Crony Capitalism, Corporate Personhood and Our Decaying Democracy – Ryan Rhoades

Part 1 of 3 – A Brief Look at Executive Branch Corruption and Unethical Practices

Against the background of the plugging of the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil well and behind the recent Supreme Court ruling Citizens’ United V. Federal Election Commission looms a much larger issue – a problem that pervades throughout our society, permeating the branches of government and perverting the very Constitution that public servants have sworn to protect.

Big business and finance are running our government, and they are running selfishly amok.

This is not about Democrats versus Republicans or liberals versus conservatives.  This is about an ideology that has taken over the basic democratic functioning of our government, and it is deeply embedded in our current political culture.

It is about the largest corporations, run by the wealthiest individuals whose motives are to maximize profits for themselves and their shareholders.  And let me tell you, they are making record profits even as millions of Americans suffer from joblessness, foreclosures, stagnant wages, vanishing pensions, and a host of other challenges to labor rights. Read more of this post

Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Ryan Rhoades

Many Americans are observing the forty-seventh anniversary of King’s cosmic “I Have a Dream” speech.  King created positive change by defying the odds and fighting against the power of the status quo – including the FBI, who spied on him because they considered him a threat.

During this anniversary, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (with support from the NRA) are giving their own speech entitled “Restoring Honor”, and they are doing so at the Lincoln Memorial.  Enough has been said about Beck and Palin’s attempts to revise history so instead of commenting on their ignorance, we should all commemorate Dr. King by actually reading his speeches.

Below you will find a timeline of King’s most memorable speeches with selected excerpts and links so you can read the speeches in their entirety.  Then you will understand what King was really about – which is starkly different than the FOX News pundits who shamelessly disgrace his memory and legacy on a daily basis.  I also apologize for cutting out so much and sacrificing the contextual flow for the sake of brevity.

**[I have excluded his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”, because there is extensive focus on it all ready.  I feel this focus may have unintentionally led to the lack of focus on his other speeches, which are just as powerful]**

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Hateful Politics over Peaceful Principles – Ryan Rhoades

I am completely disgusted over the current controversy surrounding the Islamic community center near Ground Zero.

I am even more disgusted by the weak character of all the politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are attempting to capitalize on hateful and unconstitutional rhetoric.

Hateful is implied because there really is no other way of describing the belief that all Muslims or all Christians or all Jews are terrorists.  Unconstitutional is apparent to anyone who has ever read the Constitution or exercised their First Amendment rights.

Yes, this also includes freedom of speech, but when politicians and pundits exercise their freedom of speech to denounce or mischaracterize a person’s freedom of religion, it only results in negative and deadly consequences.

For instance, on Tuesday night a young white male got into a taxicab and engaged in conversation with the cab driver.  Once the 21 year-old discovered that the cabbie, Ahmed Sharif, was a practicing Muslim, he slashed the taxi driver in the throat, arms and hand with a knife.

Fortunately, Sharif is in stable condition.  Unfortunately, he stated that he never felt, “this hopeless and insecure before.”  Sharif immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh 25 years ago and has been driving taxis for over 15 years.

Another unfortunate incident, highlighted Monday on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, occurred during protests in New York City near the proposed Muslim center when a large white male obstructed the path of a black male he believed to be Muslim.  As it turns out, the man is not even Muslim, but a construction worker who is currently building the new World Trade Center.  But he happens to be black.

As Colbert put it, “Still, it is pretty insensitive of him to seem Muslim so close to Ground Zero. I mean look at the other black guys in the crowd  – they have the sensitivity to be white.”  [If you haven’t seen the clip, the video shows that the people protesting the center being built are all white] Read more of this post

Ignoring the Issue Behind the Issues – Ryan Rhoades

CCDHS Classroom, Miles City

Image by dave_mcmt via Flickr

As I watched Making the Grade, the MSNBC’s special segment on the state of the nation’s education system, I couldn’t help but notice how the real issue was largely ignored.

The moderator, Tamron Hall, hinted at the real issue a few times, particularly when she asked Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the gap between the amount of money we as taxpayers spend per student versus the amount of money we spend per prisoner (we spend more than double for imprisoning than educating).  Duncan’s response ultimately went back to accountability and graduation – holding teachers more accountable for their results and getting more students, particularly minority students, to graduate.

As a certified teacher, I completely agree with the sentiment that schools must hold their teachers accountable in order to ensure success.  This is no revelation.  All workers must be held accountable in order to ensure a successful outcome.

Imagine if all our politicians were held accountable, not by citizens’ vote alone but by an objective rubric that measures whether or not their policies improves the standard of living of most Americans, most notably the poor and middle class.  Teachers hold students accountable through rubric-based assessments and in many public schools teachers are also held accountable through rubric-based evaluations. Read more of this post

Regressive Politicking of Incumbent Senator Jim DeMint (R – SC) – Ryan Rhoades

Senator Jim DeMint receives Taxpayers' Friend ...

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Since 2005, Senator DeMint has received most of his campaign contributions from Club for Growth1, a conservative advocacy group and major campaign finance group that backs Republicans who support privatizing Social Security, eliminating or reducing corporate taxes and capital gains taxes, and increasing the number of charter schools.2

His Political Action Committee (PAC), Senate Conservatives Fund, has given $1.7 million worth of campaign contributions to nine extremely conservative Republicans, including the following:3,4

1.) $141,000 to help the campaign of Colorado Republican Ken Buck, as well as paying for radio ads ($85,000).  Ken Buck is the candidate who, when asked why people should vote for him and not his primary opponent (Jane Norton), quipped, “Because I don’t wear high heels.”  He also believes that Social Security is “a horrible policy” and that the Department of Education is unconstitutional.5 Read more of this post

Economic Policy Wars by Ryan Rhoades

So let me get this straight.

We are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  The national unemployment rate stands at 9.5%, is at least 10% in 128 metropolitan areas and over 15% in twelve of the largest urban areas.  The ratio of unemployed persons to job openings stood at 5.4 to 1 in January, slightly lower than in December, when the ratio was six-to-one1.

Teachers, police officers and other service workers are getting laid off, taking pay cuts or getting furloughed.  Since August of 2008, over 180,000 local government jobs have been lost.   Estimated projections show that local public-sector job losses are only going to increase through 2012 due to budget cuts2.

With all this happening now, some politicians, news commentators and pundits are preaching fiscal austerity – suddenly concerned about the deficit and our national debt.

I say suddenly because many of the same people calling for reducing the national deficit by cutting programs and gutting state budgets were suspiciously silent during Bush’s rampage on the economy.  For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that , “just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs”3.

These critics – mostly Republicans but more specifically fiscal conservatives supportive of ‘Reaganomic’ policies – are intent on cutting government spending while also calling for the renewal of Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.  Bush’s tax cuts are set to expire this year.  In 2008 alone, the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% totaled $79.5 billion4.  That’s enough money to hire well over 2 million workers for one year on a modest $35,000 salary.  Such a jobs creation program reminiscent of the New Deal is clearly more important than extending tax cuts for the superrich. Read more of this post

BP’s tree fell on my lawn – Roger Ebert’s Journal

Roger Ebert Blvd.

The following article is by famous writer, critic and teacher Roger Ebert.  Aside from being the first movie critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, Ebert was also recognized as the Webby Awards Person of the Year as well as a respectable Best Blog award.  Although I do not agree with all of Ebert’s film reviews, I believe he is still the best critic out there.  Ebert draws from his ability to make connections between great cinema and deeper societal issues on his website.  I think his social commentary and political insights engage and challenge the reader to think critically – as opposed to most mainstream media outlets that have successfully narrowed the political debate between Republican and Democratic ideology (a small spectrum that does not legitimately represent public opinion).

Please read the following article and continue to keep up with the ever-engaging Roger Ebert’s Journal!

By Roger Ebert on July 25, 2010 8:17 PM

via BP’s tree fell on my lawn – Roger Ebert’s Journal.

Help me out here. There’s something I’ve been spending a couple of months trying to get my head around. Why does BP enjoy such a peculiar immunity after having apparently been culpable in the Gulf oil spill? What is the nature of its invisible protective shield?

All I know is what you know. Like most other ordinary citizens, I try to keep up the best that I can with the news. I am not, as they say, walking in the corridors of power.

But you know, the more I read, the more I imagine those corridors smelling like those disinfectant cakes you see at the bottoms of urinals. Read more of this post

ZCommunications | We’re In A One-and-a-half Dip Recession by Robert Reich | ZNet Article

ZCommunications | We’re In A One-and-a-half Dip Recession by Robert Reich | ZNet Article.

We’re not in a double-dip recession yet. We’re in a one and a half dip recession.

Consumer confidence is down. Retail sales are down. Home sales are down. Permits for single-family starts are down. The average work week is down. The only things not down are inventories – unsold stuff is piling up in warehouses and inventories of unsold homes are rising – and defaults on loans.

The 1.5 dip recession should be causing alarm bells to ring all over official Washington. It should cause deficit hawks to stop squawking about future debt, blue-dog Democrats to stop acting like Republicans, and mainstream Democrats to get some backbone.

The 1.5 dip recession should cause the President to demand a large-scale national jobs program including a new WPA that gets millions of Americans back to work even if government has to pay their wages directly.

Included would be zero-interest loans to strapped states and locales, so they didn’t have to cut vital services and raise taxes. They could repay when the economy picked up and revenues came in. The national jobs program would also include a one-year payroll tax holiday on the first $20,000 of income.

The President should stop talking and acting on anything else – not the deficit, not energy, not the environment, not immigration, not implementing the health care law, not education. He should make the whole upcoming mid-term election a national referendum on putting Americans back to work, and his jobs bill.

Are you for it or against it?

But none of this is happening. The hawks and blue dogs are still commanding the attention. Herbert Hoover’s ghost seems to have captured the nation’s capital. We’re back to 1932 (or 1937) and the prevailing sentiment is government can’t and mustn’t do anything but aim to reduce the deficit, even though the economy is going down.

It looks like there’ll be an extension of unemployment benefits. (If it weren’t for the human suffering involved, I wish the Republicans had been forced to filibuster that bill all summer and show the nation just how much they care about people without jobs.) But the fiscal stimulus resulting from this will be tiny. Jobless benefits are humane but they alone don’t get jobs back.

And what about the Fed? It’s the last game in town. The 1.5 dip recession should cause Ben Bernanke to revert to buying mortgage-backed securities, buying Treasury bills, buying anything that will get more money into circulation.

But the Fed chair continues to talk about pulling money out of the system and raising short-term rates as the economy improves. During Wednesday’s appearance before Congress he made it clear monetary policy won’t be loosened; it just won’t be tightened for a while. And he reiterated that deficits were “unsustainable.”

He admitted unemployment would probably remain high for a long time, and the likelihood of growth was “weighted to the downside,” which in Fed-Speak means we’re still in trouble. And he said the Fed still has the tools to do what’s needed if the economy needs more help.

But would he use the tools now? No. “We need to look at them carefully to make sure we’re comfortable with any steps that we take.” This is like the captain of the Titanic looking carefully at his lifeboats to make sure he’s comfortable with using them as the ship starts sinking.

WikiLeaks releases documents, White House and media responds predictably

Logo used by Wikileaks

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Wikileaks, the famous whistleblower organization and website, just released documents leaked from the U.S. military and NATO on the War in Afghanistan.  Over 90,000 documents were released, and three media organizations – The New York Times, The Guardian (U.K.) and Der Spiegel (Germany) – were given the documents from WikiLeaks on the promise that they would not publish anything until July 25th.

I was skimming through the information Sunday night while feeding my online news binge.  Oddly enough, it was Der Spiegel’s website that I stumbled on first.  After browsing through its online news database, I searched for the War Logs story in the New York Times and began to scan the report.  After browsing through the Times sections, I was pleased with the in-depth coverage and the map database.  The reader can get a more realistic experience of the war itself by reading actual military reports and seeing the geographic location where a battle or altercation took place at any given time during the nine year long war.

After reading through details of these documents as presented by the Guardian and the Times, I was eager to see how the mainstream media would respond to the leaks.  If you have been too busy to read some of the reporting from either one of the three media sources, and/or have yet to browse through the documents on the WikiLeaks website, I will post a commentary on the War Logs in the near future.

For now, here are some highlights from all three media outlets that were privy to having the documents several weeks ahead of the WikiLeaks release date:

  1. Elements of the Pakistani military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, may be working with Al-Qaeda and other Afghani insurgents.  It is believed that the ISI is playing both sides, appeasing U.S. forces on one hand and plotting against U.S. interests on the other hand.  Instances include the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and assassination plots against Hamid Karzai.  According to the Guardian, “More than 180 intelligence files in the war logs, most of which cannot be confirmed, detail accusations that Pakistan’s premier spy agency has been supplying, arming and training the insurgency since at least 2004.”
  2. Although the Taliban and others (labeled insurgents) kill more civilians than U.S. and coalition forces, civilian casualties are fairly common (at least 144 have been reported so far) and the Taliban have successfully recruited new members by exploiting these civilian casualties.
  3. The use of Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan is increasing.  While drone attacks have been successful at times, there have also been substantial civilian casualties.  According to the reports, drones have a tendency to crash due to system errors and computer glitches.  At least 38 drones have crashed so far, and these drones cost between $3.7 to $5 million.  Insurgents have also captured U.S. drones, prompting risky missions to recover the weaponry before the insurgents can use it against U.S. forces.  Predator and Reaper drones are unmanned aircraft controlled via remote in U.S. facilities (Nevada and Virginia).
  4. The Taliban and other insurgents are increasingly relying on roadside explosives, or IEDs, which have caused the death of over 2,000 civilians and led to an increase in the amount of U.S. casualties in the last two years.

In fact, since 2005, U.S. and coalition casualties have steadily increased more than the previous year.  This year the number is all ready on pace to eclipse U.S. losses in 2009.  The German magazine Der Spiegel has a startling graph depicting the ever-growing number of fatalities from year to year.  If anything, these documents reveal that the war is getting more violent and, quite possibly, the insurgents are even stronger than they were at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Many news commentators on the major networks focused mainly on:

  1. The fact that these documents were leaked in the first place, not on the details of the leaked documents;
  2. The dangers that the WikiLeaks release poses to national security, not the dangers that our foreign policy poses to national security;
  3. The actions the government is going to take towards those responsible for the leaks as well as the messenger (WikiLeaks), not the actions the government should take in reviewing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether these policies are truly beneficial to Americans hurting from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The response from the Obama administration was fairly predictable.  On Monday, July 26th, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took questions from journalists – questions that many major news commentators failed to ask.  Here are a few excerpts from the Press Briefing:

Q    Does the White House believe that the documents raise doubts about whether Pakistan is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.  We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan; we have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time — and on both of those aspects we’ve taken steps to make improvements.

I think just the last time General Petreaus testified in front of the Senate there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationships that have been had between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services.

Members of Congress, such as Senator Jack Reed and Carl Levin, believe Pakistan is aiding insurgent groups.  Despite this, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently declared to aid Pakistan to the tune of $500 million, calling the U.S. and nuclear-armed Pakistan, “partners joined in common cause.”

The trouble is that if elements of Pakistan’s military or intelligence agency are helping the Afghani insurgent resistance, then we are funding the very enemy that we are fighting.  Could our government be funding both sides of this war?  That thought alone is troubling.

A short time later, another reporter called out Press Secretary Gibbs’ seemingly contradictory statements about the effect of the leaked documents:

Q    Robert back on WikiLeaks.  A couple of times now, you’ve said in the last couple of moments that a lot of this information is not really new, that named U.S. government officials have said some of this same information publicly.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I’m not saying it’s — yes, I said there weren’t any new revelations in the material.

Q    So how does it harm national security if we’ve known this already?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, because you’ve got — it’s not the content as much as it is their names, their operations, there’s logistics, there are sources — all of that information out in a public way has the potential, Ed, to do harm.  If somebody is cooperating with the federal government and their name is listed in an action report, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that that could potentially put a group or an individual at great personal risk.

Q    But is part of the concern as well that this is going to embarrass government officials because maybe the war in Afghanistan is a lot worse off than this administration and the previous administration let on?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Ed, that’s why I would go back to my first point, which is in terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents.  And let’s understand this — when you talk about the way the war is going in Afghanistan, the documents purportedly cover from I think January of 2004 to December 2009.

Finally, after discussing the changes in policy that Obama made after a comprehensive review of the war in Afghanistan, the questions began focusing on whether or not the policy itself is flawed and unachievable:

Q    But even after that painstaking review, these documents are suggesting that the Pakistani government has representatives of its spy agency essentially meeting representatives of the Taliban, plotting to attack American soldiers and Afghan officials.

MR. GIBBS:  Let me just make sure —

Q    How can that suggest the war is going well?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no — you’re conflating about seven issues into one question.  But let’s be clear, Ed.  I don’t think — let me finish, let me finish —

Q    If Pakistani officials are working with the Taliban, how can the war be going well?  That’s one question.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, Ed, I’m saying that the war — the direction of our relationship with Pakistan, based on steps that we’ve asked them to take, has improved that relationship — right?

Q    Okay, because last week Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. and Pakistan are “partners joined in common cause.”

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Despite these documents, the U.S. and Pakistan are joined in common cause?

At a time when the only thing coming out of the mouths of Republicans are concerns about the deficit (thank you Bush!) and at a time when the Democratic White House is failing to make a case for our continued occupation in the Middle East, it is evident that both political parties have no idea what constitutes a threat to our national security.

So, Mr. Gibbs, I have a question to ask. In looking at the negative impact of Bush’s legacy, as measured by his costly foreign policy decisions and alleged human rights abuses, is following his neoconservative foreign policy wise?  Or, to put it another way, does our government believe that carrying out a misguided war is more important than saving the jobs of teachers, police officers and fire fighters, or creating new jobs to pull us out of this recession?

Next time, save us the charade about WikiLeaks threatening our national security.  The real threat to our national security is our government’s misguided policies, both at home and abroad.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union

Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats&q...

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President Roosevelt – Economic Bill of Rights

On January 11, 1944, in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt spoke forcefully and eloquently about the greater meaning and higher purpose of American security in a post-war America. The principles and ideas conveyed by FDR’s words matter as much now as they did over sixty years ago, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center is proud to reprint a selection of FDR’s vision for the security and economic liberty of the American people in war and peace.

Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to the United States Congress on the State of the Union

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. Read more of this post