It is a truism that elites, as Karl Marx noted, shape public opinion. A
century later, another German, Joseph Goebbels, remarked "If you tell a
lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to
believe it." It was another Marx who asked, "Who are you going to
believe, me or your lying eyes?"
It is also a truism that when elites feel threatened, whether from
external or internal threats, truth too often becomes a casualty. All
too often the defenders of the status quo seek to persuade the public
at large that those who are entrusted to protect their safety should be
given wide berth and the benefit of the doubt.
surrounding the murder of the two New York Police officers and the
earlier refusal of a Staten Island Grand Jury to indict NYPD Officer
Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner have brought to the fore
once again concerns about truth, equality of treatment and the purpose
of public service. The other day, during CNN's coverage of the funeral
of NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu, these concerns were brought into sharp
Dana Bash of CNN was interviewing Tom Verni. Mr.
Verni, an outspoken critic of Mayor deBlasio, describes himself as a
"Law Enforcement & Safety Consultant. Retired NYPD Detective, Police
Academy Instructor, Community Affairs & Crime Prevention
Mr. Verni was given free rein to emote by Dana
Bash. He insisted that Mayor de Blasio had somehow disrespected the NYPD
by his failure to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the
New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, by calling into question
their policing tactics, by offering support to the demonstrators who
were outraged by the death of Eric Garner, and because the mayor had the
audacity to admit that he counseled his bi-racial son on the need to
react politely and obsequiously in presence of police. Not content with
those calumnies, Verni, echoing the nonsense uttered by BPA President
Patrick Lynch, contended that all of mayor's actions had made attacks
upon the police inevitable.
Missing from Mr. Verni's
narrative of NYPD victimization and unchallenged by Dana Bash was any
acknowledgment of the possibility that Verni was playing fast and loose
with the truth. Unacknowledged were the facts that Mayor de Blasio had
been in office for a year and that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg,
had failed to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association for four years.
also neglected to mention that Mayor de Blasio had been elected by more
than 72% of New York City voters on a platform that explicitly proposed
the need for reform of police tactics, particularly after a federal
judge found that the "stop and frisk" tactics - as applied by the NYPD -
violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Verni was also
unwilling to concede that the overwhelming majority of protestors, in
the exercise of their first amendment rights, were aggrieved by the
refusal of the Staten Island District Attorney, Dan Donovan, secure an
indictment against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo and that
they did not harbor any personal animus against the NYPD.
In point of fact, it was District Attorney Donovan's failure to
properly charge the grand jury that precipitated the subsequent events
about which Verni and the police union's leaders now complain. Although a
New York City coroner had ruled that Eric Garner's death was a
homicide, and there was compelling video footage of the police using an
illegal choke hold, DA Donovan allowed the grand jury to ignore the
explicit instructions of the New York Grand Juror's Handbook,
issued by the Unified Trial Court, that emphasizes, "The grand jury is
an arm of the court. It is not an agent of the prosecutor or the police.
A grand jury docs not decide whether or not a person has been proven
guilty. That is the trial jury's job. The grand jury decides whether or
not a person should be formally charged with a crime or other offense.
The grand jury makes that decision based on evidence presented to it by
the prosecutor, who also instructs the grand jury on the law. The grand
jury's decision must be based on the evidence and on the law."
Unacknowledged by Verni, and left unchallenged by Dana Bash, was even a
grudging concession by Verni that the NYPD, as a para-military force,
owed a duty of respect to their civilian commander-in-chief, or that
the present "work slowdown" by certain NYPD officers imperiled public
safety and violated the oaths taht they took upon their appointments.
Verni further chose to ignore the evidence suggested that Ismaaiyl
Brinsley's murder of the two NYPD officers was motivated more by the
latter's personal failures and his mental instability.
unsaid also was any expression of concern by Verni about the ease with
which Brinsley, despite his extensive criminal record, was able to
secure a gun and ammunition. Rebecca Leber reported in The New Republic
(December 24, 2014, "How Did NYPD Killer Get his Hands on a Gun from
Georgia? Because Our Laws are Insane") that investigators were able to
trace the gun Brinsley used to a Georgia strip mall 900 miles away that
describes itself as a "family-owned business dedicated to good prices,
good customer service and good vibes." Leber noted that, as of 2010,
that single store was the fifth largest source of guns used in crimes
across the country, and the number one source for all out-of-state guns
seized by the New York Police Department.
As John Adams
observed, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, ur
inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the
state of facts and evidence."
The notion that police and
other law enforcement officials should be treated differently from
ordinary citizens is toxic in a democratic society and anathema to
principle of equal justice under the law. Equally corrosive are the
factual distortions that are propagated through the media by
well-educated individuals who surely must know better.
Christmas, many parts of the world are rent by violence, mayhem, and
increasing religious fanaticism and intolerance. Across the globe, the
gap between the few who are privileged and the many who struggle to meet
most basic needs grows ever wider.
Here in the
United States, our political institutions are paralyzed by gridlock and
dysfunction. Because of that, we are unable to address a host of
persistent problems including high unemployment and underemployment,
stagnant wages, a hallowed-out middle class, crumbling infrastructure,
gun violence and environmental degradation. Simultaneously, our judicial
institutions are increasingly unwilling to ensure of the equality of
treatment under the law or access to justice by those who are not
numbered among the 1%.
the midst of these profound problems, the Christmas Season summons to
put our aside despair, cynicism and pessimism over the present course of
events and to embrace a message of hope and the possibility of radical
change. The Christmas narrative describes the birth of a child to a
humble carpenter and a loving mother who, by the singular power of his
example and his message, was able to craft a demand for universal
justice encompassing all of humanity that resonates to the present.
this Christmas Season in particular, we should also be inspired by the
example of a humble Argentine Jesuit who has no army and no political
power, but who is able to lead by the power of his moral example. From
his demand for unconditional love to his insistence upon peace and
religious toleration, the Pope Francis has sought to reach out to all
people of good will.
a meeting with journalists on March 16, 2013, Pope Francis announced
that he would bless them silently, "Given that many of you do not belong
to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers." In a papal
address a week later, while he decried the "attempt to eliminate God and
the Divine from the horizon of humanity," he offered this comment about
nonbelievers: "[W]e also sense our closeness to all those men and women
who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious
tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the
truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the
commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful
coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for
On December 13, 2013, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospel"),
Pope Francis restated the historic essence of Catholic social
philosophy as he called upon people of good will everywhere, believersand
non-believers alike, to work for a better, more just world. The Pope
proclaimed that "The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by
consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet
covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a
blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its
own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place
for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love
is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades."
unequivocal terms, the pope condemned the free market ideology that has
become the conventional wisdom of this post-modern world: "Just as the
commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to
safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt
not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person
dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two
points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when
food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of
inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the
survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As
a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and
marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of
pope continued his lament that, "Human beings are themselves considered
consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a
'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply
about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion
ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in
which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its
fringes or its disenfranchised - they are no longer even a part of it.
The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'"
Francis' call for social justice is profoundly conservative, but to the
tone deaf, it sounds far too radical. He has reminded all of us that
the status quo is no longer acceptable because it is incompatible with
human dignity. Those who seek to know the truth of the human condition
will acknowledge this basic proposition. By contrast, the clamor and
indignation of the critics and naysayers are solely calculated to
vindicate the status-quo irrespective of the suffering and misery it has
Gospel of Matthew admonishes us, "To whom much is given, much is
expected in return" and "What you did for the least of my brothers, you
did for me."
Christmas, people of good will everywhere might commit themselves to
the message of Pope Francis who insists that our collective capacity to
promote social justice is greater than the sum of reckless individuals
and feckless, unresponsive institutions that all too often pursue only
their own short-term, selfish objectives. An added but equally important
imperative is his insistence that we need to understand that we
ourselves are the only instruments who can bring about the change that
is so urgently needed.
The unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in the matter of IntegrityStaffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al
(No. 13-433, December 9, 2014) is further evidence that the alleged
commitment of the American legal system to equal justice is little more
than a sham and a platitude.
question before the court was whether the employees - warehouse workers
who retrieved inventory and packaged it for shipment to Amazon
customers - were entitled, as hourly, non-exemptemployees
to be paid for time that they were required to undergo antitheft
security screenings before they were allowed to leave the warehouse in
which they worked each day.
The record before the court showed that the class of employees who
brought suit under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938(FLSA) were routinely required to submitto security inspectionsand screenings that amounted to "roughly25
minutes per day" after they had checked out but before they could go
home. The employees alleged that the screenings were conducted "to
prevent employee theft" and they were intended solely "for the benefit
of the employers and their customers." The additional uncompensated
time, based upon a five day work week, amounted to an additional 6.8
hours at the workplace each week.
proceedings below, the U.S. District Court for Nevada dismissed the
complaint of the employees for a purported failure to state a claim
under Fed. Rule Civ. Procedure 12. The court held that "the time spent
waiting for and undergoing security screenings was not compensable under
FLSA" because the employees could not show that the screenings were an
indispensable and principal part of the activities that the employees
were required to perform."
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the
district court's decision, finding that "postshift activities that would
ordinarily be classified as noncompensable postliminary activities are
nevertheless compensable as integral and indispensable to an employee's
principle activities if postshift activities are necessary to the
principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer," as
the record before the court showed.
the Obama administration - despite the consistent support that it has
received from organized labor - supported the employer's appeal and
urged that the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals be
on behalf of court, Justice Thomas disagreed with the Court of Appeals.
In an extensive and tortured exegesis of the language of the
Portal-to-Portal amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that were
passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1947 to exempt employers
from liability for future claims for "activities which are preliminary
to or postliminary to said activities or principles." Thomas insisted
that question was the sole issue before the court.
surprisingly, given his narrow definition of what he and the other
eight judges agreed was the sole issue before the court, Thomas opined
that "the security screenings at issue here are noncompensable
postliminary activities" because "Integrity Staffing did not employ its
workers to undergo screenings" and that the "screenings were not
integral and indispensable"' to the employees' duties as warehouse
workers. Left unanswered were the obvious questions: What
would have happened if the employees refused to wait for the screenings
and insisted upon their right to go home immediately after they finished
work? Would they still be employed the next day?
American legal system has long been a captive of the powerful, the
wealthy and the well-connected, and almost uniformly hostile to unions
and to the rights of workers. Throughout the nineteenth century most
state courts treated labor unions and strikes as illegal conspiracies in
restraint of trade.
the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the right of
all workers "to organize and bargain collectively through
representatives of their own choosing" was pronounced for the first time
to be national public policy. Other New Deal legislation included the
Walsh-Healey Government Contracts Act, which required the payment of
prevailing wages on government contracts in excess of $10,000; the
Railroad Retirement Act; and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which
provided for the first time, with certain exceptions, a nationwide
minimum wage floor and maximum workweek of 40 hours per week within
three years of its enactment date.
the 1940s, however, the American labor movement has been forced into
retreat. After the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the election of a
Republican Congress in 1946, the rights of workers have been
continuously under siege. The first great success of New Deal critics
was achieved with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, an act
that was passed over President Truman's veto. The effect of that
legislation was to outlaw "closed shops" and to permit individual states
to allow "open shops" - i.e. shops in which elected unions could not
require all of the employees to belong to the unions, irrespective of
whether the non-union employees also received and enjoyed the benefits
of collective bargaining.
a result of that Taft-Hartley Act, corporations began an inevitable
migration to the South where welcoming state legislatures hastily
enacted "right-to-work" laws. The migration of these manufacturing
companies away from the unionized urban centers of the Midwest and North
left hundreds of mill towns impoverished and desolate, and the union
movement was effectively eviscerated. Thereafter, it did not take long
for the owners of corporations to discover that, once they had escaped
from the threat of unionization, they could also escape almost all
government regulation by moving their businesses and manufacturing
operations out of the United States to low-wage countries in the Third
the advent of the Reagan administration, the assault upon the rights of
unions and employees has accelerated. The Democratic administrations of
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been equally culpable as reflected
in the former's support for NAFTA and the latter's endorsement of the
proposed TransPacific Partnership Agreement. They, too, have been
uncritical supporters of the myth that "free trade" is somehow a
positive good for the economy, despite all of the evidence that shows
that out-sourcing has been an unmitigated disaster for American workers
and has created soaring trade deficits that converted the United States
from an exporting country to a net importer increasingly dependent upon
of pervasive hostility to unions and the demise of organized labor as a
movement, the American workplace is increasingly governed by the
nineteenth century doctrine of employment-at-will. The doctrine of
at-will employment is a legal fiction that was created by state courts
during this country's first Gilded Age in an era. The doctrine
repudiated the long-standing presumption set down by Blackstone in his Commentaries
that any indefinite employment contract was for one year. Forty-nine
states - with the exception of Montana (which has abolished at-will
employment by statute) - still subscribe to that legal concept.
legal fiction of at-will employment essentially posits an equality of
bargaining power between individual employers and employees: Each is
free to accept or reject employment, resign or be fired without cause or
restriction. However, since employers in "union-free" environments are
legally permitted to unilaterally impose, almost without restriction,
whatever conditions of work they require as to hours, compensation, and
often restrictions on re-employment after discharge in the form of
non-competition agreements, the relationship is most often one of
inequality in which the employees are burdened and the employers
market-based paradigm upon which at-will employment is based continues
to inform and control public policy decisions. It has also further
exacerbated the increasing economic inequality, destroyed the
livelihoods of American employees and made the American Dream to a cruel
hoax for everyone except the1%.
those nominated as justices to the Supreme Court, with precious few
exceptions, have had little experience litigating cases on behalf of
employees or fighting for the rights of the downtrodden. With one or two
exceptions, this is true of the current court. In addition, as
graduates of elite law schools, with successful prior careers in the
private and public sectors, Supreme Court justices have cultivated
scores of influential and well-heeled friends and acquaintances over the
years whose values they share. One also suspects that they have never
forced to stand in a line to purchase concert tickets or have ever
shopped at Wall-Mart.
their efforts, the eight associate justices are paid $213,000 per
annum; the chief justice receives a salary $223,500. The justices enjoy
life tenure for good behavior; their pensions will never be lower than
their exiting salary should they choose to retire; they enjoy the same
generous healthcare available to all federal employees; they have
opportunities to travel to all judicial districts throughout the United
States and its overseas territories at taxpayer expense; and they enjoy a
minimum of 3 full months of vacation each year. For those reasons, the
chasm between the nine judges in the court and the hard-scrabble hourly
employees who toil for Amazon in its warehouses is vast, but is it
asking too much to expect a little empathy?
the unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in this case
is further evidence that all nine of the judges are tone deaf, oblivious
to the existence of economic and legal inequality, and unable to
articulatea vision of justice that does more than comfort the already comfortable and afflict the already sorely afflicted.
1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the first
national celebration of Thanksgiving. Over the years, Thanksgiving has
increasingly become a time for families and friends to gather together
and to collectively express their gratitude for the friendships that
they enjoy and the bounties that they have received. This year's
Thanksgiving presents a special challenge to us as citizens and as human
beings because it raises two important question that each of us should
answer: who precisely are our neighbors and should they be given a place
at our collective table?
courtesy of the New Yorker magazine
current debate - or rather hysteria - over immigration and President's
Obama's administrative decisions concerning undocumented aliens
illustrates how profoundly divisive the issue remains.
Speaker John Boehner accused President Obama of ignoring the will of
the American people and opined," President Obama has cemented his legacy
of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left."
Rep. Mo Brooks ( R, AL) said there is a federal statute that made it a
felony to aid, abet, or entice a foreigner to illegally enter the U.S."At
some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids
or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the
United States of America," and he added, "That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."
to be outdone, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn insisted, "The country's
going to go nuts," he predicted, "because they're going to see it as a
move outside the authority of the president and it's going to be a very
serious situation." "You're going to see -- hopefully not -- but you could
see instances of anarchy ... You could see violence."Senator
Ted Cruz urged congressional Republicans to fight back against
President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, by refusing to
confirm the president's nominees until he reverses course."If
the president announces executive amnesty, the new Senate majority
leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress
will not confirm a single nominee -- executive or judicial -- outside
of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty
persists," Cruz wrote in a recent Politico Magazine op-ed.
Once upon a time every American school child could recite from memory Emma Lazarus's poem, "The New Colossus:"
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Although her words restated the official American mythology, the reality has always been quite different.
the very beginning, the earliest English settlers - Pilgrims and
Puritans- waged war against the aboriginal population and appropriated
the lands that the Indians had always believed that the "Great Spirit"
had given to all men in common. Early Colonial legislation restricted
the rights of Catholics, Jews, Quakers and dissenters to express their
religious convictions and were intended to make them feel unwelcome.
the 1840s, the Native American Party - the Know-Nothings - emerged in
the Northeastern United States in response to a climate of intolerance
and fear that had been preceded by the burning and sacking of an
Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834, and by frequent
attacks upon Irish and other Catholic immigrants.The
Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by
President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882prohibited all immigration of
Chinese laborers. Although the legislation was intended to last for 10
only years, it was renewed in 1892, made permanent in 1902, and was only
finally repealed in 1943.
Still later, the
Immigration Act of 1924 limited the annual number of immigrants who
could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from
that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, which
was reduced from a 3% cap set by the prior Immigration Restriction Act
of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. The law was enacted to
restrict the immigration of Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, and
Jews. In addition, it restricted the immigration of Africans and
prohibited the immigration of Arabs, East Asians, and Indians. According
to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, the purpose of
the act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity."
upon whose statistics one wishes to accept, before the financial
meltdown that began in 2008, there were anywhere from 12 million to 20
million illegal immigrants present in the United States. Although these
individuals violated American immigration law, their crimes were
compounded by the thousands upon thousands of American employers who
illegally employed and exploited them while feigning ignorance of their
status as ineligible employees.
are at least three proposals that would reduce the influx of illegal
immigrants into the U.S., enabled those who have met all immigration
criteria to quickly receive green cards, and enable this country to
control its borders without thousands of additional border patrol
agents, a even more militarized border, and the expenditure of billions
of additional dollars of taxpayer money.
current federal laws require that prospective employees present proof
of citizenship or show that they are lawful alien residents. However,
the fear of government control along with purported concerns about
privacy and individual rights by privacy absolutists on the right and
left have stymied the adoption of a very simple mechanism to ascertain
citizenship status and to control immigration--a national identification
card, which virtually all policy analysts concede would be effective. As
an additional benefit, a national identification card would also
quickly resolve all of the political posturing about alleged illegal
By way of contrast, the European democracies - with the exception of the U.K., Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Norway-
have all embraced the use of national ID cards with little difficulty
or divisive political debate. In the United States, however, the debate
focuses almost entirely upon concerns about alleged government intrusion
and threats to privacy and individual liberty. Ironically,, the
enormous and intrusive amount of personal financial information and data
that Equifax, Transamerica and Expirian--three unelected, private,
for-profit credit reporting agencies--currently compile and maintain on
almost every American citizen barely elicits a critical comment.
second simple legislative fix would be to require all employees to use
the U.S. Department of Labor's E-Verify Program to ascertain the status
of all recent immigrants.Sadly, however, this proposal is
rejected by so many business owners who would no longer be able to
employ - and exploit - undocumented aliens and claim ignorance as to
third proposal - that might assuage concerns about continued
out-sourcing by multi-national corporations - would be to restrict the
number of H1B visas granted to foreign workers. Contrary to the claims
of many IT executives, for example, there is no shortage of educated
Americans able to perform IT jobs. Rather, there is an unwillingness by
corporations in the Silicon Valley to pay competitive wages. Why should
they need to, when H1B visas provide an endless supply of cheap,
unquestioning workers whose legal status is little better than
endless whining about a purported lack of skilled workers in the U.S.
is a brazen effort to rewrite economic history and persuade a gullible
public and policy-makers to ignore the fact that the jobs of 162,000
U.S. architects and engineers were shipped to third-world counties
between 2000 and 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the
180,000 computer IT and programming professionals who, according to Yale
University's Jacob Hacker, lost their jobs between 2000 and 2004. Where
documented needs can be shown to actually exist, offering immediate
green cards and eventual citizenship to educated aliens with
identifiable skills that are in short-supply would benefit the long-term
interests of the country, rather than the short-term interests of some
economic insecurity, stagnant wages, fear of the unknown and, yes,
racism have all stocked the flames of resentment and made a rational
debate about immigration infinitely more difficult. However, if this is a
season to give thanks, it is also a time in which each of us should
reflect upon the struggles and tribulations of our forebears. Whether
they came her freely, in shackles on galley ships, or were dispatched by
covetous landlords and consigned to the steerage of a ship, after great
perseverance, they were able to carve out a life in this New World and
improve the lives of their descendants.
this Veterans Day, it is important to honor all of our veterans for
their service and sacrifices. Many young people will not know that,
prior to World War II, this day was called Armistice Day - in honor of
the "war to end all wars" - World War I. Obviously, that designation was
we sit in our comfortable offices and homes today, we should also
reflect upon the terrible toll that wars inflict upon a country and its
citizens.Since the founding of this Republic, more than
1,300,000 military have perished in all of the wars, here and abroad, in
which this country has been involved.In addition, the
lives of the loved ones and those who have been left behind have been
forever profoundly diminished and saddened.
Since the events of September 11, 2001, this country has been continuously involved intwo
major misbegotten foreign adventures and a series of other
counter-productive and disasterous incursions in the Middle East in
which we are viewed as the invaders and in which we had little prospect
ofachieving "favorable outcomes." In addition to the 6700
military whose lives were lost, thousands more have been physically
injured or traumatized, and hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq
and Afghanistan have been killed and maimed.
When all of the accounts have been tallied and reconciled,the U.S. wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion,
including medical care for wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a
military depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a
study by a Harvard University professor Linda J. Bilmes, in a report
that was released in March of 2013.
to a another recent report prepared by the Peter G. Peterson
Foundation, the United States today spends more on defense than the next
8 countries combined. "Defense spending accounts for about 20 percent
of all federal spending - nearly as much as Social Security, or the
combined spending for Medicare and Medicaid. The sheer size of the
defense budget suggests that it should be part of any serious effort to
address America's long-term fiscal challenges." The report quotes
Admiral Mike Mullen, the past Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
"The single greatest threat to our national security is our debt."
of August 2013, despite the putative end of U.S. involvement in Iraq
and the winding down of the of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan,
there were approximately 1.43 million active-duty military personnel on
duty in thearmed forces of the U.S. States and more than 850,000 in the active duty reserves of all branches.
the fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense and
military-related budget is $756.4 billion. That sum includes $495.6
billion for the base budget of the Department of Defense; $85.4 billion
for Overseas Contingency Funds for the wind-down of the War in
Afghanistan;$175.4 billion for defense-related agencies
and functions; $65.3 for the Veterans Administration ; $42.6 billion for
the State Department; 38.2 billion forHomeland Security;
$17.6 billion for FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice;
and $11.7 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration in
the Department of Energy. Because of the newly announced initiative to
confront ISIL, that estimate is likely to be far too conservative.
a recent "Base Structure Report" of the Department of Defense stated
that "the Department's physical assets consist of As one of the Federal
government's larger holders of real estate, the DOD manages a global
real property portfolio hat consists of more than 557,000facilities
(buildings, structures, and linear structures), located on over 5,000
sites worldwide and covering over 27.7 million acres." Most of these
locations listed are within the continental United States, but 96 of
them are located in U.S. territories around the globe, and 702 are
situated in foreign countries.
Currently also, the
United States has active duty personnel stationed in more than 150
countries. While many of these deployments involve assignments to
American embassies and special training projects overseas, the presence
of U.S. active duty military personnel throughoutEurope,
and in Japan and Korea remains significant, sixty-nine years after the
end of World War II in Europe and sixty-one years after an armistice was
declared in Korea.
than 100,000 active-duty American military are presently assigned to
these three regions, the cost of which is still largely borne by U.S.
taxpayers. Because of the U.S. military shield, the European countries,
especially Germany, and Japan and South Korea have been able to invest
in the modernization of their manufacturing sectors and to increase the
number of their exports to the United States at a time when American
manufacturing has been increasingly out-sourced to third world
countries. Japan and Korea, in particular, have adopted onerous,
restrictive trade policies that make it almost impossible for American
automobile companies and heavy equipment manufacturers to compete
successfully in those countries.
conscription was ended as a result of the Vietnam War protests, and the
idea of an "all-volunteer" military gained enthusiastic favor among
military planners and defense contractors, ever fewer Americans have
been forced to decide, from a very personal perspective, their support
for foreign military adventures.
our professional officer corps has increasingly become composed of the
children of previous officers, and the ranks of enlisted troops
increasingly beckon to men and women to whom our country has extended
few other options, the concept of the citizen-soldier has receded from
the consciousness of most Americans. "Out-of-sight" has become
"out-of-mind."For that reason, President Eisenhower's
prophetic warning about the growth of the military-industrial complex
has metamorphosed into our collective nightmare and has become a
detriment to our ability to address urgent domestic needs.
War exacts a terrible toll on its perpetrators as well as its victims.
We are all diminished as citizens and as human beings because of our
indifference in the face of such horror. The best pledge that we can
make to one another on this Veterans Day is to demand an end to our
"welfare through-warfare" economy. We need to bring our troops home and
support international institutions that will promote ways to create a
more peaceful future for all of God's creation.
The current Ebola crisis raises
profound questions about whether the public health system of the U.S.
and our political institutions are equipped to cope with contagious
diseases and related, potential health emergencies. The answers to these
questions are likely to become more pressing in the wake of global
climate change and the significant ecological changes and population
shifts that are likely to occur as a result, along with the migration of
new and dangerous pathogens. The existing evidence is not reassuring.
First of all, our public health system is hopelessly fragmented.
Because the federal system of the U.S. is based upon vertical and
horizontal distributions of power, the responsibility for public health
in the United States, under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, has been delegated to state and local government, many of
which have inefficient and inadequately trained personnel who are
ill-equipped to deal with pandemics and other medical emergencies that
are not local in origin but that require a coordinated national or
Larry Copeland, reporting for USA Today
("U.S. lacks a single standard for Ebola esponse," October 13, 2014)
asked the question "Who is in charge of the response to Ebola?" Copeland
was reminded by Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for
Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota,
that "One of the things we have to understand is the federal, state and
local public health relationships. Public health is inherently a state
issue. The state really is in charge of public health at the state and
local level. It's a constitutional issue. The CDC can't just walk in on
these cases. They have to be invited in."
Copeland noted that
the Emergency Operations Center which was set up to address the Ebola
outbreak at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was comprised of
officials from Dallas County, the city of Dallas, the Center for Disease
Control, as well as county and state health departments and the Dallas
County Sheriff's Department and that "This was the team that made
decisions on matters such as isolating people who had been in direct
contact with Duncan, including his fiancée, Louise Troh, her teenage son
and two other male relatives."
Robert Murphy, director of
the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg
School of Medicine, expressed his opinion to Copeland, "In Texas, they
really were slow to the plate. Texas is going to be the example of what
not to do. The question is, who's in charge?" Murphy stated. "The states
can follow all the guidelines and take the advice, which they usually
do, but they don't have to. It's not a legal requirement. So there
really is no one entity that's controlling things."
Secondly, the public health system in the U.S. is severely underfunded.
In large part, this is because of austerity measures insisted upon by
the GOP's Congressional caucus and their ideological antipathy to
government in general. Joan McCarter expressed an opinion in the Daily Kos ("Republican
budget cutting nearly halved CDC's emergency preparedness since 2006",
October 16, 2014) that "The Republican fetish with starving government
has helped land West Africa in an Ebola crisis. The director of the
National Institutes of Health made that clear when he told Huffington
Post that steep budget cuts by Congress has set back the institute's
work on both prevention and treatment for the disease and that if it
hadn't been for a decade's worth of cuts, "we probably would have had a
vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and
would have been ready."
McCarter reported that the emergency
preparedness budget of the Center for Disease Control had been cut
almost in half during the past seven years. The CDC's discretionary
funding was reduced by $585 million during the 2010-2104 fiscal years,
and the annual funding for the CDC's public health preparedness and
response efforts were $1 billion lower in 2013 fiscal year than in
fiscal year 2002. As a result of these ill-considered measures, the
funding decreases resulted in the loss of more than 45,700 job in state
and local health departments during the past six years.
Third, partisan politics has exacerbated the response to Ebola. Intense
opposition from the National Rifle Association caused GOP Senators and
"pro-gun" Democratic Senators to put an indefinite hold on a vote to
approve the appointment of Dr. Vivek Murthy as President Obama's nominee
for surgeon general. For that reason, the United States lacks a
recognized medical spokesman with the gravitas necessary to assuage
public concerns and to provide accurate and unbiased medical
GOP politicians and professional right-wing fear
mongers - who thrive in the current environment of scientific
illiteracy and denial - have also enthusiastically stoked the flames of
public hysteria. Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News (October 15, 2014 )
reported that New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown became the
most recent Republican to claim that a "porous" southern border could
cause to Ebola-stricken immigrants or terrorists to spread the disease
from Mexico into the United States. Not to be outdone, Texas Congressman
Louie Gohmert, a certifiable lunatic, lambasted President Barack Obama
for dispatching troops to Africa to fight an Ebola outbreak, and he
prophesied that they would bring the disease back to infect American
Further, as public anxiety has risen, a number of
GOP legislators willingly sacrificed ideological consistency for
political expediency. House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement that
called for "a temporary ban on travel to the United States from
countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president
should absolutely consider."
Meredith Shiner, writing in Yahoo News
("GOP senators who opposed Obama 'czars' now want one for Ebola"
October 15, 2014), observed the irony that "Republican Senator Jerry
Moran of Kansas was one of the first lawmakers to call on the Obama
administration to appoint a czar to help coordinate the U.S. response to
the Ebola crisis in Africa, along with a cluster of cases at home. The
problem? Almost five years earlier to the day, Moran introduced
legislation urging Obama to cease the practice of appointing czars.
Moran, who was then a congressman running for the U.S. Senate, also
sponsored a bill that would prohibit the federal government from using
taxpayer money to pay the salaries of such unconfirmed administration
officials -- which would have effectively ended the practice of
Fourth, there is ample evidence that this
country's reliance upon a largely private hospital system and private
medical insurance, driven as they are by cost-considerations and
bottom-line accounting concerns, are not conducive to best medical
practices. The Associated Press reported on October 15, 2014 that Thomas
E. Duncan, the Liberian Ebola patient, was not placed in isolation
after his second visit to the emergency room at Texas Health
Presbyterian Hospital, but was allowed to remain in an open area of a
Dallas emergency room for hours, while the nurses who treated treating
him for days were not provided with proper protective gear and faced
constantly changing protocols, according to a statement released by the
country's largest U.S. nurses' union.
Deborah Burger of
National Nurses United said that she had received complaints that nurses
at the hospital who said they were forced to use medical tape to secure
openings over their flimsy garments, and they and were concerned
because their necks and heads were exposed as they cared for a patient
with explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. The nurses also alleged
that other patients who may have been exposed to Duncan were kept in
isolation only for a day before being moved to areas where there were
other patients; that the nurses treating Duncan simultaneously cared for
other patients in the hospital; that, other than one optional seminar
for staff, there was no preparation for Ebola at the hospital; and that,
in the face of constantly shifting guidelines, nurses were allowed to
follow whichever ones they chose. Ms. Burger concluded, "There was no
advance preparedness on what to do with the patient, there was no
protocol, there was no system."
Other news reports stated
that, when a nurse supervisor insisted that Duncan be removed to a
isolation unit, a hospital administrator challenged her decision.
One suspects that a subsequent post-mortem will show that, despite the
hospital's tax-exempt status and its putative obligation as a charity to
give back to the community, Duncan was refused admission the first time
that he reported to the hospital because he did not have health
insurance, and that the reluctance of the hospital to place Duncan in an
isolation unit and to assign specialty nurses to him was also driven by
The Word Bank reports that, as of
2012, the United States spent 17.9% of its GDP on a health care system
that still excludes millions of Americans because of the premiums
assessed by profit-driven insurance companies. These uninsured
Americans are among the most vulnerable in the event of an epidemic
because they lack access to primary care physicians and preventive
medical treatment, and they are the least likely to receive immediate
treatment for contagious diseases.
By contrast, the French medical system - which is viewed as the
best in the world - consumes only 11.7 % of that country's GDP. Canada -
which has a single-payer system - spent 10.9% of its GDP on health care
in 2012, while the U.K. and Spain - both of which have socialized,
single-provider systems - devoted 9.4% and 9.6% respectively of their
GAPS to provide free and accessible health care for all of their
Further anecdotal evidence that suggests that high costs do not guarantee good outcomes is provided by Kevin Sack of the New York Times
("Downfall for Hospital Where Ebola Spread," Oct. 15, 2014). He reports
that the most recent 2012 tax filings for Texas Health Presbyterian
Hospital revealed that the hospital received $613 million in revenue and
had $1.1 billion in net assets. Further, the president of the hospital
at the time was paid $1.1 million.
In his important book, What Money Can't Buy, Harvard
Government Professor Michael Sandel warns that the values of the market
place are continuing to encroach upon and are displacing all other
values and measures of worth in our society. If everything and everyone
is for sale to highest bidder, and money is the sole arbiter, justice,
decency, compassion, empathy and what we owe to one another as fellow
human beings become casualties of the marketplace.
Lastly, our culture apotheosizes individualism, as David Brooks grudgingly notes in the New York Times
("The Quality of Fear," October 21, 2014). That pervasive worldview -
which provides the ideological rationale for our federal system of
limited, largely unaccountable and increasingly gridlocked political
institutions as well as for market capitalism - increases social
isolation and fuels suspicions of government, of science and in our
capacity to cooperate to address common concerns.
Erich Fromm observed in Escape From Freedom that,
"Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are
severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a
completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to
overcome the unbearable stage of powerlessness and aloneness. By one
course he can progress to 'positive freedom;' he can relate himself
spontaneously to the world in love and work...he can thus become one
again with man, nature and himself, without giving up the independence
and integrity of his individual self. The other course is to fall back,
to give up his freedom, to try to overcome his aloneness by trying to
eliminate the gap which has arisen between his individual self and the
Sadly, it appears that far too many Americans today
are increasingly willing to surrender their true autonomy and sense of
confidence to irrational fears, and to permit non-elected, private, and,
more often than not, profit-driven entities to make decisions on their
behalf to our collective detriment.
it in best interests of the United States to continue to arm and
bankroll Israel with billions of dollars of taxpayer money, while Israel
pursues policies that are inimical to thepeace process in the Middle East and, if unchecked, will inevitably draw the U.S. into further conflicts in that region?
Oct. 1, 2014, President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.The
meeting followed on the heels of Israel's announcement that its
government had approved the building of 2,610 new housing units in East
Jerusalem for Jewish settlers. The Israeli announcement had been
criticized by the Obama administration's spokesman Josh Earnest who
warned that the move would "distance Israel from even its closest
morning before Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with President Obama, the
Associated Press reported that Arab residents of Silwan neighborhood of
East Jerusalem awakened to find that Israeli security guards and young
male volunteers were protecting 25 apartment units in their
hard-scrabble neighborhood and in an adjacent area. The surreptitiouspurchase of those units represented the largest incursion by settlers since since rightwing Israeli Jewsbegan to buy properties through straws in that overwhelmingly Arab neighborhoodtwo decades ago.
organization that orchestrated the purchases of those units, the Elad
Foundation, described the acquisitions as perfectly legal and said it
had settled hundreds of Israeli Jews among an estimated Arab population
estimated of 30,000 in an area it calls the City of David - a place
where Jewish tradition holds King David established Jerusalem as
Judaism's central holy city.Consistent with the President
Obama's foreign policy objectives, Josh Earnest also condemned the
occupation of the properties "by individuals who are associated with an
organization whose agenda, by definition, stokes tensions between
Israelis and Palestinians."
his meeting at the White House, Netanyahu guardedly expressed his
support for a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian
state at some future date, a commitment that he had studiously avoided
making at his UN General Assembly speech earlier. "I remain committed to
the vision of peace for two states for two peoples based on mutual
recognition and rock solid security arrangements. We should make use of
the new opportunities think outside of the box and see how we can
include the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda,"
During that meeting, as reported by the Israeli media and the Islam Times, Netanyahuexpressed annoyance with the Obama's administration's criticisms of his support for the expansionof
settlers into Abab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank
after he had once again presented the President Obama with a two fait
accompli that would only further stock the indignation of the Israeli
Arab and Palestinian populations and render a two state solution as
virtually impossible. Public radio quoted the ever petulant Netanyahu as
urging US President Barack Obama to "study the facts and details before
making statements" about the settlement plan.
an interview on "Face The Nation" the following day, Netanyahu characterized
the administration's continued criticism of his party's support for
settler expansion as "baffling" and as "against the American values."
And it doesn't bode well for peace," he contended. "The idea that we'd
have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it's
since the 1967 Six-Day war, Israeli settlements have continued to
expand throughout the West Bank, into East Jerusalem, and in the Golan
Heights that was seized from Syria despite. These expansions have
continued, notwithstanding condemnation by the United Nations which has
repeatedly stated that Israel's construction of settlements constitutes a
violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Court of
Justice has also stated in a 2004 advisory opinion that these
settlements are illegal and, in April 2012, UN secretary general Ban
Ki-Moon emphasized that the illegal expansion of the settlers in the
occupied territories "runs contrary to Israel's obligations under the
Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from
WithinIsrael, the settlers -with the support of religious and secular rightwing nationalists - are determined to "reclaim" all of"Greater
Israel" - i.e. the lands of ancient Judea and Samaria that they claim
Yahweh granted to them in perpetuity. The fact that many of these
rightwing zealots may have recently immigrated to Israel from Brooklyn
or Odessa, or that Christians and Muslims have populated the lands of
greater Israel for more the past 1900 years are irrelevant to these
The continued expansion of the settler movement and the intransigence
of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition government would be
impossible were it not for the largely uncriticalsupport that Israel has enjoyed from the U.S. political establishment - including every presidentialadministration
since Harry Truman and an overwhelming majority of past and present
U.S. Senators and Representatives. Beating the drums for the Israeli
lobby are prominent mainstream Jewish organizations such as American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as well as various evangelical
Protestant organizations such as Christians United for Israel, and
rightwing billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson.
a result of the efforts of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., and a timid
political elite who are fearful of criticizing the policies of the
current Israeli government lest they be accused of ant-Semitism, Israel
has received more than 130 billion dollars of U.S. assistance since its
founding. Today, Israel has a GDP of over $130 billion yet the U.S.
continues to pay for 23-25% of Israel's military budget annually.
Obama's criticism of the settler encroachments in East Jerusalem and
throughout the West Bank do reflect the best of American values. Sadly,
the kind of territorial expansion that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his
extremist government endorse are, in fact, the antithesis: They are
reminiscent of the worst of this country's past- when this country's westward expansion was justified on the basis of an equallymessianic fantasy that wentby the name of Manifest Destiny. It led to the virtual extermination of the indigenous aboriginal population.
The difference today is that, while the Indians lacked firepower and
modern technology, Israel, the Arab countries of the Middle East and
Iran could easily ignite that region and the world in a conflagration
from which there will be no opportunity to offer subsequent mea culpas.
Rod Normand reports from Kabul in the New York Times,
that in his farewell speech, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan stated that
"America does not want peace in Afghanistan, because it had its own
agendas and goals here." Karzai continued "I have always said this: that
if America and Pakistan want peace, it is possible to bring peace to
In a previous story in the Times,
Thomas Erdbrink ("For Many Iranians, the 'Evidence' Is Clear: ISIS Is
an American Invention," Sept 10, 2014) reported from Tehran that
"Iranians are as obsessed as Americans these days with the black-clad
gangs roaming Iraq and Syria and killing Shiites and other 'infidels' in
the name of Sunni Islam. At the supermarket, in a shared taxi or at a
family gathering, conversations often turn to the mysterious group, the
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and how it came to be. And for most
Iranians, the answer is obvious: the United States."
In the Boston Globe,
Brian Bender reports ("Stolen US-made equipment a key focus in ISIS
fight") that "Over the past six weeks, US warplanes destroyed at least
three dozen US-made Humvees that were by stolen by the Islamic State.
Earlier this week, Islamic State forces used Humvees to overrun an Iraqi
army post."Bender further reported that "The Islamic
State's reliance on American-made equipment has highlighted concerns
about plans to supply $500 million in high-tech weapons to the rebels
known as the Free Syrian Army. Congress approved the plan but the
majority of the Massachusetts delegation opposed it, with some basing
their opposition partly on concerns about where the arms may end up."
The hallucinations of President Karzai, those of many Iranians, and the U.S.'sinadvertent
arming of ISIS depict the magnitude of the challenge that this country
and its tax-payers have permitted President Obama to commit us to,
without informed discussion or debate.If history is any
kind of a guide, the president's attempts to cobble together an alliance
that would somehow bring peace and order to a disorderly part of the
world will prove to be naive and unlikely to succeed.
allies upon whom president Obama must depend - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the
U.A.E., Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq as well as the non-Arab Turks - are
riven by conflicting tribal loyalties, increasing hostilities between
Sunni and Shia Muslims, and festering grievances against the West and
its secular democracies that date back centuries.Among
the historic grievances that many Muslims and jihadists often invoke are
the Crusades and the sacking of Jerusalem in 1099, the expulsion of the
Moors from Spain in 1492, the battle of Lepanto in 1571, the Treaty of
Karlowitz in 1699, and the colonization of the Levant, Palestine, Egypt,
Algeria, Morocco by the French and British in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.
the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the rise
of autocratic governments, pervasive economic backwardness, illiteracy
and intense anger spawned by the emergence of the State of Israel -
exacerbated by Israel's mistreatment of its own Arab citizens and the
Palestinian population in its occupied territories - have created an
unstable region in which the grudging acceptance of other religious
faitrhs has all but disappeared. With the demise of the Ottoman
Caliphate, during the past seventy years the Middle East has become
virtually depopulated of Catholic, Orthodox and Nestorian Christians,
while the few who remain endure constant discrimination and persecution.
Sadly, the Middle East - which was the birthplace of Christianity - has
become hostile to the adherents of a major religion whose presence
there predated Islam by more than six centuries.
in the Middle East the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, fueled by
fanatics as exemplified by ISIS, has made the Middle East even more
unstable. Islam's insistence that it alone has an exclusive claim to the
Truth - a Truth is derived entirely from the Qur'an which is accepted
as the unmediated word of the living God - has made the instability even
does not present a challenge to the Western world as a political
philosophy. Rather, it represents a challenge posed by a set of
religious dogmas that have been hijacked by Wahhabis and other
fundamentalists whom Saudi Arabia's theocrats have continued to support
through their funding of madrassas throughout the Muslim world.
religious extremists who have been brain-washed by the madrassas insist
upon interpreting the Qur'an as a rigid and unforgiving set of
religious commands. Their fanaticism has widened the chasm that
separates Western secular democracies from much of the Muslim world,
imposed insuperable obstacles that impede the development of civil
societies and their institutions, and constrained critical economic
development.Their demand that truly observant Muslims must focus upon
the next life rather than the present condemns millions of Muslims to
lives of penury and misery, and left many with only rage and a false
sense of victimization to sustain them.
the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation - or the Thirty Years War
followed by an edict of toleration such as in the Peace of Westphalia -
Muslims throughout the Middle East are not likely to embrace the idea of
toleration, as a central social concept, anytime soon.Until a new
generation of Arab leaders emerge who are willing endorse the idea of
religious toleration unequivocally and to also acknowledge the
importance of other Western notions - e.g.- that social
change can best be achieved through political discussion, through the
emergence of new ideas, and by the evolution of policies - the chasm
between the West and Islam will remain wide and deep, and the Middle
East will continue to be consumed by internecine conflicts.
ISIS and the multitude of other Muslim extremists are to be defeated,
the Arab countries themselves - and not the U.S. or the other Western
democracies - must rise to the challenge since they are the entities
that are directly threatened. Their soldiers and theirs alone should
provide any "boots on the ground" since the presence of Western
"infidel" soldiers only serves to reinforce the false narrative of
Muslim victimization by Crusaders.
their part, the United States and the other Western democracies should
show infinite patience, and they might consider collectively adopting a
policy of containment and quarantine, coupled with limited, targeted
strikes where and when needed. The expansion of the scope of air strikes
against ISIS into Syria and the siren calls for more ground involvement
by U.S. troops are counter-productive and inimical to this country's
the long run, overreaction, bluster and jingoism, a President who is
too fearful to say no, a craven Congress, a supplicant media, and a
profoundly uninformed public serve only to engorge the ever- expanding
and its beneficiaries to the detriment of urgent, unmet domestic needs.
United States has little capacity or credibility to create stability in
a geographic region of the world where we are viewed as unwanted
intruders by a majority of the Arab population. President Obama needs to
be reminded that power brings with it the responsibility to exercise it
wisely and appropriately, and that sometimes restraint is the most
effective and prudent foreign policy.
The University of Paris economist Thomas Piketty has marshaled a wealth of impressive data in his book Capital in the 21st Century.
From an historical perspective, the data shows that the market-based
economies in the Western World - save for the brief, unique period
caused by the economic disruptions of two world wars - have spawned
increasing economic inequality.
Piketty also predicts that, without vigorous public intervention in the
marketplace - as the rate of return on investments continues to exceed
the rate of economic growth - economic inequality will continue to
accelerate. Not surprisingly, Piketty has been denounced on the right as
a neo-Marxist or a dangerous social democrat because he has had the
audacity to suggest, as a basic proposition of democratic governance,
that economic policy should be subordinate to political policy.
Simultaneously, Piketty's colleague and collaborator at the London
School of Economics, Gabriel Zucman, has reported in one of his many
studies, Tax Evasion on Offshore Profits and Wealth,that U.S. corporations now declare 20%of their profits in taxhavens - atenfold increase since the 1980s - and that tax avoidance policies have reduced corporate tax revenues by up to a third.At
the global level, Zucman argues that 8% of the world's personal
financial wealth is now being held offshore, costing more than $200
bilion to governments annually and that decisions to shift to tax havens
and offshore wealth havens are increasing.
In the current economic debate, Piketty and Zucman - along with a few
other prominent exceptions such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz -
remain the outliers in a profession that is overwhelmingly dominated by
defenders of the status quo and conventional economic wisdom. One such
pathetic example of the latter is Tyler Cowan, an economist at George
In an op ed piece in the Sunday edition of the New York Times last
month "(All in All, a More Egalitarian World," July 20, 2014). Cowan
enthusiastically cited a study which noted that, although economic
inequality was rising in countries such as the U.S., "the economic
surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most
egalitarian developments in history."
Cowan piously concluded that "the true egalitarian should follow thee economist's inclination to seek
wealth-maximizing policies, andthat means less worrying about inequality within the nation...
[C]apitalism and economic growth are continuing their historicroles as the greatest and most effective equalizers
the world has ever known."
In a prior book, Average is Over,
Cowan extolled the rise of what he chronicles as the "big earners" in
the emerging meritocracy that he foresees. He also argues that, rather
than expand the safety net, governments should curtail spending.
As an alternative and to maintain civic peace, Cowan suggests that
local governments might offer engaging distractions to those whom he has
identified in his Darwinian dystopia as the "big losers" and the "zero
marginal product" workers. These "big losers" and "zero marginal
product" workers presumably include the 162,000 U.S. architects and
engineers whose jobs were shipped to third-world counties between 2000
and 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the 180,000
computer IT and programming professionals who, according to Yale
Univesity's Jacob Hacker, lost their jobs between 2000 and 2004.
Perhaps taking an unconscious cue from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Cowan
proposes a palliative that he suggests would enable the 49% mooching
class that Mitt Romney decried to live contented lives, albeit with
reduced means and with substantially reduced expectations: "What if
someone proposed that in a few parts of the United States, in warmer
states, some city neighborhoods would be set aside for cheap living? We
would build some 'tiny homes' [that]...might be about 400 square feet
and cost in the range of $20,000 to $40,000. We would build some very
modest dwellings there, as we used to build in the 1920s. We would also
build some makeshift structures there, similar to the better dwellings
you might find in a Rio de Janeiro favela. The
quality of the water and electrical standards might be low by American
standards, but we could supplement the neighborhood with free municipal
Cowan's paen to globalization and the onward march of capitalism
blithely ignores the systematic, well-documented failures of the
capitalist system he extols. His apologia offers small solace
to the millions of Americans whose jobs have been lost to out-sourcing
and the de-industrialization of the U.S.; his soothing entreaty that, in
the long run, everything will work out nicely - some fine day - ignores
Keynes's sage observation that "In the long run, we will all be dead."One also suspects that Cowan would be less sanguine about the economic landscape he surveys if he were informed that his tenuredposition at George Mason University were about to be converted into an adjunct faculty position.
The defenders of the classical market model of unbridled competition
still refuse to concede that, left to their own devices, entrepreneurs
and corporations inevitably engage in practices that have harmful
consequences to the public. Their anti-regulatory biases are not
diminished, despite the fact that their business activities are heavily
subsidized by taxpayer money - e.g. roads, trains, airports, and
intangible infrastructure such as public education, employee training,
R&D, favorable tax policies, legal immunity for business entities,
and protection for trade secrets and intellectual property.
These guardians of the economic canon also continue to discount the
evidence that shows that entrepreneurs and corporations know that, if
they are unable to escape the ultimate consequences of their poor
decisions - if all else fails - they will be allowed to screw their
creditors, discharge their debts in bankruptcy, and re-emerge with anew corporate persona.
The sole goal is to maximize profits to enrich themselves and their
shareholders. Given a mind-set that sincerely believes that the pursuit
of self-interest is somehow a public good, they and their economist
defenders remain oblivious to the adverse effects of poverty, lack of
health care, pollution, climate change and to basic principles of social
Ultimately, the entire process is self-defeating and creates a
negative-sum game: As entrepreneurs seek to maximize their profits by
paying the lowest possible costs for labor and materials, the middle
class is hollowed out. As the income of the middle class contracts,
aggregate demand is reduced. As domestic spending contracts, the
purchase of goods and services contract. Without the intervention of the
government into market economies, the buyers and sellers of goods and
services become locked in mutually destructive death throes.
All of the empirical evidence, Cowan and other apologists
notwithstanding, suggests that out-sourcing, deregulation, austerity,
the commitment to the myth of "free-trade," -i.e. "laissez-faire" in
trade policies - and reduced government regulation have been major
contributing factors to the loss of manufacturing, stagnating wages and
the growing impoverishment of the former middle class.
The net effect of current economic policies - sadly endorsed by
Democrats as well as Republicans- has been an extraordinary
concentration of wealth and power into the hands of financiers and other
moneyed interests who have become the winners in this game of economic
Russian roulette. As a result, the decisions and predilections of fewer
and fewer individuals now determine the outcomes in the American
economy, while the overwhelming majority of Americans have little
ability to influence macro-economic trends or economic and political
the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith bemoaned the existence of "private
affluence and public squalor" in the America. The contrast has only
grown worse in the subsequent decades. The disparity between the few who
are wealthy and the many who are poor has widened alarmingly in the
United States since the advent of the Reagan era and the kind of
"trickle-down" economics to which he and his advisers subscribed.
In his General Theory,
Keynes observed that "the ideas of economists and philosophers, both
when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than
commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.
Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any
intellectual influences, are usually the salves of some defunct
economist....But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests which
are dangerous for good or evil."
Political and economic philosophies, unlike religious dogmas, are
neither true nor false per se, irrespective of their competing attempts
to comprehend and to explain the Truth about the human condition.
Rather, these philosophies help us to define our understanding of
ourselves as political beings - who we think we are, and what we think
we can or cannot achieve as participants in the political process.Paradoxically,
through these political and economic philosophies, we simultaneously
modify and recreate social reality - "the shared field of meaning" - in
which we participate.
Equally important, because competing political and economic
philosophies inevitably suggest specific policies, they have important,
teleological consequences. For that reason, the consequences of any
particular policy suggested by a particular political or economic
philosophy can be observed, measured, and tracked.
As such, the political, economic and ethical effects of the policies
and programs can be scrutinized and evaluated. Policy makers and
informed citizens then become able to determine whether the respective
claims and promises of a particular political or economic concept should
be implemented as public policy, and whether the effects will be
beneficial or inimical to the health and vitality of the civil society.
There are no easy solutions to the present economic malaise, but it is a
serious mistake to confuse the purported "laws of economics" with the
laws of physics as so many do. Economic systems do not operate in a
vacuum; and there is nothing inevitable about the continuation of
economic trends. Economic systems and political systems are the products
of human imagination and ideology as shaped by historical forces.
Because there is nothing inevitable about economic trends and
developments, they can be countered by intelligent and carefully crafted
monetary and fiscal policies as well as intelligent legislation. In extremis, even the "laws of economics" can be suspended by operation of law, as was required during World Wars I and II.
The classical liberal paradigm of the market economy has long since
ceased to explain present day economic reality, but the intellectual
chains of that received wisdom from long since dead economists continue
to control the public narrative. Unfettered competition, based upon
allegedly free market decisions made by solitary actors in which goods
and services are sold to the most willing buyers, is a myth that does
not create individual opportunity for most Americans, nor has it
maximized business opportunities.
Rather, the insecurities of the marketplace persuade those who are
successful to institutionalize their advantages. Monopolies and
plutocracy are the inevitable result and, as the Forbes 400 list shows,
economic inequality becomes more pronounced.
The critical need in today's politics is to restore the proper balance
between the pursuit of wealth - as a purely private activity - and the
public interest. In a democracy, citizens have the ability and the right
to imagine and to demand new political, economic and social structures
and arrangements that are rooted in a shared commitment to social
justice and that also recognize the mutual obligations that we owe to
one another as members of a political community. By law, policies can
designed and imposed to protect the rights of workers to join unions, to
create an industrial policy, to re-impose protective barriers and
selective tariffs (just as China, South Korea and Japan now do), to
enact a tax code that punishes out-sourcing and domestic disinvestment
and provides incentives for job-creation and domestic reinvestment.
Market economies are affected by the frailties and the foibles of human
actors. Although many of these actors are motivated by selfish,
short-sighted concerns, the consequences of their actions harm everyone
else. It is for that reason that regulation in the public interest and
investment in public goods by the government - as the agent of the
people in a democracy - are essential antidotes to the temper the
excesses of capitalism and to create the foundations for a truly just
current brouhaha over child refugees from Central America appearing at
the U.S. Mexican border has spawned lots of invective and strident
commentary but provided little in the way of insight.
way of background, shortly before he left office, on Dec. 23, 2008,
George W. Bush signed into law the William Wilberforce Trafficking
Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The purpose of this bipartisan
measure, named after a 19th century British abolitionist, was to extend
and increase efforts to prevent and prosecute human trafficking and
protect the victims of trafficking. The legislation contained numerous
provisions that regulate the treatment of children, unaccompanied by
adults, who present themselves at the U.S. border by the Department of
the law, the Customs and Border Patrol are required to turn
undocumented children from Central America over to the Department of
Health and Human Services within 72 hours. Because of the turmoil in
Central America, the law mandates that HHS hold the refugees humanely
until they can be released to a "suitable family member" in the United
States. HHS is also required to ensure "to the greatest extent
practicable" that these detained children "have counsel to represent
them in legal proceedings " who could then explain to them how to apply
for asylum or to find other ways to remain legally in the U.S.
complexities and difficulties of enforcing this law need to be viewed
in the light of the overall immigration program in the U.S. which all
sides concede is broken beyond redemption. Not surprisingly, this
country's unwillingness to control its borders through sensible
immigration policies - that could include an expanded guest-worker
program, preferences for highly skilled foreigners, a mandatory E-Verify
system for all employers and national identification cards similar to
those issued in almost all of Western European democracies - provides
fertile ground for the worst kind of xenophobia and anti-immigrant
one to miss on opportunity to pander to the basest instincts of those
people who find her appealing, on July 14, 2014, GOP Congresswoman
Michele Bachmann complained to Van Jones on CNN's Crossfire that "since
April, we've had an invasion of 300-500 thousand foreign nationals."
After Jones pressed her about her use of the word "invasion," Bachmann
chose to obfuscate with a classic non sequitur: "My heart is broken for a
female college student in Minnesota who was raped, murdered and
mutilated by a foreign national who came into our country," Bachmann
stated in an effort to somehow link the surge of unaccompanied refugee
children to increased crimes. "We had a school bus full of kids in
Minnesota - four children were killed on that school bus because an
illegal alien driving a van went into that school bus."
his credit, Van Jones challenged her. "There are lines that can't be
crossed here. I'm sorry, congresswoman. Are you gonna scapegoat children
for the crime of this despicable person?"Bachmann, ever
the demagogue, remained unabashed, "Don't scapegoat the American people.
Van, don't scapegoat the American people right now who are losing
A few weeks later, Rep. Bachmann - much like proverbial Senator John Yerkes Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate who
announced, after examining the label on a bottle of Heinz Tomato
Ketchup, that there were 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party
in the Department of Defense - conjured up an even more preposterous
theory to explain the presence of so many unaccom-panied minors at the
southern U.S. border.On July 30, 2014, she appeared on
"WallBuilders Live," a far-right radio program, and now claimed that the
reason President Obama hasn't solved the refugee crisis at the U.S.
southern border is because he wants to use the child refugees for
"medical research." "President Obama is trying to bring all of those
foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said
that he will put them in the foster care system," Bachmann insisted.
can't imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going
to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct
medical research on somebody, and a Ward of the state can't say 'no' - a
little kid can't say 'no' if they're a ward of the state so here you
could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our
government to do medical experimentation and a kid can't even say 'no.'
It's sick," Bachmann intoned.
Bachmann is not the only politician who appears to have become unhinged
by the contretemps over refugees. On July 16, 2014, Leslie Larson, a
columnist for the New York Daily News, described an incident
that occurred in Arizona. Adam Kwasman, a state legislator and Tea Party
candidate for Congress, joined a demonstration of anti-immigrant
protestors the day before on the road to Oracle, Arizona.
The demonstrators were outraged of the prospect of migrant children
being sent to a nearby shelter. Kwasman, reportedly disdainful of
President Obama's efforts to address the border crisis, saw a yellow
school bus approach and tweeted a picture with the caption, "This is not
compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law."
Kwasman claimed that the children who were being bused to the shelter appeared to be sad and fearful."I
was actually able to see some of the children in the buses. The fear on
their faces," he told a local reporter after the incident, according to
the Arizona Republic. The reporter then questioned him about
what children he was referring to. "I saw a school bus with plenty of
children on it, so I'm assuming that was the bus."After
the reporter pointed out the youngsters on the bus he saw were in fact
local schoolchildren en route to a YMCA camp, Kwasman said, "They were
sad too. I apologize, I didn't know. I was leaving when I saw them. So
if that was a school bus - people are not happy down the line."
A more disturbing incident was chronicled by Kate Taylor and Jeffrey Singer of the New York Times ("In
Queens, Immigrants Clash With Residents of New Homeless Shelter," July
25, 2014). They reported that, in early June of this year, the City of
New York began to move homeless families into a defunct hotel in
Elmhurst, Queens. The city's decision prompted a series of protests,
culminating in one on July 22, 2014 that drew approximately 500 people.
The crowd was said to comprise, among others, grandmothers, small
children, Chinese immigrants and the president of a local Republican
club, all of whom complained that Mayor de Blasio had trampled upon
local residents expressed their fears about the presence of the new
arrivals and cited rumors of shoplifting from a local supermarket and
episodes of public urination and panhandling. These were the kind of
antisocial acts that, the residents contended, had been unheard-of in
their neighborhood until now.
During the protest that night, one of the organizers spoke through a
bullhorn in Mandarin, as a few people looked out the windows of the
hotel. "Speak in English!" a woman who was leaning out of a window was
reported to have shouted, and held up her phone, possibly to videotape
the protest. "Homeless with money" was the response of a protester to
the woman with phone.
because many of those opposed the use the hotel as a shelter in
Elmhurst were recent Chinese immigrants, the conflict has pitted
immigrant families and the mostly black and Latino homeless families
against one another. Earlier, in late June, The Times' article
reported, a local civic group organized a series of demonstrations in
which some of the protesters were reported to have chanted at the
shelter residents "Get a job. The homeless families retorted that the
protesters should "go back to China."
How does one explain the current vitriol and the hysteria?At
least part of the explanation can be traced back to the political ideas
upon which the "American experiment" was created and the culture of
individualism that it apotheosized.
the emergence of liberalism as a political theory during the Protestant
Reformation engrafted onto this unfolding political paradigm a
permanent sense of anxiety and apprehension. Luther's insistence that
personal salvation could be gained by one's one receptivity to the Word
alone released the self from the bonds of obedience to the universal
church and its magisterium, but the penalties for personal
emancipation have, to the present, continued to exact a severe
psychological toll. As Hobbes observed, the severance of man from nature
- the natural order, natural law - estranged man and left him alone and
afraid. Fear and a sense of personal isolation, and therefore personal
vulnerability, in turn, can lead to panic and hysteria.
With the gradual demise of the Great Chain of Being came also the demise of the imperium-
the traditional authority of the magistrate to bind his subjects and
his power to command. Even the ascension of the Protestant William of
Orange to the throne of England in 1689 was effectuated, not by the
right of succession, but by an invitation from the Parliament.
Thereafter, the power to command would depend upon the need to receive
formal, legislative consent. While a significant advance for democracy,
this political change was not without its downside: since political
institutions were, in the view of John Locke and other liberal thinkers,
of dubious legitimacy and should be allowed to exercise only limited,
arbitral, transitory authority, it instilled within the corpus of the
liberal consensus a sense of the fragility of social and public
institutions. This has been especially true in the U.S. where many of
the thirteen colonies and later the republic itself were explicitly
created by acts of covenanting - contracts.
one unforeseen and unintended consequence, a toxic brew of fear,
anxiety, vulnerability, and concern about the fragility, and hence,
stability, of political and social institutions has contributed to the
periodic eruptions of extremely ugly incidents in American politics that
Louis Hartz in The Liberal Tradition in America described as
"irrational Lockianism." The Salem Witch trials and the frequent
preemptive forays into Indian territories by colonial settlers who
feared Indian insurrections (which, in turn, lead to the extermination
of countless numbers of the aborigines) were precursors to the kind of
hysteria that gripped the newly-independent United States after the
French Revolution. The XYZ and Citizen Genet affairs were the
precipitants for the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in the
administration of John Adams.
recurrent fears of slave insurrections in the first half of the
nineteenth century prompted the enactment of ever-more punitive laws in
the slave-holding states to punish "run-aways," abolitionists, and
anyone who tried to educate the slaves. In the 1840s, the Native
American Party - the Know-Nothings - emerged in the Northeastern United
States in response to a climate of intolerance and fear that had been
preceded by the burning and sacking of an Ursuline convent in
Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834, and by frequent attacks upon Irish
and other Catholic immigrants.
the twentieth century, the imprisonment of war critics, such as the
socialist Eugene Debbs during World War I, and the aggressive acts of
Attorney General Palmer's "Red Raids" after the Bolshevik Revolution
exemplified the kind of war frenzy and jingoism to which Americans have
so often succumbed. Two decades later, after the isolationism espoused
by Father Coughlin and the America First Committee proved to be
delusional, the attack on Pearl Harbor made palatable the confinement of
thousands of American citizens - citizens of Japanese ancestry on the
West Coast of the United States were forced into internment camps,
without trial or any evidence of personal guilt, for the duration of
World War II.
Justice Black's infamous decision in Korematsu v. United States,
321 U.S. 760 (1944), which excused this mass imprisonment, is stark
evidence that has been confirmed on countless other occasions throughout
American history of the refusal of the federal judiciary - as the
designated arbiter of constitutional rights within this putatively
liberal democracy - to defend the most basic civil liberties whenever
the courage to decry public hysteria is required.
Instead, the courts have, with few precious exceptions, routinely
deferred to the executive branch's claims of a national emergency even
after the evidence has shown that the alleged emergency - such as the
terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 - did not threaten or imperil the
continued existence of the United States.
In his extremely insightful book, Escape From Freedom,
Erich Fromm observed that "The individual became more alone, isolated,
became an instrument in the hands of over-whelmingly strong forces
outside of himself; he became an 'individual' but a bewildered and
insecure individual..... Once the primary bonds which gave security to
the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside
of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him
since he has to overcome the unbearable stage of powerlessness and
aloneness. By one course he can progress to 'positive freedom;' he can
relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work...he can thus
become one again with man, nature and himself, without giving up the
independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course is
to fall back, to give up his freedom, to try to overcome his aloneness
by trying to eliminate the gap which has arisen between his individual
self and the world."
In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith extolled the importance of what wetoday
call empathy: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are
evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the
fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though
he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this
kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of
others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very
lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is
a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it....
As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form
no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what
we ourselves should feel in the like situation..."
experience empathy, as Smith would have it, one must put oneself in
another's place. Where fear, insecurity and anger, however, are given
free vent, however, empathy itself becomes a casualty.
is little doubt that millions of Americans, burdened by the failure of
the market economy to improve their standards of living and befuddled by
the unwillingness and the inability of this country's political
institutions to address their most basic needs, feel extremely insecure
and vulnerable. This sense of vulnerability and fear of imminent danger
has been continually stoked by politicians since the beginning of the
Cold War. Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and a cabal of
professional fear-mongers and political opportunists successfully
intensified the worries and concerns of ordinary citizens about the
evils of foreign, left-leaning ideas and the purported infiltration of
American institutions by individuals by assorted "pointy-headed"
intellectuals, and "fellow-travelers" and naive "do-gooders" who
relentlessly sought to undermine the "American way of life."
the attack the Twin Towers, this lamentable penchant to induce, and
then to pander, to the basest fears and anxieties of ordinary Americans
for purely partisan political purposes was honed and perfected by the
administration of Bush-Cheney and by their Svengali, Karl Rove. Perhaps
as appalling was the unsuccessful attempt by Rudolph Guliani to win the
2008 Republican Presidential nomination by running, as
then-Delaware-Senator Joseph Biden sagely remarked, "on a noun, a verb,
resulting hysteria - endorsed by a largely compliant elite and its
political and media surrogates and at least tacitly supported by a
totally clueless population - led directly to the catastrophes of Iraq
and Afghanistan. An estimated $14 trillion dollars of that has been
squandered to date on these two misbegotten wars. Had $8 trillion of
those dollars been invested, instead, in infrastructure, jobs creation
and other urgent needs, the money would have substantially addressed
almost every pressing domestic need.
only a part of the remaining $4 trillion dollars had been invested in
programs to aide our county's troubled neighbors to the south - that are
suffering from manyproblems that the U.S. has exacerbated-
i.e., the spill-over effects of our gun culture, our unquenchable
appetite for drugs, and our continued support for repressive,
self-serving elites, the spectaclesof thousands of waifs appearing at the Texas border would not by an almost daily phenomenon.
would also provide an opportunity for the Rick Perrys and Ted Cruzs of
contemporary American politics not to embarrass themselves - and the
rest of us - by their brazen displays of demagoguery and insensitivity. Both
Perry and Cruz claim to be God-fearing, Christian believers. What then
do they make of the injunctions contained in the Gospel of Matthew, "But
Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto
me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 19:13, and "Blessed
are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy," Matthew 5:7?
what are we to make of them and the rest of the naysayers among us who
are habituated to criticism yet are unwilling to participate in the
quest for solutions?