Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pushing back against serious head winds

“There’s plenty of money for billions of dollars in subsidies for big oil companies. There’s plenty of money for special breaks for the owners of thoroughbred racehorses. There’s plenty of money for extra deals for the folks who run NASCAR racetracks,” she said. “So why is there no money to make our country work? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the game is rigged.”
After her speech, she joined Massachusetts firefighters for a photo, then gave an impromptu speech about the outrage that “you are out there with your begging bowls” while billions in tax breaks go to corporations. “We are in trouble,” she said. “We are up against the ropes. … We’ve got to have fundamental change.” (Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking to the convention of the International Firefighters in Washington this week, written by Dana Milbank, syndicated columnist in the Olympian, March 14, 2015)While we heartily endorse both the passion and the veracity of Warren's words, (and she speaks them whenever anyone is listening!) we have to point out to some very ominous warnings off the bow of the Democratic Party ship These include:
  • the jerry-mandering of too many districts on both racial  bias and economic segregation that endanger too many potential Democratic candidates,
  • shiploads of loose cash from suppliers like the Koch brothers for Republican right-wing "wing-nuts",
  • a social and cultural ethos that reeks of cynicism, contempt, bias against the underbelly of the American melting pot, and eight years of gridlock in Washington.
  • Add to this cocktail of swirling headwinds, a world gone ape over the Islamic radical terror movement whose tentacles reach into every city, town and district in most countries and the most intelligent and powerful voices pushing back really do not know how to curb or certainly to annihilate this scourge.

The news cycles are engulfed with stories of:
  • new alliances between Boko Harram and ISIS,
  •  beheadings of hostages by ISIS, seductive recruiting of young girls to join the terrorists in Syria from Great Britain, for example,
  • the capture and murder of dozens in northeastern Nigeria,
  • Hillary Clinton's private email account (not a government account) while she was Secretary of State,
  • missing firings by North Korea,
  • ambushed knife cuts to the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea,
  • the Iranian ayatollah's denunciation of the disintegration of the American political ethics as displayed by the letter from 47 Republican lawmakers attempting to derail negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons, 
  • and the always nefarious moves and motives of Vladimir Putin, whose whereabouts seem a mystery this week.

There is a crowded public stage for a message like the one Elizabeth Warren is attempting to deliver. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is also attempting to deliver a similar message, and finding the volume of competing voices muffling his earnest efforts.
The United States, and indeed the world, is facing a serious list of forks in the road to its future. Amid the growing coalescence among the opposition to Islamic terror, and the announcements of international rumblings of attempts to curb global warming and climate change, and serious fledging discoveries to detect and treat various human illnesses, the burgeoning plethora of humanitarian non-profits, the UN Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating poverty and hunger everywhere in fifteen years while protecting the environment, there is a sense of both ill-ease and ill-will that infects so many discussions about the way out of our dilemmas. Also, increasingly, we are all being impacted by forces that touch the whole world, as no single important issue is contained or containable within narrow boundaries.
The have's not only get the tax breaks that Warren is talking about, they also want to destroy many of the public institutions that hold the society together. Too many of them believe that government is an impediment to fundamental human liberty, not a partner in the pursuit of common goals and the reduction and even elimination of shared problems. Plutocracies are becoming normalized in front of our eyes. The gap between the salaries of CEO's and ordinary working 'stiffs' is the highest in history. Deniers of climate change and global warming are demanding a hands-off approach by governments in order to protect their corporate profits. Many public leaders, some of them seeking the highest office in the United States are determined to destroy the labour movement and the protections it has sought and achieved over a century-plus of committed conflict on behalf of workers.
Writing in the Globe and Mail, Director of the Munk School of International Relations at the University of Toronto, Stephen Toope opines:
In our era, the mantra is “disruption.” We expect to upgrade our electronic devices every year or two, so anything that’s been around for a long time seems static and boring. For many young adults, social connections are organized virtually and participation in formal structures like clubs or political parties is unattractive. Although there is much evidence that these young people hold strong opinions and care as much about the world as previous generations did, engagement patterns show a shift toward private actions such as signing petitions, “liking” advocacy campaigns, boycotting and making online micro-contributions to support causes.
At the same time, trust in institutions, such as Parliament, the civil service, religious bodies, unions, corporations and schools, continues to reach new lows. Hierarchy is seen as inherently bad, and ever-expanding demands for “accountability” mean that distrust in public officials is baked into the system. Fewer and fewer people are voting. The downward trend is most dramatic among those between the ages of 18 and 35....
But ironically, today’s most powerful strains of distrust in institutions, especially public institutions, are found on the right of the political spectrum. Anti-government libertarians argue that all public authority destroys liberty. Even in mainstream conservative circles, explicit policy seeks to shrink the capacity of the civil service.
Advocates for “smaller government” do not differentiate among the costs of security, military, foreign service, development aid and public services such as education, health and immigrant resettlement. For these advocates, reduction is required across the board. People are no longer called “citizens” but “taxpayers,” to encourage them to see the shrinkage of public institutions as in their interest.
Today, forces of technological innovation, with their inevitable promotion of disruption, meld with elements of the political left seeking an end to hierarchy and a right committed to the reduction of publicly provided goods. The product is an increasingly powerful frontal attack on the institutions that have helped build a land of inclusion and relatively distributed opportunity, and sustained a strong social fabric for generations.(Stephen Toope, Globe and Mail, March 11, 2015)
It is not only against the tidal wave of news stories that focus on the latest human tragedy and the PAC support for right wing candidates that people like Elizabeth Warren have to compete. It is a culture that is becoming more committed to 'destructionism" of the public institutions and the total demise of the public square, masked by short-term seductions of the masses (much like the traditions of Madison Avenue's advertising of sizzle and not steak).
In western countries like Canada and the United States, voices like those of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Stephen Toope need to be heard, reflected upon, and even acted upon if we are to reverse a trend that could, if not moderated and rebuffed, engulf us all in a series of gordion knots from which we could be unable and unwilling to extricate ourselves.

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