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

Friday, May 30, 2014

Democrat Party

San Francisco Democrat Party bought by Soda industry, sides with Republic Party, 2014-08-23 [link]

"The Democrats’ New Fake Populism", 2014-05-30 by Shamus Cooke from Common Dreams [www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/30-5]:
It would have been hilarious were it not so nauseating. One could only watch the recent “New Populism” conference with pity-induced discomfort, as stale Democratic politicians did their awkward best to adjust themselves to the fad of “populism.”
A boring litany of Democratic politicians — or those closely associated — gave bland speeches that aroused little enthusiasm among a very friendly audience of Washington D.C. politicos. It felt like an amateur recital in front of family and friends, in the hopes that practicing populism with an audience would better prepare them for the real thing.
The organizers of the conference, The Campaign For America’s Future, ensured that real populism would be absent from the program. The group is a Democratic Party ally that essentially functions as a party think tank.
The two co-founders of Campaign for America’s Future are Robert Borosage — who works closely with the progressive caucus of the Democratic Party — and Robert Hickey, who works with Health Care for America Now, an organization that prioritized campaigning for Obamacare. On the Board of Directors is the notorious liberal Van Jones, no doubt carefully chosen for his non-threatening elitist politics.
The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”  
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
"We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we're willing to fight for it.”
"We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we're willing to fight for it.”
"We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we're willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
* Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
* Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
* Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
* Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
What’s preventing the Democrats from becoming inspirational? They know all too well that by venturing too far to the left they could easily instigate a real mass movement. And such a movement is not easily controlled and would inevitably demand much more than the corporate-minded Democrats are willing to concede, which, at this point, is virtually nothing aside from musty rhetoric.
Unlike the Republican’s populist turn to the right that created the now-defunct Tea Party, a true left turn would mean have the potential to rejuvenate the millions’ strong labor movement, while engaging tens of millions more into active political life, driving people to participate in mass marches, rallies, labor strikes and other forms of mass action.
This was what happened during the “old populism” in U.S. history, which the Democrats are taking their trendy namesake from. The populist movement of the late 1800’s was a genuine mass movement of workers and farmers, which briefly aligned in an independent political party, the People’s Party, also known as the populists.
The populist movement that included strike waves and local rural rebellions had nothing to do with the lifeless politics of the Democratic Party, and threatened the very foundation of America corporate power. The Democrats are keenly aware of this type of real populist “threat,” and they are willing to do anything to stop it.
For example, the Occupy movement proved that the Democrats fear real left populism much more than they fear far-right populism. We now know that the Obama administration worked with numerous Democratic Party mayors and governors across the nationto undermine and destroy the Occupy movement through mass arrests, police violence and surveillance. And because Occupy succeeded in changing the national conversation about income inequality, the Democrats were forced to engage with the rhetoric of the movement they dismembered, and now use the plagiarized language as proof of their “populism.”
Aside from Elizabeth Warren, the other rock star of the “new populism” conference was the nominally-independent “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who essentially functions in Congress as a Democrat. Sanders’ politics fits in perfectly with the rest of the progressive caucus Democrats, which is why he was invited to the conference. Sanders can perhaps outdo Warren when it comes to anti-corporate-speak; but like Warren he keeps his solutions vague and his movement building aspirations negligible.
If by chance Sanders chooses to run for president as an Independent — as many radicals are hoping — his fake populist politics and empty rhetoric are unlikely to drastically change, limiting any chance that a "movement" may emerge.
It’s doubtful that many people have been fooled by the “left turn” of the Democratic Party. But on a deeper level the politics of “lesser evilism” still haunts labor and community groups, and keeping these groups within the orbit of the Democratic Party is the ultimate purpose of this new, more radical speechifying. Until these groups organize themselves independently and create their own working class political party, the above politics of "populist" farce is guaranteed to continue.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"New Orleans Nearly Finished Killing Off Its Public Schools; City now home to first all-charter school district in country"

2014-05-29 by Sarah Lazare from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/05/29-2]:
New Orleans is now home to the first and only school district in the United States that is all-charter.
The Recovery School District on Wednesday shuttered its last remaining traditional public school, meaning that almost all New Orleans schools are now privatized. The shutdowns moved forward despite opposition from local communities.
"The right to public education is fundamental human right," said Monique Harden of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights [http://www.ehumanrights.org/] in an interview with Common Dreams. "Profit motive drives insane, reckless, unsafe decisions that are not in the best interests of children."
Benjamin Banneker Elementary, which closed Wednesday, is one of the five remaining traditional public schools in the Recovery School District that will not re-open this fall, according to the Washington Post [http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/in-new-orleans-traditional-public-schools-close-for-good/2014/05/28/ae4f5724-e5de-11e3-8f90-73e071f3d637_story.html]. This leaves only five remaining public schools in New Orleans, all of them under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board, The TImes Picayune reports [http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/05/washington_post_reports_on_the.html].
The state-run RSD was created in 2003 with the expressed purpose of improving school performance. Yet, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the agency embarked on an aggressive campaign to prevent public schools from re-opening and divert public funds to charter schools, rapidly privatizing the education system.
"[T]he Recovery School District took over four fifths of the city's schools after the storm, and now it has closed or chartered every school it reopened," according to The TImes Picayune. The RSD also controls schools in other areas of Louisiana.
Author Naomi Klein has cited mass privatization of New Orleans public schools in the aftermath of Katrina as an examples of what she calls the "shock doctrine," in which crises are exploited to push otherwise unpopular and neoliberal policies on communities.
The sabotage of New Orleans public schools included the mass-firing of 7,000 teachers, most of them African-American, and subsequent hiring of disproportionately white and young teachers, some of them hailing from Teach for America, the Post reports. While the teachers have since won a $1 billion lawsuit for wrongful termination, the privatization drive continues.
Critics charge that the rapid privatization further segregated New Orleans schools by shepherding white students into the best charter schools while sending African American students into poorly resourced ones. The RSD has been hit by at least one civil rights complaint alleging discrimination in Newark, New Jersey; Chicago and New Orleans [http://www.advancementproject.org/news/entry/civil-rights-education-justice-groups-file-title-vi-complaints-in-chicago-n].
“Under the guise of education reform, corporate profiteers and politicians have zeroed in on black communities, leaving behind devastation and destabilization,” said Debra Jones of the New Orleans organization Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes in a statement released earlier this month.
A report by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School, published in 2010 [http://www.law.umn.edu/uploads/47/13/4713aa9c88439fffea3aff6575246976/35a_THE_STATE_OF_SCHOOLS_IN_NEW_ORLEANS.pdf], found that, "The increasingly charterized public school system has seriously undermined equality of opportunity among public school students, sorting white students and a small minority of students of color into better performing OPSB and BESE schools, while confining the majority of low-income students of color to the lower-performing RSN sector."
Despite evidence of climbing segregation and inequality, the New Orleans model of privatization is taking root in cities across the United States, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute told Common Dreams that the "draconian" spread of charter schools leaves communities with "no fallback plan." She asked, "What happens when one of your charters, two, three, or all of them fail? What does a community do then?"

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Students Now Indentured to the Banksters"

2014-05-22 by "The Daily Take Team", "The Thom Hartmann Program" [http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23882-students-now-indentured-to-the-banksters]:
Never in the history of the developed world has an entire generation had to go into debt just to get an education and a job. Until now.
Back in January, 31-year-old Tony Muzzatti, who at the time owed around $60,000 in student loan debt to Sallie Mae and always made on-time payments, was told that he had to immediately make a payment of $10,000, or face asset seizures [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/21/sallie-mae-death-default_n_5360905.html].
That's because his grandmother, who also happened to be his cosigner on the student loans, had just died.
Christopher Kibler was also told by Sallie Mae that he had to immediately pay back nearly $22,000 in student loan debts after his father, the cosigner on his loans, had passed away.
Muzzatti and Kibler are just two of the many victims of what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau refers to as "auto-defaults," or when banks immediately say that private student loan debts are in default after the death or bankruptcy of a cosigner.
The "auto-default" practice is just one of the many ways that big banks and Wall Street executives are making billions of dollars off of an entire generation of struggling, debt-ridden Americans.
Right now, there's over $1.18 trillion in outstanding student debt in America.
More than 40 million Americans hold student loan debt, which is greater than the entire population of Canada, Poland, North Korea, Australia and more than 200 other countries.
And of those 40 million borrowers, around 7 million have defaulted on their debt.
The average debt for a 25-year-old American student has risen a staggering 91 percent over the past decade, and the average college debt per person is over $23,000.
An entire generation of Americans is completely screwed, and is unable to start a family, buy a house, and build the equity needed to retire down the road.
This is a morally criminal conspiracy that's been going on for the past 33 years, ever since Ronald Reagan came to Washington, and it's been a three-step process.
First, as governor of California, Reagan did away with that state's free college education program, that let tens of thousands of Californians get an affordable and quality education. Others across the country followed his lead.
As soon as he came to Washington, Reagan continued his all-out assault on an affordable college education by slashing federal aid to higher education institutions across the country, including America's land-grant colleges that had been providing affordable and quality education since they were first established by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.
When Reagan came in the office only about 20 percent of the cost of college was paid as tuition; the other 80 percent was paid by governments and endowments. Today the numbers are almost exactly reversed and instead of government picking up most of the cost of tuition it is the students themselves.
Next, Reagan laid the groundwork for the federal government to get involved in the student loan business.
Thanks to Reagan's new ed policies, the federal government had an incentive to hand out loans to hundreds of thousands of students, because the interest on those loans would become revenue.
Finally, our backwards trade policies that have been in place for the past 33 years have also devastated America's "lost generation."
Believe it or not, there used to be a time in our country when you could graduate from high school, get a good paying blue-collar job, provide for your family, and save up for retirement.
But thanks to decades of job-killing trade policies, that's no longer the case.
Now, in order to become a part of the middle-class, and to have any shot at living the American Dream, you have to go to college, strap yourself with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, get a degree, and get a white-collar job.
The worst part of all of this is that we have done this to ourselves.
We have shot ourselves in the foot, by listening to 33 years of failed Reaganomics, and by buying into the idea that education should be a commodity and something that banksters can get rich off of, and not part of the commons.
It's time we own up to our mistakes, and start calling America's student loan debt crisis what it really is: A massive, devastating, trillion dollar morally criminal conspiracy, committed by Wall Street banksters, libertarian billionaires and Reaganomics devotees.
Fortunately, we can undo a lot of this damage, and lift an entire generation of Americans out of piles of debt.
It starts by declaring a debt jubilee on all outstanding student loan debt in America, and wiping the slate clean. Relieve millions of Americans from their crippling debt, so they can invest in homes, start families, and build equity.
And, we need to make a public college education free to every American who qualifies for it.
If we can afford to spend trillions of dollars fighting two unjust wars, we can certainly afford to give all eligible Americans an affordable and quality education at a fraction of that cost.
And, finally, we should turn our back on 30 years of insane trade policies and bring good paying blue-collar jobs back home.
Let's make sure that an entire generation never again has to go into debt just to get an education and a job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Exploitation of Detroit's debt

"JPMorgan Committing $100 Million Over 5 Years to Aid Revitalization in Detroit"
2014-05-20 by Steven Yaccino and Jessica Silver-Greenberg from the "New York Times" [www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/us/jpmorgan-committing-100-million-over-5-years-to-aid-revitalization-in-detroit.html]:
JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, will provide $100 million to help debt-ridden Detroit with housing repairs, blight removal, job training and economic development projects over the next five years, according to two people with direct knowledge of the plans.
The investment, a mix of loans and grants, will add to a growing pile of money from outside private institutions as the city nears the final, painful stages of the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy proceeding. Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection in July, with an estimated $18 billion in long-term debt. This summer, a federal judge will decide whether to approve a plan that would allow the city to exit bankruptcy court by mid-October.
In recent days, the city has been lobbying to secure nearly $200 million in funding from Michigan lawmakers, who are wary of setting a precedent by using taxpayer dollars to bail out a major metropolis. If approved, the state funding would be part of a so-called grand bargain that would also include hundreds of millions of dollars from philanthropic foundations. The money would be used to cushion pension cuts for Detroit retirees and avert the sale of the city’s art collection. The Legislature is weighing a package of bills regarding the outside funding this week.
JPMorgan’s support, previously reported by Detroit newspapers, will focus on city revitalization efforts and may help ease concerns by some legislators that Detroit could find itself in financial trouble again down the road. The institution’s chairman and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, will make a public announcement about the money with state and city officials on Wednesday. A spokesman for the bank would not discuss the matter before then.
“The city’s challenges remain significant — unprecedented, in some regards — but JPMorgan Chase believes that Detroit has the ingredients and intrinsic strengths to reshape and rebuild a dynamic modern economy and make the city a great place to live, work and invest,” said a company document detailing how the $100 million would be spent, which The Detroit Free Press posted online on Tuesday. “We are committed to helping make that future a reality.”
The bank will direct half of the money to community projects that would otherwise lack access to capital. It will put $25 million toward assisting groups like the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, which have begun aggressive demolition campaigns to rid the city of its estimated 78,000 vacant structures. The rest will be diced up: $12.5 million for work-force training, $7 million for small-business assistance and $5.5 million toward economic growth projects such as a new streetcar system.
The company announced another five-year initiative in December that infused $250 million into Detroit and other big cities for job-skills training. Both efforts come as JPMorgan emerges from a period of intense scrutiny. The bank reached a $13 billion settlement in November over its sale of questionable mortgage securities in the prelude to the financial crisis.
Goldman Sachs, another bank that has been buffeted by regulatory woes, pledged $20 million to Detroit in November for job creation and economic development.

"Detroit Urged to Tear Down 40,000 Buildings"
2014-05-27 by Monica Davey from the "New York Times" [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/us/detroit-task-force-says-blight-cleanup-will-cost-850-million.html]:
DETROIT — A task force convened by the Obama administration issued the most detailed study yet of blight in Detroit on Tuesday and recommended that the city spend at least $850 million to quickly tear down about 40,000 dilapidated buildings, demolish or restore tens of thousands more, and clear thousands of trash-packed lots.
It also said that the hulking remains of factories that dot Detroit, crumbling reminders of the city’s manufacturing prowess, must be salvaged or demolished, which could cost as much as $1 billion more.
If carried out, the recommendations by the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force would drastically alter the face of the nation’s largest bankrupt city. They would also cost significantly more than the approximately $450 million that the city already plans to spend on blight, raising questions about the feasibility of the vast cleanup effort, which is part of its larger campaign to emerge from bankruptcy by fall and begin remaking itself.
And the recommendations are certain to raise even more questions on the streets of Detroit about which neighborhoods will be helped first, and which will have to wait.
The blight study, which is perhaps the most elaborate survey of decay conducted in any large America city, found that 30 percent of buildings, or 78,506 of them, scattered across the city’s 139 square miles, are dilapidated or heading that way. It found that 114,000 parcels — about 30 percent of the city’s total — are vacant. And it found that more than 90 percent of publicly held parcels are blighted.
All in all, the report provides a remarkably gloomy, block-by-block portrait of the hollowed-out city’s misery and a virtual record of how Detroit’s population, once 1.8 million, has fallen to fewer than half that.
“Blight is a cancer,” Dan Gilbert, a business executive and leader of the blight task force, said on Tuesday, laying out highlights of the report, more than 300 pages and months in the making. “Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it.”
Using state law as a starting point, the authors defined blighted lots in a number of ways, including properties that are no longer structurally sound, have been damaged by fires, or become neighborhood dumping grounds. Hundreds of workers spent months driving around the streets here, observing and photographing the city’s approximately 377,000 parcels and feeding that detailed information into what is now, in essence, a complete computerized census of its buildings and lots.
“Detroit needs to act aggressively to eradicate the blight in as fast a time as possible,” the report concluded, noting that the city needed to move faster than any other city contending with a high level of decay to keep matters from growing even worse.
City leaders call for ending blight in the city’s residential neighborhoods in five years, while acknowledging that dealing with big empty industrial buildings — some 559 of them — could take longer.
“These structures are unique because of their larger size and their potential for greater environmental issues than other structures,” the report said, noting that the cost of demolishing just a single large industrial building can run into the tens of millions of dollars.
“Without a solution,” the report said, “they will continue to exert a downward pull on any efforts to restore the neighborhoods in which they are located, and as well as on the city as a whole.”
The report also made several recommendations for preventing blight in the future, including changes to property tax and foreclosure laws, and heavy fines for scrap metal theft.
Kevyn D. Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, said that the city’s problem with blighted buildings had mounted since the Great Depression, despite being the subject of multiple studies by previous city administrations. The current report, which has the backing of federal, state and local officials, was finally a detailed and unified answer, Mr. Orr said. “This is an unprecedented time and an unprecedented day,” he said. “Here we are, 83 years later, with the tools to address it.”
Still, the challenges ahead are enormous. A tangle of rules can make it difficult to even secure run-down buildings so they can be torn down or fixed up. Actually demolishing a building is time consuming, too, particularly at such a scale. And while the city has plans for how to pay for about $450 million of what is needed, including some already dedicated federal funds, much of that still needs federal court approval as part of the bankruptcy process.
Another $400 million — and perhaps more for the industrial sites — could be sought later from foundations, private donors and the government, officials here said.
“This money will come,” Mr. Gilbert said.
But officials acknowledged that they currently have no particular plan for securing so much money in such a short time, particularly given all of Detroit’s other looming needs, such as improved police services and firefighting equipment.
The survey grew out of a task force convened in September by the Obama administration, which was seeking options for ways Detroit could remake itself after it became the nation’s largest city to file for municipal bankruptcy. The task force, which included business, academic and foundation leaders from Detroit, offered measures for sorting out which neighborhoods to tackle first, an issue that has long been a concern for some of the city’s most troubled blocks, which in some cases have just a few families in homes on otherwise empty streets.
The basic plan, Mayor Mike Duggan said, is to clean up neighborhoods with the fewest blighted structures first to prevent them from falling into more widespread decay. Neighborhoods with numerous dilapidated houses on every block will come later, he said.
“Everybody understands you can’t do every place at once,” Mr. Duggan said, adding that the data from the task force survey was driving those choices. “I think people are pretty pleased at the fairness with which we’re doing it.”
One question the blight task force report did not answer was what should become of the more than 100,000 empty lots that exist now and the many more that will be left behind with more demolitions.
For years, some here have contemplated consolidating some of the city’s neighborhoods to allow the city to provide services to a smaller area, more suited to its shrunken population. But the report — named, in part, “Every Neighborhood Has a Future” — takes no stand on the notion of shrinking the city’s footprint.
Mr. Duggan, who took office in January, said that he was focused on answering the blight issue now and had no intention of ever forcing anyone from a home.
“We’re not talking about cutting off services to anybody,” he said. “But at some point are we going to create positive incentives for people to move from the less populated areas into the more populated areas? At some point we’ll get to that.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why those with extreme wealth exhibit psychopathic tendencies

"Evidence that the Meritocracy is Made Up of Poor People"
2014-05-19 by Paul Buchheit for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/19-1]:
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press).
Many wealthy Americans believe that dysfunctional behavior causes poverty. Their own success, they would insist, derives from good character and a strict work ethic. But they would be missing some of the facts. Ample evidence exists to show a correlation between wealth and unethical behavior, and between wealth and a lack of empathy for others, and between wealth and unproductiveness.
The poor, along with a middle class that is sinking toward them, make up the American meritocracy. Here is some of the evidence.

1. The Poor Don't Cheat As Much -
An analysis of seven different psychological studies found that "upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals." A series of experiments showed that upper-class individuals were more likely to break traffic laws, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, and cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize.
And this doesn't even begin to examine the many, many significant cases of fraudulent behavior in the banking industry [http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/the-meritocracy-myth-how-the-super-rich-really-make-their-money/18605-the-meritocracy-myth-how-the-super-rich-really-make-their-money].
Or private equity firms that cheat their investors over 50 percent of the time [http://www.sec.gov/News/Speech/Detail/Speech/1370541735361#.U3eOmHbyTwM].
Or the many unscrupulous corporate tax avoidance strategies [http://www.nationofchange.org/four-contemptible-examples-corporate-tax-avoidance-1373297031].

2. The Poor Care More About Other People -
Numerous reputable sources have concluded that lower class individuals tend to be more generous and trusting and helpful, compared to the upper class [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20649364]. As people gain in wealth, they depend less on others [http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/social-class-as-culture.html], and thus they have less reason to understand the feelings and needs of the less fortunate [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-wealth-reduces-compassion]. The poor are better at interpersonal relationships because they need other people [http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/rich-people-just-care-less/].
In addition, careful studies have determined that money pushes people further to the right, making them less egalitarian [http://www.voxeu.org/article/money-makes-people-right-wing-and-inegalitarian], and less willing, as a practical consequence, to provide broad educational opportunities to all members of society [http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~jnd260/cab/CAB2012%20-%20Page1.pdf].
One neuro-imaging analysis [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825032/] even suggested that the super-wealthy view photos of impoverished people as things rather than as human beings. They react to the poor not with sympathy, but with contempt [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/kristof-where-is-the-love.html].

3. The Rich Focus on Me, Me, Me -
The authors of a recent psychological study argue that rich people are different because they have the freedom to focus on self. In support of this, a number of studies [http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/19/0146167213501699.full#aff-1] have demonstrated that higher social class is associated with increased narcissism, even to the point of looking at themselves more frequently in a mirror [http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-27/wealthier-people-more-likely-than-poorer-to-lie-or-cheat-researchers-find.html]. The rich feel entitled. They attribute success to their 'superior' traits, while people from lower economic backgrounds attribute success to societal values, such as educational opportunities [http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/13/why-the-wealthy-favor-harsh-punishment-for-criminals-and-errant-schoolchildren/].

4. The Poor Give a Greater Percentage of Their Money to Others -
Research has shown that low-income Americans spend a much higher percentage of their income on charitable giving [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/]. Results from three studies average out to 4.5% from low-income people, 2.7% from those with high incomes. With respect to helping people in need, the rich give even less. As Robert Reich notes, about two-thirds of 'charitable' donations from the rich go to their foundations and alma maters, and to "culture palaces" – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters [http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/files/research/giving_focused_on_meeting_needs_of_the_poor_july_2007.pdf].
Charles Koch said, "I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington." The well-being of high society, perhaps.

5. Entrepreneurs are in the (Sinking) Middle Class -
The meritorious behavior of job creation comes from the middle class, which is quickly sliding toward lower-income status [http://www.eoionline.org/blog/how-the-great-recession-cratered-americas-middle-class/]. The very rich generally don't risk their money in job-creating startup businesses. Over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate [http://articles.marketwatch.com/2011-06-24/commentary/30753798_1_hedge-fund-assets-total-wealth].
With the demise of the middle class, entrepreneurship is decreasing. According to a Brookings Institute report [http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2014/05/declining%20business%20dynamism%20litan/declining_business_dynamism_hathaway_litan], the "firm entry rate," a measure of new firms and thus of entrepreneurial startup activity, fell by nearly half in the thirty-plus years between 1978 and 2011. America's average entrepreneur is 26 years old, but most of our 26-year-olds are burdened by student loan debt [http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23681-did-reagan-kill-entrepreneurialism].

Meriting Our Respect and Appreciation -
Lower-income Americans serve our food, care for our sick, and clean up after us, with minimal benefits and few complaints. More and more middle-income workers are falling into this struggling group, as 9 out of 10 of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree.
These people merit our admiration for persevering in a society where a privileged few are taking almost everything.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"America’s Top 10 Corporate Tax Avoiders"

2014 by Senator Bernie Saunders [https://web.archive.org/web/20140518221916/http://www.sanders.senate.gov/top-10-corporate-tax-avoiders]:

1. . General Electric -
From 2008 to 2013, while GE made over $33.9 billion in United States profits, it received a total tax refund of more than $2.9 billion from the Internal Revenue Service.
G.E.’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six year period was -9 percent.
In 2012, GE stashed $108 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice were outlawed, GE would have paid $37.8 billion in federal income taxes that year.
During the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve provided GE with $16 billion in financial assistance, at a time when its CEO Jeffrey Immelt was a director of the New York Federal Reserve.
GE has been a leader in outsourcing decent paying jobs to China, Mexico and other low-wage countries.
Mr. Immelt has a retirement account at General Electric worth an estimated $59 million and made $19 million in total compensation last year.
He is a member of the Business Roundtable, a group that wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, cut Social Security and veterans’ benefits, increase taxes on working families, and cut corporate taxes even further.
On December 6, 2002, Jeffrey Immelt said at an investors’ meeting, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China. You need to be there. You need to change the way people talk about it and how they get there. I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to $5 billion. We are building a tech center in China. Every discussion today has to center on China. The cost basis is extremely attractive. You can take an 18 cubic foot refrigerator, make it in China, land it in the United States, and land it for less than we can make an 18 cubic foot refrigerator today, ourselves.” 

2. Boeing -
From 2008 to 2013, while Boeing made over $26.4 billion in U.S. profits, it received a total tax refund of $401 million from the IRS. Boeing’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six-year period was -2 percent.
Boeing is one of the top recipients of corporate welfare in the United States and has outsourced tens of thousands of decent paying jobs to China and other low-wage countries.
Boeing even has its own taxpayer-funded bank known as the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Boeing has received so much corporate welfare from this bank that it has been dubbed “the Bank of Boeing.”
Boeing CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. made $23.3 million in total compensation last year. Mr. McNerney, as a member of the Business Roundtable, wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security.

3. Verizon -
From 2008 to 2013, while Verizon made over $42.4 billion in U.S. profits, it received a total tax refund of $732 million from the IRS.
Verizon’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six-year period was -2 percent.
In 2012, Verizon stashed $1.8 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Verizon would owe an estimated $630 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.
In 2013, Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon made $15.8 million in total compensation. He wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

4. Bank of America -
Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS in 2010, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of more than $1.3 trillion.
In 2012, Bank of America operated more than 300 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, which has no corporate taxes.
In 2012, Bank of America stashed $17.2 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Bank of America would owe an estimated $4.3 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance strategies were eliminated.
Last year, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan made $13.1 million in total compensation, but he wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

5. Citigroup -
Citigroup made more than $4 billion in profits in 2010, but paid no federal income taxes. Citigroup received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury during the financial crisis.
Citigroup has established 427 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens.
In 2012, it stashed $42.6 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Citigroup would owe an estimated $11.5 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance strategies were eliminated.
Michael Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup, made more than $17.6 million in total compensation last year.

6. Pfizer -
Pfizer, one of the largest prescription drug companies in America, not only paid no federal income taxes from 2010 to 2012, it received $2.2 billion in tax refunds from the IRS at the same time it made $43 billion in profits worldwide.
In 2012, Pfizer stashed $73 billion in profits offshore and has used aggressive offshore tax strategies to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.
Ian Read, the CEO of Pfizer, made $17.7 million in total compensation last year.
Hank McKinnell, Jr., who was Pfizer’s CEO from 2001 to 2006, received a golden parachute from Pfizer worth an estimated $188 million.

7. FedEx -
In 2011, Federal Express received a $135 million tax refund from the IRS even though it made more than $2.7 billion in U.S. profits that year.
FedEx receives more than $1 billion a year from the U.S. Postal Service to provide air service for all express mail and priority mail shipments.
Frederick Smith, the CEO of FedEx, made more than $12.6 million in total compensation last year.

8. Honeywell -
From 2009 to 2010, not only did Honeywell pay no federal income taxes, it received a $510 million tax refund from the IRS even though it made a combined profit in the U.S. of almost $3 billion.
In 2012, Honeywell stashed $11.6 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Honeywell would owe an estimated $4.06 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance were eliminated.
David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, made more than $25.4 million in total compensation last year.
Mr. Cote wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

9. Merck -
In 2009, not only did Merck pay no federal income taxes, it received a $55 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned more than $5.7 billion in U.S. profits.
In 2012, Merck stashed $53.4 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $18.69 billion in federal income taxes.
Fred Hassan, the CEO of Merck from 2003 to 2009, received a golden parachute worth an estimated $189 million.
Merck’s current CEO, Kenneth Frazier, has a retirement account worth an estimated $14.4 million.  He wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

10. Corning -
From 2008 to 2012, not only did Corning pay no federal income taxes, it received a $10 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned more than $3.4 billion in U.S. profits during those years.
Corning has stashed $11.9 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Corning would owe an estimated $4.165 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance were eliminated.
Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, has a retirement account worth an estimated $22.8 million.   Mr. Weeks wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

Pollution and profit

They hate the country so much, they would destroy it for a few hundred dollars in dividends to individual foreign investors...

Step 1) Seize and/or usurp a vital part of the Public Commons (resources like water, public land, seed stocks and other life forms, education, medical care, our very government, our roads and bridges, electricity generation and the power grid, methane gas, oil, minerals, our broadcast spectrum, telecom infrastructure, the internet).
Step 2) Restrict public access to these vital resources, and extort largess from the nation's people who already own them all by birthright, even while hiding and externalizing the costs and unfavorable impacts associated with the use, sale and/or destruction of Public Commons elements.

From "US Uncut" [www.facebook.com/usauncut], 2014-05-01:
Duke Energy dumped 82,000 tons of coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River and claim they can't afford to clean it up. Now they're spending millions to kill rooftop solar.

Ideology of the monopolists (and their happy little helpers)

The ideology of the monopolist fascist (and their "happy little helpers") includes such thoughts as:
* The Poor are entirely at fault for being poor.
* The Ecology is not an important part of the public health.
* The Workers have no human rights.
This archive contains insights into this ideology...

* Why those with extreme wealth exhibit psychopathic tendencies [link]
* How Will the 99% Deal With 70 Million Psychopaths? [link]
* "Suffering? Well, You Deserve It" [link]

Monopolist propaganda describing "Self Regulation" for monopolist corporations is the logic of children, yet its justification governs the relations between the People and the private cartels which monopolize the economic life of the People.

The following column is published by hundreds of monopolised newspapers and online newsjournals across the USA, for an upper middle-class readers. The author, a respected personality who is held in high-esteem by educated conservatives, censors the direct connection of anti-worker business practices and the increase in poverty, and misleads the audience to believe that poverty is a creation of anti-poverty social programs!
"The slow decline of America since LBJ launched the Great Society"
2014-05-16 by George F. Will [www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-f-will-the-slow-decline-of-america-since-lbj-launched-the-great-society/2014/05/16/21f70a8c-dc5c-11e3-b745-87d39690c5c0_story.html]:
[begin extract] Between 1959 and 1966 — before the War on Poverty was implemented — the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012. But, Eberstadt cautions, the poverty rate is “incorrigibly misleading” because government transfer payments have made income levels and consumption levels significantly different. Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability payments, heating assistance and other entitlements have, Eberstadt says, made income “a poor predictor of spending power for lower-income groups.” Stark material deprivation is now rare:
“By 2011 . . . average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980. . . . [Many] appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980. . . . DVD players, personal computers, and home Internet access are now typical in them — amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty.”
But the institutionalization of anti-poverty policy has been, Eberstadt says carefully, “attended” by the dramatic spread of a “tangle of pathologies.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined that phrase in his 1965 report calling attention to family disintegration among African Americans. The tangle, which now ensnares all races and ethnicities, includes welfare dependency and “flight from work.”
Twenty-nine percent of Americans — about 47 percent of blacks and 48 percent of Hispanics — live in households receiving means-tested benefits. And “the proportion of men 20 and older who are employed has dramatically and almost steadily dropped since the start of the War on Poverty, falling from 80.6 percent in January 1964 to 67.6 percent 50 years later.” Because work — independence, self-reliance — is essential to the culture of freedom, ominous developments have coincided with Great Society policies:
For every adult man ages 20 to 64 who is between jobs and looking for work, more than three are neither working nor seeking work, a trend that began with the Great Society. And what Eberstadt calls “the earthquake that shook family structure in the era of expansive anti-poverty policies” has seen out-of-wedlock births increase from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies.
[end extract]

The "Christian" Capitalist ideology of Billie Tucker, Leader of a "Tea Party" in Florida (2011-05) [link]

"Work for a better wage"
2014-05-13 letter by Leo Pribble of San Francisco to the editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper [link]:
I'm so tired of the whines I hear about raising the minimum wage. Minimum-wage jobs were never meant to be career jobs. If you want better pay, get a better-paying job. Oh, you might want to invest in yourself and get an education. Best start is to pay attention in school. Stop whining. Be proactive. Help yourself and help others. Encourage better education.

"Exposing Reich's errors"
2014-05-18 Letters to Insight from the "San Francisco Chronicle"
Robert Reich's article "Exposing right wing's lies" (Insight, May 11 [https://web.archive.org/web/20140518181542/http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Lies-the-right-wing-tells-5466796.php]) is so flawed, I barely know where to start.
His first claim that "the middle class and poor are job creators" is obviously wrong. Poor people cannot create jobs through their purchases because they have very little or no money and purchase almost nothing.
Next, his claim that people are not paid what they are worth due to the decline in unions is ridiculous. Anyone in today's job market knows if they have marketable skills, they will be fairly compensated based on their ability.
His assertion that "we do less than nothing for poor and lower middle-class kids" is just plain wrong. The numerous programs that these very same people take advantage of - after-school programs, tutoring, free breakfast and lunch ... the list is endless - prove Reich wrong again.
Finally, Reich should realize that the minimum wage was meant for people who are just entering the job market. It was never meant to support a family.
[signed] Raymond Moreno, of San Francisco

"How the Super-Rich Are Abandoning America"
 2013-11-04 by Paul Buchheit  from "CommonDreams.org" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/04-1]:
As they accumulate more and more wealth, the very rich have less need for society. At the same time, they've convinced themselves that they made it on their own, and that contributing to societal needs is unfair to them. There is ample evidence that this small group of takers is giving up on the country that made it possible for them to build huge fortunes.

They've Taken $25 Trillion of New Wealth While Paying Less Taxes -
The 2013 Global Wealth Databook shows that U.S. wealth has increased from $47 trillion in 2008 to $72 trillion in mid-2013. But according to U.S. Government Revenue figures, federal income taxes have gone DOWN from 2008 to 2012. Even worse, corporations cut their tax rate in half.
American society has gained nothing from its massive wealth expansion. There's no wealth tax, no financial transaction tax, no way to ensure that infrastructure and public education are supported.
Just how much have the super-rich taken over the past five years? Each of the elite 5% -- the richest 12 million Americans -- gained, on average, nearly a million dollars in financial wealth between 2008 and 2013.

2. For the First Time in History, They Believe They Don't Need the Rest of Us -
The rich have always needed the middle class to work in their factories and buy their products. With globalization this is no longer true. Their factories can be in China, producing goods for people in India or Europe or anywhere else in the world.
They don't need our infrastructure for their yachts and helicopters and submarines. They pay for private schools for their kids, private security for their homes. They have private emergency rooms to avoid the health care hassle. All they need is an assortment of servants, who might be guest workers coming to America on H2B visas, willing to work for less than a middle-class American can afford.
The sentiment is spreading from the super-rich to the merely rich. In 2005 Sandy Springs, a wealthy suburb of Atlanta, stopped paying for most public services, deciding instead to avoid subsidizing poorer residents of Fulton County by hiring a "city outsourcer" called CH2M to manage everything except the police and fire departments. That includes paving the roads, running the courts, issuing tickets, handling waste, and various other public services. Several other towns followed suit.
Results have been mixed, with some of CH2M's clients backing out or renegotiating. But privatization keeps coming at us. Selective decisions about public services threaten to worsen already destitute conditions for many communities. Detroit, of course, is at the forefront. According to an Urban Land Institute report, "more municipalities may follow Detroit's example and abandon services in certain districts."

3. They Soaked the Middle Class, and Now Demand Cuts in the Middle-Class Retirement Fund -
The richest Americans take the greatest share of over $2 trillion in Tax Expenditures, Tax Underpayments, Tax Haven holdings, and unpaid Corporate Taxes.
The Social Security budget is less than half of that. Yet much of Congress and many other wealthy Americans think it should be cut. These are the same people who deprive the American public of $300 billion a year by not paying their full share of the payroll tax.

4. They Continue to Insist that They "Made It on Their Own" -
They didn't. Their fortunes derived in varying degrees - usually big degrees - from public funding, which provided almost half of basic research funds into the 1980s, and even today supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities.
Businesses rely on roads and seaports and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, communications towers and satellites to conduct online business, the Department of Commerce to promote and safeguard global markets, the U.S. Navy to monitor shipping lanes, and FEMA to clean up after them.
Apple, the tax haven specialist, still does most of its product and research development in the United States, with US-educated engineers and computer scientists. Google's business is based on the Internet, which started as ARPANET, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency computer network from the 1960s. The National Science Foundation funded the Digital Library Initiative research at Stanford University that was adopted as the Google model. Microsoft was started by our richest American, Bill Gates, whose success derived at least in part by taking the work of competitors and adapting it as his own. Same with Steve Jobs, who admitted: "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."
Companies like Pfizer and Merck have relied on basic research performed at the National Institute of Health. A Congressional Budget Office study reminds us that The primary rationale for the government to play a role in basic research is that private companies perform too little such research themselves (relative to what is best for society).

5. As a Final Insult, Many of Them Desert the Country that Made Them Rich -
Many of the beneficiaries of American research and technology have abandoned their country because of taxes. Like multinational companies that rationalize the move by claiming to be citizens of the world, almost 2,000 Americans, and perhaps up to 8,000, have left their responsibilities behind for more favorable tax climates. The most egregious example is Eduardo Saverin, who found safe refuge in the U.S. after his family was threatened in Brazil, landed Mark Zuckerberg as a roommate at Harvard, benefited from American technology to make billions from his 4% share in Facebook, and then skipped out on his tax bill.

An Apt Summary?
Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and member of the Forbes 400, had this to say about any American who might object to all the greed: "Who gives a crap about some imbecile?"

Happy Little Helpers are handsomely rewarded if they work well.
* "Goldman Sachs Paid CEO Blankfein $19.9 Million" [link]
* "For Services Rendered? Wall Street’s Big Paydays For Trade Negotiators" [link]

Happy Little Helpers are smart enough to be studious, but stupid enough to not think, as can be shown in the following example:

Happy Little Helpers are not capable of thinking like a person of lower-income.

A government contractor working against their employer is technically treason, punishable by life-sentencing, and execution. Edward Snowden released records gained while employed by the USA clandestine services which show the "turn-key" dictatorship employed by monopolists against the people of the world. Edward is a USA Citizen, and, because of his crime, is being taunted by high-ranking government officials, whose messages are publicized by the monopolized media, shaping the perceptions of the captive audience concerning Edward. In the following examples, notice how John Kerry shapes the message, using words and phrases designed to elicit an emotional response.
"U.S. Kerry says Snowden should 'Man Up' and return to U.S.", 2014-05-28 by Philip J. Victor from "Al Jazeera" [http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/28/kerry-snowden-nsa.html]:
Secretary of State John Kerry has blasted former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as a “confused” man who “betrayed his country,” rebutting the whistleblower’s claim that his exile in Russia is the fault of the U.S. government.
Kerry's comments came ahead of the scheduled airing on Wednesday evening of Snowden’s first sit-down interview with a U.S. network. In excerpts released by NBC, Snowden — who fled the United States after leaking classified documents detailing massive surveillance by the U.S. government — said he “never intended to end up in Russia.”
“I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow airport. So when people ask, ‘Why are you in Russia?’ I say, ‘Please ask the State Department,’” Snowden said.
Kerry reacted bluntly to the accusation. “For a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer,” he told NBC. Snowden has previously said he acted out of “good conscience” to protect privacy and basic liberties.
“If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust in the American system of justice,” Kerry said. “But to be hiding in Russia, an authoritarian country, and to have just admitted that he was really trying to get to Cuba — I mean, what does that tell you? I think he’s confused, I think it’s very sad, but this is a man who has done great damage to his country.”
[end excerpt]
"Kerry: 'Pretty Dumb' Snowden Blames U.S. for Stranding Him", 2014-05-28 from "NBC News"
[http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/edward-snowden-interview/kerry-pretty-dumb-snowden-blames-u-s-stranding-him-n116126]: Secretary of State John Kerry tells TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie that a “real patriot” would return home.
(CONTINUE READING [http://www.today.com/video/today/55275926])
Secretary of State John Kerry tells TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie that he would be “delighted” for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to return from Russia to make his case, and that a “real patriot” would return home. Kerry’s comments were in response to Snowden’s exclusive interview with NBC’s Brian Williams. (Video at original source link).

Friday, May 16, 2014

Healthcare in the USA controlled by profit-driven private companies

"One Trade Unionist's Horrific Experience Under the Affordable Care Act" (2014-06) [link]

"New Obamacare Loophole Shows Failure of For-Profit Health System: Critics"'This new rule to limit payments for needed medical procedures is a reminder of everything that is wrong with our profit-driven healthcare system.'"
2014-05-16 by Sarah Lazare [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/05/16-4]:
Healthcare Now! and Baltimore members of Healthcare is a Human Right - Maryland participated in the 2014 MLK Day Parade. (Photo: United Workers / Flickr Creative Commons)

The Obama administration earlier this month quietly handed the insurance industry another loophole in the Affordable Care Act—infuriating advocates for universal coverage who say this shows that an insurance-driven health system is doomed to fail.
Announced on May 2, the provision opens the door to "reference pricing," which allows insurance companies to set a price for medical procedures [http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-aca19.html]. If a patient receives a treatment that costs more, he/she will simply have to pay out of pocket. The measure is slated to apply to a majority of work-based health insurance plans and exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare"), according to the Associated Press [http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/259489931.html].
Many worry that reference pricing will force patients to bear the burden of a costly and difficult-to-navigate medical system.
"We don't need reference pricing—we need "right pricing" under a single-payer program," Don McCanne, M.D., senior health policy fellow at Physicians for a National Health Program told Common Dreams. "This is merely another way in which insurance companies are going to chisel down payment for care, shifting a greater share of the cost onto patients."
"This new rule to limit payments for needed medical procedures is a reminder of everything that is wrong with our profit-driven healthcare system," Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, told Common Dreams. "Rather than crack down on price gouging by hospitals—some of who set their charges as high as 12 times their costs — the administration is enacting a rule to ration care for patients."
Critics charge that the ruling even violates one of the Affordable Care Act's key tenets [http://www.healthcare.gov/how-does-the-health-care-law-protect-me/]: To end "lifetime and yearly dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits."
In its own fact sheet [http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-aca19.html], the Department of Labor acknowledges concerns that "such a pricing structure may be a subterfuge for the imposition of otherwise prohibited limitations on coverage, without ensuring access to quality care and an adequate network of providers."
According to Ross, "A Commonwealth Fund study last November comparing Americans to 10 other developed countries found that U.S. adults are by far the most likely to not get the treatment their doctor recommends, as well as forgoing doctor visits or filling prescriptions, because of the high cost [http://www.commonwealthfund.org/News/News-Releases/2013/Nov/New-11-Country-Health-Care-Survey.aspx]. All that this rule will do is increase those medical disparities and further brand our dysfunctional healthcare system as one based on ability to pay rather than on patient need."

Reform addressing human-rights and civil-rights abuses by Clandestine Agencies is a facade

Why would clandestine agencies voluntarily stop using the technology and techniques used against all enemies of the monopolist? Because these are public-sector agencies, who are part of the public-sector government. But the private-sector calndestine agencies will continue to offer their collected data and operative capabilities, or conduct action without involvement with public-sector agencies, no matter what reform may be lodged against the public-sector agencies.

"Skeptics on NSA Reform: Beware the 'Backdoors and Loopholes'; Bills passing through Congress show some promise, but 'devil is in the details'"
2014-05-16 by Jon Queally for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/05/16-0]:

'Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really.' That's the headline on the latest McClatchy reporting focused an a series of legislative efforts now passing through both houses of Congress that are purportedly designed to rein in the National Security Agency and its mass domestic surveillance apparatus [http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/05/15/227551/bill-to-curb-nsa-spying-looks.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1].
Among the experts and critics of the NSA programs the newspaper spoke with, former NSA employee Thomas Drake said, "The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve. To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”
That sentiment was shared by experts at both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation who have been among the most outspoken critics of the NSA itself and the so-far tepid reforms that have received traction thus far in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Though support has been forthcoming for the USA Freedom Act, as many have stated: 'The devil is in the details.'
The ACLU's assessment [https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/nsa-reform-takes-its-first-steps], offered by Laura Murphy, the group's legislative director in Washington, explains that "while [USA Freedom Act] is lacking some of the key privacy protections included in the original, it is an important step to reining in the surveillance state. At base, the bill attempts to stop the government from sweeping up personal information without having to present a compelling reason to a judge."
And McClatchy reports:
[begin excerpt] The House of Representatives is expected to vote on its version of the bill next week, the first time since news about the surveillance broke last year that major legislation supported by top congressional leaders like this has come to the floor. The Senate might take up its own version as early as this summer.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee even issued a joint statement praising the bipartisan cooperation, a rarely seen trait around Congress these days.
But peek just past all the good will and there’s serious concern that Congress has much more to do. Not only are loopholes easy to find but also the government has other ways of collecting the data.
[end excerpt]
As Drake warns in his comments to the newspaper: “This could all end up as a shell game. It already has, in the past. Anytime these programs have been scrutinized, another authority or program becomes a back door.”

USA Torture Regime

Report on USA torture released by Amnesty International (2014-05-13) [link]

Report on USA torture released by Amnesty International

USA Torture Regime [link]

"From Prisons to Black Sites, US Hand in Global Torture Exposed; Amnesty International report on global torture exposes inhumane acts perpetrated by United States"
2014-05-13 by Sarah Lazare from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/05/13-3]:
Thirty years after ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. government has dodged accountability for perpetrating torture in domestic prisons and CIA black sites and embroiling foreign states in inhumane acts.
So finds a report on global torture released Tuesday by human rights organization Amnesty International. According to the study, torture and abuse have been reported in at least 141 countries around the world in the past five years.
A survey conducted by Amnesty found that 44 percent of people across the world are afraid they would be in danger of torture if taken into state custody in their country [http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT40/005/2014/en/571ddea2-66dd-4f77-81e3-053339d3a096/act400052014en.pdf].
In the United States, 32 percent of respondents expressed such a fear—which, according to the report, has merit.
"In some maximum security isolation or segregation facilities across the USA, many thousands of inmates are held in solitary confinement in small cells for 22 to 24 hours a day. Many have little access to natural light or out-of-cell recreation time which amounts to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment," reads the study.
U.S. torture is not confined within its borders. "The U.S. government is also failing to ensure accountability for torture and enforced disappearances committed in the context of counter-terrorism operations. No one responsible for the use of interrogation techniques such as 'water-boarding,' prolonged sleep deprivation, and stress positions in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-run secret detention centres around the world has been brought to justice. The U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence has conducted a review of the now-terminated CIA programme, but its 6,000-plus page report remains classified."
Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture and lecturer at University of San Francisco, told Common Dreams that the U.S. climate for torture has only grown more permissive since the beginning of the War on Terror. "One of the things we've seen polls show that almost 13 years out from September 11th, 2001, people are more willing to approve of torture as a tool of 'security' than a decade ago," she said.
The report states that the U.S. has involved other countries in its acts of torture: "Torture and ill-treatment has also been documented in parts of the European Union (EU), with some countries also failing to effectively investigate allegations of complicity in torture carried out in the context of U.S.-led counter-terrorism operations," states the report.
According to Gordon, "U.S. pressure on European countries to participate in housing CIA black sites and allow their airports to be used for renditions has corrupted a number of European governments in their stance on torture. One of the effects of torture by the United States—a country universally (if not accurately) recognized as a democracy—is when that country participates in torture in a quasi public way, it creates a legitimation of torture as a practice."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New York Times publishes false information about "net neutrality"

The so-called "Liberal Press" [link]

"The New York Times Busted Lying Through its Teeth" 
2014-05-15 by James Hepburn [www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/15/1299692/-The-New-York-Times-Busted-Lying-Through-its-Teeth]:
I got an email from a friend with an image comparing two news reports on the big FCC vote that moves us closer to gutting net neutrality. After reading the Times' quote, it was so shockingly dishonest that my first response was, "it must be fake."

Wow. So I went to the NY Times website to confirm, because even I, who have known for years that the Times was nothing but a PR operation for the 1%, couldn't believe they fallen this low.
But it was real. The version they have up now is slightly scrubbed. But the version in the image apparently went out on the Times' wire service and is still available from scores of small newspapers (Like the Tampa Bay Times [https://web.archive.org/web/20140521161438/http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/fcc-votes-to-move-ahead-on-net-neutrality-plan-wvideo/2179963]).
Here's the cited quote again:
[begin excerpt] WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes. [end excerpt]
The rest of the article is just as bad, with little gems like this one:
[begin excerpt] While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content. [end excerpt]
Hey, the New York Times is employing the technique of propagandist assholes everywhere by calling their opponents "purists". I'm impressed.
Of course, the real asshollery of that last paragraph is claiming that the "rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data."
This is just a blatant, transparent, and indisputable lie..
The New York Times is no better than Fox News. In fact, it's actually worse. Because they are perceived to be credible. "The Gray Lady" and all that rubbish. As such, they do far more damage than Fox will ever do.
Well, if you had any doubt, this should put an end to it. The New York Times is just another lying piece of propaganda, at best. At worst, it is strangely similar to a troll on an internet forum. And the sooner it dies, the better off we'll be.
Which reminds me. What happened to all that? I thought informing the people just "wasn't profitable anymore in the internet age" and all these papers were going to have to shut their doors?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Public Office holding Populists of the Democrat Party and Republican Party agree on banks and energy company bribery

"It is not hard to follow the money" 
2014-05-13 by Jon Carroll, for "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/carroll/article/It-is-not-hard-to-follow-the-money-5475550.php]:
Robert Reich, in an interesting blog post on AlterNet, notes that, in some ways, the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party have come together on a number of issues, pitting them against the establishment centrist Republicans and Democrats.
He calls this coming together the new populism, and posits a cultural shift where the divide is no longer along party lines but rather around populist issues. Reich identifies those issues: scaling back American intervention overseas, opposing trade agreements crafted by big corporations, and stopping the National Security Agency from spying on Americans.
There's another area of agreement: banks. Both sides want to ensure that no bank will ever become too big to fail again. They want the Glass-Steagall Act reimposed, separating investment from commercial banking so that banks can no longer gamble with their customers' money.
Indeed, both sides would like to end corporate welfare as we know it. Sen. Ted Cruz is against it and "crony capitalism."
Well, yes and no. There is one area in which crony capitalism is just fine with all Republicans - and more than a few Democrats. That's the relationship between Congress and the energy companies. Many politicians are just pleased as punch to be able to carry water for the energy companies.
This is not exactly news. The Koch brothers, the big-money right-wing donors of choice, got their inherited wealth from the oil business, and they still run that oil company today. (It does other stuff too, but that's the bedrock.) The Koch brothers are very much against alternative energy, supporting, among other things, campaigns to eliminate wind power farms.
And this is the message from the energy companies: Climate change is a hoax. The scientists are all dupes of the people like Obama who want to socialize American companies and force them to follow harmful policies. In fact, all scientists are left-wingers. Some of them don't even believe in God.
Nothing must interfere with the profit margin. That's what they mean by "this will hurt the economy." If people turn away from fossil fuel energy, it will threaten their bottom line. An obscenely profitable bottom line, by the way, and the energy companies want every nickel.
Every solar panel installed is like an icepick in their hearts.
And yet, and yet ... a Pew poll taken last year found that a plurality of Americans thought that climate change was a major threat. That still left us less concerned than many countries, including Japan and Brazil.
But breaking down the results: When Democrats and independents were treated as a group, 65 percent said that they considered climate change a major threat. That put us right ahead of Spain and substantially ahead of Canada.
(We are never ahead of Canada in matters like this. What happened?)
But who were the others? Republicans. Only 25 percent of Republicans believed that climate change is a big deal. That put the Republicans right behind China, where the government is the energy company, and the propaganda is ceaseless.
What is it about climate change that provokes such strong reactions? The science is clear. Why would people vote against their own interests? The weather reports are coming in from all over the country, and the news is not good. Are we having a heat wave in May? Why, yes, we are.
The hot, hot sun over the hard brown ground - not a good combination. Back in Tornado Alley, though, they'd probably take the trade-off. The low-lying areas of the East Coast take note of our drought and heat and are not impressed. Yes, it's happening all over. It's real. This is not rocket science; this is environmental science.
And the populist Republicans, the ones who proclaim that they're against crony capitalism? Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., said this during an appearance in which he announced that he was ready for the presidency:
"I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except that it will destroy our economy."
An energy company press release could not have said it any better.
Note the latest wrinkle in the energy company game plan: Yes, OK, there is climate change, but humans had nothing to do with it. Then why is it happening? Oh, you know, natural forces. Cycles of nature. Kumbaya, my brother.
So money drives politics, and the energy companies have lots of money. Both the politicians and the oil executives are willing to mortgage the future of the planet for the short-term gain of big bucks. Hell, they'll all be dead when climate change really hits; what do they care? Let the grandchildren figure it out.
It's a scandal hiding in plain sight, and one is not optimistic about change.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Christian Cultural Dominance

"Investigating Christian Privilege: Its Time Has Come"2014-05-09 by Warren Blumenfeld [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/09/investigating-christian-privilege-its-time-has-come/]:
As spring peers forth from the soil and tree limbs, the annual Easter Egg Roll, sponsored by the President of the United States and the First Lady, thrills elementary and pre-school age children each year. Also, in school classrooms throughout the country, students and their teachers dip hardboiled eggs into brightly colored dyes, and display Easter eggs of pink, yellow, blue, green, red, and lavender. Some students adhere bunny, baby chick, rainbow, or angel decals to their Easter eggs. Some paint flowers or clouds; some sprinkle glitter of silver or gold. An excitement wafts through the classroom as students imagine sharing their treasures with parents or caregivers, as teachers reward the good work of their charges with delicious gleaming chocolate bunnies. A palpable excitement fills the air in anticipation of Easter Sunday as children adorn classroom bulletin boards with images of the season.
As an educator of pre-service teachers in the university, I am gratified to find that an ever increasing number of Colleges of Education include instruction on issues of power and privilege related to our socially constructed identities. We know that teachers must thoroughly come to terms with their social positions (“positionalities”), the intersectional ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities, and the impact this makes on their students.
Depending on our multiple identities, society grants us simultaneously a great array of privileges while marginalizing us based solely on these identities. Inspired by Peggy McIntosh‘s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. A number of researchers have developed extensive lists (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (“traditional” gender presentation), able-bodied, Christian, adult, age, socioeconomic class, physical size) charting the benefits and privileges accorded to individuals within differing dominant identity categories.
Many people (most likely the majority) consider the Easter events I outlined, played out in Washington, DC and in some schools in the United States, as normal, appropriate, and joyous seasonal activities. Upon critical reflection, however, others experience them as examples of institutional (governmental and educational) (re)enforcements of dominant Christian standards and what is referred to as “Christian privilege,” though presented in presumably secularized forms. They represent some of the ways in which the dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.
The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which dominant groups successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal, and as representing part of the natural order, even at times by those who are marginalized, disempowered, or rendered invisible by it.
Christian hegemony I define as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians [https://www.academia.edu/4237308/Christian_Privilege_and_the_Promotion_of_Secular_and_Not-So_Secular_Mainline_Christianity_in_Public_Schooling_and_in_the_Larger_Society]. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity, and excluding the needs, concerns, religious cultural practices, and life experiences of people who are not Christian. At times subtle and often overt, Christian hegemony is oppression by neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion, and also by design and intent.
I caution us, though, not to conceptualize dominant group privilege monolithically, for we must factor into the equation issues of context and intersectionality of identities. As there is a spectrum of Christian denominations and traditions, for example, so too is there a hierarchy or continuum of Christian privilege based on 1) historical factors, 2) numbers of practitioners, and 3) degrees of social power. I contend, therefore, that we need to view forms of privilege along a continuum or spectrum rather than conceiving them as binary opposites.
As educators raise issues of dominant group privilege, and pose questions of power and domination in our classes and in the larger society, invariably we experience resistance. I understand this only too well, not only as an educator but also in my personal development.
I can remember when I was confronted in a workshop on issues around white and male privilege. I immediately reacted that as a gay man, the heterosexism I experience sufficiently trumped any male privilege I might have otherwise, and my European-heritage Jewish identity (with anti-Semitism as a form of racism) annulled any white privilege I might have otherwise. Though I was rather slow to come to consciousness how my defense mechanisms prevented me from accepting and taking responsibility for the unearned benefits granted me by my social identities, over the years, I have understood the process from denial to acceptance to committing to ensure equity among people of all social identities.
Raising issues of privilege remain difficult, but I believe necessary if our country is to progress and redress the mistakes of the past. In this vein, I wrote a commentary a few years again while teaching at a large public Midwestern University, which contained an eight-foot Christian cross in its Memorial Union “Chapel.” When I first witnessed it, I thought to myself, “What is this huge and overpowering Christian cross doing in a public tax supported, land grant university? Isn’t this supposed to be a non-denominational space for students and staff to enter for reflection and respite? Do these religious symbols not violate the First Amendment’s clause of the United States Constitution by promoting one religion over all others? How many Christians who enter this space actually perceived this as unusual or inappropriate on a university campus that purports to welcome students from all walks of life?”
In the editorial, I began by using the analogy of the fish being the last to see or feel the water since it is so pervasive to highlight how those with privilege (in this instance, Christians) often are the last to perceive and acknowledge the privileges they are accorded as Christians.
Local electronic media interviewed me about my intent for raising the issue. I stated that I was concerned that our university, by exhibiting the very large and smaller Christian crosses, which are highly visible upon entry into the Chapel, as well as a couple of very small Jewish symbols on the stain glass window, overtly promotes some religions over others. “Are we in the business,” I asked, “of endorsing religion at a state tax supported land grant institution?” Moreover, by promoting religion, in very real ways we are marginalizing members of the university community who do not adhere to these faith backgrounds. While these religious symbols may be comforting to some, for others they can trigger negative emotions and collective memory of the long history of religious conflict and persecution.
A few years later, I objected to my university’s decision to hold its university-wide honors banquet and ceremonies at the Cornerstone [Baptist] Church in our town as an alternative to the intended university site, which was undergoing renovations following summer floods. In my commentary, I wrote: “Is the Cornerstone Church or any religious site, in fact, ‘just a facility’? Can a religious institution be considered a neutral site? Take, for example, the recently explosive controversies surrounding the Islamic Centers in both New York City and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to prove just the opposite. Furthermore, can a building dominated by religious symbols not invoke emotions – the full spectrum from glowingly positive to horrifyingly negative – in those whom they surround? What messages are we sending by choosing this or any religious institution to conduct university business? Can it not appear that we are affirming one denomination or one religion over all others? What are the implications for [our university] supporting these institutions by choosing to hold university events paid with public tax dollars?”
While I received much positive support from students, faculty, and some community members, others called me a “religious bigot” and an “angry Jew.” How many of us have been accused of being “the angry…” (fill in the blank) when we challenge dominance?
I have realized much over the years. The first is that it is best to join with others in raising issues of power and privilege. It is often more effective, and helps to insulate the individual from the enormous resistance that can and often does develop. Unfortunately, I have not yet learned this lesson well, since I often put my own head on the chopping block before I join with others to raise these issues jointly. Also, no matter how difficult the backlash, we need to continue to teach about and to continually investigate our own positionalities.
By challenging dominant group privilege and hegemony, we do not condemn or even contest Christianity, or whiteness, or maleness, or heterosexuality, or physical or mental abilities, and so on per se, but, instead, we are interrogating the unearned and automatic privileges that come with these social identities. For in the famous words of Bob Dylan,
“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be passed
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’”

"Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy"
2014-05-12 by Warren J. Blumenfeld [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/05/church-and-state-in-america-a-brief-primer/]:
American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.
Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”
While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).
In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”
Going even further, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that even any “subtle pressure” that local citizens might feel would not be enough to ban such prayers. This ruling follows the precedent-setting case thirty years ago in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding Nebraska legislature’s funding of a chaplain who delivered daily prayers.
The court’s majority (Scalia) Law further codifies de facto practices into de jure policies.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, asserted: “When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.” She argued assertively that: “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.”
By expressing the majority view asserting tradition as justification, Kennedy steps in the grease tracking and smearing it across the legislative landscape. The high court’s decision is less about protecting religious freedom as it is about maintaining and expanding Christian supremacy and the furtherance of Christian privilege. In reality, the First Amendment’s “non-establishment” of religion clause applies to all faiths except Christian denominations, even though Kennedy asserted that these (Christian) prayers were “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, that are long-established by Congress and state legislatures.
Though I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court’s (re)inscription of a Christian religious imposition and imperative in the public square by maintaining a long-standing tradition.
I often hear criticism against nations founded upon an “official” religion, denomination, or sect like England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, India, and many others across the globe, and how these countries restrict religious freedom to those who fall outside the mainstream religiously. I argue, nonetheless, that we must include the United States on this list.
Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America. He was astounded to find a certain paradox: on one hand, he observed that the United States promoted itself around the world as a country separating “church and state,” where religious freedom and tolerance were among its defining tenets, but on the other hand, he witnessed that: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”
He answered this apparent contradiction by proposing that in this country with no officially sanctioned governmental religion, denominations were compelled to compete with one another and promote themselves in order to attract and keep parishioners, thereby making religion even stronger. While the government was not technically supporting Christian denominations and churches, per se, religion to Tocqueville should be considered as the first of their political institutions since he observed the enormous influence churches had on the political process.
Though he favored U.S. style democracy, he found its major limitation to be in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs. In a country that promoted the notion that the majority rules, this effectively silenced minorities by what Tocqueville termed the “tyranny of the majority.” This is a crucial point because in a democracy, without specific guarantees of minority rights – in this case minority religious rights – there is a danger of religious domination or tyranny over religious minorities and non-believers. The majority, in religious matters, have historically been adherents to mainline Protestant Christian denominations who often imposed their values and standards upon those who believed otherwise.
We witness this in the phrases “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and Annuit Coeptis (He [God] (or Providence) has favored our undertakings) on the Great Seal of the United States and printed on the back of the one-dollar bill. These constitute examples of Christian cultural imperialism and Christian hegemony.
Just moments before the opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway was announced from the Supreme Court bench, the court began its public session as it has for decades with the marshal citing a traditional statement ending, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.
“Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion,” Governor Rick Perry declared at the Texas State Capitol building in Austin before signing HB 308 in 2013, which allows public schools to display scenes and symbols of “traditional winter holidays.”
I take issues with Perry. As residents of this country, we must ensure both freedom of as well as freedom from religion in the public square. While having the guaranteed right to worship in our private lives and spaces, we must ensure that religion stay out of our public spaces, which I believe is characteristically coercive.
The Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen coined and proposed the concept of “cultural pluralism” to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot” enforced by dominant group hegemony), but rather one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres. He imagined an inclusive model, one that ensures individuals’ and groups’ freedom of as well as freedom from religion as a national goal: freedom to live and practice religion in the private sphere, and freedom from religion in the public realm.
A student enrolled in my Multicultural Foundation in Schools and Society class, however, wrote on his final paper for the course:
“[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life…I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation…Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state.”
This student’s response represents the majority of U.S.-Americans who believe that the United States was created as a Christian nation, with 51% agreeing with this view and only 25% disagreeing. The Supreme Court apparently validated this tyrannical perspective this week.

"Church and State in America: A Brief Primer"
2014-05-05 by Ira Chernus [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/05/church-and-state-in-america-a-brief-primer/]:
The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.
If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they’ll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation’s history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.
To understand that history we have to begin in the European Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the religious life of almost all western Europeans. Politically each area was usually ruled by a single a monarch. Since “Church” and “state” were both monolithic institutions, it made sense to talk about “church-state relations” quite literally.
In principle, both sides usually agreed that the state ruled over the affairs of this world and the church ruled over the affairs of the soul as it headed toward the next world. In practice, though, each side often tried to extend its power over the other.
When the Protestant reformation came along in the 16th century, it refuted the Catholic church’s claim to control other-worldly affairs. But it did not challenge the basic idea that each area should have one secular ruler and one established church, and the two should live side by side, each respecting the other’s domain. So tensions between church and state inevitably continued.
Since nearly all the early European colonists in what would become the United States were Protestants, they brought that Protestant view with them. Different denominations had majorities in the various colonies, and each had its own model of church-state relations.
But nearly everyone assumed that it could make sense for a colony to have one established church, which would have special privileges from and influence upon the colony. Most of the colonies did, in fact, have established churches.
By the early 1700s, though, the colonies were filling up with immigrants from different places who held different religious views. So the established churches everywhere had to tolerate dissent from the official religion, to a greater or lesser degree. At the same time, the colonies were experimenting with all sorts of different political structures.
Thus “church” and “state” were no longer monolithic entities as they had been in medieval times. Gradually, the term “church” became a code word for religion in general, including the many different religious beliefs and practices held by different groups and individuals. And the term “state” became a code word for the many various political structures — town, city, county, colonial legislature, royal council, etc.
Things got more complicated in the 18th century as people found their identity based less in fixed social institutions and more in open-ended individual conscience. The Enlightenment philosophers taught that religion was a matter of private belief and individual relationship with God. They also taught that every individual was free to choose their own political views and that the state should base its policies on the will of the majority.
A large Christian revival movement called the Great Awakening reinforced the idea that religion is a matter of inner experience and personal relationship with God more than membership in a church. So the Enlightenment and the Awakening combined to promote individualism and the notion of religion as a private matter.
By the time of the American Revolution, then, there was a complex triangular structure, with private individuals, political institutions (“state”), and religious institutions (“church”) all interacting. So the term “church-state relations” meant, more than ever, an endlessly complex set of changing relations among all the different forms of religious and political life.
But there was a growing belief in the colonies that the private individual had highest priority, that the main role of the state was to protect the individual’s rights, including the right to decide on one’s own religion.
The colonists who joined the Revolution against England all agreed on one thing: the English political system was a tyranny, and the Church of England was part of that tyranny. So there was growing fear of the very idea of an established church.
It was only natural, then, that the new United States would want to protect its citizens from an established church. So the first words of the Bill of Rights said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
But there was no clear agreement then, as there is none now, about exactly what those words mean.
Some see the two clauses making two opposites points. “No law respecting establishment of religion” makes it illegal to force people to practice a religion; “no law prohibiting free exercise” makes it illegal to stop people from practicing religion. The “no establishment” clause protects the people and the government from religion. The “free exercise” clause protects religion from the government and the will of the majority.
But some say that both clauses actually make the same point: They both protect individuals from the federal government. The government cannot impose a religious institution on any individual, nor can the government restrict any individual’s religious life. In fact some religious institutions supported the 1st amendment when it was ratified and refused to take any support from the government because they feared such support would entitle the government to impose controls upon them.
The debate about the meaning of the 1st amendment and the intentions of the founders still rages on because they did not bequeath to us any single consistent view on church and state. They all claimed to be Christian. But they had many different ideas of what it meant to be Christian. Each individual could hold what we might see as contradictory views and practices.
To take one important example: Thomas Jefferson created the image of a “wall of separation between church and state” and wrote powerfully about the need to protect the religious freedom of every individual. Yet in the Declaration of Independence he based the entire political philosophy of the new nation on the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Without God, Jefferson’s whole political philosophy makes no sense. Jefferson was also devoted to the teachings of Jesus, but only as he understood them; he even created his own version of the Gospels. Jefferson also supported, on occasion, legislation to create public prayer days and to punish people who broke Sabbath laws.
If we cannot expect logical consistency even from Thomas Jefferson, we certainly can’t expect it from the founding fathers as a group.
The 1st amendment was the product of political compromise among the founders. So perhaps it is best to see it as the beginning of a conversation or debate about the relation of political and religious life. Perhaps many of the founders knew that all they could agree on was the need to continue the debate.
Though the founders disagreed on what it meant to be Christian, they all assumed that some version of what each one saw as the “basics” of Christianity was more or less necessary as a foundation of an orderly society. Most of them assumed that Christian values were the basis of political liberty.
Even those who were wary of Christian bias would probably have agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the recent Greece case:
“Prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define.”
So most of the founders saw no contradiction between the federal government guaranteeing freedom of religion and the states having established churches that could get special privileges from government, provide prayers for political occasions, and dictate the teaching of religion in schools
But by the late 18th century all the states had so much diversity that the power of established churches was rapidly fading. Massachusetts was the last state to end its established church, in 1833. By the 19th century, then, Americans did not merely believe in the right to dissent from the dominant church. They assumed that there would no longer be any dominant church.
Yet the 19th century was dominated by one religious view: evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals emphasized individual experience as the basis of religion. So religion became, more than ever, a matter of individual choice, which led to the creation of many new churches. But the evangelical fervor also strengthened the idea that all Christians share basic values in common, and that these were the core values of the American way of life — a view that would surface again in some 20th century Supreme Court decisions.
For evangelicals, the “wall of separation” meant that everyone was free to influence the government as much as possible according to their own version of Christian values, with the goal of making America the kingdom of God on earth. For some that meant causes we would consider liberal, like free public schools for all and the abolition of slavery. For some it meant causes that we would call conservative, like prohibition of alcohol and teaching the Bible in public schools. Many felt comfortable supporting all these reform movements.
From the 1840s on large waves of Catholic immigrants came to the U.S.. They learned to accept religious pluralism and reject the old Catholic tradition of one universal church for everyone. But they created their own schools, raising new questions about state support for religious education. These problems, like nearly all problems of church and state in the 19th century, were dealt with at the local and state levels.
After the Civil War, the 14th amendment made all states subject to rule by the federal constitution, opening the way for federal courts to apply the 1st amendment and rule on church-state issues. In 1879 the Supreme Court issued its first opinion directly dealing with church and state. It ruled that the government could forbid Mormons from practicing polygamy. The Court cited words written by Jefferson indicating that the wall of separation prevents the government only from controlling religious beliefs. But the government could forbid behaviors it deemed harmful to society.
However it was not until the 1940s that the Supreme Court began addressing the church-state question in earnest. By that time the federal government was playing a much larger role in the life of every American, while a slowly rising tide of secularism was undermining the notion of America as a Christian nation. For growing numbers of Americans, “the American way of life” meant a dedication to pluralism, diversity, and the fullest protection of individual rights. These factors combined to bring many issues related to religion before the Court.
In 1940 the Court took on the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses who argued they should be able to go door to door without a state license. The Court agreed, declaring for the first time that the 1stamendment’s “free exercise of religion” clause applied to local and state governments as well as the federal.
In the same year, though, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that their children should not be required to salute the flag in school because it violated their free exercise of religion. The Court ruled against them. Then two years later, in an almost identical case, it ruled that the Jehovah’s Witness children did not have to salute the flag.
Why the abrupt turnaround? There is some evidence that the Court was influenced by a wave of criticism of its first decision from scholars and newspapers, and also by dismay over a wave of anti-Jehovah’s Witness prejudice after the first ruling. This case reminds us that the Court is never making its decision in some abstract realm of pure legal rationality. It is always, to some extent, a barometer of the climate of public opinion.
In the Everson case of 1947 taxpayers argued that their town, which paid for children’s bus rides to public school, should not pay for Catholic children’s bus rides to Catholic school. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black penned a famous, stirring defense of the wall of separation, arguing that the 1st amendment’s “no establishment of religion” clause applied to local and state as well as federal law. This became an accepted principle of later Court cases. Yet Black and the majority decided in favor of the Catholic children getting public money because it was going to them as individuals, not to the church.
This case, and the Court’s reversal in the Jehovah’s Witness cases, foreshadowed the history of church-state cases ever since then. There has been no consistent pattern, but rather what Justice Robert Jackson called a “winding, serpentine” wall of separation, full of all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns in the Court’s views.
Vagueness often prevails. In the Lemon case of 1971, the Court ruled that no law may “have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion” and left it for later Courts to figure out what that means. Now the Court has added another contorted brick to that wall, by a 5-4 margin, as has so often been true in recent church-state cases.
The Court still reflects the climate of public opinion, which remains divided and uncertain about the proper relation of religious life to the body politic and the lives of individuals, or what we have come to call “church and state.” So the debate initiated by the 1st amendment goes on — which may be just what the founders intended.