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?
Last week's 2-1 decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals in Halberg v. Burwell,, No. 14-501 followed closely on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573
U. S. ____ (2014). In that earlier case, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme
Court held that a contraceptive mandate set forth in the federal
regulations that implement the Affordable Care Act, when applied to the
Christian owners of closely-held for-profit corporations who claim to
have sincere beliefs that life begins at conception, violated the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993.
In the Halberg, two judges with long-standing, publicly-identified relationships with the FederalistSociety and other rightwing groups opined that one hard-scribble, putative appellant,David Klemencic, had legal standing to challenge a provisionof
the Affordable Health Care Act that proposed to penalize individuals
who refused to purchase health insurance on West Virginia's
federally-operated Health Insurance Exchange. Klemencic, who claimed to
oppose the Affordable Health Care Act, made approximately $20,000 a year
and would have been able to obtain health insurance, according to the
Appeals Court, at a subsidized "cost of less than $21 per year or pay a
somewhat greater tax penalty." Sadly but not surprisingly, Klemencic's
appeal was bankrolled by a smörgåsbord of rightwing think-tanks and
political action groups.
their decision, the two errant judges of D.C. Court of Appeals held
that the plain language of the Health Care Exchange provisions that
proposed to impose tax penalties under the individual mandate
requirement applied only to state-operated exchanges, of which there are
only sixteen, and could not be imposed upon the residents of the other
34 states whose governors and legislators refused to establish their own
two judges sought to minimize the enormous harm and mischief that their
decision would do with a sanctimonious rationalization, "Thus, although
our decision has major consequences, our role is quite limited:
deciding whether the IRS Rule is a permissible reading of the ACA.
Having concluded that it is not, we reverse the district court and
remand with instructions to grant summary judgment to appellants and
vacant the IRS Rule."
dissenting judge, Harry Edwards, challenged his colleagues' modest
characterization of their role: He noted that the effect of their
decision, if upheld, would be to deny coverage to millions of American
families who reside in the 34 states that do not have their own
state-operated health insurance exchanges. "This case is about
Appellants not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and
Affordable Health Care Act."
one who has studied the history of federal jurisprudence should be
surprised that a federal court once again refused to vindicate the
concept of equal rights and access for all citizens, or that unelected
federal judges, who are accountable to no one but themselves, would be
unable to hold in abeyance their ideological proclivities, or refuse to
grant any deference to the Executive and Congress as elected officials.
III, § 1 of the U.S. Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and vests
in the Congress the authority power to establish "such inferior Courts
as Congress may fromtime to time ordain and establish."Since
its creation, the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts of the
federal judiciary, with the rare exceptions of the courts presided over
by John Marshall and Earl Warren, have done little to promote
fundamental fairness or justice. Instead, the federal judiciary, by and
large, has served throughout its history as an instrument determined to
uphold 18th and 19th century notions of
individualism, to protect the status quo and to promote the interests
and rights of property owners and businesses over those ordinary
For those reasons, it was not surprising that in Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sanford ,
60 U.S. 393(1856), Chief Justice Taney transformed the slave Dred Scott
into a commodity - mere property - and repeated Thomas Jefferson's
calumny that it was the British alone who were responsible for the
introduction of slavery into the colonies and inperpetuating that institution in this county.
Ironically, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Supreme
Court chose to grant the equal protection of the laws long before the
same civil rights were accorded to black Americans in the Southern
States. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company,
118 U.S. 394(1886), the court, in some inscrutable way, divined that
corporations were persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth
Amendment. (Incredibly, that decision was introduced into the report of
the decision by the case law reporter in the syllabus, and it appears
nowhere in the text of the decision.) According to the observers,
Justice Waite simply pronounced from the bench, sua sponte,
before the beginning of argument that "This court does to wish to hear
argument on the question whether the provision of the Fourteenth
Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny any person
within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law, applies to
these corporations. We are of the opinion that it does."
decision was especially perverse in that the Court was generally
hostile to all claims for the enforcement of equal rights claims of the
those recently freed slaves, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment,
and ten years later would decide the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson,
163 U.S. 537 (1896). Once again the protection of property rights was
held to be more vital than the protection of living human beings.
the beginning of twentieth century, the United States Supreme Court
enthusiastically adopted Herbert Spencer's unequivocal defense of the
rights of free contract in the infamous case of Lochner v. New York,
198 U.S. 45 (1905). Writing for the majority, Justice Peckham struck
down a New York statute which prohibited employers from requiring
employees to work in excess of a sixty hour work week. Disingenuously,
the Court found that, "The employee may desire to earn the extra money
which would arise from his working more than the prescribed time, but
this statute forbids the employer from permitting the employee to earn
it. The statute necessarily interferes with the right of contract
between the employer and employees concerning the number of hours in
which the latter may labor in the bakery of the employer..."
Holmes, in dissent, unsuccessfully sought to remind his colleagues that
the law was supposed to be an even, impartial instrument, blind to
prevailing ideology: "This case is decided upon an economic theory which
a large part of the country does not entertain....The Fourteenth
Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics."
the administration of Franklin Roosevelt found itself engaged in a
tug-o-war with equally reactionary federal jurists. After three adverse
decisions in Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935), Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford, 295 U.S. 555 (1935), andSchechter Poultry Corp. v. United States,295 U.S.
495 (1935), in which the Supreme Court struck down New Deal
legislation, Roosevelt filed legislation to increase the size of the
court. In response to that threat, a majority of the jurists wisely
chose to reverse course and opted not challenge subsequent legislation.
the 1970s especially, an increasingly reactionary federal judiciary has
repeatedly announced its hostility toward government regulation, civil
rights, and legislation in the public interest. The net effect of this
jurisprudence has been to unravel the gains of the New Deal and the
Great Society, to empower corporations and the disproportionately
influential while ratifying the status quo.
having declared an almost theological commitment to the legal fiction
of "original intent," a majority of the Supreme Court chose to breathe
new life into the Tenth Amendment, the effect of which is to further
drive American jurisprudence back into the early decades of the
nineteenth century when even the idea of minimal government regulation,
ostensibly in the public interest, was unimaginable. See, for example,
Justice Rehnquist's decision in U. S. v. Lopez. 514 U.S. 549
(1995). In that decision, by a 5-4 struck vote, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down a San Antonio gun conviction which occurred within a 100
yards of a school on the grounds that the interstate commerce clause did
not apply. See also U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514
U.S. 779 (1995), a case in which Justice Thomas and his equally
determined colleagues within a "whisker" of returning American
constitutional jurisprudence to the Articles of Confederation.
addition, since the beginning of the 1970s, a bare majority of these
Supreme Court judges have not hesitated to impose their personal
political preferences for free-market, anti-regulation policies through
the judicial feat of federal preemption of state laws and regulations to
the contrary. Most of the laws and regulations preempted were designed
by state legislatures to protect the rights of workers and consumers. In
Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp.,439
U.S. 299 (1978), for example, the U.S. Supreme Court declared state
usury laws to be unavailing against credit card companies engaged in
interstate commerce. The effect of that decision, therefore, was to
permit credit card companies to exact whatever interest rates they
wanted, to the detriment of ordinary Americans.
Equally unsettling, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Buckley v. Valeo,
424 U.S.1 (1976) severely undermined public confidence in the political
system. In that decision, the court upheld some modest limits imposed
by the U.S. Congress upon individual campaign contributions.More
importantly, however, the court held that campaign contributions by
corporations and other large entities were protected by the U.S.
Constitution. Congressional attempts to impose restrictions on the
financial contributions by corporations and other organizations, because
they conflicted with First Amendment guarantees of free speech, would,
henceforth, invite strict scrutiny by the court and would require that a
compelling state interest had to be shown to pass judicial muster.
Thirty years after the Buckley
decision, an even more reactionary court declared any restrictions upon
campaign financing by corporations violate the free speech provision of
the First Amendment. InCitizens United v. Federal Elections Commission,558 U.S. 310 (2010),Justice
Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision, reversed two
previous precedents which had upheld modest campaign finance
regulations. Justice Kennedy opined that the Court had previously
recognized that First Amendment protection extended to corporations and
that "under the rationale of these precedents cited, political speech
does not lose First Amendment protection 'simply because its source is a
corporation;" further "corporations and other associations, like
individuals, contribute to the 'discussion, debate, and the
dissemination of information and ideas' that the First Amendment seeks
of the law understand that there has always existed a tension between
fidelity to the letter of the law and the dictates of justice. The
ancients reminds us that as human beings we are obliged to seek the summum bonum -i.e., the highest good, the ultimate end -which is synonymous with justice.
the primary object of all human aspiration, true justice is something
that can be achieved only through the law acting as an instrument of the
social order. Thomas Aquinas remarks, quoting Isodore, "Laws are
enacted for no private profit, but for the common benefit of citizens."Further,
"A law, properly speaking, regards first and foremost the order of the
common good..." Finally, Aquinas invokes Cicero to the effect that "'the
object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual
intercourse.' Now this implies relationship of one man to another.
Therefore justice is concerned only about our dealings with others."
Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher who followed in the footsteps
of St. Thomas, has emphasized that "the primary reason for which men,
united in political society, need the State, is the order of justice. On
the other hand, social justice is the need of modern societies. As a
result, the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of
the perspective of Maritain, Aquinas and the ancients, Judges Griffith
and Randolph failed miserably in discharging their public responsibility
as jurists in the D.C. Court of Appeals. By contrast, however, there
remains a glimmer of hope that justice may yet triumph over ideology. A
three judge panel sitting in the Fourth Circuit Court Appeals in
Richmond, 109 miles away from Washington, D.C., saw the big picture -
the reason why the Affordable Health Care Act was adopted in the first
place. They got it exactly right three hours after the D.C. Court of
Appeals released its decision on an identical set of claims.
In denying the petitioners' claims in King v. Burwell, No. 14-1158 (7/22-2014), the three judges unanimously agreed that purpose of the act - to promote a common good - and Congress's
intent must take precedence over pedantic, disingenuous arguments that
rely upon linguistic and judicial feats of legerdemain. "The IRS Rule
became all the more important a significant number of states indicated
their intent to forego establishing Exchanges. With only sixteen
state-run Exchanges currently in place, the economic framework
supporting the Act would crumble if the credits were unavailable on
federal Exchanges. Furthermore, without an exception to the individual
mandate, millions more Americans unable to purchase insurance without
the credits would be forced to pay a penalty that Congress never
envisioned imposing upon them. The IRS Rule avoids both these unforeseen
and undesirable consequences and thereby advances the true purpose and
means of the Act."
The growing turmoil in Iraq now provides the GOP with a marvelous
opportunity to try to deflect the attention of a gullible American
public from the war here at home that it is waging against ordinary
Senator John McCain, who has never seen a war or a conflict that he
does not think the United States should not fight, appeared on MSNC's
"Morning Joe" today. Not surprisingly, he excoriated President Obama and
called upon him to fire his entire national security team.
McCain claimed that the U.S. had won the war in Iraq, but was now
losing the very war that he claimed we had won because the U.S. refused
to garrison a residual forcein that country. McCain also warned that the scheduled U.S.withdrawal from Afghanistan would engender the same chaos there.
from McCain's incoherent narrative was any glint of recollection that
it was he and the other hawks who endorsed Bush II's ill-fated invasion
of that country or that it was Prime Minister Maliki - and not President
Obama - who forced the precipitous withdrawal of all American troops
because the Iraqi government refused to agree to a new status of forces
agreement that would have protected American soldiers against
prosecution under Iraqi laws. Apparently, the good senator believes that
the U.S. should have refused to exit from that country, even if it
meant that the U.S. became an occupying army.
Not to be outdone, New York Times columnist David Brooks has now returned to his "neo-con" roots.Brooks, who was an original cheerleader for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, wrote in his Weekly Standard column
on March 24, 2003 that "The president has remained resolute. Momentum
to liberate Iraq continues to build. The situation has clarified, and
history will allow clear judgments about which leaders and which
institutions were up to the challenge posed by Saddam and which were
an op ed column last week ("The Big Burn The Sunni-Shiite Conflict Explodes
in Iraq") Brooks notes "When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it
effectively destroyed the Iraqi government.Slowly
learning from that mistake, the U.S. spent the next eight years in a
costly round of state-building." According to Brooks, by 2011 the Iraqi
Army was performing better and "American diplomats rode herd on Prime
Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to restrain his sectarian impulses.
American generals would threaten to physically block Iraq troop
movements if Maliki ordered any action that seemed likely to polarize
precisely who was responsible for this country's present failure to
restrain Maliki's sectarian impulses? The answer is obvious.Brooks
opines that "We'll never know if all this effort and progress could
have led to a self-sustaining, stable Iraq. Before the country was close
to ready, the Obama administration took off the training wheels by not
seriously negotiating the NATO status of forces agreement that would
have maintained some smaller American presence."
In contrast to Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham, whom Brooks
praises for their prescience, "President Obama adopted a cautious
posture, arguing that the biggest harm to the nation comes when the U.S.
overreaches. American power retrenched. The American people, on both
left and right, decided they could hide from the world."
McCain, Brooks and the gaggle of other discredited war-hawks who are
now once again rearing their bellicose beaks inhabit a bizarre political
world that can only be described as schizophrenic. As "conservatives"
they fervently insist that the role of government in domestic affairs
should be restrained. While advocating tax cuts and other welfare and
incentives that solely benefit the 1%, they counsel against any policy
initiatives that would address pressing domestic issues, such as growing
economic inequality and joblessness, argue the virtues of limited
government, and incessantly warn against the dangers of an
"over-reaching" activist government.
By contrast, foreign policy seems to be an entirely different matter.
McCain, Brooks and others of their persuasion seem to subscribe
wholeheartedly to the myth of American omnipotence. In their view of the
world beyond this country's borders, there are no limits to the
projection of American military power, and if events turn out badly, it
is solely because the occupant in the White House was incapable of
controlling the outcome.
Absent from their analysis is any inkling that countries and civil
societies evolve over time, that they are primarily responsible for own
destinies, and that the process is often painful and messy.
Long become the U.S. became involved in a precipitous war in
Iraq, the French and the British had already made a mess of that entire
region. Thereafter, Bush I and Rumsfeld and Cheney stoked the fires of
instability when they supported Saddam Hussein with billions of dollars
in weapons and aide in his war against Iran in the 1980s.And
millennia before the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan, neither
Alexander the Great nor later, all of Rome's legions could subdue the
marauding tribes and fratricidal strife in that geographic region.
Equally inexcusable, these armchair generals are utterly oblivious to
the trillions of dollars of American treasure that was expended in this
country's two ill-fated adventures, the military and civilian death
toll, and the enormous physical and psychological toll
that the men and women who have served in this country's all volunteer
military have had to bear.
Von Clausewitz observed that "war is the extension of politics by other
means." Wars and military excursions should always be the option of
last resort. American interests would be far better served through
forging multinational efforts, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has recommended,
with Iran and Turkey.
Ill-considered U.S. policies have engendered enormous antipathy
throughout the Middle East. For that reason, it would be wise to reduce
our footprint there. A reckless, reflexive, "go-it- alone-cowboy policy"
as urged by McCain, Brooks and the other foreign policy hawks will only
serve to make matters worse.
Given their own abysmal track records, Senator McCain and David Brooks should at least have the common decency to shut-up.
number of recent events have cast in stark relief the continued
unraveling of the political system of the United States. These events
raise concerns as to whether the majority of American citizens suffer
from a kind of pervasive Attention Deficit Disorder that has rendered
many of us unable to understand the implications of what we are seeing
before our very eyes.
The Center for American Progress has reported that the federal
government has spent $136 billion total from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal
year 2013 on disaster relief. That amount is the equivalent of an
average of nearly $400 per household per year paid for by tax-payers.
Yet, at a time whenlarge parts of the country are increasingly devastated by incidents of severe weather, including torrentialdownpours,
floods, hail, wild fires, drought and excessive heat, timid politicians
on both sides of the aisle, fearful of offending corporateinterests and incurring the wrath of their Super PACS, continue to blithely ignore the unmistakable signs of severe climate.
In response to mounting evidence of severe environmental damage caused
fossil fuel emissions and human activity, almost all members ofGOP's Congressional Caucus and Democratic nay-sayers such as Senators Manchin and Mary Landrieu - who areboth wholly-owned captives of the coal and oil lobbies - have continuedto question the science behind climate change.
unsettling, within the past month, the country has witnessed horrific
additional acts of gun violence acts. The other day, a fifteen year
adolescent armed with an assault rifle enteredan Oregon
high school and opened fire in a gym locker room, fatally shooting a 14
year-old and wounding a teacher before he killed himself. This was the
74th shooting at an American school since the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School - and the 37ththis year - according to a statement issued by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The
Violence Policy Center has reported that, as of 2010, more than one
million Americans had died in firearms-related suicides, homicides and
unintentional injuries since 1960.
After the obligatory expressions of condolences from elected officials, and momentsof
silence observed by the Congress in the wake of these preventable
tragedies, an overwhelming majority of GOP legislators and sizeable
minority of timid Democratic legislators will still not dare to suggest
publicly - for fear of antagonizing the NRA and the gun-manufacturers'
lobby - that there is something fundamentally deranged about a political
system in which any virtually lunatic, white supremacist, convicted
convict, or potential terrorist can purchase unlimited numbers of guns
and thousands of rounds of ammunition anonymously at unregulated gun
shows, over the internet, or in red states that have lax or virtually
non-existent restrictions on the purchase of high-velocity assault
weapons and armor-piercing ammunition.
Sadly, this collective insanity has received by the imprimatur of the country's highest court. In District of Columbia v. Heller,
128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), five linguistically-challenged, right-wing
jurists, who enjoy life-tenure for good behavior, cavalierly disregarded
the principle of stare decisis andset aside what had heretofore been the settled Second Amendment jurisprudence. In overturning United States v. Miller,
307 U.S. 174 (1939), Justice Scalia claimed to divine some kind of
constitutional right on the part of individuals - as opposed to the
collective requirement of a "well-regulated militia (i.e. today's
National Guard) - to bear arms and he piously intoned, "We
are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, but the
enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy
choices off the table."( As an aside, it should be noted that the
Supreme Court would never allow guns to be carried into the court lest
they imperil the safety of the nine judges).
third ominous example involves the expenditure of hundreds of millions
of dollars in elections, by which SuperPACs are determined, through the
use of electronic media and negative ads, to control the election
results and thus gain complete control of the machinery of government.
Their efforts have again been sanctioned by the same five
result-oriented jurists on the Supreme Courts who comprised the one-vote
majority in the Heller case. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U. S. 310(2010), and now in McCutcheon, et al. v.Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), these same five ideologues have held that corporations are people within the meaning of the 14th Amendment and that, as such, expenditures of money by them to influence the outcomes ofpoliticalelections
were protected speech under the First Amendment and public restrictions
upon such expenditures violate the free speech provisions of that
a result of the increasing concentration of power in our wealthy elite,
their SuperPACs and their lobbies, the United States Senate yesterday
rejected a bill proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by a 56-38
vote - which was l vote short of the 60 needed. Her bill was designed to
allow Americans who are increasingly burdened by student debts to
refinance their student loans at lower rates. The cost of the bill would
have been easily paid for out of the so-called Buffett Rule, which
would have set minimum tax rates for people making over $1 million whose
income is primarily derived from passive investments rather than from
wages earned from work.
Current data shoes that student loan debt has now exceeds $1 trillion
and has emerged as a major brake on economic growth and the ability
middle-class families across the country to purchase homes and plan for
this vote we show the American people who we work for in the United
States Senate: billionaires or students," Warren stated. "A vote on this
legislation is a vote to give millions of young people a fair shot at
building their future."
By contrast, Republicans claimed the bill wouldn't have done anything
to lower education costs or reduce borrowing, and they accused Democrats
of playing politics by highlighting an issue that was bound to fail.
"The Senate Democrats' bill isn't really about students at all. It's
really all about Senate Democrats," said Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky. "They want an issue to campaign on to save their own
hides this November."
journalist Eric Schlosser has predicted that "The history of the
twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian
systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a
struggle to curtail excessive corporate power." In a similar vein,
Harvard political philosopher John Rawls warned that, "In constant
pursuit of money to finance campaigns, the political system is simply
unable to function. Its deliberative powers are paralyzed."
concerns and those of Rawls have been repeatedly echoed by U.S. Senator
Bernie Sanders (I -VT). In public comments in 2011, he ruefully
observed that, "So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than
$61 million to SuperPACs, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics. And, that's only what has been publicly disclosed. This $61
million does not include about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has
said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400
million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012
election season. These 26 billionaires have a combined net worth of $146
billion, which is more than the bottom 42.5 percent of American
households (equal to nearly 50 million families in the United States.)"
Sanders added, "What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say
to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: 'You own
and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal
companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage
of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own the
United States government.'"
Fourth of July, as in so many years past, politicians, public figures,
and the citizens at large will celebrate the independence of the United
States from Great Britain, invoke the inspirational words of the
Declaration of Independence, and laud the American experiment as the
noblest yet conceived of by man. Yet underneath the platitudes, there is
a growing sense of unease. Shrill partisanship and institutional
gridlock, as well as intractable economic and social problems, suggest
that the 18th century governmental machinery that has guided this
country since the ratification of the constitution in 1787 is becoming
increasingly sclerotic and unresponsive.
now exist in a twenty-first century world, but we are collectively
boxed within an unresponsive eighteenth century construct from which
there is virtually no escape, given the nearly insuperable obstacles
that the Founders imposed in order to amend this no longer viable
The Founders of the American Republic, inspired as they were by the
politics of John Locke, shared his fear of concentrated power. Hence,
they devised a constitutional system for the United States in which
political power was distributed between the federal government and the
individual states. The object, as James Madison commented, was to
disperse political power: "The federal Constitution forms a happy
combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being
referred to the national, the local and particular to the State
Divided government, with its diffusion of power vertically and
horizontally, has contributed to an appalling lack of transparency and
accountability that enable the office-holders in each of the fifty
states and in the three branches of the federal government to point
accusing fingers at one another while refusing to accept responsibility
for their own decision-making.
diffusion and distribution of political power within the political
system of the United States has today resulted in something profoundly
different than what they anticipated: The liberal consensus that gave
birth to the American republic, emerged historically in England as a
democratic force to challenge to feudal privilege and the tyranny of
But in the United States, where all who have been born are held to be
equal before the law and where the Constitution expressly prohibits the
granting of any titles of nobility, John Locke's politics has created
its own antithesis: rule by oligarchs and corporate plutocrats in which
the rights of the wealthy individuals and their corporations are
accorded greater protections than the rights of ordinary individuals.
vibrant democracies in the Western World have revisited and updated
their constitutional schemes of government when the evidence showed that
the governmental machinery no longer served the public interest. Why
should we be any different?
Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain observed that "[T]he primary
reason for which men, united in political society, need the State, is
the order of justice....As a result, the primary duty of the modern
state is the enforcement of social justice."
History reminds us that social justice can never be realized in a
political system that permits a culture of indifference and injustice to
fester and metastasize. History also reveals, however, that, when the
suffering of too many citizens remains pervasive and ignored, the bonds
of civility begin to unravel, ineluctably, over time. At the precise
moment when the body politic finally shreds, even those who are most
privileged will be unable to find shelter from the resulting chaos.
Since the end of the Civil War, our country has chosen to set
aside one day in particular to remember and to pay homage to those who
have lost their lives in the service of this country. On this Memorial
Day, however, we should also set aside some time to reflect upon, and to
discuss with friends and families, the lost lives, destroyed hopes and
dreams, and the enormous social and economic burdens that wars have
inflicted upon this 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 the country has
been involved. In addition, the lives of the loved ones and those who
have been left behind were forever profoundly diminished and saddened.
According to a 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."
As of August 2013, despite the end of 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 in the
armed forces of the U.S. States and more than 850,000 in the active duty
reserves of all branches.
For the fiscal year 2015, the
U.S. Department of Defense and military-related budget is $756.4
billion. This 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
for Homeland 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 .
Further, the most recent "Base Structure Report" of the Department of
Defense states 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 situated in U.S. territories around the
globe, and 702 of them are in foreign countries.
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 in Europe, Japan and Korea
remains significant, sixty-nine years after the end of World War II and
sixty-one years after an armistice was declared in Korea.
More than 100,000 active-duty American military are currently assigned
to these three countries, the cost of which is still largely borne by
U.S. taxpayers. These three countries have been able, as a result of
American military shield, 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 our-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.
In response to the protests engendered by the Vietnam War, the United
States Congress abolished military conscription. With advent of an
"all-volunteer" military, this country's wars and foreign adventures
have become, for most Americans, video diversions far removed from their
The enlisted personnel for these wars
have been largely drawn from the ranks of poor whites, blacks and
Latinos who have been given few other opportunities in the current
American economy; many of the officer corps are increasingly drawn from
the families of professional soldiers and military academy graduates who
are, by temperament and acculturation, right-wing, pro-defense
Christians who strongly support the continued projection of American
power abroad. As our professional officer corps has increasingly become
composed of the children of previous officers, and the ranks of enlisted
soldiers increasingly beckon to men and women to whom our country has
extended few other options, the concept of the citizen-soldier has
begun to recede from the consciousness of most Americans.
After the children of the affluent were sheltered from the shared
sacrifice of conscription, the Pentagon and the defense contractors that
depend upon government subsidies for their existence were able to
vastly increase their share of the US. Budget. "Out-of sight, out-of-
mind" has meant that the military-industrial complex about which Dwight
Eisenhower warned, and worst fears of the Founding Fathers about
entangling alliances and the dangers caused by a standing army, have
become the American reality.
Anyone who doubts the
stranglehold that the military-industrial complex now exerts needs only
to be reminded of the F-35 airplane that, notwithstanding even the
Defense Department's efforts to eliminate the project as unneeded and
redundant, continues to be funded by tax-payers because a craven
Congress is unable to resist the lobbying power of defense contractors.
Many of these same Congressional supporters decried the Obama
administration's bail-out of the American automobile industry as a waste
of money and have refused to vote extend unemployment benefits to those
who have been unemployed more than ninety-nine weeks.
Simultaneously, we are all paying the price for two misbegotten wars in
which we were viewed as the invaders and in which we had little
prospect of ending easily or of achieving "favorable outcomes." In
addition to the thousands of soldiers lost, physically injured or
traumatized, hundreds of thousands of innocents have been killed and
maimed. Columbia University professor and Nobel Laureate Economist
Joseph Stiglitz has predicted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will
ultimately cost the U.S. taxpayers more than $4 trillion dollars when
all costs, including long-term veterans care and disability payments are
The welfare-through-warfare mentality that
continues to dominate Washington groupthink threatens, if not
challenged, to metastasize our republic into a garrison state
perpetually at war, as Andrew Bacevich in his book Washington Rules
has warned. As a nation, we will increasingly impoverish ourselves
while our pandering political and economic elites, and their media
surrogates, will continue to argue that this country no longer has the
resources to address pressing needs here at home. And, of course, our
cemeteries and veterans' hospitals will continue to fill with the dead
and traumatized whom we, by our indifference, will have allowed to be
dispatched into harm's way.
The Roman Republic, over time,
was transformed and subverted by corruption and apathy. Its
citizen-soldiers were ultimately out-numbered by legions of mercenaries
recruited from abroad to fight its wars and to guard its borders. When
the Roman Empire collapsed, it no longer had the resources to bring its
legions home; thousands of its soldiers were abandoned throughout the
vast reaches of the former empire.
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
Memorial Day is to demand an end to our "welfare- through-warfare"
economy. We need to bring our troops home and to support international
institutions that will promote ways to create a more peaceful future for
all of God's children.
Sunday, May 11, 2014, Senator Mark Rubio told ABC News, "I do not
believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our
climate the way these scientists are portraying it." Senator Rubio also
denied the efficacy of concerted action to confront the growing danger
of climate change. He opined that "I do not believe that the laws that
they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy
claimed that scientists exaggerated the danger with a dismissive
statement that "our climate is always changing," and that "I don't know
of any era in world history where the climate has been stable."Rubio's
remarks were made a few days after he told CNN that President Obama
wasn't really qualified to speak on climate change since he was "not a
skepticism about whether climate change is occurring and whether human
activity is an agent of climate change is widely shared among GOP
legislators, party members and right-wing institutions across the United
States. The mere fact that the population of the earth has increased
from an estimated 620 million humans in 1700 A.D. to the current
estimate of 7.2 billion plus today is, from their perspective, utterly
irrelevant as is the evidence presented by NOAA and the overwhelming
majority of scientists who have seriously studied the issue of climate
refusal to acknowledge the existence of climate change is rooted in the
shared worldview of so many GOP adherents who are unable able to grasp
the conceptual distinctionsbetween a scientific theory and an economic or a political theory and who consistently conflatepersonal opinions and beliefs with facts and data.
ignorance by hard scrabble,low-information citizens is only part of the
explanation. Paranoia also plays a part. Religious lunatics and
fundamentalists, increasingly fearful of creeping secularization and the
ascendancy of science as a challenge to many of their cherished myths
and fables, have also joined the ranks of the deniers and have now
become the functional equivalent of a Christian Taliban.
This point was recently highlighted in a recent New York Times' article by Alan Blinder ("Bryan College Is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?", May 20, 2014). The small, self-described"Christian
liberal arts college" that was named after William Jennings Bryan has,
since its founding in 1930, insisted that faculty sign a statement of
belief as a part of their employment contracts. The statement of belief
expresses the institution's beliefs about creation and evolution, and
includes an assertion that: "The origin of man was by fiat of God."In
February of this year, however, college officials decided that faculty
members also had to agree to an additional statement that declared that
Adam and Eve "are historical persons created by God in a special
formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms."
president of Bryan College, Dr. Livesay, was quoted as having said, "We
want to remain faithful to the historical charter of the school and
what we have always practiced through the years. There has never been a
need, up until today, to truly clarify and make explicit what has been
part of the school for 84 years. We want to make certain that we view
culture through the eyes of faith, that we don't view our faith through
the eyes of culture. I don't think you have to believe the Bryan way in
order to be a strong evangelical. But this is Bryan College, and this is
something that's important to us. It's in our DNA. It's who we are."
reaction against modernity has increasingly become the right-wing's
narrative. Aside from the true believers, the movement has been funded
by corporate interests and an array of privately-funded "think-tanks"
that have commercial stakes in the current debates about public policy,
education, and the role that evidence-based research should play in the
formulation of environmental and economic regulations. Another New York Times by
Motoko Richmay ("Science Standards Divide a State Built on Coal and
Oil," May 18, 3104) explains why the even the Common Core Standards have
now become the subject of increasing attacks on the right.
quotes Susan Gore, the founder of the Wyoming Liberty Group, to the
effect that the new national science standards for schools were a form
of "coercion," and "I don't think government should have anything to do
with education."Ms. Gore, who is the daughter of the
founder of the company that makes Gore-Tex waterproof fabric, expressed
her convictions a few weeks after the Republican-controlled legislature
in Wyoming, where coal and oil interests are the paramount players in
the state's economy, became the first state to reject the standards,
which include lessons about the human impact on global warming.
Matt Teeters, a GOP State Representative from Lingle, was also reported in the article to have complained to The Casper Star-Tribune
that the standards "handle global warming as settled science" and that
"There's all kind of social implications involved in that, that I don't
think would be good for Wyoming." Teeters argued that such teaching
could wreck the economy of Wyoming, which is the country's largest
energy exporter. His objections to the new science standards were
seconded by Ron Micheli, chairman of the State Board of Education, who
claimed that the standard was "very prejudiced, in my opinion, against
fossil fuel development."
existence of this unholy alliance among GOP legislators, science
deniers, religious zealots, and a number of well-documented corporate
interests should be a source of concern to every sentient citizen. When
facts no longer matter, and anyone's delusions and fantasies are treated
as the equivalent of facts, citizens and their elected officials become
unable to make the kind of critical, nuanced and insightful
distinctions that are essential predicates for informed decision-making.
policies that are based upon careful research and evidence-based facts
are increasingly threatened with inundation by the sea of propaganda
that the deniers of reason and their corporate sponsors are able to
undam. If not resisted vigorously now, one may discover that, over time,
the very idea of democracy has become submerged along with our physical
The debate between public and private interests has long been a part
of the discourse in American politics. The contretemps over Cliven Bundy
in Nevada illustrates how profoundly this discussion has become debased
by the purveyors of privacy whose agenda is now being mindlessly
propagated by the rightwing noise machine and the lunatic fringe.
Chris Swangsgard observes in an op ed column in the Salt Lake Tribune
("Cliven Bundy is a food-stamp cowboy," April 25 2014), that the
controversy stems from Bundy's refusal to pay the Federal Bureau of Land
Management the $1.35 per month per cow fee that the Bureau assesses
for grazing rights on public land administered by it on behalf of the
citizens of the United States. The Bureau has issued some 18,000 permits
at this fee which almost all ranchers pay.
Accountability Office reports that in a typical year, ranchers paid $21
million for grazing permits on the public lands it administers. By
contrast, the average grazing fee on private land in the West is $16.80
per month according to the Congressional Research Service and the fees
range between $2.28 and $150 on state lands in the region.
Bundy, who now owes the U.S. taxpayers a sum in excess of $1,000,000
for refusing to pay for permits and for illegally grazing his cattle on
public lands, defended his behavior by insisting that he does not
recognize the sovereignty of the United States government. In November
1998, Bundy made the same nutty argument in the U.S. District Court for
The court decisively rejected that argument and held
"...the public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States
because the United States has held title to those public lands since
1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the United States" under Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War which was 16
years before the State of Nevada even existed. In the light of the
Union's victory over the advocates of state sovereignty in the Civil War
and the unambiguous text of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, only
the historically illiterate would be surprised that the court also
rejected Bundy's claim that Nevada law in some mysterious way should
trump federal law.
As a result of that litigation, the
court ordered Bundy to remove any non-permitted cattle from BLM land by
the end of November 1989 and the presiding judge issued a judgment that
provided that, in the event of any future violations of the court's
orders, Bundy would be fined $200 per day for each cow without a permit
that he refused to remove from federal public lands.
1998, Bundy has willfully violated the court's orders and he expanded
his illegal grazing onto additional acreage of BLM land. In 2013, the
court gave Bundy 45 days to remove his cattle and authorized the Bureau
of Land Management to impound any cattle Bundy failed to remove. The
confrontation reached a crescendo when armed "militia" gathered on
Bundy's ranch and aimed semi-automatic weapons at Bureau of Land
management agents from a bridge overpass.
overtly racist remarks became an additional source of controversy, his
expansive perception of his private rights - as opposed to his duties as
a citizen - were enthusiastically endorsed by the Neanderthal caucus of
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul excused Bundy's theft
of public property and, in a brazen act of demagoguery, accused the
federal government of heavy-handedness and proclaimed that the "federal
government shouldn't violate the law." Previously, in a 2002 letter to
the Bowling Green Daily News, Paul had made a similar ludicrous
argument about the U.S. Fair Housing Act when he insisted that it
"ignores the distinction between private and public property," and that
"Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free
society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will
Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared on "CBS This
Morning," and when asked about Bundy's comments, replied. "I don't know
what he said but the fact is Cliven Bundy is a side issue here compared
to what we're looking at in the state of Texas. He is an individual -
deal with his issues as you may. What we have in the state of Texas, I
don't get distracted about, is the federal government is coming in and
attempting, from our perspective, to take over private property. And you
must -- if this country's to stay the land of freedom and liberty,
private property rights must be respected."
Not to be
outdone, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that the ongoing standoff between
Bundy and the executive and judicial branches of federal government
exemplified the Obama Administration's "jackboot of authoritarianism."
In a separate interview on Texas radio, Cruz expressed uncritical
support for the heavily-armed thugs who had threatened federal agents
and whom Nevada Senator Harry Reid had correctly denounced as domestic
The alleged grievances that stoke the ire of
Cliven Bundy and the GOP's rightwing stem from a shared mythology that
views society as merely an aggregation of private interests that are
relentlessly and enthusiastically competing against one another in a
glorious quest to acquire ever more private property - or stuff in the
immortal words of George Carlin. Government - to the extent to which it
seeks to curb the excesses caused by that mindset and impose restraints
- thus becomes the enemy.
This worldview draws its values
from a narrow and uniquely American understanding of the tradition of
classical liberalism that emerged after the Protestant Reformation. That
tradition was inspired by the writings Thomas Hobbes, and, most
importantly, John Locke and his intellectual disciples, David Hume and
Locke's politics then became the template upon
which the Founding Fathers encoded the constitutional machinery of the
United States. Because it became embedded into popular consciousness,
the gospel of selfishness had already found a receptive and enthusiastic
audience long before Ayn Rand's "Objectivism" was touted by
libertarians such as Congressmen Paul Ryan and Senator Paul as something
new and profound.
Locke argued - as almost all GOP leaders
today would agree - that the individual is the only concrete realty,
that society is a phantasm, and that "government is an artificial
construct created solely by contract." Locke thus sought to asserted
that the role of government to that of a passive arbiter - an umpire -
and claimed that "The great and chief end of men uniting into
commonwealth and putting themselves under government is the preservation
of their property."
Locke's labor theory of value, based
upon an absurd and intellectually indefensible historic fiction, has
nonetheless become the conventional justification for private ownership
of property in Anglo-American common law: "The 'labour' of his body and
the 'work' of his hands, we may say, are his property. Whatsoever, then,
he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in,
he hath mixed his labour with it, and joining to it something that is
his own, and thereby makes it his property."
Of course, the
current defenders of unlimited private property rights fail to remember
that here in the U.S. the land was already occupied by an indigenous
people - the Indians - who harbored a quaint belief that the Great
Spirit had given the land to everyone in common. What distinguished
their concept of ownership from the European settlers wasn't Locke's
theory of private property but, rather, the latter's literacy skills.
Upon their arrival in colonies, the Europeans immediately devised
written titles to the land they occupied and early on created Registries
of Deeds to document and protect their ownership interests. The land
grab was completed with the American Revolution, after which the last
vestiges of the crown' titles and the properties of the vanquished
Loyalists were expropriated by the victorious Patriots.
Proudhon and Marx were not the first to question whether property was a
social or a private right. Centuries before Locke, Thomas Aquinas
taught that, since God endowed each man in his own image and likeness,
man had become the steward for the earth, and for all of its creatures
and its bounty. As Aquinas observed, "It is lawful for a man to hold
private property" but "Man should not consider his outward possessions
as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation
when others are in need ..."
For that reason Catholic social philosophy to the present - epitomized by Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel
- remains deeply skeptical about arguments for an unregulated market
economy dominated by the profit motive and the accumulation of wealth.
In contrast to the ideology of radical ant-social individualism
espoused by Cliven Bundy and so many others on the American right,
Aquinas also taught that, with respect to relations among one another,
human beings are obliged to seek as the summum bonum - the
highest good - which is synonymous with justice. As the primary object
of all human aspiration, true justice is something that can be achieved
only through the law acting as an instrument of the social order.
Aquinas quoted Isodore, "Laws are enacted for no private profit, but for
the common benefit of citizens." Further, "A law properly speaking,
regards first and foremost the order of the common good..."
In addition, Aquinas insisted that justice is based upon a notion of
proportionality: "Justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each one
his due by a constant and perpetual will" and "Just as love of God
includes love of one's neighbor,...so is the service of God rendering to
each one his due." Finally, Aquinas invokes Cicero to the effect that
"...'the object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual
intercourse.' Now this implies a relationship of one man to another.
Therefore justice is concerned only about our dealings with others."
Catholic social thought to the present emphasizes that the state
exists to serve the needs of civil society; not as classical liberals
would have it, the needs of individuals. As such, the state should not
be viewed as a passive instrument designed solely to protect private
property or to protect rights, as distinguished from obligations.
Instead, consistent with the teaching of St. Thomas of Aquinas, the
French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain reminds us that "...the
primary reason for which men, united in political society, need the
State, is the order of justice. On the other hand, social justice is the
crucial need of modern societies. As a result, the primary duty of the
modern state is the enforcement of social justice."
In his insightful book What Money Can't Buy,
Harvard Government Professor Michael Sandel warns that market values
have begun to displace all other values in civil society. As the power
of the market economy and its arbiters, through their ability to
influence discourse in the public square, increasingly call the tunes to
which our political leaders feel obliged to dance, human relationships,
the legal system, science, and even knowledge itself have become
subordinate to short-term economic concerns and pre-occupations. It is
only in the context of such a twisted and deformed culture that a Cliven
Bundy could emerge as the avatar of a victimized American.
As an early observer of the newly-created republic, Alexis
deToucqueville was prescient about the deleterious effects that an
individualism run amok could have upon the American project. As he
noted, "Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at
first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it
attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright
selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not
belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of
democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the
equality of condition."
Cliven Bundy and his militia of armed, maniacal supporters are
low-information, internet-driven anarchists who are unable to grasp the
implications of their profoundly anti-social and illegal behavior. Can
the same be said for those self-appointed spokesmen for the GOP who
should know better?
Let's all hope it's not too late for sanity to prevail.
Nothing illustrates the impoverishment of political discourse in
the United States today than the emergence of U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and
Rand Paul as potential GOP presidential candidates, both of whom have
expressed support for libertarian political ideas.
As a political movement, libertarianism in the United States traces its
ancestry to the writings of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and
Milton Friedman who urged a return to the ideas of classical liberalism
with its emphasis upon extreme anti-social individualism, negative
freedom, individual rights, protection of private property, the
inviolability of contacts, minimal government and laissez-faire
economics. In its American expression, classical liberalism owes its
inspiration to an extremely selective emphasis upon a number of ideas
expressed in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith,
David Hume and David Ricardo, as their ideas were extrapolated and
applied to the American political experience by Jefferson, Madsion,
Adams and others.
When Ted Cruz first ran for the United
States Senate, he professed to be an advocate of limited government,
states' rights, an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, and
hostility to government regulation of the economy. Cruz's support for
libertarian ideas and his antipathy to government regulation of the
economy date back to his early adolescence when, reportedly at the age
of thirteen, his father enrolled him in an entity called "the Free
Market Education Foundation." In that study group, which apparently was
organized in manner somewhat similar to early twentieth century Marxist
indoctrination groups, Cruz was schooled in the "free-market"
ideologies of economic philosophers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich
Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
In a similar vein, Rand Paul, son
of the former Republican Congressman and Libertarian Party presidential
candidate Ron Paul describes himself as a libertarian. As a U.S.
Senator, he has expressed support for term limits for Congress, a
balanced budget amendment, and extensive reductions in federal taxation,
and spending, especially as the latter relates to helping the poorest
As one example, in 2012, Senator Paul advocated
substantially reducing the food stamp program because of the various
wastes and fraudulent activities that have been perpetrated by some of
its users. "We do not have an endless supply of money. I think that
Americans would be just flabbergasted at the amount of money and some of
these programs are duplicative so people getting food stamps for a meal
are also getting a free lunch at school. Some of these programs were
actually advertising for applicants," he said. "In my hometown they
advertised to try to promote to get people to come in and eat the free
lunch during the summer time. It's not that we won't help people, we
just need to be conscious of how much money we have and can we help only
those who cannot help themselves?"
There are important
questions that need to be asked of both of these Senators and of
libertarians in general, but that are rarely, if ever, raised in the
mainstream media. Are their ideas desirable or workable? Would
families in the United States be better or worse off government
regulation, including environmental and safety laws, food and drug laws,
anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws, and labor laws, all
already weak by European standards, were further relaxed and government
taxation and regulation of businesses and corporations was
The evidence of the last forty plus
years in which government regulation of the economy has been rolled
back, while the wages of employees have continued to decline and as the
U.S. became a net debtor, service economy in which corporations, in the
name of freed trade, outsourced almost all of this country's
manufacturing capacity, suggests otherwise.
All of the
grim economic news that continues to hobble the U.S. economy confirms
one of the central paradoxes of libertarian political philosophy as it
plays out in the liberal democracy of the United States: the inability
of that ideology to reconcile the tension between the pursuit of
self-interest and equality. If self-interest, as expressed in the
pursuit and acquisition of property, is a natural right since, as Locke
put it, "God gave it to the use of the industrious and the rational (and
labour was to be his title to it)" and the primary role of government
is the protection of that property, isn't it inevitable that, over the
span of generations, because of the complicity in not protecting such
inheritances, and because of social and genetic distinctions among "the
industrious and the rational" and those who are not, inequality will
The magnitude and the duration of the existing
economic crisis raises other questions that libertarians and classical
liberal ideology --and the latter's economic expression, market
capitalism--cannot answer. Of what value is the meaning of individualism
to most individuals if, in the competitive roulette of "survival of the
fittest," the fit and the victors increasingly number only a few, while a
significant number of the population are vanquished or declared to be
Isn't the pursuit of self-interest by individuals,
each of whom is in competition with all others, self-defeating? Doesn't
unfettered competition often have deleterious effects upon the public
interest? Isn't it an economic fact of life that, in a market economy,
individual actors--whether human beings, corporations or governmental
units--seek to maximize their advantages and to minimize their risks in a
capitalist economy? Isn't it also true that, when each actor
"hunkers down" during an economic crisis, the self-replicating
behavior--as reflected in job losses, withdrawal of investment and the
collapse of consumer demand--ripples through the economy to the detriment
of all but the few, most fortunate? Doesn't that behavior then
exacerbate the very problems that individual actors seek to inoculate
themselves against, the public consequences of their behavior be damned?
At that point, doesn't Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons become rather than a parable, an empirical reality?
Doesn't even Locke's concept of negative freedom--because it does not
provide for an economic underpinning--become, especially in times of
economic misery, a platitude or a meaningless abstraction?
The historian Thomas Franks has expressed his suspicions about the
reasons why libertarian ideas have been able to insinuate themselves so
prominently into the public square, "Libertarianism," he argues,
"helps conservatives pass off a patently probusiness political agenda
as a noble bid for human freedom. Whatever we may think of
libertarianism as a set of ideas, practically speaking, it is a doctrine
that owes its visibility to the obvious charms it holds for the wealthy
and the powerful. The reason we have so many well-funded libertarians
in American these days is not because libertarianism suddenly acquired
an enormous grassroots following, but because it appeals to those who
are able to fund ideas. Like social Darwinism and Christian Science
before it, libertarianism flatters the successful and rationalizes their
core beliefs about the world. They warm to the libertarian idea that
taxation is theft because they themselves don't like to pay taxes. They
fancy the libertarian notion that regulation is communist because they
themselves find regulation intrusive and annoying."
suspicion that, aside from protecting and promoting economic
self-interests, libertarians are not really concerned about freedom for
ordinary people is exemplified by Rand Paul's unqualified endorsement of
government intrusion into the bedrooms of Americans and his support for
the micro-regulation of every woman's uterus. His website proudly
proclaims, "I am 100% pro-life. I believe life begins at conception and
that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. It is the duty
of our government to protect this life as a right guaranteed under the
Constitution. For this reason, I introduced S. 583, the Life at
Conception Act on March 14, 2013. This bill would extend the
Constitutional protection of life to the unborn from the time of
Ted Cruz insists that he, too, is
"pro-life," and that the only exception to abortion that he would allow
is when a pregnancy endangers the mother's life; and he opposes same-sex
marriage, professing his belief that marriage is "between one man and
The late Christopher Hitchens once observed, "I
have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement
[Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish
The irony is that self-proclaimed libertarians such
as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have entered into Faustian bargains with the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which they have agreed to support the most
selfish agendas of the economic elite, no matter how short-sighted,
destructive or harmful such policies may be to the immediate and
long-term best interests of the constituents they claim to actually
represent or to the public interest. Their hypocrisy and illogic speak
volumes about their qualifications for public office and are a sad
commentary on the intelligence of the voters of Kentucky and Texas to
whom they pandered so successfully.