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The Great Abortion Divide – Part III

The Theory and Evolution of The Soul

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

PREFACE: This is the final part of a series of short essays called The Great Abortion Divide. It is less of an original essay than an organized compilation of my notes on the evolving history of the human soul. Its purpose is to give an overview how concepts of the human soul originated and developed over time. It is not my purpose or intent to minimize or refute anyone’s belief in the human soul, but only to point out that a rigid adherence to a specific doctrine regarding the human soul cannot be fully justified. My notes are taken from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other sources, as noted.

During the time period of writing The Great Abortion Divide there have been a number of attacks on Planned Parenthood facilities nation-wide, including a mass shooting on November 27, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A police officer and two civilians were killed. Five police officers and four civilians were injured. The attacker, Robert Lewis Dear, Jr., surrendered and was charged with first-degree murder. In his December 9th court appearance, Dear repeatedly expressed anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood views, calling himself “a warrior for the babies.”

It may be that Mr. Dear is mentally ill, we shall see. Even so, his belief that every fetus, at any stage of development, is “a baby” reflects a religious doctrine shared by many. Biologically speaking, a single cell or even a fertilized egg is clearly not a baby with complex, fully functioning organs and a conscious, intelligent brain. Gestation is a biological process where cells develop to become” a baby”. You can argue, as I have in the past, that even an early stage fetus is treated by a woman’s body as a foreign object, but it is clearly not a baby. At what point that transition happens is open for debate. It is, in fact, at the core of the abortion debate.

From a legal perspective, personhood and certain (not all) human rights have been conferred at the time of birth. Even after a child is born, there are limits on the constitutional rights they have until they become legal adults. In limited cases, and under special circumstances, the courts have granted status to unborn fetus’ prior to birth. This was done, in one case I know, to protect the life of a child at birth from a schizophrenic mother who threatening to drown her baby at birth. The concept of assigning personhood to a zygote (a fertilizes human reproductive cell) and characterizing it as a human being is a more recent theological development. The principal argument for extending personhood to a fertilized egg (or even unfertilized eggs as some see it) is that it contains a human soul. (See Part II)

In most of our childhood religious training the existence of the soul is assumed. It is a self-evident fact and It receives no other explanation. We all have a soul. In Christian theology our soul contains or supplies our essential self and it collects the history of sins and good deeds while we are on earth. Human beings are “ensouled” by the time of our birth and leaves us (or our bodies) at the instant of our death. It continues its existence after death and (at some point) our souls are judged by God as worthy or unworthy of entering eternal paradise. If our souls are found to be unworthy they is cast into hell and eternal damnation. It is an essential tenant of Christian theology that our souls are not born pure. They are born with original sin that must be restored before we die. This is at the root of salvation theology. This concept of being “ensouled” with an imperfect soul speaks to one philosophic concept about how the soul originates. It suggests that souls, like people themselves, are somehow begotten from the souls of Adam and Eve who committed the first sin. There are other philosophic positions on the origin of the human soul.

These matters about the nature and origin of the human soul are not scriptural. The Torah, Bible and Koran offer no solid clues or specific instructions. It is therefore useful to a discussion about the morality of abortions to consider the philosophic theories of soul and how they evolved over time. Only then may we see the inherent uncertainty underlying the premise that a fetus is fully human in a spiritual sense. The categories that follow are my addition to the notes, but the content is not my own. This discussion below starts in ancient Greece, but the concept of soul goes back much earlier in time. The reason I start in Greece is because it was the Greeks who first introduced the concept of soul to the Hebrews in the Middle-East, according to many Greek and theological scholars.


GREEK theory of soul

Notes taken directly from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/

Life Force: The soul is, on the one hand, something that a human being risks in battle and loses in death. On the other hand, it is what at the time of death departs from the person’s limbs and travels to the underworld, where it has a more or less pitiful afterlife as a shade or image of the deceased person. It has been suggested (for instance, by Snell 1975, 19) that what is referred to as soul in either case is in fact thought of as one and the same thing, something that a person can risk and lose and that, after death, endures as a shade in the underworld. The suggestion is plausible, but cannot be verified. In any case, once a person’s soul has departed for good, the person is dead. The presence of soul therefore distinguishes a living human body from a corpse. However, this is plainly not to say that the soul is thought of as what accounts for, or is responsible for, the activities, responses, operations and the like that constitute a person’s life. Homer never says that anyone does anything in virtue of, or with, their soul, nor does he attribute any activity to the soul of a living person. Thus, though the presence or absence of soul marks out a person’s life, it is not otherwise associated with that life.


Human Life Force
: … whatever precise way the soul is conceived of as associated with life, it is in any case thought to be connected not with life in general, or life in all its forms, but rather, more specifically, with the life of a human being.

General Life Force: In ordinary fifth century Greek, having soul is simply being alive; hence the emergence, at about this time, of the adjective ‘ensouled’ [empsuchos] as the standard word meaning “alive”, which was applied not just to human beings, but to other living things as well.

The semantic expansion of ‘soul’ in the sixth and fifth centuries is reflected in the philosophical writings of the period. For instance, once it becomes natural to speak of soul as what distinguishes the animate from the inanimate, rather than as something that is restricted to humans, it becomes clear that the domain of ensouled things is not limited to animals, but includes plants as well.

Thales of Miletus, who is credited with successfully predicting a solar eclipse occurring in 585, reportedly attributed soul to magnets, on the grounds that magnets are capable of moving iron (Aristotle, De Anima 1.2, 405a19-21). Thales’ thought was presumably that since it is distinctive of living things to be able to initiate movement, magnets must in fact be alive or, in other words, ensouled. Thus, while Homer spoke of soul only in the case of human beings, in sixth and fifth century usage soul is attributed to every kind of living thing. What is in place, then, at this time is the notion that soul is what distinguishes that which is alive from that which is not.

Socrates explicitly appeals to the idea that it is the soul that animates the body of a living thing

Motivational Force: It is also the case that an increasingly broad range of ways of acting and being acted on is attributed to the soul. Thus it has come to be natural, by the end of the fifth century, to refer pleasure taken in food and drink, as well as sexual desire, to the soul. People are said, for example, to satisfy their souls with rich food (Euripides, Ion 1170), and the souls of gods and men are claimed to be subject to sexual desire. In contexts of intense emotion or crisis, feelings like love and hate, joy and grief, anger and shame are [became] associated with the soul.


Soul as Conveyer of Attributes:
In the Hippocratic text Airs, Waters, Places, the soul is thought of as the place of courage or, as the case may be, its opposite.

The connection between the soul and characteristics like boldness and courage in battle is plainly an aspect of the noteworthy fifth century development whereby the soul comes to be thought of as the source or bearer of moral qualities such as, for instance, temperance and justice.

Soul as a Source of Conscience: To educated fifth century speakers of Greek, it would have been natural to think of qualities of soul as accounting for, and being manifested in, a person’s morally significant behavior. Pericles acts courageously, and Hippolytus temperately (or chastely), because of the qualities of their souls from which such actions have a strong tendency to flow, and their actions express and make evident the courage, temperance and the like that characterize their souls. Once we are in a position properly to appreciate the connection between soul and moral character that must already have been felt to be natural at this stage, it should come as no surprise that the soul is also taken to be something that engages in activities like thinking and planning. If the soul is, in some sense, responsible for courageous acts, for instance, it is only to be expected that the soul also grasps what, in the circumstances, courage calls for, and how, at some suitable level of detail, the courageous act must be performed.

Thus in non-philosophical Greek of the fifth century the soul is treated as the bearer of moral qualities, and also as responsible for practical thought and cognition.

[The soul].. as Plato conceives of it in the Phaedo, is crucially characterized by cognitive and intellectual features

Body/Soul Distinction: As a result of these developments [the semantic expansion of the word “soul”], the language made available something that [earlier] Homeric Greek lacked, a distinction between body and soul. Antiphon says of a defendant who is sure of his innocence that though his body may surrender, his soul saves him by its willingness to struggle, through knowledge of its innocence. For the guilty, on the other hand, even a strong body is to no avail, since his soul fails him, “believing the vengeance coming to him is for his impieties”

Plato [later] furnishes the conceptual framework needed for saying that body and soul differ in kind, the one being perceptible and perishable, the other being intelligible and exempt from destruction. What he does, in fact, conclude is that the soul is most like, and most akin to, intelligible being, and that the body is most like perceptible and perishable being.

Immortality of Soul: It is probably true that in mainstream fifth century Greek culture, belief in an afterlife of the soul was weak and unclear

.. Socrates’ arguments for the immortality of the soul, most prominently in the Phaedo, are offered to interlocutors who, at the outset of the discussion, are by no means convinced of the idea. “Men find it very hard to believe”, Cebes says at Phaedo 70a, “what you said about the soul. They think that after it has left the body it no longer exists anywhere, but that it is destroyed and dissolved on the day the man dies.” This view .. includes the idea that the soul is a material thing, and is destroyed by being dispersed, “like breath or smoke” (70a). Glaucon, in the last book of the Republic (608d), is taken aback by Socrates’ question,

“Haven’t you realized that our soul is immortal and never destroyed?”

He looked at me with wonder and said: “No, by god, I haven’t. Are you really in a position to assert that?”

Qualities of an Immortal Soul: Moreover, apart from the question of immortality or otherwise, there is the further question whether the soul, if it does have some form of existence after the person has died, “still possesses some power and wisdom”. Answering both questions, Socrates says not only that the soul is immortal, but also that it contemplates truths after its separation from the body at the time of death.

[Again,] … the soul is most like, and most akin to, intelligible being

Socrates attributes a large variety of mental states (etc.) not to the soul, but to the (animate) body, such as, for instance, beliefs and pleasures (83d), and desires and fears (94d). At the same time, the soul is not narrowly intellectual: it too has desires (81d), even passionate ones (such as the non-philosophical soul’s love [erôs] of the corporeal, 80b), and pleasures as well, such as the pleasures of learning (114e). Moreover, the soul’s functions are, as we have seen already, not restricted to grasping and appreciating truth, but prominently include regulating and controlling the body and its affections

Where Immortal Souls Reside: The argument that sheds most light on what Plato takes the nature of the soul to be is the affinity argument (78b-80b). This argument confronts head-on the widespread worry that the soul, at or soon after death, is destroyed by being dispersed. It begins by distinguishing between two kinds of things: on the one hand, things that are perceptible, composed of parts, and subject to dissolution and destruction; on the other hand, things that are not perceptible, but intelligible (grasped by thought), not composed of parts, and exempt from dissolution and destruction. These two categories are obviously mutually exclusive.

JEWISH theory of soul

Notes taken directly from The Jewish Encyclopedia http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12340-preexistence-of-the-soul

Life Force:  There are no direct references in the Bible to the origin of the soul, its nature, and its relation to the body

The Mosaic account of the creation of man speaks of a spirit or breath with which he was endowed by his Creator (Gen. ii. 7); but this spirit was conceived of as inseparably connected, if not wholly identified, with the life-blood (ib. ix. 4; Lev. xvii. 11).

[T]he Alexandrian Jewish school, especially of Philo Judæus,.. sought [in an] allegorical interpretation of Biblical texts the confirmation of his [God’s? Plato’s? not clear from the text] psychological system.

Body/Soul Distinction: Only through the contact of the Jews with Persian and Greek thought did the idea of a disembodied soul, having its own individuality, take root in Judaism and find its expression in the later Biblical books, as, for instance, in the following passages: “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord” (Prov. xx. 27); “There is a spirit in man” (Job xxxii. 8); “The spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. xii. 7). The soul is called in Biblical literature “ruaḥ,” “nefesh,” and “neshamah.” The first of these terms denotes the spirit in its primitive state; the second, in its association with the body; the third, in its activity while in the body.

In the three terms “ruaḥ,” “nefesh,” and “neshamah” Philo sees the corroboration of the Platonic view that the human soul is tripartite (τριμεής), having one part rational, a second more spiritual, and a third the seat of desire. These parts are distinguished from one another both functionally and by the places occupied by them in the body. The seat of the first is the head; of the second, the chest; and of the third, the abdomen

In rabbinical literature the dualism of body and soul is carried out consistently.. .”The soul of man comes from heaven; his body, from earth”

Immortality of Soul: An explicit statement of the doctrine of the preexistence of the soul is found in the Apocrypha: “All souls are prepared before the foundation of the world” (Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxiii. 5); and according to II Esd. iv. 35 et seq.the number of the righteous who are to come into the world is foreordained from the beginning. All souls are, therefore, preexistent,

Both the rational and the irrational sprang like two scions from one root, and yet are so strongly contrasted in their natures that one is divine, while the other is corruptible.

[The Jewish philosopher ] Saadia devoted the sixth chapter of his “Emunot we-De’ot” to questions concerning the human soul.. According to him, the soul is created by God at the same time as the body. Its substance resembles that of the spheres; but it is of a finer quality.

General Life Force: Maimonides, except in a few instances, closely followed Aristotle with regard to the ontological aspect of the soul. The life of the soul, which is derived from that of the spheres, is represented on earth in three potencies: in vegetable, in animal, and in human life.

The Status of Soul: Philo does not say why the soul is condemned to be imprisoned for a certain time in the body; but it may be assumed that, as in many other points, he shares also in this one the views of Pythagoras and Plato, who believed that the soul undergoes this ordeal in expiation of some sin committed by it in its former state (see Philo Judæus).

Even before entering the body [presumably as the animating life force] , the mind [one aspect of soul] possesses not only rational faculties, but also ascending powers which distinguish the lower orders of creation, the habitual, the organic, the vital, and the perceptive.

As a divine being the soul aspires to be freed from its bodily fetters and to return to the heavenly spheres whence it came.

The Rabbis [tradition, however, holds] that the body is not the prison of the soul, but, on the contrary, its medium of development and improvement. Nor do they hold the Platonic view regarding the preexistence of the soul. For them “each and every soul which shall be from Adam until the end of the world, was formed during the six days of Creation and was in paradise, being present also at the revelation on Sinai. . . . At the time of conception God commandeth the angel who is the prefect of the spirits, saying: ‘Bring Me such a spirit which is in paradise and hath such a name and such a form; for all spirits which are to enter the body exist from the day of the creation of the world until the earth shall pass away.’ . . . The spirit answereth: ‘Lord of the world! I am content with the earth, where I have lived since Thou didst create me.’ . . . God speaketh to the soul, saying: ‘The world into which thou enterest is more beautiful than this; and when I made thee I intended thee only for this drop of seed.'”

The Rabbis question whether the soul descends to earth at the moment of conception or after the embryo has been formed

[NOTE: This is the likely origin of Christian beliefs that human life is sacred from inception, or even before inception, but even in the origin of the concept it was a debated point as to when the soul entered the body, at inception or upon the development (birth) of the formed body.]

Mutability of Human Soul: This belief was rejected by the scholars of the Talmud, who taught that the body is in a state of perfect purity (Ber. 10a; Mek. 43b), and is destined to return pure to its heavenly abode. When God confides the soul to man He says, according to the Haggadah. “The soul I have given thee is pure; if thou givest it back to Me in the same state, it is good for thee; if not, I will burn it before thee” (Eccl. R. xii. 7; with some variations in Niddah 30a).

The soul has control over [the inclination towards good or evil], and, therefore, is responsible for man’s moral conduct.

The descent of the soul into the body is necessitated by the finite nature of the former: it is bound to unite with the body in order to take its part in the universe, to contemplate creation, to become conscious of itself and its origin, and, finally, to return, after having completed its task in life, to the inexhaustible fountain of light and life—God.

Where Immortal Souls Reside: [again, the soul] is destined to return pure to its heavenly abode.. if not, [God] will burn it before thee” (Eccl. R. xii. 7; with some variations in Niddah 30a). [NOTE: The threat here is not that our soul will be consigned to hell, but that it will be destroyed, its immortality terminated.]

The entry of the soul into the embryo (see Golem) is similarly described in a conversation between Judah the patriarch and the emperor Antoninus. The spirits which are to descend to earth are kept in ‘Arabot, the last of the seven heavens, while the souls of the righteous dead are beneath the throne of God. Associated with this belief is the Talmudic saying that the Messiah will not come till all the souls in the”guf” (the super-terrestrial abode of the souls) shall have passed through an earthly existence (‘Ab. Zarah 5a; comp. Gen. R. viii. and Ruth R., Introduction).

[In the Talmud tradition the] soul’s relation to the body is an external one only: when man sleeps the soul ascends to its heavenly abode (Lam. R. iii. 23). There it sometimes receives communications which appear to the sleeper as dreams.

Good and Evil of Soul: A parallel is established between the soul and God. As the world is filled with God, so is the body filled with the soul; as God sees, but cannot be seen, so the soul sees, but is not to be seen; as God is hidden, so also is the soul (Ber. 10a). The Rabbis seem to have considered discernment, reflection, and recollection as faculties of the soul; but they held that the power by which man distinguishes between right and wrong and the inclination to one or to the other are two real essences which God places in the heart of man. These are called “yeẓer Ṭob” (good inclinations) and “yeẓer ha-ra'” (evil propensities).

[The Jewish philosopher ] Saadia devoted the sixth chapter of his “Emunot we-De’ot” to questions concerning the human soul.. According to him, the soul is created by God at the same time as the body. Its substance resembles that of the spheres; but it is of a finer quality.


The Body as Incubator For The Soul:
[The Jewish philosopher, Saadia, also postulated that].. like every created thing, the soul needs a medium through which to attain activity; and this medium is the body. Through its union with the body three powers which are latent in it are set in motion: intelligence, passion, and appetite or desire. These powers or faculties are not to be considered as three separate parts of the soul, each having a different seat in the body, but as belonging to the one and indivisible soul, which has its seat in the heart. It is to the advantage of the soul to be united with the body. Without this medium it could not attain paradise and eternal bliss, because these are vouchsafed to it only as a recompense for its obedience to the will of God.

POSTSCRIPT: A review of the history and evolution of human thinking on the concept of “soul” makes it clear, at least to me, that there is enough uncertainty to question the religious doctrine that all abortion is murder. It certainly is not a doctrine on which one should justify murdering healthcare professionals who assist woman wanting an abortion. Yet this is exactly the moral basis that anti-abortion advocates use when trying to extend the existing statues on murder. It clearly is a religious belief for which there is no consensus or certainty among Christians or the population at large. This account may not persuade anyone to change their firmly held beliefs, but it is my hope that it opens up a more fruitful and well considered dialogue.

The Great Abortion Divide – Part I

http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-great-abortion-divide.html

The Great Abortion Divide – Part II
Religious Dimensions of the Abortion Debate

http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-great-abortion-divide-part-ii.html

Bernie, DNC and Hillary Connections to Big Data

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is conceived to be a neutral Democratic Party facilitator working on behalf of all Democratic political campaigns. It raises money for candidate races, it helps develop political ads and, most importantly, it has this huge national database on registered Democrats, Democratic donors, etc. This database is the most important tool candidates need in running for public office, especially Democratic presidential candidates. The DNC allows presidential campaigns to access all of this national data on individual voters, and use the database to enter their own voter information collected in the field and through their own direct voter contacts. The analysis of this information is essential for developing and monitoring campaign strategies.

Because the DNC database contains both shared and private candidate voter information, a firewall and other safeguards are in place so that competing campaigns can’t peek at the private data being collected and analyzed by their Democratic rivals. This too is essential for fair and free primary competition. Candidates would have unfair advantages if they could see the information developed by their rivals. At the end of the election cycle, however, the private field data collected by the campaigns are merged and used to update the DNC’s national database.

BACKGROUND

This huge database is run under a contract with a company called NGP-VAN. NGP-VAN is a partisan company; that is it is a company comprised of Democrats working for Democrats. It is the DNC’s choice to contract with a partisan company. There are many competent non-partisan company providing comparable services, but the DNC believes there are advantages to hiring a partisan firm. The key reason is to develop secure, less open technologies that feed data from NGP VAN’s systems into tools and platforms that put it to use, such as mobile apps used by door-to-door campaign volunteers. The motivation for hiring a partisan company seems to be an overriding need to protect the data platforms from GOP intrusions. (See http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/political-tech-picks-sides-stay-sidelines/294800 )

But Democratic politics is also an insider’s game. There is competition within the Democratic party to be the Democratic candidate on the ballot. There are many primary candidates, campaigns and primary elections that must be fair and free if our democracy is to be properly preserved. Special interest corruption or establishment favoritism within either political party is a direct threat to our American democracy. The will of Republican or Democratic voters within their party is just as sacrosanct as is the will of the people in general election voting. It is the role of the DNC to preserve American democracy for Democratic voters. Maintaining the security of the DNC database is a principle obligation. Assuring proper access of the data to all candidates is an essential responsibility of the DNC. Making sure there are no political pressures or conflicts of interest to taint or corrupt the democratic process within the party is paramount.

The question rarely asked is this; If NGP-VAN is a company made up of Democratic partisans, how can we be sure they are scrupulously unbiased with respect to all Democratic primary candidates? How can we be sure the DNC is unbiased, for that matter. These are the haunting questions that still hang in the air even after the fireworks set off by the Sanders campaigns data breach has ended. Even though the DNC quickly unblocked the Sanders campaign from its data, and Senator Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton for the intrusion, the integrity of the DNC and NGP-VAN remains a   question. This is especially true in part because there was so little concern expressed about the incompetence of NGP-VAN for the firewall failure.

UNDISPUTED FACTS

The undisputed facts regarding the data breach by the Sanders campaign staff are:

  • NGP-VAN rolled out updated software for this database on the morning of Dec, 17th.
  • Afterwards, for about 4 hours, any data search on the system pulled up the private files of all the Presidential candidates.
  • The breach was discovered by Sanders campaign staff after 10:00 am, at least 90 minutes later.
  • At least 4 Sanders campaign staffers obtained access to 24 Hillary campaign files over the next 40 minutes
  • NGP-VAN became aware of this activity and immediately notified the DNC
  • The DNC shut down the Sanders’ campaign access to the database before notifying Senator Sanders, who was unaware of the breach until the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz called him.
  • Some of the Clinton campaign files were copied to the “Vote Finder” system of the DNC’s database, meaning those files were still in DNC custody.
  • Whether files were copied to private location, or viewed and analyzed in any detail is in dispute.
  • One of the staffers who opened multiple files was Bernie Sanders Data Chief, Josh Uretsky, who was immediate fired.
  • The extent of actions by other Sanders campaign staffers who accessed files is still in dispute and under review.
  • The Clinton campaign accused the Sanders campaign of stealing data. The Sanders campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the DNC for illegally terminating access to their data and hindering their campaign.

According to a blog post written by the Stu Trevelyan, CEO of NGP-VAN, shortly after the breach was fixed the company audited its system and determined that only the Sanders campaign, and no other outside parties, could have possibly retained any of the exposed data.

Within less than a day of the Sanders lawsuit against the DNC, they restored his campaign access to the database. Bernie Sanders maintains that this isn’t the first breach of data systems between the Sanders and Clinton campaign. (Although the prior breach involved a different data vendor.)


DISPUTED FACTS

The most innocent explanation of the data breach comes from Josh Uretsky, the former Data Chief. In an interview with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC, Steve said he was, “… trying to create a clear record of the problem.” He was fully aware that his every move was being recorded by the NGP-VAN system. His thinking was that this breach happened hours before and he needed to determine if the Sanders data was as accessible at the Clinton data. He said he had to assume that they had accessed data as well in the hours before he discovered the breach. He denies any information was analyzed or saved anywhere out side of the NGP-VAN system. He believed his probative inquires were reasonable attempts to assess,”the scope of the problem.”

When the

NGP-VAN notified the DNC of the breach and the activity of Sanders staffers, they being the only ones to access opposition files, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairwoman, acted on the worst case scenario, that data was being stolen which could then be manipulated using the DNC database to analyze Clinton’s campaign strategies. The DNC acted swiftly before consulting with Senator Sanders. Senator Schultz claimed that the data was copied off the NGP-VAN system and demanded that it be destroyed before the DNC would consider restoring access to the database.

Throughout this controversy the DNC has reserved its anger for the actions of a handful of staffers on Senator Sanders campaign. It has exhibited litter anger or outrage towards the NGP-VAN for having compromised critical DNC data for hours.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

This all caused me to wonder, just who is this seemingly incompetent company that lost their firewall for four hours in the middle of a Presidential campaign? And what of the Sander’s campaign long standing complaint that the DNC is trying to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Here is what I found:

NGP-VAN (www.ngpvan.com): Claims to be the leading technology provider to progressive organizations and campaigns. Among its clients are; Obama for America, the DNC, Democratic state parties, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DLCC, a majority of Democratic state legislative caucuses, Democratic candidates and other organizations.

Co-Owner, Nathaniel Goss Pearlman: Is a political technology consultant aligned with the Democratic party. He founded NGP Software, Inc., in 1977. The company provided political software to a majority of federal Democrats including most Democratic candidates for President (including Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton). He was the chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In 2010, NGP Software merged with another company, the Voter Activation Network, and became NGP-VAN

NGP-VAN CEO, Stu Trevelyan: Was the founder of the Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group (CTSG) which serve progressive groups and candidates starting around 1995. Before that Trevelyan worked directly on a number of campaigns, including the 1992 Clinton-Gore “War Room” and then in the Clinton White House. He was an early “Hillary for President” supporter and donor in 2013.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: She is the current DNC chairperson and was the national co-campaign chairperson of Hillary’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

[12/28/15 Update]

NBJosh Uretsky, Data Chief for Sanders: Bernie Sanders fired this person after the data breach. Media outlets are now reporting that he was hired in September by the Sander’s campaign on the recommendation of both the VGP-VAN company and the DNC. This has raised further concerns among leadership in the Sanders’ campaign.

WHERE THINGS STAND

Obviously the partisan nature of NGP-VAN, the connections to Hillary Clinton, the Hillary Connection between Hillary and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who was Hillary’s prior co-campaign manager, doesn’t prove anything or suggest anything nefarious. It doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility of a conflict of interests either. The Sanders campaign has not retracted their claim that the DNC might not be acting as a neutral third party and the lawsuit is still pending as of now.

Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, as well as the DNC, are calling for an independent “audit” of the incident and the records to rule out a wider scandal or a conflict, and also to identify and fix any vulnerabilities in the DNC’s database. This is as it should be, but there is just enough of a bad smell left in the room to require our fellow Democrats to maintain their scrutiny and to press for even more transparency at the DNC.

The idea of contracting with only partisan technology companies should be reconsidered and a broader conversation should generated on these issues. Finally, future DNC chairs should probably not be former campaign managers for any likely presidential candidates during their tenure.

Correction: An earlier version indicated a connection between the DNC chair and an employee at DGP-VAN which was an error. The error was widespread on social media and was apparently made because of confusion as to whether or not a Wasserman at NGP-VAN was her brother’s son. He is not. I extensively investigated this myself on social media and confirmed to my satisfaction that the information I had originally been given was wrong.

Cults and the Conservative Base

Has the right-wing fringe become a cult?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

It was something Sean Penn said recent that got me ask this question. Referring to climate change skeptics, Mr. Penn said, “I think there are people who indulge in a culture of what can be reduced to Fox network thinking… It’s like talking to a member of a cult.”

This observation seemed so descriptive when applied to the most ardent conservative followers that it is worth exploring. To be clear, the description and this analysis doesn’t apply to the majority of conservative voters, but only to those who exclusively rely on ultra-conservative media for their public information.

The word “cult” is most commonly used to describe religious groups or devoted groups of fanatics following a charismatic social leader, such as Charles Manson for example. The question is, can the behaviors and characteristics associated with cults apply when membership connections are virtual through media platforms and leadership is diffuse but highly organized?

To answer this question we have to start by examining and comparing cult leaders and cult members with the leaders and followers of ultra conservative media outlets.

Characteristics of cult leaders[i];

In their book, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich tell us that cult leaders have authoritarian personalities. They may be compensating for deep, intense feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and hostility. They form cultic groups primarily to attract those whom they can psychologically coerce into and keep in a passive-submissive state, and secondarily to use them to increase their power. They go on to say:

“The single most important word here is power. The dynamic around which cults are formed is similar to that of other power relationships and is essentially ultra- authoritarian, based on a power imbalance. The cult leader by definition must have an authoritarian personality in order to fulfill his half of the power dynamic. Traditional elements of authoritarian personalities include the following:

-the tendency to hierarchy

-the drive for power (and wealth)

-hostility, hatred, prejudice

– superficial judgments of people and events

-a one-sided scale of values favoring the one in power

-interpreting kindness as weakness

-the tendency to use people and see others as inferior

-a sadistic-masochistic tendency

-incapability of being ultimately satisfied

-paranoia ”

These are the characteristics of individual cult leaders. How this might apply to network media leadership is subject to interpretation. While a cult leaders feelings of inferiority and insecurityinsecurity, or a need to keep followers in a passive-submissive state, might be hard to apply to a leadership group, using cult members to increase their power clearly applies.

Furthermore, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that many of the specific traits above seem to apply in a general way to conservative media personalities and their messages. The problem is we know very little about the forces behind the obvious coordination of conservative media messaging.

What we do know is that message wording is carefully chosen. We know there are robust focus groups operations to identify which word choices evoke the exact emotional associations necessary to sell the messages, and that sophisticated marketing techniques are used to produce what amount to greater market share for these conservative ideas. This is an expensive operation, so when new language to frame an issues is chosen, it is rapidly disseminated across all conservative media outlets on the same day, usually within hours. These messages are then endlessly and slavishly broadcast to the public until it can’t be ignored. They are forced into the national dialogue where there convey rhetorical advantages to conservative positions.

The high degree of message coordination in the conservative media suggests a very tight, closely held and very disciplined core leadership. Conservative messaging is disseminated very rapidly and uniformly. The exact wording and approach is unquestioningly adopted by conservative talk show hosts, pundits and commentators on every conservative media platform, television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, regardless of corporate ownership or boundaries. There is no competition among conservative networks for more attractive or alternative messaging. There is no original thinking. This lack of messaging competition suggests that the core leadership behind the conservative media is monolithic, but not centralized in any one network. In other words, the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are not the message leaders. They serves as organs for the coordinating forces behind conservative messaging. The leadership behind the coordinating forces are hidden from public view. We don’t know who they are or exactly how they operate.

So, can you have a true cult when the leader or leaders are clandestine and only identifiable by their messages to followers?

I think so. I also suspect that once the size of their ultra-conservative following reaches a certain tipping point the media messaging leaders will step out from behind the curtain and reveal themselves.

I don’t think Donald Trump is that leader. He is more likely an interloper taking premature advantage of the pool of conservative media followers to satisfy his own lust for power.

That brings us to the next question. Who are these ultra-conservative media followers and do their characteristics align with those of typical cult members?

What follows are some of the characteristics of cult followers that might apply. These are taken from various sources.

Characteristics of Cult Followers:

– The group’s coherence is maintained by the observance to policies handed down from those in authority.

– Avoidance of critical thinking and/or maintaining logically impossible beliefs and/or beliefs that are inconsistent with other beliefs held by the group.

-Avoidance of and/or denial of any facts that might contradict the group’s belief system.

– Control of gender roles and definitions.

– The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and regards the belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

– Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

– The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel.

– The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members.

– The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

– The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

– The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.

– Some cultic groups discourage members from thinking independently. The “thinking,” as it were, has already been done for them by the cult leadership; the proper response is merely to submit.

– Cults often believe that they alone have the truth.

– It is not uncommon in cults that people are urged to remain faithful to avoid being “disfellowshiped,” [sic] or disbarred, from the group.

– Us against them mentality. Therefore, when someone (inside or outside of the group) corrects the group in doctrine and/or behavior, it is interpreted as persecution, which then is interpreted as validation.

– The group’s coherence is maintained by the observance to policies handed down from those in authority.

– Avoidance of critical thinking and/or maintaining logically impossible beliefs and/or beliefs that are inconsistent with other beliefs held by the group.

– Avoidance of and/or denial of any facts that might contradict the group’s belief system.

– Control of gender roles and definitions.

These are among the characteristics of cult members that anyone can confirm by searching the topic on the internet. They also seem to apply to the many of the most ardent conservatives in the base of the Republican Party base, conservatives who rely almost exclusively rely on conservative media. Anyone who has ever tried to hold a conversation with these individuals should decide for themselves if these characteristics fit. It confirms, for me at least, that Sean Penn may on to something. The dimensions and dynamics of the most conservative elements of the GOP base do seem cult-like. This would explain why the presentation of entirely verifiable facts has no purchase with those who strongly identify with the conservative media.

Clarification:  A correction on 12/4/2015 makes it explicit that the cult description does not apply to most conservative voters, but only to those who rely exclusively on ultra-conservative media outlets.

[i] Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships

Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich. Hunter House, Alameda, CA, 1994, pg 304

Nona’s Christmas List of 1953

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

My wife and I were going through some old boxes when we found a small notebook with receipts and hand written notes from mother. On one page was her Christmas list from 1953. I was just eleven-months old that Christmas in 1953. Patty, my big sister, was four.

I was struck by how quaint Mom’s list seemed. I can see the  care she took to plan this special day for us. The neatness of her figures are a tribute to her business training at Butler High School where she was the first in her family to graduate from the twelfth grade.  Years later she would put these skills to work in her first bookkeeping  job at Robert Halls clothing store in Rockaway, New Jersey, and later at J.C. Penny  in Dover.  But in 1953 she used her skills to plan our family budget.

Nonas Xmas List 1953

I can see her sitting at the kitchen table of our rented bungalow on Lake Parsippany. It was a log cabin that had been a summer cottage before being  converted to a year-round home.  It had a fenced in yard and an wonderful enclosed porch that overlooked the lake. The kitchen was just wide enough to accommodate a small chrome legged table with aluminum sides and a Formica top. Mom would sit there in the morning light after Dad left for work, sipping her coffee and enjoying a crossword puzzle or paying the bills. It was her quiet time before my sister and I were awake. It was probably one of these quiet mornings when she penciled this account of our Christmas.  She had gone though each receipt, punching holes in them to file them in her little black, ring bound notebook.

Dad usually left for work most mornings while I was still sleeping. He was an appliance repair man for Sears, which was called Sears and Roebuck back then (I always felt sorry for Mr. Roebuck when they dropped his name. I still think that the change in business model behind this was the beginning of the companies decline).  He worked his full eight-hour day, five days a week and was usually able to be home by dinner.  I have one early memory when I was three or four years old of waking up before Dad left for work and running to the front door to say good-bye to him. But in 1953 I was just an infant.

I don’t know how much Dad was paid for his work. He was very skilled, some said gifted, at this job. I do know whatever he was paid was enough that Mom stayed home with us until I was in school. We weren’t rich, but we had all the things we needed; food, a warm house, clothes, shoes, a doctor who took good care of us and a few nice things to open under the Christmas tree each year.  I know from bits of conversation I heard when I was older that Stretching the budget was always a challenge, but we managed.

Then, after reminiscing about the past,  I asked myself, how much did Christmas cost my parents in 1953?

Including the cookie cutters and cookie sheets, which would become fixtures of our childhood holiday celebrations, Christmas that year cost them just shy of thirty bucks.  But how much is that relative to today’s dollar? It seemed like pocket change based on the numbers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, a dollar in 1953 was worth $8.91 today. That means Christmas cost our parents $288.93, not including food, beverages, gifts between my parents or gifts for friends and relative. And, of course, there was the cost of the Christmas tree. What follows is Mom’s 1953 Christmas accounting in 2015 dollars:

1953 Xmas in 2015$

This suddenly seemed like a lot of money.  I looked it up. Half of all Sears appliance technicians today make between $16 and $22 per hour.  The current living wage for a family of four (two children and two adult with only one breadwinner) in Morris County is $24.93/hour. That means over half of all Sears repairmen make less than a living wage.  Living in Morris County as a full-time Sears technician today, means either working a lot of overtime or having a second income just to break even.  Mom was being frugal and wise back in then, but I doubtful our childhood family, with only Dad working, would be able to afford such a Christmas these days.

Now when I look at Mom’s figures they seem less quaint and more savvy.  A family today that is like ours was in 1953 would never be able to save up for a house, own a new car, go on a family vacation or get by without occasional assistance from family, friends or the government.

We constantly ask families to do more even though they already do. In most families like ours both parents work. The hours most of us work per week are more numerous. Many parents have more than one job, and children get to be with their parents less and less.  Is it no wonder people say that families are falling apart these days?

Money can’t buy love, but a living wage can make us feel good about ourselves once again as we can take proper care of our families.  And returning to a 40 hour work week would allows us to spend more precious time with our children who really do need us to be there for them. These simple conditions are what made America strong in the past. They would certainly strengthen our families once again today.

The Great Abortion Divide – Part II

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Religious Dimensions of the Abortion Debate

Despite recent attempts by pro-life groups to bring science into the argument against abortion, the critical difference between conservative Christian anti-abortionists and pro-choice opponents really is religious in nature. I know that many people in the pro-choice camp resist this claim. It clearly isn’t how they want to frame their narrative. But the religious nature of the abortion divide remains true because, when you drill down, conservative Christians, who are driving this debate, truly believe we are endowed with an immortal soul at the moment of conception, or even prior to conception. They deeply believe that a human zygote is sacred. This belief separates conservative Christians not just from most people in the pro-choice groups, but also from many who identify more closely with pro-life sentiments. Avoiding the religious dimensions of the abortion debate isn’t the most constructive path forward, in my view.

While the concept of “soul” is fundamental to Judaeo-Christian theology, the origin of a soul, and how or when it enters human flesh, is a matter of conjecture. There is no scriptural guidance on this point in the Old or New Testament, nor in the Koran. You won’t hear much debate in churches or synagogues even though matters of the soul are unsettled questions. It is a fact that there was no concept of “soul” at all in the Hebrew tradition prior to the conquest of Alexander the Great, who brought Greek philosophy to the Middle East.

There has been religious and philosophic differences for centuries regarding the origin of the soul, and how we come to be “ensouled.” Most people today, however, are not well equipped for this discussion. People prefer instead to take positions based on what seems morally right. They have a sense for what it means to be human and they recognize when actions or procedures are inhumane. This guides the thinking of many. Disrupting the growth of a few human cell in a woman’s womb may not fit their understanding of what is inhumane, while calling a zygote a human stretches their idea of what “human” means to them. Then there are people of other faiths and people who aren’t religious who hold entirely different notions on what it means to be “human.” America is a pluralistic society with a great variety of different beliefs, so attempts to create a social norm around the most conservative Christian views on the sanctity of life aren’t likely to succeed.

If you are a Christian who believes a fertilized human egg is endowed with a soul, then the immorality of abortion is an obvious and immutable fact. Abortion is simply murder. But If your religious beliefs don’t specify when human flesh receives a soul, or if you believe the ability to terminate the pregnancy of a twelve-year-old rape victim is really answered pray, your views on the morality of abortion may differ. It is not theologically unreasonable to assume an all-knowing God knows which pregnancies will result in live births and which will not. Spontaneous abortions are a part of nature, so why would God ensoul a fetus that will never be born? Is it an automatic process over which God has no control?

And if God does control which human flesh receives a soul, an omnipotent God already know what decision a woman will make in her pregnancy. Why would a loving God condemn a young woman by intentionally ensouling a fetus that God knows will never be born.

The theology and theory of “soul” is seldom publically debated, yet the sanctity of a fertilized human egg is the position of the Roman Catholic church and most conservative Christian sects. Many otherwise faithful Jews and Christians instinctively resist this view and the moral position it requires. For them, for those of other faith traditions and for non-religious people, the morality of abortion remains an open question, which make it a personal matter. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is therefore a private and personal choice. This group does not want governments dictating morals that are not universally shared and they do not want governments telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies on religious grounds.

I believe these observation correctly demonstrates that there are more than two sides to the abortion debate. The duality of our public discourse on the subject is a fiction created by our mass media. Mainstream media tends to over-simplifies and reduce most issues to a polarized duality. The effect of this media bias benefits conservative views on abortion because it suppresses public debate on the underlying theology. This creates an impression that there is more religious support for banning abortions than is actually the case. Confident that they are making progress on theological grounds, the religious right is reaching out to the secular community to continue building towards an anti-abortion social norm. This brings us back to the effort of conservative Christians to incorporate science into the abortion debate.

Science and the Anti-Abortion Debate

In an article entitled “The Best Pro-Life Arguments for Secular Audiences,” author Rob Schwarzwalder counsels believers on how to use scientific arguments to persuade non-believers that abortion is wrong. It is clear from the beginning that the author assumes human life begins at or before inception. He writes:

“At the moment when a human sperm penetrates a human ovum, or egg, generally in the upper portion of the Fallopian Tube, a new entity comes into existence. “Zygote” is the name of the first cell formed at conception, the earliest developmental stage of the human embryo, followed by the “Morula” and “Blastocyst” stages. Is it human? Is it alive? Is it just a cell or is it an actual organism, a “being?” These are logical questions.”

These questions, however, obscure more than they illuminate. The author is asking, “Is a zygote human?”

First, we must ask ourselves, what is a human? This latter question does not have a single clear answer. Is “human” defined by a collection of qualities, state of being, a class of species or is it the presence of that spark of deity we call spirit or soul? Do all cells have some sort of divine being? Does DNA determine what sort of being a cell will have? Are all cells autonomous? Do they have agency? And even if they have a cellular being, does that make a human cell a human being?

When we think of “human” we most generally intend the word as shorthand for a “human being”. But what do we mean by “being”? According to dictionary definitions, the first definition of ” being” mean a state of existence. This would cover everything in the universe, from stones to photons and beyond. So in this sense the quality of “being” merely refers to that which exists in this world. This definition of “being” doesn’t advance our understand of “human being” very much.

The second meaning of the word “being” refers to living, as opposed to inanimate. Beings are alive. This eliminates most of the known universe of things but still leaves a planet full of beings, from bacteria to mushrooms, tomatoes and whales. In this sense a human being can accurately be distinguished from other living things as a member of a specific species. This definition is somewhat more satisfying, but it still doesn’t explain how a zygote can be a classified as human since it is only one cell and not the fully developed organism with all the attributes that allow us to be identified as a species. If we only ever existed as a single cell zygote we would not be capable of classifying our existence at all.

The third meaning of “being” is a living thing with an essence that is divine in it’s nature. He the author writes, “.. Is it just a cell or is it an actual organism, a “being?” The implication is that if it is “just a cell” it is not an organism, but if it is an organism it might be a “being”. Since both a cell and an organism actually exist in the universe and are also alive, this use of the term “being” clearly doesn’t refer to either of the prior definitions. It refers to “being” as a living entity containing a spark of the divine. It refers to a soul.

To be fair, there are many other definitions of the word “being” but each of these fails to solve the riddle of how a zygote and a human being are the same thing.

To solve this the author states the following: ” The zygote is composed of human DNA and other human molecules, so its nature is undeniably human and not some other species. The new human zygote has a genetic composition that is absolutely unique from itself, different from any other human that has ever existed, including that of its mother.”

All molecules are chemical in nature, and most are not unique to humans. That said, DNA can be undeniably human and unique. The distinction between mother and embryo is evidenced by activation of the mother’s immune system to rid her body of this foreign organism. From shortly after inception, the embryo releases chemicals to trick the mother’s body into not rejecting it. In the early stages of pregnancy this drama is often manifested as morning sickness. Later in pregnancy the relationship becomes more symbiotic and less parasitic. What science proves is that a fetus is a unique organism, but it is not separate and apart from the mother’s body. It cannot exist except in the womb. So it isn’t the viability of a fetus that makes a fetus human in this view, but its unique DNA signature. In essence, a human cell becomes a human being if it’s DNA signature is unique. It begs the question, Is a unique pattern of DNA the essence of what it means to be human?

The author answers this by writing, ” Finally, is the human zygote merely a new kind of cell or is it a human organism; that is, a human being?

Here again we see that the difference between a ordinary cell and a single celled “human” organism is whether or not the cell has a complete and unique set of human DNA. If it does, this single cell is a “human being,” according to the author.

This seems like a biologically flimsy distinction from both a religious and scientific point of view. If you have two human cells, one that shares a DNA signature with other cells and one that has a unique DNA signature, why would one be a cell and the other something more? We know we can take DNA from any cell in our body and insert it in a human egg to grow a clone. This clone would have DNA identical to the human donor. Is this clone not a human? Would it matter that it does not have unique DNA? Any reasonable person would say a human clone is fully human. Even the author would probably admit a cloned person has a soul, so is it a distinct new soul or a shared soul. Either way, it isn’t the uniqueness of the DNA signature that makes a human cell a human being.

Despite incorporating science into the abortion debate The position of those who hold that life is sacred from birth cannot be advanced by incorporating scientific knowledge into their debate. The abortion debate isn’t about science, it is about theology, morality and humanity and personal liberty. It is about religion and philosophy. Until we push beyond the didactic constraints imposed on our public debate and grapple with the underlying philosophies and theologies, we will never get beyond our present deadlock.

In the next essay I will offer some perspectives on the philosophic evolution of the human soul as a means of opening up the broader public discussion that we need to have.

———————————————————-

To read Part I of this series please go to http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-great-abortion-divide.html

The Great Abortion Divide

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The abortion debate is mixed up and convoluted to the point that it seems it can’t be sorted out, but let’s try. Let’s step back from the edge and consider how it began.

For the anti-abortion movement it has always been a moral issue. For the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade was a constitutional question about the limits of government and the privacy rights of women. The question before the court was essentially this: Does government have a right to impose a Christian moral value on individual citizens?

Ignore that the “Christian moral value” involved is a belief that life is sacred from its inception and the framework of the question itself is one most conservatives would still accept today. Roe v. Wade was about limiting big government. In this narrow sense, the decision didn’t make abortion legal so much as placing it beyond the reach of politicians to govern.

The initial recourse for those who passionately believed that abortion is a sin was to build a consensus for their views across all political and religious lines while condemning the practice in their churches. This was the initial focus of anti-abortion activists. It required acceptance of the ruling while working to alter America’s social norms. This did not remain the focus of the anti-abortion activists for long.

It became apparent that changing social norms is a long, uphill battle. A majority of Americans, including majority of Christians, continued to see Roe v. Wade as a question of personal liberty. The result was a growing moral imperative for Christian activists that became too powerful to wait for social change. Accepting that the abortion decisions could be a “legally protected” private choices was too much to bear, so they took a different next step . They began to run for public office. They decided to take matters into their own hands and directly influence the law.

This was an unprecedented change in American Politics. It was the beginning of the Christian Conservative movement. It required believers to suspend the separation between church and state. The leap to impose a Christian moral law on a recalcitrant society required developing an ideological view of America as a Christian nation. Secular government became the enemy.

This change of strategy was a shock to pro-choice activists and to a majority of citizens alike. It hastened formation of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements and dramatically escalated the polarization of American politics. Establishment Republicans quickly welcomed the Christian Conservative movement and nurtured their development. The Republican party elite somewhat cynically added conservative Christians to their otherwise dwindling political base and adopted family values as wedge issues to win elections. This gave the GOP a new life and a new focus to stay vital. At the same time, the focus of the anti-abortion argument moved from refuting a woman’s right to choose to protecting the rights of the unborn fetus. In effect this extended the inclusiveness and full protections of our constitution from adults to the unborn. This is not a concept considered by our founding fathers who never even attempted to define children’s rights.

Fast forward to today and we see a backlash in the Republican party between social conservatives and the GOP establishment who failed to deliver on all the cynical promise made to Christian conservatives in exchange for their votes. Today there is a large contingent of uncompromising Christian right conservatives in Congress who believe their positions on policies are the will of God. A recent Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 44% of the Republicans now believe we should make Christianity the official religion of the United States.

So we find ourselves hopelessly deadlocked with a large portion of the population believing abortion is murder in both a religious and legal sense and about half the country still believing it is an issue of personal morality to which government has no business enforcing a different ideology. Holding that the U.S. Constitution confers on a fertilized egg the right to be born may be a legal stretch, but others hold that at some point the fetus becomes viable and constitutional protections may then apply. The remainder of the population still sees a live birth as the point where constitutional protections begin. In effect, we are having two separates debates on the subject. What the constitution intended is one debate and what is morally unacceptable for humanity is the other.

The great abortion divide has polarized us like no other issue since slavery. As was true then, the abortion divide has severely damaged our institutions and our ability to self-govern. It has impacted all aspects of our politics and our society. Even our fidelity to the Union and our commitment to majority rule are being tested. How we eventually resolve the abortion issue may be over the horizon right now, but an effort to reconnect with the true nature of our differences would be a good start. It doesn’t help to think of anti-abortion activists as terrorists or of pro-choice activists as murderers. We have to stop talking past each other to achieve a new national consensus on the limits of government and the role of religion in public life. Most certainly that will involve renewed patience and a willingness to accept some degree of compromise on all sides. The alternative to a solution is unthinkable.

Big Media the Big Loser in Democratic Debate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

According to a headline at Alternet.com:

“Bernie Won All the Focus Groups & Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate?

Good Question! Let’s first see some of the more objective measures on how well Bernie Sanders did with ordinary people during the debate:

  • In the Salon live debate poll Bernie won by 72% to Hillary’s 12%
  • The Time Magazine poll had Bernie winning by 56% with Jim Webb coming in second at 31%. Hillary came in at 11% in their poll.
  • A US News and World Report live blog poll conducted on Facebook had Bernie winning the debate by 85% to Hillary’s 12%
  • A majority of CNN’s own focus group felt Bernie Sanders won the debate.
  • On Fox News, the Frank Luntz focus group in Florida unanimously felt Bernie won the debate. Half the group of 28 Democrats supported Hillary at the start of the debate and less than half of those supporters continued to support her after the debate.
  • On Facebook, Bernie Sanders was mentioned 107,000 times to Hillary’s 131,000 mentions
  • On Twitter Bernie was mentioned 407,000 times, the most of any candidate. His name was mentioned in 12,000 tweets per minute compared to Hillary’s 8,300 tweets per minute.
  • A content analysis of tweets for Bernie and Hillary showed that 69% of his tweets were positive compared to 56% positive for Hillary.
  • During the debate people Googled Bernie Sanders twice as often as Hillary Clinton.
  • On Facebook, Bernie attracted 24,000 new followers to Hillary’s 7,700 new followers.
  • On Twitter Bernie attracted 42,730 new followers to Hillary’s 25,000 new followers.

So what were the corporate media newspaper headlines the day after the debate?

The New York Times: “Hillary Clinton Turns Up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a Sharp Debate”

The Washington Post: “Hillary Clinton won the debate”

The Boston Globe: “Hillary Clinton wins, with an assist from Bernie Sanders

The Business Insider: “Everyone’s declaring Hillary Clinton the big winner of the debate

The New Yorker: “Hillary Clinton Wins Big in Vegas”

The Guardian: “Hillary Clinton won the Democratic debate, simply by saying ‘no'”

The New Republic: “Hillary Clinton Nailed It in the Democratic Debate”

So what is going on here?

I listened to Chris Matthews on MSNBC extolling the way Hillary dominated the debate during his show that immediately followed it. The next day, on his own show, he expressed real doubt about who won. He said that on the night of the debate he was listening to what the producers were saying in his ear. Wow!

I believe that Hillary Clinton was pitch perfect in the debate. She gave the best performance of her life. This was very reassuring to her big donors and to those who are already among her ardent supporters. But despite her outstanding performance it is clear that she didn’t win the debate. Bernie Sanders performance was also very good. The match up of their good debate styles, however, only served to amplify Senator Sanders’ ideas, and his passion clearly caught the public’s attention. For the “establishment media” this was an incongruent moment. It isn’t what they expected, and it is now very clear it isn’t what they wanted either. I believe that the corporate (establishment) media has finally tipped its hand:

  • It is not an independent and neutral party in American politics.
  • It serves the for profit interests of its owners and its advertizing clients.
  • It takes an active hand in shaping public opinion and framing our public debates.
  • It is responsible for the rise in political polarization and the sharp divisions we have experienced in recent decades.
  • It is responsible for the unhinging of the Republican Party and the entertaining, carnival like atmosphere that characterizes it today.

The Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision was a windfall for the main stream media. All that money pouring into political PAC’s from anonymous wealthy donors ends up in the media’s pocket. The have every incentive to grab as much of it as they can and very little incentive to remain faithful to their journalistic mission.

I talked about how Bernie Sanders represents a double threat to the establishment media and establishment politics in a recent post. In an article entitled “Covering Politics For Profit Has Warped Our Democracy” I said:

“Many of the issues Sanders holds, such as the need to break up big banks and tax billionaires to pay for free college tuition, hurt the financial interests of the mainstream media’s biggest corporate clients. This creates a conflict of interest for the corporate owned media. Covering the Sanders campaign on his terms forces them to report on issues that don’t serve the financial interests of their advertisers.

The Sanders campaign also poses another challenge to the corporate media’s business model. Much of the organizational work by his campaign is organized from the bottom up. It makes extensive and creative use of free or low cost social media platforms. This means the Sanders campaign is spending less money on media buys than any other candidate except for Donald Trump, who is getting his media attention for free.  [snip]

Senator Sanders, on the other hand, attracts even more actual voter attention than Trump without the help of the mainstream media. Major news outlets are just starting to cover the Sanders campaign as news events in order to preserve their legitimacy as news organizations.”

And then, when it was clear to viewers that Bernie Sanders has something important to say that doesn’t fit the establishments narrative, main stream media outlets simply pivot and declare their preferred candidate the winner.

PRIMARY DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION – RISK FACTORS AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

kidsNdrugs

Every instance of drug use is also a transaction between the users and the suppliers, whether the supplier is a dealer, a friend trying to be helpful or a parent that leaves prescription pills in easy reach. On the user side of the transaction the decision to partake always meets some need or desire need. How strong the need or desire to take a drug is a variable, and therefore potentially controllable. It is important to understand what needs are being met when a young person decides to partake in drugs or alcohol. The lists below are among some frequent motivators that lead to drug transaction and drug use. Each of these factors can be modulated by family or community interventions. Still, this is just one side of the transaction. On the other side is the availability and cost of the product being consumed and the economic pressures on the supply side of the equation. Just like any transaction, the lower the price or available the product the more likely a transaction will occur. Factors affecting price and availability includes not just law enforcement interdiction but market factors in the legal and illegal drug trade, the strength of a profit motive for individual dealers, the  pain management and prescribing practices of doctors, the economic pressures of small business owners selling cigarettes or alcohol to minors, the amount of peer pressure being applied to sell or give drugs to others, the vigilance of parents in keeping products in the home out of the reach of their children, etc.

Primary prevention is all the things we can do as families and a society to forestall or eliminate an individual’s preliminary exposure to addictive substances. It is the efforts undertaken to eliminate the various needs (or demands) that initiate drug transactions in the first place.

The following is a collection of ideas on the topic from a variety of sources with the URL links to some of the material and my own thoughts provided in the bracketed text. My purpose is to initiate or support public dialogue about what can be done to fix our drug problems. Let me begin with some ideas as to why children try drugs in the first place.

Here are some of the reasons young people have given for taking drugs :

  • To fit in

[The need to belong and feel accepted and valued is a powerful and universal human need that is denied to children who are marginalized, bullied or made to feel incompetent in their social environment. This leads youth to seek acceptance in alternative and sometimes more socially maladaptive peer groups where they are more at risk for substance abuse. Making sure are youth feel connected and engaged with their families and the community is a protective factor that reduces the risk of substance abuse.]

  • To escape or relax

[The ever growing competitive trends in education and youth sports programs has placed unprecedented pressure on today’s youth beginning at an early age. This places youth at ever increasing risk of turning to drugs to relieve their stress. Little league sports programs once focused on the social development that helped children learn how to work together and support each other as a tea. Today they are increasing focuses on developing the individual talents of star players and on winning as the major objectives. We may need to rethink our whole approach to both academics achievements and youth sports programs. A protective factor in preventing substance abuse might be to find ways to reduce the stress we place on children in school and in organized sports.]

  • To relieve boredom

[Students whose parents work and who are not in some afterschool programs come home to an empty house. Some researchers say that the most at risk time for children to abuse substances is this after school period before parents come home from work. Younger children especially need guidance and leadership in structuring their recreational activity. Children also need appropriate socialization opportunities. Unstructured leisure time leads to increases in time spend on passive entertainment such as watching TV or in playing video games or in engaging in online activities such as chat rooms. These can lead to lethargy and depression as well as boredom. It places kids at greater risk of substance use to relieve boredom and depression. An alternative would be after school efforts to help children identify and develop their interests and skills other than traditional sports activities.  We need a strength based approach to helping children develop skills in dance, acting, music, art, debate,, chess and other such alternative activities]

  • To seem grown up [There are several aspects to this one. First, parents are primary role models in younger children. What parents do helps define what seems normal for adult behavior. If parents smoke, drink and use drugs this greatly increases the likelihood that their children we try these activities as part of their social development. Then there is the aspect of a child’s exposure to the social behavior of older cohorts in the family, schools or the community. To the extent that substance abuse becomes a community wide problem the younger cohorts will see the substance use by older youth as grown up behaviors. Then there is the impact of media depiction of drugs on television and in the movies. Parental monitoring and the exercise of discretion in what shows children watch has an impact on a child’s future behavior is an example of a protective strategy to lower the risk of future abuse.]  
  • To rebel [I believe that most youth rebellion has an origin in family life. Dysfunctional families, overly lacks or severe discipline, weak parent/child bonding, unreasonable expectations, parental hypocrisy, cultural clashes between immigrant parents and children raised in American culture, extreme economic or social stress are among the many factors that    can lead to rebellious youth. Children who can’t relate appropriately to family or social norms, can’t respond positively to adult supervision and guidance or who reject cultural norms are a great risk for substance abuse. Every social policy and community based support system that strengths parents and families help to protect children from substance abuse as well.]
  • To experiment [For kicks! This is no small reason. Researchers have discovered that the human brain is not fully developed until a person is in their early to mid-twenties. The last area    of the brain to develop is the area responsible for evaluating risky behavior and modulating impulsive behavior. Yes, there is a reason why youth are impetuous. It is part of natures plan that young adults should be risk takers. It is suggested that this help facilitate sexual exploration and the necessary social separation that must take place for us to become fully autonomous adults. Unfortunately it also promotes many other risk-taking behaviors that never existed in our distant past. This now includes experimenting with dangerous substances that can produce physical addictions before we even realize we are addicted. Recognizing this, and providing youth with developmentally appropriate information about the risks associated with substance abuse is a protective factor.]

http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/drugs/why-do-people-take-drugs.html

Here is another, slightly more comprehensive list of reasons:

  1. People suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression or other mental illnesses use drugs and alcohol to ease their suffering.

[Early screening and identification of mental illness or psychological disorders in children is essential to help prevent substance abuse. They need both treatment for their condition, help in developing social coping skills among their peers and the development of more tolerance and understanding of mental illness in the general population to reduce the stigma and added barriers that these children face.]

  1. People see family members, friends, role models or entertainers using drugs and rationalize that they can too. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People become bored and think drugs will help.  [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People think drugs will help relieve stress. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People figure if a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it must be ok.

[Here is where doctor’s and the whole medical profession needs to rethink their approach to pharmaceuticals in general and pain management and mental illness treatment specifically. Pharmacies need to keep better records that are regionally integrated with other pharmacies in order to identify suspicious patters of  certain classes of prescription drug sales. Doctor’s and medical staff need better training in identifying not just the symptoms of drug addiction in patients, but in identifying patients who may be at risk before prescribing potentially addictive drugs.

  1. People get physically injured and unintentionally get hooked on prescribed drugs. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People use drugs to cover painful memories in their past. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People think drugs will help them fit in.
  2. People chase the high they once experienced.

http://ezinearticles.com/?9-Reasons-Why-People-Abuse-Drugs-and-Alcohol&id=6276647

[Let’s not forget that addictive urges from prior use of addictive substances is another major factor here. Researchers have discovered that tobacco is so addictive that smoking just one cigarette for the first time can produce neurochemical changes that trigger an urge for nicotine up to six months later. This points up a curious aspect about addiction that is often overlooked. Urges and desires have very different neurochemical origins in the brain and urges are far more powerful controllers over our behavior. But urges and desires are virtually indistinguishable from each other when we simply choose to fulfill them, as we do in the early stages of addiction. It isn’t until we choose to resist the behavior to fulfill what we believe to be a desire that we discover the full power that neurochemical urges have over our behavior.]

The following are selected excerpts from the Office of National Drug Control Policy – Preventing Drug Abuse

Prevention is most promising when it is directed at impressionable youngsters. Adolescents are most susceptible to the allure of illicit drugs. Delaying or preventing the first use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is essential. Evidence from controlled studies, national cross-site evaluations, and CSAP grantee evaluations demonstrates that prevention programs work. Prevention programs are not vaccinations that inoculate children against substance abuse. Sadly, significant numbers of young people who participate in the best programs will go on to use drugs. The “no-use” message must be reinforced consistently by parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, mentors, and other care givers.

While all parents are critical influencers of children, parents of children aged eight to twelve are especially influential. Children in this age group normally condemn drug use. Such attitudes and attendant behavior are easily reinforced by involved parents. Parents who wait to guide their children away from drugs until older ages when youngsters are more readily influenced by peers or may have started using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, decrease their ability to positively influence children.

[This suggests that a comprehensive community drug abuse prevention program should include a parent education and guidance component for parents who have children between the ages of seven and eight years old. The idea would be to provide parents with the knowledge and guidance they need to strengthen their child’s ability to refrain from initial use of harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs.]

Children whose parents abuse alcohol or other drugs face heightened risks of developing substance-abuse problems themselves. [Perhaps school based prevention programs should be routinely sending substance abuse educational materials and community treatment resource information home to the parents.]

There is significant evidence that carefully planned mass media campaigns can reduce substance abuse by countering false perceptions that drug use is normative. For all their power to inform and persuade, the media alone are unlikely to bring about large, sustained changes in drug use. https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/policy/99ndcs/iv-b.html

[Identifying specific individuals at risk for substance abuse and engaging them in a specific prevention effort is an effective component in a comprehensive community prevention plan. It requires the training and equipping of parents, teachers, physicians, coaches and others who have regular contact with young people in the community.]

[Some evidence] .. suggests that the most promising route to effective strategies for the prevention of adolescent alcohol and other drug problems is through a risk-focused approach. This approach requires the identification of risk factors for drug abuse, identification of methods by which risk factors have been effectively addressed, and application of these methods to appropriate high-risk and general population. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/112/1/64/

A general consensus in the literature on drug abuse prevention suggests certain school-based prevention programs can achieve at least modest reductions in adolescent drug use. http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwche/drug%20curriculum.pdf

[School based substance abuse prevention programs can be an effective component of an overall community strategy for the early prevention of substance abuse. Research has identified eleven factors that contribute to successful school based programs. This information is helpful in selecting curriculum and evaluating school based treatment programs.]

Once a drug addiction problem become endemic in the community the pressure to act become overwhelming and the actions that need immediate attention focus on law enforcement interdiction of drugs and treatment for the addicted. These are expensive, complex and time consuming community actions that can quickly overpower and underfund primary prevention efforts. Yet it is the primary prevention efforts that are the most cost efficient and effective ways to reduce the problem. Arresting drug addicts doesn’t reduce the availability or cost of the products, and is ineffective if it doesn’t involve treatment on demand. Treatment on demand requires more of a financial and social commitment than most communities can afford. Interdicting drugs and arresting drug dealers can raise the cost and availability of drugs, but it addicts go untreated this raises crime rates as they turn to criminal activity to pay for their habits. Unless there is a holistic, comprehensive and balanced approach to community substance abuse prevention that properly prioritizes primary prevention efforts, the problem of drugs will continue to be a major public.]

Please feel free to comment.

Black Families, Structural Racism and a Decision to Raise Social Problems to a Public Issue – Part 1

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I read a great article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration“. (Oct. 2015). I highly recommend it to readers of my blog and I hope to write more about it from my own perspectives in the future. The lengthy nine chapter article begins with a discussion of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous report, now 50 years old, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

 

For those of you currently blessed with youth, Moynihan was a scholar, US ambassador, a New York State Senator and a very influential intellectual in the waning decades of the 20th Century. (It still feels odd for me to say it.) At the time he wrote his report, he was ensconced as a young career civil servant in President Johnson’s administration on the eve of passage of the civil rights bill. He was one of many invisible administration officials who work behind the scenes in every public administration in government. He would have been a colleague of Bill Moyers and Chris Matthews, all of whom were among the anonymous legions that make governance possible in every administration.

The thrust of Moynihan’s report was the premise that structural white racism caused poverty in the black community and destroyed black families through a particularly devastating impact on black males. The intractable joblessness, poverty and social impotence of black males was forcing black families to become matriarchal: a status in conflict with the rest of American society. His critique of the public welfare system centered around the fact that it reinforced this matriarchal shift while marginalizing (some would say demonizing) black fathers. He argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage that this was causing. Moynihan wrote, as quoted in the article:

“The Negro family, battered and harassed by discrimination, injustice, and uprooting, is in deepest trouble… While many negroes are moving ahead to unprecedented levels of achievement, many more are falling further and further behind.”

In his view, the marginalization and emasculation of black males, even within the black community, is the root cause, and not the symptom, of the problems that we still read about today in local news accounts. Juvenile delinquency, higher high school dropout rates, gangs, higher black on black crime rates, etc., and all symptoms of structural racism, he would argue. Moynihan went on to write:

“In a word, most Negro youth are in danger of being caught up in the tangle of pathology that affects their world, and probably a majority are so entrapped. Many of those who escape do so for one generation only: as things now are, their children have to run the gauntlet all over again.”

Moynihan’s report was a prescient analysis of critical social problems that foreshadowed the accumulating impacts of structural racism, including mass incarceration and the ongoing destruction of black families today. His report made enough of an impact on Lyndon Johnson’s thinking that it was the subject of a subsequent speech that Johnson gave on the breakdown of black families in June of 1965. The speech was written, in part, by Moynihan himself. Johnson understood Moynihan’s point that white structural racism was responsible for the ongoing destruction of black families.

Johnson’s message in that speech, however, was quickly turned upside down in a social atmosphere that was in no mood to accept any blame for the plight poor black communities. The unreceptive public, and the media interpretation assigned to the Johnson’s speech, was that the root of poverty and social ills in the black community was a result of a weak black family structure, and of black males in particular.

Moynihan’s report was only an internal administration document at that time. Coates writes that Moynihan printed one-hundred copies of the report, submitted just one copy and kept the other ninety-nine copies in a safe. Moynihan had also removed from the report a whole section he had written on government policy recommendations for solving these problems. His rationale for this omission was that squabbling over proposed solutions would distract from sounding the alarm bells and raising a discussion on the plight of black families.

While the Moynihan report was not a public document at the time, internal discussions of the report spilled into the public domain and became a matter for public speculation. The false narrative that black families are responsible for their own social ills was ascribed to him and Moynihan was ridiculed by social activists for the black community. A moment had passed, the damage was done and the inverted perversion of Moynihan’s report seeped into the public consciousness despite efforts to dispel it.

Much more can be said at this point about the subsequent history of government policies and the negative impacts it has had on black families. This is covered quite well in the subsequent eight chapters on Coates’ article, and again I recommend you read it. My own experience working with public welfare families over the past three decades affirms Moynihan’s views and his criticism of the matriarchal federal public welfare system.

I hope to say more about this in the future also, but in part II of this article I want to shift gears and focus attention on that tactical decision the young Daniel Patrick Moynihan faced when he pull his policy recommendations from the original report. In doing this an important lesson may be learned about elevating a social problem to the level of a public issue within the context of the times. Where there alternatives might have been more effective? Would having raised a social problem to a public issue failed to happen if he left his proposed solutions in the original report? And what is it about the compressed and rarified air where civil servants work behind the scenes of public administrations that would cause him to lock up ninety-nine copies of his original report?

Debunking the Myth that It’s Your Fault You’re Poor

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The first time I saw a version of the graph below, depicting how worker compensation suddenly diverged from national wealth, I was horrified. My statistical training caused me to see right away that something took place in the mid-1970’s to stifle the rise of worker compensation. And the gap between wages and wealth keeps growing every years. I have written several articles about it since, but the implications have still not penetrated our public awareness.

 

The most recent appearance of this graph was from a report by the Economic Policy Institute confirming some earlier findings of the huge disconnect between worker productivity and worker compensation. I wrote an article summarizing their findings and received a lengthy comment that read, in part:

“Although I agree that the average wage is trending lower than productivity growth, I do not attribute it all to the greed at the top… The question I have is that how much of the deviation from the past are due to changes in society, where the average person has less room to negotiate a better price?”

The commentator went on to suggest the following reasons to explain the growing wage-to-wealth gap:

1. The trend of the two paycheck family led to a weakness in the labor force’s ability or need to demand higher compensation. 


2. Expanded social service programs and income eligibility caps aid to the working poor created incentives for workers to keep their compensation low so they qualify for government assistance.

3. Employer fixed benefit packages reduced competition for the affordable healthcare, driving up insurance costs since individuals were not “shopping around” for competitive bargains.

Let’s begin with the last point; fixed healthcare benefits. If these were anti-competitive purchases by employers, the rise in employer costs for these programs would correspondingly raise, not lower, hourly worker benefits. The more an employer pays for employee health insurance, the higher the wage compensation is per worker.

Healthcare costs have risen faster than inflation. The reasons for this are many, but the topic is too broad to address here except to say that higher insurance costs led many employers to drop healthcare coverage for their employees. This is a factor contributing to the lower growth in wage compensation. Note, however, that the flood of individuals entering the private health insurance market corresponds with the period of high rising premiums, not lower rates. The collective bargaining leverage of large corporations for competitive health insurance bids was actually a constraining factor on policy costs.

1. The trend of the two paycheck family led to a weakness in the labor force’s ability or need to demand higher compensation. 

To the main point, the impact of two paycheck families on wage compensation: Is there evidence that the gradual transition to two paycheck families contributed to lower hourly wage compensation? I believe the graph above provides the answer.

First, the wage/wealth graph above represents actual, verifiable economic data collected over a span of seven decades. It is not a trend graph, but you can easily imagine superimposed trend lines on it. The first would be a linear line rising steadily upward and to the right representing hourly Gross National Product (GDP). This is a measure of our nations’ wealth and it has been steadily growing.

The second trend line, representing hourly wage compensation, would rise perfectly in step with GDP from 1947 to 1973 (which is also the period of rapid expansion of the American middle class). Then it bends sharply (if somewhat erratically) over a seven year period before settling back into to a straight, but much shallower trend line.

Superimposing a trend line on worker compensation data reveals that there was a brief transition period from 1973 to 1980 during which the growth rate of worker compensation radically changed. The gap between new wealth and wage compensation has grows wider every year since.

What does this mean? It means the social forces that altered wage compensation began abruptly and remained active over a brief period of seven to eight years. The social forces created a persistent structural change in America’s hourly wage compensation that remains in effect today. It means that long term social trends don’t account for this structural change because they don’t fit the data.

Long-term trends present as long slow arches rather than sudden bends in a trend line. This means that the social actions that permanently altered the wage and productivity balance happened quickly and none of the major social trends happening before or since the transition period have had much impact on wage compensation.

The hypothesis that this change was the result of the rise of two paycheck families doesn’t fit this pattern. Woman entering the workforce would have had to started abruptly in 1973 and end by 1981. Of course we know that woman were entering the workforce much earlier and the trend wasn’t complete by 1981. It is also difficult to imagine how this phenomenon would actually cause a persistent structural change in worker compensation over the decades.

The relatively brief transition, represented in this graph, also rules out other long term trends that are often cited by economists as reasons for lower wage compensation. For example, it’s often said that globalization of our economy accounts for the wage/GDP disparity. It is true that globalization affects employment rates and puts downward pressure on American worker incomes, but the trend itself is also a longer, slower process that doesn’t fit the pattern. Even the process of shipping business operations overseas took place over a longer period of time. None of the explanations offered by most economists seem to fit the narrow window in which hourly GDP and hourly wage compensation diverged.

Seven years is a short period of time to bring about such a persistent structural change of this magnitude. Something big must have been happening at the time. What was it?

Consider what was happening in the 1970’s. This was a hyperactive period for Nixon era conservatives which gave rise to the new conservative movement, also known as the Neo Con’s. They laid the groundwork that swept Ronald Reagan into office in the 1980.

This was a time of rapid formation of organized business associations and industry trade groups. This was unprecedented in our history. It was the business answer to the growing influence of organized labor. These associations and trade groups pooled the considerable resources of big business to create the powerful business lobby we have today. They embarked on a massive anti-union marketing blitz to demonize unions and turn public sentiment against them. In 1973 the organized muscle of the newly formed corporate lobbyists got congress to pass legislation creating political action committees (PACs) which gave big business a means to funnel large sums of money into candidates political campaigns.

At the same time, the coordinated collision of big business, with a nod from business funded politicians, weakened the effectiveness of collective bargaining. Businesses everywhere were emboldened to end the practice of sharing their profits (wealth) with their employees.

In a span of less than a decade nearly all productivity raises ended for most Americans. All the new wealth (profits) generated since then have gone to top executives and wealthy business investors. The “raises” most employees received since this structural changes were merely cost of living adjustments.

Adjusted for inflation, most American families are making today what their parents family made decades ago, yet the nation’s wealth has more than doubled. The median income of a family of four today is around $51,000 per year. It would be over $100,000 per year if wage compensation had continued to rise proportionally with the wealth we produce.

2. Expanded social service programs and income eligibility caps aid to the working poor created incentives for workers to keep their compensation low so they qualify for government assistance. 

Regarding the second point about (#2), expanded social services and income eligibility caps creating a disincentive to work: I have addressed this topic in previous articles. This disparaging of social supports for the economically disadvantaged echoes a frequent conservative talking point. It goes by many names, such as the “welfare state” or the “nanny state. ” It promotes the idea that there is a giant dependency on social welfare programs.

But this attack on working families distracts from the fact that a growing number of people require government aid to the working poor to maintain basic stability. Their plight is a direct result of lower worker compensation caused by premeditated structural changes in the 1970’s. It hides the fact that subsidized assistance to working families allows corporations to have lower labor costs and higher profits. (A government supported labor force is a hidden corporate subsidy.) It dismisses the power of higher wages as a motivation for people to work hard and inspire hope for a better life. It obscures the fact that many companies have found ways to exploit the poor to profit off taxpayer subsidies. Most disturbingly, it blames this suppressed wage compensation on its economic victims.

For a fuller explanation of lower wages on social services, please read “Making the Case for a Living Wage.” http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/07/making-case-for-living-wage.html