Home » Posts tagged 'Society'

Tag Archives: Society

The Village We Left Behind

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I recently returned from a trip to my father’s birthplace in County Meath, Ireland where I took a walk around the village of Athboy. This is the town nearest Kildalkey where he grew up. Like so many villages in rural Ireland it is still owned and run by local inhabitants. There is a quaint little supermarket first opened by Ollie Byrd, my father boyhood friend. It’s now run by his son since Ollie passed away a few years ago.

Just up the sidewalk is Faulkner’s men’s shop owned and operated by Brian Faulkner, a cousin to my cousin, Sean. Three doors up the street is Faulkner’s Fashion House for woman, owned and run by his sister, Ger Faulkner. Across the street is the historic Darney Hotel where you can get a proper meal and a spot of tea in homey, low chic surroundings . On certain evenings you can go there to enjoy traditional Irish music in the hotel’s pub.

There are a handful of other pubs in town named after their proprietors. There is a family owned hardware store, a bakery, a post office that also serves as a general convenience store and a little gift shop run by a mother and daughter where you can buy small gifts for your friends and family on those special occasions.

The village is alive with shoppers. The streets are abuzz with cars, lories, public buses and farm tractors towing wagons of silage or farm equipment down the main street on their way from one field to the next. It is a place where people still know their neighbors and customers are greeted by their first name more often than not. Relationships are the real treasure you will find here.

It was a striking contrast to the sterile and impersonal world of cookie cutter malls and brand name store fronts in America today. It reminded me that we once had local commerce centered in small towns all across America. We had more civic pride back then, and a deep sense of connection with the people in the community where we shared our time and place. This is a way of living that is quickly disappearing. It is under siege in Ireland as it is everywhere around the globe wherever corporate profits can be extracted from local economies and brand recognition can replace familiar faces. In the process we have lost our connections between farmers and food, craftsmen and products, business owners and commerce.

I was told that all meat sold in Ireland had the name of the farmer and the farm where the livestock was raised. People in Ireland want to know exactly from where their food comes. So I wandered into Brogan’s Butcher Shop across from the post office to look for farm names on the products in the meat case. I was disappointed to find none. Had I been misinformed?

I asked the butcher behind the counter about this. He proudly pointed to the wall where a certificate of origin hung on a nail as he explained that all this meat came from his own family’s farm. “If you want to see a farmer’s name on a piece of meat you’ll have to head back to Ollie Byrd’s,” he said.

Contrast this with the US House of Representatives who on June 11th of this year passed a bill that would eliminate a law requiring country of origin labeling on all U.S. meats. “It sounds like you are heading backwards,” he said to me when I told him this. Indeed it does.

I read that over 90% of all American’s want to know from where their meat comes, and most people I know would love to know more about where all their food is grown. We can’t have real competition in the food industry as long as information like this is hidden from us. So what is behind the passage of this bill to block COOL (country of origin labeling)?

It turns out that Canadian and Mexican meat industry trade groups have sued the United States in the WTO (World Trade Organization) over COOL, saying it constitutes unfair trade practices under international treaties. Specifically, the WTO ruled that:

“The compliance panel found that the amended COOL measure violates Article 2.1 of the TBT Agreement because it accords to Canadian and Mexican livestock less favourable treatment than that accorded to like US livestock. In particular, the compliance panel concluded that the amended COOL measure increases the original COOL measure’s detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported livestock in the US market, because it necessitates increased segregation of meat and livestock according to origin; entails a higher recordkeeping burden; and increases the original COOL measure’s incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.”

This is what we are up against. Giant international corporations battling each other beyond the reach of sovereign countries to create a world more suitable for their financial conquests. Congressional supporters of the measure to eliminate COOL are seeking to avoid the $3.6 billion in potential retaliatory tariffs sought by Canada and Mexico. In the mean time, the US livestock census is at near record lows while beef prices keep climbing into record high territory. What people want no longer matters.

And so it seems as if my place in the world shrinks in significance. The local culture we once created together is now created for us by a process call “marketing.” I fear that one day I will return to Athboy only to find it a hollowed out shell just down the road from a mega-mall that was once the farmer’s field. I find myself mourning what will be lost if things don’t change. Things can change, I tell myself, if enough of us want it. But right now I find myself wishing I had sampled the meats at Brogan’s Butcher Shop.

Understanding Social Power – Part 1

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Part 1 – What is “social Power”

Social power is the force that directs and coordinates human action. It’s that simple, and yet that complex. The non-random acts of others that benefit you in some way is the active form of social power. It is the power to get things done or to stop others from doing things. It is the power to influence the behavior of others to suit your interests.

On a grand scale, social power is the force that makes, grows, sells, protects and transports things. It is the force that gets done all the work it takes for people to live together and thrive. Whenever people collaborate or coordinate, or whenever people act to block the coordination or cooperation of others, these actions are examples of social power at work.

Actions by another can benefit you directly, such as when a volunteer helps you get elected to the school board or when an employee puts in a day’s work at your store. On an personal scale, your social power becomes manifest when a friend drops by to help build your deck or students you teach line up in the hall at your command. The tangible benefits of social power can also be indirect, like when the town paves the road in front of your house or your local grade school wins an academic award thereby raising property values in your community.

Just like energy and power in the field of Physics, social power has both the active state described above and a potential state. Social power is fungible and can be accumulated (stored), traded, transferred to others or spent in exchange for human action. In its potential form, and in certain social contexts, it may rightly be referred to as social capital. At each level of social complexity, social capital takes many forms, each with its own set of symbols and rules.

Think for a moment about all the ways you can influence loved ones, or your peers, the people where you work or play, your customers, the people you meet and so forth. On an interpersonal level you have bonds of love and friendship, personal charm and charisma, verbal skills, maybe an attractive appearance, intelligence, collaborative skills and so on. On a larger scale you have natural abilities, acquired skills, knowledge, wisdom, social connections, organizational position or authority, fame, prestige and your personal accumulation of wealth, to name a few examples.

Wealth is an interesting aspect of social power because it can be more easily quantified. This sets it apart from fame, skill or most other sources of social power. It is easy to transfer or spend. Wealth is as much a medium for the exchange of social power as it is a medium for the exchanges of goods and services, yet wealth as a form of social power is often overlooked. It is studied extensively in the field of Micro and Macro Economics but it is not well integrated into the larger social economy. (More on this topic in part 2 at a later date.)

On a still larger scale, there is great social power in our big human organizations and institutions of government and commerce and religion. There is the coercive social power of great armies and law enforcement agencies. There is immense power organized around ideologies and religions that greatly influence the social behavior of millions of people. There is the power in our great institutions of learning and enormously influential multi-national corporations.

Every organization and every individual has some social capital to influence the behavior of others. A fewer number of groups and individuals have vastly more social capital than most of us. We recognize these powerful people when we are in their presence and it alters our own behavior. Powerful people are able to turn everything to their advantage, which is why they are both feared and respected.

The sum of all actions or potential actions on your behalf, if it could be calculated, would be a measure of your own social power. Most of us have more than we think and all of us could use it to better advantage if we understood it better. But no matter how you calculate your social power, it cannot be precisely measured. There is a perceptual dynamic to it that defies attempts to measure it.

These examples illustrate that social power can be accumulate, converted to other forms, transferred to other people or can be used to coordinate the physical actions of others. These operations are essential to an understanding of social power. But the important starting point is understanding that social power is the force that directs and coordinates human actions.

In the next parts of this discussion I will discuss:

– How social power operates at various scales of social complexity

– How it is accrued, converted for other forms, transferred between people and communicated or spent to bring direct coordinated actions.

—————————————————–

Please see the Introduction to this series at: http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/04/understanding-social-power.html

Declaring War on the Poor

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Thom Tillis is now Senator elect from North Carolina, having beaten Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in the 2014 election. During his campaign Tillis berated the poor and suggested that those people who can’t help being poor, like the truly disabled, should rise up and opposed welfare for the unworthy poor. What he actually said was:

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” 

North Carolina has 1.1 million poor. That’s 13.1% of its population. If these folks voted it would be hard to imagine Tillis getting elected, but Hagan and the Democrats have abandoned the poor and working class in this country as well. Now the poor are under attacks like this:

“We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’ And we’ve got to start having that serious discussion.” – Thom Tillis

Watch for the U.S. Senate to put Tillis on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to replace Kay Hagan. He is destine to become the chair of the Children and Families Sub-committee with his attitudes. His appointment would amount to a declaration of war on the poor.

So how should sensible people respond to divisive attacks like this on the poor and vulnerable? Should we begin making similar distinctions between the worthy and unworthy rich? Should we affirm those who earned their great wealth and provide social benefit but rescind all advantages given to those who use their inherited wealth to squeeze the people and their government for still more?

How we respond to these questions will define who we are as a nation.

How Free is “Free Will”

by Brian T. Lynch

This is purely my opinion, but my understanding of “Free Will” is very narrow compared to most people I talk to about it. I see it as something that emerges gradually along a continuum from actions that are totally coercive to purely rational and independent. It isn’t an all or nothing phenomenon, as some see it. I exclude all impulsive actions taken due to internal urges from my definition since urges aren’t rational and follow from completely different pathways in the brain. Also, actions that spring from emotions may or may not involve free will in my view. It is here that the gradual blossoming of free will is most evident. 

When ever we act to satisfy urges or emotions we really cannot distinguish “free will” from the actions taken since acting on a urge feels identical to acting by choice.. That is why people don’t even know they are addicted to something until they discover they can’t simply choose to stop. Addiction in insidious that way. No one can say for sure that they smoke by choice after that first cigarette because even six months later the brain can trigger powerful urges for another cigarette.

The same holds true, by degree, with our emotions. We can’t know for certain if we are acting on free will when we acquiesce to our feelings since emotions can also overpower free will. We even say we are “acting on our emotions” to explain certain behaviors, but it still feels exactly like a choice, even if we can’t help it. So inwardly speaking, we can only no for sure that we are acting on free will when our actions are contrary to both our urges and our feelings. It is only when we place them in check that we can know for sure we are acting on our own free will.

That said, what about free will in circumstances when our only available options for action are proscribed by others, or by circumstances out of our control? If we have no choice but to act, do we have free will? If we have only bad choices, are we exercising free will by making that bad choice? Was Socrates exercising free will when he choose to drink hemlock rather than face a public execution? It so, and I believe he was exercising free will, then a limited form of free will must exist even under extreme forms of coercion.

How we define “free will” has enormous social and political implications because it thereby defines how responsible individuals are for their actions. It is here we see the continuum of emerging free will run its course. Some folks believe everyone is 100% responsible for their actions. They might then blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick (live style choices) and would probably not accept an insanity defense for crimes committed by the insane. Speaking of justice, we see the role “free will” plays in our action played being calculated in criminal sentencing hearings when mitigating and aggravating circumstances are used to determine appropriate punishment. We punish people for criminal intent but not acquit them, or lighten their punishment if they were not in control of their actions.

These are just examples. In fact, we use these sort of calculations everyday with each other or our children in judging their actions and in modulating our responses. So the idea that free will is an all or nothing phenomenon just isn’t born out in our every day experience.

Anyway, here is an interesting article on the subject.

It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells…

SLATE.COM

“Serve and Protect” or “Enforce and Collect” The Changing Character of Local PD

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Police officers come in two basic flavors, the “serve and protect” peace officers and the “enforce and collect” enforcement officers. These represent (in the overly simplified terms used here) two fundamentally different and incompatible philosophies that are competing for the heart and soul of the profession. I needn’t mention which view is winning out since 9/11. Still, the drama playing out among departments also plays out within departments, which might help account for some of the reasons behind the article below. You might not see it at first, but so often the emotional motivations behind what seems like petty disputes are really underlying rifts involving fundamentally different world views. That’s what I suspect is happening here in New Jersey and elsewhere around the country.

http://j.mp/1nP5kBV

Good Cop, Bad Cop: How Infighting is Costing NJ Taxpayers

Police officers across the state are suing fellow cops and departments over everything from sexual harassment to being sent home for wearing the wrong shoes — and residents are footing the bill. We unearthed the details, and the latest tally.

In the opening account in this article a female officer in Camden is made Chief of Police. When she inspects the unmarked car that comes with the job she discovers that one of her fellow officers planted crack cocaine in the car to derail her promotion and her life. Incidents like this reveal just how serious the clash of ideologies can be within public police departments.

I had a good friend who spent his entire career in local police departments. He dedicated himself to serving the public. Sometimes that meant arresting people who endangered others or disturbed the peace, but it also meant going the extra mile to help out a resident in a pinch. In smaller towns and communities it isn’t all bad guys all the time. He was never cynical or jaded by his work, but his philosophy on small town policing set him at odds with a segment of his fellow officers. It played out in many internal conflicts and unfavorable personnel decisions over the course of his career. In the end he retired early in part because of the hostility he felt in the workplace.

I have other police officer friends, even some who are of the “enforce and collect” variety who received negative attention in their careers when they strayed a bit from that philosophy. Another person I know who aspires to be a police officer was turned off by the militancy and hardnosed cynicism that has been built into the police training curriculum. Just what does the current police training curriculum look like these days? The public has a right to know.

What all this really means is that the drama playing out in society as a whole between ultra-conservative ideologies and more liberal ideologies is also playing out in all our institutions, including police agencies. Local departments are not immune to what affects society as a whole. What’s different here is that even small, local police departments shun transparency. While they work for the public they tend to view us as civilians outside of their fraternity. It is hard to penetrate a Departments cultural view. At the same time, there is clearly money and military style equipment flowing into even local law enforcement agencies, which serves to alter the character of local policing.

These changes are real. What is missing, in addition to transparency, is a robust public debate on what role we want local police to play in our communities. Are we aware of the changes character of our local police departments and are we comfortable with those changes?

Hey Main Street, Meet Your Wall Street Landlords

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

If you lost your home when Wall Street investment bankers made a hash of the home mortgage industry, you may be terrified to learn they want to become your landlord.

Up to now most single home rentals have been owned by local owners or regional companies. Private equity firms are taking advantage of loopholes in financial regulation and the depressed housing market to create national home rental corporations. They are scooping up foreclosed homes at fire sale prices all across the country and turning them into rentals. Their ultimate aim is to turn the equity in all those rental agreements into rent-backed securities that can be bought and sold on Wall Street. (Gentlemen, place your bets!)

Under this business model, the equity present in rental agreements will be aggregated into tranches based on confidence in the financial ability of the tenants pay their rent. The collateralized security instruments from these tranches will have various rates of return based on risk factors from the underlying leases. Should these rent-backed securities default, the security owners may even have an ownership stake in the properties to fall back on. If you haven’t heard about this before, you can read more in the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Finance or one of several good articles in Mother Jones.

The initial sale of rent-backed securities by these corporations will allow them to free up equity in these properties to purchase even more distressed homes. If the underlying financial structure of these plans sounds familiar, it should. Substitute mortgage equity for equity in these lease agreements and the securitized bonds are nearly identical to mortgage backed securities that inflated the housing bubble and crashed the economy in 2008. The only element missing so far are the “credit default swaps” inside investors bought to bet that the mortgage bonds would fail.

Hubris is the word that comes to mind when considering that the same class of players who foreclosed on the American Dream now want to be our landlord under these same self-serving schemes.

To be fair, the concept of private equity firms buying distressed houses to fix up and rent does has merit. Turning vacant houses into renovated rental properties has a positive patina best explained in theirpromotional videos.

Moreover, whenever investment money is applied directly to tangible projects that benefit ordinary families it is always a blessing. It brings jobs, boosts local economies, improves the quality of life and strengthens families.

If Wall Street investors could just be satisfied with the profound social benefits and ordinary financial returns on their investments it would be great. In fact, it is what Wall Street owes Main Street for all the pain they inflicted. But social benefits are not the things they value these days, and ordinary investment returns are never good enough. They must relentlessly drive to maximize profits.

Scratch the surface on their nationalized real estate plans and ominous consequences emerge. Ask yourself, what type of landlords will these national private equity firms become?

On April 15, 2014, the grass roots housing advocacy organization, Occupy Our Homes Atlanta (OOHA), published their “grassroots research” to answer that question. They looked at the earliest entrant into this field, the Blackstone Group, which owns Hilton Hotels, the Weather Channel, Sea World and Invitation Homes, a subsidiary that has purchased tens of thousands of homes across the country.

Here is some background on the Blackstone group. It is a private equity firm with global real estate holdings in the U.S., Parts of Europe and China. According to Jon Gray, the Head of Global Real Estate for Blackstone, their real estate holdings make up 60% of their assets, or around $80 billion dollars. It is already the largest landlord in the united states and it sees the distressed U.S. housing market as a growth opportunity.

According to an April 9th, 2014, interview Gray gave on the Fox News network “… distressed asset pricing is attractive,” with single family homes selling for less than half their pre-recession values in parts of Europe and the U.S. Blackstone has already purchased 47,000 foreclosure homes in 14 US cities, spending $8 billion dollars, or an average of $190,000 per home. Blackstone is betting on rising housing prices in part because depressed new home construction is a third of what it was before the recession.

What Blackstone doesn’t say can be found in the OOAH research report on how this nation’s biggest landlord has affected renters in Atlanta. Families who rent from Invitation Homes in the Atlanta area face higher rents, higher rental fees, less responsive property management service and some even face automatic rent increases as high as 20% per year. The OOAH report caught the attention of Congressman Mark Takano, who sent out a disturbing press release highlighting some of the findings ( appended below).

And there are other potentially negative consequences yet to follow. Tenancy laws and regulations are diverse across the states and local municipalities to reflect local and regional values. What impact might the power of national corporate landlords have in influencing those laws to suit their business interests?

The shame of it all is that most of the former home owners now renting from private equity landlords would still be in their own homes if it hadn’t been more profitable for banks to foreclose than to participate in the federal government’s HAMP, HARP, PRA or 2MP mortgage assistance programs. But then, if that happened, this private equity investment opportunity wouldn’t exist today, would it?

————————————————————–

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Contact: Brett Morrow

brett.morrow@mail.house.gov; (202) 225-2305

 

Rep. Mark Takano Statement on “Blackstone: Atlanta’s Newest Landlord” Report

Washington DC – Earlier today, the organization Occupy Our Homes Atlanta released its report titled “Blackstone: Atlanta’s Newest Landlord” showing that:

· Tenants wishing to stay in their homes can face automatic rent increases as much as 20% annually.

· Survey participants living in Invitation Homes pay nearly $300 more in rent than the Metro Atlanta median.

· 45% of survey participants pay more than 30% of their income on rent, by definition making the rent unaffordable.

· Tenants face high fees, including a $200 late fee for rental payments.

· 78% of the surveyed tenants do not have consistent or reliable access to the landlord or property manager.

After the report was released, Rep. Mark Takano issued the following statement:

“The report released today gives a snapshot of the experiences faced by Invitation Homes renters in the greater Atlanta area, and further shows the need for Congress and regulatory agencies to examine the growing phenomenon of large institutional investors owning rental properties. Local residents who rent from large institutional investors should not be subjected to unfair practices or poor service. I once again call on the House Financial Services committee to hold hearings on the issue, and request regulatory agencies begin looking at the emerging REO to rental market.”

Background Information:

In January, Rep. Takano released his Riverside” report examining the cause of rising rents in Riverside County, California. In the report, Takano discovered that one of the potential causes of rents increasing is the rise of large institutional investors purchasing single-family homes, renting them out.

Takano then sent a letter to House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Ranking Member Maxine Waters requesting Congressional hearings into single-family rental backed securities that are being developed by The Blackstone Group, Colony Capital, American Homes 4 Rent, and others.

Takano later sent letters to federal regulators, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, requesting information about how institutional landlords can impact local housing markets and the tenant experience.

###

 

Brett Morrow

Communications Director | Congressman Mark Takano

1507 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515

Office: (202) 225-2305 | Cell: 202-440-2268

 

Image Credits:

House Image : (World Law Directory) http://www.worldlawdirect.com/forum/law-wiki/12476-unlawful-detainer.html

Jon Gray Image: (Fox News Network) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5pGbKGQtrU)

Wall Street: (Google Images) etruthseeker.co.uk/?p=54365

Understanding Intelligence – Essential for a Rational World

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW 

What I really want to write about are the practical implications of a new theory of human intelligences, but this will have to wait. The problem is that emerging knowledge about the workings of our cerebral cortex has not yet been widely shared. It hasn’t caught the attention of the popular press. Whenever I start to make some connection between an experience and how it relates to how our brain functions, I have to backtrack and offer an explanation of the new theory. Whatever point I was trying to make gets lost and my friends grow impatient.

What’s needed are brief summaries explaining aspects of how intelligence works. The summaries need to be clear enough to spark interest and promote more understanding. I know I am hungry for this kind of knowledge. Understanding the brain is truly the last frontier of science. Our mind, with its trillions of neural connections, is the deepest mystery in the universe. Everything we know of the world outside ourselves is contained in this single organ. The research that I will try to summarize here relates only to human intelligence and not to other functions of the brain. It doesn’t specifically relate to the mysteries of self-awareness or personality. And yet, understanding the workings of this thin, convoluted layer of cerebral cortex covering our more primitive brain is essential to solving the bigger mysteries of who we are.

Our Intelligent Brain

So, how does our intelligent brain work? There are some good and important books on the subject. The one I rely on here is called “On Intelligence”, by Jeff Hawking’s and Sandra Blakeslee. It is lay account of a theory on intelligence, but beware, some of its chapters are a bit technical.

Here is just one aspect of how the cerebral cortex works that I found interesting. Our intelligent brain is constantly detecting and anticipating patterns. The cortex is a pattern maker. It organizes sensory and worldly experience into patterns at every level of detail from the smallest sensory inputs to the biggest concepts of how the world works. It integrates these patterns into ever larger concepts or images until, at the highest levels, our brain creates an enduring image of the world around us. This image of the world, while enduring, is also malleable and responsive to new insights and information. Importantly, our intelligent brain is constantly predicting what to expect next from our sensory field.

Our brain anticipates everything that we see, feel, hear, taste or smell. It expects that similar circumstances will produce the same or similar sensory experiences. The strength of these expectations grows stronger the more they are reinforced by past experiences. Our brains also have a higher expectation of seeing certain patterns when these patterns are well integrated into the bigger picture of the world created in our brains. So strong are these patterns that even when we only see portions of them our brain recognizes the whole. For example, if we only see the eye and nose of a friend in a picture we recognize that person as our friend. If we see three dots on a page we might recognize that they form a triangle without seeing any lines between the dots. Seeing part of an image is enough for our brains to know what the whole pattern or image looks like.

The Intelligent Sub-Conscious

What’s remarkable about brain pattern recognition is that most of it happens at the subconscious level. Here is a little experiment to demonstrate what I mean. Place your hand on a wooden door near you and then grabbed the doorknob. Nothing about this experience surprises you, right? It’s just an everyday experience. And until I mention that the metal doorknob feels cooler than the door, you may not have noticed. That’s because your brain expected that pattern. Your brain knows metal feels cooler than wood every time you touch them in a room. You might even know the scientific reason for this is that wood and metal have different rates of conduction. Your brain expected these to items to feel different, so there was no need to alert your conscious brain. If the doorknob had felt warmer or soft your brain would have alerted your conscious mind immediately.

During every waking moment our senses are continuously bombarded with stimuli. What we see, or hear is constantly changing and billions of impulses reach our brain every instant. If our intelligent brain had to analyze every electro-chemical pulse it would be overwhelmed with data. Instead, our brain only has to recognize challenges to the familiar patterns stored within our cortex. Computers, on the other hand, have to process every byte of informational every time it is presented or else it freeze.

How Our Cortex is Structured

 

At every scale of human experience, our brain expects certain patterns to emerge from our sensory field. To accomplish this our cortex is made up of seven distinct layers on a horizontal axis and billions of distinct, hierarchical columns on the vertical axis. Additionally, each vertical column is connected to other vertical columns by a neural network, and information super highway system. The seven levels of each neural column is also connected to each other by neural pathways. This makes our cortex massively interconnected.

The first, or bottom layer of cortex only recognizes the electro-chemical patterns that come directly from the sense organs. The complexity of recognizable patterns grows with each ascending layer of cortex. For example, on the lowest level of the visual cortex area only specific geometric patterns will be recognized by particular columns. Combining this low level information from many nearby columns might cause the next level of cortex to recognize that these lower level patterns represent a human nose. At a subsequently higher layer of cortex the patterns represented by that nose and maybe an eye or other facial features recognized by still other columns might confirm that these patterns belong to the face of a friend. And so it goes until at the highest cortical levels our brain creates an enduring mental representation of the person we are visiting with, the room in which we are standing and all of the surroundings around us.

Another feature of our cerebral cortex is that it has more neural feedback connections then uptake, or feedforward connections. That means there are more neural connections from higher layers of the cortex to the lower layers of the cortex. This structure enables the higher levels of the cortex to tell lower levels what patterns they should expect to emerge from the sensory field. When columns in the lower cortex see an anticipated patterns, they signal back that they are satisfied. But when the lower levels of the cortex see something unexpected, they pass this additional information up the line to the next higher level. If that level of the cortex can’t resolve the pattern conflict, it passes these signals on to the next higher level, and so on, until some higher level of the cortex can make sense of the information. Most of these pattern conflicts are resolved subconsciously, but occasionally they pop into our highest executive level, which is our conscious mind. Our attention will suddenly focus on this unexpected thing that has disrupted our stream of conscious thoughts.

Intelligence and Consciousmess

As we move through the day our brain alerts our conscious self to only those things which need our attention. For example, we might slip on an old pair of shoes and walk around without thinking much about how they feel, but if a pebble suddenly gets caught in our shoe we become aware of the new sensation. (“Excuse me, self, but a pebble may have entered your shoe.”) If we put on a new pair of shoes we notice how differently they feel until we get use to them. If they don’t fit correctly we are annoyingly aware of them until we take them off. But for the most part we are not conscious of the millions of patterns, large or small, that our intelligent brain processes every day. Most of our intelligence activity is at work in our subconscious mind.

This ability to expect and process normal pattern activity without having to attend to everything we see or hear allows our brain to focus attention on the rapidly changing information that is most important to our survival. It allows us to listen and process what someone is saying while ignoring a passing car. It allows us to assess traffic movements at an intersection without being distracted by the radio. This is important because our capacity for consciousness is a limited resource. Our intelligent brain must conserve this executive function and use it for only the most salient and important aspects of our sensory field.

Introspection and Intentionality

But we are also able to focus attention on patterns of thought or behavior that are not otherwise calling for our conscious attention. We can introspectively direct our focus to examine the patterns and associations stored in our cortex. We are not a passive audience to our senses. We have a conscious mind with which we can look inwardly to examine our intelligent brain. We can learn things about how the real world is structured from the patterns created in our cortex. We can also rearrange or re-associate these patterns when we find errors in the way they have formed (cognitive therapy being one dramatic example). We can perceive gaps in our knowledge of things and direct our own behavior to gather more information.

Implications for Conscous Thoughts

Our brain forms patterns from sensory input whether we are aware of it or not. This leads me to one of the major implications that I would like to discuss further in a future post. Our intelligent brain is forming patterns and associations based on what we may be seeing or hearing even when we aren’t paying conscious attention. We know that repetition strengthens patterns and associations.

Advertisers and marketers know this as well. They choose words and images to invoke associations most favorable to their purposes and use repetition to reinforce and strengthen those associations within our cerebral cortex. The marketing of ideas and products is effective even when we aren’t paying conscious attention to the ads. Think about that the next time you are wandering around a supermarket. Think about it in connection with our political campaigns and the public dialogue we watch on TV or listen to on the radio.

When we commonly think about intelligence we usually limit our discussion to our conscious problem solving ability. We usually don’t consider that most of our brains intelligent activity happens at the subconscious level. We are not aware of the extent to which false patterns of information can subconsciously form to subsequently influence our conscious choices and opinions. In a future posting I hope to expand on this topic. I believe we can inoculate ourselves against propaganda and false advertising, but only if we have a better understanding of how our intelligent brain operates.

In Defense of Bureaucracy

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

images

People often accuse the Federal  government of being an entrenched bureaucracy, which it is. They blame the bureaucracy for all of the government’s problems, but the truth is a bit more complex. After all, it isn’t the bureaucracy passing sweetheart legislation, it is our elected un-representatives. The bureaucracy may write the rules but it does not runs the show.

Believe me, having worked in the bureaucracy my entire career, I can tell you it isn’t in charge. It is subject to enormous political pressures from elected executives, representatives and even the courts. No rules are passed without political sign off. Elected official send their political appointees deeply into the bureaucratic hierarchy to infiltrate and transform their missions. Politicians often say one thing and do another, using the bureaucracy as their cover. In truth, bureaucracies are only as good as the politicians we elect to run them.

Obamacare is a great illustration of this. In states where the chief executive wants it to work the bureaucracy has created workable systems and overcome large obstacles to make it work.  In states where the chief executive would like to see it fail the bureaucracy has made a hash of things.  I call it planned incompetence. The bureaucrats were given a mixed mandate to create a faulty system to prove the politicians position that Obamacare doesn’t work and that government doesn’t work.  Bureaucracies are tools that can be used for good or evil by people in power. Bureaucracies are the interface between ordinary citizens and political rulers.

Did you know that the modern bureaucratic government structure was established by an enlightened English King (one of the Henry’s) to assure that his erratic, sometimes irrational sons could not, on a whim, destroy the good government administration he created to serve his people?  We don’t think much about it today, but bureaucracy still serves a vital, useful purpose in assuring the smooth and planful administration of government.

The very characteristic most often criticized, its slowness to respond, is also its primary benefit.  It methodically operationalizes the dictates of our political rulers to maintain continuity and order in government administration, not that it always succeeds. But if we didn’t have it we would be subject to every impulse  of the chief executives and this would lead to real chaos in government services. So while I am quick and well experienced to criticize the bureaucracy, I am less inclined to condemn it.

Tyranny of the Minority – Part 2: Rise of the Neo-Confederate Secessionists

Graycoat Conservatives – The Neo-Confederate Secessionists

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

 They are still small in number, but spread widely across the county. They are articulate, highly motivated and influential members within the Tea Party, the Christian right movement, Libertarians groups and nationalist groups in every state. They are the philosophic rear guard of the conservative movement  pulling conservatives ever further to the right. They may not have a central organization, but they do have a significant social media presence. They remain under the radar of the national press which fails to take them seriously. The best way to find them is to type “secessionist” into your internet search engine.  They are the Neo-Confederates, a polarizing counter-force behind the growing rift in the Republican Party.

The secessionists anti-government interests overlap with the corporate conservative wing of the  Republican Party, and both groups favor free market economics, but the graycoat conservatives envision a very different America. So while wealthy conservatives continue to fund the Tea Party, graycoat conservatives are busy winning over hearts and minds to their radical alternative.

The following graphic is taken from one of the many secessionist Websites. It maps the number of secessionist petitioners from around the country. In effect it shows where they are most active and how they are distributed across the country. It doesn’t represent how popular or unpopular the movement might be.


Plotting whitehouse.gov secession petitions

Sessionist Petition Activity

Signers to White House secession petitions by county. Color based on proportion of residents signing, with darker colors showing higher levels of secession support. Current as of 9am on Saturday, November 24th. Works best in Chrome or Safari.

Update: It looks like the secession petition movement has peaked.

Since Election Day, more than 60 petitions have been posted on the White House’s website requesting that states be allowed to withdraw from the United States and create their own government. As of November 13, 2012, the following states had active petitions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virginias, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. [http://www.unc.edu/~ncaren/secessionists/]


A 2009 Zogby poll quoted on a number of secessionist Websites found that 20% of American’s believe states have a right to secede from the Union.  Just today (12/18/13) Michael Hill, President of one of the Southern groups called League of the South, posted ten reasons for secession. They are:


  1. The U. S. government is an organized criminal enterprise, secession is the only way to return to legitimate government
  2. The U. S. economy is failing, secession makes economic sense
  3. The South’s unique history and culture is worth protecting
  4. The criminal nature of the bank bailouts and the Fed
  5. A dysfunctional national electoral system, secession may be the only way to restore integrity to elections
  6. Third World immigration into the South, secession removes the federal government’s interference and lack of performance
  7. Organic community vs. the globalism of the elites
  8. The implementation of an American police/surveillance state
  9. The Christian South v. secular America, secession provides the opportunity to return to Our Founding Principles

10. Because we think we can rule ourselves better than we are being ruled by DC, secession is a path to American Liberty http://dixienet.org/rights/2013/reasons_for_secession.php]


What  these secessionist groups most have in common is a desire  to facilitate the collapse of the Federal Government and the breakup of the Union of States.  They see this as the natural and inevitable course of history. As they see it, every great empire has followed this path.

applepie

They oppose all forms of collectivism and eschew society as we know it. Among some groups there is a distinct “cultural” component. All groups seem to  reject  democratic majority rule.  As one of them put it to me, ”  

According to one person who wrote me, they are, “… committed to the cause of individual liberty and [individual] sovereignty. [They] would prefer secession, to revolution.”  But revolution it will be if the majority opinion of the Americans go against them. They have a strong patriotic connection to our founding fathers even though their commitment to our Union is weak. Pin them down and they reluctantly choose the union of states over a return to a confederacy, but only if the Federal governments control over the states is weakened and individuals are free from all federal interference.

If you start to pin these folks down in a debate they squirm away. They are viscerally opposed to the our system of government, their anti-federal rage concealed only by their passion for an extreme interpretation of individual rights and freedoms. These passions are covered over by a thin veneer of selective scholarship. Scratch the scholarship and their passion flares. Challenge their constitutional interpretations and they circle the wagons.

They have no sense of responsibility towards society and nothing but contempt for majority rule. They believe the majority of American’s is just another special interest group, and one that is biased against minority rights. When majorities opinions prevail they force minorities to accede to their will which violates their rights. This is how they interpret the Constitution.

The only legitimate role they see for the federal government is the protection of the individual’s right to follow their conscience within Constitutionally defined boundaries. One major flashpoint seems to be taxes. They don’t want to pay any federal taxes, but when pressed say they agree to contribute only for spending within the limits of their narrow interpretation of the governments enumerated powers.

They resent being forced to pay taxes for national parks, education, environmental protection, food and drug administration, foreign diplomacy administration or anything else that isn’t specifically named in our Constitution. They claim a sovereign right not to pay for anything outside of the federal governments enumerated powers, as they define it. They reject all collectivism. For example they resent that the Federal government spends any money on highways and bridges, believing federal spending should be restricted to “postal roads.”

As one person wrote: ” For [the federal government] to “do” it must take. That violates rights. The only function of [government] is protect rights, not “do.”

Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is the source of their narrow interpretation of federal powers. Their interpretation provides all the justification they require.  Below is a reprint from one of their Websites that lists the enumeration of federal powers which they feel the government has exceeded.  These powers are listed on the Tenth Amendment Center Website where the members call themselves “Tenthers.:  [http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/]

Disdain for the Federal Government or any large democracy is a central feature for these neo-confederate groups.  They see majority as a special interest and would strip the government of its ability to show any favoritism to all special interests. This suggests that the only role of government must be the protection of the individuals rights yet they may concede collective rights to businesses. Perhaps this is why it is so important that corporations be viewed as people. It gives them individual status while denying other types of organization status as a collective entity.


 MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE PAPER V

http://middleburyinstitute.org/rightsandfreedoms.html

March 2007 – Introduction to “Minimal Rights and Freedoms of Individuals in a Sovereign State”

Because questions keep coming up as to the kinds of states that secessionist organizations are working toward, and because each organization in the movement has an interest in the objectives of any other organization, it seemed to us here that it might be appropriate to send out a suggested platform of the rights and freedoms that might be guaranteed to individuals in any future seceded state. [SNIP]  There are important issues here and we hope you take them seriously.

MINIMAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS OF INDIVIDUALS IN A SOVEREIGN STATE

Rights to

                     Life, liberty, security
Equality before the law
Trial before competent tribunal, due process, counsel, appeal
Possess property and not be arbitrarily deprived thereof
Periodic elections with universal adult suffrage
Secession by any coherent unit

Freedoms of
Speech, opinion, expression in any media
Peaceable assembly, association
Belief, thought, religion, worship
Movement within any state, and to leave and return

Freedoms from
Slavery or servitude
Discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion,
political belief, nationality, property, or birth
Torture or degrading treatment
Arbitrary arrest or detention
Invasion of privacy
Arbitrary deprivation of citizenship
Any action by the state to destroy or deny any of these rights and freedoms

Signators:

Middlebury Institute, February 2007
Second Vermont Republic, March 2007
Southern National Congress Committee, March 2007


The role of a state to infringe on individual rights is not well thought out among members of this group. Because states are smaller they believe them to be inherently less intrusive in the lives of individuals. They consider themselves to have an individual right to not be “interfered with” by any government, but apparently feel that smaller, state governments would be easier to control.  In a large constitutional democracy, such as the United States, a majority opinion is viewed as a form of tyranny against individual dissenters, even if that majority opinion is deemed constitutional according the the Supreme Court. On the other hand, they don’t see anything wrong with a minority group preventing the majority from governing in opposition to them. They see this as their right and duty as “soverigien citizens.” It isn’t clear whether this is true only when the minority feels the government is legislating beyond its enumerated powers, or if they claim this right under all circumstances.  As one person put it:

“But you don’t see that resisting (but not compelling) action from a majority isn’t a tyranny of the minority? The minority isn’t forcing the majority to do anything, only to refrain from forcing the minority to do something. The rights of any minority supersede the wants or needs of any majority.”

In the face debt ceiling financial cliffs, government shut downs, and the nearly total inability of Congress to pass legislation, it is time to recognize that there are forces on the far right, and in Congress, who see this as successful strategy.  Their intentions are malevolent and quite contrary to the motivations most often attributed to them by political analysts in the main stream press. It is time to pay attention to these groups and their impact on American politics. A failure to open a public debate that directly confronts both the graycoat secessionists and the corporate elite now would be a huge mistake.

Tyranny of the Minority – Losing Majority Rule

Part 1 – Losing Majority Rule

Most people pay attention to pocketbook issues that affect our family or retirement, but quite understandably avoid the rancorous politics we see on TV. There is a sense that government is failing because elected officials can’t agree and the country is evenly divided, but many important issues do get rationally settled in the opinion of vast majorities of the public.

For example,a large majority agree that global warming is happening and we are causing it in some way. Almost 90% of us agree we spend too much on defense. Large majorities believe we should generate more electricity from wind and solar. About 80% of us believe there should be universal background checks on gun sales and almost everyone agrees that big banks caused the great recession. Despite a near consensus on these and other issues there is gridlock in Washington. 

One explanation is that there is not a lot of passion behind these majority views, so meaningful change against an organized and well funded opposition is out of reach. In the face of majority agreement, Congress fails to act, or act contrary to the will of its citizens. On the surface it may seem like political gridlock between evenly matched forces, but this is an illusion. There are many issues supported by majorities in both parties that can’t even get a hearing in Congress because a tiny minority who oppose it are able to kill it. This is tyranny by the minority when the majority isn’t allowed to govern. To understand what’s happening really requires us to pierce the noise of partisanship and media bias. 

The voting majority has lost its ability to govern. In frustration more and more ordinary citizens feel alienated or betrayed, leaving us vulnerable to the radical fringe.

MajRuleProtest

Evidencethat the majority has lost the ability to govern is everywhere. The smallest special interest group, the wealthy elite, are by far the most influential and obvious force in Congress. CEO’s of major corporations testified in Congress that they don’t want or need tax subsidies and Congress increases their subsidies. Wall Street asks for and got billions in bailout money with no strings attached. Try to attach some strings or implement substantial financial reform and Congress kills it, either outright or later on through the budget process. There is evidence of the failure of majority rule in the way the filibuster has shut down open debate and killed popular legislation. There is evidence in the inability of Congress to debate and vote on immigration reform, which is popular and has strong bi-partisan support. The debt ceiling crisis, the budget cliffs and the government shutdown are all signs that the majority has lost control of the federal government. The growing assault on voting rights, recently passed anti-abortion legislation and the imposition of emergency managers over democratically elected city and municipal leaders are other examples. 

The truth is forces on the political spectrum are not evenly matched. Many political battles are asymmetrical. The nations shift to the right is mostly due to the success of highly motivated and well funded conservative action groups. For example there are right wing Christian groups opposed to secular society and what they see as moral decay. These groups promote socially conservative issues. There are Tea Party groups opposed to taxes. They promote free market capitalism and limited government. Then there are many extreme nationalists groups, gun rights groups, militial groups and the like. All of these groups have different aims but are drawn together by strong anti-tax, anti-government sentiments and by at least a laissez-faire view of capitalism. 

Money and organizational clout for these action groups comes mostly from wealthy capitalists who want to weaken the power of government to tax and regulate commerce. There is an anti-government alignment of interests between the wealthy elite and each of these groups. 

There is another, less visible segment in these groups as well, a far right group with a welll defined ideology but no central organization. These are the real insurgents fighting for control of the Republican Party. Their goal is to dismantle the Federal government as we know it, limiting its powers to the narrowest extent possible under their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. They are the members of the Tea Party who pull it further to the right. They are the members of conservative Christian right groups that fan the flames of anti-government rhetoric. Some belong to hate groups, conservative issues groups or libertarian organizations. Everywhere they show up they agitate to pull the organization further to the ideological right by sowing dissatisfaction with our Federal government. They seek an individual level of freedom that transends any personal responsibility to society or majority rule. 

Who are these far right ideologues and what do they want?

Imagine a future in which our Federal government is forced to cut back on every service or function not specifically named in the U.S. Constitution. What if, to keep Wyoming and a few other Mid-West and South-Western states from seceding, we give up our national parks. These are sold off to corporation such as Disney, ExxonMobil, Boise Cascade, Massey Energy Corp. and various land development corporations.  Under this scenario Texas or some other states may have already seceded and we now have to worry about the nuclear armed country of Texas on our southern border.

Imagine the Federal government no longer able fund departments and agencies over the objection of a minority of sovereign citizens. Gone are the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, Transportation.. all gone and replaced by individual state control, subject to the ability to fund them over the objections of “sovereign citizens” in each state.

The Environmental protection agency, The FDA, FCC, SEC and almost all federal regulatory agencies would all be gone. These are considered outside the enumerated powers of the Federal government. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are obviously gone as well. It is up to the sovereign citizens of each state to decide what they decide to fund or not fund within their own state.

In this future all Federal powers would be limited strictly to military defense, protection of the rights of individuals with respect to constitutional liberties and settling interstate commerce disputes among the states. In this future citizens could target where their tax money goes. In effect, majority rule would be subject to minority consent, in fact to consent by each sovereign citizen’s consent.

 Continued in Part 2 – Meet the Gray Coat Conservatives.

(Part 2 will detail the belief system of the neo-confederate conservative)