Chris Hayes: Bring on the upper-middle-class revolution!

By David Daley, Salon.com, Jun 25, 2013

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this …the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats…How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

 

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/chris_hayes_bring_on_the_upper_middle_cla

How Inbred Elites Are Tearing America Apart

Salon [1] / By David Daley [2] June 26, 2013

Excerpt

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” … is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those…As Hayes writes: “Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability… we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”...we can no longer assume basic competence from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence…That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia…

Full text

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” [3] (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicianswe confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this shows the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats. But the other thing is the point you’re making, the place where there’s this overlap, and that has to do with the base idea, which is this kind of nihilistic distrust of the experts in any field — when Jack Welch wonders about the Labor Department’s jobs report. You would have this shocking moment where it’s like, “You’re Jack Welch. You had to manage this multibillion-dollar enterprise and now you’re in Alex Jones land …”

It’s hard to pull people out of that quicksand, I think. I’m not sure what the answer is for that. But there’s a market for it – there’s a strong market for that. Glenn Beck has never made more money.

It creates a real problem, especially as you talk in this book about an Occupy/ Tea Party coalition, and also about a radicalized upper middle class. If the divisions are being manufactured along these kinds of partisan lines, it gets harder and harder to bring people together along some kind of economic or class lines.

Yeah, that’s always true. It’s generally hard to build political coalitions; we have the ones we have for all sorts of reasons that actually make a fair amount of sense. But it also means that there’s, like, this fundamental disconnect in how that manifests itself in producing this kind of elite accountability writ large that you’d want to have.

How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

In this model you get a show at 8 p.m. every night. Are you enjoying it as much as the weekend show?

Yes. It’s extremely challenging.

How is it different?

In every way. It’s a totally different game. The biggest difference is the competition for those eyeballs is just intense. I think about, there’s someone out there who’s worked all day, helped their kid with their homework, grabbed a beer, sat down at the TV, and now they’re going to watch me. And they could watch “The Voice,” and I would not begrudge them wanting to do that! I would completely understand. So you have to be thinking in terms of what emotional effect are you producing in the viewer. What’s that thing you’re giving them that’s going to make that choice? In Saturday, Sunday morning, there wasn’t that same choice. There’s not a lot of other stuff on, people are in a different mind-set, it’s early in the morning and it’s kind of uncluttered. It’s more laid-back. You put the show on and you make coffee and you walk around the house and you – 8 p.m. is a whole other set of constraints.

You have to think about ratings more? MSNBC has had its challenges there lately.

Yeah, ratings are the measurement of what you have to think about, which is producing entertaining television. The ratings – I try not to think about the numbers, because that data can be very overwhelming or misleading. The thing I do think about is “are we producing a good show?” And the word “show” is key. You have to be a showman. It is a show. You need to put on a show every night. Which means, like, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, let me entertain you. And I think the thing that I found rewarding, that I first found really difficult, is learning how to do that better, learning how to embody that naturally. Learning how to be myself fundamentally and authentically while still entertaining. And that’s a really hard challenge. We did food stamps last night. It’s like, “How do you make food stamps entertaining?” and no one’s figured this out better than Rachel Maddow. She is just a savant in this respect, but I have to find my own route to that place, that is true to what I do best.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/media/how-inbred-elites-are-tearing-america-apart

Links:
[1] http://www.salon.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/david-daley
[3] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307720462/?tag=saloncom08-20
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/msnbc
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/chris-hayes-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rachel-maddow
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/larry-summers-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/turkey-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/brazil-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The ‘Hubris’ of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Ruling

By Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, Jun 25 2013

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.)  But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.  

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality.  An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes.  The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

Each of the first three times the act was reauthorized, Congress changed slightly the Section Four formula for determining “covered jurisdictions.” It also included new procedures to allow jurisdictions to get out of preclearance by proving they had cleaned up their act. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, kept the “coverage formula” the same, but adjusted the law carefully to cover new forms of racial discrimination not apparent in 1965.

After that change, the vote to approve was almost unanimous in a Republican-led House and entirely unanimous in a Republican-led Senate, and the bill was signed into law with great flourish by a Republican President, who hailed it, correctly, as “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.” It was, by any sane model of self-government, an American success story, of a flexible, successful law, adjusted for changing conditions, achieving a significant national goal.

On Tuesday, at the Court, this entire successful 45-year bipartisan effort was brushed aside as farce. The factual record amassed in 2006 was extensive, the majority concedes; but it is also irrelevant. “Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions … we are not ignoring the record; we are simply recognizing that it played no role in shaping the statutory formula before us today.”

The evidence for this startling assertion was … well, there was no real “evidence,” if by that you mean proof.  What there was instead was a simple declaration that Congress must not have used the record because it didn’t change the Voting Rights Act enough. The Court could have done a better job, and the Court didn’t think the problem was such a big deal any more after all.

As Andrew points out, in practical terms this result is bad enough.  But beyond the question of voting rights lies this underlying contempt for Congress.  Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan described the emerging attitude brilliantly in her recent essay, “Democracy and Disdain.” We saw it displayed during oral argument in the health-care cases, when, for example, Justice Scalia suggested striking down the whole law if any part of it was unconstitutional, on the grounds that Congress couldn’t be trusted to fix it to the Court’s satisfaction. It has been apparent in the campaign-finance cases, which dismiss the judgments of legislators on the role of money in politics on the grounds that, in essence, they must be rigging the system to get themselves re-elected. It also glimmers as the substrate of decisions restricting anti-discrimination laws, reading broad language more and more narrowly on the cynical grounds that Congress could not have meant what the statutes seem to say.

The idea that the Court should approach congressional statutes with a presumption of contempt has few grounds in the Constitution or history generally; it has even fewer in the specific area of voting rights.  The preclearance requirement, the majority says, “imposes substantial federalism costs’ and ‘differentiates between the States, despite our historical tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty.’”  In addition, it suggests that preclearance violates the Tenth Amendment’s rule that “all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government are reserved to the States or citizens.” But it makes no attempt to apply these quasi-constitutional platitudes to the text of the provisions at hand. That’s because they don’t apply. The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.  

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-hubris-of-the-supreme-courts-voting-rights-ruling/277211/

Copyright © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

 

Tea Party Movement Returns Christian Right to Its Racist Past

By Michelle Goldberg, The American Prospect, October 2, 2009

For years, the religious right tried to lose its racist image, reverting to homophobia as its hatred of choice. As it joins the Tea Party fray, it may once again have to own both.

Now that popular conservatism has given itself over so avidly to racial resentment, it’s curious to remember how hard the right once tried to scrub itself of the lingering taint of prejudice. Indeed, for a decade and a half the Christian right — until recently the most powerful and visible grassroots conservative movement — struggled mightily to escape its own bigoted history. In his 1996 book Active Faith, Ralph Reed acknowledged that Christian conservatives had been on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. “The white evangelical church carries a shameful legacy of racism and the historical baggage of indifference to the most central struggle for social justice in this century, a legacy that is only now being wiped clean by the sanctifying work of repentance and racial reconciliation,” wrote Reed.

“Racial reconciliation” became a kind of buzz phrase. The idea animated Promise Keepers meetings. “Racism is an insidious monster,” Bill McCartney, the group’s founder, said at a 39,000-man Atlanta rally. “You can’t say you love God and not love your brother.” The Traditional Values Coalition distributed a video called “Gay Rights, Special Rights” to black churches; it criticized the gay rights movement for co-opting the noble legacy of the civil rights struggle.

Throughout the Bush years, homophobia and professions of anti-racism were twinned in a weird way, as if the latter proved that the right wasn’t simply still skulking around history’s dark side. At a deeply surreal 2006 event at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, an African American church in downtown Philadelphia, leaders of the religious right invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks on behalf of gay marriage bans and Bush’s judicial nominees. At the end of the evening, several dozen clergymen, black and white, joined hands in prayer at the front of the room. “Black Americans, white Americans,” said a beaming Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council. “Christians, standing together.” The whole premise of compassionate conservatism — which shoveled taxpayer money towards administration-friendly churches like Greater Exodus Baptist — was that the right cared as deeply as the left about issues like inner city poverty.

What a difference an election makes. Even if you believed that compassionate conservatism was always a bit of a con, it’s amazing to see how quickly it has vanished, and how fast an older style of reaction, one more explicitly rooted in racial grievance, has reasserted itself.

Today’s grassroots right is by all appearances as socially conservative as ever, but its tone and its rhetoric are profoundly different than they were even a year ago. For the last 15 years, the right-wing populism has been substantially electrified by sexual anxiety. Now it’s charged with racial anxiety. By all accounts, there were more confederate flags than crosses at last weekend’s anti-Obama rally in Washington, DC. Glenn Beck has become a far more influential figure on the right than, say, James Dobson, and he’s much more interested in race than in sexual deviancy. For the first time in at least a decade, middle class whites have been galvanized by the fear that their taxes are benefiting lazy, shiftless others. The messianic, imperialistic, hubristic side of the right has gone into retreat, and a cramped, mean and paranoid style has come to the fore.

To some extent, a newfound suspicion of government was probably inevitable as soon as Democrats took power. At the same time, with the implosion of the Christian right’s leadership and the last year’s cornucopia of GOP sex scandals, the party needed to take a break from incessant moralizing, and required a new ideology to take the place of family values cant. The belief system analysts sometimes call “producerism” served nicely. Producerism sees society as divided between productive workers — laborers, small businessmen and the like — and the parasites who live off them. Those parasites exist at both the top and the bottom of the social hierarchy — they are both financiers and welfare bums — and their larceny is enabled by the government they control.

Producerism has often been a trope of right-wing movements, especially during times of economic distress, when many people sense they’re getting screwed. Its racist (and often anti-Semitic) potential is obvious, so it gels well with the climate of Dixiecrat racial angst occasioned by the election of our first black president. The result is the return of the repressed.

It’s not, after all, as if the Christian right was something completely removed from the old racist right — rather, as Reed acknowledged all those years ago, they were initially deeply intertwined. The Columbia historian Randall Balmer has shown that Christian conservatives were not, contrary to their own mythology, initially mobilized by their outrage at Roe vs. Wade. Rather, what spurred them into action was the IRS’s attempt to revoke the tax-exempt status of whites only Christian schools, schools that had been created specifically to evade desegregation.

The Christian right was always rooted in an older style of reactionary politics. Before he became a political organizer himself, Falwell — who ran one of those Christian segregation academies — attacked Martin Luther King Jr. for his political activism. (“Preachers are not called to be politicians, but to be soul winners,” he said.) Before Tony Perkins was basking in homophobic interracial amity, he paid Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. In 2004, David Barton, then the vice president of the Texas GOP, spoke at an event featuring white preachers and ministry workers dropping to their knees before their black brethren to plead for forgiveness. Thirteen years earlier, Barton had twice been a featured speaker at meetings of the Christian Identity movement, which preaches that blacks are sub-human “mud people.” One could go on and on.

As racism grew politically unacceptable, the Christian right was able to channel resentment over the decline of white male privilege into a Kulterkampf directed at more acceptable enemies, like gays and lesbians. The movement borrowed heavily from Catholic theology and convinced itself that it was in a righteous struggle against a culture of death, not a culture of diversity. Now the mask is off. One wonders if fifteen years from now, they’ll bother apologizing all over again.

Michelle Goldberg is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect. She is also the author of Kingdom Coming and The Means of Reproduction.

 

Justice Ginsburg Slams Supreme Court’s ‘Hubris’ In Fiery Dissent On Voting Rights Act

by Sahil Kapur TPMDC, June 25, 2013

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the fierce dissent against the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Tuesday to invalidate a key section of the Voting Rights Act, accusing the conservative justices of displaying “hubris” and a lack of sound reasoning.

“[T]he Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making,” wrote the leader of the court’s liberal wing. “Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices, Ginsburg scolded the conservative majority and its rationale for throwing out Section 4 of the law — which contains the formula Congress has used to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today,” she wrote. “The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.”

Congress has renewed the Voting Rights Act four times — most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, argued that “[o]ur country has changed” particularly in the mostly southern jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act.

“In my judg­ment,” Ginsburg wrote, “the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.”

She lambasted the majority for “disturbing lapses” in its reasoning, citing as one example its failure to explain why the plaintiff in the case, Shelby County of Alabama, should be freed from preclearance despite its history of voter discrimination.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg wrote.

The Clinton-appointed justice said there was a “sad irony” to the Supreme Court throwing out a piece of the law it admits has been effective at reducing discrimination.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” she wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed. … With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”

http://tpmdc.talkingpoint

Mankind: Death by Corporation

Dr Brian Moench, 26 June 2013  By  Truthout | Op-Ed

The word “corporation,” derived from the Latin corporare, means to physically embody. In his History of the Corporation, Bruce Brown notes how in the first thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, “the world’s most powerful corporations were all trying to embody the Christian God.” In 1534, Saint Thomas More spoke of Jesus Christ as the ultimate corporation. “He [Jesus] doth . . . incorporate all christen folke and hys owne bodye together in one corporacyon mistical.”

Needless to say, in the 21st century, corporations as creations of civilization make no pretense of embodying the Christian God. In fact, today, corporations come much closer to embodying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than Jesus Christ. Ironically, created by and managed by humans, corporations have become almost robotic monsters, perpetrating, even feeding off human misery, threatening every aspect of human life – the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat – and even the future of mankind itself. What have these corporate Frankenstein monsters done for us lately?

At least 1,127 people have died in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the deadliest such accident in world history. As of this writing, the largest American clothing corporations, Gap, Walmart and Target, who are end users of these death-trap factories, are still unwilling to commit to any safety improvements. Fifteen people were killed and over 200 injured in West, Texas, from an explosion at a fertilizer plant. Despite the deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary school, no meaningful legislation to subdue ongoing gun slaughter in the United States will get passed.

All of these recent tragic headlines have a common denominator. Corporate profits were, and are, allowed primacy over all other considerations. Even Wayne LaPierre’s foaming-at-the-mouth speech about freedom, liberty and second amendment rights is a smokescreen for ginning up profits for gun manufacturers, because American gun owners are on a steady, 30-year decline. The death certificate of all these victims – at Dhaka, West and Sandy Hook – should read, “Death by corporation.”

But rummaging over the current and historical larger-scale threats to entire societies, countries and mankind in general, we see a grotesque, recurrent theme – corporations willing to kill, maim and destroy even their own creators in the name of profit.

The science on the broad consequences of cigarette smoking was well established in Nazi Germany by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, tobacco corporations successfully fought any substantive regulation for the next three decades, while tens of millions of people died early deaths in the name of tobacco profits. Recall the testimony in 1994 from the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco corporations before Congress unanimously declaring that nicotine is not addictive, knowing full well that killing people was part of making them rich. Marketing cigarette addiction to children was an integral part of the strategy.

But the tobacco industry was no worse than the lead industry for the first 70 years of the 20th century.  Awareness of lead’s serious health consequences – including madness and death – dates back to the Romans, the first to use it extensively. Symptoms of “plumbism,” or lead poisoning, were already apparent as early as the first century BCE. Mental incompetence from lead exposure came to be synonymous with the Roman elite, manifest by the shockingly imbecilic emperors Caligula, Nero and Commodus.

Fast forward to 1980. In paint, gasoline and a myriad of other products, Americans were using 10 times more lead per capita than the Romans according to Jerome O. Nriagu, the world’s leading authority on lead poisoning in antiquity. The average American lost about 6 IQ points from leaded gasoline and paint. Much worse for the nation as a whole, that loss of IQ also decreased the percentage of the population qualifying as “intellectually gifted” by about 40 percent and increased the population of “mentally challenged” by a similar amount. Numerous studies also showed a tight correlation between blood lead levels and aggressive, anti-social and criminal behavior

For over 50 years, the Ethyl Corp., General Motors, Standard Oil, Du Pont and the American Petroleum Institute obscured, obstructed and lied about the mounting evidence of a public health catastrophe from tetraethyl lead, aggressively marketing it worldwide and fighting every attempt to regulate or curtail its use. Ethyl Corp. even increased its overseas business 10-fold between 1964 and 1981 while its product came under growing harsh scrutiny in the United States.  C.M. Shy, of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, in a paper published by the World Health Statistics Quarterly, declared leaded gasoline is “The Mistake of the 20th Century.”

A report commissioned by the United Nations calculated the yearly global cost of lead in gasoline had reached 1.1 million deaths, 322 million lost IQ points, 60 million crimes committed and an economic loss of 4 percent of global GDP, or $2.4 trillion. Lead didn’t even benefit engine performance. Lead, like other heavy metals, does not degrade, is not combustible and is never destroyed. The world was permanently blanketed with this deadly metal purely for corporate profit.

By 1898, asbestos was declared in Great Britain to be an extremely hazardous dust. By the 1920s, lawsuits began to be filed against the asbestos industry. The Johns-Manville Corporation then successfully lobbied for national legislation – shunting asbestos workers’ claims to workers’ compensation panels and away from juries. With the industry effectively shielded from costly plaintiff lawsuits, they proceeded to fund medical studies, whose published results were falsified, exonerating asbestos as a cause of cancer. When independent studies revealed widespread disease from asbestos, internal corporation memos callously mocked their workers, stating, “if you have enjoyed a good life for working with asbestos products, why not die from it?”

Publicly, asbestos companies claimed there was no evidence people could become sick and die from asbestos exposure. Internally however, asbestos executives admitted that the disease process begins as soon as asbestos is inhaled, is progressive and irreversible, and is very advanced by the time it is diagnosed. Eventually, Johns-Manville filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. David Oster, the attorney in charge of the Manville trust, said the documents show that corporations knew the dangers of asbestos back in 1934 and that there was a corporate conspiracy to prevent workers from discovering that their exposure to asbestos could kill them. “Manville officers, directors and employees held secret information, that had it been revealed would have prevented the deaths of thousands of people.”

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and over 107,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases. Corporations in countries like Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada still mine and sell massive quantities of the deadly mineral. Approximately 600 asbestos companies producing 60,000 asbestos-laden products operated worldwide in 2011. None of them can claim ignorance about their deadly product. None of the people who run these corporations can claim they don’t realize that they make their living serving up a slow, miserable death for others.

Enter Monsanto. Forbes Magazine gave Monsanto its “Company of the Year Award” in 2009. Perhaps it is no surprise that readers of Natural News overwhelming awarded Monsanto a slightly different award, “World’s Most Evil Corporation.” What has Monsanto done to achieve this lofty perch? None other than seek to monopolize the world’s food supply with expensive genetically modified (GM) seeds that have to be purchased each year and require expensive and toxic pesticides, which Monsanto also happens to produce. It doesn’t take the geniuses at Forbes magazine to figure out that if you own the rights to all the food grown everywhere, you literally rule the world.

In pursuing this business model, Monsanto has managed to do more damage to the world’s food supply and public health than any other single entity. About 90 percent of all US-grown corn, soybeans, canola, and sugar beets are genetically modified versions, which means that virtually all processed food items contain at least one or more genetically modified ingredients. You simply cannot avoid Monsanto’s genetically modified food, no matter how hard you may try.

Exactly none of the supposed benefits of GM crops – increased yields, more food production, controlled pests and weeds, reductions in chemical use in agriculture or drought-tolerant seeds – have actually materialized. The Global Citizen’s report on the State of GMOs points out that, in fact, the opposite has occurred. GMOs have resulted in greater pesticide use and the predictable emergence of herbicide resistant super weeds. In fact, 130 types of weeds in 40 states are now herbicide-resistant, increasing costs, cutting yields and leading to the use of more powerful and increasingly toxic chemical herbicides.

Numerous studies with animals and humans call into serious question the safety of GMOs – even disregarding the added pesticide exposure. In particular, Monsanto’s Bt toxin, the genes of a toxic bacteria inserted into the seed DNA of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, squash and cotton, kills insects by splitting open their stomachs when they bite on the plant. Monsanto claimed that Bt toxin is broken down in the human digestive system, so “don’t worry, be happy.” A new study shows that claim to be Monsanto propaganda. When humans eat Bt toxin, it transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines, which continue to function like mini-pesticide factories. Blood samples from 93 percent of pregnant mothers and 80 percent of fetuses show the presence of active Bt toxin.

Studies in humans are limited, something much to Monsanto’s liking. But numerous animal studies have linked Bt toxin and GMOs to allergic reactions, infertility, immune dysregulation, gastrointestinal and kidney disease, and accelerated aging (1).   There is circumstantial evidence in animals and humans that GMOs may be contributing to the epidemic of autism. Calling for a moratorium on GM foods, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) in 2009, citing several animal studies, concluded, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects,” adding, “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”  The consensus among scientists at the FDA was that GMOs are dangerous, but key Monsanto executives, appointed to federal agencies under multiple administrations, including Obama’s, squashed that information. For example, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former vice president, as food safety czar at the FDA.  That’s like having a tobacco executive crafting regulations on cigarettes.

Virtually every branch of the US government, including the Supreme Court and the World Bank, has acted as Monsanto’s handmaiden, often times using taxpayer money to do so. Monsanto’s ruthless business practices, high seed prices and vicious legal attacks have played a key role in the disappearance of small and medium-size farms, bankrupting small farmers and driving world agriculture further toward huge monocultures and complete control by a handful of agribusinesses and food-processing corporations. There is a growing epidemic among small farmers in many countries, especially India, where in the past 16 years, well over 250,000 have committed suicide, most of them small cotton farmers where Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cotton seed and makes its living off of suing farmers trapped in debt.

In part two of “Death by Corporation,” we’ll talk about the fossil fuel corporations, the nuclear industry, financial, and pharmaceutical corporations and the TransPacific Trade Partnership that is poised to let all of them rule the world like a gang of Frankensteins.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17178-mankind-death-by-corporation

The Death of Honesty

defining ideas

by William Damon (Senior Fellow and member of the Virtues of a Free Society Task Force), Hoover.org, January 12, 2012 Editor’s note: The essay below is from the online volume Endangered Virtues, a publication of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on the Virtues of a Free Society.

Excerpt

The failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy…Honesty is not a wholly detached moral virtue demanding strict allegiance at all times. Compassion, diplomacy, and life-threatening circumstances sometimes require a departure from the entire unadulterated truth. Some vocations seem to demand occasional deception for success or survival.….A basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings…No civilization can tolerate a fixed expectation of dishonest communications without falling apart from a breakdown in mutual trust…. Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. As I have noted, people have departed from the truth for one reason or another all throughout human history. The problem now is that we seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible. A basic intent to be truthful is required for all sustained civilized dealings…In former days, there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-twentieth century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment, or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it. As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy.

Full text

For a number of reasons, people do not always stick to the truth when they speak. Some of the reasons are justifiable—for example, humane considerations such as tact and the avoidance of greater harm. Reassuring an ungainly teenager that he or she looks great may be a kind embroidery of the truth. In a more consequential instance, misinforming storm troopers about the whereabouts of a hidden family during the Nazi occupation of Europe was an honorable and courageous deception.

Honesty is not a wholly detached moral virtue demanding strict allegiance at all times. Compassion, diplomacy, and life-threatening circumstances sometimes require a departure from the entire unadulterated truth. Some vocations seem to demand occasional deception for success or survival. Politicians, for example, are especially hard-pressed to tell the truth consistently. Perhaps this is because, as George Orwell once observed, the very function of political speech is to hide, soften, or misrepresent difficult truths. Orwell was clearly skeptical about any expectation to the contrary. In “Politics and the English Language,” he put it this way: “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Although in this case Orwell himself may have been guilty of overstatement for purposes of rhetorical effect, his claim cannot be totally dismissed. It would be naïve (or cynical) for anyone in today’s world to act shocked whenever a politician tries to hide the real truth from the public. For ordinary citizens, keeping up with the daily news means a constant process of speculating about what the politicians really meant by what they said and what they actually believe. It certainly does not mean taking what any of them say at face value.

Yet to recognize that honesty is not an absolute standard demanded for every life circumstance—and that we can expect a certain amount of deceit from even our respected public figures—is not to say that the virtue of honesty can be disregarded with impunity. A basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings.

Teaching honesty is no longer a priority in our schools.

No civilization can tolerate a fixed expectation of dishonest communications without falling apart from a breakdown in mutual trust. All human relations rely upon confidence that those in the relations will, as a rule, tell the truth. Honesty builds and solidifies a relationship with trust; and too many breaches in honesty can corrode relations beyond repair. Friendships, family, work, and civic relations all suffer whenever dishonesty comes to light. The main reason that no one wants to be known as a liar is that people shun liars because they can’t be trusted.

Honesty’s vital role in human society has been observed and celebrated for all of recorded history. The Romans considered the goddess Veritas to be the “mother of virtue”; Confucius considered honesty to be the essential source of love, communication, and fairness between people; and of course, the Bible’s Old Testament prohibited bearing false witness. It is also noteworthy that the two most universally heralded U. S. presidents (George Washington, who “could not tell a lie,” and Abraham Lincoln, who was known as “Honest Abe”) were widely acclaimed for their trustworthiness.

In a similar vein, religious leader Gordon Hinckley has written that, “where there is honesty, other virtues will follow”—indicating, as did the Romans, the pivotal role of truthfulness in all moral behavior and development. Hinckley’s comment was made in the context of his alarm-sounding book on “neglected virtues,” and it points to the problematic status of honesty in our society today. Although truthfulness is essential for good human relationships and personal integrity, it is often abandoned in pursuit of other life priorities.

Indeed, there may be a perception in many key areas of contemporary life—law, business, politics, among others—that expecting honesty on a regular basis is a naïve and foolish attitude, a “loser’s” way of operating. Such a perception is practically a mandate for personal dishonesty and a concession to interpersonal distrust. When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in a strictly instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.

Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. As I have noted, people have departed from the truth for one reason or another all throughout human history. The problem now is that we seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible.

A basic intent to be truthful is required for all sustained civilized dealings.

What are the signs of this in contemporary society? In professional and business circles, a now-familiar complaint is, “It used to be your word was good, but those days are gone.” In print, broadcast, and online news coverage, journalism has lost credibility with much of the public for its perceived biases in representing the facts. In civic affairs, political discourse is no longer considered to be a source of genuine information. Rather, it is assumed that leaders make statements merely to posture for effect, and not to engage in discussion or debate. In such an environment, facts may be manipulated or made up in service of a predetermined interest, not presented accurately and then examined in good faith. This is troubling, because civic leaders set the tone for communications throughout the public sphere.

Most troubling of all is that honesty is no longer a priority in many of the settings where young people are educated. The future of every society depends upon the character development of its young. It is in the early years of life—the first two decades especially—when basic virtues that shape character are acquired. Although people can learn, grow, and reform themselves at any age, this kind of learning becomes increasingly difficult as habits solidify over time. Honesty is a prime example of a virtue that becomes habitual over the years if practiced consistently—and the same can be said about dishonesty.

Honesty is the character virtue most closely linked to every school’s academic mission. In matters of “academic integrity,” which generally revolve around cheating, schools have a primary responsibility to convey to students the importance of honesty as a practical and ethical virtue. Unfortunately, many of our schools today are failing this responsibility.

Of all the breeches that can tear deeply into the moral fabric of a school, cheating is among the most damaging, because it throws in doubt the school’s allegiance to truth and fairness. Cheating in school is unethical for at least four reasons: 1) it gives students who cheat an unfair advantage over those who do not cheat; 2) it is an act of dishonesty in a setting dedicated to a quest for truthful knowledge, 3) it is a violation of trust between student and teacher; and 4) it disrespects the code of conduct and the social order of the school.  As such, one would expect that cheating would provide educators with an ideal platform for imparting the key moral standards of honesty, integrity, trust, and fairness.

Incredibly, some teachers have actually encouraged students to cheat.

For educators looking for opportunities to help students learn from their mistakes, there is plenty of material to work with: research has shown that almost three-quarters of American college students (that is, students who have made it through high school) admit to having cheated at least once in their pre-college academic work. Donald McCabe, the most prominent contemporary researcher on school cheating, has concluded that “Cheating is prevalent, and…some forms of cheating have increased dramatically in the last 30 years.”

Yet many teachers, in order to avoid legal action and other contention, look the other way if their students copy test answers or hand in plagiarized papers. Some teachers excuse students because they believe that “sharing” schoolwork is motivated by loyalty to friends. Some teachers sympathize with student cheaters because they consider the tests that students take to be flawed, unfair, or too difficult. Such sympathy can be taken to extremes, as in the case of one teacher, observed by an educational writer, who held that “it was the teacher who was immoral for having given the students such a burdensome assignment…” when a group of students was caught cheating.

Incredibly, some teachers actually have encouraged students to cheat; and some have even cheated themselves when reporting student test scores. In July 2011, a widely-reported cheating scandal erupted in school systems in and around Atlanta, Georgia. State investigators found a pattern of “organized and systemic misconduct” dating back for over ten years. One-hundred-and-seventy-eight teachers, and the principals of half of the system’s schools, aided and abetted students who were cheating on their tests. Top administrators ignored news reports of this cheating: a New York Times story described “a culture of fear and intimidation that prevented many teachers from speaking out.”

Nor was this an isolated incident. In a feature on school testing, CBS News reported the following: “New York education officials found 21 proven cases of teacher cheating. Teachers have read off answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions then drilled those topics in class before the test.”

With such prominent and recent instances of cheating among students and teachers today, one would expect a concerted effort to articulate and promote the value of honesty in our schools. Yet school programs regarding academic integrity consist of little more than a patchwork of vaguely-stated prohibitions and half-hearted responses. Our schools vacillate between routine neglect and a circle-the wagons reaction if the problem boils over into a public media scandal. There is little consistency, coherence, or transparency in many school policies.

It is practically impossible to find a school that treats academic integrity as a moral issue by employing revealed incidents of cheating to communicate to its student body values such as honesty, respect for rules, and trust. In my own observations, I have noticed a palpable lack of interest among teachers and staff in discussing the moral significance of cheating with students. The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling specifically and child-rearing in general.

In former days, there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-twentieth century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment, or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it. As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy.


William Damon is a professor of education at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. For the past twenty-five years, Damon has written on character development at all stages of life. Damon’s recent books include Failing Liberty 101 (Hoover Press, 2011); The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find their Calling in Life (2008); and The Moral Advantage: How to Succeed in Business by Doing the Right Thing (2004). Damon was founding editor of New Direction for Child and Adolescent Development and is editor in chief of The Handbook of Child Psychology (1998 and 2006 editions). He is an elected member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association.

 

http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/104721

The Greatest Story Never Told

by Michael Tomasky, democracyjournal.org,  Issue #23, Winter 2012

Excerpt

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes…The Bush era was the experience Americans had had with a conservative government that failed them…Bush had made things worse by nearly every measure, and this was before the economic meltdown. Maybe Americans would now be open to a different approach…Republicans let government fail while they are in power…by not executing the missions of the agencies…Oddly, no one on the liberal side really defends government much. In the progressive solar system there are groups devoted to every specific issue and cause you can name, but there is no group I’m aware of that is devoted to the simple premise of standing up in public and saying: Government does this, and it’s good….Our current political dynamic will not change until someone puts forth a thorough, well conceived and articulated (and financed) long-term plan to defend the functions of government in principle and to show the American people that government in practice does in fact do many things well….

Full text

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes.

Thinking about the Republican presidential primary process now about to unfold inevitably carries me back to four years ago. How different it all felt! Whether one supported Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or the pre-scandal John Edwards, one could feel confident and enthusiastic. George W. Bush was functionally finished, and more than that, conservatism itself seemed on life support in a way it had never been since the rise of the modern conservative movement. I remember cleaarly my thinking at the time: The Bush era was the experience Americans had had with a conservative government that failed them. There’d been only one previous modern conservative administration, Ronald Reagan’s, and it was, to the average American, a relative success. But Bush had made things worse by nearly every measure, and this was before the economic meltdown. Maybe Americans would now be open to a different approach.

I don’t need to rehearse the history between then and now. We all know it, and most of it is too depressing anyway. A few days before writing these words, I happened to be in Chicago, strolling through Grant Park, thinking back to Barack Obama’s big Election Night victory rally there in 2008, when so many things seemed possible. And it is true that much has been accomplished. But the overwhelming feeling has to do with what has not been accomplished, and what we now know has almost no chance of being accomplished, even if Barack Obama wins re-election (and remembering that there’s a decent chance the Republicans might take control of the Senate). The tax code won’t be made more progressive. Inequality will continue to worsen. Nothing close to the needed amount of money will be invested in infrastructure or innovation. Climate change will not be addressed. There will be no major reforms of the political system. And so on. On top of that, if recent history is a guide, the Republicans (assuming they retain control of at least one house of Congress and thus have subpoena power) in all likelihood will gin up some phony scandal and bay for impeachment, or find other ways to keep throwing sand in Washington’s gears.

What a different perspective events have imposed on us: Four years ago, we really could be hopeful about change. In 2012, the election will simply be about trying to tread water and making sure we don’t drown. We can bemoan this (and I do). But we can also study it, think about it, try to draw lessons from it. The obvious lesson is that one election can’t change the country in a more progressive direction. Well then; what can?

It is undeniably the case that all of our ideological battles in this country eventually come down to government. Its size and scope and legitimacy—that is to say, the questions of political philosophy—and then, even if one acknowledges some degree of legitimacy for it, the practical question of whether it can do anything right. Conservatives and Republicans have been, as we know, making mendacious but awfully effective arguments on both fronts for three decades. And it gets even worse: In a cruel and surreal and self-perpetuating farce, Republicans let government fail while they are in power (FEMA in New Orleans, financial regulators and the crash) by not executing the missions of the agencies in question, and then, after the failure, turning around and chortling: “See? Government can’t prevent these things!”

Oddly, no one on the liberal side really defends government much. In the progressive solar system there are groups devoted to every specific issue and cause you can name, but there is no group I’m aware of that is devoted to the simple premise of standing up in public and saying: Government does this, and it’s good. Democratic politicians don’t do it either. Obama has done it from time to time, but not on any sort of consistent basis. He did it well back in April in a speech at George Washington University, the speech more famous for his broadsides against Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. That speech, I thought at the time, laid down some themes he might build on. (Remember his defense of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? “We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments.”) But he didn’t.

Our current political dynamic will not change until someone puts forth a thorough, well conceived and articulated (and financed) long-term plan to defend the functions of government in principle and to show the American people that government in practice does in fact do many things well. This effort could take the form of a nonprofit organization that conducts massive—and hip and engaging and most of all non-boring—public-education campaigns to tell people that despite everything they have been led to believe, government actually gets some stuff done. It has cleaned thousands of rivers and lakes, and improved air quality everywhere. It has invested in and helped make possible thousands of projects in American cities and towns that, to the average person, look like private developments—hotels, convention centers, civic centers, parks. It has helped thousands of small businesses find markets for their goods. Its scientists and inspectors and extension agents—and yes, its regulators!—have limited or prevented public-health calamities, and they spend every day working on making the future safer. No one knows these people exist—and they should.

The only contacts most people have with the government are unpleasant. Paying taxes. Waiting in line at the DMV or post office. Cursing and shaking one’s fist when encountering a pothole. Calling a bureaucracy when a problem arises or a loved one dies. (Interestingly, similar commercial contacts—trying to get cable TV installed, say—are no walks in the park, but these don’t color our impression of the entire private sector.) No one—not even the government itself!—attempts to initiate positive contacts. And so, government does things, and people don’t know. It never occurs to your average Joe that the river he couldn’t fish in 20 years ago but now can didn’t just miraculously clean itself. And no one in American political life is bothering to point it out to him. You and I may take for granted that the EPA did that job, but how many people really stop and think about that? They have to be told.

I know this sounds naïve. Or hopeless: Anti-government feeling is so deeply ingrained that you can never change Americans’ minds about it. I’m not sure that’s true. Information can change people’s minds. It takes time. But it’s possible. And remember, we don’t have to change everyone’s minds. Just enough to tip the scales in a divided country back in favor of a more pro-government agenda.

Every election season, liberals sit around and say to one another: Why are things the way they are? Why is the progressive candidate bragging about cutting taxes and reducing the size of the federal budget, as Obama will inevitably do? There are many answers to these questions, but the main one is this: Neither Obama nor any politician can stand before the American people and make a case for investing and spending as long as most Americans think the mechanism of that investing and spending is incompetent or evil or both (a New York Times poll from late October found that only 10 percent of respondents trusted government to do the right thing always or most of the time, the lowest figure since that question was asked starting in the mid-1970s). Until those basic perceptions are changed, the broad left is going to be seen by a majority of the public as little better than a drunkard on a street corner begging for change. Why should we give you more money if you’re just going to waste it? Many elected Democrats think the answer to that question is to cut the budget first: Once we’ve shown voters that we’re capable of tightening the belt where necessary, they’ll be more willing to let us use the government as an instrument of change. That may be part of it. But there remains the central question: Is the money going to good use? In a thousand ways, it is. But it’s a story no one is telling. Democrats are afraid to, and the universe of progressive funders and strategists, for whatever reason, hasn’t really thought to.

Some presidential elections will be rearguard actions, like this one. Others might be more like 2008, when the GOP had screwed up the country and people were willing to give the other side a chance. But it should now be manifestly clear that while the voters were rejecting conservative governance, they weren’t necessarily embracing a progressive agenda. And they won’t until the entity that is at the heart of that agenda—government—has a better reputation. The direction of the country won’t change until it does.

http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/the-greatest-story-never-told.php?page=all

6 Facts About Hunger That Demonstrate the Shameful Excesses of American Capitalism

AlterNet [1] / By Paul Buchheit,  June 23, 2013

Of all the miseries placed on human beings in their everyday lives, the lack of food may be the most inexcusable. Even in a world controlled by unbending attitudes of self-reliance and individual responsibility, the reality of children and seniors and disabled citizens going hungry is a stain on humanity, a shameful testament to the capitalist goal of profit without conscience.

The facts presented here all touch on the lives of human beings, in the U.S. and beyond, who lack food or the means to pay for it.

1. Congress wants to cut a food program that feeds low-income children.

According to the Department of Agriculture [3], 48% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in 2011 were children. Either unaware or indifferent to this, Congress is considering a new farm bill [4] that would cut food assistance by $2 billion a year while boosting the farm subsidies of big agriculture.

2. Some individuals make enough in two seconds to pay a SNAP recipient’s food bill for an entire year.

Americans [5] Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, two Kochs, and four Waltons made an average of $6 billion each from their stocks and other investments in 2012. A $6 billion per year person makes enough in two seconds (based on a 40-hour work-week) to pay a year’s worth of benefits to the average SNAP [6] recipient. Just 20 [5] Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire SNAP budget [7] for 47 million people.

Capitalism encourages an individual to make as much money as possible, even without producing anything. Most Americans accept that. But questions should be raised about a system that allows the yearlong needs of a hungry person to flash by in two seconds of an investor’s life.

3. McDonald’s profits are double the total wages of all its food servers.

McDonald’s has 440,000 [8] employees, most of them food servers making the median [9] hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year. The company’s $8 billion profit, after wages are paid, works out to the same amount: $18,200 per employee.

As noted by MSN Money [10], the company pays its front-line workers minimum wage or very close to it. But instead of passing along part of its profits to employees, McDonald’s just announced plans for increased dividends and share repurchases.

4. Just 10 individuals made as much as all the fast-food counter workers in the U.S.

The 10 richest [5] on the Forbes list increased their combined wealth by almost $60 billion from 2011 to 2012. That’s approximately equivalent to the total annual salaries of 3,378,030 fast-food [11] counter employees if they were all able to work 40-hour weeks, 50 weeks a year.

5. Apple avoided enough in taxes to mount a global attack on malnutrition.

The World Bank estimates the total cost [12] for “successfully mounting an attack on malnutrition” would be about $10.3 to $11.8 billion annually. Apple [13] alone underpaid its 2012 taxes by $11 billion, based on a 35% rate on total global income. (The company paid $8,443 current taxes on $55,763 total income, or a little over 15%.)

6. Speculation on food prices has contributed to the impoverishment of 115 million people.

From 1996 to 2011 the portion of speculative [14] wheat market trades by Goldman Sachs and other players went from 12 percent to 61 percent. The price [15] of wheat went from $105 a ton in 2000 to $481 a ton in 2008.

Food prices dropped after the recession, but the World Bank [16] notes that they’ve jumped 43 percent since 2010. The World Food Program [17] reported that since 2008, high prices have pushed 115 million more people into hunger and poverty.

Speculation hasn’t hurt the speculators. According to the World Wealth Report 2013 [18], the number of high net worth individuals ($1 million or more in investable assets) increased by 11.5% in North America in 2012, the highest rate in the world.

Billionaires are on the rise, and a billion people are without adequate food. The speculators should be ashamed.

See more stories tagged with:

hunger [19]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/6-facts-about-hunger-demonstrate-shameful-excesses-american-capitalism

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/06/24/fact-vs-fiction-usda%E2%80%99s-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/
[4] http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/opposition-to-house-farm-bill-spans-political-spectrum/
[5] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Forbes400_2011-12.xls
[6] http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.htm
[7] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[8] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/63908/000006390813000010/mcd-12312012x10k.htm
[9] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-0000
[10] http://money.msn.com/investing/5-companies-that-owe-workers-a-raise
[11] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-3020
[12] http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/life-free-hunger-tackling-child-malnutrition
[13] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/320193/000119312512444068/d411355d10k.htm
[14] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/23/goldman-sachs-agm-drive-food-prices-up
[15] http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1630.pdf
[16] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/09/13/america_latina_crisis_precio_alimentos
[17] http://home.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/newsroom/wfp204445.pdf
[18] http://www.capgemini.com/sites/default/files/resource/pdf/wwr_2013_1.pdf
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hunger
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Are the Bible Thumpers Losing Their Grip on Our Politics?

AlterNet [1] / By Amanda Marcotte [2]  June 20, 2013

Excerpt

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? …the religious right…still wholly owns the Republican Party…Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America… research… found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans….Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism… This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.

Full text

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? The strongly right-wing Washington Times reports rather dimly on the conference for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group founded by religious right luminary Ralph Reed, because it couldn’t even gather 400 audience members, despite having a deep bench of fundamentalist-beloved politicians and celebrities like Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and Scott Walker. The Times contrasted the small conference with its ’80s and ’90s counterpart, the Christian Coalition’s Road to the White House conventions, which drew thousands of participants every year.

If such a right-wing publication as the Washington Times is willing to hint at it, maybe it’s really time to ask the question: Is the Christian right beginning to lose its numbers, its mojo, and even its power? While it’s definitely too early to count them out—after all, the religious right, weird fantasies about masturbating fetuses [3] and all—still wholly owns the Republican Party at this point. Still, is there some hope on the horizon that their once-mighty numbers and power are beginning to dwindle?

Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America:

In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State.

One major reason is strictly demographic: Older fundamentalists are dying off and not being replaced by younger ones. Research by the Christian Barna Group shows that the 43% of young people raised as evangelicals [5] stop going to church once they grow up. The reasons that young people get disillusioned [6] with the church track nicely to the reasons the religious right is such a danger to American democracy and freedom: They disagree with the homophobic and sexually judgmental teachings. They disapprove of the church’s attacks on science. They find conservative Christianity intolerant and stifling.

Evangelical leaders themselves certainly believe they’re seeing a decline in influence in the United States. In a 2011 Pew Forum poll of evangelical leaders around the world, 82 percent of American evangelical leaders [7] said that evangelical Christianity was losing influence. Compare this to evangelical leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia, 58 percent who said that their faith was gaining influence. Which, sadly for the people of those countries, means more gay-bashing, more attacks on women’s rights, and more scientific illiteracy, though presumably the evangelical leaders see all these effects as good things.

Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism. The past few years have seen a dramatic escalation in the attacks on women’s rights [8], which politically can only be a bid for the fundamentalist votes, as most people outside the world of conservative Christianity are either pro-choice or don’t care enough about the issue to vote on it. (Yes, there are also Catholics, but despite their leadership, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice [9].) Not only that, but Republicans seem to have grown bolder in portraying themselves as religious extremists to pander to the religious right, often embracing absolutist approaches to abortion, opening up the war on choice to attacks on contraception, and sharing the bizarre, anti-science attitudes towards rape and pregnancy they pick up in their churches. While the majority of Americans turn toward favoring marriage equality for gays and straights, Republicans attack like the country still views the issue the way a megachurch pastor would, even going so far as to hire separate lawyers to defend DOMA when the Obama administration refused to do it.

All of this, as Todd Akin can attest, hurts you in the polls, and yet Republicans keep at it like they’re facing a country on the verge of having an evangelical majority, when in fact the exact opposite is happening. What gives?

Part of the problem is that while politicians have a reputation for being able to change their views on a dime, the reality is that they’re often thrown off by change and struggle to adapt. Many, possible most, Republican politicians are fundamentalist Christians themselves, and they started out in politics during the multi-decade heyday when being a Bible thumper was a sure path to power. It’s hard for them to accept that things have changed that quickly.

Akin is a classic example. Since 1988, Akin’s schtick as a wild-eyed anti-choice lunatic spouting every fundamentalist conspiracy theory [10] under the sun helped him win one office after another, usually annihilating his competition at the polls. When he made the move to run for Senate, it’s not surprising he thought the same strategy would work. After all, he’s tight with Paul Ryan [11], whom Republicans think of as their “mainstream” offering. They even authored anti-choice legislation together. Indeed, it’s easy to see how Akin would have easily won a few election cycles ago, “legitimate rape” comment and all. Back in the Bush era, being a dim-witted Bible thumper didn’t even block you from the presidency, so a Senate seat from highly religious Missouri should have been a breeze. The change has been happening so fast it’s no surprise Akin didn’t see it. Really, who could have?

Of course, as things can swiftly change for the better, they can just easily take a turn for the worse, so liberals shouldn’t sit on their laurels, confident that this decline in fundamentalism will last. This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/christian-right-0

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte
[3] http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/06/18/rep_mike_burgess_of_texas_suggests_banning_abortion_because_fetuses_masturbate.html
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/the-decline-of-evangelical-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[5] http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/16/opinion/stepp-millennials-church
[6] http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Evangelical-Protestant-Churches/Global-Survey-of-Evangelical-Protestant-Leaders.aspx
[8] http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/06/16/conservatives-double-down-on-the-war-on-women/
[9] http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/topics/catholicsandchoice/documents/BRSCatholic.pdf
[10] http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2012/10/03/akin-in-2008-doctors-give-abortions-to-patients-who-arent-pregnant/
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/08/20/712501/paul-ryan-and-todd-akin-partnered-on-radical-personhood-bill-outlawing-abortion-and-many-birth-control-pills/
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-right
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bible
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B