messages to those who disagree with them. “The bottom line is, there’s no reason for my name to come up,” she said. “So they can say what they want about who they are going to prosecute, but when a state has an ongoing discussion about its laws, and its lawmakers’ names are being brought up by federal agents, I will be hard to convince that there’s any other reason than to send a message.”
2012-01-29 "Mitt and the White Horse Prophecy - A close look at the roots of Romney's -- and the Mormon church's -- political ambitions" by Sally Denton
When Mitt Romney received his patriarchal blessing as a Michigan teenager, he was told that the Lord expected great things from him.  All young Mormon men — the “worthy males” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially known — receive such a blessing as they embark on their requisite journeys as religious missionaries.  But at 19 years of age, the youngest son of the most prominent Mormon in American politics — a seventh-generation direct descendant of one of the faith’s founding 12 apostles—Mitt Romney had been singled out as a destined leader.
From the time of his birth — March 13, 1947 — through adolescence and into manhood, the meshing of religion and politics was paramount in Mitt Romney’s life. Called “my miracle baby” by his mother, who had been told by her physician that it was impossible for her to bear a fourth child, Romney was christened Willard Mitt Romney in honor of close family friend and one of the richest Mormons in history, J. Willard Marriott.
In 1962, when Mitt — as they decided to call him — was a sophomore in high school, his father, George W. Romney, was elected governor of Michigan.  Throughout the early 1960s, Mitt collected petition signatures, campaigned at his father’s side, attended strategy sessions with his father’s political advisors, and interned at his father’s office during all three of his gubernatorial terms.  He attended the 1964 Republican National Convention where his father led a challenge of moderates against the right-wing Barry Goldwater. Although he was fulfilling his spiritual obligation as a Mormon missionary in France in 1968 while his father was the front-running GOP presidential candidate, Mitt was kept apprised of the political developments back in the U.S.
Upon completion of his foreign mission, he immersed himself in the 1970 senatorial campaign of his mother, Lenore Romney, who was running against Phillip Hart in the Michigan general election. That same year, the Cougar Club — the all male, all white social club at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City (blacks were excluded from full membership in the Mormon church until 1978) — was humming with talk that its president, Mitt Romney, would become the first Mormon president of the United States. “If not Mitt, then who?” was the ubiquitous slogan within the elite organization. The pious world of BYU was expected to spawn the man who would lead the Mormons into the White House and fulfill the prophecies of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., which Romney has avidly sought to realize.
Romney avoids mentioning it, but Smith ran for president in 1844 as an independent commander in chief of an “army of God” advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government in favor of a Mormon-ruled theocracy. Challenging Democrat James Polk and Whig Henry Clay, Smith prophesied that if the U.S. Congress did not accede to his demands that “they shall be broken up as a government and God shall damn them.”  Smith viewed capturing the presidency as part of the mission of the church.  He had predicted the emergence of  “the one Mighty and Strong” — a leader who would “set in order the house of God” — and became the first of many prominent Mormon men to claim the mantle.
Smith’s insertion of religion into politics and his call for a “theodemocracy where God and people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteous matters” created a sensation and drew hostility from the outside world.  But his candidacy was cut short when he was shot to death by an anti-Mormon vigilante mob. Out of Smith’s national political ambitions grew what would become known in Mormon circles as the “White Horse Prophecy” — a belief ingrained in Mormon culture and passed down through generations by church leaders that the day would come when the U.S. Constitution would “hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber” and the Mormon priesthood would save it.
Romney is the product of this culture. At BYU, he was idolized by fellow students and referred to, only half jokingly, as the “One Mighty and Strong.”  He was the “alpha male” in the rarefied Cougar pack, according to Michael D. Moody, a BYU classmate and fellow member of the group.  Composed almost exclusively of returned Mormon missionaries, the club members were known for their preppy blue blazers and enthusiastic athletic boosterism. Romney, who had been the assistant to the president of the French Mission where he was personally in charge of more than 200 missionaries, easily assumed a leadership position in the club.
Both political and religious, the Cougar Club raised funds for the school and its members emulated the campus-wide honor and dress codes, passionately disavowing the counterculture symbolism of long hair, bell-bottom jeans and antiwar slogans that were sweeping college campuses throughout America.  They held monthly “Fireside testimonies” — Sacrament meetings at which each member testified to his belief that he lived in Heaven before being born on Earth, that he became mortal in order to usher in the latter days, and that he recognized Joseph Smith as the prophet, the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and the Mormon church as the one true faith.
Such regular testimonies encouraged the students to live devout lives and to resist the encroaching outside influences overtaking the nation at large. “It helps them cope with such external pressures as evolution-teaching professors and cranky anthropologists who expect answers that conflict with LDS teachings,” according to James Coates, author of “In Mormon Circles.”
They traditionally hosted frat-like parties (Greek fraternities were banned from the campus) to raise a few thousand dollars for the college’s sports teams.  But Cougar president Romney drove the young men to aim higher, orchestrating a telethon that raised a stunning million dollars. Romney’s position as head of the club was widely seen as a calculated steppingstone for a career in national politics.
So it seemed disingenuous to his former club mates when, in a 2006 magazine interview, Romney denied his longtime political aspirations. “I have to admit I did not think I was going to be in politics,” he told the American Spectator.  “Had I thought politics was in my future, I would not have chosen Massachusetts as the state of my residence.  I would have stayed in Michigan where my Dad’s name was golden.”
Michael Moody says political success was an institutional value of the LDS church.
“The instructions in my [patriarchal] blessing, which I believed came directly from Jesus, motivated me to seek a career in government and politics,” he wrote in his 2008 book. Moody recently said that he ran for governor of Nevada in 1982 because he felt he had been divinely directed to “expand our kingdom” and help Romney “lead the world into the Millennium. Once a firm believer but now a church critic, Moody was indoctrinated with the White Horse Prophecy.  Like Romney, Moody is a seventh-generation Mormon, steeped in the same intellectual and theological milieu.
“We were taught that America is the Promised Land,” he said in an interview.”The Mormons are the Chosen People.  And the time is now for a Mormon leader to usher in the second coming of Christ and install the political Kingdom of God in Washington, D.C.”
In this scenario, Romney’s candidacy is part of the eternal plan and the candidate himself is fulfilling the destiny begun in what the church calls the “pre-existence.”
Several prominent Mormons, including conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, have alluded to this apocalyptic prophecy.  The controversial myth is not an official church doctrine, but it has also arisen in the national dialogue with the presidential candidacies of Mormons George Romney, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and now Mitt Romney.
“I don’t think the White Horse Prophecy is fair to bring up at all,” Mitt Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune when he was asked about it during his 2008 presidential bid.  “It’s been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it.  It has nothing to do with anything.”
Pundits and scholars, rabbis and bloggers, have repeatedly posed the question during Romney’s run: Is a candidate’s religion relevant?  With a startling 50 percent  increase of recently polled American voters claiming to know little or nothing about Mormonism, another 32 percent rejecting Mormonism as a Christian faith, a whopping 42 percent saying they would feel “somewhat or very uncomfortable” with a Mormon president, and a widespread sense that the religion is a cult, the issue is clearly more complicated than religious bigotry alone.  Judging from poll results, Americans seem less prejudiced against a candidate’s faith than concerned about the unknown, apprehensive about any kind of fanaticism, and generally uneasy about a religion that is neither mainstream Judaic nor Christian.
Just as the Christian fundamentalism of former GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry informed their political ideology — and was therefore considered fair game in the national dialogue — so too does Mormonism define not only Mitt Romney’s character, but what kind of president he would be and what impulses would drive him in both domestic and foreign policy.
Romney’s religion is not a sideline, but a crucial element in understanding the man, the mission and the candidacy.  He is the quintessential Mormon who embodies all of the basic elements of the homegrown American religion that is among the fastest growing religions in the world.  Like his father before him, Romney has charted a course from missionary to businessman, from church bishop to politician — and to presidential candidate.  The influence that Mormonism has had on him has dominated every step of the way.
The seeds of Romney’s unique brand of conservatism, often regarded with intense suspicion by most non-Mormon conservatives, were sown in the secretive, acquisitive, patriarchal, authoritarian religious empire run by “quorums” of men under an umbrella consortium called the General Authorities.  A creed unlike any other in the United States, from its inception Mormonism encouraged material prosperity and abundance as a measure of holy worth, and its strict system of tithing 10 percent of individual wealth has made the church one of the world’s richest institutions.
A multibillion-dollar business empire that includes agribusiness, mining, insurance, electronic and print media, manufacturing, movie production, commercial real estate, defense contracting, retail stores and banking, the Mormon church has unprecedented economic and political power. Despite a solemn stricture against any act or tolerance of gambling, Mormons have been heavily invested and exceptionally influential in the Nevada gaming industry since the great expansion of modern Las Vegas in the 1950s.  Valued for their unquestioning loyalty to authority as well as general sobriety — they are prohibited from imbibing in alcohol, tobacco or coffee — Mormons have long been recruited into top positions in government agencies and multinational corporations. They are prominent in such institutions as the CIA, FBI and the national nuclear weapons laboratories, giving the church a sphere of influence unlike any other American religion in the top echelons of government.
Romney, like his father before him who voluntarily tithed an unparalleled 19 percent of his personal fortune, is among the church’s wealthiest members. And like his father, grandfather and great-grandfathers before him, Mitt Romney was groomed for a prominent position in the church, which he manifested first as a missionary, then as a bishop, and then as a stake president, becoming the highest-ranking Mormon leader in Boston — the equivalent of a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. 
Called a “militant millennial movement” by renowned Mormon historian David L. Bigler, Mormonism’s founding theology was based upon a literal takeover of the U.S. government. In light of the theology and divine prophecies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, unamended by the LDS hierarchy, it would seem that the office of the American presidency is the ultimate ecclesiastical position to which a Mormon leader might aspire.  So it is not the LDS cosmology that is relevant to Romney’s candidacy, but whether devout 21stcentury Mormons like Romney believe that the American presidency is also a theological position.
Since his first campaign in 2008, Romney has attempted to keep debate about his religion out of the political discourse. The issue is not whether there is a religious test for political office; the Constitution prohibits it.  Instead, the question is whether, past all of the flip-flops on virtually every policy, he has an underlying religious conception of the presidency and the American government.  At the recent GOP presidential debate in Florida, Romney professed that the Declaration of Independence is a theological document, not specific to the rebellious 13 colonies, but establishing a covenant “between God and man.”  Which would suggest that Mitt Romney views the American presidency as a theological office.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012-01-30 "The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people? by Adam Gopnik
Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.—more than were in Stalin’s gulags. Photograph by Steve Liss.

A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic—the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.
That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.
For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.
The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction? There’s a fairly large recent scholarly literature on the history and sociology of crime and punishment, and it tends to trace the American zeal for punishment back to the nineteenth century, apportioning blame in two directions. There’s an essentially Northern explanation, focussing on the inheritance of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, and its “reformist” tradition; and a Southern explanation, which sees the prison system as essentially a slave plantation continued by other means. Robert Perkinson, the author of the Southern revisionist tract “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire,” traces two ancestral lines, “from the North, the birthplace of rehabilitative penology, to the South, the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline.” In other words, there’s the scientific taste for reducing men to numbers and the slave owners’ urge to reduce blacks to brutes.
William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protégé Madison was writing ours.
The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. Even clauses that Americans are taught to revere are, Stuntz maintains, unworthy of reverence: the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” was designed to protect cruel punishments—flogging and branding—that were not at that time unusual.
The obsession with due process and the cult of brutal prisons, the argument goes, share an essential impersonality. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on real people. That’s why America is famous both for its process-driven judicial system (“The bastard got off on a technicality,” the cop-show detective fumes) and for the harshness and inhumanity of its prisons. Though all industrialized societies started sending more people to prison and fewer to the gallows in the eighteenth century, it was in Enlightenment-inspired America that the taste for long-term, profoundly depersonalized punishment became most aggravated. The inhumanity of American prisons was as much a theme for Dickens, visiting America in 1842, as the cynicism of American lawyers. His shock when he saw the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia—a “model” prison, at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the country, where every prisoner was kept in silent, separate confinement—still resonates:
I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers. . . . I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.
Not roused up to stay—that was the point. Once the procedure ends, the penalty begins, and, as long as the cruelty is routine, our civil responsibility toward the punished is over. We lock men up and forget about their existence. For Dickens, even the corrupt but communal debtors’ prisons of old London were better than this. “Don’t take it personally!”—that remains the slogan above the gate to the American prison Inferno. Nor is this merely a historian’s vision. Conrad Black, at the high end, has a scary and persuasive picture of how his counsel, the judge, and the prosecutors all merrily congratulated each other on their combined professional excellence just before sending him off to the hoosegow for several years. If a millionaire feels that way, imagine how the ordinary culprit must feel.
In place of abstraction, Stuntz argues for the saving grace of humane discretion. Basically, he thinks, we should go into court with an understanding of what a crime is and what justice is like, and then let common sense and compassion and specific circumstance take over. There’s a lovely scene in “The Castle,” the Australian movie about a family fighting eminent-domain eviction, where its hapless lawyer, asked in court to point to the specific part of the Australian constitution that the eviction violates, says desperately, “It’s . . . just the vibe of the thing.” For Stuntz, justice ought to be just the vibe of the thing—not one procedural error caught or one fact worked around. The criminal law should once again be more like the common law, with judges and juries not merely finding fact but making law on the basis of universal principles of fairness, circumstance, and seriousness, and crafting penalties to the exigencies of the crime.
The other argument—the Southern argument—is that this story puts too bright a face on the truth. The reality of American prisons, this argument runs, has nothing to do with the knots of procedural justice or the perversions of Enlightenment-era ideals. Prisons today operate less in the rehabilitative mode of the Northern reformers “than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South,” Perkinson, an American-studies professor, writes. “American prisons trace their lineage not only back to Pennsylvania penitentiaries but to Texas slave plantations.” White supremacy is the real principle, this thesis holds, and racial domination the real end. In response to the apparent triumphs of the sixties, mass imprisonment became a way of reimposing Jim Crow. Blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites. “The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage,” the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (i.e., actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control.” Prevented from voting, legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, most will cycle back through the prison system. The system, in this view, is not really broken; it is doing what it was designed to do. Alexander’s grim conclusion: “If mass incarceration is considered as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success.”
Northern impersonality and Southern revenge converge on a common American theme: a growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.
Yet a spectre haunts all these accounts, North and South, whether process gone mad or penal colony writ large. It is that the epidemic of imprisonment seems to track the dramatic decline in crime over the same period. The more bad guys there are in prison, it appears, the less crime there has been in the streets. The real background to the prison boom, which shows up only sporadically in the prison literature, is the crime wave that preceded and overlapped it.
For those too young to recall the big-city crime wave of the sixties and seventies, it may seem like mere bogeyman history. For those whose entire childhood and adolescence were set against it, it is the crucial trauma in recent American life and explains much else that happened in the same period. It was the condition of the Upper West Side of Manhattan under liberal rule, far more than what had happened to Eastern Europe under socialism, that made neo-con polemics look persuasive. There really was, as Stuntz himself says, a liberal consensus on crime (“Wherever the line is between a merciful justice system and one that abandons all serious effort at crime control, the nation had crossed it”), and it really did have bad effects.
Yet if, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy. Thirty years ago, crime was supposed to be a permanent feature of the city, produced by an alienated underclass of super-predators; now it isn’t. Something good happened to change it, and you might have supposed that the change would be an opportunity for celebration and optimism. Instead, we mostly content ourselves with grudging and sardonic references to the silly side of gentrification, along with a few all-purpose explanations, like broken-window policing. This is a general human truth: things that work interest us less than things that don’t.
So what is the relation between mass incarceration and the decrease in crime? Certainly, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, many experts became persuaded that there was no way to make bad people better; all you could do was warehouse them, for longer or shorter periods. The best research seemed to show, depressingly, that nothing works—that rehabilitation was a ruse. Then, in 1983, inmates at the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered two guards. Inmates had been (very occasionally) killing guards for a long time, but the timing of the murders, and the fact that they took place in a climate already prepared to believe that even ordinary humanity was wasted on the criminal classes, meant that the entire prison was put on permanent lockdown. A century and a half after absolute solitary first appeared in American prisons, it was reintroduced. Those terrible numbers began to grow.
And then, a decade later, crime started falling: across the country by a standard measure of about forty per cent; in New York City by as much as eighty per cent. By 2010, the crime rate in New York had seen its greatest decline since the Second World War; in 2002, there were fewer murders in Manhattan than there had been in any year since 1900. In social science, a cause sought is usually a muddle found; in life as we experience it, a crisis resolved is causality established. If a pill cures a headache, we do not ask too often if the headache might have gone away by itself.
All this ought to make the publication of Franklin E. Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe,” a very big event. Zimring, a criminologist at Berkeley Law, has spent years crunching the numbers of what happened in New York in the context of what happened in the rest of America. One thing he teaches us is how little we know. The forty per cent drop across the continent—indeed, there was a decline throughout the Western world— took place for reasons that are as mysterious in suburban Ottawa as they are in the South Bronx. Zimring shows that the usual explanations—including demographic shifts—simply can’t account for what must be accounted for. This makes the international decline look slightly eerie: blackbirds drop from the sky, plagues slacken and end, and there seems no absolute reason that societies leap from one state to another over time. Trends and fashions and fads and pure contingencies happen in other parts of our social existence; it may be that there are fashions and cycles in criminal behavior, too, for reasons that are just as arbitrary.
But the additional forty per cent drop in crime that seems peculiar to New York finally succumbs to Zimring’s analysis. The change didn’t come from resolving the deep pathologies that the right fixated on—from jailing super predators, driving down the number of unwed mothers, altering welfare culture. Nor were there cures for the underlying causes pointed to by the left: injustice, discrimination, poverty. Nor were there any “Presto!” effects arising from secret patterns of increased abortions or the like. The city didn’t get much richer; it didn’t get much poorer. There was no significant change in the ethnic makeup or the average wealth or educational levels of New Yorkers as violent crime more or less vanished. “Broken windows” or “turnstile jumping” policing, that is, cracking down on small visible offenses in order to create an atmosphere that refused to license crime, seems to have had a negligible effect; there was, Zimring writes, a great difference between the slogans and the substance of the time. (Arrests for “visible” nonviolent crime—e.g., street prostitution and public gambling—mostly went down through the period.)
Instead, small acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the N.Y.P.D. began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened—“hot-spot policing.” The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk”—“designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins,” as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it—that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling.” This was not so much racial, since in any given neighborhood all the suspects were likely to be of the same race or color, as social, involving the thousand small clues that policemen recognized already. Minority communities, Zimring emphasizes, paid a disproportionate price in kids stopped and frisked, and detained, but they also earned a disproportionate gain in crime reduced. “The poor pay more and get more” is Zimring’s way of putting it. He believes that a “light” program of stop-and-frisk could be less alienating and just as effective, and that by bringing down urban crime stop-and-frisk had the net effect of greatly reducing the number of poor minority kids in prison for long stretches.
Zimring insists, plausibly, that he is offering a radical and optimistic rewriting of theories of what crime is and where criminals are, not least because it disconnects crime and minorities. “In 1961, twenty six percent of New York City’s population was minority African American or Hispanic. Now, half of New York’s population is—and what that does in an enormously hopeful way is to destroy the rude assumptions of supply side criminology,” he says. By “supply side criminology,” he means the conservative theory of crime that claimed that social circumstances produced a certain net amount of crime waiting to be expressed; if you stopped it here, it broke out there. The only way to stop crime was to lock up all the potential criminals. In truth, criminal activity seems like most other human choices—a question of contingent occasions and opportunity. Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes. Close down the open drug market in Washington Square, and it does not automatically migrate to Tompkins Square Park. It just stops, or the dealers go indoors, where dealing goes on but violent crime does not.
And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.
One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave,” Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly M.B.A. profs; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the S.E.C. busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology.
Social trends deeper and less visible to us may appear as future historians analyze what went on. Something other than policing may explain things—just as the coming of cheap credit cards and state lotteries probably did as much to weaken the Mafia’s Five Families in New York, who had depended on loan sharking and numbers running, as the F.B.I. could. It is at least possible, for instance, that the coming of the mobile phone helped drive drug dealing indoors, in ways that helped drive down crime. It may be that the real value of hot spot and stop-and-frisk was that it provided a single game plan that the police believed in; as military history reveals, a bad plan is often better than no plan, especially if the people on the other side think it’s a good plan. But one thing is sure: social epidemics, of crime or of punishment, can be cured more quickly than we might hope with simpler and more superficial mechanisms than we imagine. Throwing a Band-Aid over a bad wound is actually a decent strategy, if the Band-Aid helps the wound to heal itself.
Which leads, further, to one piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two. Would we actually have more fraud and looting of shareholder value if the perpetrators knew that they would lose their bank accounts and their reputation, and have to do community service seven days a week for five years? It seems likely that anyone for whom those sanctions aren’t sufficient is someone for whom no sanctions are ever going to be sufficient. Zimring’s research shows clearly that, if crime drops on the street, criminals coming out of prison stop committing crimes. What matters is the incidence of crime in the world, and the continuity of a culture of crime, not some “lesson learned” in prison.
At the same time, the ugly side of stop-and-frisk can be alleviated. To catch sharks and not dolphins, Zimring’s work suggests, we need to adjust the size of the holes in the nets—to make crimes that are the occasion for stop-and-frisks real crimes, not crimes like marijuana possession. When the New York City police stopped and frisked kids, the main goal was not to jail them for having pot but to get their fingerprints, so that they could be identified if they committed a more serious crime. But all over America the opposite happens: marijuana possession becomes the serious crime. The cost is so enormous, though, in lives ruined and money spent, that the obvious thing to do is not to enforce the law less but to change it now. Dr. Johnson said once that manners make law, and that when manners alter, the law must, too. It’s obvious that marijuana is now an almost universally accepted drug in America: it is not only used casually (which has been true for decades) but also talked about casually on television and in the movies (which has not). One need only watch any stoner movie to see that the perceived risks of smoking dope are not that you’ll get arrested but that you’ll get in trouble with a rival frat or look like an idiot to women. The decriminalization of marijuana would help end the epidemic of imprisonment.
The rate of incarceration in most other rich, free countries, whatever the differences in their histories, is remarkably steady. In countries with Napoleonic justice or common law or some mixture of the two, in countries with adversarial systems and in those with magisterial ones, whether the country once had brutal plantation-style penal colonies, as France did, or was once itself a brutal plantation-style penal colony, like Australia, the natural rate of incarceration seems to hover right around a hundred men per hundred thousand people. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get lower in rich, homogeneous countries—just that it never gets much higher in countries otherwise like our own.) It seems that one man in every thousand once in a while does a truly bad thing. All other things being equal, the point of a justice system should be to identify that thousandth guy, find a way to keep him from harming other people, and give everyone else a break.
Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.
“Oh, I have taken too little care of this!” King Lear cries out on the heath in his moment of vision. “Take physic, pomp; expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.” “This” changes; in Shakespeare’s time, it was flat-out peasant poverty that starved some and drove others as mad as poor Tom. In Dickens’s and Hugo’s time, it was the industrial revolution that drove kids to mines. But every society has a poor storm that wretches suffer in, and the attitude is always the same: either that the wretches, already dehumanized by their suffering, deserve no pity or that the oppressed, overwhelmed by injustice, will have to wait for a better world. At every moment, the injustice seems inseparable from the community’s life, and in every case the arguments for keeping the system in place were that you would have to revolutionize the entire social order to change it—which then became the argument for revolutionizing the entire social order. In every case, humanity and common sense made the insoluble problem just get up and go away. Prisons are our this. We need take more care. ♦