What happened to civic duty and virtue?

Charlie's tag

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom…must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

                                                                                                                                        -Thomas Paine

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Civic duty and virtue… Let me tell you about a friend. Let’s call him George.

Blue collar, no post high school education; he’s worked as a union plumber at the university for six years now, and it’s the best job he has ever had.

He is also an alderman for his town of 350 people. He is integral to their annual festival event (which he was instrumental to bringing back after a 15 year hiatus). He previously served on the school board (they have a k-8 school) and his mom voluntarily served as a temporary mayor when the elected guy quit abruptly.

This town has a single part time deputy from the county sheriff’s department, a volunteer fire department, and one stop light.

Aside from the deputy, his town doesn’t pay any of the officials; they are all voluntary duties. George spends a minimum of several hours each week dealing with town business; often it is more than that, especially if he has to handle a problem with the sewer system or other utility. Keep in mind, he still has his full-time job.

George doesn’t do this because he is an individual in pursuit of self interest; he does it out of civic duty to the common good. He does it out of a sense of responsibility to his community and the people who live there.
That is what America has lost! We lost it because we handed everything over to corporate type management systems, we entrusted our “common good” to managerial systems that we assumed were rational. Essentially, we gave up our genuine individualism by allowing someone else to handle everything for us.
We conformed.
What is wrong with America isn’t apathy. It isn’t uninformed voters. It isn’t passiveness. What is wrong is a system of corporatism that has infiltrated democracy. While that was happening right under our noses, we lost sight of individual civic responsibility to our common good because the narrative was replaced with the concept of self interest.
President Reagan was wrong; government can’t be the problem; because we are the government, collectively. However, we gave up our claim to government and handed those responsibilities to corporate-like groups. Those corporate groups dictate almost every aspect of our lives, and are dictating legislation as well.
Taking it back is our only solution. The only way to do that is to change our perspective to an appreciation for our individual civic duty in pursuit of a shared common purpose.

Charlie’s Corner

Charlie's tag

Every once in awhile we get a carrier pigeon from our friend, Charlie. Here’s what he had to say after seeing our ‘Four Horsemen’ post the other day:

Charlie’s Corner

One might wonder, what differences these Four Horsemen actually make, what is the result of their combined contributions. Well, look around, friend; their accomplishments are both readily apparent in our society today and evident in the historical record of societies that have preceded us. I suppose their most obvious achievements include three influential considerations that deserve examination, decadence, apathy and hypocrisy.

As we awaken to the decadence surrounding us today, it is important to remember this is nothing new.
The debauchery and corruption of social elites is common just before any collapse, as in the endearing Roman Republic our Founding Fathers wished to emulate, and its final imperial decline. Is today’s penchant plutocrat any different from those Roman elites whose unquenchable greed stimulated the fall of Pax Romana?

For example, 29 percent of America’s largest corporations now pay their CEO more in salary than they pay in Federal taxes. In fact, just seven of these firms earned a collective $74 billion in pre-tax profits, paid no taxes, and received $1.9 billion in tax refunds from the IRS (and those of us who did pay taxes last year). At the standard corporate tax rate of 35%, this amounts to an American loss of $27.8 billion (that is 27.8 thousand millions) in revenue. Obviously, this tax system doesn’t make paying their CEO’s an average of $32 million last year seem too difficult. The ten largest merger deals will earn those CEO’s involved a whopping $430 million in severance alone, thus making a $94 million luxury penthouse in Manhattan and a 32.5 million-penthouse vacation getaway at the Porsche Design Tower in South Florida seem reasonable. Be looking for the $250,000 Cadillac to compete with the half-million Rolls or Bentley, it is coming soon.

Meanwhile, folks like us whose labor earns $80,000 this year bear the same tax burden as someone receiving $5 million per week, yes, per week. We suffer the limitation of deferring no more than $18,000 per year in 401(k) contributions, yet these chief executives enjoy privileged corporate retirement plans that allowed one former CEO to invest 14 million last year alone, and save almost 7 million in personal taxes.

What roll does apathy play in an Interrupted Republic? Easy enough just ask yourself how many Americans bothered to show up at the polls a few weeks ago. Does the lowest voter turnout in nearly a century indicate a loss of interest? Perhaps differentiation between voters and their representatives holds a key. Just 6% of legislators have at any time held a blue-collar job, converse to 56% of Americans holding one today. Alternatively, consider median net worth and annual income, I’m afraid we’d be hard pressed to find a representative who doesn’t far exceed the national average. Add to this the more recent rise of oligarchy via refuted campaign finance regulations; are we surprised when our representatives cater to their donors, whose donation isn’t disclosed and has no ceiling?

More importantly, I suspect the apathy rises from our imagined future. The fact that a person with a four-year college degree earns, on average, 98 percent more than those without one; yet 46 percent of recent graduates now work in jobs that don’t require degrees and that means something here, particularly when coupled to the rise in education costs and student debt taking first place in terms of total dollars borrowed. This suggests that wages for those without a degree are shrinking; advancement in developing nations allows outsourcing of jobs and technology simply eliminates them. It is a straightforward supply and demand curve, demand drops and incomes stagnate. In any case, not a promising proposition for those aspiring to join the middle class and certainly the emergence of our second horseman.

This brings us to hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of tax loopholes that allows the largest earners to pay lower effective tax rates than the median American. Better yet, the hypocrisy of a system that enables the top 500 corporations to spend 54 percent of their profits buying back their own stock (rather than paying taxes) and inflating their net worth and the CEO’s rewards, more or less another example of the first horseman, debased money. The hypocrisy that our CEO’s are job creators, were that the case, wouldn’t they be accountable for destroying them, as the second horseman indicates. Doesn’t the fact that these people now pay themselves 500 times more than any other employee in their organization, illustrate the point? Or, perhaps, the hypocrisy that regular Americans are represented in their government, at all. Clearly, our third horseman holds its own hypocrisy, how can we imagine patriotism and a collective national interest when our largest institutions are stripping away our national wealth and borrowing our children’s future to ensure their corporate profits; multinational corporations whose products and services are global, and whose share holders are as well. Is it beginning to sound like the fourth horseman is already here, just look around. The hypocrisy of a free press is evident in the fact that just five of these multinational corporations now control 85 percent of our “free” press. Now doesn’t that sound as if the control of information might favor these elites and their cronies? I’m afraid the oligarchy is here, plutocrats have the reins and are driving the horses to the very edge, the Republic is on the precipice.

–Charlie

The Four Horsemen

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There is a saying that goes something like “Those who neglect the past have no future.” There is another one that says, “Those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.” There are several variations of them. All are equally correct.

History tells us that every great nation has fallen, in one way or another, eventually. A few of them lasted significant periods of times, measured in centuries, but all, even the greatest, even the largest and most powerful, fell and were consumed. Many of them fell to invaders, but only after weakening themselves beyond repair first. Looking back, examining their past, before they collapsed, can tell us where our own nation is in that inevitable cycle.

There are warning signs; there are signals that repeat in these nations’ histories. Not every sign is present in all of them, but all of them share at least some of those signals, enough in fact, that everyone should be standing up and paying attention.

There are four signals that are most common. We are going to call these signs the Four Horsemen. You know. The symbolism and all. Blame the English teacher. It doesn’t really matter which one is which, so don’t ask. They are all bad.

Horseman number one is the most popular; he has been invited to all the best parties. He is Debased Currency. All his friends call him Fiat. Now, for those of you who don’t know what fiat currency is, let me make it simple for you. Ole Fiat keeps writing checks. He writes checks his butt can’t cash. In other words, he doesn’t have anything in the bank. What he does have is a printer is his basement. As long as people keep accepting his checks, he’s fine. Eventually, though, they are going to demand a different form of payment. Then, he’s screwed. Any country that keeps printing money with nothing in the bank to back it up, is just looking for trouble.

I won’t go into detail here; the documentation is easily available. The list of nations guilty of this is long. The important thing to note is that at no time, never, ever in human history, has a nation, a society, survived debasing its currency by more than two hundred years.

Never.

Ever.

No exceptions.

Any and every people who have ever ‘fiddled with’ their money have destroyed themselves by doing it. Nor has any nation, that we can discover, once set on this path, ever reversed their actions and saved themselves from disaster.

Horseman number two comes in when there is a decline in productivity; industry, manufacturing, agriculture and the like. He has a few names, but we know him best as Unemployment. He includes in his minions those who leave the workforce willingly, to sit at home. No nation that allowed its non-productive population to outnumber and/or overpower its producers survived for more than a few decades after that Horseman came to town.

It is not coincidence that the first Horseman, Ole Fiat, enables a society to at least temporarily support the ‘takers’, at the expense of the ‘makers’ much longer than it can last with a sound monetary system.

A third Horseman is a lost national identity. We will call him Ex-Pat. Once a common identity, a consistent national ethos, is diluted the society is doomed. When the population devolves into separate cultural identities, a “we-versus-them” mentality prevails. There is no unity, only diversity and division. A society of people who fear, mistrust and hate one another cannot function together and make a nation.

In other words, when Patriotism dies, the country isn’t far behind.

The final Horseman, and this is a biggie, is the enslavement (or attempted enslavement) of the masses by an elite. This is where the kings and the bankers come in.

Or even the career politicians and the corporate overlords.

When CEOs, thirty-year Senators, and billionaires position themselves above and immune from the laws that govern the general population, particularly a population who was once free of such control, destruction follows. People can and will only take so much. When the elite stop caring about the masses and use them only as tools rather than seeing them as human beings, it’s over. The fat lady, or Horseman, in this case, has sung. In some instances, the collapse has been deferred for lengths of time, sometimes even centuries. Yet eventually, inevitably, the people will have had enough.

These Four Horsemen are the tipping points that signal a nation is in its death-throes. History tells us that once reached, there is no turning back, no salvation. We will be back to discuss this again. Think on it a while.

Until next time. Later, y’all.

Ahem…About Yesterday’s Post…

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See, it’s like this: My name isn’t Jonathan Gruber. I don’t think you’re stupid. (Except for you, over there. Yeah, you. You know who I’m pointing at. Troll.) That’s why yesterday’s blog post wasn’t easy light reading. I know, I know; you’re out of the habit of having to actually think about what someone is telling you. That doesn’t mean you can’t.

This is important stuff, y’all. A big part of finding solutions to problems is to understand what caused the problems in the first place. Sometimes that means going further back than you’d expect, digging deeper than is easy or convenient, and uncovering the foundations. Yesterday’s post was political archeology. Trust me; I could have dug a whole lot deeper and gone into a whole lot more detail.

Maybe I could have made it more entertaining. I’m not sure how, exactly, but I figure what we’re talking about is too important to turn it into a “Schoolhouse Rock” episode. If that’s what you want — well, maybe you are part of the problem. We told you up front: there ain’t no ‘easy’ button for this crap.

You might have come to the conclusion that we’re fixated on an opinion of corporations being the one true root of all evil. We’re not. They aren’t. But I’m here to tell you that corporations – some corporations, a LOT of corporations – are a big, big part of the issues and problems we face today, and we’d damn sure better come up with a way to deal with them.

I admit it: I’m no good at snark. My main partner in crime around here is, though. She’s got enough of that for the both of us, I hope. She can make people laugh. Me, not so much. About the only people who appreciate my sense of humor are other old Marines and grunt-types like that, and we’re not here for barracks humor.

So that’s as close as you’re gonna get to an apology for yesterday’s boring-ass post. Take it or leave it.

Carry on.

After the (Tea) Party: Jefferson and the Declaration

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“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” had a multitude of goals and audiences both internal and external, but at its core it had a simple purpose: to formally establish the united colonies as sovereign nations. The Americans had pitted themselves against the mightiest armed force in the world – and gleefully bloodied its nose on several occasions. The colonists were confident but knew they could not prevail against the gigantic British empire without help. In the terms of 18th century international statecraft, the conflict had, up until then, been considered internal; insurrection rather than revolution. So long as the colonies remained colonies, British subjects of Britain’s King, their struggle would perforce be viewed as a civil war. The other great powers of Europe might applaud the upheaval, but unless they were prepared to declare war on Britain, which they were not yet ready to do, they would not, could not, be directly involved in the internal affairs of another country. The civil war must become a war of independence before other nations could safely render aid on the colonists’ behalf. The Americans had to escalate.

A mere declaration, however bold, was not sufficient. The powers of the world, virtually all of them monarchies, had to be convinced that the colonies were entitled to depose their king and claim the same international rights of statehood. The Second Continental Congress chose Thomas Jefferson to do the convincing.

Jefferson took an elegant approach to the problem. Undoubtedly aware that the classic syllogism would not bear the complexity of the issue, he employed a structure that would, many years later, be closely identified with the Toulmin model of argument.

Artfully setting the stage and introducing his supporting claim in the introduction, Jefferson established the warrant of his argument in the preamble. The warrant was, in fact and intentionally, nothing new to his audience. In three sentences, with five propositions building one upon another, Jefferson distilled what John Locke and others had already propounded:
1.) All men are created equal.
2.) They have certain natural rights.
3.) Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
4.) People institute governments to secure these rights.
5.) If their government fails to secure these rights, the people are entitled to alter or abolish it.

Without yet mentioning America or Britain, Jefferson had defined the basic premise of his argument, a premise already familiar to and accepted by most of his audience.

Next, he commenced to build the support, what was actually the most crucial argument of all. Virtually everyone in his intended audience already agreed that it was a people’s right to throw off a tyrannical government, but did the conditions exist in the American colonies to legitimize such a revolution? To prove this Jefferson had to convince his readers of two things: one far easier to accomplish than the other.

To achieve his first and simplest goal, to show that George III, King of Britain, was in deeds and in facts a tyrant, Jefferson applied centuries of English historical precedent and presented what amounts to a legal bill of indictment; over two dozen carefully ordered and even more carefully worded grievances against the British King and his government. Tyranny is a far from petty crime and is certainly perpetrated “with malice aforethought.” Evidence presented against the accused should be weighty, verifiable, and evince an obvious conclusion of premeditation. The bill of indictment, taking up close to two-thirds of the entire document, accomplished those ends leaving little room for denial of the facts and even less room for rebuttal regarding the legitimacy of the actions. The wording of the list of grievances, particularly the opening and closing statements, also fulfill a secondary requirement by displaying the colonists’ “patient sufferance” during this “history of repeated injuries and usurpations” and noting that they had done all they could do to redress the issues.

The second and more difficult clause of the Americans’ supporting argument was to convince the leaders of the world that the king had perpetrated these acts upon a “people,” more specifically a people separate from the people of Britain. This was absolutely vital. Jefferson had to make the point that the colonists were “American”, not “British”, subjects of the King George III. Unlike a large percentage of the colonists, the average Briton did not view his king with displeasure and certainly had no desire to abolish the government. The colonists must be identified as a distinct “people”, or it would invalidate the argument’s foundational warrant. To accomplish this, Jefferson took an oblique approach. He begins in the introduction, where the audience sees “one people” dissolving their bonds with “another.” Then picking up again in the litany of grievances, he repeatedly juxtaposes words like “us” and “our” against “he” and “his.” Finally, in his denouncement of the British people as a whole for their own ignoring the colonist’s appeals, Jefferson’s language artfully distances the Americans further and further from the British. By referring to “our British brethren,” Jefferson simultaneously invokes the ties of common heritage and infers a separation. He says, in effect, that though they be related, they are two peoples. Then reminding the British and the rest of his audience of “the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here” he continues to drive that point home. Jefferson firmly ends the issue with an emphatic statement that the American people must reluctantly bow to the inevitable and regard the British the way any sovereign nation regards the other nations of the world: “Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

Having fulfilled his requirements, provided warrant and support, Jefferson had only to conclude the Declaration with his claim. He does so in a way that is at once direct and moving. The last sentence in the conclusion, particularly the first phrase, still rings in the hearts of anyone who has ever read it and even those who have only heard it.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”

 

Until next time…

(Disclaimer: Okay, y’all. I tried to talk him into condensing this a smidge, but he wouldn’t budge. Would. Not. Budge. Marines have a way of being stubborn like that. “No,” he said, “It needed saying before we continue with the corporations as the not so new bad guys thing.” Sigh. Bear with us. There is a method to our madness. Later, y’all.)

 

Corporations: The Not-So-New Bad Guys

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The East India Company. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember studying about them in school? Well, let us tell you a little about them.

Do you remember learning in history class about how the Declaration of Independence was sent to the then king of England because the colonists were tired of his royal highness of unfairness? Well, while he was a problem for sure, the real problem was the East India Company.

Why? We are so glad you asked. Pull up a chair. This may take a while.

This story starts at the very first protest against corporate control of government. Any guesses? It happened on Dec. 16, 1773. In Boston of all places. Boston Harbor to be precise. Yep, the good ole Boston Tea Party. While the king was busy having a war with France, the East India Company, a corporation of wealthy English, was getting Britain to enact all kinds of outrageous market controls and taxes on the colonies.

Do you know why? Would you be shocked to learn that “corporate bail-out” is not a new term?

You see, the East India Company was in debt up to it’s English eyeballs. It had warehouses full of tea that it couldn’t sell because smugglers were selling Dutch tax-free tea to the colonists. Sooo, Parliament came up with what they thought was a brilliant scheme to bail-out the Company. They decided to lower the tax on tea, therefore allowing the Company to compete with the smugglers. At that point in history, the colonies had just barely begun to be profitable. They were more of a market resource than an inventory source. They knew that this new tax break would set the Company up to be a monopoly, allowing it to become too powerful, and put many colonists out of business. Thus, the Boston Tea Party.

But wait, you say? You thought the American Revolution was about taxation without representation? Sure it was. But it was also about corporate bail-outs at the expense of the public, and about corporate monopolies.

Okay. I know what you are thinking. That’s all ancient history, right?

Not exactly.

Let’s just talk about light bulbs for a second. You know, incandescent light bulbs. Once claimed to be the innovation of the century, the incandescent bulb has now been “banned” for lack of a better word.

Why?

Money.

Pure ole unadulterated greed.

Light bulb giants like General Electric, Philips and Sylvania lobbied for those regulations.

Lobbied hard.

Spent millions.

Just so they could make more money.

What is my point? If someone asked me what I thought was the biggest problem in government today, my answer would be…wait for it…corporations. Not that they are evil in themselves, although I’m pretty sure I could argue that one as well, but that they are in control of our government more than most Americans really know or want to believe.

Oh, and lobbyists. Let’s not forget about lobbyists.

But we will save that for another time. Hang around, folks. We’re not done.

‘Til next time. Later, y’all.

Why are we in this hand-basket? And where are we going?

We’ve heard it so many times lately. “We are all doomed.” “I have no faith in our government.” “This country is going to hell in a hand-basket.” Have you ever wondered why people are feeling so down about the state of our nation? Have you ever wondered how the hell we got here in this hand-basket, soaked in tequila, and someone we don’t trust as far we can spit is holding a match?

We have too. An old guy named Henry David Thoreau said “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Hang around on social media more than five minutes and you’ll see a whole lot of branch-hacking, but we don’t see much in the way of root-striking. Everybody seems to be looking for that “Easy” button, that one thing to do that’ll cure all the ills of today’s mess.

There’s only one problem with that “Easy” button. Okay, maybe more than one problem, but there is one massive problem that can’t be overlooked. That “Easy” button? It doesn’t exist. Oh, sure, people can say, “Just vote them all out” when talking about the problems. But will that really fix the problems? Will it? What is to keep the next politician, who miraculously manages to unseat a 30 year incumbent, from becoming the next problem?

You will notice we keep saying “problem.” But do you really understand what the problem(s) is/are? Do you have a clue what to do about them? If the answer is no, you are in luck. For that’s why we are here.

We don’t claim to understand what the problems are, at least not completely. But we do have some clues, and we’re pretty good at hacking at shi…. uh, stuff. We’re going to use this blog to grab onto a branch and follow it down to its root. Then we’ll look at another branch and follow it down; see if it comes from the same root, or maybe a different one. And another branch, and another…  Maybe that will help us figure out how to get rid of the gargantuan poison ivy patch our nation is turning into.

Okay, so maybe poison ivy patch was not the best analogy. Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy. Maybe kudzu is a better one. But those of us who are allergic to poison ivy are sick to death of the ever encroaching government with their ever encroaching legislation that takes away more of our liberty with every swing of the gavel.

We have the hatchets. And we aren’t afraid to use them. So join us, as we hack away at those illusive branches and try to shed some light on how we got in this hand-basket, and how the hell we get out of it.

If you’re wondering who “we” are, here are some clues. We’re a single mom, a Marine vet, a high school English teacher, a retired application developer, two frustrated wannabe novelists, a great-grandfather, a reformed Republican, a disappointed Libertarian, and big fans of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, yeah, and the Constitution.

So, get in, buckle up, and hang on. Some of these lessons may be tough for some of you to hear, but we are not willing to stand idly by and see the great American experiment vanish along with all of our dreams. This will be a learning experience for all of us and we sure are glad you are here. Later, y’all.