From the Desk

Fem v. Fem; What’s the Point? It’s ALL Female Oppression!

“Us and Them;” Culture and Female Oppression

By T.L. Dayen burka_muell_igfm

Oppression is the anti-thesis of liberty. Women all over the world enjoy different degrees of liberty, so you could say that women all over the world also suffer different degrees of oppression, from the right to equal pay to the right to not be burned alive in our own kitchen. Culture, perhaps more than anything else, is the lens through which these differing degrees of liberty and oppression are perceived. So when feminists attempt to assess and evaluate global female oppression outside the context of culture, conclusions will no doubt be skewed and ineffectual; skewed because conclusions have not allowed for “differing” cultural perspectives, and ineffectual because skewed conclusions are not taken seriously to effect change. Advancement in information and communication technologies have made the world a “smaller” and less unfamiliar place since the 2nd wave feminist movement of the mid-20th century here in the U.S., but unique and personal female experience (most often defined by culture) has been said by many to remain overlooked when assessing female oppression, and remains a source of contention within what has become a fragmented feminist movement. A truly empathetic understanding of Culture, which encompasses ones race, ethnicity, religion, class and even sexuality, seems to be the one factor that continues to divide women and prevent a unified approach to emancipation from female subordination and oppression. However, we cannot risk the danger of allowing culture to justify oppression. Culture explains social norms of female acquiescence, but cultural oppression reflects mandated social constructs that demand female capitulation often by threat of harm.

The Challenges of Cultural Divisions

As females, we need to understand that our everyday lives, responsibilities and personal experiences can be dramatically different from one another dependent upon the social norms of not only where we live, but by those defined by the culture within which we live; even in the same geographic location.   The need to recognize our cultural differences is real and pertinent to the feminist discourse. In this context, representations of all female voices are crucial within the movement to gain the trust and engagement of all women. The feminist perspective within the gay community will be dramatically different from that of the Latina community, and the Latina different from the African [American] community, and African American different from the Muslim community, and the Muslim different from white suburbia or Wall Street, etc. Female oppression is experienced on a level unique to each of our ‘cultures.’ Linda Alcoff writes of this dilemma; “the advocacy of the oppressed must be done by the oppressed themselves,” as it “will have a significant effect on the content [impact] of what is said.” She goes on to warn that the “practice of privileged persons speaking on behalf of less privileged persons has actually (in many cases) resulted in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.” (Alcoff, 78-91). Although it is not always possible on every occasion the movement has a chance to be heard, whenever possible, the empowerment of oppressed voices to speak for themselves is always more potent (and valid). However, I would argue that for those whose voices are invalidated by their own cultural constructs, then sensitive, sensible and cognizant advocacy is not only legitimate but often necessary.

Is Oppression Culturally Justified?

Repression is synonymous with ‘oppression.’ According to the North American English Encarta Dictionary, repression is “being politically or socially kept down by force;” also a “psychological protective mechanism by which people protect themselves from threatening thoughts by blocking them out of the conscious mind.” When we speak of cultural oppression, we have to be mindful that from within an ‘oppressive culture’ there is not a collective sense of injustice, but rather a consensual social construct shared and enforced by the community.   When confronted by perceptions ‘outside’ the purview of those within the social construct, defense mechanisms may be necessary to protect oneself from facing what may otherwise be horrible truths. These can include justification involving explanations that account for history, tradition and religious beliefs, and/or projection, which entails transposition or false equivalents.  In other words, instead of facing a difficult truth we’re confronted with, we may instead choose to assert that the confronter’s situation is similar to our own to dilute or negate unpleasant realizations brought about through otherwise stark comparisons.

I believe that Uma Narayan is doing just that when she compares rampant “dowry deaths” in India to cases of domestic murder in the U.S. No murder should ever be considered “better” than another, but the circumstances surrounding the act can be deemed more or less egregious! Murder is not cultural. What is cultural is the uniformity of victim, motive and method, and of the collective social response. Narayan uses false equivalents between Indian dowry murder and U.S. domestic murder in the defense of her own culture when she says, “fatal forms of violence against mainstream Western women seem interestingly resistant to such ‘cultural explanations,’ leaving Western women seemingly more immune to ‘death by culture’” (Narayan, 62-77).  Domestic murder in the U.S. has no uniformity in method or motive. They are random acts of violence that are often not premeditated or intentional. They are often motivated by spontaneous moments of rage and often facilitated by substance abuse. They are committed by spouses and non-spouses alike who are often not cohabitating at the time of the act. In contrast, Indian dowry murder is a frequent (5,000 annually) act of premeditated murder for dowry profit, committed only by a husband against his wife by burning her to death in only one way that can also be culturally explained as an accident; “pressurized kerosene stoves [that] are in common use in [Indian] homes; a tin of fuel is ‘always kept in reserve’…. A highly flammable nylon sari easily catches fire…signs of struggle do not show up on bodies with 90 percent or more third degree burns.” (Narayan, 62-77). The victim, motive and method are the same in every case and specific to Indian culture.Dowry death

Social and community response is another factor that differentiates fundamental female subordination from ‘cultural’ female oppression. Women are not the only victims of violence; however when they are, they are nearly exclusively victim to men. This is globally consistent and not confined to the U.S. or India. What is not globally consistent is the customary response from local communities, authorities and governments, and that is reflective of culture. Culturally justified female oppression does not – cannot – occur in societies that, 1) have collectively established an infrastructure of support and safety nets for women in need which includes education, housing/shelter, economic, employment and legal assistance, and 2) have collectively recognized civilly, politically and legally, a woman’s autonomous right to liberty. These were once feminist issues in the U.S. and the world, but they are now woven within our collective cultural fabric as “civilly humane” issues. Narayan concedes to “the virtual absence in India of state-provided welfare, education, and medical care…legal services… that would enable Indian women to leave family contexts where they are victims of violence.” She also cites the powerful social “stigma” in India of “women living on their own” that deter even those with financial means to leave abusive situations (Narayan, 62-77). A lack of support structure to address social vulnerabilities specific to women fosters the cultural message to both men and women that these vulnerabilities are tolerable and acceptable and therefore ensuing consequences are ‘culturally justified.’ Even while Narayan admits that “feminist policies and solutions are dependent upon the background social, economic and institutional features of the national landscape,” she actually appears indignant when she says that “some Western feminists seem to have assumed that the Indian women’s movement is “less developed” (Narayan, 62-77). I say she is right, but taking a ‘personal’ offense to the Western observation of institutionalized female oppression in India is not only counterproductive it actually fuels the defensive narrative that female oppression and violence can be culturally justified.

This defensive position taken by women in the international feminist community is not uncommon. An incensed Chandra Mohanty-Talpade gave a seething indictment of Western feminist perspective when she said there are “issues around which apparently all women are expected to organize,” and that this “reinforces the assumption that people in the third world just have not evolved to the extent that the West has.” She asserts that the West has a “paternalistic attitude towards women” whose lives are constrained within the social constructs of “religion,” “domesticity,” “child marriages,” and “illiteracy” (Talpade-Mohanty). If the Western paternal or dominant perspective is the expectation that women should “organize” around the abolition of child marriage, female illiteracy and even forced child birth, than Chandra is correct in her assessment, but severely misguided in her scorn of such an expectation. True liberty allows for personal choice of religion and domestic ambitions such as motherhood. Children and illiterates are not equipped to exercise informed and unshackled personal ‘choice.’ Civically or religiously mandated female behavior under threat of harm or exile is nothing more than culturally justified oppression, whether its child marriage, female illiteracy, forced child birth or even veiling. This is not a matter of evolution, but one of dissolute cultural authority.

Prospects for UnificationChristian female oppression

The 3rd wave or “postmodern” feminist movement of the 21st century may hold the key to recognizing our differences without having to ‘reconcile’ them. Coming from the perspective that differences and even contradictions in the female experience should be welcomed and even expected, perhaps unification against female oppression does not require an objective consensus but rather a subjective coordinated effort. In other words, is it really so much about whom “we” are, as it is about what “oppression” is? Can we objectively define what we are fighting while subjectively maintaining why we are fighting it? Stephanie Riley quotes philosopher Paul Ricoeur when contemplating “bridging the gap” between the complexity of feminists and the simplicity of our cause, “a process of self-attestation takes place as a moment of constituting self-identity: we are, we act, and we suffer.” (Riley). From this approach, a multi-cultural feminist narrative is “free within a text to be appropriated not as an individual possession, but as a shared notion that contributes to change. Feminists reading each other… can share one another’s stories to shape and color their own existence.” (Riley). Part of the nature of our cause is the lack of empathy to our plight. I believe that if the feminist movement is mindful that we should expect of ourselves at least what we are expecting of others, that a balanced unification is possible.

Change is Always Evolutionary and Sometimes Revolutionary.

Evolution cannot occur without change. They are intrinsically intertwined. Change can come slow, as in ‘movement,’ or change can come fast, as in a ‘revolution.’ Regardless of how change comes about it is inevitable and constant. But how it comes about can determine the degree and pace of change. It is generally agreed that the feminist movement began during the Enlightenment Era of the 17th century, and more specifically during the French Revolution. Terms like “liberty” and “freedom” and “social justice” and “self-determination” sparked the courage and insight of an entire generation of women to embark on the long journey that is the struggle for female equality and emancipation from oppression known as the “feminist movement.” Its momentum has been marked in terms of “waves.” The 1st Wave was women’s suffrage (the right to vote). The 2nd Wave was equality and the end of sexism in the work place. It is said we are now in the 3rd Wave or post modernism. This reflects multi-cultural and multi-national feminist identities, issues of female oppression and violence, severe income inequality and women’s health issues. Given the history of the troublesome fragmentation of the movement and its inability to coalesce, this 3rd Wave feminist effort seems to recognize our need to ‘pull together’ the voices of ALL women to affect real, positive and lasting progress for women’s liberties.

The feminist movement is now global.

Groups like the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) that advocates for “equality around the world” and the National Organization for Women (NOW) that advocates for the diverse issues of women in a multi-cultural U.S. and uses the strength and influence of the U.S. within the United Nations (UN) to address multi-national women’s issues, are both organizations that reflect a renewed sense of urgency in the feminist movement to come together as a global force.

Using new networking technologies that can converge and rally millions of women all over the world, these groups focus on petitioning governments whose policies are oppressive to women, educating men to the benefits of a world of full equality, empowering and supporting women in their local communities, as well as staging and sponsoring protests, and national and international discussion forums.   There is also a renewed push to engage women in the political process and encourage women to run for political office. Both the FMF and NOW are educating and encouraging their members to urge their legislators to finally ratify CEDAW; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Adopted in 1979 by the UN, “187 countries have ratified the Convention, pledging to give women equal rights in all aspects of their lives including political, health, educational, social and legal.” (Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW). Shamefully, the United States is not on this list. In fact it is one of only seven countries including Iran and Somalia that have not ratified the only International Treaty that “comprehensively [addresses] women’s rights within political, cultural, economic, social, and family life.” The FMF justly contends that, “the United States compromises its credibility as a leader for either human rights or women’s rights.” (Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW). The feminist movement has yet to inspire a “revolution,” but it’s fair to say we may be closer to such an event then we have ever been.

Conclusion

There’s a term, “Think globally, but act locally.” Originally coined to support the environmental movement, I believe it is completely apropos to the feminist movement. While we all need to have a clear and empathetic understanding of the global challenges that women face in the 21st century, our individual focus needs to be in our own lives and our own communities. Whether you live in Alabama or Bangladesh; whether you’re gay or straight, black or Latina; by working within our own cultural infrastructures and addressing the issues unique to our own experiences, we will surely and steadily change the reality of female oppression on a global scale.

Riley reflects on the words of famous feminist literary icon, bell hooks, discussing our individual needs in relation to our common desires; “she [bell hooks] emphasizes the importance of a feminist theory that would offer everyone, men and women alike, a liberated vision of love and sexual expression. From what humanity is freed differs for each [person], but that something exists from which to be liberated, and that liberation involves love, remains a constant.” (Riley).

We must all be informed by our unique and personal experience, but I would suggest that if we have indeed made a personal commitment to the cause of female emancipation and equality, then we have indeed made that commitment to breach the cultural boundaries between us and them.

Bibliography

Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem with Speaking for Others.” Trans. Array Theorizing Feminisms.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 78-91. Print.

“Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW.” Feminsit Majority Foundation. Ms. Magazine. Web. 6 Dec 2013. <Feminist.org>.

Narayan, Uma. “Cross-cultural Connections, Border-Crossings and “Death by Culture”.” Trans.

Array Theorizing Feminisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 62-77. Print.      

           National Organization for Women (NOW). Web. 6 Dec 2013 <now.org>.

Riley, Stephanie. “”First” and “Third” World Feminism(s); Does Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophy

Offer a Way to Bridge the Gap?.” Ricoeur Studies. University of Pittsburg Press, 2013. Vol. 4, No.1 pg.

57-70. Web. 11 Nov 2013. <ricoeur.pitt.edu>. (Riley)

Talpade-Mohanty, Chandra. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial

Discourse.” On Humanism and the University I: The Discourse of Humanism. Duke

University Press, 1984.Vol.12, No.3 pg. 333-358. Web. 11 Nov 2013. <jstor.org>.

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After Women Took off Their Aprons, Advertisers Began Taking Off the Rest!

fem 17Once we won our equal liberty to choose our personal “place” in the world, the male ego swiftly began to make sure that women would never forget their universal “purpose” in the world.

By T.L.Dayen

They say “a picture paints a thousand words.” Imagery has the power to elicit emotion and provoke thought. It can also be used to subconsciously persuade or manipulate. Imagery has also historically been used to disseminate propaganda such as the iconic “Rosie the Riveter;” an animated image of a strong-armed woman in a factory uniform intended to convey that it was acceptable to see women; the majority of the domestic work force during the war effort of WWII, as strong and capable. Images can also portray social behavioral norms like iconic Norman Rockwell fem 15paintings depicting ‘normal’ life in middle and working class America from the early to mid 20th century. Culturally, our social norms are reflected through imagery in our media; movies (entertainment mostly) and advertising (expressly to persuade).

Imagery in advertising works to convince, confirm or inform viewers about what they should want, think, identify with or accept as good for them. When advertisers use sexually implicit images to sell a product, it is reaffirming stereotypes that objectify women’s bodies and marginalize their humanity.

Selling Sex

Exploiting sexuality to sell a product is, unfortunately, effective. The ‘sex kitten’ eating Doritos on T.V. prompts the dorritosman to buy the chips because he wants to “get the girl” in the ad, and the woman buys the chips because she wants to “be the girl” in the ad; “We’re a visually explicit culture that’s become comfortable with selling domain names and winter coats on the backs of pretty, naked people” (Thompson, 2011).

Using sex in advertising subliminally links our most primal motive of procreation to the impulse desire for that product/service. In other words, buy the product, get (feel) the sex.

Sell Sex; Buy Sexism

The problem with ‘selling sex’ is that it takes the elemental human drive to procreate (which requires dominant and pliant roles), and attaches it to everything in our lives from food to cars to clothing to cleaning products to insurance. fem 14The dominant/ pliant roles of our sex organs become the roles we identify with as represented subliminally by the products and services we need and use every day. By ascribing the yielding female sex organ to her overall nature and character (as subordinate), advertisers can use sexually explicit imagery to not only potently objectify women’s bodies, but also marginalize female humanity by transforming “actual women into [sexual] objects, devoid of individual will or subjectivity” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256).

The female body, pliant in sex, becomes the objectified woman, subordinate in life.

Even while women have made stellar strides in education and work force parity since the blatantly sexist advertising of the 1950’s; “an era when women’s roles were confined to the corridor between the bedroom and the kitchen” (Thompson, 2011);

the ‘new sexism’ is simply explicitly sexist imagery without the explicitly sexist messaging. In the 21st century, the message of sexual servitude is “implied.”

“Having lost the argument that women are incompetent, American advertising has had to settle on the argument that fem 18women are [still] attractive” (Thompson, 2011). In other words the iconic domestic dependent ‘June Cleaver’ telling viewers something like, “Your husband will never complain about undercooked eggs again with this new and improved egg timer!” has been replaced with the sexually implicit ‘cleavage and stilettoes’ seductively and silently stepping out of a Lincoln Continental. I call this “objectified female imagery.” This more modern version of sexism has only fed new life into age old social constructs of female subordination, because “American women still develop a sense of self-worth based primarily on how they look, rather than how talented or intelligent they are” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256).

Domestic dependent submissiveness has simply been replaced by sexual objectification; both are demeaning and subordinate positions of “service.”

What’s even more poignant is that some of worst offenders of this type of sexist advertising are ‘women on women.’ fem 19Women who appeared on a Phil Donahue Show “fashion segment,” un-apologetically defended their unusual preoccupation with ‘perfecting’ their hair, skin, eyes, clothing and bodies. Susan Bordo took note of their naiveté and that “putting on makeup, styling hair, and so forth are conceived of only as free play, fun, a matter of creative expression,” but in reality is, “also experienced by many women as ‘necessary’ before they show themselves to the world, even a quick trip to the corner mailbox.” Bordo expresses her concern that the true messages being sent by ‘fashion statements’ are merely “whimsical and politically neutral vicissitudes [that] supply endless amusement for women’s [apparent] eternally superficial values.” Bordo goes on to say in the context of the fashion and beauty industry, “the specific ideals that women are drawn to embody…are seen as arbitrary, without meaning [by society].”

In other words, obsession with fashion culturally indicates frivolous and superficial priorities.

Bordo’s trepidation with the multi-million dollar fashion and beauty industry is shared by Benshoff and Griffen who assert that this advertising strives to persuade women to “buy their [own] femininity;” be re-made into “some ideal fem 20form” as an “object of the male gaze (objectification).” This, alleges Benshoff and Griffen, actually convinces women “to be complicit in their own objectification.” A massive and still growing fashion and beauty industry in America may be evidence that many women have indeed “internalized the ideology that their self-worth is based upon their public image… that achieving total objectified desirability is the only thing that will give them happiness and fulfillment” and that, “this mythical ideal keeps patriarchal (male) domination in place” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256). If women are buying sexism, then apparently sexist advertising is working.

Hijacked Sexuality

Full disclosure: as a woman myself, I am frustrated that an industry has “hijacked” my God given sexuality for their profits! Can a woman in the 21st century fully express her innate sexuality without the implication that she is consenting to, even encouraging the sexist messages sent by the objectified female imagery in media advertising? And what of those who feed into the ‘cultural messages’ that are fabricated from objectified female imagery in the media; that a woman’s sexuality is by its very nature literally “there for the taking?”fem 5

Can a woman in the 21st century fully express her innate sexuality personally without the implication that she is “asking for it” publically? I fear that the answer to these questions today is “no.”

Sharon Marcus writes of the misleading dialogue used when legislating rape laws or hearing rape cases; “The rape script describes female bodies as vulnerable, violable, penetrable, and wounded.” A website called “Controltonight.com” ran an ad showing a young woman’s legs with her panties around her ankles lying on what looks like a bathroom floor. The ad reads, “2:19 a.m. She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say NO.” The ad intends to warn against drinking and date rape, but the ‘message’ is that women’s bodies are simply up for grabs by anyone who may gain the advantage to take it – and that’s somehow a woman’s fault. Marcus purports, “the adherents of rape culture see female sexuality as a property which only men can truly own, which women often hoard, which can thus justifiably be wrested from us, which women themselves merely hold in trust for a lawful owner. Rape thus becomes the theft or violation of one man’s property rights by another.”

fem 8If women’s sexuality is not even seen in our law as our own rightful possession, it is no wonder it could be unabashedly exploited personally or commercially by whomever and however it serves to benefit.

Audrey Lorde writes of the uses and power of the ‘erotic’ – in this context, ones ‘passions;’ sexual or otherwise; “We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused and devalued within western society… the erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority.” So a woman’s capacity to “feel deeply” has been equated with weakness, and that “only by the suppression of the erotic within our lives and consciousness can women truly be strong. But this strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power” (Lorde 188-192).

If we follow Lordes’ premise, then a woman’s capacity to feel her own sexuality is considered “suspect” and therefore only passably expressed within and through our patriarchal society’s consent and capacity to control it.

Conclusion

What came first, female objectification or female objectified imagery? The truth is not what you might think. While media imagery only began in the early 1900’s, female objectification is just one arm of female subordination that has fem 12stigmatized the male/female dynamic for thousands of years. However, in the 21st century human kind is capable of growing beyond our prejudices; capable of a much broader perspective of the male/female dynamic.

In the 21st century human kind is capable of recognizing our two species as ‘different in measure but equal in value.’

This is where the media continues to culturally perpetuate female objectification even as we are collectively capable of moving beyond it. Advertising media imagery is especially harmful because it is scrupulously knitted within the fabric of our consumer based culture. Every decade that passes, fem 4human kind becomes more familiar with women in leadership positions of authority in politics, more acceding to our dependability as an equal successful womanpartner within the home, and more reliant on our equally competent skills in the work place and industry. While this reality of the male/female dynamic may smack of truth, the false postulation of our disparity and subordination continues to be culturally projected before us as sexually objectified minions of the patriarchal social construct.

Women’s sexuality; our very autonomy is reduced to a collective cultural commodity, and only valid through its collective cultural usefulness to the patriarchal bedroom, boardroom or billboard.

If sex is selling, it’s only selling women out.

fem 16

 

References

Benshoff, Harry, and Sean Griffin. America On Film. 2nd. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

238-256. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “Material Girl: The Effacements of Post Modern Culture.” Trans. Array

Theorizing Feminisms. N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 385-404. Print.

Lorde, Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Trans. Array Theorizing Feminisms.

N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 188-192. Print.

Marcus, Sharon. “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention.”

Trans. Array Theorizing Feminism. N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 369-

  1. Print. (Marcus, 369-381)

Thompson, Derek. “Are T.V. Ads Getting More Sexist?.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly

Group, 31 Oct 2011. Web. 16 Oct 2013. <theatlantic.com>.

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Can truth be found in the Mis-information Age?

 Has citizen journalism transformed “truth” into a subjective term that relies simply upon the level of one’s belief; not substantiated by facts, but simply and powerfully by ideology?  Are we “dumbing down?”

By T.L. Dayen

truth

Google “great vampire squid” and you’ll find 8 of the top 9 of 229,000 results have nothing to do with the actual deep water vampire squid at all! If not a squid, what DOES Google infer from ‘great vampire squid’ in the search bar. squidWould you have guessed politics? If you’re not familiar with a 2009 Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi where he lambasted Wall Street tycoons for instigating the worst global financial meltdown since the Great Depression, then no, you wouldn’t have. In his article titled, “The Great American Bubble Machine,” Taibbi writes of banking and investment firm, Goldman Sachs; “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a ‘great vampire squid’ wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The article sparked a national dialogue that raised occupyquestions about the ethics and propriety of our financial institutions. While the article may not have caused, it certainly rallied, a national vexation that preceded the grassroots’ Occupy Wall Street movement; the Financial Reform Act and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That the “great vampire squid” came to have a political inference in our pop culture, is indicative of politics itself becoming pop-culture; in education, from college tuition to public pop politicsschools vs. charter; in energy, from foreign policy and national security to environmental concerns of climate change and extreme weather; constitutional issues of the 2nd amendment and gun safety; the 1st amendment and money is free speech and corporations are people; the voting rights act and voter I.D.; immigration laws and reform; gay marriage; the legalization of marijuana and overloaded prisons with mandatory minimum drug sentences; living wages and worker rights; unemployment and our growing poverty, homeless population and income inequality. It’s ALL politics my friends! In an information age when all things are political, there are political implications to all that information; and who’s giving it and where and how we are getting it, define our politics about it.

In the new information age, citizen journalism has become a seminal force behind the political decisions forming policy and shaping our destiny as Americans.

The Golden Age of Iconic Investigative Journalism

Perhaps the most iconic example of investigative journalism is what is historically known as Watergate. Whatnixon began in 1972 as a story covering a break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the D.C. Watergate building would end four years later with criminal indictments and resignation of President Richard Nixon. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize for their four year expose that brought down the leader of the free world. It came on the heels of a tumultuous time in America’s history. The mid twentieth century was a period Time Magazine coined as “the end of American innocence” (Reid). In the twenty years between 1960 and 1980, we witnessed the televised murder of our President John F. Kennedy; the assassination of iconic pacifist and civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King; watergatethe assassination of presidential hopeful and brother to President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy; the mysterious untimely death of America’s sweetheart, Marilyn Monroe; and the Vietnam war that aired in American living rooms in horrific color on the nightly news. By 1976, when the President of the United States was found to be implicated in petty theft, black mail and bribery, it must have seemed as if nothing was sacred and no one could be trusted. Even the validity of the American achievement of the 1969 and 1972 Moon landings were held suspect by many (Fuller).

After the turn of the mid twentieth century perhaps in an attempt to not get ‘cold caulked’ by another American heartbreak of scandal, death and corruption, Woodward and Bernstein had presaged investigative journalism as a 60s 70smeans for the public to peel back the veil of the apparent virtues of the status quo and expose the dark underbelly of the establishment; “whether that was ‘to bring about positive change in existing laws or to expose wrongdoing;’ or to uncover something that was previously undisclosed; or ‘to discover the truth, and to identify lapses from it;’ or to enlighten the public to empower it. Investigative reporting proceeded from the a priori assumption that ‘the job of the investigative journalist is to find something wrong and expose it [and that] he or she is a positive force for change…’ (cited by Bromley, p.315).

However, the earnest desire to sincerely reveal truth as a means for positive change would not last long.

The Rise of Partisan Politics, Tabloids and Ratings Chasers

The privatization of the airwaves in the mid-1980’s through digital cable and the proliferation of television channels expanded the media landscape and heralded the 24/7 news cycle. The nation was experiencing changes right along with the way we were receiving information about those changes. The ‘Reagan revolution’ of the 1980’s followed by the Clinton Presidency of the 1990’s established the hyper partisan political environment that persists to this day. Both Presidencies’ presided over but bitterly fought to take credit for, the vast national economic growth that actually resulted from the information and technology boom of the late 20th century.bat boy

But the lessor natures of both consumers and producers of mass media swelled amidst the unparalleled scope of market potential created by economic prosperity, expanded air waves and real-time communication technology.

For consumers, iconic journalistic substance and significance waned in the wake of tabloid exposé sensationalism and voyeurism; “Where reporting in an investigatory style continued, it was accused of being without substance – journalism that amounted only to ‘digging up dirt;’ an ‘exposure journalism’ reliant on ‘stinging’ the rich and famous, or serving the political-economy and ideological interests of media owners (cited by Bromley, p.313). For producers of mass media, ratings potential tabloidstrumped iconic journalistic onus and imagery trumped integrity; “investigative journalism was expected to contribute to ‘the rush for ratings;’ to initiate controversy, to generate publicity, and to be seen as glamorous. Investigative journalists were projected as ‘stars'” (cited by Bromley, p.314). We would soon wake up however, with a ‘tabloid hangover’ and find that perhaps we had invested our money and attention in all the wrong places.

While America had been busy building Silicon Valley and inflated equity; amassing phenomenal capital gains and gorging on infotainment and voyeurism; reminiscent of the mid-twentieth century, integrity, morality and scrupulous care had been steadily backing out the front door.

Blinded by the shiny new and profitable technology of the 80’s and 90’s, American’s hadn’t noticed that greed, egocentrism and exploitation had already slipped in the back door and settled in by the time we rang in the new millennium.

As Chris Hayes states in his novel Twilight of Elites, in the first decade of the new millennium, “Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence.” We were reeling from betrayal at the highest levels of what Hayes calls our “pillar institutions.” Corrupt corporate accounting practices brought down mega conglomerates like World Com and Enron. Wall Street spiraled and world financial markets buckled from gluttonous and extreme trading and investment. The Catholic Church was exposed as a pedophile haven. National security failed to prevent 9/11 and the lives of 3,000 Americans, and a massive government fabrication precipitated the ‘shock and awe’ deaths of many thousands more Americans in a desperate response. Finally, former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore, revealed that our global energy infrastructure is on the brink of ending life on Earth as we know it. By the end of 2010, no one in America had been left unscathed; mentally, financially or emotionally. We were 300 million Chicken Little’s and our sky was falling! Where had been the Bernstein’s and Woodward’s of America to warn us of the ruin from our folly?

Citizen Journalism and Conspiracy Theory

conspiracy

In 2014, much like the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, Americans have defensively retreated into three camps of ideology; those who still believe in and want to restore the central authority of our ‘pillar institutions;’ those who want to scrap the entire system altogether; and those who frankly aren’t paying attention either way. The first two tirelessly sling arrows at one another from their crouched positions of pretension, while the third is ultimately swept to and fro as the unwitting spoils of the victor.

The Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that had kept us woefully pre-occupied, is now what keeps our opposing camps informed and in-check and those in middle, distracted.

Unfortunately, today “the ranks of professional journalists are thinner than ever” (Graber), but even if a Bernstein or Woodward were to step forward at this point, they would not be trusted; “Journalists are not trusted by the public and are equated in their ethical standards [just] above lawyers, elected officials, and corporate officials — all with self-serving interests” (De Tocqueville, p.175).conspiracy2

In the dark ages of the new millennium, we have become our own source of information;

“ICTs present [ordinary] citizens with many opportunities to produce as well as consume information” (Gulvady). We have seen the rise of citizen journalism (CJ), “defined as news content produced by ordinary citizens with no formal journalism training” (Johnson and Wiedenbeck).

Some Americans are effectively using CJ through ICT to affect “significant political action” as in the efforts that exposed the “horrors of Katrina in 2005” and spawned a national call to action to “help the victims” (Graber). But we are also witnessing the irrational fears and forebodings of other Americans being defined as ‘news.’ ICT has become a “megaphone for spreading dangerous falsehoods” and conspiracy (Graber) designed to spin our pillar institutions as not just untrustworthy but even wicked, and it appears to be having a deplorable effect. In 2013, thirty six percent of 2000 people polled believed or weren’t sure that “world bankers” were planning to enforce “world-wide slavery” through a global oligarch; and twenty four percent weren’t sure or believed that our government has allowed “aliens” and/or “shape shifting lizard people” to infiltrate and take over the planet in exchange for advanced technology (Conspiracy Theories). In the midst of ducking from ideological arrows, “how can intellectuals appeal to a public that processes information through a different epistemological model? Configured as a mass, conspiracy culture is presented as an obstruction to the rule of reason” (Birchall, pg.68).

misinformation 1A renewed demand for unbiased investigative journalism may shed light into the dark ages of post turn-of-the-century American consensus and restore ‘the rule of reason.’

Interpretative Misinformation vs. Investigative Journalism

It’s been said that we are all entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts, but as we’ve discussed, “we are witnessing the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, fact and opinion, even fact and fiction” (Gulvady). How do we decipher which is which? A study posted in a 2010 “Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (JMCQ)” found that “those with the least trust in mainstream [professional] media, especially public affairs content, are ‘the largest user group of online news forms” but also that “those who consume news through professional news outlets – online infowarsand off – tended to score marginally higher in political knowledge than citizen journalism consumers.” (Kaufhold, Valenzuela, and de Zúñiga). So, there is evidence that those who follow ‘accredited’ news sources that are not ‘primarily’ online sources have more ‘factual’ knowledge of political issues. If you’re one of those concerned about the ‘dumbing down’ of America, this is disheartening when you consider that another JMCQ study posted in 2009 found that “trust in the credibility of all major news media has fallen” an average of over 25% since 1985.

brietbartA prime example of the harmful effects of interpretive investigative mis-information was the ‘take down’ of ACORN; the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now. In 2008, ACORN had up to 400,000 donors and 1000 workers in 38 states. They had a history of successfully lobbying for worker rights, minimum and living wages, and against subprime lending abuses. They also assisted in low income tax preparation and conducted nationwide voter registration campaigns (Atlas). ACORN had been on the ‘conservative radar’ for years, and after the organization was forced to terminate several voter registration employees for questionable registration documents during the 2008 Presidential election, a citizen journalist contributor to conservative blogs Breitbart.com drudgeand the Drudge Report, James O’Keefe, secretly taped ACORN workers in several state offices, posed undercover as pimp in need tax prep assistance (Atlas). It was later found that the tapes had been edited by O’Keefe to ‘spin’ ACORN workers in illegal practices. ACORN was never convicted of any criminal activity. But by the time the tapes had been sent to CNN and Fox who aired the tapes in an endless loop, the damage had been done (Atlas). Congress defunded the non-profit, donors fled, and in 2010 ACORN filed bankruptcy. O’Keefe was ordered in 2013 to pay $100,000 in restitution to one ACORN worker. Conservatives applauded the ‘sting operation’ but had no comment when ACORN was never formally charged with a crime (Ungar). America lost a solid organization dedicated to middle class struggles.

CIRIn the ‘other’ camp, is the Center for Investigative Reporting; a shining example of the potential for investigative journalism in the ‘new’ information age. Their mission: “Informing and empowering the public and holding the powerful accountable. We give a voice to the voiceless, critical information to those previously left in the dark and a wider, more visible arena to expose abuses of power” (Bergman).

They are an online, but ‘accredited’ organization of 49 reporters and editors who’s stories and research have appeared in over 300 professional television and print news outlets (including CNN, ABC, NBC and U.S. News and World Report) as well as Congressional [Bush Administration, 2013] hearings and Supreme Court [Roberts Court, 2013] proceedings. They’ve won nine awards in excellence in journalism since 2011 including two George Polk awards, the Edward R. Murrow award and two Pulitzer Prize nominations. While the impact of CIR’s work could fill another paper, they currently have forty two ongoing investigations on issues from politics to the environment to education to crime and justice to national security; to name a few (Bergman). It would be highly unlikely that those who follow professional news sources of information have not been exposed to the investigative reporting work of CIR.Misinformation 2

Perhaps another distinction between professional and citizen journalism is the absence of ‘sensationalism’ that often accompanies non-professional reporting, as in the CJ O’Keefe ‘sting.’

CONCLUSION

The truth is the ICT boom of the ‘90’s and ‘00’s that may have precipitated the collapse of American ‘pillar institutions’ also occurred simultaneously with the ‘expired shelf life’ of many American ‘pillar social constructs and infrastructures.’ Like plumbing that needs to be replaced every 30 years due to leaky pipes, we are finding chasms in the once solid functionality of our educational systems, constitutional civil liberties, economic structures, labor forces, immigration, justice system, energy grids and resources, including the cumulative impact of the use of those resources on our planet’s bio-systems.

Ironically, at a time when Americans really need to come together to expose abuses, solve problems and find solutions, we are more “politically polarized” than any time since the civil war (Schmidt, Shelly II & Bardes).

Brian McNair ponders to what extent this “rapidly evolving [ICT] space could service ‘deliberative democracy’, by constituting ‘a healthy public sphere where citizens can exchange ideas, acquire knowledge and information, confront public problems, exercise public accountability, discuss policy options, challenge the powerful without fear of CIR2reprisals, and defend principles” (2002).

Political and social scientists remain hopeful about the potential of ICT; “As the Internet matures, [ICT] journalistic skills should play a key role. The onrush of raw data, including much garbage and misinformation, will require validate-rs, that is, trusted editors and other experts, to separate the wheat from the chaff” (De Tocqueville, p.178). There is no doubt in my own mind that credible investigative journalism in this new ICT age has a greater potential for a positive transformation in critical thinking than any time in history. And we are not lacking in credible “editors and other experts.” What we are lacking is the “trust” in those individuals who would be dedicated to forming a consensus in our mutual interests and in our mutual rationales – namely our shared humanity.

If one credible investigative journalist for Rolling Stone could transform the ‘great vampire squid’ into political pop-culture, what might a consensual national political discourse based on ‘sound reason’ achieve? Put that in your Google bar and search it!

References

Atlas, John. “ACORN Closes it’s Last Door; Filing for Bankruptcy.” . The Huffington Post, 3 Nov. 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2014.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-atlas/acorn-closes-its-last-doo_b_778047.html&gt;.

Bergman, Lowell. “About the Center for Investigative Reporting.”. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.<http://cironline.org/about/board

Birchall, Clare. Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip. New York: Berg, 2006. 34-68 Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Bromley, Michael. “23: Subterfuge as Public Service: Investigative Journalism as Idealized Journalism.” Journalism: Critical Issues. Ed. Stuart Allan. Maidenhead, England: Open UP, 2005. 313-27. Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Conspiracy Theories. Public Policy Polling Institute. 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2014 <http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_National_ConspiracyTheories_040213.pdf&gt;.

De Tocqueville, Alexis. “Chapter 14: Conclusion: Journalism at a Time of Change.” The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What’s Right and Wrong with the Press. By William A. Hachten. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998. 174-79. Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Fuller, John. “Why do some people believe the moon landings were a hoax? How Stuff Works. A Discovery Company. Web, 28 Apr. 2014 <http://science.howstuffworks.com/moon-landing hoax.htm>

Graber, Doris A. Mass Media and American Politics. 8th Edition. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010. Print. Gulvady, Samskrati. “Blogging – Redefining Global Modern Journalism: An Omani Perspective.” Global Media Journal (2009). Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Hayes, Chris. Twilight of the Elites. New York City: Crown Publishers, 2012. Print. Johnson, Kirsten A., and Susan Wiedenbeck. “Enhancing Perceived Credibility of Citizen Journalism Web Sites.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 86.2 (2009): 332+. Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Kaufhold, Kelly, Sebastian Valenzuela, and Homero Gil De Zúñiga. “Citizen Journalism and Democracy: How User-Generated News Use Relates to Political Knowledge and Participation.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 87.3/4 (2010): 515+. Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

McNair, Brian. “10: Journalism and Democracy in Contemporary Britain.” Political Journalism: New Challenges, New Practices. Ed. Raymond Kuhn and Erik Neveu. London: Routledge, 2002. 189-202. Questia. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

Schmidt, S.W., M.C. Shelly II, and B.A. Bardes. American Government and Politics today. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Political Science, 2013. Print. (Schmidt, Shelly II & Bardes)

Taibbi, Matt. “The Great American Bubble Machine.” . Rolling Stone, 9 July 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-great-american-bubble-machine-20100405&gt;.

Ungar, Rick. “James O’Keefe Pays $100,000 To ACORN Employee He Smeared-Conservative Media Yawns.” . Forbes, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/03/08/james-okeefe-pays-100000-to-acorn-employee-he-smeared-conservative-media-yawns/&gt;.

Hey GOP! Insanity is the Opposite of Learning From Your Mistakes…

Income inequality SHOULD be a result of “personal” ambition and aspiration!

But turn-of-the century GOP trickle-down economics actually creates the very “bottom-feeders” they themselves blame for their provenance by the GOP’s own greedy hand.

By T.L. Dayen

A society’s values and priorities are reflected in how and where it spends and invests its money. Political debates over federal tax policy are not just over the merit of each political Party’s values and priorities, but how federal tax policy can and should affect national economic prosperity.   According to Kerbo (2012), taxation as a means for government investment is a form of wealth distribution that is a normal function of government and can be either progressive or regressive. Historically and today, the role and function of federal taxation is perhaps the most contentious of disparaging issues between our two political Parties. When considering the role federal taxation plays in social stratification,

two time periods of American history provide empirical evidence of the economic outcomes created by these two opposing tax strategies.

The contemporary Republican or conservative approach to regressive taxation was initially put forth in a report by the Republican Study Committee’s critique of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978; influenced heavily by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman’s philosophy of individualism and spontaneous free markets (Jones 2012). The measures presented in this report forged the tax policies known as Reaganomics or trickle-down ‘micro’economics that were intended to spur economic growth and national prosperity (Jones 2012). The contemporary Democratic or progressive approach to taxation is based on an ideology and tax policy put forth by FDR’s 1930’s progressive era New Deal, also known as Keynesian Demand-Side ‘macro’economics. Keynesian macroeconomics remains the bedrock of progressive taxation as a means for economic stability through social mobility and equal opportunity (Himmelberg 2001).

The Progressive Era

Robert Himmelberg (2001) refers to the decade’s pre and post WWII as the “Progressive Era” in where a paradigm shift had occurred in the relationship between the federal government and social and economic issues. The Great Depression (GD) of the 1930’s uniquely encapsulates both the Keynesian macroeconomics that it spawned and the microeconomic policies that caused it. Literature refers to the decade that preceded the GD as the “roaring ‘20’s;” a rather prosperous time for America under three consecutive Republican Presidencies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. But it also refers to

the ultimate result of that economic model  of minimal taxation, minimal federal investment and minimal business-finance regulations that was the greatest financial collapse in American history.

According to Himmelberg (2001), FDR’s sweeping public intervention into the private sector; that is, unprecedented public/private infrastructure investment in housing, public works, transportation, public lands and various government public infrastructure projects designed to modernize the American civil landscape, inspired the British economist, John Maynard Keynes’ demand-side macroeconomics. Keynes envisioned a mixed economy of a predominantly private sector with an intervening role of government during periods of economic recession. This public/private investment partnership included a progressive tax. FDR’s Revenue Act of 1935 raised corporate and personal income taxes on up to 75% of earnings. But Himmelberg (2001) indicates that the effectiveness of the New Deal relied on more than taxation and investment. It also required three additional new roles of government that would fully define the Progressive Era of the New Deal:

  1. Stricter and new regulations of the U.S. banking, finance and investment sectors and the private business sector regarding wages, hours and worker rights were both needed to counter initial causes of the GD.
  2. Government must have a role, when needed, to provide economic relief and/or assistance for those individuals and markets most in need which included the initiation of farm subsidies for American farmers hit hard by the GD and the implementation of Social Security, unemployment and disability insurance.
  3. Perhaps the most defining aspect of the progressive era, according to Himmelberg (2001), was the idea that government should expect and accept deficits as a normal outcome during periods of investment.

The literature indicates that FDR’s New Deal; specifically the symbiosis of government and business as an effective means of securing national economic stability and socio-economic equity in times of recession and in this case severe depression, was the basis for an unprecedented thriving middle class during the decades that followed into Post WWII. From the liberal perspective, recovery from the GD through centralized distribution of revenue proved that taxation as a means for investment in economic growth and national prosperity can and does produce equitable outcomes (Himmelberg 2001; Madrick 2010).

Trickle-down Economics

David Beito (1989) chronicles the severity of the conservative opposition to FDR’s New Deal policies through economic periodicals and industry journals of the 1930’s such as the American Taxpayers’ League’s Handbook on Taxation and the Wisconsin Taxpayer. The literature paints a general consensus among those fortunate during the GD to have not lost everything, but who in fact experienced significant economic leverage comparatively, as literally incensed by a national attitude of government preying on the wealthy, and Americans exploiting the government as “tax eaters.” According to Beito (1989) those who felt unfairly burdened to pay for FDR’s New Deal government programs were pitted against those who benefited from them.

This socioeconomic class consciousness supported conservative Individualism that persisted into the 1970’s and forged trickle-down microeconomics.

Daniel Jones (2012) explains the rise of trickle-down Reaganomics as the conservative remedy implemented by the Reagan administration in response to the economic woes of the 1970’s. Three economic maladies were at issue:

  1. Soaring inflation
  2. Soaring fuel costs (Mid-East oil embargo)
  3. A national economic decline in productivity

In collaboration with the conservative policy think tank, Heritage Foundation; the Republican Study Committee’s 1978 report described four measures that promised to increase capital, productivity, long term employment and raise income levels and standard of living for all:

  1. Broad and permanent individual and business tax cuts
  2. Elimination of taxes on capital gains
  3. Smaller government and minimal regulations at every level of business and commerce
  4. Reduced deficit through austerity measures to stabilize the dollar.

Upon taking office in January 1981, Reagan removed any remaining economic controls that had been in place by Nixon on oil and petrol and cut taxes on oil profits. That summer Reagan busted the air traffic controllers union and fired all workers who were striking that year. Next, Reagan made sweeping and unprecedented tax cuts to the top tax rate of 70 percent to 50 percent and again in 1986, to 28 percent. This redistribution of wealth to the middle and chart-changes-in-income.topupper class earners through tax policy, according to Jones (2012), was the process that came to be known as trickle-down economics, and Reagan’s supply-side revolution; the antithesis to Keynesian demand-side tax policy. Trickle-down tax policy was intended to create increased investment by the wealthy that would in turn create more opportunity for everyone.

By 2008, thirty years after the 1978 Republican Committee Study and Heritage Foundation supply side economic recommendations followed by three Republican Presidencies:

  • The deficit had been tripled.
  • A massive migration of manufacturing to cheap overseas labor markets led to record high corporate profits but also ballooning unemployment rates and local tax bases strapped for revenue.
  • Minimal or nonexistent federal regulations and oversight culminated in the financial crash of 2008 wiping out pensions, forcing further layoffs and depleting local tax bases.
  • The income gap between the rich and poor was at a historic level (Jones 2012; Madrick 2010).

The literature cites the actual long-term effects of the microeconomic tax policies of Reagan and two subsequent Republican President’s, George H.W. and George W. Bush as the impetus behind not only frequent recessions and high deficits, but that increased costs of health care, housing and education attributed to free market privatization exacerbated government spending on public services and the welfare state; something trickle-down was billed to reduce. Referred to as the “social question,” according to Jones (2012), neither the Reagan nor both Bush Presidencies showed interest in addressing these failures, and in fact, purported that supply-side trickle-down economics simply required a general acceptance that social inequality was an inevitable, yet essential part of economic growth and social progress overall. So, instead of working toward correcting this “glitch” within trickle-down Reaganomics, Reagan conservatives began floating the notion that one’s socioeconomic success or failure depends on an inherent level of “fitness.” Their premise; that

regardless of the socioeconomic “class” in which you find yourself at birth, your financial means are equal to your inherent quality of character and intelligence – Social Darwinism (SD).

Charles Murray firmly alluded to SD when he wrote that public welfare aid supported the “immorality and deviant behavior of the poor” (Kerbo: Murray 1984). In the mid ‘90’s, he and fellow conservative Richard Herrnstein attempted to empirically support the SD theory with research that showed lower IQ scores among the impoverished (Kerbo: Herrnstein and 1994), but their conclusions were staunchly debunked as wildly spurious and their findings grossly misinterpreted. However, this published material is still used today in support of conservative principals of Individualism!

American federal taxation and social stratification today

Contemporary literature available on macroeconomic tax policy draws striking comparisons between the causes and effects of the GD and the financial crash of 2008; specifically an inflated housing market, de-regulation of the financial industry, and prolonged austerity measures neglecting needed infrastructure investment. The literature cites current microeconomic tax policy and austerity measures as preventing a full recovery from the 2008 financial collapse; protracting a broadly depressed economic landscape and historic income inequality. Today, there is call for a renewed ... .com/dmblog/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/stock_market_crash.jpginvestment partnership in the spirit of the New Deal between government and the private sector (Elson 2013; Madrick 2010). An investment partnership requires revenue, but current tax policies are choking government revenue resources. According to Madrick (2010) just 20 percent of American households hold 89 percent of America’s net worth (32 trillion), and that an additional tax rate of just 0.5 percent on this top 20 percent would provide an additional 160 billion per year in federal investment revenue.   Madrick (2010) also cites that certain analysis has indicated every two tax dollars invested could over time again return another three to four dollars in future tax revenue.

American businesses, while they benefit from conservative non-regulation policies, are themselves recognizing that conservative austerity measures and regressive tax policy are reducing American house-hold incomes; inhibiting spending and market demand-side expansion (Elson 2013).

America’s crumbling transportation and outdated energy infrastructure is in sore need of public investment (Madrick 2010; Elson 2013). With high paying American jobs in short supply today, Madrick (2010) quotes a Transportation Committee report from the Federal Highway Administration with a model showing that 75 billion in government investment would yield more than 3.5 million jobs and 464 billion in market revenue. In other words, according to infrastructureMadrick (2010), for every 1 billion invested, 47,500 jobs and 6 billion in market revenue would be created. According to Elson (2013), Business representatives such as the US Chamber of Commerce are actually calling for new government stimulus investment in 21st century transportation and energy infrastructure.

Conclusion

The literature available on federal taxation and American social stratification concurs that there is a correlation between the two. The literature concurs that supply-side trickle-down microeconomics creates greater social stratification and concurs that demand-side Keynesian macroeconomics reduces social stratification. The socioeconomic relationship between federal tax revenue investment and social mobility is not in dispute. Where the literature diverges is what that means to Americans.

The literature advocating for microeconomic Individualism has shown that trickle-down has historically and currently created considerable profit and wealth for those in the top 20 percent income bracket, but also that socioeconomic inequality is an inevitable and therefore necessary outcome of this economic model. Also; that those GOP_Income_InequalityCOLORwho benefit from this economic model are of higher quality of character and intelligence, while those who do not are immoral, deviant, and unintelligent. The literature advocating for macro-economic Keynesian Collectivism does not consider 20 percent of Americans enjoying economic growth to be “social progress;” and that progressive policies have historically provided for National prosperity, at all relative levels of the income scale.

If we are looking for federal tax policy that addresses social stratification; that is, promotes socioeconomic stability, social mobility and equal opportunity, the literature clearly indicates that the current microeconomic trickle-down federal tax policy is in direct opposition to these socioeconomic goals. The literature supports the premise that federal taxation as a means of federal investment revenue has a historic and current role as a viable alleviate to contemporary American social stratification and as a stimulus of social mobility.

References

Beito, David T. 1989. Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance during the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina.

Elson, Diane. 2013. “Austerity Policies Increase Unemployment and Inequality-But Don’t Reduce Budget Deficits and Government Borrowing.” Journal of Australian Political Economy. 71:130.

Himmelberg, Robert F. 2001. The Great Depression and the New Deal. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Jones, Daniel Stedman. 2012. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Kerbo, Harold R. 2013. Social Stratification and Inequality: Class conflict in historical, comparative, and global perspective. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Madrick, Jeff. 2010. The Case for Big Government. Princeton: Princeton UP.

The “Other” Original Sin of America

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Before Slavery there was Cultural Genocide

What 3 Films can teach us about what and if we’ve learned from our egregious history….

By T.L.Dayen

Racism has deep roots within our collective cultural history, and for this reason has not escaped ‘the grand mirror’ of the cinema. Early films depicting ‘race’ simply reflected our collective understanding of it, which needless to say, was quite narrow and well, “racist”. We do have emotional connections with films. Film as art is an outward expression of our internal processes. But films are also a grand mirror of our real and imagined existence. If we can live and dream through film, then we can also ‘learn’ through film about life and our imaginations. So film allows us to explore and affirm who we are and what we believe, but also learn about whom we are and what we believe. We have a century of film history to reveal what this symbiotic relationship has born to us culturally. So it could be said movies are a cinematic documentary of the evolution of our culture; sometimes in real time, and sometimes in retrospect.

Early 20th century understanding of ‘ethnicity’ was limited to white and non-white; white being “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP), and everyone else being not WASP (Benshoff, Grifffen page 51).   In early American film, “white is positioned as a default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else is based.” (Benshoff, Griffen page 53). Non-whites were typically positioned in the periphery of this “assumed norm” of American life and were “represented with certain stereotypes.” (Benshoff, Griffen page 51). These stereotypes were not subtle and were often purposefully exaggerated for theatrical impact; the ‘lazy’ Mexican; the ‘ignorant’ black person; the ‘gangster’ Italian; the ‘savage’ Indian; the ‘fighting’ Irish; etc.Indian 3

By the later part of the 20th century however, cultural differences as defined by our ‘race’, for the most part, began to be seen as the ‘normal’ reflection of our diverse society. Individual opinion on ‘white supremacy’ still was and is, largely dependent on demographics, and lingering racial intransigence is still evident in every aspect of American life. The film industry is no exception, but the days of outright racial stereotyping in film is again for the most part, no longer tolerated by an audience with a more discerning eye toward social integrity. Modern audiences have proven to appreciate a mix of entertainment and education, and some films have had great success in re-visiting past grievances of discrimination, as well as exposing existing racial injustice. These historical accounts can be rich with all the elements of a gripping and moving cinematic drama as evidenced by the box office receipts and film awards of films like Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves and Lincoln.

The historical genocide of the Native American Indian is one of our nation’s worst racial transgressions. The American Indian still lacks significant civic representation in our current culture, so a realistic and meaningful cinematic representation of their plight should be worthy of analysis.

“Dances with Wolves” – 1990

https://youtu.be/pkWc4UrfyBc

Perhaps no other movie dealing with the plight of the American Indian has touched the hearts of the American movie goer like Dances with Wolves (DW), directed and produced by Kevin Costner. DW is the “highest grossing western of all time” and is said to have sparked a Hollywood renaissance in western genre films. (“Dances with Wolves; Trivia”). It won seven of its 12 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Based on the 1988 novel by Michael Blake, DW takes us to the Great Plains during the Civil War in 1863 as seen through the eyes and mind of Lt. John Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner. What he learns and shares with the viewer provides an intimate window into the clash of cultures that ultimately led to the extermination of the American Indian, but also the psychological factors that could have prevented it.

DW explores the injustice of genocide from the perspective of 19th century Lakota Indians and the U.S. Calvary. Genocide has been committed throughout history on the basis of geo-politics, racism and religion; reasons, but by no means justifications. The character of Dunbar is fully aware of the conflict between Indians and settlers on the dwNorthern Plains, yet he still displays cautious optimism about his prospects for a life on the prairie. This requires a character not prone to blind assumption or gullible to irrational fears spurred by prejudiced hearsay. Roger Ebert, who gave the film Four Thumbs Up, contemplated Dunbar’s character when he said, “A civilized man is a person whose curiosity outweighs his prejudices.” (Ebert). John Dunbar was a civilized man.

Evidence of murder and desperation on the plains is made clear by the skeleton and destroyed wagon that Dunbar passes on the trail, and the eerily bizarre condition he finds his abandoned post, Fort Sedgwick. But even while Dunbar fears the worst fate for those soldiers, without the facts, he must suspend his impulse to accuse, blame or persecute the Indian people who were most likely involved in some way. He first encounters Kicking Bird, a Lakota Holy Man who is quietly attempting to take his horse, Cisco, while Dunbar is bathing in the creek. A naked Dunbar aggressively comes up on the Indian startling him with a loud and abrupt “Hey!” Frantic with fear and surprise the Indian scrambles to his horse and quickly rides away. This encounter illustrates a ‘typically human’ reaction from both Dunbar and the Indian. Dunbar doesn’t ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, and Kicking Bird doesn’t savagely rush Dunbar with a hatchet to take his scalp. The fact that both men reacted ‘rationally’ in contradiction to their preconceptions is not lost on either of them, and this sets the tone which allows for the development of their relationship.

In a study on genocide, David L. Smith, PhD said “In dehumanizing others, we exclude them from the circle of moral obligation. We can then kill, oppress, and enslave them with impunity. Taking the life of a dehumanized person becomes of no greater consequence than crushing an insect under one’s boot.” (Smith, PhD). So, the act of genocide requires ‘dehumanization’.  The contrast between Dunbar’s attitude of respecting the differences between white and Indian, and that of the Calvary and common folk that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” explains to the viewer 070524192730_american_indian_playing_an_instrument_LGhow the native American’s right to even exist was dismissed as easily and coldly as they shot and killed Dunbar’s wolf, Two Socks, who inspired his Lakota name, Dances with Wolves. The lucidity in Dunbar’s efforts to understand and empathize with the Indians, reveals it was indeed the dehumanization of native Americans that led to their genocide – not the presence of American settlers.

It was no mistake that Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Sound and Best Musical Score.  The film relied heavily but adeptly on non-diegetic sound, as the period and the geography of the film provided little audio opportunities from the setting that many other films are afforded. We have one man, a horse and a wolf on the Prairie with Indians who don’t speak English. Yet the film is alive with feeling and thoughtful communication.  The orchestral musical score was written by John Barry who “agreed to score the film immediately after reading the script.” (“Dances with Wolves; Trivia”). His score ‘shows’ the grandeur of the prairie, the utopian harmony of the Indian camp and the pale bleakness of the soldier fort.  We ‘hear’ the silent conversations between Dunbar, Cisco and Two Socks and his Indian connections. We ‘feel’ the confusion and trepidation of a people confronting an unknown future; the excitement of the hunt; the adrenaline of battle; and we ‘sense’ the powerful love between Dunbar and Stands with a Fist. Diegetic uses of sound include the natural sounds of the prairie; wind, a horse’s breath, a buffalo stampede, a lone wagon.  Silence is also poignantly used; the vastness of the ‘American Frontier’; the loneliness at the fort; the peace within the Lakota camp; as well as the tension between cultures either longing to connect or stewing in their resentment and frustration.

Costner’s narration as Dunbar compliments an amazing score. Dunbar provides the audience with the objective clarity of a news reporter, seemingly aware that his words need to maintain the impartial tone of an honest observer void of bias for those who will follow. Of a three day buffalo hunt with his native friends he writes, “They were a people so eager to laugh; so devoted to family; so dedicated to each other. The only word that comes to mind is harmony.” English subtitles add realism to the Lakota people and to the film itself. The cultural wall that separated the Indian and the white man in the 1800’s would never have been conveyed to the audience as powerfully if these Indians had spoken English just for the benefit of the viewer.dw 2

This is a chronological tale told in first person narrative through the eyes and words of Lt. John Dunbar in 1863 Civil war torn America. As a ‘classical’ phase of genre, we follow the protagonist, Dunbar, on a journey of self-discovery. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with “dark political” wars, Dunbar becomes an unlikely war hero after a moment of clarity, or insanity, triggers him to risk his life on the battle field, and in the process, break a protracted stand-off on the Confederate front lines. He is given his choice of post for his ‘courage’, and he decides to see the American Frontier “before it’s gone.” His open mind and longing for peace leads Dunbar to find philosophical meaning and emotional sanctuary with a Lakota tribe. His time with the Lakota forces Dunbar to question the values of his own people. After witnessing the needless slaughter of dozens of buffalo left to rot only for their tongues and hides, he writes “It was clear whoever did this were a people without value and without soul. The wagon tracks left no doubt who was responsible.” When he finds love with Stands with a Fist, the orphaned white women raised by the tribe, his destiny is sealed, and he is renamed “Dances with Wolves” from his observed relations with the wolf he befriends on the prairie. The Ideology of DW can be found in a quote from a Pawnee War Chief killed in 1872, “When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight, it is called murder.” Dances with Wolves allows us to finally grieve and honor the loss of our genocidal victims, and resolve to ‘never forget’.

“Billy Jack” – 1971

https://youtu.be/_rNDsbtwtyI

billy_jack_poster_01Written, directed and starring Tom Laughlin in 1969, and released in 1971, Billy Jack came to personify the counter-culture movement of the mid-20th century. Billy Jack was a half-blood Sioux Indian Special Ops Vietnam veteran, who didn’t ‘pull any punches’ when it came to defending the weak, the outnumbered or the mistreated. It won no awards, and received mixed reviews, but a 2007 expose’ on the Billy Jack Franchise in “Pop Matters” said, “this counterculture icon became a wholesome household word.” (Gibron). His anti-establishment views and Shaman-warrior style came to symbolize the dichotomy of an enlightened generation “fighting for peace”.

Billy Jack (BJ) shines a cinematic light on both flagrant and institutional racism. The issues of the American “counter culture” movement that peaked in the late 1960’s with the growing unrest over the Vietnam War, included freedom of personal expression; gender equality; civil rights of minorities; spiritualism over materialism; sexual freedom; mind expansion through drug use; and non-violence aimed at the military industrial complex.  There were many who were reluctant to accept these changes in society, even spiteful toward its advocates; that believed equality and integration of ideas, gender and race were a dangerous threat to the moral fabric of society.   Systemic fundamental bigotry soon became cloaked in the guise of ‘traditional values’ and ‘morality’, and is still rampant in America today, ‘cloaked’ or not.

In the film, the recluse character of Billy Jack lives outside a small conservative town on an Indian reservation, also home to “Freedom School” run by pacifist, Jean Roberts. The school houses kids who either ran away or were rejected by families who can’t cope with their ‘problematic’ ways.  After her repeated attempts to run away to California, the town Deputy’s 15 year old daughter Barbara tells her father she’s pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is.  When he asks what she means, she replies, “What I mean ‘dear father’ is that I was passed around by so many men, I don’t know whether this baby’s gonna come out white, Indian, Mexican or ‘black’!”   The beating he gives her puts her in the hospital.  She soon finds refuge at the school, which becomes a point of serious contention between the school and the town.Indian 4

Another iconic scene is when the owner of the local sundry refuses to serve ice-cream to Indian kids from the school during a town visit. An older ‘white’ student challenges him but she is interrupted by the wealthy and exalted Mr. Posner’s masochistic son Bernard, who enters and claims he has a “solution.”  He pours flour on their young faces as they sit in shock, and tells the owner, “See, now they’re all white – problem solved.”   The town’s people ask the timorous town Sherriff what he’s “gonna do about those long haired weirdoes”, and during a town council meeting regarding the ‘disruption’ caused by the ‘students’ in the town, one student is referred to as “a filthy little girl” when she asks if it is her ‘sexuality’ that scares them all so much. Ultimately an Indian student, Martin, is shot and killed when the Deputy discovers his daughter has feelings for him.  Billy’s revenge on those who torment the students, the school, or Jean, is bittersweet. The symptoms of bigotry are merely a veneer.

Billy Jack is a parable of ‘good vs. evil’.  We are told the tale through Jean Roberts. The protagonist Billy Jack is the proverbial warrior who places himself between all that is good in his world, and all that is evil.  All that is good is the Indian reservation where he lives, the wild horses he protects from poachers, the Freedom School, and Jean who keeps the dream and vision of the school alive.  All that is evil are the corrupt law authority and ignorant simpletons of the town who shoot his horses for dog food, and terrorize the students of the school for what it and they stand for – equality, creativity, freedom and peace – embodied in his beloved Jean.  In one scene, Billy says, “When policemen break the law, then there isn’t any law – just a fight for survival.” When policemen broke the law or didn’t enforce it, Billy was the law.

billy-jack-quoteIt is a realist ‘social problem’ film, and as Roger Ebert put it, “There’s not a single contemporary  issue, from ecology to gun control, that’s not covered,” (Ebert). We’re taken chronologically through a series of clashes between the ‘good school’ and ‘evil town’; each time Billy appears to protect and to pass his judgment, usually with adept physical might.  But as these clashes intensify, Billy cannot be all places at all times. After Martin is shot and killed by the Deputy, and Jean is raped by Bernard, the film climaxes as Billy hands down his fierce wrath of justice without impunity.  After killing the Deputy and Bernard, there is a shootout and ultimate standoff at a church where Billy is hold up.  Jean pleads with Billy to give himself up; “So easy for you to die dramatically! It’s a hell of a lot tougher for those of us who have to keep on trying!” Out of his love for Jean he surrenders on the demands the school will be protected. Jean cries as she tells Billy she knows how “letting them” handcuff and arrest him will be the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, and in a moving last scene as Billy is led off in a squad car, the students of Freedom school line the street with their fists raised in salute, to Billy Jack.

The films score embodies the premise and message of BJ; of innocence, peace and courage in constant struggle with corruption, hostility and fear. Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, “One Tin Soldier” spent weeks on the Top 40 List. The musical score opens the film as we see aerial footage of several men on horseback chasing down dozens of beautiful wild horses for slaughter.  The score also closes the film during Billy’s arrest, exit and his salute.   The chorus is as follows:  “Go ahead and hate your neighbor.  Go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven. You can justify it in the end. There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the judgment day, on the bloody morning after….One tin soldier rides away.”  “[Billy Jack] was more than a cinematic symbol; he began taking the unlikely form of a substantive political force. People identified with the man, seeing an empathetic anti-establishment pose in everything he stood for.” (Gibron). In 2011, Mark Wahlberg’s production company purchased the rights to the Billy Jack franchise (Micciow). Perhaps a new generation can now learn the lessons of Billy Jack’s struggle of fighting for peace.

“Thunderheart” – 1992

https://youtu.be/rEl1x-vhtEU

thunderheart            As a fictional film, Thunderheart is actually based loosely on two real events; the 1973 hold-out at the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee and the 1975 shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that resulted in the death of FBI agents.  The film’s director, Michael Apted, had previously in 1992 directed a documentary surrounding the 1975 shootings titled Incident at OglalaBoth incidents were blamed on the aboriginal militant group, American Indian Movement (AIM).  The group protested social injustices and substandard living conditions on the reservation, and a corrupt pro-American tribal government, whom residents blamed for much of the violence and bloodshed. (“AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins”).

Thunderheart (TH) paints a stark picture of the substandard living conditions on an Indian Reservation, as well as the exploitation of their lands for mineral resources. The U.S. government recognizes 565 Indian tribes in 35 states. Nearly half of Native Americans in the U.S. qualify for federal assistance. Twenty three percent of Native Americans live at or under the poverty line. Alcohol related death is over 500 percent higher; diabetes 177 percent higher; TB 500 percent higher; and suicide double that of average population rates. Suicide among Native American teens is the highest of any demographic in the nation. As of 2000, 47 percent of Native Americans lived on reservations. (“Center for Native American Youth”).

The reservation in the film is located in South Dakota on the outskirts of the ‘Badlands’ National Park; strangely beautiful but less than hospitable. To the Natives who live on the ‘rez’ it is their home, and has been for hundreds of years (on a much larger scale). The natives are poor, living among scattered broken cars and appliances; lacking the resources to have them removed. Their homes are dilapidated and many are ‘makeshift’ from recycled materials; “a modern Indian reservation — which, as the movie reveals, is by now a fancy word for slum.” (Gleiberman). Their children are forced to play among the debris. But the Indians find their solace and their peace of mind in their traditions, each other and in their history.

When FBI agent Ray Levoy (Val Kilmer) first comes to the ‘rez’, he asks, “Where the hell did they send us?” His field supervisor, Frank Coutelle says, “Well Ray, these are your people.” “They’re not my people.” He retorts. Ray’s Rezfather was a Sioux; an alcoholic who died when Ray was seven. He spent his life ashamed and in denial of his heritage. Hesitant and cynical at first, Ray begins to sensitize to the people, their culture and their obvious suffering. Ray’s investigation uncovers several truths. Among them that the tribal government is violent and antagonistic toward the traditionalists, and that the water is making the people sick. Ray also rediscovers a deep connection with his heritage and a people he had denied all his life in shame; much like a country who in their own shame and denial, fenced in an entire race as if to have to look in their eyes would mean to face their collective guilt.

TH is a contemporary western genre thriller. It is a chronological narrative that tells itself in realist form with “a documentary’s attentiveness to detail.” (Maslin). Filming took place in South Dakota and even on Pine Ridge Reservation where the Oglala and Wounded Knee incidents that inspired the film took place. Silhouetted Native Americans in song chant open the film. There is diegetic use of Native song and chant among the natives in prayer and celebration, and during Ray’s visions of ancient warriors performing the aboriginal ‘Ghost Dance’. Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” accompanies the first scene of Ray Levoy on a Washington D.C. freeway. There is some use of Native language, but mostly heavily accented English is used adding diegetic color to the native characters.

Agent Ray Levoy comes to Bear Creek Reservation for an in-and-out ‘sensitive operations unit’ to assist an investigation in the murder of a member of its tribal government in a civil war with the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM), and the apprehension of the accused killer, Jimmy Looks Twice. His estranged Native heritage is what prompts Washington to give Ray this assignment in hopes he can “get the natives talkin.” Tentative and dubious at first, Ray soon begins to question the violent methods and tactics used against the traditionalists and, to his own incredulity, begins to sympathize with the cause of the ARM, and his people. The reservation Elders have awarded him a certain level of trust with the natives that he cannot explain, but soon learns they believe him to be the reincarnated Thunderheart, sent to end the war and heal their land.

With the ethereal wisdom of Elder Grandpa Sam Reaches and street smart Crow Horse, Ray learns the tribal government is corrupt and has made a deal with Ray’s field superior, Frank Coutelle, to illegally lease tribal lands to strip mine for uranium, which is poisoning the water. The alleged murder is a cover up of an ‘inside job’ to eliminate anyone who finds out, and frame it on the ARM: Jimmy. When Maggie Eagle Bear is found murdered at the ‘source’ of the Little White River where pollutants from uranium test drilling are entering the water supply, Ray and Crow pineridge-2408e954fd9a00bd7dfe7088acb6b6e448468135-s6-c30Horse take the miscreants including, Agent Frank Coutelle, on a car chase to the “strong hold”; where Thunderheart led his people at Wounded Knee 100 years before, and where he was shot in the back by the U.S. Calvary. Just when it seems Ray and Crow Horse will repeat history, the traditionalists appear on the craggy cliffs surrounding them, holding their assailants at gun point. Agent Coutelle is handed over to Internal Affairs. Crow Horse calls it a “white wash”.

Ray discards the mirage of his prior life and vows to use his ‘white man’s education’ to expose the injustices brought on Bear Creek Reservation, and continue the work Maggie Eagle Bear had started to improve the life of Native Americans. The film ends as Ray silently sits at the cross roads of the reservation exit and the interstate highway – symbolic of the cross roads of Native Americans in 21st century America; evocative of the Native Americans in 19th century America.

There is high degree of explicit ideology in TH. At first for Ray, there’s no difference between the traditionalists and the tribal government supporters – they’re all Indians, or as the café owner puts it, “Prairie niggers”. But soon, his keen senses pick up the clear contrasts. Tribal government supporters or “goons” as they’re called are loud, crass, ge9and aggressive. They dress well, but they’re hollow and speak poorly. They carry guns because they’re impatient. The traditionalists are spiritual and passive family people. They don’t carry guns; they carry a quiet resolve. Outside their native ceremonial dress, they are disheveled, but they have a solid grace about them. They are quick witted and alert and have a kind of knowing that is almost unnerving. Ray becomes known as the “Washington redskin”. Reservation cop, Walter Crow horse calls him the “Federal Bureau of Intimidation.” Yellow Hawk tells him that around there he’s “the FBI – Full Blooded Indian.” Ray is struck by their insight and boldness in the face of impossible odds.

Crow Horse takes him to the Elder, Grandpa Sam Reaches, who tells Ray about his father, his heritage, and his past life as “Thunderheart”; a holy man who died in a massacre 100 years before, “with the others at Wounded Knee”.   Ray begins to have visions of this place – his place. He begins to understand his people and what they are teaching him. When a piece of evidence is found that has the power to clear Jimmy Looks Twice, wrongfully accused of murder, Maggie Eagle Bear tells him, “That’s not power Ray. That’s paper. Power is a rain storm; that river right huey11there. That’s what I have to protect! If Jimmy goes to prison for being a warrior, that’s what he accepts. That’s our way.” When Ray comes upon Jimmy at Grandpa Reaches, he pleads with Jimmy to flee or “they’ll kill” him. Jimmy looks Ray in eye, “Sometimes they have to kill us. They have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit. We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom, and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. It’s about power, Ray.” It is this ‘power’ that ultimately frees the reservation traditionalists from their corrupt overseers, and Ray Levoy from his shallow life as the Washington redskin, who now identifies with – and is proud of – his people.

Conclusion

Perhaps we hold Hollywood to standards that our outside of its purview. If film is simply the outward expression of our collective “inner processes”, then how can we expect a higher standard from these cinematic expressions than we expect from the essence of its fabrication? This is essentially “shooting the messenger” isn’t it? The portrayal of race in film has evolved as our understanding of race has evolved. Early films like Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913) depicting blood thirsty pillaging native Americans, or Birth of a Nation (1915) depicting 408595_293644054091547_441726372_nrancorous malicious African Americans, were simply stereotypes that supported our own revisionist history; imagery that justified and even projected our own rancorous, malicious and pillaging history as European American imperialists. The power and endurance of these stereotypes on the social construct are commensurate with our own ignorance and/or insolence of the truth.

With help from our own victims, it would take a willingness to face our collective guilt to begin to explore these truths. Groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Film Committee of the Association on American Indian Affairs, worked to show us that we couldn’t move forward as one nation, unless we understood the true history of its people, as self-incriminating as it may be. The betterment of our society requires a fundamental and unsullied understanding of who we are as a society. We certainly can expect American film to represent all of our citizens and our very real differences in a true and respectful manner, but only to the extent that we expect the same of ourselves.

 

Resources

“AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins.” History.com. A&E Networks Digital. Web.

17 Apr 2013.

Benshoff, Griffen; Harry M., Sean. America on Film. 2nd. United Kingdom: Wiley –

Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Print.

“Center for Native American Youth.” Facts on Native American Youth and Indian Country. The

Aspen Institute. Web. 18 Apr 2013. <AspenInstitute.org>.

“Dances with Wolves; Trivia.” IMDb. IMDb.com, Inc.. Web. 15 Apr 2013.

<IMDb.com>.

Ebert, Roger. Reviews; Great Movies; Dances with Wolves. Chicago: Chicago Sun

Times, Nov. 9, 1990. Web. <Rogerebert.com>.

Ebert, Roger. Reviews; Billy Jack. Chicago: Chicago SunTimes, Aug. 2, 1971. Web.

<Rogerebert.com>.

Gibron, Bill. “PopMatters; Film.” PopMatters.com. Pop Matters Media Inc., 5 Jun 2007.

Web. 16 Apr 2013.

Gleiberman, Owen. “Movie Review; Thunderheart.” EntertainmentWeekly.com.

Entertainment Weekly, Inc., 17 Apr 1992. Web. 17 Apr 2013.

Miccio, Anthony. “VH1 Celebrity.” VH1.com. Viacom International Inc., 15 Apr 2011.

Web. 16 Apr 2013.

Smith, Phd, David L.. “Philosophy Dispatches; Thoughts on human nature.” Psychology

            Today. Sussex Publishers LLC, 2 DEC 2011. Web. 15 Apr 2013

Maslin, Janet. “The New York Times Movies.” The New York Times. The New York Times

Company, 19 Apr 1992. Web. 19 Apr 2013.

Its Time for A Re-Release of “Bowling for Columbine”

If Columbine was to be the Beginning of the New Normal, Then Bowling for Columbine needs to be Compulsory in our College Classrooms

By T.L. Dayen

Guns don’t kill people, people do. But guns don’t work without bullets, so ‘bullets’ kill people? But bullets can’t kill people without combustion, so ‘combustion’ kills people? But then again, combustion cannot occur without a trigger mechanism; so ‘triggers’ kill people? But wait a minute; a trigger can’t pull itself, so guns loaded with bullets triggered by combustion by people kills people? Now I get it. People with guns kill people! And if they’re not killing people with their guns, they are practicing how to kill people with their guns. They imagine and prepare for all sorts of scenarios of why and where to kill people with their guns. This is their Constitutional right!   You can pry that gun off their “cold, dead fingers”; that is, if they haven’t killed you first.

Written and directed by Michael Moore, Bowling for Columbine was released in October, 2002. This documentary style film was tragically inspired by the 1999 massacre in Littleton, CO at Columbine High School when two students gunned down 43 people, killing 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves. Under Moore’s narration, the film not only explores factors that may have contributed to the Columbine massacre, but also goes deeper to address factors that may contribute to America’s unique “culture of violence” overall. Moore uses satire in much of the film to present his findings; perhaps in a way more engaging and digestible to the audience. For instance we hear the song “What a Wonderful World” played over a montage of pre-emptive, or non-defensive military campaigns that the U.S. has engaged in since 1953. Moore looks at our culture of violence as being perpetuated by a “culture of fear”, imposed on Americans by our military industrial complex, media institutions and politics.

The Columbine Massacre would be the first in a string of mass shooting massacres over the next fourteen years. In fact, by the time this film had been released just two months, an additional three more mass shootings had occurred in three different states taking a total of 26 lives. (Shen). Unbeknown to Moore at that time, between April, 1999 and December, 2012, this nation would see 29 mass shootings in 42 states taking the lives of more than 250 people. (Shen). In 2012 alone, we would see nine mass shootings in 29 states killing more than 60 people, culminating with the slaughter of 20 first and second graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CT. (Shen). Since Dec.14, 2012, more than 3,360 lives have been taken by gun violence. (Kirk, and Kois).

Bowling for Columbine is a basis for analysis of this perverse phenomenon through theories of applied social science substantiating Michael Moore’s argument that a culture of fear is the impetus behind gun violence in America.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_3MFZYni6Y

Applied Philosophy.    Bowling for Columbine (BFC), uses “induction” (Rothchild, pg.2) to reach its assumptions that a “culture of fear” is the basis for gun violence in America. Moore presents a collection of facts, statistics and interviews to weave together a set of conclusions that when all things equal are considered, gun violence is unique to America because of our culture of fear.

(Table 1)                                                                    2012/2013

                                    Gun Deaths Per 100,000                   Reported Incidents of Crime

United States:            11,127 (3.601/100,000)                       1st in crime 11,877,218

Germany:                    381 (0.466/100,000)                            3rd in crime 6,507,394

France:                        255 (0.389/100,000)                            4th in crime 3,771,850

Canada:                       165 (0.484/100,000)                            8th in crime 2,516,918

United Kingdom:        68 (0.109/100,000)                             2nd in crime 6,523,706

Australia:                     65 (0.292/100,000)                              (not in top 10 of crime)

Japan:                          39 (0.030/100,000)                             6th in crime 2,853,739

Sources: “Bowling for Columbine” and Maps of World

The U.S. is number one in gun deaths among other wealthy democratic nations. We are 96.6 percent higher in gun deaths than the country in second and 87 percent higher per capita. (Table 1). Moore concludes that neither wealth, freedom, nor the size of our population makes us unique regarding gun violence. In Table 1, we can also see the national crime rates of these countries Moore references in the film. Fear of crime and the need for self-defense is often the most compelling argument for the vigorous defense of gun rights in America. However, statistics as seen in Table 1 show no correlation between crime rates and gun deaths. For instance, Great Britain and Australia have less than 2 tenths of a percent difference in gun deaths per capita; yet Great Britain is second in the top ten countries of reported crime, and Australia isn’t even in the top 10. Canada has twice the number of gun deaths of Great Britain, yet nearly two thirds less reported violent crime.

Gun Deaths

BFC points out other false rationales for gun violence in America as compared to these countries. Moore indicates that the two young men responsible for the carnage at Columbine were known as “Goth’s”: a genre of music and fashion popular in the 1990’s that combined heavy metal and punk music that’s fans are characterized as “anti-social”, and identified by their black clothing; black eye, lip and pale face makeup. After the Columbine massacre, the media focused on the Gothic lifestyle and music like “Marilyn Mason” as a factor in what may have motivated the boys to violence. However, Moore also points out that Goth fashion and music originated in Europe, and that Germany had a larger Marilyn Manson and Goth population per capita than the U.S. at the time. While Goth may indicate the social dissatisfaction of a young emerging counter culture in the U.S., BFC argues that the statistics show there is no correlation between counter culture music and fashion and gun violence in America.

Violence in movies and games were also explored as a possible factor in increasing gun violence in America in 1999. Once again, the film points out violent American movies are seen and enjoy huge success all over the world. In fact, Asia and Japan created especially gruesome franchises such as The Ring, The Grudge and Saw. Violent video games continue to be implicated in the violent behavior of American youth even today, yet Moore reminds us that some of the most successful violent video games are made in Japan and widely played by their youth. So while the effects of violent movies and video games will continue to be studied, BFC argues there is no statistical evidence that specifically links violence in our entertainment media to the high level of gun violence unique to America.

Finally, in an interview by Michael Moore in the film with former National Rifle Association (NRA), Charlton Hesston, when asked why America has such a high level of gun violence, Mr. Hesston replies that it may be due to our nation’s “history of violence.” Moore counters this thesis with the fact that European nations have a much longer if not, more horrific, “history of violence” than the U.S. This could also easily be said of Asia.

Applied Psychology.    BFC illustrates the “Justification Hypothesis” (Henriques, pg.166) as the unconscious process by which gun violence in America is perpetuated by fear. In the film, Moore attributes much of American’s fear to a “fear of the other”. The film uses a cartoon interlude called “A Brief History of the United States of America” that explores our sullied history with racism up to today, and a tenacious xenophobic fervor in America as collective “justifications” for apprehensive and defensive behavior. Gang violence in this country is also an illustration of the Justification Hypothesis; a reality within reality justified only by those within the “bubble” in order to make sense of the nonsensical. According to Henriques, humans do not justify behavior based on “objective reality”, but instead will “explain their behavior in a believable and favorable way” to others and to themselves.

While murder rates are high in gang infested urban centers, Moore points out that 90 percent of guns in America are owned by rural and suburban white people. It could be argued that people in gang neighborhoods may actually have reason to be “waiting for the bad guy with a gun”, but white suburbia is “looking for the bad guy with a gun.” This does not justify gang behavior however, because in most cases they would only need to travel a mile or two in any direction to find that their version of “reality” is a false impression compared to lives of the vast majority of Americans. But if gang violence is relatively sequestered to finite demographics, who are 90 percent of gun touting Americans afraid of? This is exactly the question asked in BFC.   The film exposes the turning point of America becoming a “locked and loaded” society as being the civil rights movement. Moore cites statistics depicting the American gun sales and manufacturing phenomenon originating during this time, and sustained by the Justification Hypothesis theory that “the other is comin to getcha!” One fairly lighthearted example the film provides is the hyperbolic national hysteria over “Africanized Killer Bees”; playing news reels of reports indicating that the “Africanized Killer Bee” is much more “aggressive and dangerous” than its “European counterpart.” The film also points out this trumped up national threat has yet to manifest.

Applied Anthropology.            BFC clearly demonstrates how the cultural institution of the news media has sensationalized violence in America to the point of creating a “business of violence” that requires fear to exist. It is also within this context that Moore does draw correlations between violence and the media; not as a causal affect, but that sensationalizing fear is profit motivated.

The film makes the startling point that while murder in this country has decreased significantly since peaking in the 1970’s, news media coverage of murder has gone up by 600 percent! Moore narrates the tragic story of a 6 year old boy who shoots and kills a class mate at Buelle Elementary in Moore’s hometown of Flint Michigan, not long after the Columbine massacre. News media from all over the country descended on the small town in droves to report endless hours of repetitive details of the heart-rending incident. The young boy was black. His mother was a welfare-to-work program single mom. The little girl was white. You get the picture. It was a “sensational” story; perfect for the endless loop of the 24 hour news cycle. But Moore points out, that while the incident may be newsworthy, so too were the circumstances surrounding the travesty. Eighty seven percent of the residents in Flint were at or under the poverty line. The highest cause of death in Flint was suicide. The high school football team was sponsored by the most affluent business in town – the funeral home. The boy’s mother worked 70 hours per week at two jobs. But social accountability stories don’t get the ratings.

BFC also indicates that while crime has significantly decreased in America, the polls show that fear of crime has risen, and in tandem, gun ownership and gun sales. Moore interviews the Executive Producer of the massively successful 1990’s show, C.O.P.S., who tells Moore point blank that anger, hate and violence “does well in shows” even while he admits that the crimes and perpetrators given coverage on C.O.P.S. were not representative of the nation as whole. It just got the best ratings.

It is here we can see the Deterministic Theory of Karl Marx’s “Historical Materialism” on the critical role that social forces play on our culture; “The collective material actions of people in society [are] shaped by the interests of the dominant class [and] are responsible for the human condition at any point in history.” (Shultz and Lavenda, pg.21). Marx goes on to assert that “Progress comes only through revolution”; an overthrow of the dominant view to “make way for the new.” (Shultz and Lavenda, pg.21). It is our addiction to fear that has created a market for it, and the market feeds that addiction. The market simply fulfills need and desire without conscience. Break the addiction and you break the power of the market.

Applied Sociology.      BFC exemplifies Gladwell’s “Broken Windows Theory” and C.W. Mills’ “Conflict Theory” as sociological factors in America’s unique culture of fear. Gladwell contends that the condition of our physical environments reflect the concerns and priorities of our community, as well as that community’s expectations of conduct from its members. For example, dilapidated neighborhoods in disrepair convey to its resident’s a lack of civil concern and the high probability that misconduct is likely to be overlooked or discounted. (Gladwell, pg.105). Moore draws this same inference with gun violence in the U.S. in as much as a nation so accepting of violence as a means to an end simply fosters a society that uses violence as a means to an end.  The number of guns owned in America averages 88.8 percent of every 100 people compared with 33.86 percent of the top 24 richest nations in the world combined. (“International Firearm Injury Prevention and Policy”).   What kind of message is a society sending to itself when its citizens own enough guns to provide a firearm to 88 out of every 100 of its people?

Moore points out that Littleton, CO. is home to the largest weapons manufacturer in the world, Lockheed Martin; the town’s largest employer with approximately 5,000 workers. In a conversation with the rocket missile facility’s Communications Director, Evan McCollum, Moore asks about a possible connection between the weapons of mass destruction built at the facility and the mass destruction that took place at the nearby Columbine high school. McCollum replies that he does not see the connection, as the missiles built at Lockheed are “designed to defend us” against those “who would be aggressors against us.” It is here in the film that we see the musical montage of “What a Wonderful World” mentioned in the introduction, chronologically revealing 16 pre-emptive, or non-defensive military intervention campaigns conducted by the U.S. since 1953; an average of nearly one every 36 months for 46 years up to April 20, 1999 when U.S. and NATO allies conducted the largest air strike bombing campaign in Kosovo, hitting a school and hospital. One hour after the strikes were conducted in Kosovo, 900 rounds of legally purchased ammunition were being fired at the students of Columbine high school; “The Home of the Rebels.”

Sociologist C.W. Mills speaks of a social “Conflict Theory” that results from social stratification, which is the grouping of individuals by social class or status. (Harrison, pg.105).   A recent Brookings Institute study found that over the past 25 years of income inequality in the U.S., we are seeing “an increase in “permanent inequality” — the advantaged becoming permanently better-off, while the disadvantaged [are] becoming permanently worse-off.” (Debaker, Heim, and et al). Mills contends that indeed “in the U.S. a ‘ruling class’ exists”; a “power elite that includes top business executives, media moguls, and military and government leaders who dominate decision making in this country.” Also that this “Stratification negatively affects the thinking of members of the lower [non-ruling] class [and] may even be ‘dysfunctional’….if it fosters feelings of suspicion, hostility and disloyalty to society.” (Harrison, pg.105).

BFC looks at the 250 percent rise in military militias in the U.S., specifically in Michigan where civilian paramilitary activity is especially high. These groups represent a growing ‘uneasiness’ in America that our “power elite” may not have our best interests at heart, and in fact, may have malicious intent. Moore interviews Terry Nichol’s, cousin of Timothy McVee who bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building; the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history.  While he claimed to not subscribe to the deadly terrorism wrought by McVee, he did confess his firm belief that a “government overthrow” should be carried out through violence if necessary, should that government become “tyrannical.” However, in this country, many believe that everything from income taxes to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), is an act of government tyranny. Anti-government conspiracy theories are gaining considerable support among the U.S. citizenry. According to a recent PPP poll, over 50 percent of 1000 respondents could NOT affirmatively say that they did NOT believe a secret power-elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government or One World Order. (“Conspiracy Theory Poll Results”).

Applied Political Science.        BFC reveals the use of “fear” by powerful interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) to influence politicians and the political process for their own economic gain. Moore reminds America that the NRA conducted “rallies” in Littleton, CO. and Flint, MI. within days after each of the tragic events wrought on these communities by gun violence. Actual footage of these “rallies” in the film shows former NRA President Charlton Hesston revving up the audience with slogans like, “they can pry my gun out of my cold dead hands.” Moore points out that evidently the NRA felt it was necessary to inform their members that no tragic massacre from gun violence, no matter how heinous, could be allowed to affect any public policy on gun ownership whatsoever; that anything less than zero tolerance for any legal interpretation of “the right to bear arms” that may include regulation or oversight is an infringement upon their Constitutional rights – period! The NRA capitalizes on senseless killing to actually encourage new membership into its ranks – “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The premise of the NRA is that if everyone owned and carried a gun, we’d ALL be “safe.”

The truth is, with the number of firearms owned in this country, gun and ammunition clip manufacturing is one of the most lucrative industries in the nation. In fact, according to the Violence Policy Center of GunPolicy.org, just 22 firearm manufacturers gave nearly 39 million dollars to the NRA from 2005 to 2011; that’s over 6 million dollars per year from just 22 of its “members.” The NRA claims to have approximately 3 million members. Combine these annual dues with gun manufacture donations and you’ve got one of the most powerful and influential lobbies in Washington D.C. In the same way the NRA wields their propaganda scare tactics on their members that any reasonable gun safety policy is an infringement upon the 2nd Amendment, the NRA uses their money to pressure law makers with promises of “smear campaigns” come election time, should they support any legislation that would regulate the sale, purchase or use of firearms in this country. The recent gun debate in America after one of the worst gun massacres in this country at Sandy Hook Elementary school could easily be basis for an entire paper, but suffice it to say – they won – for now.

The political dichotomy of the NRA is perhaps most troubling, because its influence over our lawmakers, and its members, is neither “normative” nor “empirical”. (Spragens, slide 8). The empirical evidence against the NRA’s position on gun ownership in this country is overwhelming. The statistics of gun violence in America are quite clear and indisputable. However, they also seem to prevail against the normative argument; that the untethered access of paramilitary weaponry in this country is an unethical and immoral threat to the national domestic security of our citizens.   Perhaps this is because their trump card on both fronts is “fear” which is neither logical nor reasonable especially when you’re dealing with self-preservation – of your “profits.”

Conclusion

There are two facts about guns in America that will never change; Americans will continue to own and use guns, and Americans will continue to die from them. These are the facts, and again, they will never change. What can change however is the pathetic timidity with which Americans address the very real and present danger of unregulated gun ownership in this country. It is said that over 90 percent of Americans agree that we should have more thorough background checks on gun purchases, and that the streets of America are no place for the same caliber of weaponry and amo that is afforded our police and military. But reasonable people have many issues and concerns regarding American public policy, while those in opposition to reasonable “gun” concerns care only about guns. They have no other issue other than the absolute “‘un-infringed’ right to bear arms.” Until reasonable Americans meet this challenge with the same fervor and passion, these “extremists” will continue to win the argument – because that’s the only argument they’re making, and they’re getting good at it.

Michael Moore appeared on MSNBC Reports on March 22 where, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of Dec.14, he said of his film BFC, “On a personal level I feel like I’ve failed. I made that movie to try and stop this madness.”   The courage it took to make BFC is the same courage we 90 percent of Americans need to muster unless the “wild west” is what we’re now willing to call home. One thing’s for sure, whether it’s the “other”, the zombie apocalypse, losing a congressional seat, losing profits or losing 2nd Amendment rights, FEAR is the one element driving every argument, or excuse.

Resources

“Conspiracy Theory Poll Results.” Public Policy Polling. 2 Apr 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

<publicpolicypolling.com>.

Debaker, Jason, Bradley Heim, et al. “Rising Inequality: Transitory or Permanent: New Evidence from a

Panel of U.S. Tax Returns.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. (2013): n. page. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <Brookings.edu>.

Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Tipping Point.” The Power of Context.

“Gun Facts, Figures and the Law.” International Firearm Injury Prevention and Policy. n.d. n. page.

Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <GunPolicy.org>.

Harrison, Brigid C. “Sociology and the Study of the Social Sciences.” Power and the Social Sciences.

Henriques, Gregg. “The Justification Hypothesis.” The Tree of Knowledge.

Kirk, Chris, and Dan Kois. “How Many People Have Been Killed By Guns Since Newtown?” Slate. 17

Apr. 2013: n. page. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <Slate.com>.

Rothchild, Irving. Induction, Deduction and the Scientific Method.

Schultz, and Lavenda. “Deterministic Theories of Sociology.” Culture and the Human Condition.

Shen, Aviva. “A Timeline of Mass Shootings in the U.S. Since Columbine.” Think Progress. 14 Dec

2012: n. page. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <thinkprogress.org>.

Spragens, Thomas. “Understanding Political Theory.” Politics and Political Theory.

“Top Ten Countries with Highest Reported Crime Rates.” Maps of World. <mapsofworld.com>.

For Sale: 21st Century American Democracy

The Bad Case of Citizens United

money speech-silence

By T.L. Dayen

On January 21, 2010 Koch Industries, Inc. became a person, and the $890 million dollars it plans to spend on its chosen candidates in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections became protected speech. This is not fiction. According to the United States Supreme Court, this is a fact. On January 21, 2010, in the case Citizens United vs. The Federal Elections Commission, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Ruled that all ‘money is political speech’, and therefore limits placed on political campaign contributions are in violation of the 1st Amendment and ‘unconstitutional.’ In the same Ruling, the Court deemed that all corporations were legally and constitutionally ‘political people,’ and as such, also protected under the 1st Amendment; not bound to disclose the recipients of their campaign contributions to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), their shareholders or to the public (Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, 2010).

Democracy is a “government based on the principle of majority decision-making that has been freely and equally elected by that majority” (Encarta Dictionary: English ‘North American’). Is our democracy for sale to the highest bidder? The only way to protect our democracy from the degrading forces of greed within our political systems is to strip the dominant influence of money from the democratic process altogether. We must get unlimited money out of our politics; it is not speech.   Those protected under the 1st Amendment must be defined as living, breathing American citizens, while corporate shareholders and public citizens must have the right to know which policies and politicians that corporations and the uber rich are aligning themselves. Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission must be overturned by a Constitutional Amendment or Constitutional Convention.

In The 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, (Ruling) SCOTUS Ruled that placing limits on corporate and individual campaign contributions was a violation of the First Amendment free speech clause, and that corporate political speech is protected by the First Amendment; as follows:

“Prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions. It is a ban notwithstanding the fact that a PAC created by a corporation can still speak, for a PAC is a separate association from the corporation.… the Court invalidated §608(e)’s expenditure ban, which applied to individuals, corporations, and unions, (because) it fail[ed] to serve any substantial governmental interest in stemming the reality or appearance of corruption in the electoral process.” (Opinions, 2010).

”Government lacks the power to restrict political speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity.… No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.… It is irrelevant for First Amendment purposes that corporate funds (may) have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas.… All speakers, including individuals and the media, use money amassed from the economic marketplace to fund their speech, and the First Amendment protects the resulting speech” (Opinions, 2010).

With all due respect, similar to and in the spirit of the disastrous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Ruling that all but solidified discrimination and civil inequality in this country, this Ruling by the Chief Justice Robert’s Court has severely undermined the rectitude of “civic” equality that our democracy was intended to preserve. 21st Century politics was already overwrought under the debauchery of greed. Less than two years before this Ruling, 2008 was already the most expensive election in history. According to the FEC (2008), a total of 5.3 billion was spent, and nearly 1.3 billion of that was spent by Political Action Committees (Pac). This 2010 Ruling, however, gave birth to the Super Pac. Now, unrestrained by congressional campaign finance reforms of 1974, corporate contribution limits and public disclosure requirements are no longer constitutional (Kerbo, 2012). Super Pac’s are limitless political ATM machines funded by undisclosed corporate ‘special interests’ and the uber rich. Another record was set with 7 billion spent in the 2012 elections (FEC, 2012); that’s a dollar for every human on planet Earth. This Ruling has only served to shred the last veil of sanctity separating civic equality from inequity within the American electoral and legislative processes.

It’s hard to gage specifically how the influence of unlimited money in our electoral process is translating in both our electoral and legislative processes. We know how much Super Pac’s are spending in our elections; but from whom?   Following the “quid pro quo” trail was easier when political donors were required to disclose how much and to whom they were pouring their millions. In 2005, there were 2000 registered Political Pac’s (Kerbo, 2012). By the first two months after the Ruling however, there were 8000 (FEC, 2012). We can however, follow the money in other ways. While Pac’s are not politicians, they are entities that collect money on behalf of causes that are represented by politicians (i.e. low taxes, the environment, etc.). We can look at the special interests that appear to be benefiting from current legislative policy and get a pretty good idea of where the money is coming from and going to.                    

It’s important to remember that although I am quoting figures from national elections, mid-term congressional elections (non-presidential) are just as, if not more, vulnerable to secrete unlimited special interest money. Many more Americans vote in national elections (’08, ’12), so these expenditures are more representative of the electorate as a whole, but those of private and corporate financial privilege and the Pac’s they fund, are using quieter mid-term elections (’10, ’14) to gain political influence by proxy in both state legislatures and our U.S. congress. The U.S. congress has been functionally controlled by the Republican Party since 2010, even when the nation has twice voted for a Democratic president. For the purposes of time and space, I will focus on just two special interests that many would consider the two most powerful interest groups financially holding our lawmakers and our country hostage to their bidding. They are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the oil industry (Big Oil).

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund PAC has spent just under 37 million over the last two election cycles (FEC, 2014) to block reasonable federal gun safety regulations (Andrews, 2013). The NRA represents gun manufactures that make money selling guns, clips and ammo, not safety. But the NRA’s political influence extends beyond financial. They also represent a 2nd Amendment constituency that relies on the NRA to rate or score each member of congress by their gun legislation voting record and report this back to them. And apparently they believe that Republicans are more likely to play along, because in 2012, just 25 Democrats received NRA contributions compared to 236 Republicans. The NRA combines its campaign contributions with their influence over their voters to maintain gun legislation favorable to the gun industry. This would explain why even when 82 percent of Americans demanded gun safety reform after the heinous Sandy Hook Massacre, congress refused to require simple background checks on 40 percent of American assault weapon ownership (Andrews, 2013).

Big Oil is perhaps the most historically egregious confiscator of legislative favor within the political system. Oil is the most profitable industry in human history. Quarterly ‘profits’ exceed multiple billions; breaking their own records every year (Maddow, 2012). Big oil spent over 70 million on their preferred candidates in just the last national election. However since then, they’ve also spent 150 million in lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. Even with a staggering national deficit threatening to undermine America’s global fiscal standing, the United States Government has been ‘giving’ the oil industry annual tax subsidies of nearly 2 billion of American taxpayer money for nearly 100 years (Kroll, 2014). Even so, since 2005 we’ve actually had a national bi-partisan consensus to end Big Oil corporate welfare. This includes former President George W. Bush, Forbes, The Heritage Foundation; five oil corporation CEO’s and a Wall Street poll showing 74 percent of American support – all with the exception of the U.S. Congress. The last time Congress took this to a vote in 2011, it did not pass (Maddow, 2012). We are all still giving the wealthiest industry in the history of money 2 billion a year in tax subsidies. That is called “political power!”

This brings me back to Koch Industries, Inc., an oil, gas, fracking and tar sands corporation owned by David and Charles Koch. These brothers have pledged to spend just under 1 billion dollars on their chosen candidates in 2016. They are notoriously politically active, and forgive me if I speculate that these two must find this whole “buying political influence” thing a bit fun for them; perhaps a welcome distraction. After all, the Koch oil tycoons are worth 42 billion dollars combined. Even though just these two men alone have pledged to spend in 2016, nearly the same amount of all Super Pac money spent in each of the last two elections, it is still only 2% of their total net worth (Confessore, 2015). What will be the return on their investment? Will it be social issues? According to the LA Times, after the 2010 mid-term election Republican takeover of state legislatures, the Guttmacher Institute counted 49 of our 50 states that brought forward 916 measures having to do with women’s reproductive rights (Abcarian, 2011). On the Federal level after the 2012 mid-terms, the 112th Congress went straight to passing over 159 Bills regarding abortion and birth control (U.S. Congress, 2012). Totals on the 113th Congress who were bought in 2014 are still out.

So what will David and Charles want; passage of Keystone; the repeal of the EPA Clean Air Act? The answer to this question is the most disturbing aspect of this paper; because perhaps there is no longer a clear money trail that reveals the clear quid pro quo and the clear culprits. Perhaps there is no one thing that any one person in any one state or district can accomplish for the Koch’s or any other oligarch or multinational corporation getting ready to fund the campaigns of those who will further their interests. Perhaps it is rather a preferred ideology that guides and underlays every decision behind every legislative effort nationwide that this top 2 percent of our population is now able to purchase on the installment plan. Perhaps it is a vision of the nation itself; one that serves their own success and achievement that they intend to buy under Citizens United. But what of the vision of average Americans who make up 98% of this country?

What of the voice of the average American majority who are now silenced by the thundering “speech” of the elite few? Can accountability be meted from a silent constituency?   The new disenfranchisement does not block our power to vote; it blocks the power of our vote. What good comes from counting all votes when only certain votes count? Justice is not silenced dissent; it is the liberated debate of its premise. However, within Citizens United v. FEC itself, we have one dissenting voice that we must all shout in unison:

Dissenting Argument Citizens United v. FEC

“. . . Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, [and] no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established” Justice Stevens (Opinions, 2010).

            As of today, sixteen states have passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen United. If your state is not one of them, urge your communities to urge your legislators to take this crucial step. Then join and support the national effort for a constitutional amendment or constitutional convention. Americans reversed Plessy v. Ferguson because it was the right thing to do for all Americans, not just a few. We shall, and we must, do the same with Citizens United; for the same reason.

References

(2008) Federal Elections Commission. DOI: FEC.Gov

(2012) Federal Elections Commission. DOI: FEC.Gov

(2012) Opinions. United States Supreme Court. DOI: Supremecourt.gov/opinions

(2014) Federal Elections Commission. DOI: FEC.Gov

Abcarian, Robin. (May, 2011). Anti-abortion measures flooding state legislatures. Los Angeles

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Andrews, Wilson. (January, 2013). How the NRA exerts influence over Congress. Washington

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Confessore, Nicholas. (January 26, 2015). Koch Brothers’ Budget of $889 Million for 2016 Is

on Par With Both Parties’ Spending. New York Times, N.Y. DOI:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/27/us/politics/kochs-plan-to-spend-900-million-on-2016-campaign.html?_r=0

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comparative and global perspective. McGraw Hill, N.Y.

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