Allowing Opponents to Define Us

I am part of a group of gentlemen who meet once a week to discuss various topics that capture our interest at the moment. We are mostly white, retired, male professionals, who consider ourselves progressive, but that does not mean we are all of one mind and view. Meeting the morning after the storming of the Capitol, we engaged in a lively discussion. As our Zoom meeting went on a couple comments caught my attention. Some in the group referred to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as the extreme left and far-left. Another of our group later called Bernie Sanders and the program he advocates as being radical.

What is most revealing to me in these comments is how it highlights the overwhelming success of the right in defining the opposition and putting it into the most negative context. More disturbing is seeing how their successful labeling infiltrated the center and liberal moderates in the Democratic Party. The evidence is made manifest by their perception of the most progressive portion of the Democratic Party coalition as being too radical, extreme, and far-left.

Republicans see the Democratic Party, no matter how conservative it becomes, as radical, socialist, and a bunch of communists. The success of the right in their labeling efforts is evident in the rightward movement of the Democratic Party since at least LBJ. Its embracing neoliberal policies and ideas are an abandonment of labor, the working poor, the poor, and indigent. It is an abandonment of all the reasons I embraced this party in my youth.

The assertions by more conservative Democrats that Bernie Sanders, his ideas, and followers are radical or extreme demonstrates how successful the right has been in defining the Democratic Party. Viewed globally, Bernie Sanders is maybe, at best, a liberal moderate. For perspective, it is worth remembering the proposed Second Bill of Rights Franklin Roosevelt laid out during his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944. It included:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

 When you compare FDR’s Second Bill of Rights with Sanders’ proposals, you might notice the similarities. Sanders added environmental and climate change issues and updated or restated much of what Roosevelt proposed 76 years ago. Was FDR a radical? Were Democrats radicals in 1944? Of course, Republicans thought so. They always do, so why do we care? Should not we instead be asking what happened? Why have we Americans not enacted the protections and programs that have been embraced by every other advanced country on the planet? Our failure to do these things has led us to this moment.

Following Mitch McConnell’s successful guidance of the Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court through the Senate, a joke emerged. It went like this: Democrats had been locked in a room and given paints of many colors. McConnell did this, knowing they would argue endlessly over the color to use and never bother working to unlock the door. It is a scathing commentary on the current Democratic Party leadership..

At this moment, Democrats are unable to agree on getting rid of the slave era filibuster rule and are being bullied by McConnell and Republicans to back off from much-needed programs. They ponder while Republicans are swiftly turning a disaster caused by the attempted coup into a rallying cry. They are redefining what happened before our eyes as Democrats sit dumbfounded.

It presents an astute observation and makes an important point. Democrats spend a lot of time fighting each other. And more importantly, they do so by allowing Republicans to define who and what they are.

The mob of insurrectionists, wannabe revolutionaries, and crowd followers that assaulted the Capitol exhibiting their anger, frustration, and woeful ignorance, present us with a problem not easily fixed. After what we have witnessed, the current Republican Party cannot be entrusted to govern. Democrats must find the courage to take command and not to be dominated and defined by the right.

Tragically, recent reports and comments suggest McConnell is still in charge of the Senate and manipulating Democrats to have his way. The failure to get rid of the filibuster first used by John C Calhoun in the 1840s to protect the slave interest does not bode well for enacting meaningful change.

Power is of no value if you fail to use it. Democrats need to take command and control of the message. They need to define themselves and not allow themselves to be labeled by Republicans and right-wing media outlets. Timidity is not an option for this moment when so much is at risk. Our future is at peril, and lives threatened by extremists in our midst hang in the balance.  

Also at Jerrymlawson.medium.com

“A Republic If You Can Keep It” – America’s Slide into the Abyss

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.

November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.

I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.

As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.

This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.

It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.

To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.

In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic

In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.

A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.

The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.

When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.

I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.

Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.

Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?

Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?

We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.

If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.

See also : Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Revolution? Civil War? Really?

Photo by Maan Limburg on Unsplash

Photo by Maan Limburg on Unsplash

Reflecting on the assault on the Capitol, lyrics of the Beatles song Revolution came back to memory. It seemed like an appropriate place to discuss where we find ourselves and the future we will shape or surrender.

“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world”

We all want to change the world. We all want a better life for ourselves, our families, loved ones, and our nation. It is not difficult to understand when a large segment of society is passed over, ignored, devalued, and forgotten by those who control the levers of power, that sooner or later, like a pressure cooker with a faulty pressure gauge, there is going to be an explosion.

The rebellion from the right we are seeing is a consequence of decades of neglect by our political system and both major political parties. Donald Trump, the wannabe dictator, and god-emperor was able to tap into and take advantage of this energy. He may not be the all-knowing stable genius, but he understands the disrespect, pain, frustration, and anger of a large segment of our society that has been ignored and left behind by technology, globalization, and the hoarding of wealth by a few. Trump is cunning in his manipulation of their feelings. He has conned them to believe he cares about them and speaks for them as all blame is placed on favored scapegoats. He tunes in to their fears using race, ethnicity, immigration, climate change denial, and his political opponents as targets to both deflect and direct their anger.

We most certainly have an abundance of problems. There is no denying many are angry and frustrated. Trump’s success in mobilizing these groups has been greatly enhanced by the ignorance of many of his followers. We have lied to and dumbed down American society over the past several decades with deliberate intention. It began with the Powell Memo written by future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 that was a blueprint for corporate domination of American democracy.

“You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan”

The memo was a reaction to what many on the right and in corporate board rooms mistakenly believed was the threat posed by the demonstrations and acts of rebellion during the 1960s for civil rights and in opposition to the Vietnam War. In short, they panicked.

Their efforts to gain control and undermine everything in American society they identified as being a leftist threat was successful beyond their dreams as time progressed. The Reagan presidency, with the addition of neoliberalism and its adoption by the Democratic Party under the leadership of the so-called new Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and ultimately Barak Obama, opened doors to opportunities only dreamed about.

The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was interpreted as a hint there was no longer any need to pursue changes to help the poor and the working poor. The impetus and necessity for reform were felt not only no longer necessary but not desirable. The emphasis was on getting all we could for ourselves. Others were on their own.

After more decades of neglect and seeing their jobs leave and being forced to take low-paying service jobs and struggling to make a living, the anger reached a boiling point. What we witnessed in the invasion of the Capitol Building was only a prelude.

“You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We’d all love to change your head”

It is easy to talk ourselves into getting our guns and pumping ourselves up to go out and make revolution or civil war without any clue or idea of what that really means. They have some romanticized notion of overthrowing what they see as the evil order creating their misery. All they have to do is show up in force with their weaponry and take over. Unfortunately, nothing is ever what we envision in our fantasies. Going down this path, we open doors with no idea and no control of the outcome Once you initiate this kind of action, the process takes over, and no one has the slightest idea of where it will end up. You should not believe and accept my word on this. You need to study history and discover for yourself.

Our own revolution in 1776 went in directions no one envisioned. What emerged in 1787 was not what most thought or would have wanted at the beginning. We can see what happened in France after 1789, in Russia after 1917, and elsewhere.

We all share the same wish. We want good-paying jobs, enough income to be comfortable and provide for our families. We disagree on the best way to achieve these dreams. In a society such as ours, there are inevitably divergent views. If we take the time to listen, we may discover we agree on far more than we disagree. Our government needs serious reform. The checks and balances our founders put in place 234 years ago have been breached, perverted, and neutralized by those who put their personal interests above the rest of us. The system is broken, and the social contract voided. The fault is our own, by our collective apathy and neglect.

“You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead”

As I watched in horrified silence at the assault on the Capitol, I recalled words spoken to me by a Russian emigre student in my U.S. History class in the late 1990s. He and his family had been forced to flee Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We were discussing a historical event after class when he looked at my eyes. “You Americans are always in a hurry, but you don’t know where you’re going…You don’t realize how fast it can all go away.” At this moment I am reflecting on those words.

The way forward is for us to listen to the anger, frustration, pain, and feelings of disrespect and abandonment. We must be willing to listen and respond to their calls for help. We need to acknowledge their grievances and design programs to address their needs. We all occupy the same boat. If we fail to fix the leak at the bottom, those below may drown first, but we will all drown in the end.

See also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Reflections from Flyover Country After January 6, 2021

Rural Indiana

The scenes were horrific. Watching the mob swarm and desecrate the U. S. Capitol, I sat mesmerized. I did not want to believe what I was seeing. I was enraged by images of hate being paraded, the Klan, Nazis, militia wannabes, Holocaust deniers, and particularly seeing the ultimate symbol of treason, the Confederate battle flag. I was dumbfounded by the lack of preparation for this attack. It seems obvious the mob had complicit help from those who are entrusted with protecting the building and all of us?

While what I saw was horrifying, I was not surprised. My use of the term “flyover country” in the title was intentional. I recently read Sarah Kendzior’s incredibly insightful books Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America and The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches From the Forgotten America. More importantly, I was born and have lived in flyover country all my life. 

I grew up in a north-central Indiana community of around 12,000 during the 1950s and 1960s. The town had three Black families, all of whom lived in my neighborhood. Racism was not displayed overtly. It was more subtle. There were no problems as long as they stayed in their place. They understood this very well. 

The 1950s were boom years across my area of Indiana. The shortage of labor resulted in businesses seeking workers, especially low-paid workers from elsewhere. My town experienced a large influx of families seeking work from impoverished areas of Eastern Kentucky coal country. They were poor, white, and their view of the world fit with local beliefs and attitudes. 

It is no mystery or surprise this area of Indiana possessed a rural outlook. Most of the population was one generation removed from the farm, very conservative in outlook and holding prejudices against anyone different. Jews, Catholics, and Blacks were at the top of the hate list, but it did not end there. The Mexican field workers who came every summer to pick tomatoes at area farms were referred to in several uncomplimentary ways. I grew up hearing every dog whistle and derogatory characterization imaginable in referring to or identifying them from relatives, friends, and neighbors.

After my older brother joined the United States Air Force and was investigated for a security clearance, we learned an uncle by marriage had been a member of the KKK. In the 1930s, the Klan was powerful in Indiana and controlled the state and the governorship. 

I remember family political discussions centered around the Russians and the communist menace. My relatives and neighbors seemed to believe godless commies were everywhere, and we had to be vigilant. I heard them say the commies were meeting secretly at some rural location to plot their overthrow of our government. I overheard some of my relatives say that the barber who cut my hair was one of them, probably because he was a Democrat. 

Why am I sharing this with you? Because what happened on January 6, 2021, has a past. It did not suddenly appear. We should pay close attention to the issues, pain, and frustration that lead them to follow a demagogue and seek to undo an election, defile the Capitol, and overthrow our government. 

As a city dweller, it is easy to overlook what is happening just outside our doors, beyond the sprawl of suburbs and the appearance of plentitude. Owning a lake cottage in rural Indiana for some time, I became reacquainted with the America that exists, hiding in plain sight. If more of us took time to see, we would be taken aback by what we discover a short distance from our backyards.

The counties in northern Indiana are known for their lakes and large Amish populations. It has also been home to some interesting religious groups. The fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday built and preached at a Tabernacle on Winona Lake by Warsaw, Indiana. Ultra-conservative Grace College occupies that space today. Evangelist and faith healer Hobart Freeman, a graduate Grace College and founder of the Faith Assembly, a cult that refused drugs and medications and met in a barn called the Glory Barn near North Webster, Indiana. Another cultish religious group, the Way International, was once headquartered in nearby Rome City. These Northern Indiana counties were at the center of the Meth Lab culture. It was and is a hotbed for the Tea Party movement. Extreme conservative religious and political beliefs are two of the region’s identifying characteristics.

This is the heart of Trump country. He won this area of the state by 30-40 percentage points in 2016, and it was pretty much the same in 2020. The reasons are all too evident. Take a trip down backcountry roads where a reality you do not see on the evening news is revealed. I was shocked and mortified witnessing the deteriorating conditions of lives. The squalor and poverty are evident. It continues to grow like cancer spreading and infecting everything in its path. The desperation is apparent and visible from pickup trucks sporting twin flags of either an American flag and a Trump 2020 banner or an American flag flanked by the Confederate one. I saw levels of poverty I had not seen since my youth visiting my father in South Central Kentucky, in the early 1960s. Here you see society literally decaying and disintegrating from the inside out. It exposes what has taken place all over the U.S. as jobs left followed by the slow strangulation of services that support lives.  

One thing that captured my attention exploring these communities was their jails. The County courthouse was always the dominant structure. It was the largest building in town, usually dominating the main square in every county seat. Today things have changed. The prominence of the courthouse has been replaced the county jail. It seems every county has a big, new jail and Sheriff Department headquarters. You cannot help but feel we have our priorities confused and headed in the wrong direction.

Another insight I have taken away from these explorations into rural Indiana is disconcerting. For one, people are warm, friendly, and helpful. Life here is at a slower pace. The stars are visible in the night sky. They relish viewing the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Conversely, many suffer from ignorance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, religious fundamentalism, and bigotry. Their behavior reveals an underlying fear and distrust for people of color or of another ethnicity. Their form of conservatism incorporates extreme intolerance. Whipped up, they are capable of committing the most terrible and horrific acts against those who dare to be at variance or antithetical. This is the reality in this part of the heartland. This is the danger we face as we meet the future. 

My wife was confronted and threatened by a farmer after she stopped on a county road to take a picture of a country scene that caught her attention. The farmer came out of his house and yelled at her not to take a picture of his property.

A couple years ago, I took the time to watch the corporate network news and log the location of the stories they aired. As time passed, what emerged was predictable. With rare exception, all the stories were from the coasts. The exceptions included a few scattered stories from Chicago, Denver, or elsewhere with importance or significance. Many of the stories were done in New York City or its immediate environs. It hints at the bias and blindness of corporate media and why Sarah Kendzior’s book, The View From Flyover Country, is so apt.

If the corporate media elite left their comfortable office towers and ventured inland, they might discover why the mob storming the Capitol was no surprise. Their anger and rage have been building for decades, fueled by both political parties’ abandonment of the working and rural poor. Their pain has been ignored. The millions who live in the so-called rust belt where industries vanished, jobs melted away, and vital and essential services dwindled, evaporated, and disappeared were forgotten and ignored.

Daggett, CA

In October 2019, I joined my sons in California to chase the Union Pacific Railroad’s restored “Big Boy” steam locomotive 4044. It came to Los Angeles as part of a system-wide excursion celebrating its restoration to service. We went out to the Yermo, California UP rail yard east of Barstow where it had stopped overnight on its journey. We ventured there to get close to this magnificent example of steam locomotion technology, but that is not all that attracted my attention. The road taking us to the locomotive took us down a desert highway through areas reminding me of a Mad Max movie set. We passed dilapidated homes sporting scrap sheet metal fences. The hulks of abandoned vehicles served as crude monuments or sculptures gracing barren yards. We stopped to eat at Peggy Sue’s famous 50s Diner for dinner before driving through Daggett, a town divided in two by the railroad. Half the homes seemed to be occupied, and the remainder appeared abandoned and deteriorating. This is the other America that has been and is being ignored. This is America where Donald Trump did very well. This is where the anger seethes and builds just below the surface, waiting to explode like a dormant volcano.

See also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Fragile!

80%+                                                                                15%             1-5%

2015-09-09 17.23.53

Human civilization is, when you look closely, extremely fragile. The above graphic represents all of humanity divided into three groups. This graphic is not a representation of wealth. The correlation between the knowledge and skills depicted here and wealth is not strong.

The smallest circle on the right represents the portion of humanity that is highly trained, knowledgeable and substantially understands the science, technology and ideas defining, underlying, and driving civilization. These are the scientists, thinkers, and others who imagine, create, and transform their ideas into reality.

The second group representing about 15% is the portion of humanity who possess knowledge and understanding of the ideas and creations of the first group in general ways and are key in helping keep everything working. This group is the bulk of the educated elite in society, those responsible for providing the organizational and support skills vital to keeping everything working and growing. They understand the ideas and innovations of the first group and there implications, and are key in the smooth functioning and advancing of human civilization.

The 80% of humanity in the third group represent the muscle of society that provides the labor and support to create the wealth we all take for granted and benefit. But while this group is vital to the stability of society, they are, on the whole, less educated and have little or no understanding of the science and ideas that underlie the comforts, the technology, and virtually everything they take for granted and depend upon for making all our lives comfortable. This statement is not intended to be insulting or demeaning, merely a reality.

The vast majority that comprise this group, represent most of us. We know how to turn something on or off. We know how to use the device or tool, but have little understanding how or why it works or how to build one. Most of us really don’t care, we only want it to perform the task and do the job it is designed to do and we want done. We can change the battery and if it fails we can buy a new one, but beyond that we are virtually helpless.

The darker side of this reality is most of us go about our lives doing the work and enjoying the use of the technology and tools available to us while holding on to the narrow beliefs, superstitions and ignorance that have been passed down to us.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out if something happens to the 5% who think and create, our civilization is in deep trouble. In fact we have history to help us understand what will happen. We need look only to the fall of Rome and the nearly 1000 years of ignorance and darkness that followed.

In 537-538 A.D. Rome was under siege by an Ostrogoth army, but Rome was too large for the Goths to encircle completely so they blockaded the city’s entrances to starve them out and then blocked the aqueducts that provided Rome’s water. Without water the city couldn’t support its large population of almost a million people. Since no one remained with the skills necessary to repair these aqueducts once the siege was lifted, the people had no choice but to abandon the city. Rome’s population quickly dwindled to around 10,000.

In the past few months we have witnessed ISIS destroying the irreplaceable artifacts and archaeological treasures of Syria and Iraq. Less than two years ago a fanatical group gained control of Timbuktu and set its treasured library filled with priceless manuscripts ablaze. The difference between the space age and the Stone Age is a slim and very vulnerable veneer of knowledge and understanding of relatively few people. It illustrates rather dramatically our failure to transmit our values; knowledge and understanding to the widest possible audience in our country and to the rest of humanity occupying this planet we share. Each day we live on hope-the hope an asteroid or comet won’t hit the earth, the hope a pandemic of some kind won’t wipe out most humanity, doing to us what Europeans did to Native Americans when they arrived in the Americas 500 years ago. We live in denial of the evidence our science has provided. We live in denial of the ideals and values that the tests of time and human experience have provided us.

Human culture and civilization is extremely fragile and held together with not much more than a wish and a hope, but we have it within our means to protect, copy, duplicate and protect all we have learned and thereby create an insurance policy against planetary catastrophe whatever form it might take. We now have the knowledge, skills, expertise, devices and means to make this a reality. The digitization of knowledge is already underway. Just as humanity has built seed banks in various places on the earth, we can create multiple depositories of human knowledge and achievement. We owe this to our predecessors and our descendants. This is one project that is a benefit to all human beings and all life on this earth we call home.

_________________________

Graphic: author’s own.

The Gathering Darkness

Do you remember the popular late 70s early 80s TV series –The Six Million Dollar Man staring Lee Majors that opened with the words “We can remake him. We can make him better?” The premise was the Majors character had been injured beyond recognition, but with the aid of technology could be remade into a stronger more powerful version of himself.

This was science fiction and we liked it. It allowed us to lose ourselves in a fanciful “what if.” But we should have paid more attention and given more thought to where this new technology was leading us. While the idea expressed in the opening of the show, “We can remake him” applied to a man, what we missed was what corporate America was already beginning to recognize was possible for remaking not only our society, but remaking us. What followed was the unleashing of an avalanche of technology and a Tsunami of information that has overwhelmed, buried and threatens to drown us in details while a few oligarchs and corporatists twist the meaning of America into something they control and manipulate for their own ends and to satisfy their own greed.

In the United States the top 1% control 42% of the wealth. The top 5% control 69% of the wealth; the top 10% control 80%, and the top 20% control 93% of America’s wealth. The ratio of CEO pay to the average worker in the U.S. is at an unbelievable 475:1! CEO compensation in no other nation on the planet is remotely close to the U.S. Compared to some of our biggest competitors (Japan 11:1, Germany 12:1, Canada 20:1, Britain 22:1) the scale is mind-boggling. It is no wonder then our two so-called political parties together represent only the top 20%. In the presidential election campaign in 2012 neither party bothered to more than mention the plight of working class America. They mentioned the middle class occasionally, but neither paid attention to the 80% of us who make the lives of wealth and luxury enjoyed by so few possible through our work and consumption.

Financial Wealth Distribution, 2007

The poor have little income and so don’t figure into the calculus of our electoral system other than the necessity of trying to manipulate their voting habits on Election Day. Poor and minority voters are being suppressed and denied their right to vote. Control of the electoral process begins with control over who votes. Our country is being made over. Our belief systems are being slowly altered and twisted toward acceptance of the new order. We are being homogenized and are expected to conform. We can be different as long as we all fit in. The principal propaganda organs, the corporate news, are selective in their coverage of events. Presentation is carefully managed to give us the approved picture. Managed news is our new reality. No one “thinks” until the thought shapers on talk radio and TV give their blessing to the new orthodoxy. The manufacture of consent that began on Madison Avenue during World War I has fully matured. We think what we are told to think, and we do what we are told.

Those in the new ruling class use the tried and true methods of every past tyranny to perfection. Fear is the principle weapon. It is easy. It is convenient, and it is effective. We live our lives under constant media bombardment and assault telling us to be afraid of anything or anyone different, the weather, the sky, our shadows, and ourselves. It works. We are.

*Graph: Distribution of Financial Wealth in the U.S. 2007 appearing in Inequality of wealth and income helped cause our current economic problems by Nancy Abrams & Joel Primack, Sept. 11, 2011. blog,sfgate.com

 

Terrorist or jus’ havin’ fun – It’s all a matter of perspective

A few days following the 4th of July 2013 Bill O’Malley piloted his dad’s pontoon on a popular Northern Indiana lake while his kids along with all the grandkids went tubing. When one child fell off Bill circled around with the pontoon to pick him up. As he brought the boat around and into position he spied a white ball bobbing on the water. When he retrieved it he discovered it wasn’t a ball at all, but a homemade explosive. A plastic ball 6-8” in circumference had been cut in half, filled with gunpowder or TNT, heat sealed together and then taped. It had a hole drilled and a wick inserted in the top. Apparently the perpetrator(s) had lit the device and thrown it in the lake during or after the recently held holiday fireworks display, but it malfunctioned or the water extinguished it, and they left it to float on the busy lake filled with families and children during the biggest and busiest holiday of the summer.

Bill brought the device back and showed it to his dad. Recognizing what it was and the possible danger it represented they decided it best to put it someplace safe until after the busy weekend and everyone had gone home before placing it in the garbage. Bill put the device high above a window in the boathouse located beneath the large deck that faces the lake at the front of their cottage. Besides being the storage for boat motors and equipment it also has a refrigerator for drinks, snacks and other things that kept children and adults going in and out all weekend.

By Monday morning everyone had gone home and Bill’s dad, George, forgot about the device, and was in the garage nearby repairing a motor. At the same moment his wife, Roxie, was in the cottage working on a computer when an explosion knocked her off her chair. Running down the steps and to the back of the house Roxie didn’t see George and assumed he had been in the boathouse when the explosion occurred. In a panic she frantically yelled for neighbors to call 9-1-1.

The O’Malley’s boathouse has doors at both ends. Luckily those doors at that moment were open allowing the explosion to vent outward. Still it was powerful enough to blow one wall out including the door and sending fascia boards, vinyl siding and other debris almost 100 feet into the neighbors yard. Fortunately the blast did not cause a fire and since it vented out, it didn’t cause the three or more 5-gallon petro cans stored in the boathouse to ignite and explode with it. More importantly, there were no children playing outside.

It took the all-volunteer emergency services fire and EMS 20 minutes to answer the call, coming from a nearby lake community a few miles away. Being volunteers and amateurs they had no expertise in these matters, couldn’t determine a source and didn’t stick around to conduct an investigation.

After they left George finally remembered the device that Bill had put above the window for safekeeping. That turned out to be the source of the explosion. He and Roxie then went carefully over the interior of the boathouse (they had to clean up the debris) and found several pieces of what had been the plastic ball that contained the explosives.

George presumes this was a homemade fireworks device that someone carelessly left in the lake after it failed to explode. He is more generous than I am. Such a device raises a number of serious questions concerning who, what, where, when and why? Was this a homemade fireworks or a prototype? This area is riddled with people with extreme views. Militia ideas and extremist views are popular in this part of rural Indiana. For whatever reason the incident was never, to my knowledge, reported to any local police agency. The attitude and belief is that whoever the responsible individuals were, they were just some guys trying to have a bit of fun.

The ease in being able to make such a device suggests all the propaganda we are fed by government and media about “terrorism” is just that. Propaganda. It’s a false flag. We say we are worried about terrorists and see government intrude in every area of our lives, shred the Bill of Rights, spy on everything we do and yet we make no move to remove an obvious and openly available source for acquiring explosives for building weapons-FIREWORKS!

Do you recall the Boston Marathon bombings and how the Tsarnaev brothers bought the most powerful fireworks they could find to drain the gunpowder to make their pressure cooker bombs? They accomplished their goal with ease and without question or raising any suspicion what so ever. What are we thinking? Who are we kidding?

Anti-Vaxxers: a story

Today I did something I shouldn’t have to do. I had the first of two MMR shots. For those who do not know or remember, MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella. It’s a vaccination routinely given to all children after they reach 15 months age, or at least it was until the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement. Now some parents have come to believe vaccinations are dangerous, potentially harmful, cause autism and therefore choose not to vaccinate.

I appreciate these parents position although I believe them misguided and in denial of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. But my purpose here is to go beyond this point to tell a bit of a story.

Dolores was a 10-year-old elementary student in early January 1924 when she came home from school sporting sniffles and a bit of a cough. Her parents thought it was no more than a cold and paid no more attention, and her symptoms never became anything more severe.

Coming home from school Dolores joined in play, as she was fond of doing, with Warren, her 3 year-old brother. But this was no ordinary sniffle. Unknown to her or her parents, she was infected with a lethal bacterium known as diphtheria. Soon her brother was infected as was her older sister and the family was quarantined with notices nailed to the front door forbidding anyone from entering or leaving. All her parents could do was treat and comfort their children as best they could, and pray, and hope. The disease progressed rapidly, Warren died and her sister Fern was expected to join him, but at the last minute recovered. Throughout, Dolores never exhibited more than a slight cough and sniffles. She remembers that when Warren died the casket was displayed in the front window so it could be viewed from outside by caring friends and family. That is the way things were done in the early 1920s. Vaccines were few, scarce, and virtually unaffordable for most working families.

These events left a deep scar on Dolores that was torn open in 1938 when she learned her four-year-old son, Jackie, had spinal meningitis. There was little doctors could do for such a dreadful disease in Wabash, Indiana so they rushed him to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne where the prognosis wasn’t much better. Jackie spent the next several weeks in the hospital; his prospects for recovery or even survival were slim. He was paralyzed from the waist down and doctors thought that would be permanent if he survived.

Grim as the news was Dolores believed in miracles. Against all odds Jackie experienced a full recovery with a return of feeling to his extremities and use of his legs. Jackie returned home and the next several months were happy times filled with gratitude, thanks, and relief all had ended well.

But the meningitis left Jackie severely weakened and susceptible. He seemed normal and was enjoying his return to being like any other five-year-old boy when he jumped off a porch while playing and hurt his back. It seemed insignificant until the pain persisted and seemed to intensify. He was taken to the doctor and Dolores and her husband were informed their son had polio. Soon Jackie was again paralyzed from the waist down and back in Lutheran Hospital. This time there was no miracle. He never recovered the use of his legs and over the next several months his health continued to deteriorate until he finally gave up his fight. Dolores again felt the pain of a close personal loss caused by an enemy she couldn’t see or comprehend.

Dolores is my mother.

Years later in 1951 when I was in first grade one of my classmates, Tommy, was diagnosed with polio and missed most of the school year. I remember our class visiting him and how shocked I was to see him caged in an iron lung that literally breathed for him. I remember seeing pictures and on television countless children all in iron lungs, and thinking how dreadful and awful it would be to be trapped in that contraption and lie on your back, seeing the world around you through a small mirror placed above your head.

The anti-vaxxer movement has to be seen in context of the anti-science, anti-intellectual, and generally anti-authority time in which we find ourselves. But I question and doubt whether those opposed to vaccinations have any real idea of what kind of suffering-physically, mentally, or otherwise their actions and behavior imposes on others. They apparently think only of “their” rights without regard to the rights of others, particularly their own children, and fail to understand that “your” rights do not and cannot be allowed to impinge upon my or anyone else’s rights. The interests of the community weigh heavily in such matters.

The anti-vaxxers are devoid of such fears as the memory of polio evoked in Dolores that she inadvertently revealed by cautioning me in my activities at the start and during every summer of my childhood.

There was a great collective sigh of relief when Jonas Salk announced the development of a vaccine for polio. It was on TV, in newspapers, and the top topic of discussion everywhere. Jonas Salk could have made a fortune, but he chose instead to give the vaccine away. I remember receiving the polio shot and then the booster shot FREE when I was in junior high school in 1957. It was a major event. The whole school was immunized at the same time.

The Polio germ cannot exist for long in the environment and must continually be passed from host to host so eradication of the disease, like smallpox, is possible, and nearly reality in 2015.

Earlier this week I asked my 101 year-old mother if I had had the measles. She looked at me for a moment and said, “Your brother had them, but you never did.” So I asked my doctor for advice and today I took time to go get a MMR shot. While that isn’t a big deal in itself, it does represent, in my opinion, frivolous and selfish behavior by a few that have made this necessary for many others. I don’t mind getting the shot, but what I do mind are those on both sides of the political spectrum who by their refusal to have their own children vaccinated have imposed a potential peril on ours. The reasoning of the anti-vaxxer movement, whether generated by fears of autism, alleged religious grounds, or other reasons, doesn’t matter in comparison to the suffering their selfishness places on others.

Incident on a summer evening

In the summer of 1973 I had finished work on a graduate degree in history at Ball State University, and my wife Marsi and I were back in Fort Wayne, IN where she was a teacher. I had taken a job as a waiter (server) at a local seafood restaurant while we tried to figure out whether I was going on to pursue my doctorate, find a teaching position, or do something else.

We rented an upstairs apartment in a home owned by dear friends in an historic neighborhood next to the Maumee River. In addition, we had recently taken over care of “Scottie” my wife’s beloved Wire Hair Fox Terrier and kept him penned in the kitchen when we were out. On this particular evening Marsi was out when I returned, and all the lights in the apartment were off. Illumination was provided by two 150-watt floodlights mounted at the top of the stairs above the back door that not only lit up the backyard but also put a blinding glare in your eyes as you climbed the stairs to the apartment.

Coming home I did what I always did, I opened the door, but instead of flipping on the kitchen light I walked toward the hallway, forgetting the barrier we had placed to keep the dog penned. Naturally I tripped over the obstruction and fell. I knew my neighbor downstairs would hear the commotion so I tried to speak as loud as I could to explain what had happened. I then turned on lights and went about my routine as if nothing had happened.

It was a warm summer evening so I left the backdoor open. Our friends had enclosed and created a screened porch during their tenure and we spent much of our time on warm summer evenings there surrounded by a multitude of hanging plants.

A bit later I heard the thumping of feet of someone hurriedly climbing up the steps so I quickly went to the porch. The screened door was hooked so no one could walk in and I arrived the same time as my neighbor from below accompanied by a police officer.

The officer, looking straight into the bright spotlights could only see a black outline of my body the way a performer on stage is blinded by the stage lights from seeing the audience in front of him. My sudden appearance caught both of them a bit off guard and fortunately I spoke first asking if there was a problem, which was a good thing because the officer reflexively reached for his weapon. I explained what had happened and apologized for the noise, and my neighbor explained that hearing me fall he thought there was a burglar and had called the police.

Looking back it is easy to see how this incident could have ended with tragic consequences for all involved. Everything is a matter of circumstances, me tripping over the makeshift barricade, my neighbor assuming there was a burglar and calling the police, the back light shinning down the stairs, which blinded and prevented the police officer from seeing me clearly standing in the doorway and whether or not I constituted a threat.

That incident occurred in 1973. If it had occurred today there is every possibility I would have become a tragic casualty in a cascade of unlikely circumstances. Why? Because we live in a different society where everybody is assumed to be armed and dangerous leaving little room or time for law enforcement, or any of us, to make these kinds of decisions. We have allowed our thinking to become warped and twisted believing in a false need to arm ourselves for war and have created an atmosphere with a kill or be killed mentality that can only poison us all.

Police State Slowly Emerges From the Shadows

I read the title of the article this morning in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (23 Feb 2015), “Shadowy police spy devices stir fears for liberty” by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, describing a secret device that in some way simulates a cell phone tower and allows the police, or whomever has the device, to gather information not just about the potential perpetrator of a crime or other illegal activity, but anyone else in range of the device’s information gathering capabilities.

The device is so secret that the FBI has placed a gag order on discussing it on the grounds that such revelations would compromise its effectiveness. The device, dubbed “StingRay,” is a box about the size of a small suitcase, according to Nakashima. For added flexibility, there is also a hand-held version.

What the device does is simulate a cellphone tower and makes possible for those controlling it to extract signals from not just a particular phone, but also all mobile phones within range, including potentially hundreds of law-abiding innocent citizens going about trying to live their lives without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

This is a clear example of what happened to America once we started down the slippery post 9-11 slope driven by our fears. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “He who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither” may seem out-of-date to some in our technologically driven time, but believing that only illustrates how pervasive our collective ignorance of our own ideals and institutions is.

The truth is that once the federal government in the guise of the FBI, NSA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and others started opening the door to make illicit tools such as “StingRay” available to local law enforcement we should have been able to see that more harm would be caused than good. It is an iron law of bureaucratic behavior that such enhanced capabilities provided to the myriad number and variety of local and state law enforcement agencies throws the door wide open to misuse and abuse on scales we can’t currently imagine. Human behavior is predictable.

Is this not what James Madison and other of our founders took so many pains to guard us against? Does this not speak to the very core of what “limited government” truly means? Our founders were far more insightful and aware of the dangers of government at all levels not to have realized the necessity of keeping the beast in chains.

Now we have let loose the beast and there is no way short of great catastrophe of putting it back. It’s ironic how a few men living in caves and relying on horses for transport in a remote backwater of the planet whose great desire was to turn the world back to the seventh century accomplished what 50 years of cold war with the Soviet Union failed to do. In almost a heartbeat we gave away our most cherished rights and freedoms for the illusion of security. Who would have thought it would be so easy?

When we created this government 239 years ago, it was created to be our (the American people) agent, not our master and definitely not our jailer. I don’t know how we put the beast back in its cage, but to do nothing only insures soon we will be put in one of our own.