Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bullying and The American Way

A recent bill introduced in the Michigan state legislature suggested a path to legalizing bullying. I engaged a dear friend and have reproduced the exchange here to save space. My friend's contributions have been italicized.

"I like the ontogeny reference because it reminds me of my freshman botany professor, but maybe what we have to do IS become sensitive to bullying on a personal level first. When we see ourselves in others then maybe we can see others as ourselves. At any rate, as human beings, pretending to be civilized or really being so, we have to do what we can. We can't do much about the past, and the present is what it is. We can only try to prepare for the future. I know that you are not arguing in favor of allowing bullying in classrooms to continue; I can't quite figure out what you are saying. Are you expressing surprise that I should be surprised about it? I think we are more sensitive than the originators of the manifest destiny idea who saw the people already occupying land they wanted as no more than the animals that made the lands dangerous or the trees that stood in the way of wheat fields. Those people our forbears destroyed sometimes annihilated their enemies and definitely displaced them from their lands as well. We are surely beyond that. I pray so."

I had an anthropology teacher who used to say that man was a bad cat and if you didn't believe it, pick up the newspaper. We're not born angels, we're animals born with an innate drive for social dominance hierarchy which has been shown to reveal itself as early as two years old (Frankel et al, Int. J. Behav. Devel.3, 287,1980). A recent paper in Science has related dominance hierarchy in mice to synaptic connections in the medial prefrontal cortex (Wang et al., Science, 334, 693, 2011). We're hard-wired for bullying.

I know that you are not arguing in favor of allowing bullying in classrooms to continue; I can't quite figure out what you are saying.

As a professor I am wired for provocative statements, designed to make students say, "Hey, wait a minute, that can't be true, can it?" I enjoy the privilege of assuming a devil's advocate position on any topic anytime I choose. I was renowned in my days as a computer science professor for making outrageous statements about the criminal corporation, Microsoft. Why? I felt it was my responsibility to make students think about how one corporation has affected (ruined?) the software industry.

Are you expressing surprise that I should be surprised about it?

Yes, knowing we are animals with severe dominance hierarchy tendencies and recognizing that we (U.S.A.) have been bullies for most of our existence (even long before we became a country). Combine these features with the fact that what we learned in our history classes when growing up glossed over facts, such as: (1) Columbus was nothing more than a cruel purveyor of genocide; (2) MANIFEST DESTINY was an unquestioned reason (justification?) for genocidal actions against Native Americans; (3) We do just about anything we please with God on our side. The arrogance is pitiful and now we're surprised our children are bullies? huh?

I think we are more sensitive than the originators of the manifest destiny idea who saw the people already occupying land they wanted as no more than the animals that made the lands dangerous or the trees that stood in the way of wheat fields. Those people our forbears destroyed sometimes annihilated their enemies and definitely displaced them from their lands as well. We are surely beyond that. I pray so."

We are beyond that? Wasn't Osama Bin Laden's main bugaboo our air force bases in Saudi Arabia? Actually, nobody really knows how many military bases we have around the world. It's over 500 and some say it's over a 1,000. Why are we in Iraq and Afghanistan killing people? Why were we in Vietnam? the Phillipines? What was the Spanish-American war all about? Why isn't Texas part of Mexico? How was Guantanamo established? What was the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine? It seems I could just go on and on with examples of our "sensitivity."

As a Unitarian Universalist, my first principle is to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. It is natural for children to bully and they must be taught otherwise. It's the parent's and teacher's responsibility to take this on. These parents and teachers have been desensitized to the proclivities of our barbarism in the name of "greatness." No, I'm not surprised by anyone wanting to legislate the "AMERICAN WAY."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Secondary Education and United States Citizens

Is it not ironical that in a planned society of controlled workers given compulsory assignments, where religious expression is suppressed, the press controlled, and all media communication censored, where a puppet government is encouraged but denied any real authority, where great attention is given to efficiency and character reports, and attendance at cultural assemblies is compulsory, where it is avowed that all will be administered to each according to his abilities, and where those who flee are tracked down, returned, and punished for trying to escape - in short in the milieu of the typical large American secondary school - we attempt to teach "the democratic system?"

Van Norman, Royce (February,1968) "School Administration: Thought on Organization and Purpose" Phi Delta Kappan 47, 315-316.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

WE THE PEOPLE doesn't include corporations

I stand ineffably baffled by the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I already knew of the bogus interpretation of the fourteenth amendment which is a mistake that has established legal precedence - but this recent Supreme Court decision is contrary to what America is all about for me. I just raced through Thom Hartmann's book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back (Hartmann, 2010) and will be blogging on it here soon.

BACKGROUND: The legal terminology used in the U.S. system was adopted from our old English roots. In this tradition a distinction exists between a natural and artificial person. A natural person is a human being. An artificial person is a legal entity created by a human being. When defining the rights / actions of a person in legal contexts, it is important to distinguish between a natural person and an artificial person.

FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: The fourteenth amendment was inserted to protect the rights of the African Americans following emancipation. Strangely, the wording in the fourteenth amendment uses the word person without qualifying whether it meant a natural or artificial person. This was enough leeway to allow the smell to permeate the halls of justice. What a farce.

Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad: An informal statement associated with this Supreme Court case set the precedent for the legal recognition of the corporation as a natural person. The court never formally deliberated nor issued any opinions on this issue but because of a note made by a court reviewer, the legal landscape of our country was grossly distorted in favor of the corporation. This shameful mechanism that established legal precedent is difficult to believe. Arguments have been made suggesting Supreme Court Justice Waite's involvement in the shenanigans were related to the free passes he was given by the railroad companies. It's moments like these that find me bursting with pride to be an American.

Ted Nace's discussion yields further insight into the misinformation provided by then former senator Roscoe Conkling who argued a case similar to Santa Clara three years previous. It is suggested that Conkling's arguments are what prompted Chief Justice Waite's informal comment that all the justices agreed that corporations have Fourteenth Amendment rights. Conkling claimed to have a journal documenting the intent of the committee that wrote the Fourteenth Amendment. Many years later a Stanford University law librarian, Howard Graham, carefully examined the Journal of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and in a paper, published in the Yale Law Journal, debunked Conkling's testimony. A collection of further papers written by Graham was published in 1968 (Graham, 1968).


Graham, Howard Jay; Everyman's Constitution - Historical Essays on The Fourteenth Amendment, The "Conspiracy Theory", and American Constitutionalism, 1968, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Hartmann, Thom; Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back, 2010, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.

Nace, Ted; Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy, 2003, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Democrat v. Republican Public Spending

During a recent discussion about Illinois state spending, I encountered the statement that Illinois was in financial distress because of its excessive public spending. The spreadsheet here contains data from combined with data showing which states were Red (Republican) or Blue (Democrat) in the presidential elections from 1992 to 2008 which is shown here. There are two columns on the graph containing numbers. The column with the heading S&L Spending shows the % of state and local spending relative to the state's GSP (gross state product). The second column shows how strongly the state has been voting Democrat or Republican with numbers and a color code. I tried to match the color code used on the Wikipedia site; the higher the number the stronger the state was for either Red or Blue. The first column has been sorted so that one sees at the top of the list those states spending the most on public services relative to that state's GSP. So, one could state that out of the top five biggest spenders, four were strongly Republican (Red) states. However, one quickly sees that the next two in the list are strong Democratic states. A quick look at this data would have me pronouncing that strongly Republican states do not spend less on public services than Democratic states. This negates any claims Republicans have to being the party of low public services spending.

The state of Illinois, where I reside, ranks 39th which is not a strong argument for overspending on public services in Illinois. From these data and others where the Illinois tax structure is compared with other states, I would suggest that the financial problems of Illinois are due to an inadequate tax structure that favors the rich. In my opinion a progressive tax system should be incorporated before one considers the evisceration of the public services sector.

During these deliberations the right should be continually reminded that their party is not the party of fiscal responsibility and they are the ones responsible for the current financial crisis. In this link, please note the periods of increasing outlays relative to revenue in the Reagan (1981-1989) and Bush (2001-2009) eras versus the opposite during the Clinton era (1993-2001). Any Republican claiming their party as the party of fiscal restraint must be reminded of this evidence to the contrary. Ronald Reagan was the biggest tax and spend president in history. Ronald Reagan is being turned into a God in this country only because the very rich are driving it - this is a travesty. We should not forget that Reagan started the union busting solely because the unions were the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party.

Many states are facing budget problems not because of changes in public spending, but because the very rich have run us into a ditch and now they want to carve up the little guy to pay for it. It appears to me that the right wants a free market (invisible hand) when they are making profits but then rely on the government to bail them out when they fail. This isn't capitalism my friends, this complicity between government and the corporation is called fascism.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Union Busting and Campaign Finance Reform

IMHO the fundamentals of this debate are rooted in broken political campaign financing. Big money from the rich are buying their way into government with huge campaign contributions (corporations shouldn't be legally recognized as persons). And once they are there, they want to kill campaign contributions from unions (not persons either). President Reagan went union busting, because unions were the biggest contributors to the democratic party. If neither corporations or unions could contribute to political campaigns, wouldn't this help solve the problem?

The degree to which things are askew is witnessed by the recent Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) recognizing first amendment rights for corporations. Jefferson is rolling over in his grave while the Federalists are chuckling.

Subsequent to the original post, I found the following written by Dr. Constance Nielsen on the Net.

"Again, the Pope primarily has the private sector in mind. Unions are actually meant to resolve economic issues in order to avoid undue intervention of the State, not to increase it (see RN 45 and CA 48). But his comments are even more pertinent for public sector unions where fiscal power, in the form of campaign contributions, could be wielded by the Unions in order to effectively choose their own bargaining partner. This has the potential for creating a relationship of mutual self-interest, leaving those outside of the arrangement marginalized and voiceless, but still paying for it. Such a condition actually poses a greater threat of excessive State involvement, which it is the very purpose of Unions to help avoid." Here is the full article.

Also subsequent to the original post was the appearance of Michael Moore in Madison who, in my opinion, showed us how NOT to reframe this debate ala George Lakoff. Lakoff's book "Dont Think Of An Elephant" argued for a more effective way to communicate with conservatives. Many of his writings were kept at his site associated with the now defunct Rockridge Institute. These writings are now archived here including Lakoff's "Talking Points."

Progressives need training in how to communicate with conservatives. Emotional venting by the likes of Michael Moore serves only to soothe the already convinced but does nothing to help sway a middle of the roader- so necessary to win political contests. Lakoff's book "Don't Think Of An Elephant" is highly recommended to achieve this end.