Saturday, August 1, 2009

Abolsh The Senate

In my last post I made the argument for abolishing the senate because it is an anti-democratic institution. I’d like to examine other reasons for abolishing the senate now.

As I said last time, the founders designed the senate to represent the few. Senators were chosen by state legislatures under the control of monied interests until the constitution was amended in 1912. In Washington the railroad interests controlled the selection of U. S. Senators for decades. In 1789, all of the state legislatures had steep property qualification for membership so those who were given the responsibility to choose senators were among the wealthiest members of their states. As opposed to House members who served for two years, senators terms are six years. The founders designed the Senate to move at the pace of molasses and insulate senators from their decisions.

Even though the property qualification to run for office were abolished long ago, different property qualifications are now in effect for the exclusive millionaires club that is the senate.

Most of us know that the ancient Roman senate was corrupt but they were pikers when compared to the current bunch who control our Senate. It was said of the Roman senate in the late republican period that no legislative body “in history has ever devoted itself so wholeheartedly to fleecing its subjects for the private benefit of its ruling class as Rome of the last age of the Republic.” But that historian had no experience with our current senate. And it seems that our senate has more in common with the Roman senate than there are differences.

Michael Parenti in his revisionist history, The assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome, points out many similarities. When writing about the “mystifying tenets of all ruling propertied classes throughout the ages,” Parenti identifies significant connections between our senators and those of Rome.

“The oligarchic clique represents it own privileged special interests as tantamount to the general interest,” Parenti writes. These shameless self-promoters in our Senate, those Bacuses, or Spectors, or Grassleys, or Reids, or Murrays or Cantwells, like their Roman counterparts are climbers who seek above all else to promote themselves and in the process become a ready tool of wealth.

Oligarchs in the Senate of the United States and in Rome represent “its own privileged special interests as tantamount to the general interest.” How else can we account for the constant drone by members of our senate about how the American people believe X or the American people believe Y or Z? These senators confuse their financiers with the people of the country. Senators “argue that the well-being of the Republic and the entire society depend on the well-being of the prominent few who preside so wisely and resplendently over public affairs and whose high station give proof of a deserving excellence. How else explain trillions in bank bailouts handed out by our senate to the financial industry, the wealthiest people in the country, while home foreclosures mount for common people, and millions loose their jobs and health care and are denied two of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom from fear and want? How else explain that there is always money enough for war and massive public subsidies to the ruling class but not enough for unemployment, rent caps, debt cancellations or the general welfare?

Michael Parenti sums up the situation in ancient Rome and in the United States: Whatever its republican trappings, aristocratic liberty is essentially blue-blood plutocracy, the rughless liberty of wealth that remains to this day inhospitable to any modicum of economic democracy.”

It’s time to get rid of our aristocratic senate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Abolish the Senate of the Unted States

Isn’t time we got rid of that eighteenth century anachronism, the United States Senate?

Supposedly, we Americans believe in the idea of democracy but of course the country is not, strictly speaking, a democracy and the senate is a decidedly anti-democratic institution designed, the cultural critic Richard N. Rosenfeld wrote several years ago, “to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will. In fact, the founders of this country were decidedly hostile to democracy and the constitution “was meant to prevent democracy in America” and the senate has always fostered a politics of minority rule “in which our leaders must necessarily pursue their unpopular aims by means of increasingly desperate stratagems of deceit and persuasion.”

Our congressional and executive branches reflect the British system after which they were modeled. The British parliamentary system recognized “the king, Britain’s largest property owner, the hereditary House of Lords (Anglican bishops and titled aristocrats, . . . and a House of Commons (which represented a rising mercantile class of property owners who demands for representation gave rise to” the Glorious Revolution. In our system, the president represents the rule by one (monarchy), the senate represents rule by the few (aristocracy), and the house, the most democratic branch, rule by the many (democracy). The Roman philosopher Polybius, who laid out this division of government, “insisted that each of these forms, unless balanced by the other two, would degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, or mob rule, respectively.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine “urged that any American government consist of only one democratically elected legislative chamber, with no aristocratic or kingly branch to veto its decisions.” And in fact, the first government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation adopted just such a system. Unfortunately, the Congress gave each state in the Confederation only one vote in Congress rather than apportion votes by state population. Benjamin Franklin too argued for a one-house legislature which he “likened to ‘putting one horse before a cart and the other behind it, and whipping them both. When the ruling class decided that the Confederation no longer met their interests, they dissolved the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the Constitution with its rule of one (the president), few (the senate), and many (the House). For Paine and Franklin, wrote Rosenfeld, “two legislative chambers were a prescription for deadlock, and, with the advantage of hindsight, who among us would disagree?”

In the United States today, “U. S. senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation’s population, hold a majority in the” Senate, and therefore, under the Constitution, regardless of what the President, the House, “or even an overwhelming majority of the” citizens want, “nothing becomes law if those senators object.” “The nine largest states, containing a majority of the American people, are represented by only 18 of the 100 senators in the senate.” Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and several other states have only 600,000 or so residents. Each of those states has two senators. California, with 33 million residents, or Washington with 6 million residents each has two senators. Why is it that the 600,000 residents of Alaska have equal votes in the senate as the 33 million residents in California?

Because, as Rosenfeld wrote, the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will.

It’s time to get rid of the senate and institute a one-house, unicameral legislature in the United States.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Democrats War Now

Yeah, it’s official - - What once Democrats could argue was “Bush’s war,” is the Democrats war now. On June 16th, “in a vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats,” according to the writer Jeremy Scahill, 221 Democrats and 5 Republicans backed the Obama administration’s $106 billion supplemental appropriation bill to maintain the occupation of Iraq, escalate the quagmire that is Afghanistan, enlarge the bombing and death into Pakistan and “fund the International Monetary Funds anti-social policies of forcing developing countries to sacrifice programs for the poor in order to bail out big banks.

It was quite a day for Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership. Only 32 Democrats, most associated with Progressive Democrats of America, had the courage to vote their convictions. Not one of the 32 was from the state of Washington, certainly not our war-mongering Congressman, Norm Dicks. Those 32 Democrats faced “significant threats to their political future from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” “The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership played a very dirty game in their effort to ram through the funding,” reports Scahill. Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying, “you’ll never hear from us again.” She said the House leadership was also targeting freshmen. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, the right-wing, former congressman from Illinois, was reported “cutting deals with Republicans to go easy on them in the 2010 elections in exchange for votes,” supporting the supplemental war funding.

Anybody remember the 2006 elections? That was the election when Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi asked us to vote for Democrats because the Democrats would end the war. Democrats took over the Congress in that election and then pulled a bait-and-switch by not only not ending the war but escalating it. They voted for war funding supplemental after war funding supplemental. They told us they could not overcome the unpopular Bush. Well, Bush is gone so what is their excuse now? “We’ve got to give Obama’s war a chance?” “This vote,” Scahill writes, “revealed a sobering statistic for the anti-war movement in this country and brought to the surface a broader issue that should give die-hard partisan Democrats who purport to be anti-war reason for serious pause about the actual state of their party.” “Under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic-controlled Congress has been a house of war. Unfortunately, it is not a house where the war is one of noble Democrats fighting for peace, freedom and democracy. . . . Instead, it is a house void of substantive opposition to the ever-expanding war begun under Bush and escalating under Obama.”

If the first casualty of war is truth, the second should surely be the destruction of “patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory” in which war comes wrapped. Except for the 32, the hands of the Democratic members of Congress who have made Bush’s wars their own will now be forever stained by the blood of those whom they sent to die and those who will be killed by our soldiers. “War from a distance,” writer Chris Hedges recalled recently, “seems noble.” But, “war is always about betrayal,” Hedges concludes. “It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Permanent War and Empire

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges published an essay recently titled, “The Disease of Permanent War.” The subject has been on my mind for several weeks as I have been re-reading Chalmers Johnson’s book, The Sorrows of Empire and Joel Kovel’s, Red Hunting in the Promised Land.

While it seemed that the United States had been in a continual state of war throughout the 20th century, it was not until 1948 that U.S. foreign policy elites devised a rationale for permanent war. George Kennan, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff penned two of the most crucial Cold War documents outlining permanent war. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth,” Kennan wrote in a 1948 memo, “but only 6.3 percent of its population. . . . Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; . . . We should cease to talk about vague and - - for the Far East - - unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . . The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” Kennan’s memo is a recipe for empire and that is exactly what the United States created. The sentimentality and unreal objectives, the Puritan ideals, were brought out of the closet as needed over the next six decades - - most notably as alternative reasons for invading Iraq after no WMD were found - - but only to mask the naked economic interests inherent in U.S. war-making. “ . . . Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. It is gilded corporate welfare.

As a society focused on permanent war, with massive war spending, nearly a trillion dollars this year, what have we won? “Bridges and levees collapse,” Hedges wrote in his essay. “Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.”

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, many people asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” Not knowing our own history and seemingly oblivious to the permanent state of war already controlling our country, the questioners did not know that we taught state terrorism to thousands of Latin American military and police officials at the School of the Americas. That presidents used their own private army, the CIA, to bring about “regime changes” around the world through coups, assassinations, or economic destabilizations. The we have bombed or invaded countries that have openly broken with or opposed our hegemony. Just ask the people in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Iraq Afghanistan or Pakistan to name a few. We have made ourselves the most belligerent people on earth who, as President Kennedy presciently noted, have made peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.

One wonders what the founders, who knew full well that no republic in history had lasted more than 300 years, would make of the country we have become. Would they be “dismayed by a society that that no longer had the moral fortitude to confront the fools,” these fools who are leading us over the precipice?

What kind of government do we have, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin as the Constitutional Convention ended? A republic, Franklin replied - - if you can keep it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Congress: Bought and Paid For

After watching two of the three senate committee hearings that dealt with heath care, I was reminded of a saying I once heard but for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard it: There is nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.  That pretty much sums up what passes for democracy in the United States at this time.  I often tell my students, half in jest (although the humor often escapes them) that if democracy worked for the benefit of the people it would be illegal.


Some background is in order in case you missed the hearings. 


President Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders have promised that they are going to fix our broken health care system.  Finally.  After all, it has only been sixty years since President Truman tried to initiate a system that would cover every person in the country rather than leave 45 million people without health care and another 50 million underinsured.  23,000 people die every year in the United States because they do not have health insurance.  Millions of people have said, “enough is enough.  We must have a system that covers everyone.” 


Health care is the talk of Washington and the airwaves.  Obama and the insurance companies announced at the White House that the benevolent health care industry has agreed to cut health care costs by 1.5 percent over the next decade, saving $2 trillion.  Mind you they also exacted a price:  government will keep its hands off health care’s billions and billions of profits. 

On capital hill the congress is holding hearings to devise ways to expand the broken system we have now: higher premiums; higher co-pays; higher deductibles while 14,000 workers loose their health care every day in this depression.  Congress invited representatives of the health care industry, insurance companies, big pharma, and just about anyone who would reap profits from maintaining the current system to speak.  They talked, and talked, and talked.


But some alternatives were not being talked about at all except by demonstrators whom the capital police hauled away and arrested.  Their crime?  To demand that representatives who favor a publicly financed, single-payer health care system be allowed at the table.  Those filthy pinko, commie, fags.


Why is single payer not at the table?  Members of the House and Senate are being loyal.  The loyalty of members of the House and Senate have been bought for hard cash.  The health care industry, which spent more than $500 million dollars in the last year on lobbying and campaign contributions, has great faith in the reliability of  the members whom they have bought.  Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate committee, received more money from the health care industry than any other member of congress.  Every other member of the committee also received money from the industry.


“In 2003,” Bill Moyers reported last week, “a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told a local AFL-CIO meeting, ‘I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.’  There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago:  ‘all of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House’”


Democrats now have the White House and the Senate and the House.  What the hell happened to single-payer universal health care?


Change we can believe in I guess.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama's War

Miracles will not happen,” the president said,  “. . . but with a common focus, we can make strides.”  “ . . . the path to success is slow and unsure.”  The United States, the national security advisor pledged, would do “whatever we could, to do what we can as quickly as possible to help . . . .”  “There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks.”  Too bad the officials did not invite Washington State House leader, Representative Lynn Kessler, to comment because she would surely have supplied the only cliché missed by the assembled notables:  “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”  Isn’t this a bit of deja vu all over again?  The speakers were president Obama and national security advisor Jones not Bush and Rice.  Otherwise, who could notice the difference?


Last week the United States, We The People, killed more than a hundred innocent Afghani civilians.  We bombed them, as Curtis LeMay would have it, back to the stone age, “their corpses,” wrote Chris Hedges, “blown into bits of human flesh by iron fragmentation bombs. . . .”  We denied it, naturally, just as we have denied the last 5,000 Afghani civilians we have killed.  We will investigate, of course, but already, as The Daily World reported on 7 May, “the top U. S. commander in Afghanistan suggested the Taliban might be to blame.”  Eventually we will apologize, just as we have done for the other 5,000 innocent men, women and children we have killed:  Terribly sorry;  the tragic cost of war; so regrettable, but it is the price that must be paid; “We think,” as Madaline Halfbright said some years ago, “that the price is worth it.”  And then we will go on killing. 


We pull the trigger in Nevada.  We fly pilot-less drones - - the reaper and the predator and other iterations of unseen death.  They zoom in.  The killers are thousands of miles away.  They are stimulated by the death they bring according to one pilot in a recent interview.  The remote pilots don’t have to see the bodies, the blood.  They see a flash and move on.  “We don’t get it wrong” one pilot said on 60 Minutes recently.  A wedding party - - terrorists.  Nothing wrong.  A funeral - - terrorists.  Nothing wrong. 


Too bad. 

So sorry. 

Obama expresses regret and promises to “make every effort” to avoid further “tragedies.” Already in Afghanistan and Pakistan we are covered in blood.  Rivers of blood.  Oceans of blood.  The pilots of the drones kill the mourners or the celebrants and then go home to breakfast with the wife and kiddies.


This is computer-game killing.  Targeted.  Ruthless.  Anonymous.  Value free.  Movements on a computer screen.  Voiceless, virtual humans - - obliterated.


Push the button. 


Time for my shift to end.  Got to get home to the wife and kids who move about the world without the faintest inkling that someone, somewhere could be watching, waiting, plotting.  Armed.  Lethal.  Our brothers, sons, fathers, mothers, sisters, aunts. 


Is this the kind of country we want to be?  “We are morally no different from the psychopaths within the Taliban,” Chris Hedges wrote on the 11th, “who Afghans remember we empowered, funded and armed during the 10-year war with the Soviet Union.  Acid thrown in a girl’s face or beheadings?  Death delivered from the air or fields of shiny cluster bombs?  This is the language of war.  It is what we speak.  It is what those we fight speak.”


  This is not change we can believe in.


Millions, tens of millions of people voted for candidate Obama in November, willingly suspending disbelief, hoping, yearning for someone who would change the trajectory of the militarist, imperialist country we have become under presidents and congresses for the past sixty years.  They believed brand Obama.  But the brand was a marketing tool, a way to elect a more acceptable representative of the ruling military-industrial-congressional complex. 


Where are the Democrats?  Unfortunately, and tragically for our future, they are all with Obama and the empire.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Christians and Torture

A recent letter to the editor at the Aberdeen Daily World reminded me of a story told about Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhi, a Hindu, studied the Bible and found an interest in the Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus.  To learn more he decided to attend a Christian church in white South Africa.  When he attempted to enter a church one of the church elders barred Gandhi’s way.  “Where do you think you’re going, kafir?”  “I’d like to attend worship here,” Gandhi replied.  “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church, the elder said, “so get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”  Sometime later the missionary E. Stanley Jones asked Ghandi why, although Gandhi often quoted the words of Christ, he adamantly rejected becoming a Christian.  “Oh, I don't reject your Christ” Gandhi said. “I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."

As a teenager I once contemplated becoming a minister.  That all vanished on the day I was physically removed from the church I had grown up in because I attempted to shout down the minister who had just urged the congregation to support the war in Vietnam.  That I did not enter the clergy probably comes as a relief to some of the listeners to the program.  Nonetheless, like Gandhi, I too discovered that too many Christians were unlike their Christ.  Now, research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has pointed out more differences between me and the conspicuously pious sky-godders who loudly proclaim themselves so righteous, moral and just.  The study confirmed that the more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture.  Why do you suppose that’s true?  Wouldn’t you expect exactly the opposite - -  that support for torture would be stronger among the non-religious than among the most frequent church-goers?

Not so in the United States today.  Only 42% of people not affiliated with a religious organization approved of torture while 54% of people who attend worship at least once a week agreed that using torture was “often” or “sometimes” justified.  “White evangelical Protestants were the church-going group most likely to approve of torture,” wrote Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite in The Washington Post.  Thistlethwaite went on to write, “I think it possible, even likely, that this finding has a theological root.”  Christians base their theology on salvation through Christ’s suffering - - his flogging and crucifixion.  “For Christian conservatives,” Thistlethwaite concluded, “severe pain and suffering are central to their theology.”  Think Mel Gibson’s S & M violence fest, The Passion of the Christ.  “God wanted Jesus tortured for the sins of humanity” therefore torture of one human by another is OK - - redemptive even for Christians who have adopted this “penal theory of atonement.”

One wonders just how may of the torturers themselves were good Christians.  Torture, religion, proselytizing, God.  “They’re all part of the mixed-up horrific business that George Bush unleashed in the Middle East and Central Asia  “Christians were a favored constituency when Bush was in power,” Cynthia Tucker reminded us recently in The Daily World.  “Their enthusiasm powered his campaigns; their votes helped usher him in; their leaders helped push through his agenda, including his unfortunate war of choice in Iraq.” 

Americans have conflated U. S. military forces with “Onward Christian Soldiers” before in our history - - especially in China during the Boxer Uprising in 1900.  U.S. military forces were sent to China to rescue the haughty Christian missionaries whom the Chinese so detested.  Now the forces of a militarized Christianity have almost seized control of our military.  “The special forces guys - - they hunt men, basically,” said Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, the chief of U. S. military chaplains in Afghanistan, in a videotaped sermon shown on Al Jazeera across the Middle East a few weeks ago.  “We do the same things as Christians,” Col. Hensley went on,” we hunt people for Jesus.  We do, we hunt them down.  Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.”  Or at least onto the waterboard.