Robert Reich and The Establishment

The 2016 Presidential campaign has captured public involvement and commentary more so than any previous election year I can remember, possibly excepting the Goldwater vs. Johnson election year of 1964.

Election Fever has spread to Facebook too, of course. A friend “Shared” an editorial essay by UC Berkeley political economist Robert Reich, which I’d say is recommended reading regardless of your preferred political party. I’d go further: our vote is often ignored and in some cases actually goes to the candidate your vote was meant to keep out, and it’s entirely legal. The system is rigged.

A link to the Reich article is provided at the bottom of this post.

After reading the article and pondering its implications, my thoughts over the past few weeks began to gel. I posted the following comment. Its intent is not in criticism of Reich but as expansion on one of Reich’s observations. I focused on our two-party apparatus as it has evolved in recent decades.

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A friend said they hope more folks read this. Very good summary and analysis. I’d go farther than labeling both parties as entrenched within the structure of the Establishment. Our parties have too much power. They’ve had it for a LONG time. I believe most of us were raised to view political parties as a means to allow us to organize effectively according to our political philosophies.
The whole idea of “pre-committed super-delegates” is a slap in the face to the entire electoral process. So is the idea of “winner-take-all” states. We have the right to vote, but we don’t have the right to vote to cast out others’ ballots, and our elected representatives most certainly don’t either.
Our parties insulate the electorate from the process with a firewall of lobbyists, corporate donations and interests, secret slush funds and an unwritten agenda of “business as usual.” Instead of the parties and elected partisan representatives being directly accountable to the electorate, the people are expected to fall into line with one or the other of the major parties’ rigged picks. Another sad case of the tail wagging the dog.

READING: The End of the Establishment? by Robert Reich

 

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How Long Do Dictators Last?

I was watching the news as the Taliban sweeps fledgling state Iraq, so recently “liberated” from the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. Are they again to become a failed state due to their own religious factionalism, enslaved yet again by new opportunistic warlords?

“Worst case scenario,” I thought, “they’ll fall to a new dictatorship. But, how long do dictatorships really last? Since ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, I can’t remember a real dictatorship that made it to a hundred years.”

I soon realized, there IS a hair-splitting difference between a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime. Regimes, under a succession of dictators, such as the USSR, last under a century in modern times. And then we have “authoritarian regimes” in which some freedom is tolerated but rigidly monitored, all the way down to “benevolent dictatorships” and kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, where the king is still head of state and nominally the final authority.

China, once one of the bloodiest dictatorships after millennia of emperors and the indignity of the British Opium Wars, seems at the time to be a special case. North Korea, with its three generations of hereditary Kim Jongs, is almost universally held to be one of the most brutal and detestable regimes, with each generation of “Dear Leader” being crazier than its predecessor.

And finally, we have that resurgent scourge of Huns, the terrorist armies, who, having seen territory they want, simply take them and execute the opposition.

How long do dictatorships last, on an average?

My guess for maximum longevity in recent times was about right. I did some research and analysis.

To make much sense of the conclusions of this piece, you really should first quickly peruse this list at Conservapedia.com “List of Dictators.”

Their website states “The following is a list of national leaders (heads of state and/or heads of government) commonly regarded as modern dictators.” The list is mind-boggling. Look at it. You can see some patterns that dovetail with what we remember of of history, but they don’t lend themselves to easy statistical analysis.

What I liked was that their list included dates dictators were in power. I wanted durations of their reigns over time.

What is their average, high and low reign as absolute ruler? Are there any patterns over time? Would it be fair to say dictatorships are today on the decline world-wide?

I exported their web table to an Excel spreadsheet, calculated each dictatorship’s term in power, and I tried to do some simple analysis. I graphed the most significant result: dictatorships are almost always short-lived aberrations, though frequently followed by new aberrations. I could see no particular evidence they are on the wane; what changes is where and when they sprout, like poison mushrooms after a rain.

I think you could make a case that chaos and authoritarian regimes flourish after an occupying power vacates, or is forced out of, a geographical area. But this is tough to prove. Given the scholarly difficulty of tracking down the history of every individual shifting country on the list, I didn’t try to quantify my conclusion.

I’d have liked to see graphed breakouts by region, and more by century or historical period, but in most cases it is easy enough to see those patterns in the Conservapedia listing.

I compiled my chart by counting the number of occurrences of 0 years, 1 year, 2 years and so on, all the way up to a 47 year maximum duration of power. There were 230 entries total. There were a few multiple entries representing multiple terms by the same despot. My graph only answers my original question, “How long do dictatorships last, on an average?”

No modern dictatorship ever lasted 100 years. I see no clear trend showing dictatorships are dwindling world-wide. The new hotspots are Africa and the Middle East. I found 220 distinct “modern dictators.”

You’ll find a graph of my “how long do they last?” results below.

Dictator

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Science Denial and the Texas Board of Education

In another century and simpler time (1999) I wrote my signature article about the Kansas Board of Education (KBOE)  — dissecting our massive modern schism between science and biblical literalism. We didn’t even have the term “science denial” in those comparatively innocent days.

Darwin’s world of science clashes once again with the recidivist views of those who would turn the pages of the world body of knowledge back to the Roman Catholic Inquisition of 1615.  That nearly executed Galileo for  heliocentric blasphemy.

How have we fared since? We deplore all sorts of agenda-driven rhetoric when the source is the Taliban extremism of Mideastern Islamic fatwas.  We somehow condone it as just another opinion if it comes from Christian fundamentalism and Holy Roller biblical literalism.

American regional sectarianism is celebrated with equal parts amusement and proof of our rich cultural tradition of diversity and tolerance, but no one so far has seriously suggested the private religious beliefs of one or more of those regional cults should drive national government policy.

Nor has anyone yet seriously challenged Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” [Wikipedia]

Libertarians preach that “this kind of [science-oriented] government interference is intolerable”, yet their evangelical supporters have brought interference in education and dumbing-down of our children to a whole new level.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously  quipped “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” He’s currently enjoying a well-deserved revival.

As commentators in science, media and education note with alarm, we find GOP frontrunner candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on record as questioning both global warming and evolution itself. Evangelical Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry told a school child on national TV that evolution was a theory that has “got some gaps.” So as to avoid conveying the false impression that Texas encourages the same science education that propelled America into the post-Sputnik Age of the 1950’s, he claims schoolchildren there are taught both “theories” as if both have equal credibility. There’s grave danger that science denial will actually storm through the doors of the White House in 2012.

The respected conservative Dr. Charles Krauthammer (a political commentator and Harvard-trained physician presumably well grounded in science) stated yesterday on Inside Washington that Global Warming has to be looked at seriously, but is still a theory. Qualifying that, he explained that man-made CO2 injection into the atmosphere is geologically unprecedented, but Earth has self-healing counter-mechanisms such as carbon sequestration (all true enough) … so we should look at the phenomenon more carefully before investing trillions in greener energy resources.

“I’m perturbed when I hear Republicans talk about Evolution as a theory like Keynesian economics,” Krauthammer says. Scientists say “it’s so” of global warming and Krauthammer says “it probably is,” but he questions the scientific models predicting the scope and intensity of potential disaster.

That may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory.

To the anti-science Republican Party that invented the “if it walks like a duck” theory of fact validation, it would seem the “it’s just a theory” dismissal of global warming would be more plausible if the polar cap were icing over, the Northwest Passage refroze, polar bears were thriving on an ice floe paradise, ocean levels were dropping, air quality was as good as Mauna Kea’s globally, and Phoenix was hitting summertime highs of 86.

In a bizarrely dangerous reversal of separation of church and state, science education is now politicized to a degree that wouldn’t have been tolerated a decade ago or two. Covering this epidemic was this morning’s PBS “Need to Know,” which presented a short section on the herculean effort of the Texas Board of Education (SBOE) to rewrite history and science in the Texas classroom.


Episode #168H Duration: 56:46 STEREO
TEXAS TEXTBOOKS – Despite Governor Perry’s statement that Texas schools teach evolution and creationism, Texas recently voted not to add creationism or intelligent design to its science texts. But the actions of the state’s school board continue to be closely watched by the nation. NTK caught up with the Board last May, as it was considering changes to be made in its social studies curriculum – changes that critics said inserted politics and religious beliefs into textbooks. Shot in Austin, Mt Pleasant and Bryan Texas. Interviews include Don McLeroy (SBOE), Thomas Raitliff (SBOE), and Kathy Miller (TX Freedom Network).

For anyone who has followed science denial for the last decade, there is little new in the theory of revisionism here, but the level of micro-management has escalated in the choice of religiously “correct” science and history and even in the choice of English textbook words used to describe those studies.

For example, SBOE members objected to the frequent textbook use of the word “propaganda” to describe U.S. Government efforts to rally public support for the World War I and II war efforts. To them, “propaganda” only connotes the sort of lies the bad guys promoted in wartime Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, or anything President Obama says. The SBOE voted to substitute a neutral word like “public information” in Texas history books.

PROPAGANDA: Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect. — Dictionary.com

“Propaganda” is also used to educate about the need for rationing, conservation, job creation and other vital public concerns. It is a legitimate dictionary word with a rich historical backdrop. In point of fact, a government information campaign to “Buy War Bonds” is propaganda whether we approve or not.   As for the negative connotation of the word, maybe it hits too close to home. That is exactly what the SBOE is doing, and it must be stopped.

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Emma Goldman: History Lesson

Here is a one hundred year old history lesson which seems just as timely today as it did then.

I caught part of a PBS documentary on Emma Goldman Sunday night. Goldman died in 1940, before I was born. I had never heard of Goldman before. She had been tarred by her association with various “anarchist” movement figures in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Her actual contribution to modern American thinking seems to have focused on improved working conditions for workers, abortion rights, and equal rights for women (“feminism”). How awful!

image from WikipediaI switched off KSCM-TV at 11PM and turned in. I resolved to Google the topic in the morning. What piqued my interest was an extraordinarily visceral hatred of Goldman by certain interest groups in the United States, including the FBI. This woman appeared to promote a politically and economically secure labor force, women’s rights and, more generally, civil liberty. As a civil libertarian and card-carrying ACLU member, I already know that taking liberty and justice “too seriously” is a sure-fire way to arouse the ire of conservative ideologues.
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Rosa Parks 1913 – 2005

If an updated “Profiles in Courage” (John F. Kennedy, 1956) could somehow be published 50 years later, I believe my heroine Rosa Parks would be in it.

Mrs. Parks was a seamstress in Montgomery Alabama. She had no grand plan for starting a watershed civil rights movement. Waiting for the municipal bus after a hard day’s work, on December 1, 1955, she had planned some community work in the evening; it was not a day to plan to be arrested. But Rosa Parks just got tired of Alabama’s “Jim Crow” system of mistreatment , discrimination and segregation.
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Geheime Staatspolizei

How far is too far?

If you know enough German to recognize this title, you know where this is headed. And we certainly hope it isn’t.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1933Here is a theme people have been eying nervously for over 50 years: the omnipotent and unaccountable state, flanked by its unassailable secret police. It is easy to over-sell. We don’t advocate Chicken Little histrionics. But the twenty-first century Big Brother model sports not only omnipotence, but the electronic and digital wherewithal to become omniscient. Are we closer than ever before? Just how close to the edge are we?
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Pogo

Walt Kelly and Homeland Security

What would Walt Kelly have thought? Who would have thunk it?

We’re going to be posting a few “Pogo” political cartoon panels that Walt Kelly copyrighted in 1952 and 1953. We certainly have no intention of ripping off Kelly’s estate, or whomsoever may legally be trying to eke out a living reprinting his books.

click this image to view the scanned 1952 Pogo cartoon sequence. Our point is to assert that if Kelly were still alive, he would feel right at home in our brave new world of investigations, security screening, legalized snooping, and suspension of constitutional rights. Even his cartoon characters could be the same, and might not need facelifts to symbolize contemporary 21st century players. The bad guys even look the same!
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Crowd Control Parisienne

A tale of problem-solving. Contributed by roving correspondent DN …

An army officer in the 19th century, during one of the many riots in Paris, was ordered to shoot at a mob in order to force them to disperse. He ordered his troops to take up their firing positions, and then shouted at the mob:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve received an order to shoot you, but I see that there are many honest and respectable citizens among you, so I’d like to ask those citizens to kindly leave so that I can freely shoot at the mob creating the disturbance.”

Everyone left.

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Shock & Awe: Invasion and Protests

No matter what else you thought about it, ground forces are now less than a day from Baghdad. Some question whether Hussein survived the bunker-busters. The Iraqi military gives the appearance of being in disarray. Surrendering Iraqi units surpass American preparations to receive and process Iraqis who just want to go back to civilian life.

For the record, we would have preferred staying with the diplomatic process, or even a more proactive combination of psy-war (propaganda), political activism, and brazen capitalist enticements. For our money, one sniper should have taken Saddam out a decade ago, or perhaps American billions should have finished the job in Desert Sand when a majority of our allies still backed us.
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My Country, Right or Wrong

The world’s shortest civics quiz

“My country, right or wrong” – Did you know know there were actually two popular interpretations on what this could properly mean? With which interpretation would you identify?

  Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong.Stephen Decatur, April 1816
 I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum [“Let justice be done though heaven should fall” – anonymous, circa 43 B.C.]. My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right.John Quincy Adams, August 1, 1816

U.S. flag - Freedom Series

A third quote, thanks to A. Edgars. We think this is the most apropos of all (Jan 2005):

 Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.Carl Schurz (1829 – 1906)

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