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The Great American Disconnect

Well, it’s a typical August night in Panama. The mountain is not quiet and tranquilo. Big tormenta outside with slantwise sheets of water and whipping winds. Not tranquilo at all. And, the Queen of the Mountain is on a roll.

A friend of mine, a gay friend who was once in the US Armed Forces, told me the other day that she would rather vote for Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann than see Obama back in office, because, “He’s a socialist.”

I did a double take. Really? He’s a socialist?

Now, let me be clear from the start, I am not enamored of Obama. I started out all excited about the “hopey-changey” thing. However, after watching the past year and half unfold, I have decided he is a colossal wimp. He came to the starting line in an historically poised moment and he has fumbled. Badly. Repeatedly. On many fronts. Banking, stimulus, deficit, tax breaks for the wealthy, program cuts for the least among us…none of this is what he was elected to do. He has back-pedaled, appeased, and caved at every turn to the strident voices of the religious right and Big Business. He lacks the courage of his convictions—and that assumes that he has any. He has, at best, exercised appallingly poor judgment in his policies, his compromises, and his appointments. At worst, he has completely sold out to The Powers That Be. Witness his recent egregious appointment of a Vice President of Monsanto to head the FDA, the department of government that is supposed to oversee public food safety. (What’s wrong with that? Ever hear of putting the fox to guard the chickens? Please.)

Now, the birthers are still saying Obama is not a US citizen (official, notarized and registered birth certificate notwithstanding), and the fundamentalists are still saying he is a Muslim (his baptism in and regular attendance at the United Church of Christ notwithstanding). Whatever. Pick your delusion and stick to it, I say. I can agree that he is a puppet of multi-national corporations (as has been every President since Woodrow Wilson). And a front man for The Man on Wall Street. And a stooge for the Federal Reserve. And a spineless leader. But socialist? What does that mean?

I decided, as I do when confronted with a word that is unclear, to consult the arbiter of meaning, Webster.

Here’s how Webster defines Socialism: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods;” or, later in the list, “a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.”

Interesting. I suppose, according to the first definition, if one includes ‘services,’ along with ‘goods,’ then such things as:

  • Social Security,
  • Medicare,
  • Universal Health Care (or Obama Care, as the tea baggers would call it)
  • public school education,
  • Head Start,
  • college Pell Grants,
  • county health departments,
  • Food Stamps,
  • Nutrition programs for poor children and pregnant mothers,
  • HUD housing (for the poor),
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac housing loans (for the middle class),
  • FDIC insurance for bank accounts,
  • funding for interstate highways, airports and shipping ports, and
  • unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs due to the Bush Era economics of rape and pillage…

…these are all ‘socialist’ programs. Following this track, the US has been a socialist system for a long, long time, predating even that devilish icon of socialism, FDR. (That’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal which helped pull the US out of The Great Depression, for those of you who don’t remember your 8th grade civics).

Essentially, anything that could be done privately, but instead is paid for by tax dollars and administered by the county, state, or federal government, is a socialist program.

Hang on, though. Taken to that level, the US Military is also a socialist program! The soldiers all get uniforms, guns, ammo, health care, bottled water, dehydrated food packages, a pittance wage, substandard housing and education for their families, and substandard medical care when they return home maimed in mind or body. After all, both defense and aggression could be contracted out to the likes of Black Water or other mercenary fight-for-pay outfits. Wait. Hold on. Defense and aggression ARE being outsourced to Black Water and their ilk, and those guys make a WHOLE lot of money and have really rocking equipment (as opposed to what our boys and girls who enlisted have received). And, Black Water, et al are being paid, at least in part, by the US State Department—your tax dollars. Socialism, pure and simple.

(Support our troops? Does the US government support the young men and women they ‘put in harm’s way’ for dubious purposes that benefit not the cause of democracy, but the bottom line of the likes of Halliburton, the Bushes, Dick Cheney and their Saudi buddies? I actually do support our troops, and so do you, if you pay taxes and wish they would all come the hell home—and not in a black plastic bag!).

I digress.

Look again at the latter part of the definition: “…the unequal distribution of goods (wealth) and pay according to work done.”

Think about it. What does that mean?

The knee-jerk reaction of many would be to envision the welfare mother receiving a few hundred dollars a month for doing very little except breeding more little welfare brats. (Did you think that? Come on. You can tell me.).

Consider this, though:
• A mere handful (like about 400) of Americans control almost ALL of the country’s wealth and pay very minimal taxes (because they can afford to move it around in a tax shell game that boggles the mind);
• CEOs and bankers routinely take home obscene salaries and bonuses for flying around in their private jets while gutting their corporations, defrauding the public, and impoverishing their stockholders (and they pay less, percentage wise, in income tax than their cleaning ladies or chauffeurs);
• Representatives and Senators in the US Congress pull down over $100,000 a year with a FOR LIFE pension and health benefits, even if they are voted out of office;
• Tax lawyers manipulate the tax code to shelter major corporations such as General Motors, American Express, Exxon, Chase Bank, etc. etc. etc. from paying ANY tax on billions of dollars of profit annually;

Now also consider this:
• Public school teachers can barely afford to make their house payments and are accused of ripping off the system for having a retirement plan;
• US military enlisted personnel, who earn between $20,000 and $30,000 a year (but receive socialized health care), are having their houses foreclosed on by the likes of Chase Bank for being behind on their mortgage payments WHILE THEY ARE SERVING OVERSEAS IN IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN and our government responds by doing—nothing;
• A Wal-mart clerk or fast food fry cook earns under $5.00 an hour (tried living on that lately?);
• Well-paid union manufacturing jobs have taken off to Asia and India and left ghettoized American ghost cities in their wake, with thousands of highly skilled, unemployed, and unemployable workers signing up for those nasty socialist food stamps and unemployment checks;
• Doctors, who pay more than $100,000 for the privilege of their basic medical school education, can’t afford to repay their loans under the privatized HMO/insurance fraud scheme that has been in place for going on 20 years. Doctors are being driven out of privatized health care because they can’t make a living doing what they trained to do—provide health care to sick people;
• The unemployment rate, this month, is officially at 9+% but is really closer to 25%;
• up and coming bright, qualified college graduates can’t even FIND a job and are still living with Mom and Dad or other family members, or teaching English in China… .

I don’t see hordes of poor, lazy, (black? Latina?) women with broods of children or skulking druggies on street corners milking the system here. I see a different picture—though “unequal distribution of goods (wealth) in accordance to pay for work done” certainly fits the picture. I see a privileged class of (mostly) white men raking it all in, squirreling it away, and feeding the numbed out masses lines such as, “It’s Obama’s fault! He’s a socialist! He’s a Muslim! He’s not even an American!” and laughing all the way to the bank as the American public falls, yet again, for the fear mongering distraction tactics of the uber-wealthy, power elite.

God. A person could get depressed, couldn’t they? Or angry.

Now. Back to Webster. I’m reading about socialism and I glance up the page and there, just two entries above, is ‘social gospel,’ defined as: “the application of biblical teaching, especially of Jesus, to social problems.” Sounds a lot like ‘liberation theology,’ which is defined as: “A Christian movement which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions.”

A light goes off in my head as the neurons scramble to make the connection between these and socialism—for it is surely there. Now, I’m still thinking this through. Hang in there with me, ok?

Social gospel is the ‘good works’ activism that took hold in the South during the Civil Rights movement and in Latin America during the 1960’s. It pretty much ended in the South when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and came to a halt in Latin America in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s when lots of nuns, priests, missionaries and other ‘do-gooders’ disappeared or were murdered under dictators such as Pinochet, Ortega, Somoza, Noriega and the like. Challenge the fat cats and what happens? Right. Not pretty.

But that is not my point. This is my point (if I can just marshal my thoughts coherently, and it’s not easy, but I’m trying!):

A lot of people in the US—people with families, people who go to church, have jobs if they are lucky, and subscribe to ‘traditional American values’ (whatever that means)—are decrying the advent of socialism and lamenting for a country that has turned away from “Christian values and godly ways.”

According to the nightly news, Americans want to cut all social programs that provide for the indigent, aged, infirm, weak, or otherwise handicapped. Further, they call for dismantling these social safety nets while yammering loudly about Jesus (and saying Obama is a Muslim). They blame the decline of Western Civilization on gays, welfare mothers, druggies, and godless, unchristian…who-evers. At least, that is what the Tea Party munchkins and their looney tunes fundamentalist candidates would have us believe. “Give us that old time religion!” “One Nation, under God…” “America for Christian Americans!” and so forth and so on.

Who are these ordinary, God fearing Christian people, the so-called “silent majority” of America? Who are these good Christian middle-American people who applaud the insanity spouting Michelle Bachman and her gay-bashing husband? (Research her and see how much SHE has profited from governmental programs for foster kids and agricultural subsidies.). Who are these people who want to vote for Rick Perry, who has profited from the mandatory HPV vaccination of 12 year old Texas girls with a defective, dangerous vaccine that has killed dozens and doesn’t even work against HPV—and he KNEW it beforehand?

Do the people who come out to these well-covered rallies really believe the bombastic bullshit these fanatics are spouting? Or are the people simply so disheartened, so disillusioned with the namby-pamby lack of leadership Obama has shown that anyone, with any kind of spark, is better than nothing? Or, perhaps the people have been lied to—and are being lied about? (Oh, yes. And why IS it that Ron Paul is given almost no coverage by the media, even though he can actually read, write, speak coherently and tell you what is in the Constitution?).

Ordinary Americans, the Tea Party press agents tell us, don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Neither do they want their own taxes to go up. According to the Tea Party politicos and the commentators of Foxx News and other Murdoch controlled media, they most assuredly do NOT want to go on paying for the minimal care of the less unfortunate—those anonymous, unwashed welfare mothers, the cat food eating elderly, the homeless veteran, the handicapped, retarded, or mentally ill. At the same time, they also do not want to support sex education or birth control programs, job training programs, rehab programs, food subsidy programs or mental health outreach programs. Ax ‘em all. Socialist entitlement programs for the godless.

OK. Fine. No taxes for anyone, no benefits for anyone. No special considerations for anyone. Sink or swim. Grab your bootstraps and pull yourself up. Don’t have any bootstraps? Don’t even have any boots? Tough. Better luck next lifetime. This time around we’ll just all depend on the milk of human kindness to get through the hard times of no job, no family, no food, no money, no options. Got it. It’s the traditional, Christian, American way.

So, if this is all true, how is it that statistically reliable, scientific polls of ordinary Americans show overwhelmingly, repeatedly, that almost 70% of Americans DO want Social Security for themselves and their aging parents? It’s also true that they don’t want to pay more taxes because they are already being squeezed to death, and if the question is framed, “Does government spend too much?” they say, “Yes, government spends too much,”  and “No, we shouldn’t raise taxes.”

However, they DO want affordable, accessible, quality health care for themselves, their children, and their dying parents. They DO want good schools for their children and they do NEED help sending their children to college. (We are talking about the Baby Boomers here—that generation being squeezed between elderly parents and growing up children). They DO support Head Start. They DO support a woman’s right to reproductive choice and freedom. They honestly don’t CARE that much about gays in the military or anywhere else. They DO want an end to unnecessary, fraudulent overseas wars. They DO want to live in their own home with a stable mortgage. They want to have a decent job, have a retirement plan, feel secure, and have a bit of peace of mind. They want to go to Disney World or visit the Grand Canyon, at least once in their life time.

So, there is a massive disconnect here. You can’t not raise taxes on the wealthy, not collect taxes from corporations, think that you can make up the difference between what is collected (from you, the middle class) and what is owed by the US government (to the Chinese) by cutting social programs for all the ne’er do wells that you don’t personally approve of and STILL have all the programs you do want for YOUR family and … here it is, wait … wait … you can’t do all this and STILL proclaim to be good Christians doing Jesus’ work on the planet! You just can’t. There is no way that you can put all those pieces together and come out with anything that approaches common sense—or common decency. Not to mention a balanced budget. You cannot have it both ways, folks.

So, tell me, those of you who are opposed to raising taxes, paying taxes, helping the less fortunate, but who still want your piece of the pie. What really, is so wrong with the very wealthy paying a bit more tax—or even an equal percentage of tax? Those 70% of polled Americans I mentioned? They actually think this is a good idea. Even a lot of the millionaires and billionaires who would have to pony up some extra cash think it is a good idea.

What, really, is so wrong with requiring—no, forcing—gargantuan multi-national corporations to pay their legal tax bill and closing the loops holes that allow them, this year and every year, to deduct for expenses and losses incurred 50 years ago?

What, really, is so wrong with…well, with wanting a bit of fairness? Of being a bit charitable? Of being a bit generous to those who are down and out? (There but for the grace of God, go you or I?).

What’s wrong with investing in education? Roads? Health care?

What’s wrong with not wanting to squander the brains, talent, and lives of our young people and the wealth of the country on foreign mis-adventures that were created to serve…who, exactly?

(Now, if you still believe the US invaded Iraq because Sadaam Hussein sponsored Osama Bin Laden and 9/11 and was stockpiling chemical weapons, and that it had NOTHING to do with enriching the Bushes, Cheney, the Saudis, and EVERYTHING to do with preserving democracy and freedom in the US, well then, go on back and watch some more television. Your brain is already dead.).

But back to the original question. Is all of this…socialism? Or, is this simply the social contract required of people living in community, in a country that purports to be the land of the free, home of the brave, the brightest and the best…the agreement of civilized people to be fair, reasonable, just, and compassionate to their neighbors?

Does anyone know how it is that the extreme divisiveness of politics in the US over the past few decades has become framed in terms of Christian versus non-Christian? Liberal (socialist) versus conservative (‘traditional American’)? Godly versus un-godly? How did this happen? When did it happen? Whom does this serve? What purpose does it serve?

I would really like to know, because, here is a news flash for you. Take a deep breath. Brace yourself. This is shocking. The United States of America was not founded as a Christian nation. The Founding Fathers were agnostics, atheists, Anglicans, Quakers, Freemasons, and independent thinkers. They were intellectuals. They were educated. They were wise. They were radicals. They were revolutionaries. They KNEW the dangers of state sanctioned religion and they made it the FIRST premise of the FIRST Amendment to the US Constitution to prohibit it–and it was one of the few that they didn’t argue bitterly about.

Have you actually ever read the First Amendment to the Constitution? Here—I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That’s pretty clear. NO LAW. None. No law that seeks in anyway to impose a particular religious value or dogma on anyone, for any reason. No law that upholds or promotes one set of religious ideals as opposed to another. That’s why no denominational prayer in the schools. That’s why Judeo-Christian biblical scenes can’t be portrayed on federal buildings, because that is the same as saying that the government is establishing, through favoritism and by precedent, a religion.

That’s why, frankly, it doesn’t make a tinker’s damn worth of difference if Obama is a Muslim, a Christian, or a believer in the power of crystals or reading chicken entrails. It is none of the law’s business—none of the government’s business—and it shouldn’t be any of our business. (What do I believe? None of your business.).

Now, hear me. I have nothing against Jesus. Great teacher, great prophet, great revolutionary. What would Jesus do, confronted with the injustice, corruption, apathy, and suffering that surrounds us?I know what he did do (if we can believe any of the gospels):

  • He took a whip and drove the money changers (bankers) out of the temple.
  • He called the Pharisees (the political leaders and rule makers of the day) “hypocrites” (and worse).
  • He healed the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, befriended the outcast, forgave the sinner, made the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise up again.
  • He said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” (Was Jesus an environmentalist?).
  • He said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” (Theological basis for separation of church and state?).
  • He said, “You who have no sin, you just go right ahead and cast that first stone.” Imagine the glint in his eye as he stood there, surrounded by those righteous (male) elders. He called them on their hypocrisy and the rock-throwing bastards all ran away.
  • He took the woman under his protection.
  • He hung out with sinners, foreigners, rebels, prostitutes, the rich, the poor, the handicapped…and, out of his 12 apostles? Statistically, ten percent were gay.
  • He said, “Go out and do as I have done.”

Very radical. And we all know what happened to him, as a result, right?

I would posit, however, that the radical social gospel that Jesus walked and talked is a far cry from the extreme right wing fundamentalism that the current day Pharisees are blandishing in His name. Jesus was a spiritual leader. Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann and the like are religious nutters with an agenda of public policy and mind control.

Karl Marx called religion, “the opiate of the masses,” a drug that keeps people from thinking and questioning the status quo and aims of the powerful. I am not now, nor have I ever been (thank you, Joseph McCarthy) a Marxist Communist, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a cogent philosophical observation when I come across it. Religion, circuses, fanatical movements, xenophobia, mass hysteria, media orchestrated crises, a double sized order of MSG laden French fries and a high fructose giant soda…whatever prevents a populace from thinking, questioning, and demanding answers of its leaders is an opiate. A drug. This one has been introduced into our society undercover of ‘tradition,’ ‘family or core values,’ ‘fundamental precepts’—and the people have fallen asleep. Drugged into unawareness of what has happened to them and their way of life.

Some, though, are beginning to wake up and they are not happy.

What would Jesus do? What would Thomas Jefferson do?

Need help? Ask yourself what the bank presidents, CEO’s, Captains of Industry, politicos and lobbyists would have you do—and do the opposite. Get creative.

You thought I had answers? Sorry. But, if you’ve read this far, thank you and congratulations. You are still breathing and thinking. Feel free to forward, delete, agree, or disagree.

Thomas Jefferson said that a revolution is necessary every third generation or so to keep alive the spirit of freedom and liberty. The USA missed it—about 40 years ago—and now, I am afraid, it is too late. I have deep sadness for the demise of the country I grew up in…and have left. I have deep anger towards the financial wizards, the robber barons of Wall Street, the international cartels of bankers, and the corporations who have, with unparalleled greed and so few consequences, fatally corrupted the spirit, the fire, and the creative intelligence that used to be the United States of America. I feel the tragedy that has become the day-to-day state of decent, ordinary people who now live lives of quiet desperation and confusion and don’t even know why they are confused and despairing.

That’s it. End of Rant from the Mountain. It is still raining. I’m going to go eat a sweet potato, watch Masterpiece Theater, drink a rum and lime juice, and call it a night. Stay tuned. “Dominion-ism: political theocracy for the New Age.” Be afraid of Rick and Michelle. Be very afraid.

Or, maybe not. I have a new experimental DSC08197 72dpi 3.5h The Great American Disconnectgreenhouse almost completed. There are vegetables to plant, weeds to pluck, a chicken house to clean, and a pond to populate with tilapia. The roof goes on the guest cabin this week, there’s yet another website to build, and there are medicinal plants to harvest and process. Self-sustainability takes a lot of effort and attention! Maybe I’ll just go back to rambling around the mountain and leave things that I can’t control to the forces of history.