Thom Hartmann (71)
Review by Thom Hartmann
Two weeks before the presidential election of 2004, The Washington Post ran an article titled"Some Fear Ohio Will Be Florida." "Florida" has become shorthand for the illegal purging of tens of thousands of largely Democratic African American voters by Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, and that state's Republican machine just before the election of 2000.
"We cannot forget what happened in Florida," thePost quoted Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), as saying about the stories in the news that were already emerging about massive Republican voter disenfranchisement efforts in Ohio. "And," Lewis added, "it will not happen here."
Lewis was wrong. It did happen in Ohio. George Bush Junior stole another election.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee refused to participate in any sort of investigation of voting irregularities in Ohio, so the Committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers, went to Ohio with 11 other Democratic members to convene a hearing and take testimony under oath. What he found was startling.
"We have found numerous serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election," the Committee wrote in their official report, "which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousands of voters and votes in Ohio, raise grave doubts about whether it can be said that the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner conforming to Ohio law, let alone Federal election commission and constitutional standards."
The number of voters who were disenfranchised, and the number of votes that were spoiled, uncounted, and outright stolen (the committee diplomatically referred to it as "Kerry votes [being moved] to the Bush column") were far more than the 136,483 votes by which Bush officially "won" Ohio. If just 51 percent of those votes were fraudulent - roughly 70,000 votes being for Kerry but counted as for Bush (or an equal number of Kerry voters disenfranchised) - then John Kerry would be President of the United States right now.
Given this, consider the Conyers Commission reports summary that:
- "There were 93,000 spoiled ballots where no vote was cast for president, the majority of which have yet to be inspected."
- "We learned of improper purging and other registration errors by election officials that probably disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide."
- "In Miami county, voter turnout was an improbable and highly suspect 98.55 percent, and after 100 percent of the precincts were reported, an additional 19,000 extra votes were recorded for President Bush."
- And, preceding a long list of specific, documented crimes committed by Ohio Secretary of State (and, thus, chief election official) Kenneth Blackwell, the charge that: "In the run-up to Election Day, the following actions by Mr. Blackwell, the Republican Party, and elections officials, disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens, predominantly Minority and Democratic voters."
The Committee dryly noted: "In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio."
While BBC, Vladimir Putin, and the world's media have been comfortable pointing out that there was something odd about "democracy" when it involved George Bush Junior in 2000, Congressman Conyers' House Judiciary Committee's findings have faced a near-total reporting vacuum in the mainstream media. If you go to http://news.google.com and enter the search words Conyers Ohio vote fraud, you discover only five hits -- two from French publications, two from TomPaine.com, and one from by a Canadian professor writing on a Venezuelan website.
Fortunately, the Conyers report -- aptly named "What Went Wrong In Ohio" -- is now available in paperback from Academy Chicago Publishers. Complete with a foreward by Gore Vidal, it comes in at a concise and Saturday-afternoon-readable 116 pages. It's essential reading for anybody who wants to know how Republicans have been stealing elections both nationally and on a statewide basis for at least the last three election cycles.
Ironically, May and June of 2005 see the trial of Democratic Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire's campaign, her election tenaciously being challenged in court by losing Republican Dino Rossi.
"We have evidence of voter fraud," Rossi and Washington State Republicans repeat like a mantra.
If only Democrats in 2000, 2002 (particularly in Georgia), and 2004 had had such cojones.
Some people think that FDR invented the progressive income tax when he raised income tax rates on the super-rich to 90 percent. Some believe that LBJ invented anti-poverty programs when he more than cut in half severe poverty in the US by introducing Medicare, housing assistance, and food-stamp programs in the 1960s. Some believe that Jack Kennedy was the first president to seriously talk about international disarmament, a conversation that Richard Nixon carried on in pushing through and getting ratified the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty so recently discarded by George Bush Jr. Some believe that Teddy Roosevelt - the Republican Roosevelt - was the first to seriously discuss the "living wage," or ways that corporate "maximum wage" wink-and-nod agreements could be broken up. Some believe the inheritance tax to prevent family empires from taking over our nation was the idea of Woodrow Wilson, or that FDR was the first to think up old-age pensions as part of a social safety net known today as Social Security.
But it was actually Thomas Paine who first developed all these themes in their modern political context. He did so in his book "The Rights of Man."
Thomas Edison is largely responsible for our knowledge today of Thomas Paine and his writings. In July of 1925, Edison rescued Paine from the dustbin of historic obscurity, when he wrote a widely-read plea to return Paine to our schools:
"Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.' But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind.
"We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.
"Washington himself appreciated Paine at his true worth. Franklin knew him for a great patriot and clear thinker. He was a friend and confidant of Jefferson, and the two must often have debated the academic and practical phases of liberty.
"I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it."
Thomas Edison was successful in moving the writings of Thomas Paine into the mainstream of American education, influencing a generation that a decade later brought us the many progressive reforms of the 1930s.
"Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine was written as an answer to a correspondence and debate Paine was having with Sir Edmund Burke, the famous British nobleman who is revered by modern conservatives (Russell Kirk, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Jr.) as the founder of modern conservative thought. In some ways, it's a classic debate between conservative and liberal worldviews, with Paine presenting the liberal side of the equation. (Burke's words are not found in Paine's book.)
Liberals, after all, founded our nation. They were skeptical of the power of any institution - be it corporate (the Boston Tea Party was an anti-globalization protest against the world's largest transnational corporation, the East India Company), religious (Ben Franklin left Massachusetts for Philadelphia during his childhood in part because they were still hanging witches in the outlying regions), or governmental (the "kingly oppressions" such as the power of a king to make war, referred to by Madison and later quoted by Lincoln).
Although modern conservatives like to say that Burke was occasionally progressive in some of his opinions, it was a progressivism that never threatened his lifestyle or that of his wealthy and powerful British peers. He'd come around to supporting American independence, although he was skeptical of our potential for survival without an aristocratic class; he supported the British takeover of India through the East India Company, but felt British rule should be "benevolent" and so prosecuted a man who had "abused" Indian citizens (in a fashion similar to the show-trial of Sgt. Charles Grainer for Abu Ghraib, with no mention of civilian command or national policy); as an Irishman, he supported Irish emancipation.
But in his heart and soul Burke was a true conservative, and a staunch supporter of the sort of hierarchical "government" that Paine rails against in "Rights Of Man."
Burke and Paine were acquainted, and Paine, after the Revolutionary War, had returned to England where he was hailed as the bestselling author of "Common Sense" ("These are the times that try men's souls...") and heralded as one of the true fathers of the American Revolution. (It would not be an exaggeration to say that without Paine there may not have been a Revolution.) Paine had stayed at Burke's home, and the two corresponded.
When the French Revolution broke out, Paine went to France where, despite the fact that he spoke hardly a word of French (he'd dropped out of school at age 12), he was elected to the National Convention. He was initially fortunate to be in France, as during this time "Rights Of Man" was published in England, and the book was considered so radical that he was put on trial and convicted in absentia for seditious libel against the Crown.
But then he publicly crossed swords with Maximilien Robespierre and suggested that King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette should be exiled to America. For this, he was sentenced to the guillotine and thrown into prison.
It was in prison that he wrote his book promoting Deism and attacking organized religion, "The Age Of Reason." It so infuriated churchgoing Americans that when Paine later escaped France and returned to America, he died in obscurity in Greenwich Village, with only six people attending his funeral. As Thomas Edison wrote, "His Bible was the open face of nature, the broad skies, the green hills. He disbelieved the ancient myths and miracles taught by established creeds. But the attacks on those creeds -- or on persons devoted to them -- have served to darken his memory, casting a shadow across the closing years of his life. ... If Paine had ceased his writings with 'The Rights of Man' he would have been hailed today as one of the two or three outstanding figures of the Revolution. But 'The Age of Reason' cost him glory at the hands of his countrymen -- a greater loss to them than to Tom Paine."
Burke promoted the world-view that animates today's conservatives: That people are essentially evil and need a strong external controlling force to prevent them from acting out their evil nature; that such a force should most appropriately come from those who have inherited or lawfully obtained wealth, religious power, or political power; that a permanent large underclass with little power and a permanent small overclass with great power will produce the greatest social good because it will ensure social stability.
In 1790, following up on his conversations with Thomas Paine, Burke wrote a letter/pamphlet titled "Reflections on the Revolution in France." In it, Burke laid out some of his most important philosophical points, many of which are still quoted by American conservatives.
Burke noted his belief in the danger of true democracy.
"The occupation of an hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler [candle maker], cannot be a matter of honour to any person to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments," he wrote. "Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively, are permitted to rule. In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature."
This so incensed Paine, that he had to respond, and that response is the book "Rights of Man."
Ironically, Burke's analysis of the French Revolution - at least over the short term - was more accurate than Paine's. Burke wrote:
"When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one."
Paine, in response, wrote nearly the entire first half of "Rights of Man." He initially believed the French Revolution would turn out the way the American Revolution had, and was shocked when Robespierre began the Terrors and the nation devolved into a horrific and bloody purge.
In defense of democracy and self-government, Paine wrote:
"When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.
"We have now to review the governments which arise out of society, in contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.
"It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with.
"The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.
"To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought to be, we must trace it to its origin. In doing this we shall easily discover that governments must have arisen either out of the people or over the people.
"Mr. Burke has made no distinction. He investigates nothing to its source, and therefore he confounds everything... As he thus renders it a subject of controversy by throwing the gauntlet, I take him upon his own ground. It is in high challenges that high truths have the right of appearing; and I accept it with the more readiness because it affords me, at the same time, an opportunity of pursuing the subject with respect to governments arising out of society."
Burke strongly defended rule by the rich, enforced by corporate and chartered state power. He wrote:
"Let those large proprietors be what they will, and they have their chance of being amongst the best, they are at the very worst, the ballast in the vessel of the commonwealth. For though hereditary wealth, and the rank which goes with it, are too much idolized by creeping sycophants, and the blind abject admirers of power, they are too rashly slighted in shallow speculations of the petulant, assuming, short-sighted coxcombs of philosophy.
"Some decent regulated pre-eminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth, is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolitic."
Paine, on the other hand, believed that neither government nor corporations should have rights, and that the rich should be so taxed that hereditary aristocracies couldn't emerge. In this regard, the last chapter of "Rights Of Man" is perhaps the most important. Paine wrote:
"I begin with charters and corporations.
"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect - that of taking rights away.
"Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few. ... They...consequently are instruments of injustice.
"But charters and corporations have a more extensive evil effect than what relates merely to elections. They are sources of endless contentions in the places where they exist, and they lessen the common rights of national society. ... This species of feudality is kept up to aggrandise the corporations at the ruin of towns; and the effect is visible."
But the cornerstone of conservative philosophy is the belief that control of government by a corporate elite and those with inherited wealth will ensure a stable society. It's the core of Reagan's "greed is good" philosophy that led Republicans in the 1980s to stop enforcing anti-trust laws and to lower taxes on the super-rich. In this, Burke was equally consistent:
"The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice. The possessors of family wealth, and of the distinction which attends hereditary possession (as most concerned in it) are the natural securities for this transmission."
Paine's rebuttal was to propose what he called "progressive taxation." The last chapter of "Rights of Man" has several tables, showing specifically how the more wealthy an estate would be, the more heavily it should be taxed. Paine pointed out that most of the taxes then paid in England were consumption taxes, such as sales taxes, which fell most heavily upon the working class and the poor, while the vast land holdings of the wealthy were relatively free of taxes.
"Before the coming of the Hanoverians, the taxes were divided in nearly equal proportions between the land and articles of consumption, the land bearing rather the largest share: but since that era nearly thirteen millions annually of new taxes have been thrown upon consumption. The consequence of which has been a constant increase in the number and wretchedness of the poor, and in the amount of the poor-rates. Yet here again the burthen does not fall in equal proportions on the aristocracy with the rest of the community. Their residences, whether in town or country, are not mixed with the habitations of the poor. They live apart from distress, and the expense of relieving it."
Much like today, corporations and the super-rich paid relatively little in taxes as a percentage of their assets.
Progressive taxation, Paine said, would cure both the problem of inherited wealth corrupting government, and the continuous drag of taxes on the working class and the poor:
"On small and middling estates it is lighter (as it is intended to be) than the commutation tax. It is not till after seven or eight thousand [Pounds] a year that it begins to be heavy. The object is not so much the produce of the tax as the justice of the measure. The aristocracy has screened itself [from taxes] too much, and this serves to restore a part of the lost equilibrium.
"As an instance of its screening itself [from paying taxes], it is only necessary to look back to the first establishment of the excise laws, at what is called the Restoration, or the coming of Charles the Second. The aristocratical interest then in power, commuted the feudal services itself was under, by laying a tax on beer brewed for sale; that is, they compounded with Charles for an exemption from those services for themselves and their heirs, by a tax to be paid by other people.
"The aristocracy do not purchase beer brewed for sale, but brew their own beer free of the duty, and if any commutation at that time were necessary, it ought to have been at the expense of those for whom the exemptions from those services were intended; instead of which, it was thrown on an entirely different class of men."
"But," Paine added, "the chief object of this progressive tax (besides the justice of rendering taxes more equal than they are) is, as already stated, to extirpate the overgrown influence arising from the unnatural law of primogeniture [inheritance], and which is one of the principal sources of corruption at elections."
Burke, of course, saw things differently. How dare the working-class "many" think of taxing the rich "few"? It would threaten his beloved aristocracy, and therefore threaten the very core of society.
"It is said," wrote Burke, "that twenty-four millions ought to prevail over two hundred thousand. True; if the constitution of a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with the lamp-post for its second: to men who may reason calmly, it is ridiculous. The will of the many, and their interest, must very often differ; and great will be the difference when they make an evil choice."
Burke and his conservative friends in the House of Lords had run up a huge national debt in England, and used this as an excuse to slash spending on programs for the poor. Since they held much of the debt bonds themselves (like the Bush and Cheney families being heavily invested in US Treasuries), they profited from the nation being in debt.
Paine considered exploiting national debt in this way to be both intolerable and unpatriotic.
"There now remains only the national debt to be considered," he wrote. "The present scheme of paying off the national debt appears to me, speaking as an indifferent person, to be an ill-concerted, if not a fallacious job. .... The debt, therefore, is not reduced one farthing to the public by all the millions that have been paid; and it would require more money now to purchase up the capital, than when the scheme began."
But if taxes were raised and the debt paid off, he noted, the money then freed up by the government no longer having to pay interest to the rich would be substantial:
"But after paying the interest, abolishing the tax on houses and windows, the commutation tax, and the poor-rates; and making all the provisions for the poor, for the education of children, the support of the aged, the disbanded part of the army and navy, and increasing the pay of the remainder, there will be a surplus of one million."
Burke was not fond of the poor, however. He was a strong believer in the conservative dictum, badly misappropriating and twisting the meaning of Jesus' words, that "The poor you always have with you..."
Paine, on the other hand, thought that the best way to build a strong democracy was to use his tax on the wealthy to give the poor bootstraps by which they could pull themselves up. He proposed helping out young families with the expense of raising children (a forerunner to our income tax exemptions for children), a fund to provide housing and food for the poor (a forerunner to housing vouchers and food stamps), and a reliable and predictable pension for all workers in their old age (a forerunner to Social Security). He also suggested that all nations should reduce their armaments by 90 percent, to ensure world peace. Summarizing, Paine noted:
"When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government."
This, Paine hoped, was the fate of America. And, he believed, when our nation had achieved such an egalitarian and liberal way of life, other nations of the world would naturally emulate us. (He thought he was seeing this in the French Revolution, remember.) Thus, he predicted that Burke's beloved "benevolent rule by the rich" was doomed to the ash heaps of history:
"The fraud, hypocrisy, and imposition of governments, are now beginning to be too well understood to promise them any long career. The farce of monarchy and aristocracy, in all countries, is following that of chivalry, and Mr. Burke is dressing for the funeral. Let it then pass quietly to the tomb of all other follies, and the mourners be comforted."
"Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine is one of the foundational and seminal documents of modern liberalism. It's an important book to read, and to have in your library for reference.
Review by Thom Hartmann
In 1976 -- long before American conservatives would claim that Ronald Reagan's 1980s debt-driven massive military spending "bankrupted" the Soviet Union -- French demographer and author Emmanuel Todd wrote a best-selling book titled La Chute finale (The Final Fall), predicting the imminent fall of the USSR. He based his projection, in large part, on a careful study of the increase in infant mortality in that empire, one of the leading indicators of the health of a nation.
Time proved him right, and hindsight tells us that Reagan and Bush had nothing whatever to do with the fall of the USSR, con claims notwithstanding. It rotted from within, something that I witnessed in the 1970s and 1980s visiting both the USSR and several of its captive states, and living a year in 1986-1987 within 30 miles of Soviet-dominated East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Any 70s or 80s visitor to the USSR or its vassal sates, in fact, could have come to the conclusion that -- barring a world war -- it was an empire about to expire, and the CIA and others in the American, European, Israeli, and Japanese intelligence services had been saying the same thing since, in some cases the 1960s.
Yet it was Emmanuel Todd who captured Europe's attention by explicitly saying that the Soviet Emperor had no clothes - and doing so in a way that was widely discussed across Europe. Thus, when my best friend and former business partner Jerry Schneiderman and I found ourselves in Budapest in early November, 1989, the week before the Berlin Wall fell, as East German refugees were streaming into the country and the Soviets seemed helpless to stop it, we discovered that the reaction of the Hungarian shopkeepers and bartenders we talked with was a resigned shrug: "We knew it was coming. Everybody knew it was coming." Other than, of course, the average American.
Now comes Emmanuel Todd to predict the fall of another empire: America.
In Après l' empire ("After The Empire"), a runaway bestseller across Europe and in Japan, Todd points out that many of the same demographic and historic indicators that led him to boldly predict the looming collapse of the Soviet system can now -- with some variations that are even more alarming -- be applied to the United States.
Every American should read this book. First, we must read it to understand how Europe, Russia, China, and Japan (among others) view us. Second, we must read it because its logic, facts, statistics, and conclusions are unassailable.
The main thesis of Todd's book is that America is posturing, playing the role of the leader of the "free world" and head of the new American Empire, when, in fact, we are militarily, economically, and morally bankrupt -- and the rest of the world knows it. In fact, he suggests, much of the posturing is for the consumption of the domestic American audience, as the rest of the world (with the exception of a few dependent Third World nations) knows we're already in decline and perhaps even ready to implode.
Economically, twenty-five years of conservative Reaganomics -- "free trade" elevated to a virtual religion (including complicity by Clinton in signing GATT/WTO and NAFTA) -- and the massive budget and trade deficits that have resulted from this, have turned the United States from an independent manufacturing powerhouse and the world's leading creditor into a bankrupt nation with little manufacturing capacity left, dependent on other nations for the imports that maintain our unsustainable standard of living. The result is that the US "has become the center of a system in which its number one job is to consume rather than produce."
"If the United States has greatly declined in relative terms as an economic power," writes Todd, "it has nevertheless succeed in massively increasing its ability to siphon off wealth from the world economy. Objectively speaking, America has become a predator; ... [and] is going to have to fight politically and militarily in order to sustain the hegemony that has become indispensable for maintaining its standard of living."
In his concluding chapter, Todd writes, "The United States is unable to live on its own economic activity and must be subsidized to maintain its level of consumption -- at its present cruising speed that subsidy amounts to 1.4 billion dollars per day."
Referring to the "bizarre behavior" of the Bush administration's America, Todd asks the question -- in italics for emphasis -- "How does one deal with a superpower that is economically dependent but also politically useless?"
In "The Fragility of Tribute" chapter, Todd suggests the world won't -- or can't -- long continue to support our "parasitic" lifestyle by loaning us money to sell us goods, while we export our manufacturing industries and hollow out our internal productivity. "The most likely scenario" he sees as a result of this "is a stock market crash larger than any we have experienced thus far that will be followed by a meltdown of the dollar -- a one-two punch that will put an end to any further delusions of 'empire' when it comes to the US economy."
Our moral bankruptcy, Todd suggests, is the result of these same economic and political policies emanating from the radical right (neoliberals) in America, and are rapidly morphing our nation from a democracy into an oligarchy.
Without irony, he notes, "It is a surprising return to the world of Aristotle in which oligarchy may succeed democracy." As "American society is changing into a fundamentally unegalitarian system of domination..." he notes that this turnaround of increasing rule by the rich in America and a wiping out of our middle class "explains the strained relations between the United States and the rest of the world. The progress of democracy around the world is masking the weakening of democracy in its birthplace [America]." The result? "...the United states is beginning to lose its democratic characteristics..."
Because America has become a "parasitical" nation of importers of oil and goods from around the world, paying with debt, Todd says, "From now on the fundamental strategic objective of the United States will be political control of the world's resources."
Thus we have had to invent a "myth of global terrorism" so we can convince ourselves that our projection of power into oil-rich regions of the world is to "save" both America and the world from "terrorists." Because our military power is insufficient to take on any serious foes, we rattle sabers, proclaim "Axis of evils," and attack essentially defenseless nations, while proclaiming our efforts great military victories comparable to the defeat of the Third Reich in World War II.
The world, Todd notes, isn't buying it. And they're getting tired of our constant hectoring about "democracy" even as we cut back on civil liberties and economic opportunity at home, support "strategic" dictators abroad, and are increasingly ruled by oligarchic families.
Which brings us to his third conclusion -- that we have become militarily impotent. Todd notes that, "In the childlike universe of Donald Rumsfeld, for example, only physical force matters." Thus, we stir up problems in the militarily weak (but oil rich) Arab world, destabilizing the entire planet. This is not a situation European and Asian powers take lightly. Europe, Todd notes, "cannot accept indefinitely the continuous disorder in the Arab world sponsored by the United States..."
The result is clear, he says. "But make no mistake, all the ingredients are there for a serious conflict between Europe and the United States in the near future." Such a conflict could be devastating to the US.
Dissecting -- and dismissing -- numerous American "strategic" books like Zbigniew Brzezinski's "The Grand Chessboard," Todd notes that our leaders in the post-Carter world have always taken the lazy way out, rather than building the strategic alliances and offering the moral leadership that would have been necessary to maintain America as the moral, economic, and political international leader we were before Reagan began the destruction of the traditional American way of life.
In part, this has been the result of the capture of our political system by oligarchs, powerful rich interests including multinational corporations with little allegiance to America (or any nation). "This is why," he notes, "the United States' export of its specific model of unregulated capitalism [necessary to sustain oligarchy] constitutes a danger for European societies, as well as for Japan...."
The result of our export of privatization, deregulation, and unrestrained oligarchic capitalism (called "the liberal model" in Europe) is that "the constant attempts to foist the liberal model onto the strongly rooted and state-centered societies of the Old World is in the process of blowing them apart -- a phenomenon that can be observed nowadays in the regular gains of the far right in a number of recent elections. Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria have all been affected."
Rush Limbaugh/Newt Gingrich politics have led to the rise of a neofascist right in America, and our export of these ideas are inspiring the return of right-wing politics in Europe, threatening to tear apart the social fabric of that continent.
Todd notes that Portugal and Spain are the least affected by these ideas, because of their recent experience with Franco's fascism.
But our increasing moral bankruptcy (detention without trials, phony war on terror), economic bankruptcy (living on debt borrowed from Europe, China, and Japan, along with the dramatic oligarchic trends in America toward richer rich, poorer poor, and the loss of the middle class), and military impotence (leading us to loudly attack relatively defenseless countries to create "show victories" and a "bloody vaudeville show" in Iraq) are causing many in Europe to reevaluate their relationship with -- and support of -- America.
If they decide to throw their lot in with Russia and Iran instead of the US -- and Todd suggests this is a growing probability -- then the result is "easy to predict."
"The United States," he says, "will then have to live like other nations, notably by reigning in its huge trade deficit, a constraint that would imply a 15 to 20 percent drop in the standard of living of the population."
And this, he suggests, may be a good thing, long term. "What the world needs is not that America disappear but that it return to its true self -- democratic, liberal, and productive."
One can only hope that America will return to the ideals we held prior to Reagan, and do so with a minimum of damage to our working class. Reading Emmanuel Todd's book "After The Empire" will help crystallize in your mind so many of these issues, and help provide a roadmap for Americans to a return to domestic and international political sanity, hopefully as soon as the 2006 elections...
Thom Hartmann's "Independent Thinker" Book of the Month Review
How is it, some have wondered, that the Republican Party has been taken over by a relatively small band of radical ideologues who don't believe in democracy or honesty or any specific religion, but relentlessly flog the language of "freedom," "honor," and Christianity? How is it that people who run the government into deficit can campaign on fiscal responsibility? Or that people who campaign on a "pro life" position can be responsible for lying us into a war that has killed well over 100,000 human beings, nakedly advocate torture, and openly promote the death penalty in American?
Most of it goes back to one man - Leo Strauss. To understand what has happened to America since the dawn of the "Reagan revolution," one must first understand Strauss and his disciples.
Several of my previous monthly book reviews for Buzzflash have been about books that provide insights into the history of modern American liberalism and its contrast with traditional European and American conservatism. But the folks who today call themselves "conservatives" - from Limbaugh to Gingrich to Kristol to the senior Bushies - are not conservatives in either the American or the classical European mold. They represent something entirely new in the experience of America, breathtaking in its sweep and horrifying in its reach and ambitions. They are the "new conservatives" or "neo-conservatives."
Arguably, the last two political philosophers who both influenced world events and shared many of the worldviews of today's neocons were the Nicolo Machiavelli (who published "The Prince" in Italy in 1515) and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (who inspired a young Adolf Hitler with his magazine "Ostara"). Following in their tradition - relatively obscure men who peddled cynicism and faux patriotism while deeply influencing some of the world's most powerful people - came Leo Strauss, a professor at the University of Chicago through the 1950s and 1960s. A Jewish émigré from Germany, Strauss was obsessed with the noble goal of figuring out how to prevent America from falling into the same trap of a decline into fascism that Germany had. Ironically, he himself fell into the trap of fascistic ends-justifies-the-means thinking, and has taken a large segment of the American conservative movement with him.
As Canadian (University of Calgary) political science professor Shadia B. Drury notes in her brilliant critique of Strauss, his work, and his students' influence:
"Strauss's students and their students have occupied important positions in the Reagan and Bush administrations and continue to play a significant role within the Republican party. Prominent figures on the American political scene include Reagan's ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz; Caspar Weinberger's former speechwriter, Seth Cropsey; National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman, John T. Agresto; National Security Council advisor Carnes Lord; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Alan Keyes; legal scholar and judge Robert Bork...; Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; former Education Department Chief of Staff, William Kristol (later former vice-president Dan Quayle's chief of staff and then the chief pundit and policy maker of the Republican party). Journalists have been fully cognizant of this influx of Straussians into Washington and of the power they have within the Republican party. So much so that the New York Times has dubbed Leo Strauss the godfather of the Republican party's 1994 Contract With America."
What's particularly useful and fascinating about Drury's book is that she not only lays out the core and evolution of Strauss's philosophy, but puts it into the context of the history of modern conservatism and modern liberal thought and history. (There are several other books on Strauss available and most fail to provide this useful historical context.)
Drury is an academic, and it shows in her writing style, which often lapses into textbook-ese. The information she's providing is so compelling, however, that this is merely a distraction and not a deterrence from reading this brilliant and deeply researched book. Drury also assumes her readers know the philosophies and histories of Max Weber, Martin Heiddeger, Carl Schmitt, and other Germans who influenced the Nazis (or became Nazis), and of other somewhat more obscure historical details such as the arguments Jefferson and Madison had with Plato's critiques of democracy. Some reviewers have said that because she assumes such depth of knowledge on the part of her readers, this book should be only for post-graduate students of history or philosophy. I disagree - her references to philosophers and philosophies (and histories) are sufficiently contextual that the reader can easily and readily infer who unfamiliar people may have been and what their positions were, and thus not only extract Strauss's philosophy and impact from the book, but get a running start on many others as well. (You'll become an armchair expert in famous philosophers in no time, and amaze your friends!)
About the neocon philosophy itself, Drury notes:
"The truth of the matter is that neoconservativism is not conservative, but radical and reactionary. Its radical nature is manifest in Kristol's refusal to accept the basic tenets of the American slate and start over. Neoconservatism is also reactionary in the technical sense of the term. Reactionaries are not interested in conserving the present as it is. On the contrary, it is the present that they find intolerable. ...Neoconservatives are repelled by the liberal present, and they hunger for radical change intended to restore a lost golden age."
Ironically, the "lost golden age" of the Neoconservatives never existed. The Founders and Framers of America were not, by and large, Bible thumpers, and the nation was founded on egalitarian - liberal - principles. The Enlightenment, which led directly to the American Revolution, was the dawning birth of modern liberalism. Thus, because history doesn't support their story line, the Neocons have actively set out to reconstruct America's history to their liking - producing a flood or phony history flooding America's airwaves, bookstores, churches, and schools.
They also determined that people must live in constant fear, and that a religion - any religion so long as it was monotheistic, patriarchal, hierarchical, and authoritarian - must be used to "opiate" (to paraphrase both Strauss and Marx) the people.
The cynical neocon manipulation of Americans was done for the very best of reasons. After all, the ends - in their minds - justified just about any means, including the death of hundreds of thousands of people. All this brought about the ultimate irony: Strauss's fear of Nazism - and his misunderstanding of Nazism - led him and his followers to repeat many of the philosophical and political errors of the Nazis.
To understand how America got here, read Shadia Drury's brilliant book, "Leo Strauss and the American Right." Once you have, the path back to democracy will become much more clear.
Review by Thom Hartmann
I was ten years old when Dag Hammarskjöld died in 1961, and I still remember that week. Having grown up with monthly "duck and cover" drills in our elementary school, many of the kids of my generation saw the UN as the great moral force that would prevent the Soviet Union and war hawks in America from plunging the planet into a nuclear holocaust.
I remember wondering, the week his plane went down over Africa on a peace mission to the Congo, if Hammarskjöld's death would mean world war. I remember President Kennedy, on TV, saying, "Dag Hammarskjöld is dead, but the United Nations lives. His tragedy is deep in our hearts, but the tasks for which he died are at the top of our agenda." I remember that I felt mildly reassured.
I remember that we talked about it in school when it happened, and we asked our teacher if the only UN leader we had ever known (he was elected in 1953 as the second Secretary General of the then-still-new institution) meant the bombs would begin to fall soon. My father reminded me today that, at the time, he had been considering creating an "old fashioned fallout shelter" in our home by putting a false ceiling into the basement and covering it with dirt from the back yard.
On July 29th of this year, Hammarskjöld would have been 100 years old. Still regarded as its greatest Secretary General, he helped shape the latter half of the 20th century, and kept the world from plunging into World War III.
As Kofi Anan said of Hammarskjöld in September of 2001, "His life and his death, his words and his actions, have done more to shape public expectations of the office, and indeed of the [United Nations] Organization, than those of any other man or woman in its history. His wisdom and his modesty, his unimpeachable integrity and single-minded devotion to duty, have set a standard for all servants of the international community - and especially, of course for his successors - which is simply impossible to live up to. There can be no better rule of thumb for a Secretary-General, as he approaches each new challenge or crisis, than to ask himself, 'How would Hammarskjöld have handled this?'"
On the United Nations website, the organization notes:
"In his final address of the year, broadcast over United Nations Radio on 31 December 1953, Mr. Hammarskjöld said:
"'....Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just. And how can we fight for liberty if we are not free in our own minds? How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?... Only in true surrender to the interest of all can we reach that strength and independence, that unity of purpose, that equity of judgment which are necessary if we are to measure up to our duty to the future, as men of a generation to whom the chance was given to build in time a world of peace.'" (UN Press Release SG/360, December 22, 1953)
The year he died, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. (Today, the United Nations dedicates an entire region of their website to Hammarskjöld.)
Thirty years later, I discovered that Dag Hammarskjöld had kept a diary, which came into print in the 1960s with the title "Markings." Reading it, I was touched in a way that no other book has done in decades. Fifteen years ago, when I owned an advertising agency in Atlanta, I bought 120 copies and mailed them to all our clients as Christmas/Chanukah presents.
"Markings" is not a political book, but, instead, is the spiritual diary of a man tortured by and yet at the same time drawn to the incredible burden he held of keeping the world from disintegrating into nuclear holocaust while both Khrushchev and US hawks like McCarthy and Vice President Nixon were doing their best to thwart his efforts. It starts in 1925, when he was 20 years old, and ends at his death in 1961.
There are occasional veiled references to people and situations of the time, and knowing the history of the day it's not hard to figure them out, but mostly this book is the record of the personal spiritual and deeply mystical internal journey of one of the 20th century's greatest men, even as he walked through a political minefield and tried to keep the world from total nuclear annihilation.
"Markings" has developed a cult following over the 40 or so years it's been continuously in print. Two books have been written purely dedicated to decoding it - "Dag Hammarskjöld's White Book: The Meaning of Markings" by Gustaf Aulen, which sits beside my bed next to my old and tattered copy of "Markings," and "Dag Hammarskjöld: a biographical interpretation of 'Markings," by Henry P. Van Dusen.
A protestant Swede, Hammarskjöld would have called himself a Christian. I would call him a mystic who transcended Christianity. And friends I've introduced this book to - Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and agnostics - have found inspiration and meaning in it. (And for some, it was just too introspective or poetic.)
In "Markings," Hammarskjöld quotes the famous Sufi/Muslim mystic and poet Rumi: "The lovers of God have no religion but God alone." He quotes Zoroastrianists, ancient Chinese mystics, and Greeks.
As Gustaf Aulen writes, "God does not work only in the Christian sphere. His activity is universal, and its signs can easily be recognized everywhere with non-Christian religions. It is thus no accident that 'Markings' contains quotations from non-Christian authors. On the contrary, Hammarskjöld has searched - we might say, eagerly searched - for statements that can transcend the barriers between different religions."
Hammarskjöld was a Swede who loved his nation and the Scandinavian sense of "community obligation to others" (which conservatives decry as "socialism"), and an internationalist liberal with a PhD in economics. But in his heart he was a mystic.
Here are a few of his entries, just to give you a taste, a feeling, for his voice in this extraordinary diary:
On April 7, 1953, as the United Nations was voting him into an office he did not seek (up until just a few days before, he had no idea he had even been nominated), he wrote:
"Except in faith, nobody is humble. The mask of weakness or of Phariseeism is not the naked face of humility.
"And, except in faith, nobody is proud. The vanity displayed in all its varieties by the spiritually immature is not pride.
"To be, in faith, both humble and proud: that is, to live, to know that in God I am nothing, but that God is in me."
"That strange moment when a man's features are dissolved into the trembling shimmer on the surface of the wave, through which you peer into the depths without being able to see the bottom. You are tempted to dive and to grasp - but the water cannot be grasped, and beneath its surface you cannot breathe. One step further and the relation is destroyed, reduced to terror and error: you imagine you are taking possession of a human being, but, in fact, you are losing him. In your attempt to break down the barriers of a personality, you are building a new prison for yourself."
"Below even the sunniest and most secure human relationship, the abyss lies waiting - because our lack of faith is fascinated by the possibilities of the night side of life."
In 1955, struggling with communist China to release US prisoners of war from the Korean conflict, buffeted by criticism from both Khrushchev and American conservatives, Hammarskjöld wrote in his diary:
"'To the pure all things are pure.' But if a man can only reach this state by making compromises, then his striving is itself an impurity. In such matters there are no differences of degree.
"'What! He is now going to try to teach me!' --Why not? There is nobody from whom you cannot learn. Before God, who speaks through all men, you are always in the bottom class of nursery school."
"Before Thee in humility, with Thee in faith, in Thee in peace."
"So, once again, you chose for yourself - and opened the door to chaos. The chaos you become whenever God's hand does not rest upon your head. "He who has once been under God's hand, has lost the innocence: only he feels the full explosive force of destruction which is released by a moment's surrender to temptation.
"But when his attention is directed beyond and above, how strong he is, with the strength of God, who is within him because he is in God. Strong and free, because his self no longer exists."
It's unlikely that people who did not know him personally would have guessed that, during this incredibly turbulent year, the thoughts Hammarskjöld would choose to write into his diary talked of his wrestling with faith instead of world politics. In a 1955 paragraph that reminds one of great mystics like Meister Eckhart or Paramahansa Yogananda, he added:
"It is not sufficient to place yourself daily under God. What really matters is to be only under God: the slightest division of allegiance opens the door to daydreaming, petty conversation, petty boasting, petty malice - all the petty satellites of the death-instinct.
"'But how, then, am I to love God?' 'You must love Him as if He were a non-God, a non-Spirit, a non-Person, a non-Substance: love Him simply as the One, the pure and absolute Unity in which is no trace of Duality. And into this One, we must let ourselves fall continually from being into non-being. God helps us to do this.'"
On October 12, 1958, the Soviet Union exploded a 1000-kiloton nuclear bomb in an atmospheric test that shook the world. That day, Hammarskjöld wrote in his diary:
Day slowly bleeds to death
Through the wound made
When the sharp horizon's edge
Ripped through the sky.
Into its now empty veins
Seeps the darkness.
The corpse stiffens,
Embraced by the chill of night.
Over the dead one are lit
Some silent stars.
On the next page, perhaps at day's end, he wrote, simply, "Lord - Thine the day, And I the day's."
"Markings" is the diary of a man who was deeply struggling to fill himself with the transcendent, who had touched it and knew it, but also struggled with the humanness that so often keeps us from it. It's a frank and extraordinary insight into another person's soul, into his spiritual battles, his doubts, fears, and joys.
There is no mention in the book, other than in the most oblique of terms, of his work with the United Nations. Instead, we simply find the true heart - and the deepest anguish - of one of history's greatest statesmen and peacemakers.
Just a few months before he died, he wrote:
In the small hours:
Have I done right?
Why did I act
Just as I did?
Over and over again
The same steps,
The same words; Never the answer.
In his final speech to the UN, he compared the struggle for world peace with the progression in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (his favorite) from the stormy, bleak First Movement into the Ode To Joy of the Forth Movement. This rise from the base to the joyous, from the selfish to the selfless, from the human to the divine, was the constant effort of his life. (Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was played at the UN in the commemoration of his death.)
Dag Hammarskjöld's extraordinary time on this world's stage - and the startling diary that he left behind - demonstrate to each of us the possibility of maintaining a deeply spiritual center, while still dealing with the most difficult problems of life. Indeed, his advice to himself was to throw himself into life with total effort, as his greatest gift both to his fellow humans and to God.
"Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live, great enough to die for," he wrote in 1952, before that fateful call from the United Nations.
Every reflective person struggles with finding his or her own personal mission, dedicating ourselves to things greater than our own short lives, and looking into the often frightening depths of our own souls. In following Hammarskjöld's discovery of his own mission, passion, and struggles with the seduction of joy and the pain of death and tragedy, we better prepare ourselves for our own inevitable confrontations with the same.
"The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image" -- Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker ReviewWritten by BuzzFlash
Review by Thom Hartmann
Who killed the goddess?
And why is it that there are so many men who are frantic about seizing political and economic power, subjugating women, and forcing on others their particular male-god-dominated religion?
Might understanding these issues help us understand why the dominionists who founded the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks, and now control the White House and Congress, are so in love with war and hateful toward social programs that help women and children?
Although he doesn't address the political questions in the third paragraph above, Leonard Shlain takes on the first two - and gives his readers the ability to suddenly understand that third question - in his book "The Alphabet Versus The Goddess."
The origins of violence, male dominance, and hierarchy have long been the subject of analysis by a spectrum of people and institutions ranging from the religious to philosophers to psychologists to biologists.
The theory put forward in the Bible, for example, suggests that it's God's will that men dominate women because of a mistake that the first woman, Eve, made, and that violence came from that act and showed up in the First Children when Cain killed Abel. As time went on, God got into the act, encouraging, perhaps most conspicuously Joshua, to commit acts of mass murder, even killing non-combatant women and children after having killed all the men in several communities. (Read the Book of Joshua if you want to see blood and guts that would make Bruce Willis blanch.)
Marija Gimbutas ("Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe" and other books) and Riane Eisler ("The Chalice and the Blade" and other books) suggested that there was a time in Europe when people lived tribally and in peace, and societies were matriarchal and matrilineal. They propose, more or less (this abbreviated form of explanation hardly does them justice - I recommend their books), that when humans began to herd animals and kill them for meat, we became inured to killing those we had become close to. The easy next step was killing people.
Daniel Quinn ("Ishmael" and other books) suggests that it all began with agriculture itself, particularly the cultivation of grain. Because somebody could "lock up the food," that person had the power of life and death over others, and thus were born the first kings. Interestingly, Peter Farb ("Man's Rise To Civilization") points out that the only Native American tribes that can be documented to have had a sophisticated system of slaveholding were those in the northwest where the salmon ran twice a year, producing two huge bulges in the food supply which had to be smoked and locked up (although Farb doesn't draw any conclusions from this, nonetheless his "Man's Rise" is one of the most brilliant ethnographic overviews of Native Americans ever written, and his research and thinking heavily influenced my book "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight").
Psychologists and philosophers from Aristotle to Freud to Erickson have questioned whether social constructs, unconscious urges, or childrearing techniques may cause societal violence, hierarchy, and patriarchy. The debate - nature, nurture, family, culture - continues to this day.
For example, of the most brilliant of all the modern thinkers to examine neurological development and its stages, Allan Schore ("Affect Regulation and the Development of the Self," a book I cite extensively in my book "The Edison Gene") demonstrates in a massive work with over 2000 footnotes how physiologically and psychologically delicate and malleable our brains our, particularly in utero and during the first two decades of life - and how learning, particularly learning to read and write, change the way our brains are organized.
Into this debate steps San Francisco physician Leonard Shlain, with his book "The Alphabet Versus The Goddess."
Shlain suggests that the idea for the book came to him during a trip to Greece, although others such as Walter Ong ("Orality and Literacy," which is not in Shlain's bibliography) and Robert Logan ("The Alphabet Effect"), had previously tilled the field by some years. Nonetheless, Ong and Logan are difficult, academic reads, and Shlain has produced an eminently readable and fascinating story of another possible origin of what many consider to be the triune curse of humankind: war, hierarchy, and patriarchy.
The basic premise of Shlain's book is that we are naturally wired to be cooperative, nurturing, and probably matriarchal in social organization. Evidence of this - particularly evidence of the worship of goddesses along with gods - is widespread around the ancient world, and among indigenous peoples today.
But, Shlain says, when we teach abstract alphabets - the type where the letters are not pictures of the meaning conveyed - to children at an early age, we cause the abstract/male side of their brains to rise up and take over, suppressing the intuitive/holistic/female side. Males are particularly susceptible to this, although women like Ann Coulter (assuming she actually was born as a woman) demonstrate that it can happen to females, as well.
Shlain is a surgeon, and he goes into some length about the brain and brain development, although in a way that's palatable for a general audience. Indeed, his oversimplification for a mass audience has been one of the main points for which he is criticized: The old left-brain/right-brain theory is nowhere as simple as it was presented when first rolled out a few decades ago.
Nonetheless, Shlain's neurobiology isn't terribly in error, and his history is pretty startling. He documents how society after society across the world and across the arc of "civilized" history, suddenly became violent, patriarchal, and hierarchal after the mass introduction of alphabetic writing.
For example, he points out how Europe, during the largely illiterate dark ages, exploded into Mary worship (she was more often worshipped during that era than was Jesus) and an obsession with the Holy Grail (which he notes bears a connection to the first cup the Greeks he says was shaped after the breast of Helen of Troy, and is receptive and thus feminine).
Once literacy began to expand across Europe, an orgy of witch-hunts, pogroms, and inquisitions came about, leading to the murder of literally millions of women. (This continued in major cities like Boston in the United States right up to the late 1600s, and goes on in remote locations around the world - as does violence toward women, patriarchy, and hierarchy pretty much everywhere in the "civilized" world - to this day.)
Shlain repeats this example throughout the book, in culture after culture, nation after nation, era after era. It's fascinating, even when it gets repetitive.
Although Shlain doesn't mention Rudolph Steiner or the Waldorf Schools that Steiner created in the 1920s, there is an interesting parallel. Steiner said that children didn't come fully into the physical world until around the age of seven, and therefore shouldn't be "forced" to learn to read before that time. Similarly, Jean Piaget suggested that before seven, children were living in a semi-dream state. Joseph Chilton Pearce refers to it as the "magical child" period (also the title of one of his books).
Overall, Shlain's book is a brilliant start at trying to understand the problem that we see so clearly in the testosterone-driven war-obsessed behaviors of George W. Bush and the men and women around him - as well as previous tyrants and despots who used high-sounding language to justify mass killing and seemed to be in love with the process.
It points to the individual but, more importantly, illuminates the society that produces that individual, and gives us pause to consider where humanity has been, where it's going, and how we may get there intact.
(After you read it, if you find the topic as fascinating as do most who are exposed to it, then pick up copies of "The Chalice and the Blade" by Riane Eisler, "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," which I wrote. All three also tackle our environmental and political problems in a cultural context and bring more light to bear on the issues Shlain raises.)
"Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing" -- Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker ReviewWritten by BuzzFlash
Review by Thom Hartmann
If you want to understand what transformed the Enlightenment into the Declaration of Independence, and that into the United States of America - and where we've done well and erred from there - you must first read robert wolff (he prefers the lowercase usage).
Although wolff's book "Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing" doesn't once mention the Enlightenment, Jefferson, or even the USA, it's nonetheless one of the most essential books to read for anybody who wants to understand the genesis of this nation and the original understandings of our Founders. This is because fifty years ago in the deepest forests and jungles of Malaysia, wolff - a psychologist who now, well into his 80s, is one of our wisest elders - made the same discovery that had fueled Rousseau's 1754 masterpiece "Discourse On Inequality" which, along with Rousseau's later book, "The Social Contract," was a primary influence of Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans.
Rousseau opened "The Social Contract" (and jolted Enlightenment thinkers, including - in a big way - Jefferson) with this sentence: "Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains."
Similarly, in "Original Wisdom" wolff writes about how the Malaysian slang word for the Sng'oi people of the Malaysian jungles was "Sakai," a word that once meant "slave," and how when he first met the Sng'oi, he naively referred to them as Sakai:
After I grew to know the Sng'oi, the People, and when I knew they accepted me, I apologized for having spoken of them as slaves before I knew what they called themselves.
We were sitting around the embers of a little fire in the early evening. There was a flickering oil lamp shedding some light on the porch of one of the little shelters. In this settlement there were four houses; no more than fifteen people lived here. After the sun went down, we sat around, talking now and then, mostly just being together.
I had learned a little of their language, I tried to understand some of what they were saying, but I never became really fluent. My apology was a simple phrase. I said I hoped they did not mind that I had called them Sakai. I was not sure whether I had said it right, and for a long time there was no reaction at all.
I imagined that I saw smiles on a few faces, but it was dark. I could not be sure. Long silences were not unusual among the People. Often someone would say something that would be followed by silence until, finally, one person would answer. This one person obviously spoke for the group, but I often wondered how he or she knew what to say for the group.
This time, again, one person answered. He - a rather adventuresome young man, I was told later - spoke slowly, simply, for my benefit perhaps. "No," he said, "we do not mind when others call us Sakai. We look at the people down below - they have to get up at a certain time in the morning, they have to pay for everything with money, which they have to earn doing things for other people. They are constantly told what they can and cannot do.' He paused, and then added, 'No, we do not mind when they call us slaves."
When I first encountered "Original Wisdom" it was titled "What It Is To Be Human," published by an obscure press, and out of print. A friend had shared it with me, and I was so astounded - and transformed - by the experience of reading it that I immediately did two things.
The first was to call a publisher I knew, Ehud Sperling at Park Street Press/Inner Traditions, and tell him I'd found one of the most important books of our generation, that it was out of print, and that he had both an opportunity and an obligation to share it with the world. (After reading the book, Ehud agreed, which is why Original Wisdom is now back in print.) The second was that Louise and I got on a plane and flew from Vermont to the big Island of Hawai'i to share a week sitting and talking with - and learning from - robert wolff. He has been one of my best and most insightful mentors ever since.
In the first centuries after European contact with the "savages" of North America in the late 15th century, the Founders of this nation were reading - in their day - the then-equivalent of robert wolff's modern work. And they were, in many cases, living with experiences eerily similar to those he documents in "Original Wisdom." Nearly all are now either out of print, or in obscure academic publications; most are written in the style of the 17th and 18th centuries that is, today, considered largely unreadable.
As I noted in my book "What Would Jefferson Do?":
"So much in answer to your inquiries concerning Indians," Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams in June, 1812, "a people with whom, in the early part of my life, I was very familiar, and acquired impressions of attachment and commiseration for them which have never been obliterated. Before the Revolution, they were in the habit of coming often and in great numbers to the seat of government, where I was very much with them. I knew much the great Ontasset, the warrior and orator of the Cherokees; he was always the guest of my father, on his journeys to and from Williamsburg."
On June 19, 1754, when Jefferson was only nine years old, Ben Franklin had introduced the Albany Plan of Union at a meeting attended by both his pre-revolutionary compatriots and a delegation from the Iroquois Confederation. Franklin had earlier attended an Iroquois Condolence Ceremony in 1753, and used Iroquois symbols both in his language and his design for early American currency. In 1770, Franklin wrote, "Happiness is more generally and equally diffus'd among Savages than in civilized societies. No European who has tasted savage life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." ...
Adams replied to Jefferson's letter on June 28, 1813, by saying, "I have also felt an interest in the Indians, and a commiseration for them from my childhood. Aaron Pomham, the [Indian] priest, and Moses Pomham, the king of the Punkapang and Neponset tribes, were frequent visitors at my father's house, at least seventy years ago. I have a distinct remembrance of their forms and figures. They were very aged, and the tallest and stoutest Indians I have ever seen. The titles of king and priest, and the names of Moses and Aaron, were given them, no doubt, by our Massachusetts divines and statesmen.
"There was a numerous family in this town, whose wigwam was within a mile of this house. This family were frequently at my father's house, and I, in my boyish rambles, used to call at their wigwam, where I never failed to be treated with whortleberries, blackberries, strawberries or apples, plums, peaches, etc., for they had planted a variety of fruit trees about them. But the girls went out to service, and the boys to sea, till not a soul is left. We scarcely see an Indian in a year."
Similarly, many of the Europeans wanted to become "savages" and live among the Indians:
Over the next hundred years, as more and more Whites encountered Native Americans, the incidence of Whites joining Indian tribes dramatically increased. Derisively termed "White Indians" by the colonists, thousands of European immigrants to the Americas simply walked away from the emerging American society to join various Indian tribes. Ethnohistorian James Axtell wrote that these early settlers joined the Indians because "they found Indian life to possess a strong sense of community, abundant love, and uncommon integrity" Axtell quoted two White Indians who wrote to the people they'd left behind that they'd found, "the most perfect freedom, the ease of living, the absence of those cares and corroding solicitudes which so often prevail with us."
In 1747, Reverend Cadwallader Colden wrote of the growing exodus of Whites for Indian life: "No Arguments, no Intreaties, nor Tears of their Friends and relations, could persuade many of them to leave their new Indian Friends and Acquaintance; several of them that were by the Caressings of their Relations persuaded to come Home, in a little Time grew tired of our Manner of living, and ran away again to the Indians, and ended their Days with them."
While most people in the modern world think of contemporary tribal people as hungry to join our civilized world, wolff found the Sng'oi just as happy with their own democratic culture as Colden found Native Americans in the 1700s.
Similarly, Colden wrote: "Indian Children have been carefully educated among the English, cloathed and taught, yet, I think, there is not one Instance, that any of these, after they had Liberty to go among their own People, and were come to Age, would remain with the English, but returned to their own Nations, and became as fond of the Indian Manner as those that knew nothing of a civilized Manner of living."
Not being fettered to eight or more hours of work a day to enrich some person or corporation at the top of an economic food chain, people in democratic indigenous cultures spend much of their time interacting with their children. James Bricknell, who was captured by the Delaware in the early 1800s and lived among them for several years before returning to his family, wrote in 1842: "The Delawares are the best people to train up children I ever was with-- Their leisure hours are, in a great measure, spent in training up their children to observe what they believe to be right-- They certainly follow what they are taught to believe right more closely, and I might say more honestly, in general, than we Christians-- I know I am influenced to good, even at this day, more from what I learned among them, than what I learned among people of my own color."
Similarly, in his afterword to "Original Wisdom," wolff writes:
The stories in this book are about people who have worldviews different from the Western one. They know their world differently. ... My translation into English words and an English sentence structure can only clumsily represent another view of reality. ...
It is difficult for Westerners to accept that people and their worlds are inseparable. Now all ancient worlds are threatened by our greed, our machines, our civilization. A young Sng'oi man told me the People are dying out; others have told me they have no place to run to anymore. As Hawaiians say, Hi'ina mai ki puana -- Let the story be told! ...
My luck was to find people who were human in an ancient way. My luck was to recognize and reclaim a humanity rooted in the earth. ...
May these stories help others remember.
Review by Thom Hartmann
This marvelous book is ostensibly presented as an argument for keeping the Estate Tax (aka the Inheritance Tax and now renamed by wealthy conservatives as the Death Tax). And if that's all it were about and all it had in it, I'd put it on a list of "good to know about" books and leave it at that.
But "Wealth and Our Commonwealth" is really much larger than just a book about Estate Taxes. Instead, it's one of the finest treatises in print about the history of progressive economics in America.
Most Americans these days don't remember why (or when) we instituted a progressive income tax, or why taxes even matter in society beyond the obvious issue of paying the cost of government functions like police and fire departments. They don't realize that the Founders of our republic had a visceral and intense concern about multigenerational accumulated wealth and the power of great wealth to corrupt democracy itself. They know that none of the supposedly "rich" founders left great fortunes and no foundations bear their names, and that the foundations of today are only named after people who lived in the late 19th and 20th centuries -- but they don't know why.
Most Americans also don't realize that a middle class is not a normal thing, and is brought about by direct intervention in the marketplace by government, including laws protecting labor, defining minimum wages, and taxing great wealth.
Without these progressive foundations, America would revert to what it looked like during the era of the Robber Barons -- the average worker earning the equivalent of around $9,000 a year in today's dollars, and a wealthy elite so rich and powerful that every branch of government was under their direct or indirect control.
America's first middle class was based on land and the family farm -- the agricultural nation that Jefferson idealized. That began to disintegrate after the Civil War when the railroads were so omnipresent that they made it possible for large corporations to define grain prices and drive small farmers out of business. This produced the eruptions of the Grange movement, and the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that brought us direct election of the Senate, the right of women to vote, laws protecting the right to unionize, the estate tax, and a progressive income tax.
These all set the stage for the emergence of the second American middle class, which only began to decay with the "Reagan Revolution" in the 1980s when Reagan declared war on organized labor and conservatives in Congress began dismantling progressive taxes.
"Wealth and Our Commonwealth" has one of the very best (and certainly the most concise) explanations of why progressive economic policies are essential to maintain a middle class -- and why a middle class is necessary for a functioning democracy. It's summarized in fewer than 20 pages in the first chapter, "What Kind Of Nation Do We Want To Be?"
The second chapter -- "The Origins of America's Estate Tax" -- is an extraordinary overview of the history of wealth, power, and democracy in the United States. It's essential reading for every American, and particularly for progressives who want to understand the interplay of economics and democracy in this nation (and around the world -- the principles are universal).
The third chapter starts just short of halfway through this 140 page masterpiece, and chronicles the rise among the wealthy of an organized opposition to the estate tax, and the sometimes shockingly devious means they use to convince average people they should be opposed to this tax. The book wraps up with several chapters about the politics of the estate tax, and a final, brilliant chapter that neatly frames the issue of "What We Owe Our Society."
There was a time in America when everybody understood that taxes are the price of admission to a civil society. And we called "freeloaders" those people who tried to avoid paying taxes, but still wanted to make use of public facilities from roads to bridges to fire and police protection.
Restoring a strong middle class and the vibrant democracy it makes possible will only happen if we wake up enough Americans to the conservative war against democracy and the middle class. Reading and sharing "Wealth and Our Commonwealth" is one of the most important first-steps you can take in helping bring about this awakening.
"Don't Think of an Elephant" and "How Democrats and Progressives Can Win" (DVD) -- Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker ReviewWritten by BuzzFlash
Review by Thom Hartmann
During the 1988 presidential campaign, Republican partisans began employing an unusually skillful use of language and advertising technique. The Willie Horton ads, for example, used an old NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) technique of "Anchoring via Submodalities," linking Dukakis, at an unconscious level in the viewer's mind, to Willie Horton by the use of color versus black-and-white footage, and background sound. After a few exposures to these psy-ops ads, people would "feel" Willie Horton when they "saw" Dukakis.
It was no accident. Toward the end of that campaign, I was presenting at an NLP conference in New York, and a colleague mentioned to me how the GOP had hired one of our mutual acquaintances to advise them on the tools of persuasion. "He's gone over to the dark side," my friend said sadly.
NLP and similar psychological techniques are somewhat like the Force referred to in the Star Wars movies -- they can be used to heal or they can be used to manipulate (within limits). They're grounded in the sciences of linguistics and hypnosis, and were first identified and codified in the late 1960s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.
I'd first learned NLP in the healing context in 1978, when I was the Executive Director of a residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed and abused children, and found it a powerful therapeutic tool. I applied an NLP technique called "Reframing" to the issue of Attention Deficit Disorder, suggesting that kids with ADD were "hunters in a farmer's world" instead of "defective," a concept endorsed by NLP co-founder Richard Bandler (who trained me) in a foreword he wrote for one of my books and written up in a TIME magazine cover story in 1993. I'd also spent about a decade teaching NLP and training NLP Practitioners.
At the same time NLP was being used for therapy and to enhance communications, the dark side of the force was getting aggressive. Newt Gingrich in particular -- skilled in these techniques -- was working with Republican leaders and conservatives in the media to frame the word "liberal" as something akin to "traitor," an effort that ultimately led to his infamous "secret" memo to GOP leaders titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control."
As FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) notes, Newt wrote, "Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. ... Apply these [words] to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.
"Decay... failure (fail)... collapse(ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... liberal... they/them... unionized bureaucracy... "compassion" is not enough... betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant... stagnation... welfare... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... mandate(s)... taxes... spend(ing)... shame... disgrace... punish (poor...)... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal... abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights... red tape... patronage."
On the other hand, FAIR notes, Newt suggested that Republicans should also "memorize as many as possible" of the following "Positive Governing Words" to apply to any reference to Republicans or GOP efforts:
"Share... change... opportunity... legacy... challenge... control... truth... moral... courage... reform... prosperity... crusade... movement... children... family... debate... compete... active(ly)... we/us/our... candid(ly)... humane... pristine... provide... liberty... commitment... principle(d)... unique... duty... precious... premise... care(ing)... tough... listen... learn... help... lead... vision... success... empower(ment)... citizen... activist... mobilize... conflict... light... dream... freedom... peace... rights... pioneer... proud/pride... building... preserve... pro-(issue): flag, children, environment... reform... workfare... eliminate good-time in prison... strength... choice/choose... fair... protect... confident... incentive... hard work... initiative... common sense... passionate."
The result a decade of politicians and talk show hosts memorizing and parroting Newt's word list is that, in much of the public's mind, morality and patriotism are associated with conservatives while liberals are thought of in the terms described above.
And it's no coincidence that the most psychologically effective ad that the Bush campaign used in 2004 wasn't the wolf ad (that was #2) but one that had two specific NLP-based posthypnotic suggestions embedded into it, telling people that "in the quiet" and "when you're alone in the voting booth" that they "can't take the risk" of voting for Kerry. It looked like a simple check-list ad, but was saved for the last minute and played so heavily because it was so psychologically sophisticated and potent.
This is part of an overall attempt to manipulate, define, and "frame" the terms of discussion and debate in America. It's a sophisticated and well-funded project, with roots in NLP and psychology. Groups from the GOP to the most well known right-wing think tanks to the White House have been systematically using it, and the average American has absorbed thousands of hours of its output over the past two decades.
Into this fray steps George Lakoff, professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Like several of the early founders of NLP, Lakoff is a linguist, and today could easily be called one of our nation's best. Although he doesn't explicitly reference NLP in his book, it's an excellent primer in several aspects of this technology.
Lakoff opens his book with discussions of the views of government that are held by conservatives and liberals ("strict father" versus "nurturing parent"), and points out how often debates are won by conservatives even before the discussion has begun because they were first to seize control of the language. Part of this, Lakoff notes, is the result of a genuine difference in worldviews, but a larger and more insidious part is an intentional effort by conservatives to frame the terms of national discourse.
For example, when discussion is held about "tax relief," two historic understandings of taxation are lost: that taxes are the cost of admission to a civil society, and that those who want to evade taxes yet still use public assets like fire and police protection are freeloaders. Instead, taxes are cast as something oppressive, from which we need relief.
Perhaps the most useful part of the book is the end -- although the book is best read straight through, so the concepts in the end are in context -- where Lakoff presents his own far more ethical and honest version of Newt's famous word list. For example, where conservatives talk about "Strong Defense, Free Markets, Lower Taxes, Smaller Government, and Family Values," Lakoff recommends progressives reframe discussions into terms of "Stronger America, Broad Prosperity, Better Future, Effective Government, and Mutual Responsibility." He even titles his last chapter, "How to respond to conservatives," and it's filled with sound and pithy advice.
The DVD, "How Democrats and Progressives Can Win," expands particularly on this final part of Lakoff's book. It's a straightforward tutorial by Lakoff himself, and goes through a series of specific issues -- abortion, taxes, same-sex marriage, and the like -- telling progressives how to perform verbal jujitsu on conservatives, taking their frames and turning them inside out. It's best watched after reading the book, as there's a lot of shorthand in the movie that makes much more sense when you've first read the book. While it makes several references specifically about how to defeat Bush in the election of '04 -- which is now over -- the information is more useful and relevant than ever.
"Don't Think of an Elephant: know your values and frame the debate" by George Lakoff, and the DVD "How Democracy and Progressives Can Win" are vital tools for anybody interested in helping bring about a return to democracy in America. At 120 pages it's a quick read, yet the concepts contained are so important -- and explained in such an accessible fashion -- that it will transform your ability to communicate progressive values and ideas.
Review by Thom Hartmann
"Triumph of the Will," a movie made in 1934 by the legendary Leni Riefenstahl (who died in September 2003 at the age of 101), documents the 1934 Nuremberg rallies organized by Hitler's Nazis, and won gold medals for filmmaking in Venice in 1935 and in Paris in 1937. The Nazis required that the full or a truncated version of it be played before every other movie in theatres all across Germany, a requirement that stood until the Third Reich fell.
This film is important -- vital -- to see and understand for several reasons, even aside from the cinematic genius of its filmmaker. (There is an excellent biographical profile of her at http://www.leni-riefenstahl.de/eng/bio.html. The last scene of the movie, including its music, was eerily echoed in the end of George Lucas' first Star Wars movie, and other filmmakers over the years have pointed to "Will" as a seminal influence. Although she became one of the world's most famous photographers -- her last book published just last year -- she never made another movie after the fall of the Third Reich, as her reputation was so damaged by her association, at the age of 32, with Hitler in making this movie.)
The first non-cinematic reason this movie is still important 70 years after its creation is that it helps Americans demystify the rise of Hitler and helps us understand that the German people of that era were neither cartoon characters nor incarnations of evil, but real and average people swept up in a nationalist hysteria. Keep in mind that this movie was made just a year after the nation's most famous building had been burned in a "terrorist attack" that Hitler blamed first on communists and later on Jews, and he used the attack on the German Parliament Building to consolidate his rise to power. And that this movie was a very large part of the barrage of propaganda Germans absorbed in the 1930s (when you see the film, this realization will take on added significance).
Just prior to the filming of "Will," Hitler had also achieved passage of the famous Enabling Acts (in response to the burning of the Reichstag), which gave the government the power to open people's mail, tap their phones, break into their homes and collect their personal financial data without a warrant, and imprison protesters or corral them into separate zones. The Acts so offended the German parliament that Hitler had to add to them a 4-year sunset provision, so they'd automatically expire should his war on terrorism end within that time span. And they helped insure that there would be no protesters at the 1934 rally documented in "Will," even though at that time -- only a year into Hitler's reign -- many within Germany still openly opposed him. (One of the best books on this is Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free," which you may want to read after watching this movie. Or just read this excerpt: http://www.thirdreich.net/Thought_They_Were_Free.html)
In the early 1930s, Germany was recovering from the crippling effects of the reparations provisions of the Treaty of Versailles that followed the end of WWI, and Hitler was widely credited with restoring both prosperity and a sense of national identity to the demoralized electorate. He worked hand-in-glove with big business to produce a giant war machine, and the side effect of all this defense-industry spending was a general increase in prosperity. The nation was being militarized while being told their national mission was to create a 1000-year reign of peace around the world. Peace through strength. Preemptive war. Get the terrorists before they can get us. Peace through military power and domination of the world.
As the world knows, Hitler and his closest advisors said Germany must find a "solution" to the "problem" of those dangerous people of middle-eastern ancestry, the Jews -- a "solution" which became the Holocaust. Ironically (or horrifyingly), in this movie you'll see the first major roll-out (by Hess, when introducing Hitler) of a word that Nazi propagandists borrowed from the Zionist movement. They began, in 1934, to heavily use the word "homeland" to promote the idea of "German blood and soil," using this word as part of an overall campaign to transform ordinary nationalism into a "patriotic" cult that quickly swept the nation.
If the first reason for seeing this movie -- aiding your historical understanding of the time and its propaganda -- is important, the second reason is vital. "Triumph of the Will" shows what can happen in a nation when its leader lies to their people, objectifies and then blames a cultural and religious "other" for their problems, stifles dissent, and -- with the complicity of an obedient media -- carefully stage-manages public appearances to seem that everybody totally adores him.
While there are parallels between the rise of George W. Bush and that of Adolf Hitler (I wrote about them just a few months after 9/11 in an article titled When Democracy Failed, which is now also a chapter in my new book "What Would Jefferson Do?"), it is disingenuous to try to draw too many comparisons. Hitler's evils -- and his ambition -- were on a scale unimaginable by Bush, and pointing out the similarities with too shrill a voice can diminish the horrors of the Holocaust and Hitler's other crimes.
But just as the CIA (then the OSS) fine-tuned its investigative techniques after WWII by learning technique from Nazi spies they brought into the agency, the Bush administration is using today -- for the first time in American history -- many of the same techniques for manipulating the people as did the Nazis in their early days (the Big Lie; controlled, adoring crowd scenes; stifling dissent; hyping terror for political gain; hypermilitarization of domestic police to create the storm-trooper look and feel).
For Americans awakened to today's realities, watching "Triumph of the Will" is an experience at once educational, enlightening, and horrifying. But it's a horror we must face if we are to avoid the same trap so many average Germans fell into in 1934.
Note From BuzzFlash:
We took the unusual step of asking our monthly "Independent Thinker" book reviewer, Thom Hartmann, to tell us a bit about his own newest book, "What Would Jefferson Do?"
Hartmann is a true citizen-scholar, in the tradition of many of the patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence. He's also a progressive radio commentator with a growing syndication.
Even though he's a BuzzFlash contributor who champions books that might otherwise not receive the attention that they should, BuzzFlash believes that many of Hartmann's writings also deserve a wider audience. In particular, we have been meaning for quite some time to interview him about his 2002 book, "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," which focuses on the threat posed by corporations legally being entitled to the same rights as people.
Hartmann is a true pro-democracy advocate. That is why he chose to focus on the Jeffersonian ideal of democracy in his latest book, which the Bush administration is trampling on as if such revolutionary thinking were weeds that needed to be stamped out.
In "What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return to Democracy," Hartmann reawakens the spirit of '76 that placed the ship of state in the hands of its citizens.
At a time when our Constitution and the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence are under siege by an extremist executive branch, Hartmann restores the sense of nobility and innovation that marked the creation of the great American experience in democratic rule.* * *
How I Came to Write "What Would Jefferson Do?"
By Thom Hartmann
For the past year, I've been on the air coast-to-coast for three hours a day, five days a week, going up against Rush Limbaugh in the noon-3 PM time slot EST. Callers from California to North Carolina, Iowa to Texas, and even a few expatriate web-listeners who've dialed in from Australia, Germany, Taiwan, and Scotland, repeatedly stress a consistent set of concerns.
"I feel as though our country has lost its democracy," said one caller in New York. "Our politicians are for sale to the highest corporate bidder," said another in New Mexico. "I was arrested for standing a block away from a Bush fundraiser with a "No War for Oil," sign," said another in South Carolina.
A caller in Dallas told the story of how his masters degree in engineering and service as an officer in the army didn't qualify him to compete with the engineer in India who took his job. "I've been unemployed for 42 months," he said, "although I'm still looking every day for a good job."
There's a pervasive concern sweeping across our nation, a fear that both the economic American dream is slipping away while the ideals of American democracy have been under an organized and powerful attack since Ronald Reagan first declared war on America's workers.
In the midst of this, and with our last child grown and out of the house, Louise and I moved into an 1850 Gothic house overlooking a small town in central Vermont. In the house's dark and dusty attic we found a huge pile of old books, apparently left by an occupant in the 1920s. Among them were a 20-volume set, published in 1904, of the complete collected writings of Thomas Jefferson -- including over 10,000 of his personal letters, most never before or since published.
I was immediately addicted.
Four years later I came up for air, with a new appreciation of Jefferson's worldview and its application to today's world.
The critical missing context when he wrote his letter to Benjamin Rush in which he said, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny imposed upon the mind of man." (He was railing against churches trying to influence legislators.) I found his thoughts on progressive taxation (a person should only have to pay taxes "after satisfying his first wants" or basic needs).
Inheritance taxes ("If the overgrown wealth of an individual be deemed dangerous to the State, the best corrective is the law of equal inheritance...").
Slavery (he repeatedly tried to end it, both in Virginia and nationally, believed it would have ended by 1808, and was nearly overwhelmed by despair when he failed).
The Ten Commandments as the basis of American law ("In truth, the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy,").
And dozens of other startling aspects of Jefferson's worldview.
The result of this research -- combined with a critical look at today's world, and some startling new information about the biological basis of democracy -- became a book that was just published this month by Random House/Harmony and titled: "What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return to Democracy."
My hope is that it will bring a useful historical perspective, as well as a modern critique, to today's political discourse.
A Review by Thom Hartmann
What is perhaps most relevant and impressive about this book is that the first edition was published in 1997, meaning it was written in 1995/6. Nearly ten years ago, in a book about how every four generations (roughly 80 years) history repeats itself, the authors had the prescience to write:
"The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share a regret about recent mistakes -- and a resolute new consensus about what to do. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.
"The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and efforts -- in other words, a total war.
"America’s post-Crisis answers will be as organically interconnected as today’s pre-Crisis questions seem hopelessly tangled. By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good, by today’s standards, and also one that works.
"Thus might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse -- or glory. The nation could be ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis; all they suggest is the timing and dimension."
The key thesis of the book is that there are four generations that recur every roughly 80 years, and are built into the structure of our culture and civilization. One of those four generations invariably faces a crisis, which was produced innocently enough by the actions of the preceding three and the stage of time. Each generation in a particular way is reacting in a predictable and reasonable way to the values and world-view of the one preceding it.
Roughly 80 years ago was the Great Depression and World War II. Roughly 80 years before that was the Civil War. Roughly 80 years before that, the Revolutionary War. Roughly 80 years before that, Glorious Revolution of 1675-1704. Roughly 80 years before that, the Armada Crisis of 1569-1594. And roughly 80 years before that the War of the Roses (1459-1487).
In each 80 year period, there are four turnings, produced by each of the four generations. The Fourth Turning is the one of greatest danger, maximum impact upon the world. And it’s due to happen any day now -- if it’s not already underway.
Understanding how these "turnings" come about, and the archetypal roles both each generation and individuals within them play is one of the most important keys to understanding what we can collective and individually do to bring about the most positive outcome from each Turning.
Although Strauss and Howe have written more recent books, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny is, in my opinion, the most important of the bunch, a guidepost during this time of turbulence, providing access to the proverbial keystone that holds together our culture. It ’s certainly one of the most important and valuable books of this era.
A Review by Thom Hartmann
The best of novels always leave me wishing they hadn't ended -- I want to know more of the story, what happened next, where the characters went and what they did and how they ended up. In this exceptional work of non-fiction, Gore Vidal has used his brilliant novelist talents to produce a brief glimpse into the founding of America that left me feeling both enlightened, satisfied, and -- surprisingly for a non-fiction book -- wanting more.
Because the book is so short (189 small-format pages -- a weekend read) Vidal assumes that his readers are already well grounded in American history and thus touches only lightly on some of the more notorious issues and events in the lives of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.
For those who have read books like Charles Beard's 1932 masterpiece "The Rise of American Civilization," Fawn Brodie's seminal "Thomas Jefferson," or even my new history book "We The People," Vidal's light touch will serve as a reminder of some of the larger debates of those times, and memory will fill in the missing nuance. For those using "Inventing A Nation" as their first exploration of the lives of our most important Founders, it will evoke a hunger for more, lighting the fire of inquiry about how this nation came to be.
One of the truly marvelous aspects of Vidal's book is that it challenges, head-on, many of the most common misperceptions about our Founders (such as the notion that they really only wanted to create a country for rich white guys). He begins his myth-puncturing with the opening sentence of the book: "In the fall of 1786 the fifty-four-year-old president of the Potomac Company, George Washington, late commander in chief of the American army (resigned December 23, 1783, after eight years of active duty) was seriously broke."
As I'll be sharing in more detail on my radio program this month, page after page is filled with often subtle, often revealing, and always fascinating insights into the lives, times, personalities, idiosyncrasies, and motivations of our Founders. These range from Jefferson's idealism to Washington's stoicism to Hamilton's being "British Agent Number Seven."
My only complaint with the book -- a minor point, really -- is that Vidal refers to Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party (today the longest surviving political party in world history, the Democratic Party, having dropped the "Republican" part of their name in the 1830s) by the then-common shorthand "Republican Party," which may cause confusion among readers not knowledgeable about the history of American political parties. (Vidal assumes his readers know that the modern-day Republican Party didn't come along until decades after most of the Founders were dead, being a semi-resurrection of the Whigs, who, in turn were a semi-resurrection of the Federalists).
Wrapping up the book, Vidal reveals a private conversation he had with his friend and relative-by-marriage John F. Kennedy. "...how do you explain," Kennedy asked, perhaps rhetorically, "how a sort of backwoods country like this, with only three million people, could have produced the three greatest geniuses of the eighteenth century -- Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton?"
A page and a half later, Vidal ends the book poignantly:
"Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us, as the New England hymn of my youth, based on Ecclesiasticus, most pointedly instructed us. Meanwhile, dear Jack, in the forty years since your murder, I have pondered your question, and this volume is my hardly definitive answer."
Jack Kennedy would have found both inspiration and insights in Vidal's short masterpiece, "Inventing A Nation." As will you.
A Book Review by Thom Hartmann
Class war by the rich against the working class has been openly declared in America several times -- the gilded age is a good example -- but few are as obvious, calculated, and well covered-up as the class warfare declared against average Americans by the so-called "conservatives" beginning with the Reagan administration. In "Class War In America," Charles Kelly lays bare the core of this war against the American middle class, its origins, and its methods.
The author of an earlier book titled "The Great Limbaugh Con," Kelly knows how to write in a compelling fashion (despite the fact that he has a Ph.D. in industrial communications and teaches at the university level). "Class War In America" is startling, revelatory, filled with factoids and ammunition for the water cooler wars, and is also the sort of book that you pick up on a Saturday afternoon and can't put down until bedtime when you've finished it.
Kelly's main thesis is that wage levels in a nation are more a function of power relationships than supply and demand. Although conservative pundits would have you think this contradicts classical economic theory (Smith, Ricardo, etc.), in fact it's largely in agreement with economists who have observed the growth of ancient guilds (the Masons, for example) and modern unions.
When labor has power equal to management, wages will increase and a middle class will blossom -- and when the power of labor is stripped, as Reagan systematically began when he broke the PATCO strike, wages decrease and the middle class deteriorates into the working poor at the same time corporate profits and CEO compensation explode.
One of the most remarkable parts of Kelly's work is how nearly the entire superstructure of the book is derived from quotes from conservatives themselves -- particularly Alan Greenspan -- describing in business publications like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes how they execute their strategy to reduce worker power and thus increase CEO compensation and corporate profits.
It's clear that conservatives declared class war on the American middle class in the 1980s, hired well-paid shills to run their PR machine (think Limbaugh, etc.), and, while openly discussing it among themselves in publicly available venues, have managed to keep most Americans in the dark about their real agenda.
"Class War In America" by Charles M. Kelly is a wake-up, a primer, and a powerful handbook for restoring America's middle class.