The Great American Class War

From Tom Dispatch:

Plutocracy Versus Democracy

By Bill Moyers
December 12, 2013

I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document.  By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country.  He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him.  He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”

Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?”  He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”

That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration.  How I wish he were here now — and still on the Court!

My interview with him was one of 12 episodes in that series on the Constitution.  Another concerned a case he had heard back in 1967.  It involved a teacher named Harry Keyishian who had been fired because he would not sign a New York State loyalty oath.  Justice Brennan ruled that the loyalty oath and other anti-subversive state statutes of that era violated First Amendment protections of academic freedom.

I tracked Keyishian down and interviewed him.  Justice Brennan watched that program and was fascinated to see the actual person behind the name on his decision.  The journalist Nat Hentoff, who followed Brennan’s work closely, wrote, “He may have seen hardly any of the litigants before him, but he searched for a sense of them in the cases that reached him.”  Watching the interview with Keyishian, he said, “It was the first time I had seen him.  Until then, I had no idea that he and the other teachers would have lost everything if the case had gone the other way.”

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The Growing Realization That Our Individual Struggles Are All Connected Makes This “Our Moment”

From Alternet:

When we become an inclusive movement that spreads its values widely, we will unite our base and grow to a point that cannot be ignored.

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
December 7, 2013

The above photograph from the NYC Light Brigade came at the end of an incredible day of action on December 5 when fast food workers in 100 cities walked off their jobs and joined with supporters in their communities to protest poverty wages. The photo proclaims “ALL OF US” with people holding signs that identify different members of the community; and proclaims “THIS IS OUR MOMENT.”

The solidarity at the fast food worker protests on December 5 echoed the solidarity seen on December 3 when people throughout the United States and around the globe protested toxic trade agreements especially the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And, that “ALL OF US” solidarity was seen last Friday, November 29 when workers walked out at 1,500 Walmarts with widespread community support at their rallies.

We are moving toward becoming a movement of movements that cannot be ignored because more people are coming to the realization that our individual struggles are all connected to a larger struggle and that we have more strength when we act together rather than alone. As the unity shown in that photograph becomes a reality, we will succeed in creating the kind of solidarity that will make this era “OUR MOMENT.”

Lessons From Nelson Mandela

South Africa is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela.  His vision for South Africa was of a rainbow – uniting all people, no one race white or black dominating others.  The liberation he sought was not only ending the racist and abusive apartheid system but also ending an economic system which allowed the white minority to profit while the black majority was impoverished.  He believed in human rights and democracy, questioned capitalism and was a socialist.   His vision of a country without poverty, with adequate housing for all and equal opportunity has not yet been realized. But he saw the whole and today the country is united around his legacy.

Mandela said, “The most vital task facing the democratic movement in this country is to unleash such struggles and to develop them on the basis of the concrete and immediate demands of the people from area to area. Only in this way can we build a powerful mass movement which is the only guarantee of ultimate victory in the struggle for democratic reforms.” In other words, Mandela saw the need to build a movement of movements connected in purpose but organized around the immediate needs and demands of various communities.

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Chomsky: It Is All Working Quite Well for the Rich, Powerful

From Truth Out:

By CJ Polychroniou and Anastasia Giamali
Sunday, 08 December 2013

This is a shorter and slightly revised version of an interview with Noam Chomsky which appeared on Sunday, Dec. 8 in the Syriza-aligned paper Avgi in Greece.

C.J. Polychroniou and Anastasia Giamali: Neoliberal ideology claims that the government is a problem, society does not exist and individuals are responsible for their own fate. Yet, big business and the rich rely, as ever, on state intervention to maintain their hold over the economy and to enjoy a bigger slice of the economic pie. Is neoliberalism a myth, merely an ideological construct?

Noam Chomsky: The term neoliberal is a bit misleading. The doctrines are neither new, nor liberal. As you say, big business and the rich rely extensively on what economist Dean Baker calls “the conservative nanny state” that they nourish. That is dramatically true of financial institutions. A recent IMF study attributes the profits of the big banks almost entirely to the implicit government insurance policy (“too big to fail”), not just the widely publicized bailouts, but access to cheap credit, favorable ratings because of the state guarantee and much else. The same is true of the productive economy. The IT revolution, now its driving force, relied very heavily on state-based R&D, procurement and other devices. That pattern goes back to early English industrialization.

However, neither “neoliberalism,” nor its earlier versions as “liberalism,” have been myths, certainly not for their victims. Economic historian Paul Bairoch is only one of many who have shown that “the Third World’s compulsory economic liberalism in the 19th century is a major element in explaining the delay in its industrialization,” in fact, its “de-industrialization,” a story that continues to the present under various guises.

In brief, the doctrines are, to a substantial extent, a “myth” for the rich and powerful, who craft many ways to protect themselves from market forces, but not for the poor and weak, who are subjected to their ravages.

What explains the supremacy of market-centric rule and predatory finance in an era that has experienced the most destructive crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression?

The basic explanation is the usual one: It is all working quite well for the rich and powerful. In the US, for example, tens of millions are unemployed, unknown millions have dropped out of the workforce in despair, and incomes as well as conditions of life have largely stagnated or declined. But the big banks, which were responsible for the latest crisis, are bigger and richer than ever, corporate profits are breaking records, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice is accumulating among those who count, labor is severely weakened by union busting and “growing worker insecurity,” to borrow the term Alan Greenspan used in explaining the grand success of the economy he managed, when he was still “St. Alan,” perhaps the greatest economist since Adam Smith, before the collapse of the structure he had administered, along with its intellectual foundations. So what is there to complain about?

The growth of financial capital is related to the decline in the rate of profit in industry and the new opportunities to distribute production more widely to places where labor is more readily exploited and constraints on capital are weakest – while profits are distributed to places with lowest [tax] rates (“globalization”). The process has been abetted by technological developments that facilitate the growth of an “out-of-control financial sector,” which “is eating out the modern market economy [that is, the productive economy] from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid,” to borrow the evocative phrase of Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, probably the most respected financial correspondent in the English-speaking world.

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Raw Deal

From Robert Reich:

By Robert Reich
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

About the only good thing that can be said about the budget deal just patched together by House Republican budget chair Paul Ryan and Senate Democratic budget chair Patty Murray is that the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity oppose it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for the country. In fact, it’s a bad deal, for at least three reasons:

First, it fails extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million jobless who will lose them in a few weeks. These people and their families are still caught in the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Almost three Americans are jobless for every job that’s available – a ratio worse than it was at the bottom of the last downturn.

Moreover, the nation still harbors an unprecedented number of long-term unemployed. In past recessions emergency benefits continued until the rate of long-term employment hovered around 1 percent or less. But the current level of long-term unemployed is 2.6 percent.

The second reason this deal is bad is it contributes to the nation’s savage inequality. The deal doesn’t close a single tax loophole for wealthy, and it doesn’t restore food stamps to the poor.

Third, the deal makes no fiscal sense. It’s topsy-turvy: The deal contains no short-term stimulus, and does nothing about the long-term deficit.

Although the deal overrides the dread “sequester” that mindlessly cuts domestic spending (except for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), it doesn’t put an end to the sequester. It merely postpones the sequester for two years.

The deal does remove the treat of another government shutdown January 15, when the stopgap spending resolution that reopened the government in October runs out. But it doesn’t prevent another standoff over the debt ceiling next March when the borrowing authority of the government is exhausted.

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Why Is The Religious Right Intensifying Attacks On Women?

From Raw Story:

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why now? That was the question that I decided to answer when I set out to write this speech for this year’s Skepticon about the religious right’s war on women, which—in case you haven’t noticed—has been turned up dramatically in recent years. I’ve done a lot of written and spoken work chronicling the war on women in that time, but it was nice to have an opportunity to stand before a pro-secular audience and talk about why.

The why, I think, is not immediately obvious. I mean, we all get why the religious right wants to take away women’s rights and pressure women to return to the status of second class citizens, because, for the men who run the religious right, being superior is its own reward. That, and you get to have children without changing diapers. But why are they all fired up about it right now? My theory is, in part, that it’s because of Barack Obama, and not just because women elected him. As I state in the speech, Obama’s election is a crisis moment for the religious right because it makes it pretty much impossible for them to maintain the illusion that they are the dominant culture in American society. If a black man with a “Muslim” name can be President, then the alarming possibility arises that they not only are losing their control of this country, but that it might actually all be over already and the secularists, feminists, and anti-racists have won. So they’re lashing out and trying to reassert authority in the best way they know how, but intensifying claims of ownership over women. This isn’t just conjecture. You’ll see in the video that right wingers speak regularly as if the end of our country were near, and then use that claim to support arguments for undermining women’s rights.

That it’s gotten more intense, I believe, is indisputable after watching that video. I made a point to barely talk about abortion but focus on all the other battles. Not that I don’t think abortion is an important issue—it is—but because it’s easy to get distracted by disingenuous claims that conservatives oppose it on the grounds of “life”. But the discourse about women and their lives coming from the right has grown beyond just hand-wringing over fetuses. Just today, for instance, we got to enjoy Fox News do a segment where women were straight up told that it’s impossible to have a husband and a full time job. Perhaps this clip will go into the talk the next time I give it. Anyway, enjoy the talk and the clips and my love of talking with my hands. And check out the rest of the talks at Skepticon, most of which were delightful.

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The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?

From In These Times:

Leaks reveal that corporate front group ALEC may ask for loyalty oaths from legislators.

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President
December 11, 2013

Witch hunter Joseph McCarthy would be proud of ALEC. So proud! Like McCarthy, the shadowy corporate lobby group wants oaths of allegiance.


McCarthy demanded loyalty pledges to the United States. ALEC, by contrast, wants its lawmaker members to vow first allegiance to ALEC.


This summer, ALEC (the sham that calls itself the American Legislative Exchange Council) proposed asking the legislators it appoints as state directors to raise their right wings and swear: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”


ALEC first. Before the lawmaker’s constituents. Before the interests of the lawmaker’s state. Before the constitution of the United States. ALEC’s proposal would require lawmakers to forsake their oaths of office and swear fidelity instead to the organization that wines, dines, indulges and indoctrinates them with buckets full of corporate cash. The idea of an ALEC loyalty oath clarifies the allegiance of the 1,810 state legislators that ALEC claims as members. They see their primary duty as serving corporations, specifically the corporations that give millions to ALEC.



ALEC claims it didn’t adopt the loyalty oath. But citizens have no way of knowing if that’s true because ALEC’s meetings are clandestine affairs, no reporters or citizens allowedDocuments leaked to The Guardian reveal that ALEC proposed the oath at its August meeting. It’s contained in a massive list of duties for state legislative coordinators, a list so long that it’s not clear when coordinators would have time to work for the citizens of their state, a list complete with an agreement signature sheet where the coordinator would swear to complete the work for ALEC.

ALEC (All Legislation Enhancing Corporations) is a secretive corporate front group that solicits money from corporations and spends it flying lawmaker-members to conferences in swanky settings where they help corporate members write legislation to fatten the corporate bottom line. The lawmakers take ALEC legislation back to their states, where they often introduce it word-for-corporate-written-word, sometimes with the ALEC logo still affixed to the pages.

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Third Way senior vice president admits majority of think tank’s funding comes from Wall Street

From Salon:

The neoliberal think tank had previously obfuscated when questioned about its financing

Thursday, Dec 12, 2013

Ever since it caused an outpouring of indignation on the left by attacking Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Wall Street Journal, Third Way, the neoliberal think tank, has been ducking questions about where, exactly, its funding comes from.

But at a demonstration on Wednesday outside its Washington, D.C. office, senior vice president Matt Bennett admitted that, contrary to the impression Third Way initially gave of the finance sector providing a minuscule amount of its funding, Third Way’s money comes overwhelmingly from its board of trustees — which, as Daily Kos and others have shown, is itself overwhelmingly comprised of people who make their living in finance.

Asked by Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green to name a percentage of Third Way’s funding that comes from people in the finance sector — rather than institutions — Bennett conceded that “the majority of our financial support [comes] from trustees.” When Green pressed Bennett for a “ball park” or a “percentage” guess, Bennett demurred. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.

You can watch the Green and Bennett exchange below, via the Nation:

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The Church of “Stop Shopping”: Meet the Man Leading An Uprising Against The World’s Biggest Banks

From Alternet:

Reverend Billy continues climate change activism, despite facing a year in prison following latest Chase bank stint

By Jodie Gummow
November 26, 2013


Reverend Billy is no stranger to the law.  Recognizable by his trade-mark attire: a white suit, black shirt and clerical collar, the activist performer known as Bill Talen has been arrested alongside his activist choir group, The Church of Stop Shopping, more than 70 times in his decade-long crusade against consumerism, corporate commercialism and militarism.

The Reverend has graced sidewalks, banks, parks and businesses world-wide passionately preaching political satire since he moved to New York in the 1990s upon where his character Reverend Billy was born – a hybrid of a street evangelist preacher and Elvis Presley.  Talen appeared as a sole performer preaching anti-consumerism in Times Square, before expanding his one-man performance act in 1999 to a 40-person choir and 5-person band.

Since then, Talen has written extensively on economic systems and environmental practices, has been featured in Morgan Spurlock’s film, “ What Would Jesus Buy?”, and built a performance empire on community action and catchy gospel hymns performed by The Church of Stop Shopping’s choir such as “We are the 99%”, “Revolution” and “End of the World”.

In recent years, the group has shifted its focus away from consumerism and towards large corporate banks which Reverend Billy argues are responsible for global warming, based on a five-year study by BankTrack.Org.  The research found that big banks such as JP Morgan Chase, UBS, Deutsche Bank and HSBC create climate change by actively paying money to companies that pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir’s latest show, ‘ The Extinction Resurrection Campaign’, which premiered in New York in November, projects a pretty straightforward yet powerful message: the banks are destroying the earth and thus must be held accountable.  The Reverend weighed in on his latest environmental crusade to AlterNet following his performance.

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Bodie “War on Christmas” Hodge: Non-Christians Shouldn’t Take Any Days Off Of Work

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Living Frugally in an Affordable City

A few days ago we visited the home of a woman who works at our doctor’s office.

She and husband live frugally in a simple but incredibly spacious house located in Garland, Tx.

Their housing cost are far lower than ours even though we were thrilled at how inexpensive housing was when we first moved here.

She is an extreme couponer and they supplement their wages by doing swap meets.  They also have chickens and garden.  Beyond living frugally they are trying to live in a way that is earth friendly by lowering their levels of consumption, recycling, repurposing, reusing.

I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as Los Angeles.  I lived on Long Island for a year.  While I never lived in New York City it is similar enough to places I have lived for me to know that living in such a place is a form of voluntary slavery with highly dubious benefits.

I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.  We have decent museums, great restaurants, a thriving live music scene, all sorts of professional sports teams, numerous universities and are centrally located for travel through out the USA.

We also have affordable housing.  Not just for rent but to purchase for less than one pays in rent in LA, SF, NYC and according to an article Portland.

Today I read an article on Tree Hugger Little apartments cause big row in Portland about “micro apartments.”  Apartment measuring between 130 and 300 square feet.  Now I know it is possible to live in a small space, my last apartment in LA was probably somewhere between 300 and 340 square feet, but they described these apartments as being low cost at under $1000 per month.

I don’t know about these folks but a thousand dollars per month is quite a bit of money and one could be buying a house in a number of Dallas suburbs for that.  Further one would have space to garden and have hobbies.

What Price Hipness?

Now I’ll admit Garland and Mesquite Texas lack the cachet of San Francisco or Greenwich Village but there is something to be said for not having to pay so much for rent.

Austin, Texas is just about as hip a place as you will find anywhere and yes there is affordable housing in the Austin area.

And there are lots of musicians.

I sometimes think people gravitate to certain places because they have historically been hip.  Now in NYC all those places that were formerly bohemian are now filled with Wall Street Bankers.

It’s hard to be hip when life is a total grind.  It is hard to be earth friendly when your life is driven by consuming. It is hard to enjoy life when you are rent poor and paying a bunch of interest on student loans, credit cards and keeping up the image required by those hip meccas.

Having time to have a life while earning enough to live well frugally is a much more earth friendly way to go.

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TEDMED Great Challenges: Transgender Health: An Evolution to Understanding

‘Condoms and porn don’t mix’ is a stupid and unhealthy belief

The porn industry is more exploitative of its workers than Walmart or McDonald.  It creates fucked up idea of women including trans-women and their sexuality, turning them in to objects to be used as sperm receptacles rather than as human beings…

I do not care if mandatory condom use harms the porn industry.  Perhaps it should be harmed or at the very least seriously regulated.

From The Guardian UK:

Let’s be honest: porn industry groups fight mandatory condom use because they care about profits, not their employees, Thursday 12 December 2013

One might think that when a person makes their living having sex with strangers, as porn industry performers do, using condoms would be a no-brainer. Yet despite the prevalence of STDs in the industry, the ill-conceived notion that condoms and porn don’t mix seems to have trumped common sense.

Apparently, the sight of a condom clad penis is a buzz kill for end users, and performers don’t want to wear them anyway. Or, at least, that’s what the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, would like us to believe as it continues its fight against mandatory condom use. With another performer testing positive for HIV and the Los Angeles-based industry facing another moratorium in production, the time may have come for both the profiteers of porn and those who get their kicks from watching it to get over their condom phobia.

Last Friday, the FSC announced that one of their LA-based performers had tested positive for HIV, and that all filming would be suspended while they try to determine if anyone else in their talent pool had been exposed to the virus. This is the third time in the past four months that the industry has had to shut down production after performers tested positive. Despite these repeated blows to the industry’s bottom line, never mind the pain and suffering of the infected performers who have been hit with the double whammy of contracting a life-long disease and losing their livelihood, the opposition to mandatory condom use persists. At the same time, the industry’s justification for its opposition – that performers just don’t like condoms and that they prefer to rely on testing systems – is getting harder to swallow.

The arguments put forth by the industry against mandatory condom use are as creative as they are varied, ranging from violation of performers’ first amendment rights (the industry’s trade association is not called the “Free Speech” Coalition for nothing) to the risk of condom-induced vaginal irritation known as “floor burn“. Porn sex, as aficionados will attest, is not the same as civilian sex – put simply, performers go at it for hours on end, while for most of us mere mortals the penetrative part of the act can be over in a matter of minutes. Some female performers say that in shoots that last several hours, condoms can be irritating and can lead to internal abrasions. The industry claims that these abrasions could make it easier to transmit infection, and that this is the reason that many performers prefer to not use condoms at all.

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RWW News: Robertson Fears Lesbian Friend Might Turn Your Kids Gay

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Study Reveals Dramatic Rise in Share of Women Accessing Contraception Without a Co-Pay

From RH Reality Check:

by Jodi Jacobson,
December 12, 2013

A new study reveals that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is responsible for a dramatic rise in the share of privately insured women in the United States who have gained access to contraception without a co-pay.

The study, conducted by Guttmacher Institute researchers Lawrence B. Finer, Adam Sonfield, and Rachel K. Jones and published in the journal Contraception, found that the share of privately insured women who had no co-pay for oral contraceptive pills rose from 15 percent to 40 percent after the ACA’s birth control benefit went into effect in January 2013. The authors report a similar increase, from 23 percent to 52 percent, among privately insured users of the vaginal ring.

“Our analysis provides the first quantitative evidence that the cost-sharing protection under the ACA is indeed working as intended,” said Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute and lead author of the study, in a statement. “Large numbers of women who couldn’t previously do so are now obtaining birth control without co-pays or deductibles, which allows them to more easily attain contraception’s well-documented health, social and economic benefits.”

The study draws on data from an ongoing, nationally representative survey of women ages 18 to 39, comparing women’s responses in fall 2012 (before the birth control benefit took effect for most women) and spring 2013, when millions were able to access contraception using the benefit.

Hormonal birth control is used for any number of reasons, including to practice safer sex and avoid unwanted or unintended pregnancy, to address medical needs, and for menstrual regulation. Data analyzed by Guttmacher show that most U.S. families want two children. “To achieve this [goal], the average woman spends about five years pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant, and three decades—more than three-quarters of her reproductive life—trying to avoid an unintended pregnancy,” Guttmacher notes in a recent fact sheet on unintended pregnancy in the United States. Roughly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. For many women, the high cost of birth control has proven to be a major barrier, one the ACA was intended to remove.

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