Monday, December 31, 2012

ANS -- A Checkerboard Strategy for Regaining the Progressive Initiative

This is a really great article outlining a strategy for taking back America from the Banksters and Greedsters.  Read it.  It's by Gar Alperovitz: remember that name. 
Find it here:   http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13592-a-checkerboard-strategy-for-regaining-the-progressive-initiative  
--Kim


A Checkerboard Strategy for Regaining the Progressive Initiative

Sunday, 30 December 2012 07:55 By Gar Alperovitz, Truthout | Op-Ed


Checkerboard. (Image: Lance Page / Truthout; Adapted: DonkeyHotey, Jonathan Warner / Flickr)

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An innovative "checkerboard" approach offers a range of specific progressive strategies that could be implemented at the state, county or municipal levels to democratize wealth and power.

President Obama is Time magazine's "Person of the Year" - the first Democratic president to receive two consecutive popular-vote majorities since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yet these are clearly tough times for progressives. Everything progressives have fought for is seemingly on the chopping block nationally, and in many states and cities. Programs are being cut; public assets are being sold off; school teachers are losing their jobs; unions are being attacked; pension and health care benefits are being slashed - even Social Security is being challenged.

Progressives, in short, remain on the defensive.

No one would deny that defense is important. But even as every effort must be made to hold the line, how, specifically, might it be possible to regain the political initiative?

History suggests one powerful strategy - one that begins by getting clear about the checkerboard of power, and its possibilities.

Washington may be stalemated. But Washington is not the only space on the political checkerboard. The American system of federalism allows for political initiatives that can take the offense across a range of scales and locations, and politics involves many different squares on the board. Some are currently blocked, but others may be open for doing something interesting. A serious checkerboard strategy may also open the way to national solutions as well.

The steady city-by-city, state-by-state Progressive Era buildup to national women's suffrage offers one well-known example of a checkerboard offensive. Another involved the state-by-state buildup of work and safety regulations prior to the New Deal. In more recent times, numerous places on the checkerboard have demonstrated how progress on social issues can be made as well, square by square, over time, even in a very conservative era.

Prior to 2004, for instance, no state in the nation allowed same-sex marriage. Today, less than ten years later, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Moreover, broader public opinion is slowly turning in favor of equal rights for same-sex couples. Step-by-step, further progress is all but certain.

Similarly, fed up with the harsh repercussions of the failed drug war, a majority of Americans now favor legalization or decriminalization of marijuana - and two states on the checkerboard, Colorado and Washington, recently voted in favor of legalization. (Many more already permit the use of medical marijuana).

Along with such highly visible successes on social issues, just below the surface of public awareness numerous important economic and institutional advances have long been developing in cities and states occupying different squares on the board. Although the increasingly hobbled national press rarely covers state and local issues, the advances include little noticed progressive policies in support of cooperatives and worker-owned firms, public- and neighborhood-owned land development, public power and internet delivery, new environmentally sustainable energy strategies and even public enterprise, including publicly-owned health care facilities.

Numerous additional policies operating in various parts of the country also could be turned to progressive advantage and expanded over time - if there were a clear strategic determination to do so (and a lot of hard work). Among others, these include: municipal investing strategies, state venture capital investing, pension and retirement fund investing, move-your-money and bank-transfer efforts, land and mineral revenues for public benefit and municipal methane-capture efforts. On a larger scale, public banking efforts similar to the Bank of North Dakota and progressive health care reforms similar to those recently adopted in Vermont are being pursued in dozens of states.

What is striking about the new range of possibilities is that most also introduce the concept of democratizing wealth ownership into practical and political reality.

There is obviously every reason, first, to learn about what is happening just below the surface of media attention and, second, to build up and steadily expand the number of squares on the checkerboard that are currently open to expansion. The goal should not only be to help people in specific local communities and states, but also to demonstrate possibilities to others working in other squares - and together to slowly surround the hold-back cities and states with what makes sense as they flounder and fail on their regressive path over time.

In certain cities and states a comprehensive strategic option also appears to be opening up - and here the issue is how it might be tested, refined, and then put forth as a serious approach in one or more cities or, ultimately, on a number of squares on the board - especially as economic difficulties and the fiscal crisis intensify.

Traditional progressive strategy for financing public expenditure has always tried to focus taxation at the very top to the extent feasible - both as a matter of equity and of good politics (keeping the middle class out of the line of fire and out of the political embrace of the opposition). There is nothing wrong with this approach except that it is obviously inadequate - as the ongoing right-wing budget program/salary-and-benefit-cutting bonanza so painfully remind.

The strategic way out of the box, logically, is an approach that draws on demonstrably viable checkerboard efforts to rebuild the local economy (and the local tax base) in ways that are effective, stable, redistributive and ongoing - and that also capture greater revenues and profits for public use. Which means a different form of "democratized" development - and a specific plan for how to implement it over time so as to secure funds for vital institutions and infrastructure (such as schools and mass transit), for obligations to past and future retirees, and for programs to conserve resources and protect the environment - all while preserving and expanding services for those who badly need them.

Numerous practical ingredients that can be included in a comprehensive checkerboard strategy include:

• The use of city, school, hospital, university and other purchasing power to help stabilize jobs, anchor wealth, support employee-owned businesses and cooperative ownership, strengthen local small- and medium-sized business and improve the local economy.

• The use of public and quasi-public land trusts (both for housing and also commercial development) to capture development profits for community use, and to prevent gentrification.

• An all-out attack on absurdly wasteful and costly - around $70 billion a year in public subsidies! - giveaways that corporations extract from local governments.

• The use of community benefit strategies - and community organizing, backed also by labor unions - to achieve traditional development but also, where possible, to democratize the local economy, stabilize the tax base and support public services.

• The exploration of further ways for cities to make money by directly managing resources and providing services, thereby offsetting costs and taxpayer burdens. These include taking direct public ownership over utilities (as cities like Jacksonville and Los Angeles already do) to improve services, reduce costs and secure added revenues; and expanding city revenues through city-owned land and other existing strategies that provide non-tax revenue.

Obviously, not all these approaches can be adopted at once. And they may be viable at the outset only on very specific squares on the checkerboard. On the other hand, practical precedents for every element in the mix are now operating in one or more city or state - and the stark reality is that times are getting worse and are likely to continue to get even worse in the coming years.

As problems and pain at the local and state level increase, at some point more squares on the checkerboard are certain to open up. And, as always, it will take some specific person or group of people to grab the reins, set the wheels in motion and flip the switch to light up that square with a new way forward.

Equally important - as the long developing pre-history of women's fight for the vote, the long developing pre-history of the New Deal, and now the developing state-by-state changes in connection with same sex marriage and marijuana all suggest - the pre-history of potentially much larger national change is all but certain to be developed through such efforts in local and state laboratories at various places on the checkerboard.

And the notion of democratizing ownership in general through such practical efforts - at a time when a mere 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 185 million Americans taken together - is likely to be of additional political significance to increasing numbers as social and economic difficulties increase.

For progressives bruised by the battles of recent months and years, a cool look at other opportunities on the checkerboard offers a different way to think about change. Defensive struggles must continue. But forward movement is available on the board, and time and pain are on the side of a serious strategy.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
[]  

Gar Alperovitz

Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of the forthcoming What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution (Chelsea Green, May Day 2013).

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

ANS -- Whaddya Know? Professional Economy Wrecker Alan Greenspan Is at the Heart of the Insidious 'Fix the Debt' Campaign

Wouldn't you know it?  Alan Greenspan is at it again -- trying to wreck our economy.  Short article.
Find it here:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/whaddya-know-professional-economy-wrecker-alan-greenspan-heart-insidious-fix-debt-campaign
--Kim


  Economy  
Beat the Press / By Dean Baker
comments_image   80 COMMENTS

Whaddya Know? Professional Economy Wrecker Alan Greenspan Is at the Heart of the Insidious 'Fix the Debt' Campaign

Mr. Incompetent rears his ugly head in corporate deficit hawk coalition.
December 24, 2012  |  
 
[]

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
 
 
 
 

Alan Greenspan will go down in history as the person who has done more damage to the U.S. economy and society that anyone who was not a foreign enemy. In fact the destruction he wreaked through his incompetence would also exceed the damage caused by almost all would-be enemies as well.

Greenspan accomplished the remarkable feat as Fed chair of ignoring the growth of the $8 trillion housing bubble. This bubble could not have been easier to see if it had been 500 feet high and lit up with huge neon signs saying "Huge Housing Bubble." But Greenspan insisted the bubble was not there.

And Greenspan somehow didn't recognize that the collapse of this massive bubble would devastate the economy. The bubble was generating over $1 trillion in annual demand through its direct impact on housing construction and its indirect impact on consumption through the housing wealth effect. This demand would inevitably disappear when the bubble burst, leaving a huge hole in demand.

Did Greenspan think that the private sector had some magic formula to replace this demand? What could he have been thinking or smoking?

If we had a political debate that was driven by evidence, where the accuracy of one's past judgements played any role in the credibility granted their current opinion, then Greenspan would be relegated to the role of ranting fool. His opinions on the economy would be given slightly less credibility than the mumblings of a street drunk.

This is why it would have been worth highlighting the news contained in a NYT article on the origins of the "Campaign to Fix the Debt," the corporate financed effort to reduce the deficit. The article tells readers in passing:

"The Campaign to Fix the Debt started to come together at a salon dinner held in the backyard of Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, in the fall of 2011. An influential group of economic, political and business leaders ­ including the former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Mark Bertolini, the chief executive of the Aetna insurance company ­ huddled in a too-small tent in the pouring rain."

This is such an amazing tidbit that it really should have been the lead of the article. The person most responsible for wrecking the economy -- and incidentially adding trillions of dollars to the debt -- was there at the founding of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Wow, what did Santa get you for Christmas?

 

 
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of the new book, The End of Loser Liberalism?

Friday, December 28, 2012

ANS -- “Don’t politicize tragedy” is itself partisan rhetoric

Here's another Doug Muder article.  In it, he points out that the right keeps calling out "Don't politicize tragedy" when we try to make a point from something like a massacre, but they have no trouble politicizing tragedies when it's to their advantage.  It seems to only stick to one side....
Find it here:  http://weeklysift.com/2012/12/17/dont-politicize-tragedy-is-itself-partisan-rhetoric/   
--Kim


December 17, 2012 – 10:30 am Categories: The Sifted Bookshelf | Post a comment


"Don't politicize tragedy" is itself partisan rhetoric

[] Some lines in our political dialog sound non-partisan, but they only come up in a one-sided way. Once the media habit gets established, those unwritten usage rules are very hard to change.

For years now, liberals have been trying to turn judicial activism back against conservatives. But no matter how many Citizens United or Bush v Gore decisions right-wing judges write, judicial activism only has glue on its left side; it won't stick to the Right.

We shouldn't politicize this tragedy is similarly one-sided. It is only said in two situations:
  1. To stop liberals from talking about gun control after a mass shooting.
  2. To stop liberals from talking about worker safety after a mine disaster, factory fire, or some other big industrial accident.

It never limits conservatives, who routinely score political points in the wake of tragedy without even a sense of hypocrisy. The possibility that don't politicize tragedy could apply to them just doesn't register.

So Fox News' Megyn Kelly can guiltlessly respond to the Newtown School shooting by asking a security expert:

I have two kids. Now I suddenly want to see an armed police officer in the school. I mean, I never even thought of that prior to now, but what would that take, to have an armed police officer in every school?

Kelly reaching for a more-guns solution is fine, but imagining fewer guns ­ as Bob Costas did two weeks before ­ politicizes tragedy.

In any other situation, major loss of life leads to action. The Patriot Act was signed six weeks after 9-11. I don't recall anyone saying we shouldn't politicize the tragedy. And as Chris Hayes observed Saturday,

If yesterday we had found out that the shooter's name was Abdulmutallab and that he had been attending a mosque in Connecticut, everything about the response would be different.

One difference: No one would be shutting down the Islamophobes for politicizing the tragedy.*

The most predictably outrageous politicization of tragedy always comes from the Religious Right. Who can forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9-11 on

the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America

Falwell is dead, but his blame-the-secularists game continues. Thursday, when a Fox News anchor suggested to Mike Huckabee that people might ask "How could God let this happen?", Huckabee responded by denouncing separation of church and state:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability ­ that we're not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don't believe that, then we don't fear that.

So suggesting any limitation to Second Amendment rights politicizes the tragedy, but it's fine for Huckabee to advocate against our First Amendment right to be free from an establishment of religion.

Huckabee was not alone. Bryan Fischer also started with "Where was God?"and went the same place with it:

[there should be a video here: go to site to see it.]

Here's the bottom line: God is not going to go where He's not wanted. Now we have spent ­ since 1962, we're 50 years into this now ­ we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost.

He then went through a litany First Amendment cases that limit Christian establishment before concluding:

We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us: "Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first."

I'm sure the Amish parents of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania wonder how exactly they banished God from their schoolhouse before five of their daughters were gunned down in 2006. But apparently Fischer's God** is subject to the same rule as vampires: Even if He wants to help, He's stuck on the threshold until somebody invites Him in.

In short, liberals: Don't be cowed by people who tell you not to politicize a mass shooting or a mine cave-in. The don't-politicize rule applies only to you. Whenever conservatives can spin a tragedy to their advantage, they will, and the self-appointed umpires who criticize you now will be completely silent.

*The same people who blame Islam for any crime by a guy with a Arab name ­ they twisted themselves into pretzels denying Christianity's responsibility for Anders Breivik's mass murder of liberal children in Norway (even though Breivik styled himself as a defender of Christendom). "No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder," Bill O'Reilly declared.

If you would laugh at a Muslim who said that about believers in Allah, you should laugh at O'Reilly too.

**In some ways conservative Christians preachers are a special case, because their flocks do ask "Where was God?" and the ministers have no answer. The question points to a hole in their theology: If the Universe were governed by the God they describe (all-powerful, loving, good, and personally involved), these things would not happen. It's that simple. It's not a paradox or a mystery, it's just a contradiction.

They can't admit that, so they have to deflect blame onto someone else.
December 17, 2012 – 9:16 am Categories: Articles | Comments (7)

ANS -- There Is No American Left

Here is what the US looks like to an Australian now.  Very interesting. 
Find it here:   http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13567-there-is-no-american-left   
--Kim


There Is No American Left

Thursday, 27 December 2012 09:49 By Salvatore Babones, Truthout | Op-Ed


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Photo: Iowa Democrats / Flickr)NOTE: This article originally appeared in Australian Options magazine. It is reproduced here with permission.

In September 2012 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to break the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with a bid to privatize Chicago's public schools. The mayor's proposal was based on a plan to subject teachers (and schools) to performance measurement based on students' standardized test scores.

Teachers whose students scored poorly would be fired. Schools whose students scored poorly would be closed. The students would then be farmed out to so-called "charter schools" - for the most part, for-profit institutions run by corporations like Edison Schools, Rocketship, Victory Schools, and Educational Services of America.

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The CTU went out on strike with the goal of maintaining public education in Chicago, America's third largest city. Schools in Philadelphia, America's fifth largest city, have already been largely privatized, and the state of Texas is currently in the process of privatizing its local public school systems.

Under threat of a court injunction that might force them to return to work without a contract, the CTU ended its strike after just six business days. The negotiated settlement terms included a longer working day (for the same pay), teacher evaluations based 30% on student test scores, and complete mayoral discretion over teacher hiring and firing.

As Reuters reported on September 18, "those were major goals for Emanuel and positive outcomes for any Emanuel financial backers associated with the national education reform movement." The outcome, however, was widely viewed in the United States as a victory for the teachers, since (amazingly, to most Americans) they retained their pre-strike jobs, salaries, and health insurance benefits.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, is a Democrat.

The Obama administration: Center-right Democrats

Rahm Emanuel is not just any Democrat. He was Barack Obama's first chief of staff, responsible for hiring many of the Obama administration's key personnel. One of Obama's appointees, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is a former "Chief Executive Officer" of the Chicago public school system. In Chicago he had promoted the expansion of for-profit charter schools.

In Washington, Secretary Duncan developed the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program to encourage states to privatize their schools. The funding was structured as a competition. All 50 states adopted the Race to the Top program in hopes of receiving scarce federal funding during a severe recession; only 12 actually received any grants. The tournament format was designed to ensure maximum institutional impact for the smallest possible investment.

It's not just in education policy that the Obama administration has pursued a broadly neoliberal, center-right agenda. For example, President Obama has taken no action to improve minimum wages or working conditions. The US federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with no guaranteed sick days, holidays, or vacation time. The last increase was in 2009, under a law passed by the Bush administration in 2007. President Bush actually supported the increase - in combination with business tax cuts.

The federal minimum wage for restaurant staff (and others who might be expected to receive customer tips) is just $2.13 an hour, against which the value of meals provided by the employer can be deducted.

But of course President Obama's signature program is health care reform. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is proudly or derisively (depending which side you're on) known as Obamacare. America has long been the only rich country without universal health insurance. Obamacare is intended to extend health insurance coverage to all Americans.

What is Obamacare really? At its heart is a requirement that all Americans will have to buy health insurance, mainly from private, for-profit insurance companies. Insurance premiums will remain largely unregulated, subject to the single requirement that insurance companies will have to accept all applicants and not be allowed to turn away those with pre-existing conditions.

People who refuse to buy health insurance will be forced to pay a $695 penalty. Given that the cost of the most basic private health insurance in the United States is far greater than this, many people are likely to remain uninsured even after Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014.

What's more, starting in 2017 states will essentially be able to opt out of Obamacare if they present an alternative plan that is approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. This requires no further action by Congress. So if the next US president is a Republican, expect every Republican-controlled state to opt out of universal healthcare as soon as that president is inaugurated.

And then there's foreign policy. The Obama administration foreign policy is slightly to the left of ... Dick Cheney. The Obama administration embraces targeted assassination and maintains a kill list - sorry, "disposition matrix" - of people it considers fair game for drone attacks. The Obama administration embraces the use of torture on people in US custody (with the sole specific exclusion of waterboarding). The Obama administration embraces the infliction of national collective punishment to induce civilian populations to overthrow their governments.

The Obama administration maintains a gulag archipelago of secret CIA prisons around the world, and automatically as a matter of policy classifies as "enemy combatants" any adolescent or adult male civilians who are killed in its military operations on the logic that if they were killed, they must have been combatants.

Non-Americans who applaud the Obama administration on the very limited basis that it hasn't invaded any other countries (yet) might consider these facts before forming their opinions. For a balanced view of the American foreign policy consensus, one need only listen to the October 22, 2012 third US presidential debate. Democrats are no doves.

And Then There Are the Republicans

If Democrats are no doves, Republicans are virtual velociraptors - and proud of it. Mitt Romney was considered a "moderate" Republican and easily the least right wing of the major contenders for the Republican nomination. In fact, his "moderateness" was the main charge made against him in the Republican primaries.

Nonetheless, Romney's official electoral platform called for a trade war with China, the privatization of old age pensions, the elimination of inheritance taxes, further expansion in US military spending, and of course the de-unionization of public employees.

Romney planned to create 12 million jobs by building oil pipelines, expanding offshore oil drilling, and working to "eliminate regulations destroying the coal industry." Offshore oil drilling alone would supposedly employ an additional 1.2 million Americans - the population of Dallas - in some New Atlantis floated on oil. In the immortal words of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin: "Drill, baby, drill."

The official Republican party platform for the 2012 elections called for a return to the gold standard, the complete outlawing of all abortions, the disenfranchisement of the (mainly black) residents of the District of Columbia, the vitiation of food and drug regulation, "consumer choice" in education, a flat income tax, and the building of a nationwide missile defence system. It had an entire 26-point section on "American Exceptionalism" based on "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history."

The most loathsome of Republican policies, however, is not listed on any party platform. It is the wholesale use of voter suppression as a strategy for electoral victory. Far from being mandatory, in the US, voting is a minority activity, governed by state-by-state rules and procedures. Less than 60% of the adult population votes in presidential elections, far less in congressional and local elections. Every American government is a minority government.

With its pro-rich tax policies, demonization of Spanish-speaking immigrants, opposition to all things feminist, anti-idealism that turns off young voters, and outright racism, the Republican Party simply can't win a fair national election. There just aren't enough rich middle-aged white male racists to win a majority. So it tries to suppress the vote of everyone else.

Republicans have made proof of citizenship (and, more importantly, mailing address) a major campaign issue, despite the fact that only 10 (yes, ten) cases of in-person voter fraud have been identified over the five federal elections between 2000 and 2010. The real purpose of these Republican-sponsored voter ID laws is to disenfranchise those who move frequently or have no fixed address: the young, the homeless, the very old, and the poor. In other words, Democrats.

Even more frightening, Republican state administrations around the country have vigorously pursued the installation of computerized voting machines made by companies that are controlled by activist Republican campaign contributors. These are not machines made by IBM or Apple or some other monolithic multinational firm (scary as that might be). These are voting machines made by - among others - companies in which the Romney family are investors.

In 2003 Diebold CEO (and major Bush fundraiser) Walden O'Dell infamously declared, ''I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." In 2004 Ohio's Republican government duly reported a late-evening change in voting patterns that swung Ohio (and the presidency) from John Kerry to George Bush. Ohio used Diebold voting machines.

In a country where voting is voluntary, however, it doesn't take a computer conspiracy to swing the vote. The Ohio state government overstaffed voting stations in Republican areas and understaffed then in Democratic ones. As a result, white suburbanites could vote in two minutes while some black inner-city dwellers waited in line for up to 10 hours. Waits of 2-3 hours or more were reported as commonplace in black districts.

Sadly, in the democratic United States of America such shenanigans aren't even illegal. For the Republican Party, they're just part of the game. Voter suppression works. Where suppression isn't enough, outright fraud is possible. It may be happening already. With unencrypted, paperless electronic voting machines that can't be audited and a lack of exit polling to verify results, we'll never know.

The End, or At Least the Ending

Why are the only two choices in US politics the responsible center-right and the barbarian nationalist extreme? It wasn't always this way. Though social scientists have long investigated / bemoaned the non-existence of a socialist alternative in the United States, the Democratic party of the 1930s - 1960s was at least as progressive as any social democratic party in Western Europe. Even the 1950s Republican party of Dwight Eisenhower maintained Roosevelt's New Deal reforms, including a 90% top marginal tax rate.

In fact, the Republican Party once had a liberal (i.e., left) faction. No more. In 1996, arch-conservative Barry Goldwater reportedly wondered in amazement that he and presidential candidate Bob Dole were by then on the left of the Republican party. Goldwater died in 1998; both parties have since moved much farther to the right. Today, Goldwater would be considered left even for a Democrat.

Over the past forty years, America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children - or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.

On every other issue, America - or at least American politics - has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world's greatest reactionary force.

Unfortunately, all the evidence is that the rest of the world is following America down the road to perdition. Nowhere are national health insurance schemes, access to free education, and old age pensions being expanded. Nowhere is the world moving forward. Everywhere the social gains of the twentieth century are either being eroded, or destroyed.

The mid-late twentieth century may or may not turn out to have been the highpoint of human civilization. Progress may yet return. But if it does, it will not be led by the United States. It will be resisted by the United States. It's up to the rest of the world to provide the hope for the future that once emanated from Washington, New York, and California. Otherwise you will become just like us.
[]



This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

ANS -- Questions Your Conservative Cousin Might Ask

I'm sorry this is too late for your family gatherings this year, but maybe you can use it at New Years?  He just explains it soooooo well...
this is from Doug Muder. 
Find it here:  http://weeklysift.com/2012/12/17/questions-your-conservative-cousin-might-ask/  
--Kim


Questions Your Conservative Cousin Might Ask

Holiday gatherings bring together people of all political persuasions, so you're likely to hear a variety of Fox News talking points. If you're unprepared, you usually wind up with a choice between keeping silent and starting a screaming argument. So it's a good idea to have some calm answers ready.

A complete list is impossible, I know, but these are two answers I have ready. Use the comments to add your own questions and answers.

If Warren Buffett thinks his taxes are too low, why can't he just write a check to the Treasury?

Sometimes you need to answer a question with a question: What problem do you think that check would solve?

Background: Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett has often made the point that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. This seems wrong to him, and so his name has gotten attached to the so-called Buffett Rule.

So anyway, if the problem is just that Buffett feels guilty about his tiny (in a relative sense) tax bill, then presumably a voluntary contribution to the Treasury would make him feel better. But I haven't seen any indication that Buffett feels guilty. He follows the rules. What's to feel guilty about?

Buffett brings up his personal situation because he sees it as a symptom of a larger problem: In our tax system, the super-rich pay lower rates than many middle-class people. It's a systemic injustice, not some personal injustice that Buffett does to his secretary or to the government.

So Buffett writing a check to the Treasury wouldn't solve the problem. The Buffett Rule would.

Why do liberals want to punish job creators?

This question comes up whenever we talk about raising income tax rates on the wealthy back to what they were under President Clinton.

There's a lot to unpack here. Let's start with punish. In general, taxes are not punishments. A state sales tax, for example, is not an attempt to punish people for buying things. Your local property tax is probably intended to fund public schools, not punish people for living somewhere. Ditto for the income tax.

Plus, it takes a real stretch of the imagination to look at the situation of rich people in the Clinton Era and describe it as punishment. Even at a Clintonesque tax rate, people will still want to be rich.

Next, consider want. Do liberals want to tax people? Not really. What we want is for our nation and our communities to have nice things ­ smooth roads, good schools, attractive parks, and so forth. We also want to put a safety net under people, so that lives aren't ruined by the kinds of misfortunes that could happen to anyone. And we want every child, no matter whether they're born to a wealthy family or a poor one, to have a legitimate chance to succeed.

If we could get all that out of a magic lamp, we would. But in non-magical reality, it takes money. That's why we support taxes.

Next, why tax rich people at a higher rate than everybody else? Again, it's not because we hate them or want to do them harm. Obviously, that's where the real money is, and (if someone has to give up something) we'd rather see the rich go without a vacation home than see middle-class families decide not to send their kids to college or poor people scrimp on medicine or food.

But the deep reason is that it is fair for the rich to pay more. They are the people who are winning this game; the burden of keeping the game going should fall more to them.

Finally, job creators. In conservative rhetoric, every employer is a job creator, and it takes money to be an employer. "I never got a job from a poor person," as the saying goes. So: more rich people with more money equals more jobs.

If only.

We could talk about the statistics, which show that as inequality increases, there is less job growth, but instead let's run a thought experiment on a specific guy: John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John's Pizza. Wikipedia claims that Papa John's employs about 16,000 people. So, did Schnatter create those jobs?

Let me ask that a different way: What happens if Schnatter goes Galt? He folds his company, converts all his assets into gold, and disappears into some secret enclave in the Rockies. Does the economy really have 16,000 fewer jobs?

I don't think so. I believe people who want pizzas just buy them somewhere else, and other pizza-makers expand to fulfill the demand. Probably they have to hire something like 16,000 more people. In short, I don't think Schnatter creates any jobs. Demand for pizzas creates jobs. Schnatter is an easily replaced middleman.

The most successful entrepreneurs are those who destroy jobs. Putting aside the vulture-capitalism stories about Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, his big success story is Staples, a healthy business with around 50,000 employees. But before Staples, businesses got their office supplies from a variety of smaller shops and firms, most of which are gone now. Who employed more people ­ Staples or the companies it drove out of business? It would be tough to calculate the exact number, but I am confident the results would say that (when you net it all out) Staples destroyed jobs.

You know what really does create jobs? Infrastructure: highways, airports, reliable electricity. And nobody does infrastructure better than the government ­ if it can collect taxes.

ANS -- Awake, Hungry and Idle No More

Do you know that a chief of a major Canadian First Nation is on a hunger strike to make Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister, talk to her?  It's been 14 days, and he has not given in to talk to her, one human being to another.  Will he let this great chief die?
This is a short article by Naomi Klein. 
Find it here:  http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/15234-focus-awake-hungry-and-idle-no-more  
--Kim



Author, journalist Naomi Klein reporting from Alberta, Canada.  
Author, journalist Naomi Klein reporting from Alberta, Canada. 10/28/10. (photo: Indigenous Environmental Network)

go to original article


FOCUS: Awake, Hungry and Idle No More

By Naomi Klein, NaomiKlein.org

26 December 12

 

[] woke up just past midnight with a bolt. My six-month-old son was crying. He has a cold - the second of his short life– and his blocked nose frightens him. I was about to get up when he started snoring again. I, on the other hand, was wide awake.

A single thought entered my head: Chief Theresa Spence is hungry. Actually it wasn't a thought. It was a feeling. The feeling of hunger. Lying in my dark room, I pictured the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation lying on a pile of blankets in her teepee across from Parliament Hill, entering day 14 of her hunger strike.

I had of course been following Chief Spence's protest and her demand to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the plight of her people and his demolition of treaty rights through omnibus legislation. I had worried about her. Supported her. Helped circulate the petitions. But now, before the distancing filters of light and reason had a chance to intervene, I felt her. The determination behind her hunger. The radicality of choosing this time of year, a time of so much stuffing -mouths, birds, stockings -to say: I am hungry. My people are hungry. So many people are hungry and homeless. Your new laws will only lead to more of this misery. Can we talk about it like human beings?

Lying there, I imagined another resolve too - Prime Minister Harper's. Telling himself: I will not meet with her. I will not cave in to her. I will not be forced to do anything.

Mr. Harper may relent, scared of the political fallout from letting this great leader die. I dearly hope he does. I want Chief Spence to eat. But I won't soon forget this clash between these two very different kinds of resolve, one so sealed off, closed in; the other cracked wide open, a conduit for the pain of the world.

But Chief Spence's hunger is not just speaking to Mr. Harper. It is also speaking to all of us, telling us that the time for bitching and moaning is over. Now is the time to act, to stand strong and unbending for the people, places and principles that we love.

This message is a potent gift. So is the Idle No More movement - its name at once a firm commitment to the future, while at the same time a gentle self-criticism of the past. We did sit idly by, but no more.

The greatest blessing of all, however, is indigenous sovereignty itself. It is the huge stretches of this country that have never been ceded by war or treaty. It is the treaties signed and still recognized by our courts. If Canadians have a chance of stopping Mr. Harper's planet-trashing plans, it will be because these legally binding rights -backed up by mass movements, court challenges, and direct action will stand in his way. All Canadians should offer our deepest thanks that our indigenous brothers and sisters have protected their land rights for all these generations, refusing to turn them into one-off payments, no matter how badly they were needed. These are the rights Mr. Harper is trying to extinguish now.

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada's roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

ANS -- In Girl’s Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia

this is early research, and it doesn't always work, and they don't know why, though they have guesses, but it looks like there might be a cure for some types of cancer in it.  We can hope so....  the cure makes the patient very sick for a while though.....
Find it here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/health/a-breakthrough-against-leukemia-using-altered-t-cells.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&smid=FB-nytimes  
--Kim




Advertise on NYTimes.com

In Girl's Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia

[]  
Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Emma Whitehead, with her mother, Kari. Last spring, Emma was near death from acute lymphoblastic leukemia but is now in remission after an experimental treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. More Photos »

By DENISE GRADY


Published: December 9, 2012 381 Comments

PHILIPSBURG, Pa. ­ Emma Whitehead has been bounding around the house lately, practicing somersaults and rugby-style tumbles that make her parents wince.

Multimedia
[]  Slide Show

An Experimental Treatment for Leukemia



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Readers' Comments

"As an M.D. I tend to cringe at the reaction to these articles. This treatment was a big gamble, and one worth taking, but all to often these decisions are judged by their (unpredictable) outcomes."

JW, NY
It is hard to believe, but last spring Emma, then 6, was near death from leukemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy, and doctors had run out of options.

Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma's immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.

The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal ­ giving a patient's own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.

Emma had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia since 2010, when she was 5, said her parents, Kari and Tom. She is their only child.

She is among just a dozen patients with advanced leukemia to have received the experimental treatment, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. Similar approaches are also being tried at other centers, including the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

"Our goal is to have a cure, but we can't say that word," said Dr. Carl June, who leads the research team at the University of Pennsylvania. He hopes the new treatment will eventually replace bone-marrow transplantation, an even more arduous, risky and expensive procedure that is now the last hope when other treatments fail in leukemia and related diseases.

Three adults with chronic leukemia treated at the University of Pennsylvania have also had complete remissions, with no signs of disease; two of them have been well for more than two years, said Dr. David Porter. Four adults improved but did not have full remissions, and one was treated too recently to evaluate. A child improved and then relapsed. In two adults, the treatment did not work at all. The Pennsylvania researchers were presenting their results on Sunday and Monday in Atlanta at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

Despite the mixed results, cancer experts not involved with the research say it has tremendous promise, because even in this early phase of testing it has worked in seemingly hopeless cases. "I think this is a major breakthrough," said Dr. Ivan Borrello, a cancer expert and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. John Wagner, the director of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation at the University of Minnesota, called the Pennsylvania results "phenomenal" and said they were "what we've all been working and hoping for but not seeing to this extent."

A major drug company, Novartis, is betting on the Pennsylvania team and has committed $20 million to building a research center on the university's campus to bring the treatment to market.

HervĂ© Hoppenot, the president of Novartis Oncology, called the research "fantastic" and said it had the potential ­ if the early results held up ­ to revolutionize the treatment of leukemia and related blood cancers. Researchers say the same approach, reprogramming the patient's immune system, may also eventually be used against tumors like breast and prostate cancer.

To perform the treatment, doctors remove millions of the patient's T-cells ­ a type of white blood cell ­ and insert new genes that enable the T-cells to kill cancer cells. The technique employs a disabled form of H.I.V. because it is very good at carrying genetic material into T-cells. The new genes program the T-cells to attack B-cells, a normal part of the immune system that turn malignant in leukemia.

The altered T-cells ­ called chimeric antigen receptor cells ­ are then dripped back into the patient's veins, and if all goes well they multiply and start destroying the cancer.

The T-cells home in on a protein called CD-19 that is found on the surface of most B-cells, whether they are healthy or malignant.

A sign that the treatment is working is that the patient becomes terribly ill, with raging fevers and chills ­ a reaction that oncologists call "shake and bake," Dr. June said. Its medical name is cytokine-release syndrome, or cytokine storm, referring to the natural chemicals that pour out of cells in the immune system as they are being activated, causing fevers and other symptoms. The storm can also flood the lungs and cause perilous drops in blood pressure ­ effects that nearly killed Emma.

Steroids sometimes ease the reaction, but they did not help Emma. Her temperature hit 105. She wound up on a ventilator, unconscious and swollen almost beyond recognition, surrounded by friends and family who had come to say goodbye.

But at the 11th hour, a battery of blood tests gave the researchers a clue as to what might help save Emma: her level of one of the cytokines, interleukin-6 or IL-6, had shot up a thousandfold. Doctors had never seen such a spike before and thought it might be what was making her so sick.

Dr. June knew that a drug could lower IL-6 ­ his daughter takes it for rheumatoid arthritis. It had never been used for a crisis like Emma's, but there was little to lose. Her oncologist, Dr. Stephan A. Grupp, ordered the drug. The response, he said, was "amazing."

Within hours, Emma began to stabilize. She woke up a week later, on May 2, the day she turned 7; the intensive-care staff sang "Happy Birthday."

Since then, the research team has used the same drug, tocilizumab, in several other patients.

In patients with lasting remissions after the treatment, the altered T-cells persist in the bloodstream, though in smaller numbers than when they were fighting the disease. Some patients have had the cells for years.

Dr. Michel Sadelain, who conducts similar studies at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, said: "These T-cells are living drugs. With a pill, you take it, it's eliminated from your body and you have to take it again." But T-cells, he said, "could potentially be given only once, maybe only once or twice or three times."

The Pennsylvania researchers said they were surprised to find any big drug company interested in their work, because a new batch of T-cells must be created for each patient ­ a far cry from the familiar commercial strategy of developing products like Viagra or cholesterol medicines, in which millions of people take the same drug.
  • 1



In Girl's Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia


Published: December 9, 2012 381 Comments

(Page 2 of 2)

But Mr. Hoppenot said Novartis was taking a different path with cancer drugs, looking for treatments that would have a big, unmistakable impact on a small number of patients. Such home-run drugs can be approved more quickly and efficiently, he said, with smaller studies than are needed for drugs with less obvious benefits.

Multimedia
[]  Slide Show

An Experimental Treatment for Leukemia



Related


Readers' Comments

"As an M.D. I tend to cringe at the reaction to these articles. This treatment was a big gamble, and one worth taking, but all to often these decisions are judged by their (unpredictable) outcomes."

JW, NY
"The economic model is totally acceptable," Mr. Hoppenot said.

But such drugs tend to be extremely expensive. A prime example is the Novartis drug Gleevec, which won rapid approval in 2001 for use against certain types of leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors. It can cost more than $5,000 a month, depending on the dosage.

Dr. June said that producing engineered T-cells costs about $20,000 per patient ­ far less than the cost of a bone-marrow transplant. Scaling up the procedure should make it even less expensive, he said, but he added, "Our costs do not include any profit margin, facility depreciation costs or other clinical care costs, and other research costs."

The research is still in its early stages, and many questions remain. The researchers are not entirely sure why the treatment works, or why it sometimes fails. One patient had a remission after being treated only twice, and even then the reaction was so delayed that it took the researchers by surprise. For the patients who had no response whatsoever, the team suspects a flawed batch of T-cells. The child who had a temporary remission apparently relapsed because not all of her leukemic cells had the marker that was targeted by the altered T-cells.

It is not clear whether a patient's body needs the altered T-cells forever. The cells do have a drawback: they destroy healthy B-cells as well as cancerous ones, leaving patients vulnerable to certain types of infections, so Emma and the other patients need regular treatments with immune globulins to prevent illness.

So far, her parents say, Emma seems to have taken it all in stride. She went back to school this year with her second-grade classmates, and though her grades are high and she reads about 50 books a month, she insists impishly that her favorite subjects are lunch and recess.

"It's time for her to be a kid again and get her childhood back," Mr. Whitehead said.

ANS -- The Web of Privilege

This is from Doug Muder's Free and Responsible Search site -- his more contemplative works.  It's about ways to think about privilege that don't alienate those whose privilege you are pointing out to them. 
Find it here:   http://freeandresponsible.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-web-of-privilege.html   
--Kim


Thursday, December 20, 2012


The Web of Privilege

presented at First Unitarian Church of Athol, Massachusetts
December 9, 2012

Opening Words

"What you believe depends on what you've seen, -- not only what is visible, but what you are prepared to look in the face." -- Salman Rushdie

Meditation

from Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina:

Levin had often noticed in arguments between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, an enormous number of logical subtleties and words, the arguers would finally come to the awareness that what they had spent so long struggling to prove to each other had been known to them long, long before, from the beginning of the argument, but that they loved different things and therefore did not want to name what they loved, so as not to be challenged.

He had often felt that sometimes during an argument you would understand what your opponent loves, and suddenly come to love the same thing yourself, and agree all at once, and then all reasonings would fall away as superfluous; and sometimes it was the other way round: you would finally say what you yourself love, for the sake of which you are inventing your reasonings, and if you happened to say it well and sincerely, the opponent would suddenly agree and stop arguing.

First Reading

In Sacred Ground , Eboo Patel quotes Jesse Jackson saying this to a Muslim group in the wake of 9-11:

You have a choice to make right now: You can talk about an America where your people don't get sent to the back of the bus, or you can talk about an America where no one gets sent to the back of the bus.

Second Reading

Last summer, Wayne Self's Owldolatrous blog suddenly went viral because of a series of posts about the Chick-fil-A boycott.

Chick-fil-A had long supported "family values" organizations that not only work against gay rights in this country, but also try to make homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment or even death in countries like Uganda. The company's policies finally came to public attention when their president, the Founder's son Dan Cathy, went on a talk-radio program and said that supporters of marriage equality for gays have a "prideful, arrogant attitude" and are "inviting God's judgment on our nation". That led to a boycott against Chick-fil-A, which Wayne Self, a gay man, wanted to promote.

Now normally, the way you promote something like that is you stand on the barricades and yell about what evil bastards the people on the other side are: We're the good people; they're the bad people.

But Self did an unusual thing: He didn't just try to rally the troops who already agreed with him. He decided he wanted to convince people who either hadn't been involved in this issue, or maybe even had been leaning the other way.

So he didn't write rants. He wrote fables, he told stories, he had heart-to-heart dialogs with the commenters on his blog. Most important of all, he did not put himself on a pedestal and demonize his opponents.

Instead, in this post, he talked about an attitude we all have to struggle against,which he called supremacy and defined as "the habit of believing or acting as if your life, your love, your culture, your self has more intrinsic worth than those of people who differ from you." And he focused not just on denouncing heterosexual supremacists, who think their relationships have more intrinsic worth than gay relationships, but also on his own struggle to overcome supremacist attitudes:

I grew up in the rural South. I never hated African-Americans. I never knowingly said or did or voted in any way that hurt African-American people. I even had African-American friends. But I'd be lying to you if I didn't admit that some white supremacy seeped into my thinking at a very young age. This is a painful thing to admit. Even now, I find I can't go into specifics, from sheer shame. ...

Some people turn supremacy into an over-arching philosophy. For most, it's just a habit of mind. As a habit of mind, supremacist ideas can spring up in anyone. Being liberal doesn't make you immune. Being gay doesn't make you immune. Being a minority doesn't make you immune.

You don't have to hate people to feel innately superior to them. After all, what kind of threat are your inferiors to you? You may be annoyed by them, from time to time, or you may even like them. You can even have so much affection for them that you might call that affection love.

The dangerous thing about a supremacist point of view is that it can accompany even warm affection. [But] supremacy turns to hate when the feeling of innate superiority is openly challenged.

Like many habits, supremacy can be unconscious. Sometimes you don't know you're doing it until someone points it out. ...

I'm 43 years old now, and I've had time to change my supremacist habits of mind. I did it by knowing more African-American people, by listening instead of talking, by humbling myself and not demanding that I must agree with everyone in order to support them,and, most importantly, by admitting that other people's real lives were more important than my mere beliefs.

Sermon: The Web of Privilege

I went to college in the Seventies, when feminism was raising women's consciousness about all the ways that traditional gender roles work against them. So naturally, I heard a lot from female classmates about my male privilege. And I couldn't very well argue, because they were right, I did get unfair advantages from being a man. But all the same, those lectures used to annoy me, so let me try to explain why.

I grew up in a working class family. The factory my father worked in was loud and dangerous and full of nasty odors that stuck to him when he came home.

He had that job because he didn't go to college. But he had graduated from high school, and he was proud of that, because his father had only graduated from eighth grade. And grandpa was proud too, I imagine, because it probably wasn't that many generations back that the Muders were all illiterate.

My sister and I were the first generation in our family to go to college, and eventually I would be the first to get a Ph.D. I will never forget meeting my parents after the graduation ceremony and seeing my father go misty-eyed. "Dr. Muder," he said, as if only a miracle could have brought those two words together.

So while I was getting that education, even though I recognized the injustice of discrimination against women, it still grated on me that daughters of professors and daughters of millionaires could only see my unfair advantages.

 

Now, I'm not trying to start an argument about whether classism or sexism is harder to overcome, or how either compares to racism or religious prejudice or some other variety of unfairness. Quite the opposite, I think we've already had too many of those arguments. Throughout American history, it's been way too hard to get people united against unfairness in general, and way too easy for the Powers That Be to play one disadvantaged group off against another. 

Before the Civil War, for example, the abolitionist movement split over whether or not women could hold leadership positions. And after the war, the women's suffrage movement split over the 15th amendment, which gave the vote to black men. (Two famous Unitarian suffragettes parted ways on that. Lucy Stone supported the amendment and Susan B. Anthony didn't.)

As best I can tell, there has never been a widespread movement to treat everyone more fairly, and to battle unfairness wherever it appears. Instead, we typically look at privilege one dimension at a time -- as racism or sexism or some other Ism. That simplifies things by letting us draw sharp lines between the privileged and the disadvantaged: white and black, native and immigrant, straight and gay, men and women.

But today I'd like to suggest that the Isms oversimplify our notion of privilege. Once you have drawn a line, it's easy imagine a wall there. On one side are the victims, and on the other the oppressors.

Packaged with that metaphorical wall is a complete set of emotions for each side. On the victim side you're supposed to feel resentment, anger, and envy. On the oppressor side, guilt, but also fear of all those angry people, and anxiety about the possibility of losing a privilege that you have had all your life and may not know how to live without.

Fear and anxiety can tempt a person to adopt the attitude that Wayne Self called supremacy. You can start to rationalize that the wall is good and natural, and I deserve to be on this side of it, because I am more important or more deserving than the people on the other side. Nothing personal, but there's a very rational reason why I have to be here and they have to be there.

Today I want to use a different metaphor for privilege and unfairness, one that I think better captures its multi-dimensional nature.

Privilege isn't a wall, it's a web.

We all have a complicated relationship to privilege. Everyone, in some aspect of life, is treated unfairly. And everyone also, in some other way, benefits from unfairness. There are many ways to cut that web in two. But depending on who makes that cut and what kind of unfairness they single out, any of us might find ourselves on either the disadvantaged side or the privileged side.

 

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming that it all evens out. I stand here today as a straight, white, American male. I am able-bodied, happily married, well educated, and over six feet tall. It would be ridiculous for me to claim that it all evens out, just because I face an occasional disadvantage here or there. No, all I'm claiming is that privilege is a subtle issue.

And while I believe nearly everyone -- even people like me -- could be happier in a fairer world, that progress will not come for free. We're not going to get to a fairer world just by claiming our rights in the situations where we are treated unfairly. We'll also have to raise our consciousness about the ways that we benefit from unfairness.

 

One problem with thinking of privilege as a wall comes from the villainous stereotypes we have of the people on the oppressor side: Simon Legree driving his slaves; Scrooge, asking why the poor can't be sent to prisons or workhouses; or even hotel magnate Leona Helmsley saying, "Taxes are for the little people."

If that's how we picture the privileged, then how are we going to react when someone draws the line in such a way that we wind up on the privileged side?

Not well, probably. You know you don't get up in the morning planning to be a villain, so if someone seems to be saying that you are one, your instinctive reaction is going to be: "No. That can't be right."

Stung by the charge, it's tempting to turn the whole thing around, to point back at the people who are pointing the finger at you and say, "They're the ones who are being unfair. They're persecuting me with these vicious accusations."

And so, Rush Limbaugh feels terribly persecuted by the people who say he's a racist, and by all the "feminazis" who say he's sexist. They're the villains, not him.

An even better example is Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A. I don't doubt that he sees a good, Christian man in his mirror. He creates jobs. He generously supports what he calls "family values", but what gays like Wayne Self see as heterosexual supremacy.

So when gay-rights supporters boycott Cathy's restaurants, that just proves to Cathy's allies how oppressed Christians are in this country. Mike Huckabee sees the boycotters unfairly trying to punish Cathy for doing nothing more than speaking his truth and living the values of his faith. A wall of privilege separates Christians from secular society, and to Huckabee it's secularists like Wayne Self who are on the privileged side. Dan Cathy -- that straight, white, male, Christian, millionaire CEO -- is oppressed.

 

Today I'd like to suggest a different stereotype of privilege, something a little less villainous than Scrooge or Simon Legree. It comes from the movie Pleasantville, which some of you may have seen.

In this movie, a teen-age brother and sister get hold of a magic remote control and are zapped into a 1950s TV show, one of those family comedies like Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. Suddenly, they are the son and daughter of the Parkers, a perfect TV family living in the perfect TV town of Pleasantville.

Naturally, things start to change all around. The teens learn a few things from their new experiences, and the people of Pleasantville start asking the kinds of questions that characters on such shows never asked, like "Do I like my life?" and "Why do things have to be this way?" In particular, Mrs. Parker discovers that being the perfect housewife is not really what she wants out of life, or at least it's not all she wants.

And that sets up this scene:

George Parker, the father of the perfect TV family, comes home from work. He opens the door, hangs his hat on a hook like he always does, and announces, "Honey, I'm home", expecting his beautiful, smiling wife to come out of the kitchen and his perfect children to bounce down the stairs to greet him, like they always do.

Today, though, the house is dark and silent but for the thunder of a storm outside. And George looks like a magician who has said the magic words, but is still waiting for the puff of smoke and the rabbit to appear in his hat.

So he says the magic words again, "Honey, I'm home." Nothing happens.

He wanders through the house, and into the kitchen where nothing is on the table. "Where's my dinner?" he wonders. He looks in the oven, inside the kettles. "Where's my dinner?" Uncomprehending, he goes back outside, into the rain, and pleads with this suddenly unsympathetic universe: "Where's my dinner?"

 

Remember: George Parker is somebody's idea of the perfect Dad. He never intended to be a bad guy. All his life he has tried to be a very good guy, and he thought he was doing a decent job of it. Society gave him a role to play, and he played it to the best of his ability. That's how he thought life was supposed to be: I play my role, you play your role, and it all works out.

Now, if you could sit George down and make him think about it, maybe he'd realize that his role as a professional-class husband and father is a little easier and more pleasant than some of the other roles in Pleasantville.

But he doesn't think about it, because he doesn't have to. He's never had to plot with the other professional-class husbands to oppress his wife or the characters who do Pleasantville's menial jobs. That's just how the social roles work out. And he assumes that because he's happy in his role, other people must be happy in theirs.

George's example points out several aspects of privilege that may make our own privileges easier to see. First, the privileged are usually not evil, they're just oblivious.

Saturday Night Live brought that home in a skit a few months ago: Geeks on a technology show are picking apart the flaws of the new iPhone 5, when the host unexpectedly brings out three workers from the iPhone factory in Shenzhen.

Suddenly, all the complaints dry up.

"We understand," sympathizes one of the Chinese, who makes a tiny wage for doing debilitating work in unhealthy conditions. "Apple Maps, it no work. You want Starbucks, it take you Dunkin Donuts. Must be so hard for you."

 

You probably don't think about it very often -- I know I don't -- but every time you walk into a store, you are playing a privileged role as an American consumer. All over the world, underpaid people are breaking their backs or even risking their lives so that you can pay $10 for a pair of jeans or have fruit in the middle of winter.

It's so easy to forget that.

The whole retail environment conspires with our obliviousness.There's no workshop in the back where you can see production happening. You just see a product and a price. The product doesn't come from anywhere. No one makes it. It just appears on the shelf by magic.

 

And that points up a second way in which our privilege resembles George Parker's: It's more systemic than personal.

If you've ever bought clothes at WalMart or Sears, they may have been made at the factory that burned down last month in Bangladesh. Over 100 workers died in that fire because there were no outside-the-building fire escapes. Those deaths were easily preventable if the factory hadn't been under so much pressure to keep costs down.

Now, you didn't want anything bad to happen to those workers. You didn't demand that WalMart squeeze that last fifty cents out of the cost of your shirt. Like George, you just played your role in the system.

George never wanted his wife to be unhappy. He just wanted dinner. And there's nothing actually wrong with wanting dinner, just like there's nothing wrong with wanting an iPhone or a Chick-fil-A sandwich or a good deal on a pair of jeans. What's wrong is that attitude of supremacy, that feeling that our needs, our desires, our inconveniences are so much more important anybody else's.

And because privilege is so systemic, even if you manage to overcome your obliviousness and root out that attitude of supremacy, it's not always clear what to do.

Last January, a series of articles called attention to the abusive conditions in those Chinese factories that make Apple's gadgets. I paid attention because I have an iPad and a MacBook that might have come from there. In a year or two I might want a newer model.

But what should I do? Throwing my iPad away accomplishes nothing. Buying a competing product accomplishes nothing, because they're all made in similar factories that treat workers no better. And if people like me forgo electronic gadgets entirely, the workers won't be treated any better, they'll just lose their jobs.

If you want electronic gadgets, and are willing to pay someone a livable wage to make them for you … the market doesn't offer you that option. In the comments on the online versions of those articles, many people wondered: Why can't Apple -- or somebody -- make an "ethical iPad" and charge a little more to recover the higher costs?

But of course that would break the spell of the Apple Store. If the ethical iPad were displayed next to the "unethical" iPad,everybody who chose between them would have to think about where these products come from.

The magic of retail would be lost.

So the market doesn't offer that option. With only a few exceptions -- like Fair Trade coffee or vegetables at the farmers' market -- it rarely does. The workers are treated the way they're treated, and you either want the product or you don't. No personal choice you can make will solve the problem. And if you feel guilty about it, that doesn't change anything either.

 

So far what I'm describing is more tragic than malicious. So of course it can't be the whole story, because the history of privilege and oppression is full of malice. It's full of wars and riots and lynchings and beating up people who try to organize the underprivileged. Where does all that come from? It starts with how you react when your obliviousness gets challenged, when the under-privileged begin to raise their consciousness and tell you that this is unfair, or when they stop cooperating and disrupt the system of privilege.

When that happens, I imagine that everybody's initial reaction is the same: We notice our own inconvenience first. George may eventually learn to empathize with his wife, but the very first thing he notices is that he has no dinner. Dan Cathy notices that his restaurants are getting bad publicity. I notice that people are making me feel guilty about owning an iPad.

And because we never planned on being villains, there's a strong temptation to deny everything to tell each other stories that make us feel better. After the fire in Bangladesh, Fox News told us how happy those workers were to have those jobs. People have been telling stories like that for generations: The slaves were said to be happy on the Southern plantations, and 19th-century women were content to let their husbands worry about difficult issues like voting or owning property.

Sometimes the stories even say that the victims deserve what they get, like those evil gays and lesbians who break God's law, or those pushy women and uppity blacks who insist on going where nobody wants them. As Wayne Self wrote: "Supremacy turns to hate when the feeling of innate superiority is openly challenged."

Even when you have to admit that you've been benefitting from privilege, it's tempting to hold up your own inconvenience, your doing-without-dinner, as if it were equal to other people's lifelong oppression.

In another post, Wayne Self shoots down the idea that Dan Cathy's public-relations problems are in any way equivalent to the problems faced by gays: "This isn't about mutual tolerance," he writes, "because there's nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don't."

Yes, the privileged suffer too, but on an entirely different scale. "Men," Margaret Atwood observed, "are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

 

So, to sum up, you were born into an unfair society, just like everybody else. But it's not unfair in just one way. The ways that unfairness works against you are usually pretty obvious. But it's easy to remain oblivious to all the ways it works for you.

You're not responsible for where in the web of privilege you were born, but you are responsible for whether or not you remain oblivious to it. And you're responsible for how you respond after you become aware. Do you make amends where you can? Do you work for systemic change when personal change isn't enough? Or do you make excuses for your privileges and blame the victims for the inconveniences you suffer when they try to improve their lot? When you are treated unfairly, do you regard those who are privileged over you as villains who don't resemble you at all?

It would be pleasant to think that once you see the light, there's a simple way to go and sin no more. But very often there isn't, because your privilege is baked into the system and you can't just give it back.

That's why it's so important that when you have an opportunity to make the world fairer, you do something with it. And when suffering people come to you with a plan to change the system, listen hard and give them a little benefit of the doubt, even if their issue seems distant or their plan seems unlikely to work. Because the system does need to change. A lot of the unfairness in the world isn't going to be fixed just by individuals deciding to do the right thing.

And finally, it's important not to forget either side of the experience of privilege. When we benefit from unfairness, it's important to recall how it feels to be taken advantage of. And when we suffer from unfairness, we need to remember how shocking it can be to suddenly recognize a privilege that you never thought about and never asked for.

Holding both those experiences in mind can help us stay in dialog with those whose privileges are different, and make us more effective in working with them for ever more fairness.

Closing Words  

The closing words are by President Lyndon Johnson.

In March of 1965, after violence in Selma had killed a number of civil rights demonstrators, including the Unitarian minister James Reeb, Johnson convened a joint session of Congress and asked them to pass the Voting Rights Act.

Johnson was never known as a great speaker, and many Northerners had trouble believing that anything worthwhile could be said in that rural Texas accent he had. But that day he gave a remarkable speech, and it built up to this conclusion:

"It is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."
Posted by Doug Muder at 9:29 AM 1 comment: []

Monday, December 24, 2012

ANS -- The Moral Animal

this is an interesting article.  It tells us what religion is for.  Is there a good substitute?  Something that will give us the good parts without the bad parts?  anyway, he says research shows that people who have a religious practice are more altruistic and empathetic. 
Find it here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/opinion/the-moral-animal.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&smid=fb-share&adxnnlx=1356390256-XR9FWNcyRkkllemwrlPDTg   
--Kim


Op-Ed Contributor


The Moral Animal


By JONATHAN SACKS


Published: December 23, 2012 105 Comments

London
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Alain Pilon
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IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West's newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?

At first glance, religion is in decline. In Britain, the results of the 2011 national census have just been published. They show that a quarter of the population claims to have no religion, almost double the figure 10 years ago. And though the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation ­ double the number a generation ago.

Looked at another way, though, the figures tell a different story. Since the 18th century, many Western intellectuals have predicted religion's imminent demise. Yet after a series of withering attacks, most recently by the new atheists, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising.

The irony is that many of the new atheists are followers of Charles Darwin. We are what we are, they say, because it has allowed us to survive and pass on our genes to the next generation. Our biological and cultural makeup constitutes our "adaptive fitness." Yet religion is the greatest survivor of them all. Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animals, from chimpanzees to dolphins to leafcutter ants.

Neuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animals.

The precise implications of Darwin's answer are still being debated by his disciples ­ Harvard's E. O. Wilson in one corner, Oxford's Richard Dawkins in the other. To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman's phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past ­ and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

No one has shown this more elegantly than the political scientist Robert D. Putnam. In the 1990s he became famous for the phrase "bowling alone": more people were going bowling, but fewer were joining bowling teams. Individualism was slowly destroying our capacity to form groups. A decade later, in his book "American Grace," he showed that there was one place where social capital could still be found: religious communities.

Mr. Putnam's research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. This may go to show that God has a sense of humor. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God.


Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords.