Friday, December 10, 2010

Jumping before it's too late

We’ve seen riots and demonstrations by students in Britain and in France but why not here?

Could we have an example of an American frog being slowly cooked in a pot whose water is gradually getting hotter?

You know the story. If the frog is thrown into boiling water, it jumps out. That’s what’s happening in Europe where there’s been a sudden shock of severe government austerity measures.

But in this country, the socio-economic water temperature has been rising ever so slowly for years. The increases in tuition have risen steadily for 25 years but have relentlessly far outpaced inflation. Likewise health care costs.

Likewise the slow but steady growth in the gap between rich and poor. Likewise consumer debt. Likewise the stagnation in the middle class. Likewise the decline in our schools. Our federal deficit as been building and growing for more than a decade.

The other reason young American frogs aren’t jumping around in anger is that they enthusiastically elected a president perceived to be a cool, rational progressive. The Obama presidency is not seen as “hot” waters, unlike the two terms of Bush/Cheney.

If there was an American jolt, it happened nine years ago on 9/11. After that, everything else was part of a national, irrational response. Talk about jumping around!

Because America has no draft, young Americans, particularly college students, took little or no action. Sure there were marches and demonstrations but with time that energy was defused and re-directed into politics (“The Politics of Hope” "Change We can Believe in!") and away from the streets.

As unemployment grows, the jobless have reason to be grateful for war. The military is this nation’s employer of last resort. Seen in this way, war is a our “healthiest” economic sector. And the military-industrial-financial-media ruling class is thriving while young, formerly unemployed Americans are “working” — and dying — far, far away.

The Obama administration simply transferred war from one dysfunctional nation to another. Opposition to the war in Afghanistan has been softened by the president’s very public hand wringing and media-staged, patriotic speeches to the hapless troops.

If there’s been a visible, angry reaction in this country, it has been that of the Tea Party. Tea Party activists have been suffering from sudden stove-top heat (unemployment, foreclosures, mounting debt) of the last three years, but they jumped into the hands of a pseudo-movement cynically financed by the very forces causing the anguish.

In short, the Tea Party-goers were duped, as they are now finding out. Did the Tea Party faithful really want to extend the tax cuts for the rich? Did they really want to help out the Wall Street flimflam artists who made this mess, reaped billions from it and then plowed a share of their winnings into the Fall’s Congressional campaigns — and the Tea Party?

Did the Tea Party followers really want to end unemployment benefits? Did they really want to drive up federal deficits?

With less than two years to the presidential election, my guess is that the energy that might otherwise show up in the streets will be siphoned into various political campaigns. The corporate media are already shaping the “horse race.” The political windbags and pundits are already grooming candidates. Soon they will be slowly paraded from the paddocks to the starting gates.

You can be sure bets are being placed.

Expect left and right wing “extremist” candidates to tap into rising, but well-contained political energy. Also expect the primaries to result in “extremist” presidential candidates’ losing to “stay the course” middle-of-the-roaders, presented as cool, rational, “trust us” leaders.

Read: Obama, Bloomberg and Romney.

Congress, on the other hand, will continue to be a countervailing, unmanageable zoo of conflicting, implacable, hard-line interests. But that’s another story.

As for the frogs in the pot, us, the heat — literal heat, if you consider global warming — will slowly, ever so slowly, continue to rise. Will we jump before it's too late? And where, exactly, where we land?

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

WikiLeaks: Does exposed truth set us free?

At the extremes, the question raised by the WikiLeaks phenomenon is whether we are better off in a secretive world or an open one?

To me the question resonates with the founding principle that we have a government “of, by and for the people.”

The more secretive the government, the less it is true to the democratic principle.

Count me among the skeptics who argue that the principle has been violated so many times that it no longer guides us. Ours is a democracy in name alone. The WikiLeaks debate is part of the same crisis in democracy.

We don't need WikiLeaks to tell us that ours is a government by, of and for the wealthy. In short, it is a plutocracy. Look no farther than today’s headlines in which tax cuts for the super rich are on the verge of being — extended against all reason.

Add to that the now-legal, secret corporate donations to political campaigns. The money pays for the creation and dissemination of emotive visual images that defy reasoning and civil and civic discourse.

Yet I still hear in the WikiLeak's debate the distant cry from the Sixties: Power to the People! I see WikiLeaks as nurturing that power and being of that spirit.

Is that good?

Or is openness, versus secretiveness, simply the lesser of two evils.

How often in the course of casual conversation or in conducting business do we wrap information in the shroud of “just between the two of us....”? That’s a secret about to be shared. But why? Is it to weigh perceptions? To warn? To win favor? To create a bond of obligation?

Why can’t we be open and share speculatively? What if? What would your response be if....?

And what, exactly, is a secret? If you have an private thought that you feel isn’t worth sharing, or isn’t ready to share, or appropriate to share, or harmful to share, is it a secret or simply a thought? Must we divulge everything we are thinking? Are shared thoughts confined to a small group secrets?

Do we have different standards for personal “secrets” and societal, political, diplomatic, military and governmental ones?

How do we live with this practical paradox: for a society to remain open it must rely on secrets. Sounds like the ends justifying a contradictory means.

And that question leads to others: Will a truth that is widely known really set us free? Could it, in fact, enslave or destroy us? Must the truth be widely known for it to free us?

So we are left with a quandary.

Still I’d rather have the quandary of awareness than to be lost a thicket of secrets and ignorance.

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