Thursday, July 05, 2007

Are You a Patriot or Are You Just Crowing?

I was drinking coffee and talking to a friend of mine the other morning concerning the past/present/future knowledge and wisdom of the earth's inhabitants. I mentioned what I had learned from painting houses for a living was that just throwing a coat of fresh paint over underlying structural problems is very temporary and only for show. It looks good...attracts attention...may even help sell the place, but underneath the glitter the structure is still rottening!

Well, my learned friend thought that was a good analogy and went on to say that it describes contemporary society/government quite well. "Shine the surfaces! Make it attractive. Who cares what's really underneath. A lot of our new knowledge is self-indulgent, more for entertainment, distraction, bedazzlement than anything useful. We've become like crows snatching glittery objects and flying off to our nests with them."

"We've become like crows!" Now I really liked that statement. It was one of those simple little tidbits that has the power to make one think and reflect. Of course, it doesn't seem to take much of a tidbit to activate my simple little mind, but that's fodder for another time. Given that research has shown numerous times that crows top the bird IQ scale, I thought this was a good reason to ponder on how our civilized society can't seem to get past the bait...the glitter, the fresh shiny coat of paint!

Being from the country, the old folks always told us kids how crows love shiny objects of any kind. And I've actually seen them pick up gum wrappers and small pieces of tin foil and I've also found their caches before. One in an old hollow knot on a red oak tree and another in the corner of a hay loft in our barn. I even found a couple of dimes in the cache in the barn! I understand that it's probably the younger crows that do this and it probably has to do more with food posibilities than anything else, but we humans do like our anthropomorphisms don't we?

And it just so happened that our conversation was just before our 4th of July holiday, which I have mixed feelings about anyway. All the color, glitter, and celebration just doesn't have the same meaning to me as it did back when I was more innocent and naive. It's much harder for me to immerse myself into the big show that surrounds this supposedly patriotic holiday. At least to this boy, the ugliness and the deterioration of the underlying structure can no longer be hid by the glitter and the shiny colorful surface! I am no longer attracted to the shiny objects like I once was when I was willing to sit back and accept what society expected me to accept. And this makes it very difficult to interact with other members of society who look down on an American who they believe isn't patriotic. What so many of us consider as patriotic, I consider as nationalistic! I consider myself to be a patriot, and at least in my eyes, there are entirely too many of our citizens who do not really know the difference between patriotism and nationalism! Patriotism requires commitment and struggle while nationalism requires only a love of shiny objects.

I wrote a piece back in April of 2003 voicing my concerns with the divide that has been wedged between the people. And I mailed these concerns to Noam Chomsky in an attempt to understand what the hell was going on in this country. And I was searching for an answer to my own questions about my personal feelings. A good friend of mine published the entire thing over at the old site of Members for Democracy. The piece was entitled Patriotism v. Nationalism: Keeping Workers Inside the Box.

When war advocates encourage and defend the Federal Government and they do it under the cloak of "Patriotism", I have to ask, "Is it for the love of their country and its people or simply loyalty and support for the central government which motivates them?" If they advocate war out of loyalty for the governmental hierarchy, then I would call that "Nationalism" and not "Patriotism"! The Constitution and its principles are where patriots' beliefs are rooted, as a nation that follows the rules of law and not the rules of men. The statement made by President Bush, "you are with us or against us" has left no room for neutrality, and puts a large segment of the world on the defensive against U.S. aggression and unfortunately has segregated the people of the U.S. The dissenters of the current government's doctrine are looked upon as traitors.

There are times when I think we should have a citizen license that must be renewed just like our driver's license program. Wouldn't it be funny to find out our immigrants know more about America, it's history, and it's inner workings than the majority of our born in country citizens? Yeah, that would be hilarious wouldn't it? It's so easy to take the position of a nationalist and cover oneself with the flag of patriotism in order to hide ignorance! As long as you have the flag draped over your shoulders, nobody will question whether you have enough knowledge to call yourself a good citizen!

Yesterday morning, the 4th of July, I read an article in Taylor Marsh entitled No Independence Today. The article started out with the sentence, "America wakes up in bondage today." Now that will make the hair on a nationalist's neck stand straight up!

I was one of those people who put partisanship aside after 9/11. Mr. Bush has proven unworthy at every turn. So this latest betrayal put on top of all of the other ones does not surprise. However, as Mr. Bush prays to his God, which hasn't resembled anything I know spiritually, morally or religiously for a very long time, our president should come prostrate and humble, on bended knee and asking for forgiveness for himself, because he has committed the gravest sin against us all. Mr. Bush has taken the oath of office he swore to his God and we the people of this greatest nation on earth and turned the Constitution and everything for which we have stood and the Founders and Americans die to preserve, and made it all a mockery. Turned it all to ashes.

You see, progressive thinking people are very rarely associated with the word patriotism! Everybody knows that patriots display the American flag at their homes while progressives turn it upside down and show disrespect! There is a well kept secret concerning our country's patriotism which very few know about. Our country's patriotic culture is steeped in progressive movements, radicals, and even socialistic ideals. Real patriotic Americans have endured mental and physical abuse in their fight to fuse their love of country with their dislike of the government's policies. It's part of our patriotic history that you won't hear from the nationalistic jingoists. It's patriotism's secret history.

The progressive authors of much of America's patriotic iconography rejected blind nationalism, militaristic drumbeating and sheeplike conformism. So it would be a dire mistake to allow, by default, jingoism to become synonymous with patriotism and the American spirit. Throughout our nation's history, radicals and reformers have viewed their movements as profoundly patriotic.

Howard Zinn's 4th of July message this year, Put Away the Flags, dealt with the same issues of nationalism portraying itself as patriotism. How the devotion to a flag and a feeling of being uniquely moral compared to the rest of the world can change a country into an empire. And with power of the sword of "Manifest Destiny", we have the right to mold this world, our solar system, and conceivably the entire our image!

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

The flag waving hides the fact that although we are the richest country in the world, tens of millions of our citizens do not receive adequate health care and our health care system comes in as 37th in the World Heath Organization's Report. And according to Food Research and Action Center, we have literally millions of children in our country who go to bed hungry every single night! And our educational system is leaving our children behind and imprisoning them in a cycle that concentrates more on readying our children for the workforce rather than giving them a real opportunity to realize what "independence" really is! Perhaps it's time to take a look at liberating our educational system!

And still today, thanks to the focused agendas of a few corporatists, we have people who readily criticize FDR's ''New Deal" as something un-patriotic and un-American. According to Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote in an article in The Nation, "The definition of patriotism is fighting to make sure your country lives up to its highest ideals." Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that patriotism in this country was founded on the principle of dissent in the face of tyranny...not in the knee-jerk, reflexive flag waving that is so prominent now! So if you want to show your patriotism, Act Now has listed five areas we can show our support in order to form a more perfect union.

Healthcare for All

End Torture, not Habeas Corpus

Voting Representation for DC

Employee Free Choice Act

Save Internet Radio

Now these five don't necessarily have to be the ones at the top of your list, but they should be ON the list for sure. The important thing is that it is imperative that you show your patriotism...the real patriotism...through your actions. And I don't mean cussing or throwing rocks at the neighbor because he displays the flag upside down! I mean real action! Action that comes from independent thought, not from the colorful, glittery, fireworks, and celebrations that are designed by the few to keep the people in mark step with their agendas. Their little glittery objects that we keep caching away in our comfortable little flag draped nests.

There is one right that we have, that many people have either forgotten about or during this time of wire-tapping and loss of freedoms, they are just simply afraid to think about. This is the Right of Revolution. A very important right if not "the" most important one. So here I go writing another one of these pieces that will most assuredly alienate me once again from community and family. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the part about alienating yourself from friends and even some family members once you have finally had enough and decide to make a stand for true freedom and support true patriotism. Dissent can be a breathtaking roller coaster...but I would still suggest you pay the admission and take a ride!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What...National Healthcare?

The United States National Health Insurance Act H.R. 676 should be on everybody's lips, in their discussion groups and forums, in their blogs, and on their elected representative's desks! Here is an explanation of H.R. 676 from the Healthcare Now website. From the Healthcare Now website:
Under HR 676, a family of three making $40,000 per year would spend approximately $1600 per year or about $133 per month for healthcare coverage. Everybody would pay something into the national healthcare fund -- on a sliding scale -- depending on their income. But they would no longer receive healthcare bills. They would no longer pay co-pays and deductibles; they would no longer be denied prevention, a doctor of their choice, and care when they need it.

The United States National Health Insurance Act would allow the United States to reduce its almost $2 trillion health care expenditure each year while covering all of the uninsured and all of us for more benefits than we are getting under their current insurance company plans.

And here is the entire Bill in pdf from the Physicians for a National Health Program website. From PNHP's website:
The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 46 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.

This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment though a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

Please pass this information on to friends, family, and even the people you might consider your enemies. And watch the following video of Michael Moore at Capitol Hill, sponsored by Politics TV.

Michael Perelman on The Trap of Individualism

I would like to take an opportunity to highlight the work of Michael Perelman. He has written on The Social Meaning of Pensions, and on Privatizing Education. And back in October of last year Seth Sandronsky did an Interview with Michael Perelman which appeared on ZNet.

Now with his latest book release, Manufacturing Discontent: The Trap of Individualism in Corporate Society, Seth Sandronsky does a book review which is hosted by ZNet and is available to sustainers and donors. I am publishing Sandronsky's review in it's entirety and if anyone is interested in receiving such timely news and articles such as this, please go to ZMag to inquire. Here is Sandrondky's book review:

Manufacturing Discontent: The Trap of Individualism in Corporate Society

By Seth Sandronsky

Book Review: Manufacturing Discontent: The Trap of Individualism in Corporate Society By Michael Perelman, Pluto Press

Capitalism loves those who love it. Thus Michael Perelman, a radical economist at California State University-Chico, labors in relative obscurity. In Manufacturing Discontent: The Trap of Individualism in Corporate Society, he writes for the layperson. To this end, Perelman offers analysis and information on the social causes and effects of modern capitalism. Academic and media praise about the pristine perfection of market competition has made this kind of study hard to find, but Perelman's book is a strong corrective.

Case in point is the corporate production of autos in the U.S. by unionized workers after WW II. Then, unlike now, business was good for General Motors, and supposedly also, therefore, for the nation. Perelman delves into the underlying reality during this golden age of U.S. capitalism. A central feature of this time was the deliberate design of poor quality cars built not to last but to boost shareholder value via "planned obsolescence."

Greater quantity did not mean better quality. For Perelman, such waste defines corporate production and distribution under the capitalist economy.

With respect to the individualizing effects of capitalist auto production, GM elites, with a cold calculus, planned to weaken labor union solidarity by offering autoworkers a defined-benefit corporate pension program. They ultimately succeeded. Crucially, the plum deal for this small fraction of U.S. workers was unavailable to the rest of the nation's populace. Here we see shades of the past policies and practices of the U.S. labor movement, which chose to exclude rather than include all workers into the "one big union" favored by the radical, multi-racial Industrial Workers of the World.

Perelman explains clearly how the United Auto Workers' involvement with the GM pension fund was limited to their identifying, as individuals drawing retirement benefits, with the carmaker's future profitability.

Administration of the pension program remained with GM. The devil was in these details. This flawed approach on the union's part could hardly be more crucial to workers and retirees today and in the future. GM shareholders are responding to market competition from foreign carmakers by attacking UAW pensions. As corporations in the U.S. airline industry use federal bankruptcy courts to liquidate union employee pensions, the UAW's decision to cede control over their pensions to GM looms large, indeed.

Perelman makes pointed reference to Adam Smith regarding the deception of people who seek pleasure via consumer purchases. Smith's critique of industrial capitalism would later be deepened, on this point, by Thorstein Veblen, who discussed how the working class became dehumanized by aping the competitive consumption of the status-seeking upper class. Cogently, Perelman mines the writings of Marx, Smith and Veblen concerning money. The store of value that we call currency affects the development of real and imagined human happiness. For Perelman, alienation in a market economy cannot be understood so long as its corporate origin is obscured. His aim is to empower social movements by giving them a firm grasp of the society's flawed workings.

In the mainstream pro-corporate rhetoric of the past twenty-five years, government regulation harms business and the "free market." Presumably, a hands-off policy works best for businesses and the consumers they serve with new goods and services. The myth centers on an imaginary community in which consumer and producer thrive whenever government steps aside for the market to work its magic. Perelman refutes this view by focusing on the class-structured conflict shaped by the inequality of social relations.

"[T]he government sees fit to put strict limits on consumer sovereignty," he writes, "Especially when any substantive consumer sovereignty might collide with corporate interests."

Take food. The federal government's complicity with the Monsanto Corp. enabled Monsanto to poorly inform consumers via deficient food labeling of dairy products containing recombinant bovine growth hormone, given to cows for them to give more milk. Corporate accountability for such criminal wrongdoing is shockingly absent. "The government takes corporate crimes so lightly that it does not even bother to publish statistics on this subject," Perelman says. He makes clear that class control of the state-the "executive committee for handling the common affairs of the bourgeoisie" in Marx's famous phrase-is, for corporate America today, alive and well. Such control enhances corporate profits- rightly so, according to leading "free-market" economist Milton Friedman, who sees politics as standing apart from economics. Perelman demolishes this notion of supposedly separate spheres which has shaped the past quarter-century of public policy in the U.S.

Besides being kept in the dark about what food they buy, people are subject to constant corporate advertising that appeals to their individualizing preferences for this or that commodity. The commodity form, of course, was a key concept for Marx in his seminal work on capitalist production. As this dynamic and revolutionary system has spread, the production and distribution of commodities has engulfed new spheres of life. One is gender. The beverage industry, for example, targets teen girls with new products that pander to issues of body appearance and self-esteem. Firms such as Abercrombie & Fitch hire workers in Asia to make thong underwear, which are then marketed to pre-teen girls in the U.S.

This corporate push for individuals to pursue competitive and destructive consumption, to "keep up with the Joneses," supposedly equals consumer power, according to the conventional wisdom. In Naming the System: Work and

Inequality in the Global Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2003), economist and editor Michael D. Yates analyzes such thinking and finds its assumptions and conclusions faulty. The owner/ producer, and not the consumer, is king/queen of the market. In Manufacturing Discontent, Perelman complements Yates's critique.

Workplace relations in corporate society may be the "strongest example of consumer sovereignty-that of the employers who purchase the services of their workers," Perelman writes. Such wry humor is sprinkled throughout his book. Daily, working people come to understand that the boss need not be right; s/he need only be the boss, a proxy for the employing class extending and intensifying the working day. This workplace process, in both material and psychological terms, cramps the lives of people by squeezing leisure time from them with grim precision, of which Perelman says: "Such is the reality of our modern version of individualism in which commerce triumphs over all else!"

In terms of political triumphs, the neo-conservatives on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2007 favor the rhetoric of persons being accountable and responsible. This language is highly selective, however. Perelman hammers the point home with reference to the utter lack of accountability in the taxpayer-funded fiasco of the scientifically untenable missile-shield defense technology, backed by weapons makers and the members of Congress who represent them. This is one example of many that Perelman cites to illustrate how corporate-government collaboration harms individuals and society generally. To this end, he helps readers to better understand the national security state for corporate America. With U.S. imperialism and militarism increasingly harming the lives of its citizens and people abroad, Perelman's fleshing out of the economics of the congressional-military-industrial complex is timely.

For many people most of the time, the experience of class power comes on an individual basis. Alone they lack power, exactly where corporations want to keep them. "Although individualism might seem to be antagonistic to corporate power," Perelman argues, "it reinforces corporate power."

Crucially, this contradiction flows from patterns in U.S. history established under racial slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Anglo-American slave owning class, which resulted in the imposition of hereditary lifetime servitude on Africans and African Americans and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans.

This long history of racialized colonialism and racial slavery defined in no small way who is a citizen and who is not. Considering this factor in the U.S. national identity can, I think, enhance the required coalition-building and learning based in the grassroots to reverse the rise of corporate capitalism and the demise of labor unionism that have helped to atomize the U.S. populace since the end of the Vietnam War. Perelman's thesis in Manufacturing Discontent is essential to the popular understanding of political democracy, in militant opposition to corporate rule.

Perelman writes in an era that finds U.S corporations in a position of unprecedented strength. One result of this social triumph is that the left is mired in organizational disarray. Progressive actions to reverse this corporate trajectory require laboring and oppressed peoples to join forces around improvements to the common good-a goal that stands in stark contrast to a competitive ownership of corporate commodities. To realize such a society will require ordinary people to have accurate facts and information about ruling circles of wealth and power. Reading Perelman's book is a useful step in this direction.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento . He is a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper Because People Matter
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