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Steven Jonas

Steven Jonas (211)


"The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday [Nov. 1] passed, 396-9, a concurrent resolution reaffirming 'In God We Trust' as the national motto. The resolution was introduced by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. It is a concurrent resolution because the Senate already passed a similar resolution in 2006 for the 50th anniversary of "In God We Trust" as the nation's motto. Resolutions do not carry the force of law and do not require the president's signature.

"Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will have the same opportunity to reaffirm our national motto and directly confront a disturbing trend of inaccuracies and omissions, misunderstandings of church and state, rogue court challenges, and efforts to remove God from the public domain by unelected bureaucrats. As our nation faces challenging times, it is appropriate for Members of Congress and our nation - like our predecessors - to firmly declare our trust in God, believing that it will sustain us for generations to come," Forbes said in a statement Monday."  Forbes also said "without God, there could be no American form of government.  Nor, an American way of life."

First one might point out the nation did just fine, except for the scourge of slavery and the ever-increasing genocide against the Native Americans, without "In God We Trust" on our coinage from the time of the founding until 1861, when it was put there.  Indeed, unless one is mistaken, we did have an "American form of government and an American way of life" during that period.  Then there is the problem that President Lincoln raised, that in the Civil War both sides prayed to the same God.  One side won and one side lost (at least for the time-being).  If there is just one God, one wonders just which side he, she, or it was on in that case, and then how could the other side have any trust at all in him, her or it.  Perhaps it was because of that troubling finding that it wasn't until 1954 that the phrase was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance (which of course has no official standing itself although right-wingers like to claim that it does) and until 1956 that the Congress made it into the national motto.  One must wonder just how the nation got along not "under God," for all of the years preceding.

Then there is the little matter of the Constitution, which, one should think, defines what the "American form of government" is.  The word "God" does not appear in it, Article VI prohibits any religious test for candidates for office, and then there is the First Amendment's prohibition of the establishment of religion by Congress.  Ah well, these are such troublesome details to some, but they apparently don't trouble folks like Rep. Forbes and the 368 other US Representatives who voted for the resolution.

Now let us turn briefly to the matter of definitions.  One might spend some time discussing exactly what is meant by "in" when it comes to "God," which, for example might or might not, be corporeal.  Then one might concern oneself with the matter of "trust." For example, given what Lincoln himself had to say about the matter, during the Civil War, as noted above, as the fortunes of the two sides waxed and waned, why should either of them have trusted "God," or for that matter why should the victims of Katrina, the Great Depression or the current one (whatever you want to call it), 9/11, the Holocaust, or a major US political party that routinely labels its opponents as "Godless."

But the most important definitional problems concern "God" and "We." When it comes to religions the United States is a polyglot nation.  Just whose "God" are we talking about?  Within Christianity alone there are many different concepts of God, very tripartite, not-so tripartite, uni-partite.  A God who/which appears before some Christians embodied in a wafer and wine, not so for others.  And so on and so forth.  Then there are the other two main religions in the U.S., Judaism, and Islam.  Each has its several denominations, and each of those has a rather different concept of God (and for Secular Humanistic Jews, of which I am one, no concept of "God" at all).  Then there is a major world religion, Hinduism, which counts about 900,000,000 adherents, with 1.5 million of them in the U.S. (4).  Its concept of God/Gods pre-dates in form that of the three major monotheistic religions. Who is indeed to say that there is not a group of Gods, and that perhaps, if there are, they are not the Hindu group, but rather the Greco-Roman or the Egyptian one.  One might ask how can one put one's trust in any non-substantive being if one cannot be sure just which one or one's one is talking about.

Finally, there is the "we"  problem.  To just which "we" does the phrase refer?  There are an estimated 30,000,000 people in the United States who do not believe in any the forms of divinity listed above, or any other for that matter.  Oh dear.  Perhaps, in reference to "God" or "Gods" one should follow one of Ronald Reagan's favorite dictums (and who of my readers would have thought that I would ever quote Reagan favorably): "Trust, but verify."

Friday, 01 April 2011 07:42

Ongoing Supremacy of White Supremacy


In a BuzzFlash commentary dated Aug. 25, 2009. (See here)

I pointed out that the South had six principal war aims in the Civil War:

1. The preservation of the institution of African and African-American (courtesy of the slave owners and slave masters) slavery and its uninhibited expansion into the Territories of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest.

2. The acceptance by the whole United States of the Theory of White Supremacy on which the institution of slavery was established.

3. The establishment and strong prosecution of American Imperialism (a position much more strongly held in the South than in the North).

4. The South strongly supported the theory of "States Rights," primarily to maintain the institution of slavery, of course, the principal cause of the Civil War, but for other reasons as well.  A major one of the latter was to provide for the control of the Congress, through the control of the Senate, by a minority of the national population.


In the past, modern dictatorships have been established in a variety of ways.  In 1919, in response to a short-lived communist revolution, the King of Hungary appointed the first modern civilian absolute ruler, Admiral Nicholas Horthy, who became the first fascist dictator in history.  In 1922, after much maneuvering, Benito Mussolini organized the "March on Rome" by his unofficial "Black Shirt" militia.  King Vittorio Emmanuel III acquiesced in replacing the sitting Prime Minister chosen by Parliament with Mussolini.  By 1924, with the acquiescence of Italian ruling class, Mussolini had established himself as dictator and in fact coined the modern meaning of the word "fascist" to describe his form of absolute rule.

In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany by the President, Paul von Hindenburg.  Just about two months later, following the Reichstag Fire (which had been set by men under the command of Hitler's then number-two, Hermann Goering, [see "The Reichstag Fire Trial, 1933-2008" (Tigar, M.E. and Mage, J., The Monthly Review, Vol. 60, No. 10, March 2009]), in a rigged Reichstag [parliament] Hitler gained absolute power with the passage of the Enabling Act.  (It was rigged because the elected Communist deputies and many of the elected Socialist deputies had been expelled, some exiled and some of the former arrested by Hitler.)  Thus although he seemed to have been voted into his dictatorship, the vote was hardly democratic according to the former rules of the Reichstag. 

Tuesday, 22 February 2011 11:44

Fascism in the U.S.: Are We there Yet?


On February 21, 2011, Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman published on article on The Free Press entitled "Fighting the 5 fascisms in Wisconsin & Ohio" (http://readersupportednews.org/off-site-opinion-section/72-72/5036-fighting-the-5-fascisms-in-wisconsin-and-ohio).  They began the article by saying: "The escalating confrontations in Wisconsin and Ohio are ultimately about preventing the United States from becoming a full-on fascist state.  The stakes could not be higher---or more clear."  At about the same time, a friend sent me a note in which he said: "[The] decline [of the United States] will be in the form of a 'downward spiral.' There may be push-backs at intervals, but in the long run our nation will succumb to fascism."  So maybe now, maybe later, although if it's later, we still have a fighting chance of preventing its onset.  Nevertheless, in considering the argument of Messrs Fitrakis and Wasserman, the question arises: are we there yet?  Borrowing from the Propaganda Channel (pardon me, but they [very] occasionally get something right): we report, you decide.

A commonly accepted definition of fascism (and there are many) goes as follows:

"Fascism is a politico-economic system in which there is: total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government; no independent judiciary; no Constitution that embodies the Rule of Law standing above the people who run the government; no inherent personal rights or liberties; a single national ideology that first demonizes and then criminalizes all political, religious, and ideological opposition to it; the massive and regular use of hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, the Big Lie technique, mob psychology and mob actions to achieve political and economic ends; and total corporate determination of economic, fiscal, and regulatory policy."

OK, so let's see.  As of now, there is certainly not total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government.  However, one party, the GOP, has been able to provide the executive branch with very broad powers when it had control of that branch.  At the same time, with little real opposition from the present Administration, it has been able to severely limit what President Obama could do when it controlled the Senate, through the use of the filibuster.  That reality would be largely reversed were the GOP to regain the presidency on 2012.  Further, even under a Democrat, the executive branch has retained and used some very broad powers, in terms of the interference with personal liberty in a variety of arenas, especially spying on private communications. They also have been happy to have potential powers to do much worse than that, under the so-called "Patriot Act," extended.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 10:52

It's Time to "Whig" It


Following the initial Federal Period and then until less than ten years before the first Civil War there were two major political parties in the United States: the Democratic Party and the Whig Party.  While it was a national party, the base of the Democratic Party lay in the slave states of the South and its policies generally reflected the interests of the Slave Power.  As the matter of the further expansion of slavery into the Western Territories became more acute, a major split began to develop in the opposition party, the Whigs.  Northern Whigs were generally opposed, not to slavery so much but to its further Westward expansion while Southern Whigs tended to favor, or at least tolerate, both the institution and its expansion.  And so, in the early 1850s a new party was formed, the Republican Party.  As a national force the Whig Party disappeared quickly.  Its "Free Soil" Northern elements formed the base of the new party, while its pro-slavery (at one level or another) elements moved over to the Democrats.


The nascent Republican Party presented as an amalgam of interests.  Central was the prevention the further expansion of the institution of slavery westward, for a variety of reasons.  Some northern Democrats also joined it for they too were concerned with preventing the westward expansion of slavery.  Anti-slavery elements of the nativist American Party, which ran the former Whig President Millard Fillmore for President in 1856, also gravitated to the Republicans, after Fillmore's disastrous defeat.  Related to nativism was the Temperance Movement, originally aimed at the Germans (beer) and the Irish (whiskey).  Some of them were drawn to the Republicans because of their position on the principle of slavery.


The abolitionists actually came to the Republican Party fairly late because abolition of slavery in the states in which it existed, ensconced as it was in the Constitution, was not part of the Republican platform and did not become so until well into the first Civil War.  In fact in the late 1850s it was the was the radical abolitionists, led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, who were advocating secession - of at least the New England states, if not more.  But seeing the conflict over the issue coming to a head in the election of 1860, many abolitionists fell in with the Republicans too.   Lincoln in fact was able to win election in that year, in a four-way race, with just 40% of the popular vote, only because of the disparate coalition which was united around one theme: opposition to the dominance of national policy on the matter of the westward expansion of slavery by the Slave Power.


And so, what do we face now?  The dominance of national policy, not just on one issue but all of the major ones, by the modern equivalent of the Slave Power, which is the Corporate Power.  The Slave Power was dominated by a tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men, the slave owners.   Among other things, they wanted to continue the westward expansion of slavery both to increase their profits and to increase their political dominance of the national government and national policy.  The Corporate Power is similarly a (relatively) tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men and women who want to maintain the domination of national policy that they have put together over the past 35 years, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, in order to maintain and expand both their profits and their wealth.


Political commentators ranging from those of the Propaganda Channel (otherwise known as the Fox"News"Channel) to Chris Matthews are enamored of referring to the "Far Left" of the Democratic Party. It is also known among that ilk as the "Pelosi Wing" of the Party (although one wonders what the wealthy lady from San Francisco ever actually did other than shepherd the Health Insurance Industry Subsidy Act of 2010 through the House of Representatives, strongly support repeal of DADT, and bring to the floor much mainstream Democratic legislation that was never even taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate).

It is common, even among his critics other than the Tea Party folk, to separate President Obama from that "Far Left." Indeed the President has been receiving much applause over the last six weeks from the self-styled Republican morning TV talk show host Joe Scarborough for his "move to the Center" since the election. I guess that Joe didn't notice that for the most part, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, Obama has pretty much been there since his election (http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/199).


And so, the "small government" folks are now firmly entrenched in the House of Representatives.  As they were in the last Congress, through the filibuster rule they are never too far from the levers of power in the Senate either.  But boy, since the last election they have become more vocal than ever.  First and foremost they tell us that the "American people" demand "small government" and told us so in the last election.  Well, they hardly ever tell us precisely what it is they mean by "small government" other than "cutting taxes" (especially for the wealthy), "down-sizing" government functions (of the type they don't like), and de-regulation (of many corporate activities for which of course they don't supply specifics).   Indeed, not too specific all around.


Otto von Bismarck was known as the "Iron Chancellor," first of Prussia, then after 1871 and the Prussian victory over the French in the Franco-Prussian War, of the unified German state.  Shortly after the bourgeois revolution of 1848 had swept through a number of European countries (and succeeded in a few of them like France), he said: "The social insecurity of the worker is the real cause of their being a peril to the state (Sigerist, H.E., On the Sociology of Medicine, New York: MD Publications, 1960, p. 127).  In 1881, Kaiser Wilhelm I, in a speech to the German Reichstag (parliament), written for him by Bismarck, said: ". . .  the healing of social evils cannot be sought in the repression of social-democratic excesses exclusively but must equally be sought in the positive promotion of the workers' welfare" (Sigerist, p. 129).  Building on this view of the social structure and how to best preserve its control by the then German ruling class, in 1883 Bismarck succeed in ushering through the Reichstag the world's first national health insurance plan, built on various existing bits and pieces and adding major new ones.


We have examined what really happened at the famous Munich meeting between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler that concluded on September 30, 1938.  We then reviewed the parallels between what Chamberlain was really after at Munich, which had nothing to do with "appeasement," and what Obama was really doing with the "tax deal," which has mainly to do with carrying out Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) right-wing policies while appearing to be a conciliator.  Since the signing of the tax give-away, Obama has achieved a series of apparent legislative successes.  They have been trumpeted by the Administration, the DLC, and the new DLC lookalike, the "No Labels" something or other, as demonstrating the "triumph" of "bipartisanship."


In the first part of this series, I reviewed "what really happened" at  the famous meeting in Munich, Germany between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.  As revealed in the 1995 book by Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel, In Our Time: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion (New York: Monthly Review Press), based on British government documents released under the British Official Secrets Act and related materials, the real story was rather different from the "appeasement" tale that has been the standard treatment in the Western press since that time.

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