Friday, November 26, 2004

Polarized? Not in my backyard | CS Monitor

By Brad Rourke

According to clever analysts, political America is now "polarized." It is divided into the heartland and the two coasts, fighting like the Bloods and the Crips. City and country. Various maps floating around the Internet show an America split into two nations, two tiny Blue islands, and a large Red one. The rhetoric remains harsh, and includes calls from the Blue side to secede, and from the Red side to "curb stomp" the Blues. The common thread is that the enemy is somewhere else. ...

Zealotry was the coin of the realm. In today's political landscape, riddled by a kind of gang warfare, it's the same way. Partisan zealots have taken over public life. Fancy talk of "working together" has been curb-stomped.

Walking my children to school, on the Thursday after the Tuesday, we passed handfuls of folks. We smiled at them, waved, and nodded. To some, those we know by face or name, we said, "Good morning."

There are some whom I'm certain disagree with me, as I do them. They, too, got a smile, and gave one back. We didn't stop to hash out gay marriage.

This silence is not the silence of the stifled. It's a good thing. We live together. The needs of our community are closer to home than the vast questions about who voted for whom nationally. Here at home, there are safety problems as people speed through the neighborhood avoiding congestion on larger streets, there are homeless shelters that need my support, there is my school trying its best and fighting a losing battle to keep up with all the demands we've heaped upon it.

I live with these people. I talk with them. What will it take for us to be able to work together?...

What it will take is the kind of thing that happens on the streets every day, if only we will see it. What it will take is for people to confront and address their differences in a way that allows for neither simple escape into stereotypes nor for escalation into shouting matches.

Sound naive? Impossible?

As I sat outside with neighbors one sunny afternoon last week and discussed our school, as our children played, no one was talking politics - at least not the kind of politics you read about in the daily papers. These are the same people I waved to on my walk. We were talking about grades, and homework, and why our kids have to work so hard at such a young age.

We didn't agree on what should be done. People felt pretty strongly. But no one got up and stalked off. And we began to get somewhere. We all know we'll still be here together tomorrow, so we stick with it.

Maybe that's where it starts - with a walk through my neighborhood, and a wave or two.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Total Corporate Responsibility: A new business paradigm

From Seventh Generation:
Of course, we see limitless growth as a positive and have put it at the center of our economic measurements because our business activities don’t measure the true costs that unending expansion creates. On their ledgers, corporations don’t account for the environmental damage and health issues caused by their unsustainable practices. Only the costs of things like labor and raw materials are used to calculate prices and profits, an approach that’s foolhardy at best.

For example, even though traditional foods are cheaper to buy than organic food, they’re actually more expensive to grow and eat. Conventional agriculture relies on the use of pesticides that diminish soil fertility, poison waterways, pollute the air, harm wildlife, and sicken farm workers and consumers. These are all very real costs created by traditional farming operations. However the bills for these environmental fixes, clean-ups, and health care fall to governments, insurers, and the general public. If these expenses were added to the agribusiness’ bottom line, the costs of conventional food would soar and organic foods would be the cheaper alternative.

Because the costs of goods and services do not factor these “hidden” costs into their bottom line, the downside of growth is ignored and no incentive is created to do the right thing. In fact, our government regularly creates incentives to do as little as possible by deregulating industries to the point where, in many cases, there is no regulation at all. The result is not a free market, but a free-for-all market in which government does not hold businesses accountable for the true costs of their operations and the unhealthy effects on society those operations promote.

If we are to create a truly sustainable culture, we are going to have to change these economic arrangements. This is not something CR can do. Instead, we need to see CR as a subset of the larger idea called TCR. In Dixon’s words, “The TCR model takes CR to the next level by shifting the focus to system change. TCR encourages firms to continue traditional CR activities. However, the emphasis is placed on working proactively with others to promote system changes that hold firms fully responsible. TCR suggests a new mindset for business. Rather than seeing itself as one entity operating independently from the rest of society, business would see itself as being part of one interconnected system. It would give priority to the good of the overall system, and in so doing ensure its own prosperity.”

That’s a great idea, and it’s based on three concepts:

* Interconnectedness, which means that a business is part of one interconnected system.

* Actualization, which means that the main purpose of business is to help society achieve its greatest potential.

* Posterity, which means that the primary obligation of this generation is to preserve and enhance society for future generations.

Those are big changes from the current paradigm. And change, of course, is the scariest of things, especially on this kind of level. In order to make it happen, we’re going to need open minds that can see beyond the limits of our current system and into a brave new world of possibility. We’ll then need the will to go there.

Patton's Soapbox

Patton's Soapbox See post on War Glory Fantasies.

Bridging personal and social responsibility

In Lunch...and nearly losing it, Rob talks about a situation he encountered at lunch one day and how society allows this kind of thing to go on.

As I read his blog I could sympathize with Rob about the situation and his assessment of it. But when Rob said:
That our society lets this pretty much run rampant (it's not an isolated issue, the homeless and, to a lesser degree, prostitution problems here are island-wide) is a sad indicator of where our
priorities are screwed up.
My very first reaction was to ask, why didn't you do something? But then, I understand not wanting to get involved cuz you don't know what you're getting into.

Unfortunately, I saw a similar thing played out on CSI (the original) where a women helped solve a crime but then they just left her where she was to fend for herself all by herself even though they could have done something. The answer to just leaving her there is that she got there by her own personal choices and so they walked out of her life without lifting a finger to help her. As members of law enforcement, they are part of the government. The message this gave was that unless you care for yourself and make better decisions, what becomes of you is no one else's concern despite whatever "human" feeling a person might have about it. And then we wonder how society can bear such human misery in it. I am reminded of the words that return to haunt Scrooge about the children at the feet of the Spirit of Christmas Present, "are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?, and how the Spirit tells Scrooge to beware of these children, for they are want and ignorance.

To illustrate this a different way, my daughter's friends brought over a cat that looked like a kitten based on its size. (I found out at the vet's she is full grown and probably 2 years old.) It was very skinny and very frightened. Since I already have a cat, it ate and drank what was available and then would hide underneath a cabinet. I explained to the kids about how to take care of it. Then, they took it home. They brought it back the next day, but this time it had oil based paint on it. I had to cut its fur in a few places to get it off. Well, I took it upon myself to keep the cat for a few days. At first, she slept under the cabinet most of the time coming out only to eat, drink, and go potty. Then after a couple days of this, she felt better and would come out and act like a fairly normal cat. The poor thing has been shot with BBs, had her tail broken, and seemed to have sustained quite a bit of abuse and physical injury, all healed now though. She's even lost half of one ear due to frostbite (even southern MN gets damn cold).

Well, I got her hydrated, fed, and rested. Then, the kids took her home again. It was several days before they brought her back. She was as bad as the first time they brought her, so I decided they couldn't have her if they can't take care of her. I finally gave her a bath and got rid of all the outdoor gunk she had on her.

While there's more to this story, the point is that I took it upon myself to act, to intervene in this cat's life and provide a good home for her. I know we can't do that with stray people, but that doesn't mean we should look on and do nothing but lament the lack of society's concern about it without also making that concern a personal responsibility to do something about it. This is what the proverb means "it takes a village..." not only to raise a child, but to care for each other as well. Everyone must feel a personal responsibility to act, to intervene, like people used to do in small towns where'd you tell some kid to stop vandalizing something and then call the child's mom or dad to let them know about it. Nowadays, you're taking your life in your hands or at least likely to get an earful about minding your own business. But the behavior of others in public IS my business because public behavior sets the tone and condition of society. This kind of responsibility can only be personal. It does not rest in an abstraction that conveniently shifts the burden to someone else that does not exist.

One last part of the story with this cat is that while we were at the vet's yesterday, he found other BBs and told me that his own cat has some 14 of them. It's also possible our cat may be pregnant, but only time will tell for sure. On the way out of the vet's office my daughter said she hoped the cat was pregnant so we could sell the kittens. I told my daughter we do NOT sell living creatures. We give them away to good people who will take good care of them. Later that night I decided that cruelty to animals, especially by boys with BB guns, was going to stop in my town.

In addition to restoring democracy in my town, I am going to teach people here how to care and be good stewards, not only for each other, but for all the animals and the land we live on too. This is my duty as a caring human being.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

I have been re-watching The Last Samurai. I am not sure if anyone understands the kind of homesickness this film evokes in me. My homesickness is not for a time, a place, a culture, or a people. It is for a way of life based on a genuine spiritual morality that does not come from a book, but from the very experience of living as true human beings. I have never seen it, but I was taught its principles. And so I get homesick when I see anything that exemplifies it as it is so richly done in The Last Samurai.

Both The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves deal with the same basic topic. It is the clash, not of civilizations, but of an altered morality brought on by industrialization and selfish greed. It is the clash between the machine mind and the spiritual mind, between the partial mind and the whole mind.

Algren is asked, "What is it about your own people you hate so much?" I wish I had a short answer for that. I can only point to the movie and hope the watcher understands what our world could look like if people devoted themselves to the self-cultivation of service, discipline, and compassion.

Such an ethic was practiced for a 1000 years in Japan, and its remnants continue to prevade Japanese society. These principles are rooted in 2500 year old Confucian thought. I believe the West has much to learn about true morality. Until it does, it is destined to once again crumble under the weight of its own arrogance, greed, indifference, and sheer stupidity.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Beware the political "label"

I have a question for y'all.

Is a person's beliefs about the world and what's going on in it a reflection of their political "ideology" or, is that person's political affiliation a reflection of their beliefs?

The guest on Paula Zahn tonight (Friday) talking about the political affiliation of college professors was pressing on the idea that these professors are pushing a political agenda rather than simply expressing their own personal beliefs.

I found this little exchange a little scary. I'm not too keen on my advocacy of human rights, fairness, justice, and sane/humane policies painted as a political agenda.

This is also posted at Daily Kos.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Politics Watch 11-16-04

Planning for the midterm election by Eric Sidell says that:
"This is hardly the time to give up. This is an historic moment to refocus the progressive agenda away from the White House and hone it on the state houses and the Congress..."

This is no time to sulk or leave the country. Now is the time to start planning for 2006—that’s the reality. Important governor races, especially in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, are in play. Progressive candidates need help in the House and Senate. State Legislatures are another important target, because this is where future US Senate candidates are created. This is hardly the time to give up. This is an historic moment to refocus the progressive agenda away from the White House and hone it on the state houses and the Congress.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Did anyone watch Alan Reynolds from Cato Institute on c-span's Washington Journal this morning? This guy is really evil. I'd like to know when it became ok to gamble with our children's future by making them put their money in the stockmarket instead of something more secure? I'd like to know when someone decided that EVERYONE should be a "businessman" or "investor"? He gets my Scrooge award for being heartless. But ya know, he's actually worse than Scrooge cuz at least Scrooge didn't use the power of government to systematically deceive and povertize the people so that wolves like him can get rich. What I hate most, is his attitude that denies the inherent worth of human life and actively destroys any notion that anyone has any obligation to anyone else.

In the military you are taught to look out for each other, that someone's got your back and you have their's. To me, ANYTHING that works to destroy that in society is the greatest evil in the world. These people should be hunted down and skinned alive.

They are NOT human beings. They are hell-spawn on two legs. Anyone else get that feeling?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

America at risk

Our house is a blazing conflagration but you wouldn't know it. On the surface everything looks like business as usual. Another 4 years of Bush and then he'll be gone. We can live with that and just deal with the mess after.

However, little whispers are traveling around and little bits of this and that are painting a far different picture.

Angry Bear (can't find the entry) wrote a while back that he heard someone talking about passing legislation to cut the Democrats off at the knees particularly in terms of 527s.

Then yesterday on C-SPAN's Washington Journal I heard someone talking about 527s and complaining about the kind of power they are giving the Democrats, and, that the "lack" of financial disclosure is a "serious" problem. Doesn't matter that the Republicans have a lot more money, 527s, and tons of think tanks that are conveniently ignored.

Next, let's not forget history lest we repeat it. The Nazis co-opted the the nationalist-socialist party then proceeded to have their way with it. The Republican party looks to be going the same way. The "moral values" issue and targeting gays smacks a bit too much of the Nazi tactic of singling out the Jews for vilification. First stop, gay marriage ban. Next stop, Kristalnacht.

I don't know about you, but I'm with Carole Simpson when she says she's more scared for our country now than she was in 1968. The parallels are starting to get too coincidental.

The Democrats have proven themselves useless against the Republikan juggernaut. This tells me we, the people, are on our own. Either we organize and take this on, or learn to be happy living in a fascist state, cuz we're already there.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rules For Radicals

Rules for Radicals
Excerpt: This is great stuff. You can look at this and simply check-off what the DNC and the Kerry/Edwards ticket did and didn't do. Draw your own conclusions.
Link: Eschaton - Rules for Radicals. Rules for Radicals Saul Alinsky wrote Rules
Weblog: American Blog Party
Tracked: 11.10.04 - 11:59 am

Saul Alinsky wrote Rules for Radicals back in 1971. Alinsky said that his book was "for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

Are Alinsky's rules still valid today? Which need to be revised? Which did Rove use successfully to help the Haves hold onto power? Which did Kerry use successfully? Which could Kerry have used that he didn't?

Rule 1: Power is both what you have and what your opponent thinks that you have. If you have few members, hide your numbers and make a lot of noise.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion and retreat.

Rule 3: When possible, do go outside the experience of an opponent.

Rule 4: Make your opponent live up to his own rule book.

Rule 5: Ridicule is your most potent weapon. Ridicule is difficult to counter and it infuriates your opponent, causing him to react to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy.

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long is not a good idea. Change tactics.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Maintain a constant pressure on the opposition.

Rule 9: The threat of your tactic or action is more terrifying than the tactic or action itself. Use this to your advantage.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. You have to know what to say when your opponent asks you, "If you're so smart, what would you do?"

Rule 11: Pick your target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Don't attack an abstract such as a corporation. Identify a responsible individual and ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Privatizing Social Security & what it means

The issue of privatizing social security gets to the heart of what has happened to American culture at the popular level, which used to exist only at the commercial/political level. Such is the power of sustained propaganda.

In general, what has happened is that Scrooge has won and Tiny Tim is dead. There have not been any intervention of "spirits" or "ghosts" to re-warm Scrooge's heart and re-humanize his soul. The lesson of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" has fallen on deaf ears and stone cold hearts.

Since we cannot expect the heartless to care, another way must be found to remove them from power. In looking back over history, the peasantry have always been at a disadvantage. They are not able to organize as effectively. More importantly, they are controlled by a culture that puts a premium on the individual and not the group. It is quite true that the culture of America and its individualistic mindset will have to change for a better paradigm before any permanent changes can be made. The paradigm shift rests on moving the model from seeing individuals as the basic constituent of society to seeing the family as the basic unit. Once that shift is made, then all the values that are used in family life can be applied to society at large in general and the role of government in particular. George Lakoff has begun that shift with his "Family as Nation" metaphor and the "strict father family" and "nurturant parent family" models.

In the meantime, there are serious legislative issues on the table that are being driven by an ideology that is in direct opposition with the way the Right Wing Machine (RWM) operates. They are pushing very hard on "individualism" and yet they operate more collectively than any group I've ever heard of. They are extremely focused. Unfortunately, they are also very coercive in order to maintain their unity. here to read more....

On the other hand, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority (read "Moral Minority") is the largest cult on earth. All these people are brainwashed and have no clue how they've been manipulated. The problem is that their religion has been used against them for a purpose they themselves would not in fact approve if they actually understood how their faith is being betrayed to serve a completely different purpose.

At the same time, the reaction of the religious right to the social liberalism begun in the 1960s has merit. Women's lib, Roe v. Wade, free sex, easy divorces, and in-your-face sex and violence everywhere on TV, in movies and video games has reached the most disgusting proportions. All the normal standards have given way to cultural and moral "relativism" and an absolute devotion to "freedom of expression" no matter how disgusting or reprehensible it may be to the general population. This is tyranny of the minority.

For example, questioning the very notion of what is "normal" is the very definition of America's problem. No one knows anymore and any effort to define it is vehemently attacked by "liberals" who are just as rabid as the right wingers they've created. Barry Goldwater and George Wallace both came out of the 1960s in reaction to the anarchy they were witnessing.

This is not to say that everything in the 60s was bad such as the Civil Rights movement. But the alarm bells were rung very loudly then against the status quo (white, rich, anglo-saxon, protestant, & male) and the status quo has fought back ever since. This is the leagcy of the intellectual history of America beginning with the "City on a Hill" speech in 1629 on the Arabella.

Here we are nearly 400 years later dealing with the same religious fervor to impose its will on the rest of the world as the Puritans tried to impose on Europe, for which they were persecuted and for good reason. So they got on ships and came to America. But now, there is no where else for anyone to go and the culture war is on between the religious zealots and everyone else, both in America and around the world.

Add to this mix the foxes of commerce and power guarding the chicken coop of the religious peasantry coupled with the doctrine of "self-interest" begun by Adam Smith in "Wealth of Nations" and the advent of enormous riches to be gained in industrial capitalism and here we are today trying to make sense of this polyglot culture we have. It's a Gordian Knot. How are we to cut through it to release us from its grip?

To me, the first place to begin is to establish a safe haven of like minded people willing to live by a clear and binding ethic that is enforced among themselves. This IS what the religious zealots, Republicans, and social Conservatives have done to great political effect. Unless the "left" is capable of doing the same, then they have no excuse for living under rules imposed by the "other" side. By saying "left" I am meaning rational, sane, moderate, and humane people. I do NOT mean the rabid left who would dispose of all rules of normality or ethics that the majority of people on both sides want to have. What people want most is fairness and to be shown respect and dignity as living human beings.

To me, this is embodied by the Golden Rule, of treating others with the same dignity and respect they want for themselves. AND, not doing to others what they would not want done to themselves. This does not mean expecting perfection from others nor does it imply the need to read anyone's mind as to what they want. It just means showing people basic courtesy and yet giving them the room to be who they are, however quirky they might be, as long as they commit no deliberate act of harm on others.

At the same time, being quirky does not mean flouting social norms and then expecting everyone to find it acceptable. Such things require being sensitive to time and place and allowing general society to have its norms while the sub-culture goes about its business below the radar. In other words, there are some things best kept in the closet, meaning in private, out of the public eye. This is the crux of the culture war. The border between private activity and public acceptability has become non-existent and the sub-cultures are expecting public approval. I'm as liberal as they come but I will NOT consider Goth to be vogue except on Halloween. If the sub-cultures are not going to show respect to the mainstream, I see no reason for the mainstream to show them any respect either. The private/public border is very important in order to keep the two realms separate. This guarantees protected spaces, including the public sphere which should be about the concerns of us all and not any group in particular. By this I mean that if civil unions are a civil rights issue, then work on civil rights instead of pushing for gay marriage. If it's about sharing health care benefits, then work for universal health coverage instead of spousal rights. This topic is worthy of its own essay but perhaps you get the point.

Organizationally, the "left" right now is in too much disarray. The various activist groups are too involved in their own agendas to unite in a common cause. Perhaps this past election will break through their narcissistic individualism and make them realize their own little pet project needs to become part of a larger agenda. For example, environmental issues, important as they are, do not have the same impact in daily life as the lack of a living wage or lack of health care or price gouging by pharma. Families are under major assault and parents are bearing the brunt while their children suffer its effects. Workers must now "prostitute" themselves to corp America just to get by and have enough to eat.

The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party to address these issues, but they have been co-opted by their own greed for money and power. The Green Party only cares about structure by pushing for IRV and proportional representation. The moral foundation that drives their platform is not well understood in practical terms. The MN Greens are as ideologically driven as every other ideologically based group. Dealing with reality is not high on their list of priorities. Nor are third parties an answer to the cultural quagmire America is in. They only serve to further shred what remains of the social fabric which has always been about sharing our common bond as human beings who only wish to live in peace, free from coercion, pursuing what little happinesses life has to offer in our families, friendships, and in the work we perform for our bread. Life is tough enough without throwing in the evil of man's inhumanity to man.

This will mean that the resistance will have to draw back the curtain on the Bush administration and those that support it to reveal the robber barons they are. They have plundered our treasury, committed us to make war on innocent people, robbed us of our livelihood, poisoned our air, water, and food, and put every American's life at risk in one form or another for their own personal gain. They have done this by severing the connection between the individual and the society in which they live that supports our collective existence. Just as no child born ever grew up to adulthood all by itself, no individual lives in complete isolation from their fellow human beings. What affects one, affects us all. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." More importantly, it shows how those who now run our government have committed treason against the American people by abdicating their obligations set forth in the Preamble of the Constitution.

Getting back to the issue of privatizing social security, this maneuver is purely a shell game designed to ensure that every retirement dollar put into the stock market flows into the hands of the already mega rich.

This leads us to the single greatest issue facing us today: understanding the purpose of government. That is where the real culture war is at. And yet, those who advocate smaller government and fewer regulations are the greatest perpetrators of governmental expansion and intrusion of privacy. They have won the propaganda war and now people support a government that does not genuinely serve their interests. In other words, a sick and dying Tiny Tim is supporting Scrooge's greed and heartlessness in the name of individual responsibility. It does not matter that Scrooge does not pay a living wage for Bob Cratchit to support and care for his family. This makes Scrooge directly responsible for Tiny Tim's death. But that connection is conveniently left out because there are no family or moral values that can condone such cruelty and yet, we are living in such a time. The elected who have done this to America have abdicated their contract with the American people established by our forefathers. This is a treasonous act of betrayal and they should be tried as traitors.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

My Booklist

See my eclectic mix of books including:

"Perfectly Legal"
What the IRS is doing, and not doing to collect taxes.

"The Two-Income Trap"
How the credit industry is fleecing people.

"Punished by Rewards"
How rewards at school and incentives at work don't work.

"Organinzing for Social Change"
What you can do to make change happen.

at My Booklist

Wedge Issues

The problem with wedge issues is that the media clogs the airwaves with them so that they are in-your-face all the time. This diverts attention from more important issues but because the wedge issue is being pushed so hard it's like a fly in your face that won't leave unless you hunt it down and kill it. Bzzz bzzzz bzzz bzzz. Swat!

Now where was I? Oh yeah. So, how can we get media attention on the IMPORTANT, meaning life-threatening, issues? AND get them to check facts and challenge claims?

Let's take an example of a not so life-threatening, but very important, issue: the privatizing of social security. If the individual is not putting this money into an IRA, you can kiss that money goodbye like the Enron employees with 401(k)s.

What needs to happen with this is to turn this issue into a wedge issue by using the same frames as the RWM (right wing machine). I haven't quite got this part framed yet, but I'm working on it. In meatime, discussing this issues will help flesh it out and provide material to work into an issue worth of real air time and de-cloaking the shenanigans of the RWM.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Quality of Mercy

We could talk endlessly about policies and issues and what we should do about this and that. But when you boil it all down to its essence, what has happened is that the merciful heart of love for others has been cut out and left beating on the floor while the lifeblood of humanity drains from our souls.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

School Preamble Initiative

Since the Constitution has been raised so often in the political and public debate, perhaps it is worth considering that our school kids should recite its Preamble. It is the Preamble of the Constitution which forms the actual contract the people have with each other to govern the country and its affairs. Maybe its time we teach it to our kids and learn it ourselves and begin discussing how the duties of the Preamble should be fulfilled. Thoughts? Comments? Discussion?