How Bad Does It Have to Get?

I just finished reading Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, which was published in 2005. It’s hard to articulate my response, which ranged from highly positive to deep despair. On the one hand, the book provided irrefutable evidence that a large number of influential religious leaders, especially Christians, have, in fact, been actively attempting to stem the descent of our culture into savage social and economic injustice; on the other hand, current reality provides overwhelming evidence that their efforts have not only been ineffective, but apparently counter-productive, since things just keep getting worse.

These efforts chronicled by Wallis date back to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and extend right up to the time the book was published. One must assume that they have continued since. Yet, to reiterate, things just keep getting worse. As Frank Rich recently wrote in the New York Times “Week in Review” (“What Happened to Change We Can Believe In?” 10/24/10), the election of Obama has not created the “Change” we were expecting: if anything, it has exacerbated the downslide, fueling ignorance and demagoguery.

The obvious question is: what, if anything, can be done? Is the march of injustice unstoppable, inevitable? I’m not particularly sanguine that any of you who receive this message will even trouble to acknowledge it, much less respond. To be honest, I have been complaining to anyone who will listen since the election of Ronald Reagan made it clear to anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a brain to understand, that Reactionary elements had assumed control and were unlikely to relinquish it, ever, unless forced to. Except for a few published letters and one essay in The Progressive Christian (asking the rhetorical question, What Would Martin Luther King, Jr. Do?) my repeated efforts to communicate with all of you have elicited a profound silence. And we know what Martin would be doing: he would be organizing massive nonviolent civil disobedience.

Now, lest there be any confusion, I have never and will not ever advocate violent force. But Wallis did include in his book a quote from A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall. It’s rather long, but defines “nonviolent resistance” better than anything I have ever seen. I am including it because it would seem, based on the rest of his book that neither he nor other advocates for social and economic justice (except for MLK Jr!) have ever taken it seriously. Here it is:

“The reality is that history-making nonviolent resistance is not usually taken as an act of moral display; it does not typically begin by putting flowers in gun barrels and it does not end when protesters disperse to go home. It involves the use of a panoply of forceful sanctions — strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, even nonviolent sabotage — in accordance with a strategy for undermining an oppressor’s pillars of support. It is not about making a point, it’s about taking power.

“Regimes have been overthrown that had no compunction about brutalizing their opponents and denying them the right to speak their minds. How? By first demonstrating that opposition is possible, peeling away the regime’s residual public and outside support, quashing its legitimacy, driving up the costs of maintaining control, and over-extending its repressive apparatus. Strategic nonviolent action is not about being nice to our oppressor, much less having to rely on his niceness. It’s about dissolving the foundations of his power and forcing him out.”

My purpose in writing this is to learn if there is anyone else out there who cares about stopping this juggernaut enough to join me in organizing the kind of civil disobedience just described. The key phrase, which exposes the ultimate failure of “liberal” attempts to stop injustice throughout human history, is the next-to-last sentence in the quote. We have to stop projecting our own “niceness” onto those who are anything but “nice,” those for whom enough is never enough, whose existential cowardice leads them to espouse “conservative” authoritarian models about our personal behavior while simultaneously doing their best to create and preserve economic anarchy (under the false rubric of the “Free, Unregulated Marketplace”).

Sooner or later, it must become obvious to the Liberal Establishment that articles, books, documentary movies and TV programs not only fail to create significant change, they actually seem to provide a moral relief valve: Well, we’ve done what we could, we’ve explained the problems so that anyone should be able to understand them, certainly “reasonable people” should respond eventually with the necessary reforms. I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you, but we are not dealing with “reasonable people.” We are dealing with people who are mentally ill behind money and power. Lao Tse said it best a few millennia ago: “One who knows that enough is enough always has enough.” As I noted earlier, those who do not know that enough is enough, never have enough. And they take our good nature for weakness and stupidity, as a green light for continued predation.

If any of you actually take the trouble to read this and wish to establish a dialogue about how we can organize, just hit “reply” and acknowledge your agreement. As you may imagine, over the last 40+ years, I have prepared myself to contribute to this effort.

I will close this as I always do, by asking: How bad does it have to get?

Shorey Chapman
San Francisco, Calif.

Congress Orders Executive

Regarding Ted Rall’s “The Case for Liberal Apathy,” “liberal voters were against the bailout. They see health-care and financial reform bills as useless sellouts to corporations” [11/1/10 TPP]: Apathy brings the bad old days. Liberals need to redouble their effort. Rome was not built in a day. “Romneycare” was an accomplishment, not what HR 676, “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All (Conyers and Kucinich) would have been. Combat operations have ended in Iraq, though Texas has sent its rangers to train Iraqi security. There is a bill in Congress to stop Afghan war funding. I could find no mention of “executive order” in the Constitution of the United States, Article II. But Article I, Section 8, “The Congress shall have power to ...” is quite extensive. President Obama was a professor of constitutional law and knows that Congress has the onus to abolish “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Our Constitution was crafted to prevent a “unitary executive” — in other words, a dictator who rules by proclamations, rules by executive orders, rules by decree, i.e.: Der Fuehrer.

Joseph J. Kuciejczyk
St Louis, Mo.

Okie Ache

Mr. Stephen Landuy’s letter in the 10/15/10 TPP [“Hatred’s Alive and Well”] hurts, but hit the nail on the head. Oklahoma legislators are the highest paid in the region and teachers the lowest. Nov. 2 State Question 744 would have required that education funding reach the regional level within 3 years. The cost would be about $2 billion over three years.

Ah, the hue and cry ... the outrage! Opposition was led by the state’s largest newspaper, the Daily Disappointment [Daily Oklahoman], the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and, of course, the Chamber of Commerce. Ads alleged we’d have to release 8,000 prisoners, to raise taxes (almost impossible, since the constitution requires 75% of voters agree), cut services (which have already been cut 20% in the last two years) and raise property taxes, probably lowest in the nation. Oddly, no one mentions the $5.4 billion tax relief for corporations and special interests doled out annually. [Editor’s Note: the question received less than 19% support.]

I’ve always considered “Okie” a pejorative, but, if the shoe fits ...

Robert Nilson
El Reno, Okla.

Draft Rich Kids

I’d like to add my two cents worth to Andrew J. Bacevich’s column, “The Long War: Year Ten.” [11/1/10 TPP].

Until we the people remove our blindfolds and take action, I’m convinced that the US will be perpetually at war.

The real (but hidden) reason for which we are at war, is so the government can keep the military-industrial complex alive and well, and the war profiteers ever more wealthy. Without scruples, those in power are unceasing in their efforts to inflame the patriotism of the masses, and thereby gain support for their wars.

Yet, as long as only the poor are dying, nothing will change.

To end this injustice, we must pressure our representatives to reinstate the draft, so that men of military age from every social group will be called upon to serve their country.

Thus, the fighting won’t be left exclusively to the poor, most of whom joined the army, in the first place, only as an escape from hopelessness.

I’m willing to wager serious money that once the sons of the rich and powerful begin arriving home with amputated limbs, or in body bags, the wars will soon end.

And once peace is established, Uncle Sam will surely think long and hard before promiscuously engaging in immoral wars.

David Quintero
Temple City, Calif.

Stop Making Vets

Veterans Day means absolutely nothing to me. I braved the cold war as a communications officer aboard the USS Rushmore (LSD-14) and as staff comm officer for Commander, Landing Ship Squadron Nine during the period 1958-1961, helping to keep the sea lanes safe for United Fruit Company and other Fortune 500 firms. Wherever there were profits to be made by these octopuses, there was the Amphibious Force, Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, playing its part to ensure adequate invasion, bombing, destruction in the tradition of President McKinley’s “splendid little war” against Spain, and at a cost of millions of civilians at a price deemed “worth it” by Madeleine Albright. Here in the Lehigh Valley we have been treated to a daily barrage of front-page depiction of our “heroes” in the latest round of illegal wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, etc. The term “hero” was analyzed in Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy’s eulogy of Tom Lewis (“Catonsville Nine”) in the context of Vietnam “heroes” pouring napalm on children, and he used the analogy of a mafia hitman braving danger to take out the children of a rival godfather. “Murder decorated with a ribbon is still murder.” So now in 2010 we continue to “slaughter all evil by dawn’s early light” (Jacques Brel) and look forward to more books by Tom Brokaw about “The greatest generation.” I can’t wait to celebrate Veterans’ Day.

Bernard J. Berg
Easton, Pa.

Value of Gov’t Service

Many Republicans, and even a few Democrats, are running against government, even as they campaign for election to the government. They want to shrink government and cut taxes, while most of us voters want to maintain the government services important to our lives. We deplore the budget cuts that have reduced our children’s education, our water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure, our natural environment, and our public safety. Fear mongers who scream about wasteful bureaucracy and totalitarian rule actually give rise to what really threatens to our liberty, uncontrolled corporate greed. This “great recession” demonstrates how unsupervised banks devour the very market system that produces our wealth when our government’s ability to regulate such excesses is bound by anti-government bias. 

Big government is our protection against big corporations. Sure, big government brings the problem of big dumb bureaucracy, but so do big corporations. How long do you have to wait when calling the phone company, the airlines, or your health insurance company? Their bureaucracies are set up to make money off of us consumers. Government bureaucracies, at least, are set up to provide equal and fair service to all of us citizens. Sure, they could be improved, and should be improved, but let’s not run our government like a business where only the wealthy get the services they need. 

We pay for goods and services that we buy with our money. We pay for goods and services that government provides with our taxes. Most people are willing to pay taxes for good schools, smooth roads, clear air, clean water, and safe streets. What we hate is unfair taxation. Why should the middle class have to pay such high taxes while the very rich grab special tax breaks and laugh down at us? Those who have profited most in our country ought to pay the most for its maintenance. Our politicians must be unafraid to ask for the revenue to pay for the services that we need. But they are running scared of the T-word because we like to vote for candidates that promise us what we want at no cost. We act stupid that way. 

For 30 years, my professional career has been consulting government employees who want to provide better services, more efficiently, through adoption of technology. I’ve worked with many people dedicated to public service, and I’ve seen only a few who just wanted to sit on their fat chairs and collect their pay and pension. If we want better government service, and less stupid bureaucracy, we need to make government service a high calling, not simply a job. We can attract better and brighter employees with valuable and merit-based pay packages. If we elect politicians who scream about cutting taxes and reducing government, then the slower, less dedicated people will remain in government and the people who care about serving us, the public, will go work for the corporations that are part of the problem. The government is not our enemy. Government is our tool to provide us the services and protections unavailable from market-based corporations. Our elected representatives must value government and work to improve it, not try to strangle it with tax cuts for the most wealthy. 

Bruce Joffe
Piedmont, Calif.

All Politics Global

All Politics in the United States is NOW GLOBAL! In the United States, it used to be said the “All politics is local.” But since the highly dishonest and morally corrupt Citizens United decision, it has become obvious that in the United States, “All politics in the United States (at the federal, state, and even local levels) is NOW GLOBAL!” If you have any doubts about this, follow the money all the way!

Christopher C. Currie
Pascoag, R.I.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2010


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