Saturday, December 27, 2014

For the Sake of Your Children and Grandchildren, Don’t Ignore Climate Change

If you have a 3-year old child or grandchild, he or she will most likely live until 2090.  His or her children … your grandchildren or great-grandchildren … will most likely live until 2115.  What kind of environment do you want to leave them … one that creates hardship and even threatens life or one that nurtures it?   That is the question that every corporation head, every member of Congress, and each and every citizen should ask themselves when considering the issue of climate change.

Al Gore was absolutely right when he labeled climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Corporations find it inconvenient because they don’t want to spend more money to clean up their emissions or change how things are produced.  The public finds it inconvenient because it doesn’t want to change it’s habits … the car culture, wanting consumer goods to be cheap, not wanting to bother with conservation.  And it’s inconvenient for the government because it means having to take leadership and, at least in the short run, displeasing important constituencies.

But guess what?  Inconvenient or not, the evidence becomes clearer every year that we are headed down a path that will lead to major disruptions and hardship for much of the Earth’s inhabitants.  And the disruptions and hardships are arriving more quickly than scientists had anticipated.

In the old days, miners used to take canaries down with them into the mines to warn them of impending disaster.  If gas was building up, the canaries would get sick before the miners had any awareness of a problem.  And the miners would get out as quickly as possible.

We have already had plenty of climate change “canaries in the mine,” but only scientists seem to be concerned.  Whether you look at the disappearance of arctic ice in summer, the weakening of the ice shelf in Greenland and parts of Antartica, the increase in violent weather and drought, the report that most polar bear cubs are not living to maturity, the march of pests from southern to northern areas with accompanying destruction of forests, deadly tick infestations of moose, the movement of fish and lobsters from their ancestral habitats further north as the Atlantic Ocean waters off much of New England become too warm … all of these things are warnings of much worse things to come.  

And each year, the scientific reports contain a familiar refrain … that the changes are happening more quickly than had been anticipated.  Now there is consensus that even with the world-wide agreement to cut carbon emissions currently in process, significant impact cannot be avoided, with such impact appearing by 2050.  Scientists are no longer even sure that the previous standard limit of a “safe” rise in temperature (2º C/3.6º F) is correct; it may be lower.  But even that limit can no longer be avoided.  Only catastrophic impact can possibly be avoided, and even that is less likely as each year without action passes..

We … governments, corporations, and the public … are playing a losing game of Russian roulette with the lives of our children and grandchildren.  If we want our immediate descendants to be able to continue living on Earth in a safe, secure environment, then more drastic broad-based action needs to be taken now.  Everyone gives lip service to “our children are the future,” yet everyone acts like there’s no tomorrow.  Everyone’s planning is short-term.

I don’t know what the exact answer is.  But I do know that denial has to stop.  And significant action has to be taken by government, corporations, and individuals for the sake of our children.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Can We Stop the Mistreatment of Women and African-Americans?

There has been much in the news these past few months about both the abuse of women by men of all sorts, and the mistreatment of African-Americans by the police.  To the extent that articles about these issues examine the causes, writers blame respectively an ongoing misogynistic attitude among many men and racism within the police force.

While both of these statements are undoubtedly true, duh!, the real reason lies deeper.  It lies in the insecurity of men.  (See my post, “ The Root of all Abuse and Violence - Insecurity,” 1/7/2013 .)

The reason why so many men abuse women … whether it’s campus date rape, military sexual assault, spouse abuse, or men watching violent porn … is that it’s a way for them to exercise power.  Man is raised in a way that makes him insecure.  And insecure people often seek to compensate for or mask their insecurity by exercising power over those who are weaker than they are.  That together with misogynistic feelings creates a perfect storm.  The result:  abuse of women.

Why do many police, regardless the city, routinely mistreat African-American men in so many ways, running the gamut from verbal abuse to chokeholds and shootings?  The answer again is that, in addition to black men being looked down on or mistrusted due to racist feelings, police as men get off on exercising power over others.  And they know that they can exercise that power vis a vis blacks almost with impunity.  Again, we have a perfect storm and the result is abuse.

I agree with many commentators that an important part of the answer to this deep societal problem consists of  education, or better put, re-education.  In the case of police it’s relatively easy, at least in a logistic sense, because you have a captive audience that can be forced to attend classes.  For men in general, that kind of approach is obviously not possible.

But even if you do re-educate police or attempt something similar with men, the real obstacle to changing behavior is that their attitudinal perspective stems from the messages they have received throughout their lives regarding either women or African-Americans.  And that message can effectively be transformed only by altering the social context within which men and police exist.

How does one begin to alter the context of racism?  Since the police are to a certain extent a culture unto themselves, one can change the culture of the organization, top down.  Which will certainly help.  But if the broader social context remains unchanged, once someone has been taught to think less of, or be afraid of, or hate people of another race, it’s very hard to change that except through an enlightening personal experience, one on one.  (Although even that is not a sure thing … there was a saying in Nazi Germany that every Nazi had his Jew.  That personal experience, however, obviously didn’t impact the larger negative attitude.) 

Changing the social context of racism is an issue that has bedeviled educators and social thinkers.  It almost requires starting fresh, with a blank slate.  Which is why the only real hope lies in educating children, and seeing that at least within the schools, they are exposed to nothing but respect for those who are different from them.  We can’t control what they experience at home or on the streets or even on television or on film, but we can control what they experience and are taught in school.

The same answer applies to altering the misogynistic, love/hate attitude that many men have towards women.  This is nothing new.   It is not a feature of our modern culture.  It goes back centuries and millennia … all those years in which women were basically chattel and had no rights.  My word, women weren’t even allowed to vote in the United States until 1920!

Here again we must start in the schools.  Boys must be exposed to nothing but respect for girls and women.

In both cases, one can expect that there will be instances of children acting in inappropriate ways, with a lack of respect and even violence.  Any such behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate manner, which does not exclude punishment of some sort, but there must be more than that because people do not change thought patterns or even behavior solely because of punishment.

So far I’ve only addressed the education aspect of solving, or better put, ameliorating, this problem.  What about the underlying factor of man’s having been raised in a way that makes him insecure?  

Assuming that to some degree you agree with this assessment, explained in the post I referred to earlier, you may well ask how this issue can be addressed.  Once again, the answer lies in our children,  If children can learn to be insecure, they can learn to be secure.  Insecurity is not the natural human state.

The difficulty in bringing about such change is that we are the result of an unending cycle of insecure people raising insecure children, who go on to become insecure parents, and on and on.  To break this cycle, we must make prospective and existing parents aware of this problem and encourage them to take steps to both raise happy and secure children and at the same time make their own lives better as well.  

To that end I have written a book, Raising a Happy Child. While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of one’s religious affiliation.  There should be a huge parenting outreach through churches, schools, and marriage license offices to begin orienting parents on how to raise happy, secure children.

Raising a Happy Child is available in both softcover and eBook formats through Amazon and other online book-retailers and through your local bookstore by special order.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Proper Balance between Industry, Government, and the Public Good

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement …”  In that sentence lies the answer to this central issue in American democracy … what us the proper balance between industry/private rights, government, and the public good.

First a question.  What does the phrase, “restrain men from injuring one another,” mean?  One could take it quite literally and think that it refers solely to criminal acts.  But early on, government and the courts realized that there were other ways in which men injure others, and so a system of contract and tort law was developed to protect people, as well as businesses, from injury.

During the Progressive era that held sway for most of the 20th century,  the concept was further broadened to include protecting the public good, which in effect means protecting all individuals and businesses.  For example, it is in the public good that small businesses prosper or that we breathe clean air.  Thus a whole system of laws and regulations were enacted to protect the public good from injury from the exercise of unbridled power by corporations.  

Whether it’s labor laws, security laws, environmental laws, or antitrust laws … all of these laws, and the agencies and regulations that implement them, were felt necessary to protect the less powerful from being injured.  And in so doing such laws fulfill the maxim stated by Jefferson.

There was a long time in American history when business operated with virtually no restraints.  But as the industrial revolution took hold, and corporations became very powerful institutions that had no concern other than the making of money, regardless what their impact was on others, government started understanding that it needed to act to protect the less powerful from injury.  

The first federal child labor law was passed in 1916.  Prior to that the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the law setting up the Interstate Commerce Commission were passed around 1890.  Over the next decades, countless laws were passed and regulations enacted to protect individuals, the public, and other businesses (such as farmers and small business owners) from the power of large corporations.

Until the Reagan presidency, it was commonly accepted by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as the general public, that such laws and regulations were critical to government performing its task of “restraining men from injuring one another” or in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “to secure” everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This was not an “anti-business” era.  Hardly.  The prospering of business was supported by the government in many ways, in recognition that a robust business community was critical to the strength of the American economy.  But it was a time when government and the people understood that if large corporations were left to themselves, they would trample over everything in their path to making more money.

And so whether it was the Taft-Hartley Labor Laws, the Glass-Steagal Act, the Clean Water Act or the creation of the EPA, these were not “anti-business” measures.   They were measures that reflected the understanding that there needed to be a balance; that while corporations needed freedom to act, that freedom was not absolute.  They could not in so doing injure others, and it was the role of government to protect those who did not have the power to protect themselves against injury from the actions of corporations by retraining them. 

Ronald Reagan, however, brought about the beginning of a fundamental change in this accepted attitude regarding the role of government, both on the part of the Republican Party and a large segment of the public.  He famously said, “Government is not the solution to the problem.  Government is the problem.”

And so began the era of deregulation.  To a large extent, the financial crisis of 2008 that caused the Great Recession can be laid at the doorstop of deregulation … principally the repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Yet despite this event, which was catastrophic for many Americans, the attitude of less regulation is better regulation continues to be the rallying cry for the newly radicalized Republican Party and its Tea Party base.

Somehow, we must restore the meeting of the minds regarding the role of government and the balance our country had struck between private rights, government, and the public good.  How we get to that point I don’t know.  The polarization is so deep; the language of public discourse is so divisive.  Yet we must try or our country will diminish in greatness even as its corporations thrive.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to End Wage Stagnation and Bring Back/Increase Jobs

Two of the most important issues facing our country is how to improve the wages of workers (as opposed to management), who make up the bulk of our workforce and whose spending accounts for a large share of our economy, and significantly increase the number of living-wage jobs either by bringing them back to this country or creating new ones.  These issues are important from a variety of perspectives: economic, of course, but also moral, societal and national security.

We have seen wage stagnation for the past few decades because workers no longer have any clout.  Whether a workplace is unionized or not, corporations haven’t given raises because they know that workers have no place else to go.  They can’t leave even if they are disgusted with their pay because alternative jobs just aren’t there.  They’ve gone overseas, making it an employer’s market.

So how do you change the situation?  There is going to be much talk in the coming months about revising the tax code, both for individuals and as it applies to corporations.  As a general matter, I would argue that any tax break for corporations should be tied to their better performance in a variety of areas affecting the public good, such as the environment and wage stagnation.

I would therefore suggest a new provision that would provide that if corporations give workers a percentage raise in a given year equal to the percentage rise in profit, then such corporations would get a tax break.  Corporations need to be incentivized.  Some might say they should be penalized if they don’t provide such a raise, but that would never fly in Congress.

The same is true for bringing jobs back to the US.  At some point, given increasing labor costs overseas and what will be increased transportation costs, it will make economic sense to bring jobs back here.  In the meantime, the government needs to provide a tax incentive for companies to expand domestic operations that provide living-wage jobs.

But in addition to the problem of jobs being sent overseas, one must face the following fact.   In an age of ever-increasing application of technology to the production process, the same number of jobs are not going to be created even if production is brought back because they just aren’t needed to produce the product.  

That means that a large share of the increase in good-paying jobs needed to keep the economy and the middle class robust will have to come in the form of public works projects.  Luckily, there is no end to the infrastructure projects, both improvements and new, that are desperately needed to support our country’s functioning at the highest level.  

Thus, the government will need to embark on an ambitious plan, similar in scope to the Interstate Highway System, to insure an ongoing strong economy, not just in terms of GDP increase but in the strength of the middle class.  The radical Right will no doubt respond by kicking and screaming about socialism and the deficit.  

But such a plan is even more justified now than the Interstate Highway was when Republican President Eisenhower proposed its enactment.  While Eisenhower’s rationale that the system was needed to improve the country’s defense was overstated (it was more honestly an economic measure), one can argue with a straight face that the proposed infrastructure plan is critical to the nation’s security, both in a physical functioning sense as well as in the strength of the economy.

This is a challenging time for the United States.  If we do not rise above petty bickering and join together to support a nation that is strong, not just in military might and the power of its multi-national corporations, but in the health and welfare of the average citizen, then we are doomed to become a shell of our former self, a Potemkin village.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Large Corporations Have Gutted Our Economy and Damaged Our Country

Republicans are always touting large corporations as the engine of our economy and argue that we have to have business-friendly policies in order to allow them to grow and create jobs.  And while Democrats might take a more nuanced stance publicly, their actions in Congress certainly show that they, while not in lock step with Republicans on this issue, are also certainly very friendly-disposed to large corporations.

One would be a fool not to agree that the business sector, including large corporations, is critical to the health of our economy.  However, it is one thing to say that we need to have policies that promote the growth of business and another to say that business interests trump all others, such as the public good.

But these statements about the importance of large corporations are just cover.  What it’s really all about is something very base at the core of American politics … the power and influence of money.  

It’s no secret that large corporations and industry groups have, through their largesse in donating money to political campaigns as well as their newer participation in PACS, bought unequaled clout in the halls of Congress.  While there are some clear exceptions, generally, regardless what type of legislation or regulation you look at, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, at the end of the day, big business has either gotten their way or so weakened measures meant to control them and protect the public that the end result is in their favor.

Clearly the growth of big business has benefited those who sit at the top of corporate power and are players on Wall Street ... the new elite, the 1%.  But what about the rest of us?  Has the average American benefited from the growth of big business?  Has our country benefitted?  To answer that question, I will be looking at the impact on jobs, wages, small business, and transportation.

Jobs:  Big business is almost solely to blame  (I say “almost solely” because unions carry a good share of the blame as well), aided and abetted by government tax policies, for the loss of millions of jobs overseas since 1979.  For the transformation of the average American worker from solidly middle class with a good wage, to struggling to hang on at a low wage.  Looking just at manufacturing, employment collapsed from 19.5 million workers in June 1979 to 11.5 million in December 2009.

Corporations have always been greedy.  It’s their nature.  In the first part of the 20th century, workers were typically, not always, viewed almost as an enemy who challenged the corporation’s absolute power and wanted more of the corporate financial pie, rather than as valued workers who were responsible for the quality of the product.  The antagonism between the two forces was very evident.  The passage of Federal labor laws, while not changing this dynamic between management and labor,  helped level the playing field by giving workers real negotiating power.

But at some point, corporations had enough of labor negotiations.  Those in power wanted to retain more of the financial pie for themselves and shareholders.  This provided the motivation to find a way out.

And they found one readily available ... the South and it’s “Right to Work” laws.  Many manufacturing firms moved south to take advantage of these state laws which made it very difficult to unionize, and thus wages were significantly lower.  Job losses thus started occurring long before globalization.  

So, for example, I grew up in Reading, PA.  One of the largest employers was Berkshire Knitting, at the time the largest knitting mill in the world.   But within a few years, the vast mills were all empty.  After being sold to Vanity Fair, the jobs moved south and thousands of workers in Reading were out of work.  The same scenario played out in many cities throughout the northeast as light manufacturing relocated to the South.

But it was the advent of the global economy, “globalization,” that nailed the lid on the coffin of the American blue collar worker.  Again, solely because of corporate greed ... wanting to increase the bottom line regardless at whose expense ... (and often against the background of union intransigence) manufacturing as well as many other types of jobs moved en masse to lower cost locations, mainly Mexico and Asia.  The result was a literal hemorrhaging of jobs and the decimation of America’s middle class.

For example, U.S. Dept. of Commerce data show that “U.S. multinational corporations cut their work force in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.”  In the two years following the 2008 Wall Street crisis, large American corporations cut U.S. payrolls by a net of 500,000 jobs.  At the same time, they hired 729,000 workers overseas. Corporations were hiring, just not in the U.S.

Corporate spokesmen and their political apologists say that this move off-shore was necessary in order to keep “American” business competitive.  Nonsense.  It was to keep corporate profits and thus CEO and shareholder pockets flush.  They always had the option to cut prices, but that would have meant lowering profits, which is anathema in corporate America.  Protecting American jobs was obviously nowhere on their list of goals.  (Unfortunately, unions were also often unrealistic and refused to countenance pay or benefit cuts in return for job security.)  

The poster child for this off-shore movement, General Electric’s then-CEO Jack Welsh, argued that public corporations owed their primary allegiance to stockholders, not employees.  Nor, although this was unspoken, to the country that spawned them.  Therefore, Welsh said, companies should seek to lower costs and maximize profits by moving operations wherever is cheapest.

And so they moved their operations and the jobs were lost.  These are no longer “American” companies in any sense other than headquarters. 

Yes, it’s true that many new jobs have been created in the United States, including since the recent recession.  But those jobs have overwhelmingly been lower-paying service industry jobs and often part-time jobs.  So people hired for these new jobs are working for less money and their standard of living is far below what it was previously.

Wages:  It’s no secret that American workers’ wages have stagnated over the past few decades.  The reason is also clear … the loss of middle class living-wage jobs overseas and the creation of low-paying jobs here.  And for those who still have their formerly good jobs, their pay has at best remained stagnant or they have had to take a significant cut in pay in order to keep the corporation from moving the jobs overseas.  

Again, all to protect the corporate bottom line.  And so we see that while CEOs today make astronomical sums, a 937% increase, inflation adjusted, in their total compensation package between 1978 and 2013, a typical workers’ income in inflation-adjusted dollars rose only 10% during that same period.  

If corporate profits have risen approximately 3% per year during this period (or 105% … yes, I was surprised, far less than the rise in CEO pay), why haven’t their workers benefited?  Because workers no longer have any clout.  With so many jobs lost overseas, companies, whether unionized or not, don’t have to worry that their employees will leave if they don’t get raises.   They know that workers have nowhere else to go.  And it is a rare corporation that will raise wages because it is fitting to do so.  Obviously, CEOs do have clout.

Small Business:  Politicians of both parties love to talk about the importance of small business to the American economy and cite government efforts to help small business.  Yet these same politicians curry the favor of the very forces … large corporations … that have brought doom to small (and often not so small) local businesses across the country.

We have become a nation that, certainly from a retailing perspective, lacks virtually any individual character from place to place.  Everywhere you go, you will find shopping malls with exactly the same stores.  You will find roads lined with exactly the same collection of fast-food outlets.  You will find a proliferation of Starbucks coffee shops.  And of course, you will find a Walmart, a Lowes or Home Depot, and a Staples or Office Depot.  As a consequence, local stores offering the same services have been put out of business whether because they couldn’t compete with volume pricing or corporate marketing or couldn’t offer the same selection.

These large corporations have thrived, not just because of the business acumen and ambition of their management … which of course is critically important … but because of government policies and actions, including the enabling if not encouraging of the suburbanization of America.

Let me again look at Reading, PA as an example.  In the 50s, downtown Reading was a thriving place with a vibrant local retail scene and cultural life.  But as highways were built that encouraged the creation of suburban development, a new type of business entered the mix … national and regional retail corporations … that found their home not downtown but in new suburban malls.  As this development increased, people living in the suburbs, which now overshadowed the city-dweller in both numbers and economic purchasing power, no longer needed to go downtown to shop, or eat, or go to the movies.  And so despite all sorts of measures by Reading officials, downtown Reading died and is nothing more than a memory, replaced now by an office culture.

Transportation:  Why is America a nation which, more than any other, is so dependent on the automobile?  Why do we have such a weak national or regional passenger railroad system?  Why, with a few large city exceptions, do we have such weak local public transportation networks?

The answer is unambiguous … for almost a century, the automobile industry was the most powerful industrial force in the country.  The saying, “What’s good for GM is good for the country,” was said in all seriousness.  And its influence was not surprisingly felt in Congress as well as in state and local government.

Prior to WWII,  although cars had become an essential element in American transportation, the railroad and mass transit were equally essential.  But after WWII, the federal government, under President Eisenhower, began a massive investment in creating the interstate highway system and expressways that bypass and go through major urban areas … all to make it easier for automobile and truck traffic to get from place to place.  

The official reasoning for this huge expenditure was improving our defense and response to nuclear attack.  But what really lay behind this decision was the power and influence of the automobile industry, together with a desire to increase economic growth through new highway and housing construction.

Just as the coming of the railroad brought about the creation of new towns and cities in its day, so too did the new highway systems (together with the new availability of low down-payment long-term mortgages) bring about the proliferation of suburban development, not just outside major cities but virtually all cities. Over the next few decades, what began as an experiment in changing the basic nature of American everyday life turned into the default mode, urged on by a confluence of powerful business interests and people’s desire to own a home and some property (what became “the American dream”) as well as the white flight from cities.

This government action amounted to a huge subsidy of the automobile industry which had no counterpart in the railroad industry and only a faint counterpart for local mass transit.  Since automobiles were deemed by government to be the transportation of choice, virtually no new mass transit or light rail systems were built in the United States for several decades after WWII. 

But the automobile industry wasn’t satisfied with the benefits flowing from this government action.  They also brought about the actual dismantling of existing light rail systems, most well-known is the Los Angeles system, and the obstruction of new mass transit lines.

The result of this influence (together with the other factors noted) was an increasingly car-dependent society, the deterioration of railroads, and the stagnation of mass transit systems.  Only in the last few decades, since the mid-70s, have new and expanded mass transit systems been built in various cities to accommodate an inescapable need.  

For example, in the San Francisco area, “after dismantling the existing electric streetcar and suburban train system in the 1950s in favor of highway travel using automobiles and buses, given the explosive growth of expressway construction,” the modern BART system began limited operation in 1972 and was expanded over the following decade.

Now, one could certainly argue that the American public revels in and treasures its ability to go where and when it wants to based on the automobile.  After decades of mass marketing campaigns, this has indeed become a major feature of our culture.  And so the average American would not say that they have been short-changed by this development; quite the contrary.

But looked at objectively, would the average American and the country as a whole have been better off with the post-WWII development of a more balanced transportation network … one that included a viable, modern national and regional railroad system, more comprehensive mass transit systems in major cities, and light rail systems in other cities, together with an improved network of roads.  The answer is certainly yes.   And it would have left us better prepared to adjust to an era where the use of fossil fuels must be reduced. 

By looking at these major areas … jobs, wages, small business, and transportation … we see that the power of big business has had a major negative impact on the average American worker as well as on various aspects of our society.  

Not to be forgotten is the broader economic impact of the decimation of the American middle class … the middle class was the backbone of our consumer-driven economy with consumer spending accounting for 70% of GDP (some argue 52%).  Only the emergence of the ubiquitous credit card has saved the economy, but at the cost of massive household debt … an average of $15,593, a total of $880 billion.   Not a good thing.  Many things that have happened because of the power of big business cannot be reversed; however, many can.

Large corporations have consistently shown themselves to be amoral.   As defined by the dictionary, that means that they have no moral standards, restraints, or principles; are unaware of or indifferent to questions of right or wrong.  They have only one guiding principle … improving their bottom line. 

For the good of our country, this cannot be allowed to continue free of restraint.  The public and government must break from this stranglehold of big business and fight for a more egalitarian society.   

In every society, there will always be those who are better off, even rich, and those who are not as well off.  But there is no excuse in a society as rich as ours for the egregious disparity in incomes, for the decimation of a strong middle class, for children to go to bed hungry, for people to be homeless, and for the pollution of the air we breathe and the water that sustains us, which pollution threatens not just our health but our very way of life and possibly the viability of planet Earth.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

How Democrats Lost an Election They Should Have Won

Despite the low popularity of President Obama and people’s concerns about the economy, this was an election Democrats should have won big ... that is, if the campaign had been run well.  But as so often has been the case, the Democrats did not run a good campaign.  What would have been a good campaign?

1.  Use Obama to lead the charge.   Because of his low standing in the polls, most Democratic candidates stayed as far a way from Obama as possible.  The Senate candidate in Kentucky wouldn’t even say whether she voted for him in 2012!

This was plain stupid.  They forgot that although he was down in the popularity polls in 2012, he won that election handily.  He and his people know how to run a disciplined campaign and get out the vote.  But this campaign wasn’t run by him; indeed he hardly participated.

The people who truly dislike Obama weren’t about to vote for a Democrat regardless what the candidate did or said.  The lines are very clearly drawn in their minds.  However, without Obama as cheerleader-in-chief, the Democratic base of blacks, latinos, youth, and women were less likely to vote historically in a midterm election.  Without getting out that vote, Democratic candidates were bound to lose any close election.   And that’s what happened.

2.  They should have run a very positive campaign that told people clearly where Democrats see the country going and how they propose to get us there … a clear vision statement with legislative particulars, geared to the average voter ... the put-upon middle class ... and communicated in a way that the average voter will get. This should have been the main thrust and the counter to Republican laissez faire, let the market take care of itself, policies.

The middle class has been suffering for decades, but the past few years have taken an even greater toll on their standard of living.  Democrats should have made it clear that they understand their pain and had policies to turn things around.

3.  At the same time, Democrats should not have let the public forget who has kept our current economic problems from being solved.  That should have been easy since Republicans in Congress are held in even lower esteem by voters than Obama.  

And Democrats should have nailed Republicans for being the hypocrites they are … they pose as the party of the people but really are the party of big business and the rich. Those are the interests they are protecting.  Those are the legislative positions they are advancing.  This is not playing class warfare, this is speaking the truth.

But since the Democrats did not run the campaign this way, Republicans were effective as usual at defining the terms of the campaign, making it a referendum on Obama.  Their base was motivated, and they really worked their get-out-the-vote campaign better this time than ever before, ironically learning from Obama.  The Democratic base on the other hand was dispirited and just didn’t vote in sufficient numbers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Education and Health - Fundamental Rights

We have been bludgeoned over the past few years with the Republican’s mantra that if you haven’t made it, it’s your fault (see my post, “The Mendaciousness of the Responsibility Game”).  So it was with a huge feeling of nostalgia that I was reminded recently of a time not so long ago when a large segment of Republicans had a very different perspective on life and the role of government, or at least the role of the broader society.

In reviewing a new biography of Nelson Rockefeller, the reviewer noted Rockefeller’s credo, “If you don’t have good education and good health, then I feel society has let you down.”  WOW!  How times have changed.

If someone said that today, even if a Democrat said that today, they would be viewed as a left-wing radical.  It sounds so over the top.

But it isn’t.  Let me quote, as I often do, from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”

If one is going to have a meaningful right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, certainly two of the most essential elements of that right are having a good education and having good health.  No one would argue with that.

But the Declaration goes further and states that the purpose of government is to secure these rights, which in this context would mean access to good education and access to good health.  I am not downplaying the importance of personal responsibility.  As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  But it is the government’s responsibility to provide the water.

So at a minimum, the government is responsible under this standard for supplying access to a good education (meaning good schools, good teachers, etc.) and good health (meaning comprehensive health care ... medical, psychological, and dental ... that is affordable or free, depending on your circumstances).  Note: Obamacare has not come close to providing the latter because although the basic premiums may be affordable due to government subsidies, the large deductibles and out-of-pocket caps of the basic plans discourage people from getting health care except in emergencies.

If that is the minimum, you might ask, what else is there?  While good schools can make a huge difference even in the midst of a bad inner-city neighborhood, growing up in an area where poverty, drugs, and crime are the norm and often impact family life creates major obstacles to being able to take advantage of a good school.  

Government, together with private agencies and organizations, must do much more to improve the broader context within which such children grow up.  Whether it’s creating more jobs, providing adult education, making prisons focus on rehabilitation, creating social policies that encourage two-parent households (as opposed to the old welfare rule that broke up families by penalizing them if an adult male was living in the household) ... there are ample ways that government and society working together could dramatically change the context of inner-city life.

It is time for Rockefeller’s credo to become the credo of government and of our society.  It is past time for this great, rich, but unconscionably unequal, nation to live up to the promise stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Socialism Canard

Every time Democrats propose having the government provide assistance to those in need or regulate business, the Republicans scream, with their throat veins bulging, “This is Socialism.”  And a large segment of the public, like a hypnotized subject, nods their head and agrees that this is terrible.  It’s only one step away from Communism.  It is against what makes America great.

To listen to the Republicans, one would think that they were against any government spending or action that helps others or in any way interferes with the market place.  That, however, is not the case.

Republicans are very supportive of the billions of dollars that the government spends, either in the form of direct payments or beneficial tax laws, that provide American corporations, especially big business, with government subsidies.  They are also very supportive of government regulation/interference that supports corporations, such as elements of the farm bill.  NOTE: Almost all government farm subsidies go to large corporate farms.  The embattled family farmer benefits hardly at all.

The only difference between the spending and regulation they support and the ones they don’t support is that the former benefit big business while the latter either benefit the average American or protects him by restricting the unfettered ability of big business to act as it wills.

This is hypocrisy.  But the immorality of their stance is even worse. To argue against measures that protect the average American or helps those in need while supporting spending and other measures that help those who are not in need is to take a stand which is immoral.

“Ah,” they say, “but cutting back on such spending or measures will harm American business on which the economy depends and will result in the loss of jobs.”  Any attempts to cut back on these items, or imposing new costs on business, are labeled, “job killers,” by Republicans.

But that is not true.  What is true is that if such subsidies are cut back or new costs imposed, corporate profits will be reduced (unless they raise prices) and thus shareholders will be impacted by lower stock market prices for their shares. 

I am not against corporations making a profit and benefitting their shareholders.  But many of these companies have profits at such high levels that the benefit to the larger society of cutbacks or new regulation/costs far outweighs the reduced profits to industry.  For example, many of our largest, most profitable corporations pay almost no taxes through the loopholes that they enjoy.

The cost to the American taxpayer of these corporate subsidies is unconscionable, especially at a time when the American middle class and the poor are being asked to make sacrifices in order to reduce the government deficit.  It is obscene that our middle class and poor are asked to shoulder the costs of providing subsidies to those who typically already have more money than they know what to do with, other than spend it on more luxury.

The American social contract has traditionally (since the early 20th century) required all aspects of our society to support the greater good, each to its ability.  That concept of fairness and the greater good has been so denigrated over the course of the last few decades by the Republican Party that Republicans in government should hang their heads in shame.

Government and business both have their place in American society and in our economy.  It is past time, however, to correct the balance between the two.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All Men Are Created Equal?

In my writings, I often refer to this iconic phrase from the Declaration of Independence, together with its companion language setting forth our unalienable rights and the statement that government’a purpose is to secure those rights, as the touchstone against which all acts of our government should be judged.  

Yet this very phrase, when viewed as hypocritical because of its obvious disconnect with what was actually happening at the time in the halls of government and in people’s lives, has called into question the intent of the framers and signers of the Declaration.  Was this merely a bold rhetorical flourish to gain acceptance both at home and on the world stage. or was it a deeply held conviction which was meant to chart the future course of the nation?

Not surprisingly, much research and writing has been done on this topic.  And the answers provided are by no means uniformly in one direction or the other.  In truth, the answer is often foretold by the politics of the researcher.  

Because of the enormous importance and potential of these words, to my mind, in redirecting our government and our citizens to a stronger, more just society and nation, I wanted to survey the literature to see what answers I would draw from it.  As objectively as I could, despite my admitted liberal bias.  

First let me restate the obvious.  Slavery was present in the country, both in the south and the north.  The Constitution codified slavery in the “3/5 compromise,” which stated that each slave shall be counted as a 3/5 person when the census was taken to establish the population of each state and thus its representation in Congress.  Thomas Jefferson, who crafted the phrase, was a slaveholder and remained a slaveholder to his death.  All the signers from the South were slaveholders.  

And the problem does not just lie with the fact of slavery.  Women were legally little more than chattel under the total control of their husbands; they had virtually no rights. And in fact, it would take women longer than African-Americans to achieve legal equality and the right to vote. The evidence arguing for a finding of hypocrisy could and has filled up books.

But that is not where this question ends.  Thomas Jefferson and most of the men who were present at these debates and signed the Declaration were men of the enlightenment.   They were men of ideas, and ideas are not always ... actually almost never ... a reflection of the reality of the moment.  Ideas, by their very nature, are meant to chart, to influence the future, whether in science or in human affairs.

In looking at various writings and notes of Jefferson and others, some researchers have thus concluded that what this phrase relates is their belief that all men and women are created equal in the sight of God.  Yet they were all well-aware that the kingdom of God is not to be found on Earth.  And so. like many ideas, it’s inclusion in the Declaration was meant to be an aspirational statement, something to guide the future of the nation.

In our current age, in which the paucity of ideas is reflected everyday in the halls of Congress, in our schools, and in corporate and government offices throughout the country, it is hard to fathom the age of enlightenment and the role that ideas played in bringing about changes in all areas of human activity.  To understand that Jefferson was neither hypocritical nor schizophrenic when writing “all men are created equal,” but rather a man caught in his time who knew, however, that there was something beyond the exigencies of the present, something larger, that needed expression and preservation.  There was no intellectual dishonesty here.

And so the power of the words of the Declaration of Independence remain undiminished.  They should be used to repurpose, to redirect our government and our citizens ... not to something new and unfamiliar, but to something deeply embedded in our founding documents, waiting to be put into action by a nation grounded in social consciousness.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stop Complaining - You Do Have a Choice

In my previous post, “Changing Free Will from a Harmful Illusion to a Life-Affirming Fact,” I argued that we are programmed by our learned experience to act, and react, in certain ways and thus do not have free will in the way that term is normally understood.  But, if we were properly nurtured, even as adults, we would be able to free ourselves from this programming.and act with real free will in a way that would be of benefit both to ourselves and to the rest of society.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of such a fundamental change happening in our society is next to zero  Instead, it devolves to the individual to become aware that they have been programmed and to free themselves from that programming.  You can’t change the world around you, but you do have a choice to change how you relate to yourself and that world, and thus end your doubts and confusion, your fear and anxiety, your anger and negativity.  This is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism.

To free yourself from this programming, to change your habit-energy, is a choice we can make.  Without question, it is a choice that is very difficult to make and carry out because our ego will fight making that choice with all its power and cunning.  But it is a choice that people have made and that we can all make.

Let me restate two critical steps.  First, one must come to recognize that you, and all others, are a function of the environment of your upbringing, all your learned experience, and that this experience has programmed you to act in certain ways.  That is something that most people can accept after some thought.

It is the second step which is the kicker.  You must come to an awareness that all your learned experience, being dependent on what you’ve been taught, is thus empty of any intrinsic existence ... the point being that you think the way you think because you were taught that way, whereas another person thinks quite differently because they were taught quite differently.  Where does reality then lie?  

People generally claim to have access to the truth, to reality ... they know ... whereas they don’t in fact because all they know is what they’ve been taught and reality cannot be taught.   It can only be experienced directly, which means free of the intervention of the ego’s thinking mind.  NOTE:  I am talking here about how we view ourselves and the world around us, the judgments we make, not the facts of the physical world or mathematics.

All your feelings, perceptions, mental formations ... indeed your entire consciousness ... are empty of any inherent existence.  It is just in your head.  Strange though it may seem, despite the all-too-real problems in your immediate and the larger world, the direct cause of your suffering, your unhappiness or frustration, is not the state of things you must contend with, but how you relate to yourself and the state of things.

Are you unhappy with the way things are?  Are you suffering because of that unhappiness?  Do you want your suffering to end?

The first thing you must do then is decide, if in fact what I posit is true ... that all your suffering is a function of how you relate to yourself and the world around you, not the actual state of things ... do you really want to change, not who you are, but how you relate to yourself and others.   I emphasize the word “really” because the next question is whether you are willing to go deep within yourself, to do the work which has been hinted at above, in order to free yourself from the way you’ve been programmed?  If the answer is “yes,” read on.

How does one bring about this change in oneself?  How does one unlearn the lessons of a lifetime?

The first thing one must do is find a mechanism to enable you to step outside of yourself.  To be able to look objectively at yourself and the world and how you relate to things.  Slowly, you will begin to discern the disconnect between your learned experience and reality and begin to see things as they really are, free of labels, thus bit by bit freeing yourself from your programmed mind.  Ultimately, you will be able to make the choice to find peace and happiness and end your suffering.

This is not surprisingly a complex process that demands discipline and commitment over an extended period of time ... years.  Such awareness does not come in a flash.  But there is a path to follow.  It is set forth in detail in my various books and discussed further on my Buddhist blog.  For a summary, you might want to read the post, “End of Suffering Cheat Sheet.”  For more information please go to,