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Stop Grasshopper: where are you going from here?

Reflecting on our recent history, much of this sobering indictment of our predicament rings true. Indeed, where will we go from here? – rjc

~Burning Woman~

[thoughts from    ~burning woman~    by Sha’Tara]

If I were a betting kind of person, I’d bet a substantial amount of my pension check, say $100, that the main question on most people’s minds these days would be something like, “where are we going from here?”  At least in the Western world, faced as it is with some quite serious political and economic changes and challenges. 

Imagine what it’s like to live in a world built almost exclusively on slave labour and stolen resources from Third World nations, or any nation that can’t defend itself against political graft, military superiority and financial corruption, and having that cornucopia gradually go empty? 

The growing number of war costs and bodies on the ground (take that metaphorically or literally) is making itself felt.  Cheap resources and cheaper labour are not delivering their quota of expectations.  Prices are rising, as is discontent, chaos, confusion and…

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The Trump Administration Takes Shape

Since the results of the November election became known, Donald Trump has steadily made public his picks for most of the cabinet members he wishes to include at the start of his Administration. So far, most of the picks have been unconventional compared to other incoming administrations, which was to be expected considering the nature of Trump’s campaign. How these nominees will fare in Senate confirmation hearings and votes remains to be seen, but some predictions for potential policy directions which may be expected in the not-too-distant future may be made at this point in the process.

Some early observations about the backgrounds of some of the nominees. Overall, this cabinet would be the richest in terms of personal wealth in US history. Wall Street is extremely well represented, as well as other corporate executives ( CEOs of Exxon/Mobil and Hardee’s/Carl’s, Jr.). Likewise, there is a group of retired military officers – including a nominee for Secretary of Defense who will require a waiver to serve in that post due to having retired from active duty too recently.

How do nominees’ backgrounds fit with the duties of the positions for which they have been nominated? Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and GOP Presidential candidate, has basically no background whatsoever for the position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Early on, he had announced that he had no desire to serve in the Cabinet due to the fact that he felt unqualified to run a government agency. Nevertheless, he has agreed to serve in this capacity. Rick Perry, former Texas Governor and another former GOP Presidential candidate, was named to be Secretary of the Department of Energy – one of three government agencies he had pledged to eliminate, if elected, when he was running for the GOP Presidential nomination back in 2012. Was he named to the post to oversee the demise of the Department?

For a man who ran for President as an outsider to upset the DC status quo and political establishment, President-elect Trump has certainly done his part to make sure Wall Street is well represented at Treasury by Steven Mnuchin. He also picked experienced corporate executives to head the Labor and State Departments. Another political appointment was naming Representative Tom Price of Georgia to head Health and Human Services. Price was famous for authoring the 50+ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act from the time it was passed until now. Since Trump has expressed his support for such a repeal throughout the campaign, this seems like a logical choice, but one that risks dire consequences for many millions of people who have received health care coverage for the first time due to that law.

The fact that he chose the CEO of a fast-food empire to lead the Department of Labor probably does not bode well for either organized labor or ordinary workers – especially when he openly opposes raising the minimum wage. Such gains as have been made with regard to workers under the Obama Administration, including a proposed rule change that would increase the wage level below which overtime pay rules would apply, may well be doomed under the new Administration. A Labor Department with openly pro-corporate management leanings threatens lower workplace protections for workers and increased wage and salary inequality for the economy overall. In other words, it appears that the aim is to turn the Labor Department into the Anti-Labor, Pro-Corporate Management Department, something that Trump never alluded to when he was courting blue-collar votes with his talk of bringing back jobs to this country which had been exported abroad in search of cheaper labor.

Likewise, the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unlikely to garner support from environmental groups. The direction the agency is likely to take under his stewardship is one of relaxing regulations which make it more difficult for corporations to profit while despoiling the environment. Trump has himself expressed a desire to reduce stifling environmental regulations which have been based on international agreements to deal with the issue of climate change – which he has called a hoax on numerous occasions. The climate change denial prevalent in the upper echelons of the establishment GOP has certainly met with his approval. Pruitt’s nomination seems like an attempt to morph the EPA into the Environmental Destruction Agency rather than to fulfill its legislatively intended purpose.

Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education puts another billionaire in a position of power in the Washington elite. Her agenda for improving public education in America seems to hinge on converting as much taxpayer money as possible as quickly as it can from funding public education to funding privately owned and operated for-profit charter schools, which again appears to go in the exact opposite direction of what the Department was created to accomplish. The purpose of health care should be to care for the health of individuals, not to profit from their misery. The purpose of public education should be to provide education to all members of our society, not to pump profits into corporate coffers and increase economic and social inequality among the populace.

The choice of Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to become Secretary of State, top US Diplomat, cements this as one of the most top heavy corporate cabinets ever. His dealings with foreign governments as a businessman, along with his stock holdings, raise questions about his loyalties in performing his duties similar to those which Trump himself is trying to distract us from questioning.  Combined with Trump’s business experience, his cabinet seems more like a corporate board of directors than the focal point of the executive branch of the Federal Government of the United States of America. The military tint to the national security portion of the government seems to dilute significantly the idea of civilian control over the military. The economic part of the government seems to concentrate at the top of the economic system while pretty much ignoring the plight of those in the mainstream or at the bottom.

As far as foreign policy goes, the conflicts (or at the very least, the strong appearance of conflicts) of interest abound. How much of what the Administration does in the realms of diplomacy, trade and conflict resolution will be carried out to benefit the American people and the people of the world at large? How much will be done to satisfy the interests of the corporations which have succeeded in concentrating an ever-increasing percentage of the world’s wealth into the hands of a small number of oligarchs and plutocrats?

Donald Trump, throughout his campaign for the American Presidency, professed a desire to “Make America Great Again” without ever really explaining to anyone (especially his core supporters) what America would look like when he finished making it great. So far, he seems to be heading down a road that will leave the disillusioned majority of Americans who have been so poorly served by our government and economic system in the past several decades more disillusioned than ever. Once in power, he appears to be inclined to move in a direction to further deregulate corporations in terms of environmental, labor, financial, education, health care and other considerations. The goal seems to be a renewed advocacy of a “survival of the fittest” Social Darwinism used to justify subjugating the vast majority to the service of their betters (namely he, his family and their cronies).

The economy, in terms of GDP and jobs, may seem to improve under this scenario, but I doubt the problems of economic inequality, lack of mobility, outright poverty and sense of powerlessness for the vast majority of people will be decreased in the least. Avenues of protest for empowering movements for much needed change have become more restrictive with new technology and the tightening of social controls to combat terrorism. Individual and group rights are being sacrificed in the name of safety and security to an extent only dreamed of in past generations by dystopian writers such as Wells, Orwell and Huxley. With Trump, it looks like the puppet masters have decided to cut the strings to the politicians and begun to take more direct control over our lives than ever.

Perhaps this election was a fluke, not to be repeated again. We may stem the tide of voter suppression, gerrymandering, corporate/tycoon campaign financing and media manipulation to restore a greater degree of truly representative democracy to our government at some time in the not-too-distant future. This task becomes more difficult every time another state passes a new voter suppression law, ignores court orders negating bad laws, or acts in ways to move decision-making power farther from the grassroots. Look at what has been happening to LGBT rights in states like North Carolina, workers rights in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, women’s reproductive rights in Texas and a myriad of other states. These and more problems will raise their ugly heads if the tyranny of the ruling minority in Washington allows Trump, Ryan, McConnell and various state governors and legislatures to entrench themselves ever more firmly in control of our state and national governments, passing more laws stripping us of our civil liberties and depriving us our human rights.

We the People should rule ourselves, not be ruled by corporations and the privileged oligarchs who control them. Greed is a vice to be abhorred, not a virtue to be glorified.

 

Further Suggested Readings:

John Feffer, The Deconstruction of America, 2016-2050

Carson Is New Sign Trump Plans to Govern From the Right

Trump Trumpets His Real Plans

Trump’s Team of Faux Populists and Real Crony Capitalists

Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Andy Puzder, Who Makes 300 Times His Employees, Opposes Minimum Wage Hike

‘You think that’s pro-worker?’: Robert Reich schools Kayleigh McEnany on Trump’s labor secretary pick

Colbert hilariously mocks Trump’s EPA pick: It’s like appointing Joe Camel to be Surgeon General

What You Need to Know About Trump’s EPA Pick Scott Pruitt

Trump’s Labor pick’s companies have faced multiple class-action lawsuits

Promises, Promises. Or Are They Threats?

Nearly four weeks have passed since Donald Trump became our President-Elect. Work has begun in earnest to nominate individuals to fill cabinet and other positions in the new administration. While it is still too early to tell which direction future policy decisions will take and what specific legislation may be proposed and act upon early next year, trends are beginning to demonstrate how the early stages of transition to the Trump Administration may augur depending upon an individual’s perspective.

The coming days of the lame duck Congress should prove relatively calm. With the advent of new GOP Presidential Administration, the only really pressing business before Congress this month will undoubtedly prove to be the business they have proven most reluctant to conclude throughout Obama’s tenure in office – keeping the government functioning by passing funding legislation. Expect typical shenanigans and brinkmanship to prevail once again, as they do their damnedest to pass another short-term budget package just in time to avert another government shutdown before the year-end holiday recess.

So far, Trump’s announced nominees for cabinet and other key staff positions has been a mixed bag leaning heavily towards individuals with huge bank accounts, rightwing political views and a stated desire to eliminate as much of the Obama legacy as can be accomplished as rapidly as possible. As would be expected of a GOP administration, picks in the economic and business arena come primarily from Wall Street. Some, like Trump, made a financial killing in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Other individuals capable of gaming the system for personal profit to the tune of many millions of dollars are also included. His pick for Education is another billionaire pushing for school privatization in the form of spending taxpayer funds supporting for-profit charter schools to further decimate our public education system.

For Health and Human Services, Trump selected the single individual most responsible for the GOP legislative attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times since it was passed. These attempts only failed as long as there was a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of the Senate, neither of which will be true after January 20th. For Justice, Trump named Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a staunch conservative who failed to be confirmed for a judicial appointment years ago due to questionable views regarding race and civil rights to be his Attorney General. A perfect choice to charge with prosecuting (or not) violations of federal civil rights laws and state voting laws resulting in disenfranchising qualified individuals by instituting Voter ID requirements, among others (targeting those who would vote against them, of course).

There will be no vote on a replacement for deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia until Donald Trump nominates one after officially being sworn in as President. We can expect whomever he selects to be far different from President Obama’s nominee, as will future nominees that are almost certain to be required to fill the slots presently occupied by Justices who will either pass away or retire. Presidential nominees to SCOTUS and other federal judicial benches usually affect jurisprudence in this country long after the end of the Presidential Administration under which they took office. In recent years, major decisions involving the Affordable Care Act, Voting Rights Act, LGBT rights and marriage equality, along with many other far-reaching issues, have been decided in the Judicial Branch of our government.

Many in the GOP would like for the courts to start reversing recent decisions that have resulted in gains for members of groups who have been historically treated unequally in our society. Through legislation and judicial review, they hope to roll back progress made in areas such as workers’ rights, civil rights, voting rights, public education, environmental protection and a host of other societal issues too lengthy to mention, many on the right end of the political spectrum want to “Make America Great Again” by taking us back to a time in our history that most of us would find very uninviting and deplorable, if not downright intolerable, but certainly not “great”.

As for foreign policy, Trump has nominated a new UN Ambassador, but the Secretary of State position is still up in the air. He has ruffled some feathers with phone calls to the Presidents of Pakistan and Taiwan, which is something I’m sure we’ll see more of in coming days and weeks. He also touted a great triumph for American workers by arranging for Carrier to forego closing and moving a manufacturing plant from Indiana to Mexico, aided by tried and true tax breaks at the state level (His VP is governor of Indiana) to the tune of $7 million. That’s what he considers punishment for off-shoring jobs from factories here to foreign countries with lower wages and lax worker protections.

Donald Trump “won” the election largely by appealing to white blue collar workers with promises to improve the economy by bringing back good jobs and preventing more from leaving the country. He also promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and build a wall to keep the hordes of illegal Mexican immigrants from coming here to steal their livelihoods, while simultaneously refusing entry to Moslems hell-bent on terrorizing us in our homes, schools, workplaces and places of worship. How they will react if he actually accomplishes what he has promised and it does not result in raising their wages and standard of living, improving their health care and educational opportunities or making their lives demonstrably better overall remains to be seen.

The direction our next President seems to be taking in the way of eroding civil rights for many and civil liberties for most give many of us fears of moving our society in a dangerously authoritarian direction. Repressing the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the many in order to protect the undeserved wealth and privilege of a small minority, further concentrating both wealth and political power in the hands of those who have benefitted the most historically from generations of economic and political inequality, does not serve the vast majority of our people well at all. Making excuses for the vast and increasing degree of inequality and its preservation through inheritance of great wealth from generation to generation makes a mockery of the notion of equal opportunity for all. Making the unequal distribution of wealth also become reflected in the political sphere – through unregulated campaign spending, gerrymandering and other political tricks of the trade that have stifled the voices of increasing numbers of people in recent years – has made this country less of a democracy in recent years than it was at the end of the last century.

The Trump/Ryan/McConnell agenda to solidify GOP control of government for years to come while simultaneously increasing economic and political inequality and improving prospects for personal profit of the few at our expense must be fought. Ryan never gave up his dream to privatize Medicare and Medicaid for the benefit of corporate interests at the expense of the welfare of the people they were designed to serve. The same is true of those who wish to privatize Social Security to maximize private profits on Wall Street at the risk of failing to adequately serve the needs of the elderly who paid into it their whole working lives in hopes of achieving retirement that is not impoverished. Pretending that receiving far less than half of the votes of the people who will be affected by their policies gives them a mandate to do as they wish with their office regardless of the impact their actions will have on millions of people in this country and worldwide is a joke.

There is no mandate for this government to pursue the policies espoused by the “leaders” who will try to force their will on us in coming days. They would be well advised to remember that. Outrageous nominees should be rejected in the Senate. The health care laws should be changed so that more people are adequately served by them, rather than that millions will lose coverage that they only recently gained. Our individual and collective liberties and freedoms must not be unduly curtailed in overreaction to exaggerated threats posed by “others”. Making scapegoats of others merely on the basis of race, religion, country of origin or other characteristics that make them different on inherently insignificant bases from white males is unacceptable in an allegedly open and diverse society. We need to govern ourselves in such a way that the haters do not win. They won too much on November 8th, but they are not unstoppable.

Suggested Further Readings:

Now That Trump Won: 10 Plagues Unearthed by This Election We Need to Face

Everything We Thought We Knew About Politics Was Wrong

Here It Comes: Trump’s 100-Day Plan to "Make America Great Again"

Who Voted and Who Couldn’t–Don’t Blame Jill Stein by Drew Robert Winter

Trump administration ‘on the precipice’

Who will stand up to Trump?

In The Basket Of Bad Trump Appointees, Jeff Sessions Is Uniquely Awful

Morning Joe: Trump already ‘on the precipice’ of disaster if he keeps picking unqualified ‘henchmen’

Trump isn’t draining the swamp. He’s deepening it.

What Populism? Trump’s America Is Party Time for the Corporate Elite

Bernie Sanders Challenges Trump To Admit He’s A Liar Or Nominate A Decent HHS Secretary

Trump Announces Mattis Pick at Rally

Trump and His Betraying Makeover by Ralph Nader + Robert Weissman: Trump’s Deal That “Saved Jobs” at Carrier Based on a $7 Million Tax Break & Reduced Regulations

Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality

Democrats will botch the resistance against Trump

The Revolution Will Not Be Staffed: How Big Organizing Can Take Down Trump

The Trump Team of Billionaires: It Takes a Thief

Throw Wall Street Out of the Democratic Party – Truthdig

The results of the 2016 election show that mobilizing identity politics behind a bankster program will no longer work. To save their party, Democrats must get the Clintons and their backers, such as former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin (pictured), to leave.

Source: Throw Wall Street Out of the Democratic Party – Truthdig

History – Attention Must Be Paid

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We must remain vigilant in not allowing the incoming Trump administration to demoralize and bully us into accepting a totally unacceptable future for this country and the world at large. – RJC

Envisioning The American Dream

Vanity Fair cover 1933 July Despondent Sam Illustration by Paolo Garretto We need to take a hard look at history. A Vanity Fair cover from July 1933 showing a despondent Uncle Sam seated on the Western hemisphere with storm clouds above can serve as a somber harbinger for our own times. Illustration by Paolo Garretto

History has never seemed more relevant.

That anti-Semite Steve Bannon who made white nationalism mainstream through Breitbart, is now to be President Elect Donald Trump’s Goebbels…er…Chief Strategist.

This past summer with  the weight of history hanging heavy as the Republicans nominated Donald J. Trump as their candidate for president, historians spoke out as never before.

We didn’t listen then.

We need to listen now.

It’s a post worth repeating, so we don’t repeat history.

It’s Worth Repeating

A dozen distinguished  historians from David McCullough to  Ken Burns have bonded together to create a Facebook page called Historians on Donald Trump, dedicated to educating the voters…

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Hey Dems, don’t say we didn’t warn you because we did

Excellent essay by Robert A. Vella highlighting many of the reasons for the debacle that occurred in our most recent Presidential election. We need to remedy this quickly and prevent the threatened GOP rollback of gains made in American society and government in the 20th and 21st Centuries. – RJC

The Secular Jurist

By Robert A. Vella

In April, this blog explained why Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate at the worst possible time.  We were correct.  In June, this blog predicted that the presidential electoral map – which has been relatively constant since 1992 – would change in 2016 and that voter turnout would continue to decline (see:  Finding the Shiniest Turd: Why the U.S. Electoral Map will change in 2016).  We were definitely correct on the map, and initial analysis indicates we were also correct on the turnout.  The strategic and tactical blunders committed by the Democratic Party establishment – which enabled a megalomaniac like Donald Trump to win the presidency – are not only inexcusable, but are an affront to the very principles upon which their party was built.  In becoming the political party of corporatism, globalism, and technocracy, initiated by Bill Clinton, Democrats inevitably…

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Trump – Sad End of White Male Dominance

An excellent and timely essay on American politics today by Hal Donahue.

haldonahue

The world is changing. The masses are no longer willing to allow white males to play the game of life, as one woman phrased it, ‘on the easy setting’. The conservative elements of US society are not handling this changing America well. In grade school, we jumped under our little desks practicing for nuclear attack. Ever present were white male leaders being strong. They sent us to wars relying on a compliant population and the draft. The draft was the tipping point.

Serving in the military during the Vietnam and Cold wars, I really expected our male leadership to go out with a huge, nuclear bang. Thankfully, my expectation seems in error. White, male dominance in the US is going out with a whimper, a whine, and screams of rage that the system is rigged and life is not fair. Destroyed by Donald J Trump and his allies.

President Obama…

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Come November 8th: Ending This Bizarre Campaign Season

The debates (if you want to call them that) are over. Fact- free and issue-free to a degree rarely seen in modern American politics, these debates gave American voters little new information for making a decision upon for whom to vote for President this year – save perhaps intangibles like personality and fitness to serve in the office.

That this campaign has been so negative and lacking in policy discussions pertaining to the issues uppermost on the minds of the voting public, along with the extremely low favorability ratings of both major party nominees, could well usher in an extremely low voter turnout. Rather than vote for the lesser of two evils, or a third party candidate who can only look forward to single-digit percentages of the overall vote, many will feel voiceless and powerless to affect the outcome in any event and choose to not waste their time waiting in line to cast a meaningless vote.

There are still two weeks until the official election day (people in some states have already participated in early voting). Opportunity for new revelations such as the Wikileaks publishing of hacked emails from Clinton and her campaign staff and/or new tapes illustrating the despicable nature of some of Trump’s misogynistic, racist and/or generally unsympathetic view towards people who disagree with him or don’t measure up to his standards may add yet more chaos to the mix or develop new momentum for one or the other candidate. The opportunity for truly enlightening discussion of issues, policies and future vision for what a Clinton or Trump administration would accomplish was pretty much squandered on the circus performances (my apologies to real circus performers) that the three Presidential debates and the sole VP debate degenerated into.

Here in PA, a designated swing battleground state important to both candidates, a curious campaign has developed. In previous campaigns, many yard signs have littered the landscape for upwards of a month prior to the election. Avid pedestrian that I am, I can walk for miles and see maybe one or two for each candidate. We also have a key Senate race where Democrats hope to pick up a Republican seat. Watching the airwaves, one would conclude, incorrectly, that the only contests in this area are for President, Senator and State Attorney General. The local TV market includes three Congressional districts and numerous state legislative districts. All the commercials have been for the three races stated above.

One interesting point to bring up concerning the Presidential and Senatorial candidates is that all four are millionaires. How oligarchic has this country become? Clinton’s campaign ads are from both her own campaign funds and Super PACs. They tend to be well-produced and often let Trump do his own talking – or rather put his foot in his mouth. Trump’s campaign has put out some ads of its own, but much of the pro-Trump stuff is produced by the NRA, which definitely limits its scope to gun rights. The Senate ads are significantly more substantive than the presidential ads, but they do tend to concentrate on bashing their opponents as millionaires.

Congressional seats in this state have been gerrymandered in such a way as to make most of them non-competitive. Of the three in this TV viewing area (two R’s, one D), I would suspect that very few people even know the names of the non-incumbent candidates. Where in past elections, airwaves would be filled with campaign ads and lawns replete with signs for all the contestants, I’ve seen or heard none this year. Lawn signs are garbage, to be sure, but at least they get people’s names out there. This year – nothing. Forget legislative races, ballot issues or volunteer door-knocking. Nada.

It’s a sad commentary on the American political scene when even a Presidential race is generating so little enthusiasm in the population at large. True, the campaign has been dominated by personality rather than substance, but who is to blame for that? A media hungry for ratings gold and political advertising revenue? A campaign finance system that allows corporations and wealthy individuals to donate nearly limitless funds to back the candidates most willing to do their bidding? A voting public so demoralized by a stagnant economy and gridlocked government that the light at the end of the tunnel seems unattainable? Some of each?

People need to vote, in my view. We need to elect people to all levels of government who will represent our own best interests. If there is nobody on the ballot who fits the bill, we need to do a better job of finding people who do and persuading them to run. If Congress and State Legislatures refuse to do their jobs (as certainly our Congress has done for most of the past six years), their members need to be replaced by people who take their duties and responsibilities more seriously. There are times when obstructing or delaying action is appropriate, but making that tactic a standard response to getting anything done to in any way make constituents lives better or even just more tolerable is unacceptable in a totalitarian dictatorship, let alone a country that prides itself on its democratic principles.

In my view, we need to return sanity to campaign finance. Making Congress into a virtual millionaires club does nothing to make it a representative body in this or any other country. Turning one-person-one-vote into one-dollar-one-vote is not fair to the vast majority of the American people. Skewing the political process in this manner, along with making gerrymandering the law of the land has landed us in a world of incessant war, miserable poverty for millions, and inequality of all sorts throughout our society.

The GOP control of Congress has led to unprecedented gridlock and the inability to do anything of significance to improve the lives and enhance future prospects for the vast majority of people living here. Voting in Hillary Clinton to replace Barack Obama while leaving the status quo intact in Congress will not improve the situation. Allowing that Congress freedom to pursue its reactionary agenda favoring the wealthy and corporations over average people at every turn – or even worse – under Donald Trump certainly would not bode well for the country as a whole, or the world at large for that matter.

We also need to spend more money fixing things and less destroying them. That includes ending the nonsense of the death and destruction the US has been raining on much of the world this entire century. Presidents of neither party have seemed interested in waging peace since before the first Gulf War. Even the President who won the Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term has not spent even one day of his administration leading a country at peace. Whereas adding to the debt in order to meet the needs of its citizens is anathema to most of our elected political leaders, they’re always willing to do so in order to deal death and destruction upon foreign lands and peoples by force of arms.

Turning our government around to serve the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few needs to happen sooner rather than later. Leveling the playing field by controlling campaign fundraising and spending and creating electoral procedures that prevent undemocratic control of legislative bodies is essential to this process. Vote when elections are held, but hold those elected officials accountable for all that they do or fail to do while occupying those offices. Letting them take lengthy paid vacations when important work remains unfinished or re-electing them when they refuse to vote on judicial nominees or pass a budget only encourages them to keep up the bad work.

Whomever wins on November 8th will need careful watching – both by we the people and each other. Congress needs to do its jobs of passing budgets, confirming executive appointments and declaring war (or at least acting as more than just a rubber stamp for executive military action) in addition to passing legislation regulating corporate and individual activity to preserve individual and collective rights for ALL Americans. Both Congress and the President need to serve all of the people, not primarily those with wealth and born to privilege. But they won’t do so unless we make sure they know their continued service in those positions of power depends upon their vigilance in serving us wisely and compassionately.

Modern American Legal Slavery

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, reads as follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Contrary to popular opinion, the United States Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not end legalized slavery in this country. Convicted criminals are eligible to be subject to the condition as a part of punishment for their crimes. With the advent of prison privatization and the constant search for cheap labor, this glaring loophole in the 13th Amendment has been used to improve the bottom lines and profit margins of private businesses – not the least of which includes the private prison industry.

After all, prisoners don’t need to be paid a living wage (not that workers outside of prison don’t deserve one either – in the opinions of many corporate executives and shareholders). Their needs for shelter, clothing and sustenance are paid for by the taxpayers. It’s only fair that they work to repay their debt to society, right? Except for the fact that cheap prison labor is actually a way to funnel taxpayer dollars into private profits for those corporations, their executives and shareholders – at the expense of the taxpayers and the exploitation of the labor of a captive labor force.

Our criminal justice system has become bloated to the extent that our prison populations have become the largest in the world. The War on Drugs and preponderance of extremely harsh mandatory minimum sentences, often for less serious non-violent offenses, has led to prison over-crowding in many states. Extremely low pay for prisoners’ work, combined with harsh prison working and living conditions, has led to prisoner uprisings in the past. The most famous of such events was the one in Attica, New York in the early 1970’s. More recently, strikes have taken place in several states involving many prisoners. These events have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

Slavery was legal in this country from before it became an independent nation. It remained so through the Civil War in the Southern states whose economies were largely dependent on the forced labor of people who weren’t considered citizens, were owned as property by the slaveholders who bought or inherited them, and had no voting rights. They weren’t even counted as complete human beings for the purpose of representation in Congress by the US Constitution. Race relations have been forever tainted in this country as a result of this lengthy era of subjugation of blacks by whites.

Why was the prison loophole included in the 13th Amendment? Hasn’t the US berated forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes? How is our system superior to those which we seemingly abhor? The private prison industry has been under fire, particularly at the federal level, in recent years. Making imprisoning people a profit-making enterprise is increasingly seen as a horrid use of taxpayer money, not to mention inefficient and inhumane. Judges have even been convicted and sent to prison for taking kickbacks for ensuring that prisons maintain a certain level of occupancy. This has even been the case in juvenile detention facilities in my own state of PA.

The makeup of our prison population is another glaring problem when it comes to the state of our criminal “justice” system. Why are our prisoners so disproportionately Black and Hispanic, from poor rather than wealthy backgrounds. Are we to believe that this is merely a coincidence or have our lawmakers managed to find ways to enslave many of the same people who would have been born to slavery in an earlier time? I don’t necessarily think this was all orchestrated in an elaborate charade by our ruling oligarchs to excuse their continued mistreatment of members of minority racial and ethnic groups along with impoverished whites in order to maintain their own privileged socio-economic status.  I surely can see why many of those being stepped on by the system would see it that way, however.

To me, coming up with new ways to force people to labor for the material benefit of others with little or no personal incentive to do so other than to maintain their ability to breathe is on the same moral level as willingly to allow people to die because they can’t afford to pay the going rate for a medical procedure. Regardless of the reason someone is in prison, they should be afforded more human rights than our system used to afford slaves. The fact that we have reached a point in our society where most would agree that, in way too many cases, the punishment for an infraction far exceeds the severity of the crime committed, demonstrates a drastic need for reform in our criminal justice system.

Committing most crimes should not mean that a person will never again be able to get a good job once their sentence is completed, nor vote, nor do most of what someone never convicted of a crime can expect to be able to do. That is obviously currently not the case. The prison loophole permitting convicts to be used as slaves or involuntary servants needs to be taken out of the Thirteenth Amendment. Creating such a large force of cheap labor helps to drive down the wages of workers as a whole, leads to unfair exploitation of some people for the unwarranted and unearned benefit of a few and leads to an exacerbation of social and economic inequality that is not fitting the moral values of a democratic society which we are taught from a young age to venerate. That includes the guilty as well as the untold numbers of people unfairly convicted when innocent of any wrongdoing or those sentenced to life for a third strike caused by a relatively minor offense.

By the way, what’s the deal with those corrupt judges, corporate executives, and the like who are convicted of doing real harm to real people getting sentenced to country club prisons while people convicted of the mere possession of drugs do hard time under less favorable conditions? So many ills beset our criminal justice system. Ending the slave labor loophole and covering prisoners under minimum wage laws and other labor legislation would be a step in the right direction. Ending Prisons for Profit, something that has begun at the level of federal prisons, is another way to improve our system of justice, the goal of which should be to make society safer and people more productive, not to line the pockets of greedy capitalists by shifting wealth to the benefit of those already wealthier than most of us. I think most of us still prefer Robin Hood to Romney Hood (or, in this election season, Trump Hood).

Further Suggested Readings:

American Prisons: Protest Dog Food, Go to Solitary Confinement

The Largest Prison Strike in U.S. History Enters Its Second Week

Sonali Kolhatkar: Inmates Launch Series of Work Stoppages to Protest ‘Slave Labor’

Colorado Could Ban Convict Labor This November

"We’re Freedom Fighters": The Story of the Nationwide Prison Labor Strike

Trump-Loving Firefighter Canned After Advocating to Make Slavery Legal Again

Nationwide Prison Strike Against ‘Slavery in America’ Rolls on—Despite Media Blackout

US Prisoners Strike To End Prison Slavery

Understanding the Legacy of the Attica Prison Uprising

Why Prisoners Across the Country Have Gone on Strike

Prison Guards in Alabama Join Inmates on Strike

Thousands Of Inmates And Prison Staff Nationwide Are Nearing A Month Of Strikes

Ava DuVernay’s ’13th’ Is a Devastating Look at America’s Long History of Criminal Injustice

After Exploiting Prisoners for Years, MSNBC Still Won’t Cover the National Prison Strike

The New Slave Revolt

You Must Watch This Speech By Michelle Obama | Crooks and Liars

This is one of the finest speeches I’ve heard in a very long time.

-RJC

 

Whoa. She flattens Donald Trump and his misogyny.

Source: You Must Watch This Speech By Michelle Obama | Crooks and Liars

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