Imagine America

ImagineAmerica— renew democracy

Imag­ine Amer­ica in 30 years when today’s chil­dren are rais­ing chil­dren. What kind of coun­try will Amer­ica be? What we believe, how we think and what we do now will make a huge dif­fer­ence. This 2012 elec­tion is a crit­i­cal tip­ping point. We must move for­ward with a vibrant democ­racy grounded in pro­gres­sive val­ues instead of fur­ther regres­sion dri­ven by con­ser­v­a­tive extremism.

An Open Let­ter to America

A Frame­work for Imag­in­ing Amer­ica – a quick civics lesson

A Frame­work for Dia­logue and Action — with links to arti­cles sorted by topic that pro­vide knowl­edge of major fac­tors inform­ing and influ­enc­ing vot­ers for the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Infor­ma­tion is sep­a­rated into sec­tions for quick learn­ing with link to more context.

Dif­fer­ent world­views – Dif­fer­ent futures – imag­ine how the future will be dif­fer­ent depend­ing upon which world­view prevails

How Patriarchal, Christian Backlash Politics Have Only Become More Vicious

Salon.com / By Arthur Goldwag [1], Posted on AlterNet.org, October 28, 2012 |

When I tell Republicans — and even some moderate Democrats — that I wrote a book about right-wing hatred, their response, often as not, is skeptical and disapproving. Politics is a rough game, they say. Romney might have his 47 percent, but just listen to all those class war tropes about the 1 percent you hear from the left. Sure, the far right has an unfortunate legacy of racism, sexism and homophobia, but Obama has a whole deck of race and gender cards that he plays. And anyway, the nuts are ultimately unimportant — national elections are decided in the middle.

All of that might be true, but the kind of hatred that I’m talking about goes way beyond ordinary politics and deep into the realm of abnormal psychology. In its full-blown manifestations, it is akin to what an ophidiophobe feels at the sight of a snake: visceral and existential; categorical and absolute. It turns on the gut certainty that your adversaries aren’t looking just to raise your taxes but to destroy your whole way of life: that they are not only wrongheaded, but preternaturally evil. Comparatively few people experience these feelings on a conscious level, but they lie latent in many more of us than we might suspect.

It is precisely because appeals to those kinds of feelings work below the level of consciousness that I am so alert for them — and they have been very much in evidence throughout this whole campaign. When Mitt Romney promised to “keep America America [2]” and Michele Bachmann launched a witch hunt against Muslims [3] in the State Department, when Newt Gingrich called Obama a “food stamp president [4]” and Rick Santorum railed against the “elite, smart people” who will never be “on our side [5],” those were the buttons that were being pushed.

Conspiratorial shibboleths are seeded throughout the GOP platform, which, among other things, gestures toward a return to the gold standard and repudiates the John Birch Society’s favorite bugaboo, the United Nations’ Agenda 21 (which Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, calls [6] a George Soros-financed attempt to “abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures and paved roads”).

None of this is new. Not surprising for a nation whose founders were in large part the descendants of religious refugees for whom the devil was both literally real and ubiquitous, an undertone of paranoid dread has been a constant if largely unacknowledged feature of American politics. All the way back in the 1790s, the Illuminati — a secret society that was founded in Bavaria in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, an ex-Jesuit whose dream was a self-ruled, secular, trans-nationalist Cosmo-political order — became the screen on which New England religious conservatives projected their anxieties about the rising tide of anarchy and atheism. “God grant,” wrote an exposé that descried the hand of the Illuminati in the French Revolution, “that the United   States may not learn to their cost that Republics are equally menaced with Monarchies; and that the immensity of the Ocean is but a feeble barrier against the universal conspiracy.” A contributor to the Hartford Courant declared that President Thomas Jefferson is “the real Jacobin, the child of modern illumination, the foe of man, and the enemy of his country.”

In the 1820s and ’30s, apprehensions about what the Masons were getting up to in their secret Lodge meetings fueled a national political movement. Former President John Quincy Adams (who had been defeated by the Mason Andrew Jackson) ran for governor of Massachusetts on the Anti-Masonic ticket in 1834. In his book “Letters on Freemasonry,” he wrote that Masonry “is wrong — essentially wrong — a seed of evil, which can never produce any good.” If the Illuminati had been feared for their irreligion, the Masons were condemned not just as freethinkers, but as occultists, Jesuits and even Jews of a sort. The anti-Masonic panic was followed in short order by the know-nothing era of anti-Catholic Nativism.

And of course there is race. From the destruction of North America’s indigenous inhabitants to the importation of Africans as chattel slaves, from Jim Crow to racially targeted voter suppression efforts today, race has played as fraught a role in the American psyche as Freud believed sex did for bourgeois Austrians. “Affirmative action” and “reparations” are two of the most resonant buzzwords in the rhetorical arsenal of the right. Republican congressman Steve King ofIowahas accused Obama of plotting to make taxpayers pay slavery reparations to American blacks. In his bestselling book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” and the top-grossing documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” Dinesh D’Souza takes the idea even further, arguing that, as the heir to his father’s anti-Colonialism, Obama’s master plan is to “redistribute” America’s power and prosperity to the Muslim world, bankrupting the U.S. and turning it into a third-world country in the process.

Going all the way back to Jefferson and Hamilton’s bitter arguments about the national bank, Americans have been deeply suspicious of finance, for both good and terrible reasons. The rise of greenback and Silverite populism in the second half of the 19th century was partly driven by the fear that British/Jewish bankers were conspiring to destroy the Republic — the same cabal that would later be accused of foisting the Federal Reserve on the U.S., orchestrating World War I and financing the Bolshevik revolution. Oddly enough, today’s populists agitate for the return of the very gold standard that their forebears fought so hard against.

All of these different strains came together in a master template in 1920 when “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a forged document that had first been published in Russian in 1903 and that supposedly provided documentary proof of an ancient Jewish/Masonic conspiracy to rule the world, was translated into English. By the 1930s, the anti-Roosevelt far right had recast American history as the story of the endless struggle between red-blooded patriotic “producers” (farmers, craftsmen and manufacturers) and the parasitic, citified financiers who sucked them dry (aided by an unlikely alliance of dark-skinned and foreign-born moochers and collectivists). Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had delivered the federal government to the enemy.

They have been telling pretty much that same story ever since, though the Masons would take a back seat to the Communists, the specter of Shariah law would eventually understudy for the Vatican and the Elders of Zion, and George Soros would stand in for the Rothschilds. Florida’s Rep. Allen West proved that McCarthyism is alive and well last spring when he told a town hall meeting that “about 78 or 81 [7]” of the Democrats in the U.S. Congress “are members of the Communist Party.”

But as much as the extreme right might have hated FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton and even Eisenhower, Nixon and George H.W. Bush, President Obama is the visible embodiment of everything that they fear the most. He is an elite Harvard lawyer and the bearer of a foreign name. He is an urbanite and a community organizer in the Luciferian mold of Saul Alinsky. Last week Jerome Corsi — the bestselling co-author of ”Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry”took to right-wing talk shows to share his theory that Obama is not only secretly Muslim but also gay [8].

Most of all, Obama has dark skin. Let’s face it: Racism is infinitely more resonant than recondite monetary theories and tall tales about black helicopters. The thought that Obama really is an affirmative action president — earnest and full of good intentions but hopelessly over his head (“When you’re not that bright, you can’t get better prepared,” as John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and Romney campaign co-chair put it [9] after Obama’s poor showing at the Denver debate) — might have even resonated, albeit guiltily and uneasily, with some of his disappointed supporters. Donald Trump’s latest publicity stunt — offering to donate $5 million [10] to charity if the president releases “his college records and applications and if he gives his passport applications and records” — plays off the presumption that Obama is hiding something (the bad grades that would prove that he is a beneficiary of affirmative action, an application as a foreign student or something “funny” about his passport that vindicates the birthers’ suspicions).

Speaking of that dreadful debate, one can’t help wondering whether Obama wasn’t overborne by his efforts to not look like an angry black man [11]. If true, it would be ironic if his own racial self-consciousness damaged his reelection prospects no less than his opponents’ overt and covert appeals to racism. Romney’s avidity to press the Benghazi non-issue in the second debate might be an example of just such a coded appeal — a cynical attempt to tap the suspicion that Obama is a crypto-Muslim who secretly sympathizes with al-Qaida’s aims.

Obama’s much stronger showing in the second and third debates did little to silence the murmuring. Writing on her Facebook page, Sarah Palin accused Obama of “shucking and jiving” on the Benghazi question. During a CNN interview, John Sununu dismissed Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama as based on a “slightly different reason [12]” than policy. When pressed, he insinuated that Powell was just being loyal to his race. “When you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United   States, I applaud Colin for standing with him,” is the tortuous exact quote. Sununu tried to walk back his comment a few hours later, releasing a statement in which he said he did “not doubt” that Powell’s endorsement “was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies” — but which elided the many specific critiques of Romney’s policies that Powell had offered. Sununu, of course, is also the person who said, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” back in July.

But as noisome as all this fear and loathing may be, I suspect it will prove less influential than one might expect in the long term — even though Fox News, conspiratorial websites like WorldNetDaily and pundits like Glenn Beck have been giving it wider circulation than it’s ever had. The great arc of American history bends toward greater, not lesser, tolerance and open-mindedness. Both candidates, remember, are members of minorities. For all that Romney’s Mormon faith informs his view of American exceptionalism, many Evangelicals consider his religion to be no less sinister than Islam, or for that matter, the Illuminati. Billy Graham’s organization didn’t get around to removing the LDS from its list of dangerous cults until last week. But, however belatedly, it did.

The glass is half full and it’s half empty. Things are a little like they were in 1928, when the KKK was strong enough to hurt Al Smith’s electoral chances (as president, it was said, he would extend the Holland Tunnel 3,000 miles to Vatican City), but not strong enough to keep a Catholic off the ticket in the first place.

The writing is already on the wall. According to the U.S. Census, 50.4 percent of the babies born in theU.S.between July 2010 and July 2011 were minorities — up from 37 percent in 1990. In “Suicide of a Superpower: Will AmericaSurvive to 2025?” Pat Buchanan envisions an Americain which whites “may discover what it is like to ride in the back of the bus.” Go to a meeting of white nationalists, and you’ll quickly learn that their deepest fears are demographic. “White Christians are threatened with extinction as a separate and identifiable people,” writes Dr. Michael Hill, the president of the neo-Confederate League of the South. “Demographers predict that whites will be a minority in this country by 2040 … we are sowing the wind because of our inaction regarding immigration and multiculturalism. We will likely reap the whirlwind.”

No matter how this election turns out, the endgame has already begun: Americais becoming more multicultural, more gay-friendly and more feminist every day. But as every hunter knows, a wounded or cornered quarry is the most dangerous. Even as the white, patriarchal, Christian hegemony declines, its backlash politics become more vicious. They may succeed in turning back the clock for some time.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/how-patriarchal-christian-backlash-politics-have-only-become-more-vicious

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/arthur-goldwag
[2] http://www.snopes.com/politics/romney/slogan.asp
[3] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2012/0719/Michele-Bachmann-links-Clinton-aide-to-extremists.-Has-she-gone-too-far-video
[4] http://www.npr.org/2012/01/17/145312069/newts-food-stamp-president-racial-or-just-politics
[5] http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/09/17/santorum-we-will-never-have-the-elite-smart-people-on-our-side/
[6] http://washingtonexaminer.com/so-does-ted-cruz-really-believe-in-a-un-conspiracy-to-take-away-golf-well/article/2504153
[7] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75025.html
[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/obama-gay-rumors-chicago-jerome-corsi-_n_1877990.html
[9] http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/10/26/1094491/john-sununus-history-of-racial-remarks-about-obama/
[10] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505267_162-57539897/donald-trump-$5m-offer-to-president-falls-flat-joke-to-many/
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/obama-debate-polite_n_1954559.html
[12] http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/opinion/martin-sununu-race/index.html
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/barack-obama
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/donald-trump
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/extremism
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hate
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/racism-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-wing-terrorism
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Saving America’s Soul – expanded with links

This article expands upon a commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012 and provides links to further information.

by Phyllis Stenerson 

We need to talk.

How did a nation founded on belief in the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.

Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope.  For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.

Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by ideology, greed and lust for power of some leaders, aided and abetted by the apathy, ignorance and fear of too many voters.

The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that Americabe a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions, not one specific religion. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation.  The United States of America is now the most religiously pluralistic country in the world.

So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these, and many more, crises?

The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides a framework for working through problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.

Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, one area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics.  These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.

The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservative leaders developed a sophisticated network of organizations that became known as the “right wing message machine” to influence the public. This strategy changed hearts and minds so citizens would come to hate liberals and see government as the problem, not the solution, reinforcing a radically conservative worldview. The Bible is cited as the infallible truth underlying many of the right wing’s extremist positions including opposition to gay marriage. Biblical scholars, notably the Jesus Seminars and Bishop John Shelby Spong, prove this cannot be true.

Social and cultural changes were hijacked to serve the right wing’s long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including the Viet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love, as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity, created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. The Supreme Court decision allowing abortion provided a “wedge issue” around which social conservatives organized society to see liberals as the enemy. “The Pill” was a major catalyst for conservatives to motivate their base. Race was always an undercurrent. Later gay rights became a wedge issue. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles. More recently the concept of “Biblical economics” is being used to justify right wing assertions that taxes and welfare are wrong.

Right wing religious leaders and operatives had been working for years to strengthen and grow the conservative Christian and Evangelical population. Radio and direct mail were tools in developing a cohesive power base. Many organizations including the Moral Majority were launched.  By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed the possibility of it making a difference.

Liberals did not adequately articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They split off into subgroups and organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview. This created a vacuum in the public dialogue that was filled with conservative rhetoric.

A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism among social conservatives, particularly Evangelicals.

Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power sufficient to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States.  The party platform was strongly influenced by these religious leaders and proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The fringe end of the conservative spectrum includes reconstructionism, “End Times” and dominionism, the belief that the Bible should replace the Constitution.

The primary goal of the movement is to strengthen conservatism and reduce government to the bare minimum. Starving the government of tax revenue is one tactic. Obstruction by Republican Members of Congress is another.

The Republican agenda is to shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful. Fundamentalist religion is used toward this goal.  When money and religion are used to control government, it is called fascism. It ceases to be democracy.

Qualities that made America great — and good – are under attack. America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.

This article is adapted from commentary published in the Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN, November 2012    

work in progress – last updated 10/25/12

Phyllis Stenerson © 2012

Saving America’s Soul – Uptown Neighborhood News Nov 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN November 2012 – expanded version with links to more information

We need to talk.

How did a nation founded on the vision of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.

Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope.  For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.

Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by greed, fear, ignorance and lust for power. 

Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate,
we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.
John Adams – second President of the United States

The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that America be a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from, religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation.

Religion and morality are necessary conditions
of the preservation of free government.
George Washington – first President of theUnited States 

So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these crises?

The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides the framework for working through the problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.

Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, an area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics.  These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.

The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservatives created a “message machine” that changed hearts and minds to embrace a radically conservative worldview.

Social and cultural changes were utilized to serve the long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including theViet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles.

Leaders of the religious right developed organizations to strengthen a conservative Christian worldview and establish a power base called the Moral Majority.  By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed any possibility of it making a difference. Liberals did not articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview.

A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism.

Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. The party platform proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The Republican agenda would shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful and destroy many of  the qualities that madeAmericagreat, and good.

America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.

Phyllis Stenerson is a former Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News who lives in CARAG. Context including an expanded version of this commentary with links to background information can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org, the author’s website.

The Five Strands of Conservatism: Why the GOP is Unraveling

By Drew Westen, Huffington Post, April 16, 2009

Excerpt

…the modern conservative movement…was built on an ideological foundation–and a coalition–that was fundamentally incoherent. It took a charismatic leader to bring it together (Ronald Reagan), a tacit agreement among its coalition partners to give each other what they wanted, and a message machine to start selling the idea that that there was coherence to a conservative “philosophy” that was anything but coherent.

Modern conservatism wove together five discrete strands and interest groups that couldn’t coexist. What is remarkable is how well it held together despite the fact that those strands were actually difficult to interweave.

The first strand is libertarian conservatism, reflected in leaders from Barry Goldwater to Ron Paul. Libertarian conservatives believe government should be small and weak and kept that way through low taxes…

The second strand, with which libertarianism is entirely incompatible, is social conservatism, particularly Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any sort believe that they have privileged knowledge of God’s Will and hence have the right to use whatever methods available–including the instruments of state–to impose that will on others.

The third strand of conservatism is old fashioned fiscal conservatism… essentially soft New Dealers, who accept the premises of the New Deal–that we need a safety net…but prefer the safety net and tax codes to be thin…

The fourth strand, national security conservatism, is a different breed. National security conservatives tend to be hawkish…

The final strand of conservatism is the one Nixon exploited with his Southern Strategy and the Republicans have exploited ever since, whether the issue is voting rights, “welfare queens,” affirmative action, or the fate of “illegals”: prejudice…conservatives don’t have much on their side on this one either, except to the extent that they can block the vote, because demographics are running in the wrong direction for them over the next 50 years.

…the right [is] short on ideas, but they’re long on selling ideas, however vapid. Second, Democrats are exactly the opposite: They’re long on ideas but short on the ability to bundle them into coherent, emotionally compelling narratives that make people want to buy them

Full text

In one sense, it isn’t hard to see why the Republican Party seems to be coming apart at the seams. When you get caught gutting the regulations that had kept us for 70 years from another stock market crash like the crash of 1929 and another collapse of the banking system like the one that occurred during the Great Depression, and when your policies throw millions of people out of their homes, jobs, retirement, and doctors’ offices, the next bottle of elixir you sell is not likely to fly off the shelf, especially if it’s the same whine in a new deCantor.

But at a deeper level, the modern conservative movement, which eventually came to define the GOP (to its benefit for many years), was built on an ideological foundation–and a coalition–that was fundamentally incoherent. It took a charismatic leader to bring it together (Ronald Reagan), a tacit agreement among its coalition partners to give each other what they wanted, and a message machine to start selling the idea that that there was coherence to a conservative “philosophy” that was anything but coherent.

Modern conservatism wove together five discrete strands and interest groups that couldn’t coexist. What is remarkable is how well it held together despite the fact that those strands were actually difficult to interweave.

The first strand is libertarian conservatism, reflected in leaders from Barry Goldwater to Ron Paul. Libertarian conservatives believe government should be small and weak and kept that way through low taxes. From their point of view, the primary role of government is to police the streets, protect private property, and protect the country from external threats (although at times they can get a little histrionic about internal threats as well).

The second strand, with which libertarianism is entirely incompatible, is social conservatism, particularly Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any sort believe that they have privileged knowledge of God’s Will and hence have the right to use whatever methods available–including the instruments of state–to impose that will on others. It is one thing to believe, as many democratic (and increasingly Democratic) evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics do, that life begins at conception. It is another to believe that because you believe that, you have the right to impose your interpretation of the books you consider holy on others who may not share your faith or your interpretation of Scripture. The fundamentalist politics practiced by the likes of Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson over the last 30 years should have been anathema to genuine libertarians, because they run against everything libertarian conservatives believe in vis-à-vis intrusive government. However, the two groups lived happily together as long as libertarians got to keep their taxes low and their rifles loaded and fundamentalists got to keep their kids from learning anything about birth control (leading the Bible Belt to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and abortion anywhere in the country, although Sarah Palin seems to be leading a one-family crusade to recapture for Alaska the title of Miss Teen Pregnancy).

The third strand of conservatism is old fashioned fiscal conservatism–the kind that once led Bob Dole to garner his party’s nomination for president but would make him unwelcome in the contemporary GOP. Fiscal conservatives are essentially soft New Dealers, who accept the premises of the New Deal–that we need a safety net, that when people lose their jobs because of economic downturns they shouldn’t lose their homes, that people deserve some minimal degree of dignity in old age if they worked hard for 40 years–but prefer the safety net and tax codes to be thin. Fiscal conservatism bears no logical relation to social conservatism, and although it bears a superficial resemblance to libertarian conservatism, the two are fundamentally at odds, with one accepting the premises of the New Deal and the other rejecting them.

The fourth strand, national security conservatism, is a different breed. National security conservatives tend to be hawkish (although they have a curious habit of evading military service when it comes their turn), and they are generally quick to accuse others of being soft on the threat du jour (unless the other side happens to be in an interventionist mood, in which case they often morph into isolationists just for sport, as when George W. Bush attacked Clinton and Gore for “nation building” and then went on a six year binge of it). The militarism of national security conservatism is as far at odds from evangelical Christianity (and hence social conservatism) as it could be, given that Jesus preached most about the evils of war, poverty, and public expressions of piety, but somehow Christian social conservatives have found a way to rationalize militarism (not to mention ignore the plight of the poor or blame them for their poverty and build crystal cathedrals). Indeed, fundamentalist Christians were the strongest supporters of the Iraq War of any demographic group other than the Bush and Cheney families.

The final strand of conservatism is the one Nixon exploited with his Southern Strategy and the Republicans have exploited ever since, whether the issue is voting rights, “welfare queens,” affirmative action, or the fate of “illegals”: prejudice, whether conscious (as when Reagan and Nixon used, let’s say, “colorful” terms, to describe those on welfare) or unconscious (as when Bob Corker ran a race against Harold Ford, a black Congressman from Tennessee, asking, “Who’s the real Tennessean?”, when what he was really activating in the back of voters’ minds was, “he’s not really one of ‘us,’ now is he”?). Given that most white Americans no longer see themselves or want to see themselves as racist, and that they actually consciously eschew racist sentiments and actions such as overt discrimination against people because of the color of their skin, emotional appeals to this segment of the conservative population tend to be strongest when a conscious “text” with some merit (e.g., we can’t simply open the floodgates to all who would want to enter the United States and become citizens) is superimposed on the unconscious “subtext” of prejudice (the people flooding in happen to have dark skin). Although it’s easy to localize this strand of conservatism as Southern, given that the GOP has become a regional party, it is important to note that had the Presidential election only included white voters (the Republicans’ fantasy), McCain would have won in a 63-37 landslide over Barack Obama. But conservatives don’t have much on their side on this one either, except to the extent that they can block the vote, because demographics are running in the wrong direction for them over the next 50 years.

I would never underestimate the ability of the right to find a way to stitch something back together, for two reasons. First, they’re good at it. They’re short on ideas, but they’re long on selling ideas, however vapid. Second, Democrats are exactly the opposite: They’re long on ideas but short on the ability to bundle them into coherent, emotionally compelling narratives that make people want to buy them–except when the GOP is so corrupt, inept, and/or bankrupt (or causing bankruptcy) that even moderate Republicans jump ship.

The reality is that it’s going to be difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and it’s going to take someone with vision and charisma to figure out which aspects of conservatism to bring back into the center and which to catapult without losing a base that is now seriously out of step with mainstreamAmerica. I don’t see that leader in Bobby “let me tell you a story about my dad and how in America, anything is possible” Jindal, Tim “let me tell you a story before you fall asleep and I have to certify Al Franken” Pawlenty, and Sarah “let me tell a lot of stories and hope no one checks the facts” Palin.

Faux tea parties aren’t going to get them there, either (and if you ask me, they seem more than a little elite (tea?) and, well, gay (don’t real men drink beer?) for a Party determined to “save the institution of marriage.” But perhaps as they clink their porcelain cups in unison for high tea, they’ll have an epiphany about how to replace their predictable and carping Constant Comments about taxes and deficits with a new blend. Perhaps they could borrow some green tea from the President.

Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-westen/the-five-strands-of-conse_b_187675.html

The National Debt and Our Children: How Dumb Does Washington Think We Are?

by Dean Baker, Huffington Post, 10/15/2012

While much of the country is focused on the presidential race, the Wall Street gang is waging a different battle; they are preparing an assault on Social Security and Medicare. This attack is not exactly secret. There have been a number of pieces on this corporate-backed campaign in the media over the last few months, but the drive is nonetheless taking place behind closed doors.

The corporate honchos are not expecting to convince the public that we should support cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They know this is a hopeless task. Huge majorities of people across the political spectrum strongly support these programs.

Instead they hope that they can use their power of persuasion, coupled with the power of campaign contributions and the power of high-paying jobs for defeated members of Congress, to get Congress to approve large cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other key programs. This is the plan for a grand bargain that the corporate chieftains hope can be struck in the lame duck Congress.

Most of the media have been happy to cooperate with the corporate chieftains in this plan. There are two main ways in which they have abandoned objectivity to support the plan for cutting Social Security and Medicare.

First they continually run stories about how the deficit and debt are the biggest problems facing the country. They routinely use phrases like “crisis” and other hyperboles to scare their audience about the risks that the debt poses to the country.

The whole notion of a “fiscal cliff” is an invention that implies an urgency that does not exist. There is almost no consequence to not having a deal in place by the end of 2012. The dire projections of recession and rising unemployment assume that we don’t ever get a deal on the budget.

The fixation on the debt certainly cannot be justified by any objective standard. Clearly the most pressing economic problem facing the country is the tens of millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed as result of the collapse of the housing bubble. These people and their families are seeing their lives ruined due to a monumental failure by policymakers.

Furthermore, it is easy to show that the large budget deficits of recent years are entirely the result of the economic collapse. If the economy were back near full employment, the deficits would be relatively small as was the case before the collapse. Yet it is the deficits and debt that dominate news reporting and debate questions, not the overall state of the economy.

The other way in which the media have been pushing the agenda of the corporate honchos is by refusing to press candidates on their support for the cuts to Social Security that are a likely part of a grand bargain. Does President Obama support reducing Social Security benefits by 3 percent by cutting the annual cost-of-living adjustment? Does he support raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67? How about your candidates for the Senate or the House?

It’s unlikely that many people know the answers to these questions because the reporters have not been asking them. Yet these policies and other cuts that would likely be part of a grand bargain would have a much more direct impact on most people’s lives that the tax proposals being touting by President Obama and Governor Romney.

To be specific, the reduction in Social Security benefits from the cut in the in the cost-of-living adjustment that is being pushed as part of a grand bargain would have more impact on most future retirees living standards than ending the Bush tax cuts on the richest 2 percent would have on their living standards. While the media have done endless pieces on the impact of this possible tax increase on the wealthy, they have done almost nothing on the impact of cutting the cost-of-living adjustment on the living standards of retirees.

This, of course, fits the needs of the corporate honchos who are pushing the agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare. They don’t want these cuts to become an issue before the election because it will make it harder for members of Congress to vote for them.

This is why the reporters covering this election deserve nothing but contempt from the public. It is their job to highlight the issues that will matter to people’s lives, not to help push the agenda of corporate America. But clearly they have decided to do the latter.

Dean Baker is Co-director, CEPR; author, ‘The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive’

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/national-debt_b_1968868.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=101612&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

Moderate Mitt wins conservatives’ blessings

by Dana Milbank, October 16, 2012, Washington Post

Mitt Romney etched and sketched his way to a new position on abortion last week, telling the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

It was not terribly surprising that Romney would, on the eve of the election, toss aside the antiabortion positions he cultivated during the Republican primaries; lately, he has reversed himself more often than a parking-lot attendant.

The surprise has been the reaction from conservatives. “No alarm bells here,” the Family Research Council’s president, Tony Perkins, proclaimed to Talking Points Memo. Perkins said he had been assured by Romney’s campaign that the answer was a product of “the way the question was asked.”

Romney later clarified his remarks, stating that he remained antiabortion. Still, the green light given by a top group on the religious right to Romney’s recasting of his abortion position is typical of recent weeks. Conservatives have been sitting silently — approvingly, even — as Romney makes his late lunge for the center. For a movement that has prided itself on being ideologically pure, this is a decidedly pragmatic turn.

Necessity, it seems, is the mother of reinvention. 

Key to the success of Romney’s Etch a Sketch movement has been the cooperation of conservatives, who have been unusually docile in the face of the candidate’s heresies: pledging not to enact a tax cut that adds to the deficit, promising not to decrease the share of taxes paid by the wealthy, vowing not to slash education funding, praising financial regulations, insisting that he would make health insurers cover preexisting conditions and disavowing his earlier claim that 47 percent of Americans are parasites living off of the government.

At Tuesday night’s debate, Romney continued his sprint to the center. He took pains to say he is “so different” from George W. Bush. He asserted that “every woman in America should have access to contraceptives,” and, on immigration, he said the children of illegal immigrants “should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of theUnited States.” After a primary battle in which GOP candidates tried to out-tough each other on immigration, Romney said that he was in agreement with President Obama and that “I’m not in favor of rounding up people.”

The conservatives’ complicity seems to be driven by two things: a belief that Romney’s moves to the middle are mere feints, shifts more in tone than in substance; and an acceptance that Romney’s rhetorical reversals are necessary if he is to deny Obama a second term. 

“I hear all this as tonal,” Grover Norquist, the Republican purity enforcer and keeper of the antitax pledge, told me. Romney’s new pledge that his tax cuts wouldn’t increase the deficit, for example, could be honored simply by using an alternative accounting method, known as “dynamic scoring,” that conservatives favor. “You’re now in the general election and you’ve already convinced conservatives why they should vote for you,” Norquist said of Romney. “You’re now talking to undecided voters, who have a completely different set of issues.”

Had Romney tried to moderate his positions over the summer, conservatives still suspicious from the primaries would have called him a turncoat, which would have depressed Republican turnout. But two weeks ago, polls showed that Romney’s “severely conservative” candidacy was heading to a seemingly inevitable defeat. It was that sense of desperation that gave Romney room to make his late break for the center, because conservatives were forced to accept that even a squishy and ideologically suspect President Romney would be preferable to Obama.

For example, Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, which has worked to defeat insufficiently conservative officials in Republican primaries, gave Romney room to maneuver. “We tend to recognize the political realities,” he told Politico the day after the Denver debate, adding that “when it comes to the issues that the Club focuses on, Romney is 1,000 percent better than Obama.”

That’s quite a bow to reality from the Club for Growth, which brought down Republican Sens. Bob Bennett, Richard Lugar and Arlen Specter and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for lesser ideological offenses.

Rank-and-file Republicans seem inclined to follow the opinion makers’ lead in cutting Romney slack as he makes his late move to the middle. In Washington Post-ABC News polling, Romney’s support improved among self-identified Republicans, from 90 percent on Sept. 29 to 93 percent on Oct. 13. The number of Republicans saying they were very enthusiastic about him climbed to 59 percent from 48 percent. He suffered no attrition among self-described conservatives. 

It has been a rare outbreak of common sense in the conservative movement. Romney should enjoy it while it lasts.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-moderate-mitt-romney-wins-conservatives-blessings/2012/10/16/c98054ea-17cb-11e2-9855-71f2b202721b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class

Truthout / By Michael Meurer [1]  October 17, 2012 |

Excerpt

…the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive…is that crip­pling amounts of pub­lic debt run up by prof­li­gate gov­ern­ment spend­ing have brought us to the brink of finan­cial ruin and must be off­set by deep cuts in social ser­vices and “entitlements.”

It is a false nar­ra­tive that masks the largest ongo­ing finan­cial swin­dle in human his­tory, a swin­dle being car­ried out at pub­lic expense by a small class of elite finan­cial spec­u­la­tors. This spec­u­la­tive class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neolib­eral polit­i­cal project….

The $15.2 tril­lion total of reck­less gov­ern­ment give­aways and war spend­ing equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the peo­ple...From this per­spec­tive, the ongo­ing finan­cial cri­sis of the past few years is a giant swin­dle that trans­fers wealth from low– and middle-income cit­i­zens to bankers, defense con­trac­tors, real estate spec­u­la­tors and the wealth­i­est 1% via the US Trea­sury, which is act­ing as an agent for upward redistribution.

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan and British Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher set out to recon­fig­ure and lib­er­ate West­ern cap­i­tal­ism by shrink­ing government’s role in the econ­omy based on the neolib­eral con­cept that mar­kets are “self-regulating” and would pro­duce unprece­dented soci­etal wealth if dereg­u­lated.the “trickle down” the­ory of wealth was accom­pa­nied by promises of a smaller, less intru­sive state, except for a strong mil­i­tary. Fast for­ward through 30-plus years of nearly unin­ter­rupted neolib­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ing — Bill Clin­ton and Tony Blair were dereg­u­lat­ing neolib­eral cham­pi­ons — and not only do we have the most expen­sive, heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized, war-prone, increas­ingly inequitable and intru­sive state in US (and British) his­tory, it is also the most indebted.

Neolib­er­al­ism is fail­ing on its own terms, yet it con­tin­ues to define US pol­i­tics due to its appeal among a siz­able and par­tic­u­larly fer­vent seg­ment [29] of the elec­torate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to under­stand the fer­vor of this con­tin­ued pop­u­lar sup­port for failed poli­cies, it is impor­tant to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy. In the neolib­eral world­view [31], the self-regulating mar­ket is not a merely human con­struct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spon­ta­neous order” that pro­duces opti­mum out­comes and max­i­mum indi­vid­ual free­dom if left com­pletely unfet­tered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Trans­for­ma­tion,” [33] a rad­i­cally utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that mar­kets are essen­tially part of the nat­ural order. (14) [34]

On the polit­i­cal right, this faith has reached its fullest expres­sion, ulti­mately mov­ing mar­kets into the realm of the sacred, where their legit­i­macy can­not be ques­tionedit has nonethe­less turned out to have pow­er­ful allure even among those who are being swin­dled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the rea­sons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism meshes so read­ily with utopian strains of fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian­ity, thereby lend­ing the neolib­eral project a zeal­ous sense of pop­ulist mis­sion. A neolib­eral class project is dressed up and sold as a patri­otic reli­gious project.

While those at the top with access to pol­i­cy­mak­ers reap enor­mous finan­cial ben­e­fits from their embrace of neolib­eral the­ol­ogy, many of those at the bot­tom who stand to lose the most eco­nom­i­cally join forces with them because of polit­i­cal appeals to their utopian reli­gious and patri­otic beliefs. Neolib­eral pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from Ronald Rea­gan to Rick San­to­rum and Mitt Rom­ney have come before vot­ers as kin­dred utopian spir­its, true believ­ers couch­ing their self-regulating mar­ket utopi­anism in the famil­iar and com­pelling lan­guage of patri­o­tism, indi­vid­ual free­dom, mom and pop entre­pre­neurism and reli­gion. (‘Believe in Amer­ica.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly real­ity is that neolib­eral mar­kets — unlike the ele­gant mod­els of clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics — are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealth­i­est mem­bers of soci­ety. Income dis­par­ity [35] between the bot­tom and top 20 per­cent in the US has more than dou­bled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 per­cent grew by 275 per­cent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bot­tom 20 per­cent grew just 18 per­cent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in poverty [40], the high­est level since the Great Depres­sion [41] of the 1930’s. (17) [42] Yet among true believ­ers at both ends of the eco­nomic spec­trum, the pow­er­ful emo­tional pull of a shared utopian vision tran­scends the homely real­i­ties of the fact-based world.

Utopi­ans at the Gate

In the 2012 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Repub­li­can Romney-Ryan ticket rep­re­sents the tri­umph of neolib­eral utopian faith over the messy real­i­ties of expe­ri­ence and his­tory…

Polanyi pos­tu­lated three essen­tial ele­ments of West­ern con­scious­ness: knowl­edge of death; knowl­edge of free­dom; and knowl­edge of soci­ety, which is gained expe­ri­en­tially and lib­er­ates us from our utopian illu­sions. (21) [50] The Repub­li­cans of 2012 are in denial about this third ele­ment of consciousness.

The cer­tainty that comes from faith in an imma­nent utopia leaves them unable to acknowl­edge and deal with the enor­mous com­plex­i­ties and uncer­tain­ties of a mod­ern multi-cultural, information-age soci­ety, except through demo­niza­tion and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the com­mon­weal is eclipsed by a divi­sive utopian vision that defines extreme reli­gious eco­nomic indi­vid­u­al­ism as true patri­otic free­dom.

Given the bil­lions in Super PAC money [53] now avail­able to Repub­li­cans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US pol­i­tics is not likely to fade away irre­spec­tive of November’s elec­tion results, and that is a trou­bling real­iza­tion in a nation more heav­ily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruc­tion than any other in his­tory. (24) [56]

http://progressivevalues.org.s150046.gridserver.com/how-propagandists-for-the-1-are-manipulating-chr

Full text

In the endless swirl of headlines about the current global financial crisis, the dominant narrative, which is also driving the 2012 US presidential election, is that crippling amounts of public debt run up by profligate government spending have brought us to the brink of financial ruin and must be offset by deep cuts in social services and “entitlements.”

It is a false narrative that masks the largest ongoing financial swindle in human history, a swindle being carried out at public expense by a small class of elite financial speculators. This speculative class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neoliberal political project now embodied in its most virulent form in the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Let’s start with the depth and size of the underlying financial crisis, which is almost in the realm of hyper-reality. In 1997, for example, the total value of annual financial transactions worldwide was an already-staggering 15 times greater than global GDP. Today, it is 70 times greater [2]. (1) [3] In 1995, the six largest US banks controlled assets worth 17 percent of annual GDP. Today, the figure is 64 percent [4]. (2) [5] Again in 1995, the global total of outstanding derivative debt obligations was $17.7 trillion. By 2010 [6], at nearly $470 trillion [7], outstanding derivatives were 741 percent of global GDP [8]. (3) [9]

This wholesale financialization of the US-led global economy has burdened the public sector with the task of propping up unregulated speculative debt in the private sector that is 7.4 times our annual productive capacity. Add USdeficit spending for three wars since 9/11, and major cuts in the top tax rates, and the burden becomes unsustainable. The difference is being made up in the guise of austerity, as everything we own is liquidated, from personal and retirement savings, to homes and public-sector assets that have been built up over generations.

In the US, the inexorable logic of this process is embedded in the numbers that comprise the national debt. By most estimates, the national debt is at least $15 trillion [10].(4) [11] Here is one way to understand where the money went.

  • · The USgovernment spent $7.4 trillion [12] on bank bailouts [13]. (5) [14]
  • · It then spent $5 trillion [15] for three elective wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. (6) [16]
  • · It simultaneously incurred $2.8 trillion [17] in lost revenue due to the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets. (7) [18]

The $15.2 trillion total of reckless government giveaways and war spending equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the people. During the current economic downturn:

The total losses to citizen wealth are also $15 trillion.

From this perspective, the ongoing financial crisis of the past few years is a giant swindle that transfers wealth from low- and middle-income citizens to bankers, defense contractors, real estate speculators and the wealthiest 1% via the US Treasury, which is acting as an agent for upward redistribution.

To give a comparative sense for the historic scale of the swindle, it is worth noting that the entire inflation-adjusted cost of World War II [27] was $3.6 trillion.(11) [28]

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to reconfigure and liberate Western capitalism by shrinking government’s role in the economy based on the neoliberal concept that markets are “self-regulating” and would produce unprecedented societal wealth if deregulated. Using the ideas of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek of the famedAustrianSchool as macro-economic underpinning, Reagan and Thatcher sought to limit or eliminate government regulation that might inhibit the actions and movement of capital.

From the start of this Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the “trickle down” theory of wealth was accompanied by promises of a smaller, less intrusive state, except for a strong military. Fast forward through 30-plus years of nearly uninterrupted neoliberal policymaking – Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were deregulating neoliberal champions – and not only do we have the most expensive, heavily militarized, war-prone, increasingly inequitable and intrusive state in US (and British) history, it is also the most indebted.

Neoliberalism is failing on its own terms, yet it continues to define US politics due to its appeal among a sizable and particularly fervent segment [29] of the electorate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to understand the fervor of this continued popular support for failed policies, it is important to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neoliberal ideology. In the neoliberal worldview [31], the self-regulating market is not a merely human construct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spontaneous order” that produces optimum outcomes and maximum individual freedom if left completely unfettered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Transformation,” [33] a radically utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that markets are essentially part of the natural order. (14) [34]

On the political right, this faith has reached its fullest expression, ultimately moving markets into the realm of the sacred, where their legitimacy cannot be questioned. In this utopian setting, regulation is not merely ill advised; it is a violation of natural law that is nearly sacrilegious. Witness, for example, the reactionary explosion on the right to the apostasy of Barack Obama’s health care plan to regulate the insurance cartels.

Although this pernicious sacralization of the self-regulating market is absurd on its face – modern markets being embedded in particular cultures and dependent on enormous government intervention and expenditures, full of frictions and totally absent the perfect information required by economic models – it has nonetheless turned out to have powerful allure even among those who are being swindled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the reasons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian market fundamentalism meshes so readily with utopian strains of fundamentalist Christianity, thereby lending the neoliberal project a zealous sense of populist mission. A neoliberal class project is dressed up and sold as a patriotic religious project.

While those at the top with access to policymakers reap enormous financial benefits from their embrace of neoliberal theology, many of those at the bottom who stand to lose the most economically join forces with them because of political appeals to their utopian religious and patriotic beliefs. Neoliberal presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have come before voters as kindred utopian spirits, true believers couching their self-regulating market utopianism in the familiar and compelling language of patriotism, individual freedom, mom and pop entrepreneurism and religion. (‘Believe in America.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly reality is that neoliberal markets – unlike the elegant models of classical economics – are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealthiest members of society. Income disparity [35] between the bottom and top 20 percent in the US has more than doubled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 percent grew by 275 percent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bottom 20 percent grew just 18 percent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 million people living in poverty [40], the highest level since the Great Depression [41] of the 1930′s. (17) [42] Yet among true believers at both ends of the economic spectrum, the powerful emotional pull of a shared utopian vision transcends the homely realities of the fact-based world.

Utopians at the Gate

In the 2012 US presidential election, the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket represents the triumph of neoliberal utopian faith over the messy realities of experience and history. There has been much discussion about the political calculations of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, but it seems entirely plausible that he was picked because he is a kindred utopian spirit.

Born to wealth and privilege, Romney’s utopian worldview was formed among the high priests in the secretive and cloistered worlds of the Mormon Church and equity capital markets. At every turn in his insular pilgrim’s path, Romney’s utopian economic and religious beliefs have been reinforced in untroubled environments far removed from the struggles of daily life. He can change positions at will because his overriding utopian faith remains untouched irrespective of the particulars of individual policy prescriptions.

Also born to wealth, Ryan was a youthful devotee of neoliberal founding fathers von Mises and Hayek, supplementing his market faith with the culturally corrosive, ego-centered atheism of Ayn Rand, until the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, representing his professed Catholic faith, publicly objected to the cruelty and inhumanity of his 2011 US budget proposals.

The bishops described Ryan’s budget as being antithetical to their call to create “a circle of protection” [43] around the poor and vulnerable. With his tea-vangelical base of support threatened, Ryan quickly discovered St. Thomas Aquinas [44] as a more appropriate religious vehicle for channeling his market utopianism. (18) [45]

The presentation of the Romney-Ryan ticket by the Republican Party tells us that the path to utopia is stony and difficult, as it should be. Reaching the neoliberal Promised Land requires sacrifice. In order to scale the utopian summit, we must cast out the unbelievers (Obama, Democrats, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, et al.) and balance the divine books with the purifying fire of “austerity,” the neoliberal equivalent of self-flagellation.

Austerity-mandated cuts in vital public services must be accompanied by ever-increasing tax reductions for the top income brackets – aka, the priestly class of “job creators” – thus intentionally accelerating the insolvency of the iniquitous public sector. Someone has to pay for the extravagant incomes, lifestyles and war profiteering of the oracular speculative class in order to keep the swindle going, and it turns out to be us.

Where does this lead?

Were Romney and Ryan to be elected in November, it is probable that some of their more radical policy pronouncements [46] would be constrained by the realities of Washington. (19) [47] Yet there is something disquieting about the seriousness with which they embrace discredited utopian ideals. Fascism has been described as “a utopian movement in search of a utopia [48].” (20) [49] Today’s Republican Party, headed by true believers Romney and Ryan, comes dangerously close to this description.

Polanyi postulated three essential elements of Western consciousness: knowledge of death; knowledge of freedom; and knowledge of society, which is gained experientially and liberates us from our utopian illusions. (21) [50] The Republicans of 2012 are in denial about this third element of consciousness.

The certainty that comes from faith in an immanent utopia leaves them unable to acknowledge and deal with the enormous complexities and uncertainties of a modern multi-cultural, information-age society, except through demonization and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the commonweal is eclipsed by a divisive utopian vision that defines extreme religious economic individualism as true patriotic freedom. Romney’s recent comments dismissing the lives of half the electorate [51] offer a clear illustration of the utopian incapacity to deal with society as it exists. (22) [52]

Given the billions in Super PAC money [53] now available to Republicans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US politics is not likely to fade away irrespective of November’s election results, and that is a troubling realization in a nation more heavily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruction than any other in history. (24) [56]

Endnotes

1) Tobin isn’t enough now, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2012

2) The Bill Daley Problem, from BaselineScenario.com.

3) International Swaps and Derivatives Association.NOTE: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) actually reported a much higher total of $708 trillion for “notional amounts outstanding of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives…” in a detailed 28 page analysis released November 2011 for the first half of 2011. To stay conservative, I have used the ISDA figure of $470 trillion. The BIS report can be found here: . [57] GDP from Wikipedia Public Data.

4) External government debt is actually $11.2 trillion. Getting to $15 or $16 trillion depends upon how one accounts for intra-governmental obligations. For the purposes of this article, the point is to show the orders of magnitude, not up to the minute totals, which are difficult to get in any event and tend to vary widely depending upon who is doing the calculations.ConcordCoalition.

5) Bloomberg Media.”Follow the $7.4 Trillion: Breakdown of US Government’s Rescue Efforts.”. NOTE: The real total of federal bailouts may be much higher. For example, a July 2011 GAO report documents over $16 trillion in secret loans to both US and foreign financial institutions.

6) Joseph Stiglitz estimated the total cost of Iraqand Afghanistanas high as $5 trillion in 2008, and in Sep. 2011 opined that this figure was too low. Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of 9/11. . [58] A June 2011BrownUniversity study reported by Voice of America, estimates the total forIraq andAfghanistan at nearly $4 trillion with a projected interest cost of an additional $1 trillion.Iraq,Afghanistan Wars Cost US Nearly $4 trillion. A detailed Sept. 2011, report by the Fiscal Times (more than a year ago) estimated the total US cost of war since 9/11 at over $5 trillion, with the wars inIraq andAfghanistan still in progress when the analysis was published. Fiscal Times, 9/11 and the $5 Trillion Aftermath.

7) Washington Post, Revisiting the cost of the Bush tax cuts.

8) For simplicity, I am using the CEPR figures below. While a more complicated case could be made for a higher total of lost citizen wealth, the main point is to show the logic of the process and the general orders of magnitude in the losses, which the CEPR figures conveniently encapsulate. Center for Economic and Policy Research, Paper Wealth and the Economic Crisis.

9) Other sources documenting US losses to citizen wealth. Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Federal Reserve Bank ofNew York, Household Debt and Saving During the 2007 Recession. American Progress, The Consequences of Conservatism (Estimates total losses at $12.8 trillion)

Urban Institute, How is the Financial Crisis Affecting Retirement Savings? ($3.4 trillion loss from 2007 to 2009). Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Dr. John Rutledge, Rutledge Capital, Total Assets of US Economy $188 trillion, 13.4 x GDP (Calculated $13 trillion loss to”household net worth” in 2008.) Don Shelton, The Great Recession of 2008-10.

10) Center for Economic and Policy Research, The $1 trillion wage deficit.

11) Don Ritholtz, The Big Picture.com, Big Bailouts, Bigger Bucks.

12) See Raymond Plant, The NeoliberalState, OxfordUniversityPress, 2009.
See also, David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, 2005.
[29]

13) Library of Economics andLiberty, Friedrich Hayek.

14) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press.

15) Mother Jones, March/April 2011, It’s the Inequality Stupid.

16) Congresssional Research Service, March 7, 2012, The US Income Distribution and Mobility: Trends and International Comparisons
Congressional Budget Office report to Congress, Trends in Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007 [59]
CBO Director’s Blog, October 25, 2011, Trends in the Distribution of Income [59]
Top 1% income crew 275 Percent Grew 275 Percent from 1979 to 2007 [59]

17) Fox News, Nov. 7, 2011, Census Data Show Americans Hit by Poverty at All-Time High
CBS News, Nov. 8, 2011, New data shows poverty at an all-time high [40]

18) [40] Letter to Congressional leaders from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, April 16, 2012
New Yorker, August 11, 2012, Ayn Rand joins the Ticket [43]

19) Harper’s Magazine, Sep. 2012, Spend, Baby, Spend

20) Fascism – The Tensile Permanence, Dr. Sam Vaknin

21) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, 2001, p. 267-268

22) Mother Jones, Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video

23) Rolling Stone, Right-Wing Billionaires Behind Mitt Romney, May 24, 2012

24) Wikipedia, Weapons of Mass Destruction

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/how-propagandists-1-are-manipulating-christian-teachings-rob-middle-class

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/michael-meurer
[2] http://mondediplo.com/2012/02/01tobin
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[4] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/baselinescenario.com/2011/01/09/the-bill-daley-problem/
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[6] http://www.bis.org/publ/otc_hy1111.pdf
[7] http://www.isda.org/statistics/recent.html%20%20
[8] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_mktp_cd&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=global+gdp
[9] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#III
[10] http://www.concordcoalition.org/issues/indicators/us-total-national-debt.%20Daily%20Beast.%20http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/05/the-u-s-government-doesn-t-really-owe-16-trillion-in-debt.html
[11] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#IV
[12] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.bloomberg.com/apps/data?pid=avimage&iid=i0YrUuvkygWs
[13] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.sanders.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/GAO%20Fed%20Investigation.pdf.%20http:/www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=9e2a4ea8-6e73-4be2-a753-62060dcbb3c3
[14] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#V
[15] http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-price-of-9-11
[16] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#VI
[17] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/revisiting-the-cost-of-the-bush-tax-cuts/2011/05/09/AFxTFtbG_blog.html
[18] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#VII
[19] http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/paper-wealth-and-the-economic-crisis
[20] http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/staff_reports/sr482.pdf
[21] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/reversemortgagedaily.com/2011/02/13/home-equity-declines-more-than-60-during-great-recession-says-fed-report/
[22] http://rutledgecapital.com/2009/05/24/total-assets-of-the-us-economy-188-trillion-134xgdp/
[23] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#VIII
[24] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#IX
[25] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/21115.pdf
[26] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#X
[27] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.ritholtz.com/blog/2008/11/big-bailouts-bigger-bucks/
[28] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XI
[29] http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199281756.001.0001/acprof-9780199281756
[30] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XII
[31] http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Hayek.html
[32] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XIII
[33] http://truth-out.org/%20http:/www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?SKU=5643
[34] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XIV
[35] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph
[36] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XV
[37] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/income-doubles-top-percent-1979/story?id=14817561
[38] http://www.cbo.gov/publication/42729
[39] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XVI
[40] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/11/07/census-data-show-americans-hit-by-poverty-at-all-time-high/#ixzz1zxaCJHpF
[41] http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7387553n
[42] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XVII
[43] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/agriculture-nutrition-rural-issues/upload/Letter-to-House-Committee-on-Agriculture-2012-04-16.pdf
[44] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/08/paul-ryan-and-ayn-rand.html
[45] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XVIII
[46] http://www.harpers.org/archive/2012/08/hbc-90008826
[47] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XIX
[48] http://samvak.tripod.com/fascism.html
[49] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XX
[50] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XXI
[51] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/full-transcript-mitt-romney-secret-video
[52] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XXII
[53] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/right-wing-billionaires-behind-mitt-romney-20120524
[54] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XXIII
[55] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction
[56] http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class#XXIV
[57] http://www.bis.org/publ/otc_hy1111.pdf.
[58] http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-price-of-9-11.
[59] http://www.cbo.gov/publication/42537
[60] http://www.alternet.org/tags/profit
[61] http://www.alternet.org/tags/free-marketm-utopianism
[62] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[63] http://www.alternet.org/tags/financial-crisis-0
[64] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[65] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[66] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ryan-0
[67] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-0
[68] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election-2012
[69] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Privilege of Being Human: Ecological Crisis and the Need to Challenge the Twenty Percent

by Joseph Nevins, October 15, 2012 on Common Dreams

Although you would not know it from what passes for debate during the ongoing presidential campaign here in the United States, the biosphere is under siege. A historically high rate of ice melt in the Artic, devastating floods from the Philippines to Nigeria, a record-setting decline inAustralia’s Great Barrier Reef, and extreme levels of drought in much of theUnited States are just some of the recent manifestations.

These worrisome signs highlight, among other things, the tragic failure of the international community to slash consumption of the Earth’s resources via binding international mechanisms. While the reasons for this are numerous, a key one is the obstruction by some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries, and their refusal to renounce the gospel of endless economic growth.

But also central is a combination of refusal by and seeming inability of members of the planet’s ecologically privileged class—let’s call them the twenty percent—to see their very ways of life, and their associated gargantuan levels of consumption as problems in need of radical redress.

To appreciate this one need look no further than at a much-talked-about article, one with foreboding news for those interested in sustaining human life on the planet as we know it. It appeared in the journal Nature shortly before the ballyhooed, but ultimately fruitless U.N. Earth Summit opened in June inRio de Janeiro. Due to human-induced changes to the biosphere, the article asserts, the world is quite possibly approaching a “critical transition.” It is one “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.”

A significant decline in biodiversity, a fossil-fuel-use-induced growth in atmospheric greenhouse gases, deforestation, the melting of glaciers, and large “dead zones” in coastal marine areas are just some of the myriad indicators of the extent to which human have altered the biosphere and the “drivers” of the planetary-scale critical transition, say the authors.

As a review of already published material, the article’s findings are, in some ways, old news. Its significance lies in the endorsement by the team of authors of previous findings and the synthesis it offers. Yet the paper’s importance also lies in the myopia exhibited by the 22 scientists fromCanada,Chile,Finland,Spain, and theUnited Stateswho authored the paper in trying to explain what has produced dangerous levels of ecological degradation.

Instead of highlighting the ravenous consumption of a global minority in bringing about the crisis they decry, the authors—no doubt members of the twenty percent—assert that “population growth and per-capita consumption rate underlie all of the other present drivers of global change.” In other words, by raising consumption in a manner that doesn’t distinguish between differential levels of resource use (and putting population growth aside for a moment), they suggest that all of the Earth’s denizens are equally at fault.

***

The ludicrous nature of this position immediately struck me as I read it given that I had just come across a report revealing that New York City’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg had recently bought a 33-acre estate, for $4.55 million. This is his third home in Westchester County, just north of New York City. He also has three in Manhattan, one in nearby Long Island, one in Colorado, one in Florida, one in London, and one in Bermuda to where he regularly flies in his private jet.

I had also just received an email from Barack Obama (at least it purported to be). In it he promised, if I made a financial contribution to his re-election campaign, to automatically enter me into a drawing. The handful of winners, he wrote, would be flown from their home areas to have dinner with him.

To own 12 homes or to be able to fly supporters across long distances to join you for dinner are obscene displays of wealth and power given the environmental degradation resulting from the resource consumption they embody. They are obscenities that an emphasis on average rates in the form of “per-capita consumption” only serves to obscure. Yet, while highly extreme, such levels of consumption are the pinnacle of grossly unequal levels of resource use, ones that largely correspond to divisions related to the overlapping categories of race, class, and nation.

As international development scholar David Satterthwaite has pointed out in relation to climate change, about 20 percent of the world’s wealthiest individuals and households—given their consumption and lifestyles, along with the production processes, infrastructure, and institutions that make them possible—are likely responsible for more than 80 percent of all contemporary greenhouse gas emissions, and an even greater percentage of historical emissions. In other words, the problem is not primarily one of population growth, but of increasing consumption, consumption by the global twenty percent.

Members of this elite group—people like me—tend to have cell phones, personal computers, and housing with central heating and air conditioning. We typically use electric or gas-driven clothing dryers. More often than not, we own cars, and we travel occasionally, sometimes frequently, by flying—the single most ecologically destructive individual act of consumption one can undertake. (A single roundtrip flight betweenNew York andLondon produces, in terms of its impact on the climate system, the equivalent of two metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per economy class passenger—more than the emissions produced by an average resident ofBrazil for an entire year.)

We also throw away a lot and consume huge amounts of plastic (more than 300 pounds per person annually in theUnited   States). And most of us eat a great deal of meat, the production of which constitutes one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses. In other words, we consume way beyond what is globally sustainable by any reasonable measure—and increasingly so.

Invocations of population growth divert one’s attention from such levels of consumption and the massive inequities underlying them. They lead to a focus on peoples and places with the highest rates of fertility, ones which are typically largely non-white and among the world’s poorest—those who consume least, in other words. Effectively erased from view are the socio-economic classes and places with which the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama are associated as they tend to have very low, sometimes even negative, rates of demographic increase.

This is not to say that population expansion does not matter at all. High rates of demographic growth among the global poor and related increases in consumption can and do have significant impacts on local resource bases. But to state what should be painfully obvious, these populations have a negligible impact on the global environment given how little they consume.

According to Satterthwaite, for example, 18.5 percent of the world’s population growth during the 35-year period of 1980-2005 took place in sub-Saharan African, but its share of the growth in global carbon emissions was only 2.5 percent. During that same period,Canadaand theUnited Stateshad 4 percent of population growth, but were responsible for 13.9 percent of the increase in C02 emissions.

***

Similar to responsibility for carbon emissions, resource consumption broadly is highly unequal. The United States, home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population, for instance, is responsible for almost a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel use. If everyone in the world were to consume environmental resources at the present U.S. level, or that of Denmark or the United Arab Emirates, between four and five planet Earths would be required to sustain themaccording to the Global Footprint Network. (In comparison, if everyone consumed at the level ofIndia, half the planet Earth, given today’s global population, would be sufficient.)

Admittedly, invocation of the global twenty percent rather than, say, the one percent no doubt obscures, just as it illuminates. Few have the power to consume and destroy like Michael Bloomberg or Barack Obama, for example. Clearly, as within any grouping, there are significant differences within. But this should not hide the fact that it is not only the super-rich who consume in a manner way out of proportion to what would be their fair share of the world’s resources were they to be allocated equitably with an eye toward ensuring the wellbeing of posterity.

Moreover, it is true that an increasing share of the twenty percent is from relatively prosperous countries of the Global South—largely urban elites from the likes ofChina,Brazil,India, andSouth Africa. Yet, most of the world’s top consumers, as they long have, come from those countries that are in the top tier of per capita incomes, countries such asAustralia, those of the European Union,Japan, and theUnited States.

The socio-geographic concentration of the twenty percent helps illustrate why critical scrutiny of individual consumption need not and should not lead to an ignoring of the systemic components of our ecological plight—perhaps the most notable of which is how industrial-consumer capitalism, which dominates the planet, fuels and necessitates voracious consumption for its very survival, and significantly shapes and limits our options. It is a system that mines the planet’s environmental resources, damages the biosphere, and exacerbates socio-economic inequities and vulnerabilities in the process.

This system draws upon and helps reproduce multiple axes of difference—race, class, gender, and nation among them. They are differences with profound implications for how people live and die across the planet. (A recent report by the humanitarian aid and research organization DARA, for instance, found that 400,000 deaths each year today are attributable to climate change, with air pollution causing another 1.4 million fatalities annually.) As such, these differences are inextricably tied to unjust structures that embody privilege and wellbeing for some, and disadvantage and harm for others.

The focus on individual consumption also should not obviate critical attention on large institutional actors—say, the U.S.military, the world’s single largest institutional producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Nor should it obfuscate how the very organization of the places we live and work, and the larger social networks in which we are implicated, shape what we do and pressure us to engage in behavior we wouldn’t pursue were other choices available. (Think about how unsafe streets and inadequate public transport compels many to drive.)

Yet, despite the importance of such factors, we should not make the mistake of pretending that we have no options, and that our individual choices don’t have implications for the viability of the systems in which we are implicated, and the many institutions with which we interact—willingly or not. As such, the call to challenge the twenty percent’s rapacious resource use is not an effort to reduce individuals to consumers. It is necessarily tied to our responsibilities as citizens, as members of political-economic communities given that any project of social transformation requires engaging both the individual and the collective. Just as it would be intellectually, ethically and politically illogical to contend that individual racist behavior is inconsequential and that its scrutiny is a diversion from the struggle against structural racism, it is unacceptable to suggest that individual consumption—especially that of a grossly unsustainable sort—is meaningless and unrelated to systemic injustice and its reproduction.

For this reason and more, dangerous levels of soil depletion, diminishing supplies of potable water across the planet, the rapidly decreasing viability of the world’s fisheries, high extinction rates of plant and animal species, and rising global temperatures (among other signs) are not simply environmental matters. They are urgent issues of human rights and social justice.

***

For those moved to resist the status quo, and champion radical change in response, many posing as sympathetic allies advise them to take a careful, gradual approach. These purveyors of caution are among those who today place their hopes in technological salvation, some sort of breakthrough discovery or invention that will somehow eliminate or at least greatly reduce the ecological damage associated with a particular practice or specific form of consumption, and thus allow us to continue largely our ways.

Fearful of what they and those with whom they most identify might lose, what these highly ambivalent allies actually seek to facilitate is a reworked status quo. It is a new version of the old, one which maintains established privileges and hierarchy, with simply a prettier veneer, its most brutal expressions muted.

This championing of restraint in a context demanding fundamental change is a longstanding problem, one the great writer James Baldwin, among many others, have encountered at different times and places. In an essay in Partisan Review (Fall, 1956), Baldwin forcefully addressed such “advice” when he criticized fellow writer William Faulkner’s call to “go slow” in the effort to overthrow the institutionalized system of racial segregation known as Jim Crow in the U.S. South. (“They don’t mean go slow, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall reportedly said in response. “They mean, don’t go.”)

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it,”Baldwincountered, “the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring, one clings to what knew, or thought one knew; to what one possessed or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he had long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”

Transforming any social system—given its very nature—is necessarily a highly disruptive process in that, for better or for worse depending on where one is situated on the spectrum of privilege and disadvantage, it is part of the very fabric of life. As such, fundamental change requires a willingness on the part of those of the privileged classes who profess to support a different world, one that is just and truly sustainable, to move to a position of discomfort, to challenge the very sources of their ecological privilege, nor merely the symptoms. Only in this way can a system that is unjust—and thus limited in terms of the distribution of its benefits—be eradicated so as to bring aboutBaldwin’s “higher dreams” of privileges enjoyed by all.

For those of us who gain from—and help reproduce—the institutionalized injustice, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how our comfort and prosperity are tied to the socio-economic and ecological insecurity experienced by so many. This means that we, the twenty percent, have to give up things—our ability to have lots of “stuff”; to consume the planet’s resources without thought and to dump the detriments on socially distant, unseen peoples and communities; to travel wherever and whenever we’d like in manners that exact high social and ecological costs; to have our wants satisfied before the needs of others are met.

It also requires that we abandon the illusion that a world order that facilitates our unjust privileges can and should be preserved, and that our rapacious levels of consumption are maintainable, that, somehow, contrary to everything the natural sciences tell us, we will not have to reap what we sow. For privileged people of good will, this necessitates accepting the responsibility to be human in all that it entails. We thus must struggle not only on myriad fronts ranging from Wall Street writ-large to the Pentagon, but also with ourselves and those closest to us.

The ecological challenges we face as a planet are enormous, and ominous in terms of what they suggest for the well-being of peoples and places across the planet and the biosphere as a whole. In this regard, the ending of Baldwin’s retort to Faulkner could not be timelier: “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”

Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at VassarCollege. His latest book is Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books).

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/15-3

The Attack-Syria Coalition: Brought to You By the Same People Who Gave Us the Iraq Debacle

By Samer Araabi [2], Right Web [1] / Alternet.org, October 15, 2012

In late September 2001, less than 10 days after the 9/11 attacks, the Project for the New American Century [3] (PNAC)—a group of prominent neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, and members of the religious right who advocated a host of U.S.-led regime changes in the Middle East—drafted a letter to President George W. Bush, commending his promise to “go after terrorism wherever we find it in the world” and offering a number of recommendations for the remainder of the president’s term.[1] [4] The steps outlined in the letter were prescient in predicting Bush’s foreign policy priorities (and to a lesser extent, the priorities of his successor, Barack Obama).[2] [5]

In addition to their advocacy positions on Iraq (invade immediately),Israel (support unconditionally), and military spending (abide “no hesitation in requesting whatever funds for defense are needed”), the signatories urged a tougher stance on Hezbollah, as well as its state sponsors in Damascus and Tehran.

In the letter, they argued that “any war against terrorism must target Hezbollah,” and urged the administration to “demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these known state sponsors of terrorism.”

Today, as Syria remains mired in a seemingly limitless spiral of violence, the question arises—what has become of this attack-Syria coalition and what, if anything, has changed in its view of U.S. intervention?

Target: Syria

Because of the many ties between PNAC and the Bush administration, it came as little surprise to close observers that the Bush administration eventually followed much of the letter’s advice with respect to Syria.[3] [6] After supporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the Bush administration capitalized on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri to galvanize political opposition to Hezbollah (and Syria by proxy), culminating in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory.

Donald Rumsfeld [7], then Secretary of Defense, produced a “Road Map for Syria” proposing a number of military options for weakening the Syrian regime, including “docking an aircraft carrier within Syrian territorial waters” and “using proxies to undermine Syrian intelligence agents inside Lebanon.”[4] [8] Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with a long list of U.S. demands, including that Syria cooperate in the “war on terrorism” in Iraq, end its support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, and withdraw its troops from Lebanon.[5] [9]

The administration’s pressure was highly effective in the heady days after Hariri’s assassination, and the Assad regime scrambled to provide the Bush administration with an acceptable counteroffer to prevent a second “regime change” in the region. Bahjat Suleiman, the chief of the internal branch of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, took the unprecedented step of publishing an article in the Lebanese daily al-Safir, where he outlined a course of action that could be acceptable to the Syrian regime. In the article, he implied that Assad would be willing to rein in Hezbollah, control Palestinian armed groups and Salafi extremists in Lebanon, and secure Iraq’s long border with Syriain order to guarantee the regime’s preservation.[6] [10]

The offer fell on deaf ears. Fresh off the invasion of Iraq, U.S.neoconservatives and their allies were optimistic that strong and uncompromising force— and unconditional support for the enemies of their enemies—would be sufficient to reshape the regional order. “There’s no reason to think engagement with Syria will bring about any change,” said letter signatory Richard Perle [11] in 2006. He argued that Syria “has never been weaker, and we should take advantage of that.”[7] [12]

Assad Rebounds

Backed into a corner and facing an existential crisis unlike any it had previously experienced, the regime chose instead to double down and force Washington’s hand. Assad worked to subvert the U.S.experiment in the Middle East, exploiting Syria’s proximity to Iraqand Lebanonto undermine the Bush administration’s cornerstone projects. Syrian intelligence services suddenly began to wreak havoc along the Syrian-Iraqi border, while political machinations in Lebanonhelped the regime regain the upper hand in the Lebanese parliament.[8] [13]

The tide quickly turned againstWashingtonas an increasing number of complicating factors undermined its regional leverage. The implosion ofIraq, the rebounding political power ofSyria’s allies inLebanon, the deteriorating state ofAfghanistan, and growing discontent at home forced the Bush administration to retreat from its hardline anti-Syrian approach. Thus assured of its safety,Damascusquickly reverted to its old ways.

The neoconservative-led PNAC coalition that had once pushed for a unified and hard-fisted approach to redesigning the Middle East was also crumbling [14] in the face of these and other failures.

Though much of the beltway intelligentsia originally supported the “war on terror” in all its iterations, ensuing disasters deeply undermined the neoconservative ideology as well as its liberal interventionist counterpart. Some of the original signatories of the letter, like Francis Fukuyama [15],[9] [16] became deeply critical of the Bush administration’s policies; others, however, maintained a strong allegiance to their hawkish worldview and continued to defend it against any perceived modifications by the Obama administration.

The ongoing crisis inSyria, however, has become something of a litmus test for these individuals, and the coalition has begun to resemble its old self. But the emerging consensus amongWashington’sSyriahawks belies the complexity of the circumstances surroundingSyria’s spiraling civil war, the difficulty of pro-war ideologues to adapt to modern international conflicts, and the dangers of the zero-sum approach toSyriacurrently circulating throughWashington.

Syria Redux

PNAC’s dyed-in-the-wool neoconservatives—the ideologues most responsible for the formulation of the Bush doctrine—have mostly stayed true to the priorities laid forth in the PNAC letter, and they’ve found new energy in calling for regime change in Syria. Most of the signatories to that September 2011 letter—including the likes of William Kristol [17], Jeffrey Bergner [18], Seth Cropsey [19], Midge Decter [20], Thomas Donnelly [21], Nicholas Eberstadt [22], Aaron Friedberg [23], Jeffrey Gedmin [24], Rueul Marc Gerecht [25], Robert Kagan [26], Charles Krauthammer [27], John Lehman [28], Clifford May [29],Richard Perle [30], Norman Podhoretz [31], and Gary Schmitt [32]—have largely kept their initial worldview intact, even if their earlier predictions for a Middle East “democratized” by American arms has proved dramatically off mark.

Many of these same individuals and their fellow travelers are at the forefront of the current push to escalate Syria’s ongoing civil war, arguing that active U.S. support for Syrian rebels—or outright military intervention—would hasten the fall of Bashar Al-Assad and maximize U.S. interests. A recent [33] New York Times op-ed by Max Boot [34], a frequent PNAC letter signatory, and Michael Doran [35], a Bush National Security Council member, is a case in point. In promoting direct U.S. intervention in Syria, the authors—remarkably—were unable to identify any negative consequences of such engagement, instead identifying a plethora of positive developments for U.S. interests, such as improving ties with Turkey, “diminishing” Iran, and “equipping reliable partners” within Syria’s internal opposition.

In February, many of the same individuals who signed the September 2001 PNAC letter—this time operating under the mantle of successor organizations like the Foreign Policy Initiative [36] and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [37]—penned a missive to President Barack Obama, arguing that the only way to “win” the civil war, and ensure that Syrian security forces do not regain the upper hand, is to supply the Syrian opposition movement with sufficient capital, weapons, and intelligence to overwhelm government forces on the battlefield. The signers urged Obama to “immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory,” as well as to “provide a full range of direct assistance, including self-defense aid to the [Free Syrian Army].”[10] [38]

The neoconservative establishment, along with a growing number of liberal interventionist allies, explicitly rejected all overtures for negotiation and compromise. They consistently mocked or undermined efforts by the United Nations and the Arab League to mediate the dispute and reach a diplomatic settlement, warning that “the United States cannot continue to defer its strategic and moral responsibilities in Syriato regional actors such as the Arab League, or to wait for consent from the Assad regime’s protectors, Russiaand China.”[11] [39]

“If we were being serious in the Middle East,” William Kristol recently said on Bill Bennett [40]’s “Morning inAmerica” radio program, “we would be using air strikes inSyria [and] we would topple the Assad regime.”

Evolving Militarization

Though Obama has been reticent to embrace full-on militarization of the conflict—preferring instead an approach that relies more on diplomatic pressure and crippling economic sanctions—the continued stalemate has nudged policymakers ever closer to openly arming the rebels [41]. Already the administration has steadily increased the military capabilities of the armed opposition elements, drifting away from its original policy of providing diplomatic support only.

Though this escalation has significantly narrowed the possibilities for any diplomatic solution to the conflict, foreign policy hawks have chided the administration for not going further. In a column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer lambasted Obama for seeking international support against Syria“as he stands by and watches Syriaburn.”[12] [42]

In an earlier column, Krauthammer wrote that “the fate of the Assad regime is geopolitically crucial” in the campaign to undermine Iran: “Imperial regimes can crack when they are driven out of their major foreign outposts…[and] the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran.” As in the 2001 letter, he argued that all America’s regional ambitions can be met, “so long as we do not compromise with Russiaor relent until Assad falls.”[13] [43]

Similarly, Rueul Marc Gerecht used the pages of the Wall Street Journal to chastise the Obama administration’s inaction and advocate a “a muscular CIA operation…to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime’s border security.” Gerecht acknowledged that such a policy would mirror the Syrian regime’s own machinations in 2006, when it “encouraged suicide bombers and other lethal cross-border trade against the U.S.in Iraq.”[14] [44]

The parallels withWashington’s approach toSyriain 2006 are both ominous and telling. In effect, the same approach of uncompromising militancy is being advocated by the same individuals, and all indications point to a similarly disastrous outcome.

The Syrian National Council, along with its supporters in Washington, has decided that there can be no compromise with the Assad regime.[15] [45] The Syrian government, as it did the last time it faced total intransigence inWashington, has adopted a similarly uncompromising stance. Faced with the prospect of annihilation, Assad has refused to acknowledge the demands of the protestors, and has met every challenge with overwhelming violence. In so doing, it has confirmed for the armed opposition that the Assad regime has no intention for dialogue, compromise, or reform, and the only remaining option is a zero-sum fight to the death.

Considering the scope and horror of the regime’s massacres in the past two years alone, this conclusion may seem reasonable. But it overlooks—and in many ways undermines—alternative approaches that have been drowned out by the same voices that called forSyria’s destruction less than a decade ago.

Looking Forward

The illegitimacy of the Syrian regime is beyond question, but the manner and process of its ouster are not. The armed opposition appears to enjoy limited popular legitimacy,[16] [46] in part because it has committed its own share of atrocities[15] [47] and has been deeply compromised by its affiliations withTurkey,Saudi Arabia,Qatar, and theUnited States.

Popular movements within the country have offered a number of alternative pathways out of the conflict. Syrians on both sides have put down their weapons and started channels of dialogue to find a way out of their current impasse.[18] [48]Even the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), the grassroots groups most responsible for organizing the uprising, have publicly stated that dialogue with the regime is the only credible way to pull the country out of civil war. A statement issued by the LCC in July emphasized “the importance of ending the military and intelligence solution and immediately transitioning to the political process.”[19] [49]

The Syrian revolution remains one in which the vast majority of participants simply want freedom, dignity, and an escape from the brutality of the Assad regime. However, an overreliance on the military capabilities of an unrepresentative few is unlikely to bring about such an outcome. Instead it has produced an even more intransigent government and an opposition that is ever more dependent on the support of foreign powers, with both sides fully committed to the total annihilation of the other.

As the violence escalates, the window for dialogue narrows, and voices from the diaspora calling for maximalist objectives will only serve to narrow these opportunities further. The same individuals who squandered an opportunity to weaken Assad’s grip on power in 2006 have embarked on a similar course of action five years later, with no real modifications but the same grand expectations.

The result, as before, is likely to be one in which everyone loses.

Notes:

[1] [50] William Kristol et al., Project for the New American Century, September 20, 2001, http://www.newamericancentury.org/Bushletter.htm [51]

[2] [52] Marc A. Thiessen, “The Obama-Bush doctrine,” The Washington Post, May 31, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-obama-bush-doctrine/2012/05/31/gJQAGZmM4U_story.html [53]

[3] [54] PBS Frontline, “Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/iraq/etc/cron.html [55]

[4] [56] http://www.tnr.com/article/few-good-men# [57]

[5] [58] Nqoula Nasif, “Mq TaqaluhWashington wa Dimashq ‘an Muhadathat Burns,” Al-Nahar, May 5, 2003.

[6] [59] Bahjat Sulaiman, “Suriya wa-l-Tahdidat al-Amerkiya,” al-Safir, May 15, 2003.

[7] [60] H.D.S. Greenway, “The Return of the Neocons,”Boston Globe, December 13, 2005.

[8] [61] Bassel F. Salloukh, “Demystifying Syrian Foreign Policy under Bashar al-Asad,” Demystifying Syria, Saqi Books,London, 2009.

[9] [62] Francis Fukuyama, “The Neoconservative Moment,” The National Interest, June 1, 2004, http://nationalinterest.org/article/the-neoconservative-moment-811 [63]

[10] [64] Khaira Abaza et. al., “Foreign Policy Experts Urge President Obama to Take Immediate Action in Syria,” Foreign Policy Institute, February 17, 2012, http://www.foreignpolicyi.org/content/foreign-policy-experts-urge-president-obama-take-immediate-action-in-syria [65]

[11] [66] Ibid.

[12] [67] Charles Krauthammer, “While Syria Burns,” The Washington Post, April 26, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/while-syria-burns/2012/04/26/gIQAQUC0jT_story.html [68]

[13] [69] Charles Krauthammer, “Syria: It’s not just about freedom,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-syria–its-not-just-about-freedom/2012/02/02/gIQAYVhVlQ_story.html [70]

[14] [71] Reuel Marc Gerecht, “To Topple Assad, Unleash the CIA,” The Wall Street Journal July 11, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303567704577518402270940124.html [72]

[15] [73] Agencies, “Syrian opposition ‘will negotiate with government officials once Assad goes,” The Guardian, August 5, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/05/syrian-opposition-negotiate-government-assad [74]

[16] [75] Al Jazeera, “Civilians plead with Syrian fighters,” Al Jazeera.com, October 3, 2012,http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/10/201210215395058626.html [76]

[17] [77] Ian Black, “Syrian rebels accused of war crimes,” The Guardian, September 17, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/17/syrian-rebels-accused-war-crimes [78]

[18] [79] Phyllis Bennis, “Syrian Uprising Morphs Into Regional and Global Wars,” Institute for Policy Studies, August 10, 2012, http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/syrian_upri_sing_morphs_into_regional_and_global_wars [80]

[19] [81] “Joint Statement on Conditions for Talks,” Local Coordination Committees, May 15, 2011, http://www.lccsyria.org/725 [82]

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[4] http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/the_attack_syria_coalition_then_and_now#_edn1
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[14] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/The_Rise_and_Decline_of_the_Neoconservatives
[15] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/fukuyama_francis
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[19] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Cropsey_Seth
[20] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Decter_Midge
[21] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Donnelly_Thomas
[22] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Eberstadt_Nicholas
[23] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Friedberg_Aaron
[24] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Gedmin_Jeffrey
[25] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Gerecht_Reuel_Marc
[26] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Kagan_Robert
[27] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Krauthammer_Charles
[28] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Lehman_John
[29] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/May_Clifford
[30] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Perle_Richard
[31] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Podhoretz_Norman
[32] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Schmitt_Gary
[33] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/opinion/5-reasons-to-intervene-in-syria-now.html?smid=pl-share
[34] http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/boot_max
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[74] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/05/syrian-opposition-negotiate-government-assad
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