"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Wealth’

Why We Couldn’t Care Less About The Natural World

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes

Oldspeak: “The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.” –George Monbiot

Wherever i travel in the realm of industrial civilization, i encounter human beings who are far less than alive. Body language, facial expression and lack of animation and passion often communicate more than their predictably articulate speech ever could. Most of the time these folks live in their heads, with little indication of sensation below the neck. Consequently their words are not consistent with the actions with which they profess to be engaged. But i am not surprised by the deadening effect of modernity. After all we are socialized into numbness and encouraged to feel almost nothing except short, bursts of happiness – never any emotion that lasts more than 5 minutes. Otherwise we risk being called “Drama Queens”. it seems that only our indigenous friends in tribal cultures know how to feel about their feelings and fully inhabit their bodies. i suspect that as collapse intensifies, we will be compelled to choose whether we will feel our emotions and work consciously with them in the context of our own bodily experience or will we remain numb and therefore perilously at risk of physical and emotional breakdown?…. Domestication may be the most damaging emotional and spiritual catastrophe of enlightenment, which prized lack of emotion, intellect, and a ghastly disowning of the body as inferior to and even perhaps the enemy of the mind. i believe we must commit to radical aliveness if we are to navigate the turbulent times and remain emotionally and spiritually intact. Only if we settle for nothing less than full aliveness will we be able to discover the resonance of a full spectrum outer reality of external chaos with our inner most being.” -Carolyn Baker

“Humans were just puttering along, for millions of years, in perfect balance with our ecology. But when we lost our connection to it, and got the big idea to create industrial civilization, everything went to shit. i thought the distribution on the scatter chart above was fascinating and telling. Most of the oldest, more mature, pre-industrial cultures  have the most guilt about our impact on the environment, while the younger cultures, largely products of industrial civilization are not very guilty. Think about the profound dysfunction of the pathologically anthropocentric, narcissistic, terminally atomized, life-extinguishing greed and growth fueled  planet hyper-consuming happiness machine populated “civilization” we’ve wrought. The symptoms of this dysfunction are everywhere we care to look. Record levels of mental and physical ailments.  Maladaptive, imbalanced and unsustainable  ways of being viewed as normal. Busying ourselves with endless and ever multiplying distractions from actual reality.  Slavishly working ourselves to death, expending our life energy at jobs we can’t stand, rushing home to briefly interact (maybe) with our family before grabbing a few hours of restless sleep and getting up and doing it all over again. ignoring the hopeless emptiness of our corporatocracy managed lives. We have ‘civilized’ the true and authentic being out of humans. As a result of our near exclusive focus on intellect, science, infinite progress and growth,  ecological collapse, including industrial civilization is certain. We’ve triggered Earth’s most devastating extinction event. Our complete and utter lack of regard for our Great Mother has brought about our end.” -OSJ

By George Monbiot @ The U.K. Guardian:

Locals cross flooded railway lines after the river Thames burst its banks in Datchet.

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did.

A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

 

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

Public response to UK floods. Photograph: /CarbonBrief

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?

And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (from the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

Attitudes to climate change. Photograph: NYT/Pew

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

Oxford University’s Smith School climate change map. Photograph: Oxford University’s Smith School

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes. Photograph: /Greendex

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.

How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

 

 

Why Is the ACLU Helping The Richest Americans Buy Our Elections?

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Plutocrats come in Red and Blue. Elephantine and Asinine. You can bet your ass Newt Gingrich isn’t the only Presidential candidate with a Billionaire benefactor. Obama has them too, the difference is he’s not being called to account for it, he’s openly talked of raising ONE BILLION dollars to finance his reelection campaign. I ask you What’s democratic about that?  How does someone with the means to raise that sum of money represent the interests of all Americans? He doesn’t.  He represent the interests of his benefactors. As long as unlimited monetary donations from multinational corporations, foreign investors and god knows who else with millions to ‘contribute’ is allowed, plutocracy will be order of the day in the U.S. of A.  Need we any more evidence that the 2 party system has failed, and it hopelessly corrupted with money, greed, and cronyism? ‘The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.’ -Steven Rosenfeld

By Steven Rosenfeld @ Alter Net:

The American Civil Liberties Union has earned its reputation as the nation’s foremost legal opponent of government censorship and defender of First Amendment political speech. But increasingly, this national organization with 500,000 members and a $70 million annual budget has another legacy—helping the wealthiest Americans and institutions spend unlimited sums on elections.

This complex legacy follows a nearly four-decade history of filing briefs in the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, virtually all of them arguing that the door to censorship, via regulation of core political speech, must never be opened. But various forces in the courts, the political world, and inside the ACLU are converging that may prompt the ACLU’s national board to reexamine its hardened stance in a more nuanced light, just as it moderated its policy on public financing of elections soon after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

The pressure went up considerably on Friday, as two U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the Court should reopen Citizens United, as they suspended a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering. Unlike the ACLU’s national office, which urged the Court to remove restrictions on independent—or non-candidate related—electioneering, the Montana ACLU argued this wasn’t about censorship at all, but preventing corruption and ensuring Montanans’ voices could be heard in elections.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining. A hearing “will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidate’s allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Two phrases in the justices’ statement may have particular resonance for the ACLU’s national board—the “experience elsewhere” and “corruption or the appearance of corruption,” which suggest constitutional issues apart from censorship. In Citizens United, the ACLU had argued that independent expenditures were the kind of “speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and must not be censored.

According to Burt Neuborne, the ACLU’s former national legal director and now legal director at the Brennan Center for Justice, only one perspective matters to an organization that has weathered criticism for decades for defending unpopular people and causes: whether new facts from current events and recent changes in law demand a reevaluation of their position. As the two justices suggest, the 2012 presidential campaign, in combination with the Court majority’s recent aggressive deregulation of campaign financing, may be that spark.

The presidential campaign has seen what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws flouted in a striking way that cannot have gone unnoticed within the ACLU; it has revealed that critical rulings in Citizens United (and the D.C. Circuit Court in a ruling that followed, SpeechNow.org) were at best politically naïve constructions. This is because 2012’s electoral landscape is presenting free speech issues that are not about state censorship—but what American democracy should look like and how big money functions in it.

The ACLU was not responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to expand Citizens United from a narrow case to one remaking big portions of campaign finance law. But like many times before, it urged deregulation of electioneering—which the Court’s majority did for independent expenditures. Just weeks later, an appeals court in SpeechNow.org drew on this ruling, allowing individuals and corporations to make unlimited contributions to political committees, so long as those groups only make independent expenditures and do not coordinate with candidates. That is how today’s super PACs emerged.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court made a series of remarkable assertions. It declared that independent expenditures could not corrupt candidates, as they would be truly independent and operate apart from the candidates. But neither the Supreme Court nor the Speechnow.org court said how to avoid coordination, assuming the problem away. Everyone on the Court but Justice Clarence Thomas held that disclosure of spending was permissible, not recognizing that current disclosure rules allow donors to operate in the dark behind innocuous stage names. Like coordination, corruption was also dumbed down. Invoking the long-established doctrine that the only legitimate reason for regulating campaign funds is curbing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, the majority watered this concept down saying a lot about what corruption was not, namely access, influence and ingratiation of candidates, but next to nothing about what quid pro quo corruption was, apart from buying votes. Against this backdrop, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, made the startling assertion that limitless independent expenditures in elections could not possibly cause the public to lose faith in our democracy.

Needless to say, his prediction has not been borne out by events. Recent nationwide polling has found 55 percent of Americans oppose the decision, and bigger numbers believe that their voices are diminished compared to big donors and lobbyists. It is not hard to see why the public is upset and discouraged. Presidential candidates’ former campaign staffers are managing the supposedly independent committees, mocking that supposed independence. By uniformly taking the low road, they complement the official campaign’s positive messaging showing further coordination. The top donors use the fiction of independence to ignore federal contribution limits and write million-dollar checks, including to political non-profits that do not disclose their names. To suggest that an individual or corporation writing six- or seven-figure checks to back candidates or parties does not expect payback is naïve, former political consultants say. Meanwhile, a voluminous record discussing independent expenditures, coordination and corruption was before the Court during its deliberations. Citing this record, Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent wondered how the majority could be so indifferent.

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is being spent from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence,’” he wrote. “Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

These developments raise specific First Amendment issues that are not about state censorship of political speech, but about corruption and distortions of the democratic process. These issues have been noted not only on editorial pages and parodied on late-night TV, but from within the ACLU itself. The Montana ACLU affiliate weighed in before the recent Montana Supreme Court decision, taking the opposite view of the national ACLU office. And New Mexico’s ACLU chapter did not interfere this month as that state’s legislature passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a respected Second Circuit judge took issue with Citizens United in a concurring opinion in a case involving New York City’s public financing system. “All is not well with this law, and I believe it appropriate to state in a judicial opinion why I think this is so,” wrote Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former Yale Law School dean, in comments to late 2011 ruling. Calabresi’s remarks address the majority’s contention in Citizens United—which echoes the national ACLU’s view—that unfettered political speech regardless of the speaker is paramount. He began by quoting Luke 21:1-4.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Like Luke, Calabresi noted that the wealthy will drown out the political speech of poorer people by virtue of spending more to send a message—having a larger megaphone. Additionally, he said that such domination of the airwaves also “obscures the depth of each speaker’s views,” as one cannot tell if the voice being eclipsed is whispering, crying or yelling—conveying the intensity of their opinions. “And that is a problem of profound First Amendment significance.”

“There is perhaps no greater a distortive influence on the intensity of expression than wealth differences,” he wrote. “The wider the economic disparities in a democratic society, the more difficult it becomes to convey, with financial donations, the intensity of an ordinary citizen’s political beliefs. People who care a little, if they are rich, still give a lot. People who care a lot must, if they are poor, give only a little. Jesus’ comment about the rich donors and the poor widow says it all.”

In other words, in 2012, when supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits are raising millions from wealthy individuals and corporations whose actions are coordinated in all but name only with the candidates, and disclosure by those political entities is untimely or non-existent, the nation is facing serious First Amendment issues that do not neatly fit the ACLU’s anti-censorship line.

Convincing the ACLU

The ACLU is a nationwide organization with independent affiliates in every state and Washington, DC, and a headquarters and national legal department in New York. Its board of directors has representatives from every state and from its 500,000 members. As such, it is one of the most powerful legal advocacy organizations in the country.

For decades, people inside and outside the ACLU have tried to get its board to moderate its campaign finance views. Since 1970, it has taken up the issue two dozen times. The key question, according to Neuborne, its former national legal director, is whether today’s rising calls to restrict the wealthiest Americans and institutions from spending unlimited money ‘independent’ of campaigns is just today’s version of censoring society’s latest villain, as the federal government once tried to do with Communists, Nazis, gays, minorities and pornographers—or is something constitutionally different going on in today’s deregulated campaign finance environment?

One of the ACLU board’s long-held assumptions, which was affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, is that candidates and independent groups who spend their own money in elections constitute a form of free speech that must not be regulated. In Buckley, the Court held that a new congressional law’s limits on campaign spending by office seekers and independent groups were unconstitutional. It ruled, however, that campaign contribution limits were constitutionally permissible in the interest of preventing corruption or its appearance with candidates, an interest that candidate and independent expenditures did not prevent. Buckley’s framework has led to today’s billionaires writing million-dollar checks to the supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits, and in turn, voters in 2012’s early presidential contests hearing their views dominate the airwaves and debate.

The ACLU includes Buckley on its list of its most important 20th-century victories. Moreover, in the 36 years since that case, with few exceptions, the Court and the ACLU board both have treated spending money in elections as the purest form of protected constitutional speech there is—not conduct that can be regulated. That is a key legal distinction. Other areas of First Amendment law are not this clear-cut and all kinds of speech are regulated without seeing censorship issues. That raises the question of why should political speech in elections be so black and white, or can it be balanced with other democratic interests?

The ACLU’s assertion that political messaging is pure speech whose regulation amounts to censorship infuriates not just state and federal judges but many democracy advocates, particularly those who believe big money distorts the process and acts to suppress the speech of people of lesser means.

“It’s not speech itself and it never has been,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “It is conduct not speech, and any regulation of spending of campaign money in elections is the regulation of the manner of speech, to ensure that anyone who has a 1000-megawatt bullhorn is not able to drown out anybody else’s speech.”

A series of former top national ACLU officials have tried to get the national board to change its position. In fairness, the board did change its policy in April 2010 after Citizens Unitedsaying that spending limits were permissible for candidates that took public financing. And its board, noting this was unprecedented in ACLU history, agreed that “reasonable” contribution limits were acceptable, although that has been settled law since Buckley. But these changes re-enforced laws established decades earlier. And on the key holdings in Citizens United, the board did not budge.

“You can be furious at guys like that, especially when they win,” said Neuborne, who now believes the ACLU national policy is on the wrong side of history and the Constitution. He went before the board to make that case after Citizens United came out, debating Floyd Abrams, a famous First Amendment attorney whose legal career has spanned defending the New York Times to shielding major tobacco companies from federal health regulations.

“Their trumping legal argument is that you have to make an overwhelming showing of need before they will sit still for censorship. And they say your overwhelming showing of need is that rich people have too much power in the society, and they are distorting the democratic process. Their argument is, ‘Look, there are a lot of rich people and a lot of them disagree. So if the rich people cancel each other out, what’s the big deal? All they do is fund democracy. People get more speech and the rich folks pay for it.”

That’s not all the ACLU’s board says, said Neuborne. “Second thing they say [is that] if you think that rich folk’s speech is skewed, you have to show me facts to demonstrate that. You just can’t tell me it’s a problem. Show me which election it has happened in. Show me where one side blew out the other side to the point where the other side wasn’t able to make its case to the electorate. You know what, I can’t make that showing. The closest it happened interestingly was Florida, when Romney outspent Gingrich five to one. I think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the election. But you cannot argue that national elections are shifted that way, because in national elections that parties are relatively equally balanced in terms of money.”

Indeed, 2012 is turning into exactly that kind of political arms race. While most of the early independent spending has been in the Republican presidential race, the Democrats are quickly falling in line. The Obama re-election campaign has said it would refer donors to a super-PAC run by a top ex-Obama campaign staffer—another instance of admitting that these PACs were anything but “independent” of the campaigns, the concern that Justice Kennedy turned a blind eye to Citizens United. In liberal circles, Credo Mobile, a phone company that has raised millions for progressive causes, said it too would form a super-PAC for the 2012 election. So has ActBlue, which has a traditional PAC that can donate to candidates and an independent super-PAC.

Neuborne knows American elections do not benefit from this spiral—which only elevates the role of wealthier participants at the expense of Americans of more modest means. The question is how to convince the ACLU board. It may have debated its response to Citizens United too soon, he said, noting that Abrams argued the organization would look foolish after siding with the Court majority in the case and winning—only to reverse its position. That, however, was a political argument, not a constitutional one. Neuborne said 40 percent or more of the board believe it is time to take a more nuanced view.

“Where the ACLU goes off the rails is that it forgets at some point that spending massive amounts of money ceases to be analogous to just pure speech and becomes an exercise in power,” Neuborne said. “I think that the ACLU is forgetting that the First Amendment is democracy’s friend, not democracy’s enemy.  And when it demonstrably hurts democracy there has to be something wrong with a policy that just digs in and says, ‘Sorry, the First Amendment made us do it.'”

The ACLU’s national press office declined to comment or make any attorneys available for this article. Calls and emails to ACLU litigators, current and former, who litigated many of its political speech cases before the Court also were not returned.

However, Neuborne is hardly alone in his analysis of how First Amendment fundamentalism can fray the fabric of political speech and democracy. Supreme Court Justices, starting with Byron White’s dissent at the start of the Court’s modern deregulatory regime in Buckley, and John Paul Stevens, whose 2010 dissent in Citizens United, catalogued the dangers of unregulated big money in elections.

“While it is true that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice, the approach taken by the majority cannot be right, in my judgment, “Stevens wrote. “It disregards our constitutional history and the fundamental demands of a democratic society.”

Unlike the 1976 Buckley decision, which slowly transformed America’s campaign finance landscape over many years, the impact from Citizen United has come in barely two years. The Court’s majority in Citizens United did not anticipate these consequences. It puts those who argued with the majority—such as the ACLU’s national office—in an awkward place, because as new facts have emerged, so have nuanced political speech issues that cannot be adequately answered by saying censorship is the most important First Amendment issue.

And Citizens United may be headed back to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the Court issued a stay in a suit challenging Montana’s 1912 ban on corporate campaigning. The Court could overrule Montana without a hearing—citing the supremacy of the nation’s highest court over state courts. Or it could hold a hearing to re-evaluate parts of it in light of new facts and public perceptions.

Should the Court hear the Montana case, the ACLU board may be pushed to re-evaluate its policy. Whether it will remains to be seen. The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154184/