Commentary

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Commentary on November 19th, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

This was originally posted in December of 2010. I suppose I’m being pushy in reposting it every year, but here it is.

Our subject today is “The War On Christmas” and, once again, I feel compelled to note that people on the extreme edges of such discussion have more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of us who get caught in their crossfire.

I have been wishing people “Merry Christmas” for nearly five decades. I have been wishing people “Happy Holidays” for roughly the same length of time.

When I say “Happy Holidays” I don’t say it to be polite, nor to be inclusive, nor to be accepting of anyone’s agenda, beliefs or point of view. It is a straightforward and heartfelt expression of goodwill, and that is all. I might say it to a fellow Christian, and if it is offensive to him then I shall take comfort in the fact that there is at least someone in the world who has more time for trivia and who is less well-adjusted than I.

When I say “Merry Christmas” I don’t say it to make a political statement. Again, it is a straightforward expression of goodwill, and, again, if people should take offense then I wish them well, and am grateful that I an unencumbered of such thin skin.

The two greetings are not interchangeable, in that I wouldn’t say “Merry Christmas” on Thanksgiving Day or on New Years Day. I also wouldn’t be likely to say “Merry Christmas” to an individual who I know doesn’t celebrate it, any more than I would be likely to say “Happy Hanukkah” to someone who doesn’t celebrate it. This is not a matter of political correctness, or a matter of politics at all. It is a matter of simple courtesy, and also of using language precisely to express a coherent and appropriate thought.

Two of the worst things about what passes for political discussion in our society today, in my humble opinion, are the dogged determination to corrupt our language and the equally dogged determination to focus our attention on insignificant bullshit when there are serious problems that ought to be rationally discussed. I can, perhaps, do precious little to nudge the debate toward things of true importance, but I certainly can (and most stubbornly shall) own my own words. They belong to me. They express my own thoughts and feelings. Speech police on all sides are unwelcome.

So, should you feel the need to correct my speech because it does not support your agenda, however noble you deem that agenda to be, I will reply in the only manner I can think of that seems appropriate.

“Bah! Humbug!”

P.S. If I should happen to say “Gesundheit” (i.e., “good health to you”) it’s not that I don’t also wish you “God Bless.”

Happy Holidays!

Poverty Got You Down? Call in the Guard.

Posted in Commentary, Curated Links on July 12th, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Gun violence in Chicago has gotten so bad this summer that members of Congress (including Bobby Rush) are convening a “summit on urban violence,” and Illinois State Representative Monique Davis is demanding that Governor Quinn send in the National Guard “to protect our children so they can go to the park and swim and play and have a childhood.”

For his part, Mayor Rahm Emaunuel wants to continue to focus on “the four P’s – policing, parenting, prevention and penalties” as solutions to the problem. Considering the probable effects of His Honor’s war on children and teachers, they’re likely to need a lot more of the policing and penalties part of that equation in the near future.

I would humbly suggest that someone ought to begin focusing on the most important “P-Factor” relating to violence in our cities: POVERTY.

Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Cedric Johnson, Martha Biondi and Barbara Ransby take a look at the true roots of urban violence in their panel discussion presented at the Socialism 2013 Conference: Poverty Pulls the Trigger.

Click here for the MP3 Download from We Are Many.

Poverty can be a prison in itself

Is This Just?

Posted in Commentary on June 14th, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Those of us who are comfortable – and by that, I mean we who live in a decent home, have enough to eat, have access to medical care when we need it, who can offer a good education to our children, who are kept relatively safe and have a sense of stability and continuity in our lives – are able to enjoy our comforts only because of a system that subjects millions of other people in our country and around the globe to violence, illness, poverty, hunger, insecurity and despair each and every day.

To acknowledge this is the beginning.

Benghazi: The Real Scandal

Posted in Commentary, Curated Links on May 16th, 2013 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Last week, I posted an update on Facebook noting that Congressional critics and the news media are fundamentally asking the wrong questions about Benghazi. Though it is obvious that the GOP’s focus on the “scandal” represents the worst sort of partisan opportunism – there is, I believe, another story here. It’s not a story about security at the compound, or the military response to the attacks, or what may have been said on television afterward. It’s a story about our government’s complicity to (and culpability for) the attacks themselves.

There is an excellent essay out today from Bill Van Auken that unpacks the situation in great detail.

In its intervention in Libya, Washington utilized Al Qaeda-linked fighters as a proxy ground force in the war to topple the secular regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, arming and advising them and using them to follow up the massive US-NATO bombing campaign. Christopher Stevens was very much the point man in this relationship, having carefully studied the Islamist opponents of Gaddafi before the launching of the war for regime-change. He was deployed in April 2011 to Benghazi, where he coordinated the arming, funding and training of the so-called rebels, elements previously denounced by the US as terrorists and, in some cases, abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA.

So all of the reported “confusion” within the State Department and the Intelligence Community in the wake of the attacks is complete and utter nonsense, as is the portrayal of their interactions as simple bureaucratic interagency bickering. They knew from the very beginning what had happened – that their own assets were involved. The purpose of all the frantic scrambling and deception after the fact was to conceal our government’s relationships with their supposed Al-Qaeda terrorist enemies. There is simply no other way it all makes sense.

The circus sideshow being orchestrated by the GOP is not merely cynical political maneuvering. It misses the point. It helps to conceal from public view the true nature of the events at Benghazi, and ensures that there will be no discussion of the more serious and important issues involved.

READ MORE: Benghazi and the deepening crisis of the Obama administration – WSWS.

This Is No Time For Austerity

Posted in Commentary, Curated Links on November 15th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Yesterday 350 prominent economists issued a statement urging our lawmakers and the Obama Administration to focus on jobs and economic growth, not the budget deficit. I suspect that their plea will be largely ignored, unless we, the people, take responsibility for our own future and rise up in opposition to austerity.

Here is part of what the economists wrote.

The U.S. economy, once in free-fall toward a new depression, has begun to recover. But we are still mired in a prolonged slump marked by mass unemployment, rising poverty, and declining wages. And the fragile recovery is threatened by obsessive concern with cutting deficits that has infected both parties.

As even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recognizes, it is long term unemployment, not excessive deficits or debt, that is now inflicting the greatest human toll and economic damage. Polls show that voters agree joblessness and a bad economy are much higher priorities than deficits.

Yet too many in Washington are fixated on cutting public spending to balance the budget, not on how to put people back to work and get our economy going. There is no theory of economics that explains how we can deflate our way to recovery. Businesses are not basing investment decisions on how much Congress cuts the debt in 2023. As Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Greece have shown, inflicting austerity on a weak economy leads to deeper recession, rising unemployment and increasing misery.

Indeed, reports this morning indicate that a second recession has already hit the Eurozone.

Please share this information widely. I’ll continue to post more on what we’re facing (and how to resist) in the coming days and weeks. Please comment or email with your own ideas and links to share as well.

Read the Economists’ Full Statement: Jobs and Growth, Not Austerity – Campaign for America’s Future.

P.S. The image above depicts firefighters in protest over budget cuts at Thessalonika, Greece on September 8th, 2012.

The Second Bill of Rights

Posted in Commentary on September 19th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

On January 11th of 1944, in his State of the Union Message to Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” which would guarantee economic security for all Americans. Sixty-eight years later, we’re still arguing about whether or not people ought by birth to have the right to these basic necessities of life. The right to work at a living wage, the right to education, the right to decent housing, the right to adequate medical care, the right to security in old age – all of these rights that FDR saw as “self-evident” in 1944 have yet to be ensured, and are, in fact, increasingly under attack in our society today.

I wonder what might happen if President Obama were to make these rights the foundation of his bid for re-election. Would the American people rally to such a program? Would we recognize that political rights alone cannot ensure liberty and justice for all? Would we recognize that today our freedom is most threatened, not by the government, but by the tyranny of the marketplace? Would we recognize, at long last, that there is no democracy without economic democracy?

Some, I’m sure, would be quick to shout “Socialist!” Many did during FDR’s day as well. The fact is that we have made little progress toward securing these rights over the course of time. Today we have a President (elected on promises of “hope” and “change”) who has run about as far away from such modest social goals as he can. We have a Congress that has done all that is within its power to block progress and to roll back whatever meager gains have been made. We have one major political party with designs on dismantling Medicare and Social Security, and another that has shown great eagerness to capitulate to such demands. There is little danger that President Obama, or any other candidate with good prospects for his office, would openly embrace such a “radical” platform today.

FDR warned against the dangers of “rightist reaction” to progress under the New Deal. It seems that we have allowed those reactionary forces to become the main stream of American political discourse in this new century.

I commend Roosevelt’s words to your attention and consideration. Hurry the day that at least these fundamental economic rights are assured – not just for all Americans, but for all of humankind.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people – whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth – is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day – a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis – recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop – if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920′s – then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

★ ★ ★

Read the full text of FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Speech from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

What is Fascism?

Posted in Commentary, Essays on August 6th, 2012 by Noebie – 1 Comment

Some words become so overused or misused that they become practically meaningless. “Fascist” seems to be one of those words. If you perform a Web search, you’ll discover nearly twenty-million results, ranging from historical information relating to the Fascist governments of Italy, Germany and others during the first half of the Twentieth Century, to current wild-eyed conspiracy theory, to polemics on the right condemning “eco-fascists,” “feminazis” and such.

I’ve posted some thoughts and resources about this subject here in the past. I believe that Fascist tendencies are real (and perhaps even ascendent) in American political life today. The threat they pose to justice and freedom cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is important to understand what Fascism really is, to recognize it when one sees it, and to oppose it with all of our will and resources.

First of all, here is what Fascism is not. Fascism is not simply any ideology that seeks to pressure or coerce or impose compliance. It is not ever a leftist, or Liberal ideology. Fascism should not be conflated with authoritarianism (although authoritarianism is certainly a central aspect). Fascism does not merely mean oppression, intolerance, bullying or totalitarianism.

George Orwell addressed these misuses of the term in 1944, noting that he had heard it applied to Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Catholics, fox hunters, bull fighting, shopkeepers, Olympic Committees and others. He also made note of the central issue in defining Fascism. “It is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”

What is Fascism, really? Mirriam-Webster defines Fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

So Fascism is, first and foremost, nationalistic in the extreme. It is also racist, authoritarian, regimented and coercive. Fascism stands opposed to liberty, equality and international solidarity – the classic hallmarks of Liberal Democracy (and the ideals of The Enlightenment).

Laurence W. Britt did a thorough study of Fascist regimes for a novel he wrote about right-wing extremists coming to power in the United States. He outlined the fourteen common characteristics of Fascism in Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. I would encourage you to read the entire article as published in Free Enquiry. Here are the bullet points.

  • Powerful and Continuing Expressions of Nationalism
  • Disdain for the Importance of Human Rights
  • Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
  • The Supremacy of the Military/Avid Militarism
  • Rampant Sexism
  • A Controlled Mass Media
  • Obsession with National Security
  • Religion and Ruling Elite Tied Together
  • Power of Corporations Protected
  • Power of Labor Suppressed or Eliminated
  • Disdain and Suppression of Intellectuals and the Arts
  • Obsession with Crime and Punishment
  • Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
  • Fraudulent Elections

Here is how I summarized the basic framework of Fascism in an earlier post.

  • The core Fascist values are nationalism, Anti-Marxism, and a profound disgust for Liberal Democracy.
  • Fascists glorify the past, before the country was “debased” by foreigners, homosexuals, minority religions and the like. Fascists see themselves as a reaction to those who are a threat to “our way of life,” and they identify (and attack, sometimes literally) these scapegoats.
  • The movement (and the state) is organized around corporatism and largely serves corporate interests.
  • Violence against external and internal “enemies” is encouraged to the point of glorification. Wars, torture, executions, assassinations and the use of excessive force by the police are welcomed in the battle to “protect us.” There is an obsession with militarism, and likewise with crime and punishment. There is a flexible attitude toward basic human rights and the rule of law, if infringements are seen as helping the cause.
  • There is utter disdain for (and there are attacks made on) labor unions, intellectuals and the arts.
This sounds all too familiar, yes?

What can we do to fight against Fascism? As is the case with so many issues in life, the first step is to recognize the problem. It’s important that we see things for what they are, and call them by their proper names. When we see people coalescing around a nationalistic philosophy which denigrates the arts and intellect, which glorifies militarism, which uses religion to justify discrimination against homosexuals and Muslims, which seeks to scapegoat immigrants and the poor, which attacks organized labor, which serves the wealthy and the corporations – that is Fascism, plain and simple. We should call it that, and we should debunk the oft-asserted notion that such a philosophy is equally valid to others. The history of the last century has shown us again and again what happens when this insidious ideology is allowed to take root.

We should also miss no opportunity to stand up for freedom, equality and solidarity. We must support those who are the victims of Fascist rhetoric. This means speaking up for human rights, equality and justice for all – for homosexuals, for immigrants, for minority religions, for the captives in our burgeoning prison system, for the poor and the dispossessed. We must support our labor unions when they come under attack in the name of “fiscal restraint” and must guard against the infringement of the right to organize. We must defend and support artists and intellectuals, in both the marketplace and in academia. We must oppose the idea that uninformed opinions and specious arguments are valid and are equal with fact-based, well informed and well reasoned ones. We must boycott and otherwise oppose the moneyed and corporate interests in favor of the small, the local and the economically oppressed.

Perhaps more than anything else, we must gather together with others of good will in our local communities to build relationships of trust and commitment, dedicated to the values and practice of democracy, justice and cooperation.

If this sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. I have come to believe that it is now a matter of survival, not just for our liberties, but for human life on the good Earth.

James Waterman Wise once said that Fascism would come to America “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of The Constitution.” It would appear that such an ideology  has, indeed, come – and very much as he predicted.

Shall we stand up?

★ ★ ★

More Reading:

Fascism, Anyone? - Laurence W. Britt, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.

What is Fascism? – George Orwell, London Tribune, 1944

Quotes on Fascism – Wikiquote

The Menace of Fascism: What it is and How to Fight It – Ted Grant, Oswald Mosley – Revolutionary Communist Party Pamphlet, 1948

The Super-Rich Have $32 Trillion in Offshore Tax Shelters

Posted in Commentary, Curated Links on July 23rd, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

The super-rich of The Earth had at least twenty-one trillion dollars hidden away in secret tax shelters at the end of 2010, according to a report just released by the Tax Justice Network. The number may be as high as $32 trillion – nearly half of the entire Gross World Product.

At least $21 trillion of unreported private financial wealth was owned by wealthy individuals via tax havens at the end of 2010. This sum is equivalent to the size of the United States and Japanese economies combined.

There may be as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets held offshore by high net worth individuals (HNWIs). according to our report The Price of Offshore Revisited, which is thought to be the most detailed and rigorous study ever made of financial assets held in offshore financial centres and secrecy structures.

We consider these numbers to be conservative. This is only financial wealth and excludes a welter of real estate, yachts and other non-fianncial assets owned via offshore structures.

This $32 trillion amounts to more than $4500 for every man, woman and child on the planet that has been squirreled away and not subject to taxation.

Less than 100,000 individuals accounted for nearly $10 trillion of the offshore wealth.

The report shows that when hidden wealth is taken into account, many so-called “debtor nations” are actually wealthy – but their wealth is being imprisoned offshore by the elites and bankers.

The Tax Justice Network is an independent organization launched in the British Houses of Parliament in March of 2003. It is dedicated to high-level research, analysis and advocacy in the field of tax and regulation.

The Facts on Unauthorized Immigration

Posted in Commentary on June 19th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

I received an email today from someone looking for information on political hot-button issues, and in pulling together links for her, I ran across a fact-check page from the American Immigration Council. Although the typical specious anti-immigrant argument is that unauthorized immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy – taking jobs away from citizens and consuming tax-funded social services, education and health care without contributing to their funding – according to the AIC nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are the facts:

  • Households headed by unauthorized immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010, according to estimates prepared for the IPC by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.
  • If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from the United States, the country would lose $551.6 billion in economic activity, $245 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and approximately 2.8 million jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a 2008 report by the Perryman Group.
  • A 2010 report from the IPC and Center for American Progress estimates that deporting all unauthorized immigrants from the country and somehow “sealing the border” to future unauthorized immigration would reduce U.S. GDP by 1.46% annually—or $2.6 trillion in lost GDP over 10 years. Moreover, the U.S. economy would shed large numbers of jobs.

So, if that is the case, why do so many Americans remain stubbornly anti-immigrant? One can only attribute it to ignorance, racism and the influence of groups and politicians with Fascist leanings. In fact, animosity toward immigrants (whether authorized or not) is a classic hallmark of Fascism. As noted before on this Weblog, Fascists glorify the past, before the country was “debased” by foreigners, homosexuals, minority religions and the like. They see themselves as a reaction to those who are a threat to “our way of life,” and they identify (and attack, sometimes literally) these scapegoats.

★ ★ ★

There is, of course, a broader set of questions that a thinking person of conscience might ask with regard to immigration. In addition to the economic considerations, let us not forget the issues of justice and solidarity involved here. After all, the Holy Family were immigrants, fleeing their home suddenly just before the slaughter of the innocents. Would the Republicans deport Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

We might also ask, once again, why it is acceptable for corporations to move jobs across borders wherever and whenever they wish, and yet it is not acceptable for workers to cross borders for jobs.

Some issues are complex and difficult to parse. This one is not.

★ ★ ★

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus – Emma Lazarus

★ ★ ★

Read More:

Strength in Diversity: The Economic and Political Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians. [Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Council]

Justice For Immigrants. [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]

Immigration and Work. [Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace]

They’re Gonna Have To Kick Me Out

Posted in Commentary, Curated Links on May 17th, 2012 by Noebie – Be the first to comment

Quit the Church? Thanks, but no thanks. [E. J. Dionne, Jr. | Commonweal] - Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” I’m sorry to inform the FFRF that I am declining its invitation to quit. They may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can’t ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and laypeople who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.

Brian’s Comment: I had much the same reaction as Dionne when I first saw the letter from the FFRF. Granted, it is sometimes hard to be a free-thinking Catholic these days, but the Faith is not merely the institutions and the Church is not merely the hierarchy. Our Catholic Faith belongs to me and to my family as much as it does to the bishops, to the Vatican or to any of the Right-Wing bigots to whom I may be offering the sign of peace this weekend.