Fictions of Freedom

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe and the surrender of Japan ending WWII, my father expressed the fervent hope that the United States would never be foolish enough to imagine it could win a land war in the vastness of Asia. He thought that General MacArthur was a pompous ass.

While we succeeded in saving the southern half of the small peninsula that is the democratic state of South Korea, the last 60 years have made my father’s case. The sacrifice of so many American troops in Vietnam was a humiliating and ghastly disaster.

But the lesson of Vietnam was lost on the American war machine, which trained its propaganda guns on the fiction that our military supremacy triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union, when in fact the USSR disintegrated from its own dead weight. This supreme test of communism couldn’t even grow a good crop of potatoes two years in a row.

However, by claiming victory in the Cold War, the Reagan  bunch could push and test their “trickle down” approach in American free enterprise. In play now for three decades, the trickle down has never come close to delivering the broad economic growth the Reagan White House promised. Ironically, it has instead simultaneously delivered new mountains of wealth for the wealthy and equally mountainness public and private debt, while leaving a weakened middle class to carry most of the debt.

Trickle down is likewise on the verge of dying of its own weight. The lesson it has given us is that capitalism doesn’t work by trickle down, any better than communism works from the top down. It has given us an increasingly divided and contentious political order, with each side damning the other for “class warfare.”

Capitalism can only grow by spreading wealth more than it concentrates it. By working the other way around for three decades, it leaves us with a a majority that sees itself as the Ninety-Nine Percent, facing a One Percent whose corporate power rules the political landscape. The way Washington and the Congress are working today hardly proves otherwise.

Sadly, the war machine works by its own trickle down. The Pentagon walls of secrecy are buttressed by similar walls at the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the walls of the White House itself. By making national defense its first priority, reinforced in the presidential oath of office, the Constitution allows the executive branch excessive leeway in the exercise of secrecy.

The people are no longer privy to deeper formulations of national security reached between the President and the Pentagon. We’ve lived mainly in the dark since the marshall law was invoked for good reason in World War II, only to have it deepened in the machinations of the Cold War, and  deepened again in the 21st century by the combination of military muscle and homeland security.

That combination is being worked now to allow multinational corporations to flex muscle that is growing beyond the reach of nations and the rule of law, with the effect that government of, by, and for the people is more fiction than fact.

That muscle has been expanded by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision. It allows the corporate powers to push money into politics, putting huge sums into both the candidates and their costly pitches widely spread in various media.

The overall effect is to neutralize if not control public opinion, to further empower their lobbyists with Congress and the legislatures, and to further fictionalize popular government.

Since the Court has negated the power of the people on freedom of speech, we can expect the same result, if the Court chooses to rule on Freedom of Religion, in the case of uniform health insurance  that makes no exception for churches as employers. The Court almost certainly will blur the line again between persons’ access to Freedom of Religion and corporate access to it.

The paradox shows most painfully in the Catholic Church’s insistence that its health insurance for employees should not have to cover contraception for any or all, even though polls have shown repeatedly that the vast majority of Catholic women want that coverage.

It’s criminal in my mind that the highest Court can allow the collective power of faceless, anonymously ruled entities to overwhelm the freedoms that people exercise individually. Will such a collective voice soon destroy the separation of  church and state?

The crowning irony of these assaults on freedom and popular government is that they would never have arisen if the true majority of voters – women – also filled at least half the seats of the legislatures and Congress. It can’t happen soon enough, if corporate power is to be contained and the Bill of Rights is to be saved.

– Frank Mensel         May 2012





Ignorance In America

While I applaud the ExxonMobile public-service ad supporting the National Initiative to strengthen math and science in U.S. schools, it leaves me feeling no friendlier to Big Oil’s coddled darlings of corporate welfare, and no better about the initiative’s chances of success.

The nation’s secondary grades rank 25th in the world in math and science.  Their chances of becoming more competitive are dimmed, in truth, by mixed parental support.   The nations whose schools outperform us are getting unstinted support from parents who push their children every day in their homework.

No such consensus is possible in the United States because too many parents take a dim view of science; they want any courses their children take to fit their beliefs.  They are the multitude who, in the absence of fact, see the universe as built by “creative design,” aka creationism.

They deplore the teaching of evolution, but in order to keep their children free of scorn for being out of step, most are pushing a compromise in which science instruction in elementary and secondary schools would give equal instruction in evolution and creationism.

They don’t seem to grasp that the teaching of creationism in effect “ices” science.   To co-equate them is to abandon reason.   The creationism they want to see as fact springs from the Old Testament, whose prophets and scribes saw the world as flat and the sun and the stars revolving around the earth.  Around us.

As they pull against evolution, they breed and spread political discord.   Their stand against natural science makes it easier still to wreak havoc on the health sciences and social sciences.   This havoc has morphed in this century into a new War on Women.   The dirty old men – and that’s what many are – who are behind this war refuse to see that the Constitution will never be true to its intent without equal protection for women.

Equal protection means they alone rule decisions that guard their health.   Short of that, the Constitution fails the vow of its Preamble, “to establish justice.”  Women must be as fully advantaged as men in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But the War on Women won’t have it!   So, war it is.   War on Planned Parenthood, war on Medicaid, war on single moms, war on equal pay for equal work (how else do you keep “em barefoot and pregnant?), war on abortion and death to doctors who perform it.  How foolish that people of reason would think those issues had been put to rest well back in the last century.

So, what does all tell us about our use of the greatest gift the universe has given us:  intelligence, the power of reason, the exercise of logic?   It’s not a pretty world.   Its beauties, as manifold as they are, are mocked relentlessly by poverty, famine, and the ravages of crime and disease.  Isn’t it time that women take their turn to rule?

If men will cease tripping them, they too may find a  destiny richer than any that would appear to be coming from their hands.  It could hardly be worse.

Imagine the sweeping change that would come to the world, most profoundly to its vastly larger half, the Eastern Hemisphere, if the men of the Arab and Islamic lands removed the veils from women and girls and opened the schools and universities to them, while letting them vote and drive, too.  I can think of no other single phenomenon that would do as much to brighten humanity’s chances of living on in harmony with itself and the earth.

Seemingly destined by the universe and by history to be the caregivers, women have an affinity for earth and harmony that men have largely shunned.  Men want it all.  Women know better!

Humanity, dominated by men lusting more for power than for meaning and understanding, would find itself on new and more promising paths if they allowed women a level playing field.  Yet the 21st century shows so far no lessening of the exploitation and enslavement of women, huamnity’s oldest and gravest crime against humanity.

If women held even a third of the seats in the House and Senate, any forays toward a war on women would have fizzled at birth, or sooner.  There’d be no silly chatter about personhood arriving at conception.   Persons develop from engagement in life, not from the womb.  That’s the idea behind the joke that a dear Jewish friend told me:  “It’s the Jewish position on abortion – you’re a fetus until you finish medical school!”

Will women find, or be allowed, the unity that levels the playing fields world wide before it’s too late?  Only on such playing fields can women and men negotiate and navigate he world’s survival.

From the dominance of men has come the towering irony of humanity advancing through the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Middle Ages, the zenith of the British Empire, the promise of human rights, the Air Age, the Nuclear Age, and now the  Web Age, but never shaking free of the Age of Ignorance.

It grows with the tribes that continue to live by superstition.   It lives vibrantly in multi-national corporations that have  grown beyond the rule of law, into a bottom line that’s blind to human rights and free of care for human suffering or survival.

It lives on in our sputtering American democracy, in poverty, in class warfare, in capitalism that fails to spread wealth more than concentrate it, to the detriment of its own survival. It lives on in our schools, politicized by ideologues blind to science; in universities that too easily allow faculty claims  of academic freedom to betray student need.  To its own detriment, American higher education has the bad habit of taking students for granted (as proven perennially by their taking Pell Grants for granted too).

The Age of Ignorance is easily perpetuated by the embarrasment of liberty as the right to be stupid.  It is exemplified in the One Percent who, having found their American Dream, see themselves as self made rather than the product of it.   Do they fail to see that their American Dream will itself endure only as long as the underlying promise remains accessible to all Americans?   How many perhaps believe that since they have “made it,” the well is drying up, that there are too few Americans left with the grit to match what they have done to save the Dream?  How many see that a shrinking middle class puts every American’s fortunes at risk sooner or later.

History has made it abundantly clear by now that only women can push us beyond the Age of Ignorance.   Men have been wallowing in it far too long.  They might start by calling in the morticians, to treat the world to the luxurious funeral and burial that the GoodOl’Boys clubs richly deserves.   Think of it as the first next step in awakening hope for the 21st century.

– Frank Mensel, May 2012