09 May 2011

Republicans In Liberal Clothing

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="350" caption="Fixed: In sheep clothing by manitou2121, on Flickr"]Fixed: In sheep clothing[/caption]


I can’t understand why the GOP is always so angry at the President. After all, Obama has shown himself to be a committed conservative. What’s that? He is a Democrat you say? Well he had me fooled.

With 2012 just around the corner, the election season for the GOP primary candidates is in full swing as evidenced by the recent South Carolina debate. Candidate after candidate, with a few minor exceptions, recycled the same old slogans to rally the troops. In short it was the typical calls for “smaller government, deregulation, lower taxes, blah blah blah.” As I watched on, I couldn’t help but wonder: What exactly distinguishes the policies these GOP candidates want to enact from those of the Democrats?

While the GOP threatens to empower the IRS to audit rape victims, strip public workers of collective bargaining, and privatize medicare, it’s easy to forget that the Democratic party is just as culpable for the numerous crises facing America. GOP legislators around the country have been introducing absurd bills designed to enforce their ideology on the rest of us, which has galvanized liberals, progressives, and even some conservatives to unite and protest in their affected communities. From Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s “financial martial law” and Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s war on unions, to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize medicare, the GOP establishment has proven that it is nothing more than a heartless group of rich and privileged scoundrels. And as a result, Democrats are gaining momentum as they speak in the populist language of liberalism against Republican assaults.

A clear and familiar pattern has emerged with liberals. Destructive GOP policies energize the liberal base, just as happened during the Bush years, and then Democrats come along with populist rhetoric and swallow up the movement. President Bush’s eight year reign had liberals so outraged, that even credible and wise leftists like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn came out in support of candidate Obama’s “Change we can believe in” (with caution of course). Millions of progressives and liberals campaigned for Obama’s well marketed and emotionally appealing campaign, but once he was elected, they went home assuming the mission was accomplished.

Some three years later, what has changed? Well, other than the President’s skin tone, not much.

We’re still at war in Afghanistan, combat troops remain in Iraq, and Obama has declared war on Libya without a constitutionally required declaration from Congress. America, under the leadership of a Democrat, is brutally occupying two countries (three if you include the indirect occupation of Palestine) and bombing Libya, while unofficially waging war on Pakistan and Yemen, in addition to being the world’s number one arms dealer, in many cases arming some of the most brutal dictators and despots imaginable.

04 May 2011

With Liberty And Justice For…Corporations?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="350" caption="IMG_0476 by corazón girl, on Flick"]IMG_0476[/caption]

On April 27, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States once again ruled in favor of big business. In the highly anticipated case of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Roberts led conservative block of the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that federal law trumps state law in allowing companies to use arbitration clauses to prohibit consumers from joining class actions against the companies.

The case involved a California couple, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, who were charged $30.22 sales tax on the full retail price of a cellphone that was advertised as “free.” They filed a lawsuit against AT&T for deceptive practices on behalf of a class of consumers who had also overpaid. But the couple, along with their fellow plaintiffs, had signed a contract with AT&T that contained a “mandatory arbitration clause” which required them to settle any disputes through arbitration (a private legal proceeding) and barred them from seeking class-action treatment with other consumers, whether through arbitration or in a lawsuit brought in a traditional court.

Initially, both a federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court sided with the Concepcions, saying it was unfair under a 2005 California Supreme Court ruling, for contracts to ban class-action litigation. However, this was overturned by the recent Supreme Court decision, which says federal law, specifically the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, trumps state law.

Aside from the fact that the conservative Justices who purport to be staunch defenders of “states rights” abandoned their principles for corporate interests, this ruling has chilling implications for future corporate accountability. Corporations are now free to legally bar victims of their abuse from collectively suing in a court of law if the abused have signed a contract that includes a mandatory arbitration clause, regardless of state laws to the contrary. This could literally render companies immune from class actions and overall accountability.

At first glance, it seems reasonable to conclude that individuals should simply steer clear of these types of contracts in order to avoid waiving their rights. But most people are unaware that mandatory arbitration clauses are commonly used in product and service contracts, and sometimes in employment contracts–usually found buried in the fine print of billing inserts, employment handbooks, health insurance plans, and dealership agreements.

29 Apr 2011

News Media Too Busy Covering Spectacle to Do Its Job

Dear Media: Since you have been busy this week with non-stop coverage of the royal wedding and the spectacle that is Donald Trump, I thought I would take it upon myself to fill you in on the less newsworthy items that you missed.  Clearly, the royal wedding of a country

28 Apr 2011

Cognitive Dissonance Is Fueling Conservative Denial

On April 6, all but one of the Republican members of the US House of Representatives rejected a Democratic amendment that would have put the chamber on record backing the widely held scientific view that global warming is occurring and humans are a major cause. The following day the GOP-led House voted 255 to 172 to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases. It is remarkable that in 2011, a majority of Republicans in Congress reject the indisputable, scientific consensus that human activity is altering the climate.

Why are conservatives, despite the mounting evidence, so unwilling to accept that climate change is a serious threat caused by greenhouse emissions? It seems climate change is now part and parcel of America’s “culture wars.” Similar to abortion and other social issues, climate change has become a partisan issue, with liberals backing the science, and conservatives denying it. Often times, when pondering the reasons for climate change denial, we immediately blame the media for allotting disproportionate airtime for industry backed psuedo-scientists to sow doubt in the minds of viewers, in their quest for “balance.” Of course this analysis is correct, but incomplete.

It’s been widely proven that fossil fuel interests, most notably ExxonMobil, used the tobacco industry’s playbook and an extensive arsenal of lobbyists and “experts” to manufacture disinformation designed to confuse the public and stifle action to address climate change. As documented by Greenpeace, in recent years this corporate PR campaign has gone viral, spawning a denial movement that is largely immune to reasoned response. While the more powerful climate change deniers have manipulative objectives, such as preserving their vested interests in fossil fuels or political posturing with their constituencies, many on the right actually believe climate change is a hoax. This PR campaign has contributed immensely to denial, but there is still more to the story.

Thus, the question remains: Why is the reality of climate change such a threat to the right? A new study published in the Spring 2011 issue of Sociological Quarterly delves into this very topic. The study finds that conservatives’ refusal to acknowledge the very real threat of climate change, has more to do with its implications rather than skepticism of scientific facts. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance!

Stanford University social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the theory of cognitive dissonance, based on a famous case study from the 1950s. Festinger and his colleagues infiltrated a cult that was awaiting what they believed would be the imminent end of the world on December 21, 1954. When the prediction failed, rather than recognize the error of their beliefs, the cult members’ faith grew stronger, so strong that they began to proselytize. People will go to great lengths to rationalize their deeply held beliefs, even more so when exposed to evidence that challenges their worldview.

25 Apr 2011

Today Detroit – tomorrow, every city in America

If Milton Friedman, father of the free market, were alive today, I imagine he would be jumping with joy at the prospect of the abandonment of public education for private, for-profit charter schools. Back in 2005, following the devastation of hurricane Katrina, Friedman wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal

25 Apr 2011

Corporate Coup D’état Coming Soon To A City Near You

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="266" caption="EMERGENCY by Chris.Violette, on Flickr"]EMERGENCY[/caption]

In her book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein demonstrates how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests. She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportuinities, “disaster capitalism.”

Disaster capitalism is on display around the country, as legislators use the debt crisis afflicting their states as an opportunity to hollow out the public sector. In Michigan it’s being packaged as “emergency financial management” by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is looking to exploit an economic crisis that has left his state with a severe budget deficit. In March, Snyder signed a law granting state-appointed emergency financial managers (EFM) the ability to fire local elected officials, break teachers’ and public workers’ contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services, entire cities or school districts, all without any public input. He claims these dictatorial restructuring powers will keep Michigan communities out of bankruptcy.

Michigan currently has unelected EFM’s in charge of the schools in Detroit, as well as the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Benton Harbor. In Benton Harbor, the city’s elected mayor and city commissioners were stripped of all power by unelected EFM, Joseph Harris. Harris issued an order saying the city commissioners have no power beyond calling meetings to order, approving minutes, and adjourning meetings. This decimation of local democracy is spreading. Robert Bobb, the EFM that has taken over Detroit’s public school system, sent layoff notices to all of the district’s 5,466 unionized employees. Bobb says he will exercise his power as EFM to unilaterally modify the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Federation of Teachers starting May 17, 2011.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said the law raises concern about separation of powers, its impact on minority communities, collective-bargaining rights and privatization of services. She is absolutely correct. Faced with a deficit, emboldened EFMs can sell off public property to developers, close public schools and authorize charter schools, and void union contracts with literally no recourse for local, tax-paying residents or their elected officials to stop it.