Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives adamantly oppose government programs because they say they believe that everything can be done better by the private sector, by capitalists, than can be achieved through any government program. (Well think about it for a minute, which works better, the public option in the ACA or the private prisons for criminals and immigrants?) Further, these Conservatives argue, large public programs that help people who are disabled, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are children, who are sick, and who are old are socialist programs and Americans are not socialists.

Our forefathers were farmers and entrepreneurs, in other words, capitalists, but they did not mandate any particular economic system for our young nation, and since socialism and communism both came out of Europe in the 1900’s, they probably didn’t even imagine that such an economic idea might exist one day. In the 30’s there was a pretty prominent movement of socialists in America, especially when the stock market crashed and the nation was slogging through a Great Depression. Many of our social safety net programs originate from those days of bread lines.

In the 1950’s communism had a moment of philosophical consideration by some Americans but was brutally stomped out by McCarthyism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) (WI) mowed down anyone who had ever even whispered to a communist, or at least he tried. People were black-listed and lost their jobs often for no reason except McCarthy’s say-so. Communism certainly did not fare well in the USSR and proved to be as corruptible as any government/economy. Interest in communism waned in America. Conservatives insist that capitalism is the only economic model that matches with democracy. Here’s a quote from The American Conservative offered up on June, 6, 2019, “Socialism will Always Destroy Democracy”. (Although it seems to me that Conservatism is doing a pretty good job of that these days.)

By definition (Merriam Webster) “Socialism definition is – any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Strictly speaking none of the benefit programs produce anything or distribute any goods. They involve budget items that describe how we the people wish to spend our money. In a time, like now, of great income inequality, where we the people are a bit short of money because recent laws have favored the wealthy, and have allowed them to own an inordinate proportion of our nation’s wealth, these same wealthy Americans are telling us that they do not want to spend their money on a safety net. They also let us know that they have not left us enough money and that we cannot afford to spend our money that way either.

But the story they always tell us, about the mismatch between democracy and social programs that they label as socialism is not borne out in the real world. Canada is a thriving democracy with a very sound social safety net. There are many such nations around the world.

Conservatives still tell us these messages constantly. Capitalism rules. We don’t have enough money to offer benefits.

Of course, Conservatives go beyond this. They tell us that using our money to lift up the less fortunate, or any of us in a moment of misfortune is harmful to us and to society as a whole. It destroys initiative (hard to prove) and poor, sick, old, disabled people or people being discriminated against would rise higher, fight harder without “free” money. However, getting rid of the social safety net might also be a good way to bring back plagues, which were common before there were humanitarian programs.

Conservatives convince people who need to benefit from these programs that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are collecting the benefits that citizens’ taxes have paid for, and there does seem to be some truth to that, but numbers are not huge and cutting off benefits to “the undeserving” seems to mean cutting off benefits to everyone.  Conservatives convince people of the unfairness of it all, they label it socialism and people end up voting against their own best interests.

Conservatives want to stay in the Industrial Age although the factories they long for have fled or switched to robotics. They want to stick to fossil fuels. It is all about money and profits. To do this against all evidence that industry has moved on to nations with cheaper labor and lots of laborers, and that burning fossil fuels is destroying a planet we don’t know how to escape from, means that holding on to power is essential. Without power the Conservative dream topples and the gravy train travels on more than just one track. I doubt we’ll see our money come back to us anytime soon.

Conservatives may be able to hold on to the 50’s or whatever was their favorite age, but for the rest of us we feel the end of the Industrial Age in our everyday lives, we are not all prepared to participate in the Tech Age, and that leaves a lot of us in a sort of economic limbo that can be quite scary. This is no time to take away the social safety net. And this is certainly no time to take it away because of a label. The social safety net is about people and it functions well in many democracies. At the very least Conservatives need to come up with something better than the same old arguments.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Atlantic

Foreign Policy and the 2020 Election

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach? Will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post-war organizations and alliances? Or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy?

On Tuesday, 2.19.19, when Mike Pence, the American VP said he was speaking at the Munich Security Conference on behalf of Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, he waited for applause from the gathered world leaders after he passed on the greeting that Donald Trump had sent to his peers. There was only silence.

Also on Tuesday, 2.19.19, Joe Biden was interviewed live at the same Munich meeting. He is something that Trump is not. He’s nice; not soft-nice, but calm and nonconfrontational, unless confrontation is called for. What would happen if a President Biden was introduced at a Munich meeting? First of all, he would most likely be present at the meeting. Would there be applause? There was plenty of applause. Perhaps we should apply this test to each of the many candidates for President running as Democrats. What will their foreign policy be? How will they be received by our allies and our closely-held enemies?

When it comes to Joe Biden, I believe that we would find him continuing the post-World War II alliances and working with Europe to ensure peace; at least peace in Europe. I am not backing Joe Biden. He isn’t even running yet. But he could be expected to follow traditional guidelines for foreign policy. These policies are older than Biden and he knows the protocols and our allies well.

After World War II Europe became ground zero for a tug of war between Russia and America, between capitalism/democracy and communism. For the past 70 years it seemed that America and the other world proponents of capitalism and democracy were winning nations over to these ideologies. We did not have a new war, but neither did we have peace. We ended up in a ‘Cold War’, that apparently did not end when the Iron Curtain parted.

As early as 1945 Churchill warned us that after WWII our temporary and very valuable ally, Russia, had turned its back on Western Europe already, taking most of Central and Eastern Europe with it. America and Russia conducted opposing campaigns to win new recruits to either communism or democracy. While the US offered economic prosperity and military security, Russia offered weapons and oil. For a while it seemed we were winning but now, not so much.

The USSR died a mostly economic death and split back into the satellite nations it had sucked up after World War II. These newly released nations had been split along unnatural geographic lines that divided the cultural groups which had learned to live peacefully within old national boundaries. Once released from Russian domination old hostilities that had festered since WW II, and while behind the Iron Curtain, reared their ugly heads and we had things like what happened with Croatia and Bosnia. This release of pent up hostilities was similar to what we saw in Iraq.

Our own President seems to back authoritarian states in Europe (while he tries to topple them in South America), and he smiles on Putin in Russia and makes us very nervous. There is also a huge backlash against capitalism in America on the left which complicates the outcome of the democratic/communist war for ascendancy even more. It looks like the future of the world may be authoritarian. Some leaders seem to want to bring back the monarchy. Others back a very loosely defined socialism.

There are many factors which have contributed to this decline in democracy and capitalism. With the more aggressive ideology of a newly empowered Putin who wishes to create a new Russia that looks a lot like the old USSR, with the arrival of the Great Recession which hit Europe rather hard, with the angers of people from austerity economies, the disruptions of terrorism, the waves of immigration as people escape cruel war in Syria, and the military moves by Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, ‘strong men’ have begun to look attractive as chaos seems imminent. Authoritarianism, as we have seen, is on the rise. Will these new authoritarian states align with Russia or with the United States? Given that even president Trump seems to be more interested in aligning with Russia than any past President, the order imposed on the world after WWII, which never took into account the rise of the USSR, could easily dissolve.

Many have been critical of America’s aggressive moves to turn Europe towards capitalism and democracy. They have felt that our control in Europe has been antithetical to the values of a democracy and that we have often had selfish goals, as opposed to more altruistic ones. In fact, some even express horror and grief at mismoves we have made in our supposed diplomacy, although perhaps our worst moves have not occurred in Europe. Perhaps we did go off the rails a bit, but wanting a future that is democratic – is this still a goal people have? Capitalism, on the other hand, has become so rapacious that it will be overthrown if capitalists continue to refuse regulation. Although democracy is in more trouble at the moment, younger people are poised to exert pressures that may shift the target to capitalists.

What will happen in the world if we back off the agreements reached at the end of WWII? Is the UN obsolete? Is it weak and ineffective or secretly plotting a new world order? Which thing is true? Are we done with NATO? Should we loosen the bonds made after Hitler almost turned Europe into a white supremacist dictatorship? What will happen to the 70 years of “relative” peace our leaders forged after WW II? Were these protections essentially training wheels and the world is now ready to take them off? With “illiberal democracies” multiplying like flies this hardly seems like the moment to pull US bases out of Europe and make nice with Putin in Russia.

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach, will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post war organizations and alliances, or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy? If so, what will it be? I want to hear each of the Democratic candidates on this topic. Should one person be able to set America’s foreign policy? We used to have a strong Department of State and a Congress that weighed in (sometimes too much so). How will foreign policy be handled in the future? Will we elect a person who will be applauded in Munich? If we don’t want an authoritarian future how must we proceed?

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – CBS

 

 

Democracy Attacked from Within and Without

Clearly our Democracy is under attack from within. As I said in a previous article, “Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy.”

However, Democracy is not only under threat from within; it is in even more danger from forces outside our boundaries. The threats are so many and so varied at this particular moment in time that we are tempted to ask, can Democracy survive? Many even argue that it is a form of government that is nearing obsolescence because it is falling prey to weaknesses that Democracy organically carries within it. Apparently many have warned, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to our Forefathers that Democracy could fall prey to the rich and powerful and is prone to allow for the rise of a dictator, possibilities that they warned us would have to be constantly guarded against.

As we near the 250th year of our survival as a Democracy many Americans feel that we live in a Democracy in name only; that our idealistic experiment in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been directed off the main track and detoured on to a side rail where it has been gussied up and occupied by wealthy Americans who allow the people to believe they still have a say in their own governance, but who are actually so inconsequential as to constitute a “pesky” populace that must be occasionally addressed only because they outnumber the “great men” by millions.

America’s younger citizens, such as millennials and Gen-Xers, etc. argue that our Democracy is so corrupt that it may be impossible to restore it to anything approaching integrity and they were happy to back a “democratic socialist” in the last election, He was a person they believed possessed enough personal integrity to put our government back on a track that would level the playing field between wealthy and not so wealthy, at least to some degree. They did not so much care if that government resembled the Republic described in our founding documents, only that whatever form our government took it remained the government of “common” man and “great” man alike. I’m thinking many of us who are not in these generational groups hoped to hear a few more concrete details about what form of government might actually accomplish these goals.

No matter, these movements show that the very fundamental ideology of Democracy is being challenged as the actual practice of democracy becomes less and less like the original ideological idea of democracy that gave it a powerful sway over people’s minds since the American and French revolutions.

Part of this challenge exists, perhaps, because authoritarian states are capturing more and more of our attention right now in this improbable moment when we thought we would be conquering Space, but are instead wandering backward through old Arabic dynasties so used to the rule of “strong” men that they are thrown into chaos at the loss of them and they do not know where to turn but are at the mercy of new strong men, however cruel. Until Arabic nations and African nations settle down and treat, by belief or nation, with each other and form governments and economies that allow them to reside comfortably with other nations in the world as it exists right now the chaos will continue to spill out everywhere.

In fact Democracy seems in retreat and under attack everywhere. It seems that we are almost to a point where someone will be able to say “you are surrounded, put your hands up, your guns down and surrender”. Russia is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. North Korea is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. China has a seemingly benign but very authoritarian leader. We have Duterte in the Philippines. We have ISIS who uses terror to telegraph strength. We have Assad, the Taliban, and al qaeda and Boko Haram and plenty of thugs and drug lords, all believing they are “strong” men. And now we have one of these “strong” men in the very heart of our Democracy.

I always pictured that if we had to fight for our government it would be in some clearly delineated, black and white situation like World War II. But this is not that kind of fight, and it is battle that could conceivably be engaged on so many fronts, and that our forces would be so divided, that winning might be impossible. The potential battles are subtle. Is Putin a big enough threat that we must be incredibly alert and gird ourselves to do some kind of battle or is he just toying with us? How do you combat someone like Duterte without resorting to the never effective regime change?

How do we create a message that turns ISIS into a blowhard false prophet whose strength leaves it like the air from a balloon? How do we help large swaths of Africa become positive partners on a continent that supports itself and its people and joins the world community as an equal in fighting the challenges to come as world population increases? Perhaps the climate in Africa offers too great a challenge to prosperity. Perhaps climate change will bring Africa a more moderate climate which will change its fate. Many South American nations are not thriving, also possibly due to challenges of climate and geography.

Europe and North America seem relatively small places when you enumerate the “strong” man nations and the chaotic nations, and the non-thriving nations that are all around them. Will our Democracy survive this moment when it is challenged from within and without and when many question whether a Democracy is a government for the long haul, or a short term pipe dream of a few educated revolutionaries? As someone who does not see a better plan at the moment than a Democracy for running a tolerable and tolerant society, I feel as beleaguered at this moment as the America I love seems to be, and just as helpless to offer good solutions, although I think dealing with the insurrection in our own nation would be a start.

 

It’s About Democracy

Protesters are not in the “resistance” because they are sore losers as some would have it. And contrary to the man in the oval office they are not being paid to resist. This is about democracy. Activists are Americans who feel that our Democracy is threatened. It has been under attack by Conservatives and “Tea Party” members for decades. But these groups did not stop respecting the two party system and implementing their plot to undermine checks and balances until Obama took office. Now it seems that there are no moderates left in the Republican Party to reach compromises with on increasingly disparate policies.

Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy. Judging from his recent firing of James Comey, head of the FBI, who has been conducting a probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion by members of Trump’s campaign staff, our brains are in chemical danger mode. Given this newest inexplicable action our fears seem validated.

There are 30 states with partially Republican governments and 23 with governments dominated by Republicans. If you think this is because the country has just naturally moved to the right then you are naïve. This is no “organic” politics. It is the “GMO” version of politics. It has been meddled with. Certain moneyed Republicans, no longer swimming in the exciting pool of burgeoning American business, are unhappy and bored. Our economy went off on a world tour. These people are social. They meet. They form organizations. They talk to each other. They decided that they would figure out how America went off the rails and lost its place as leaders in business and innovation. They believed that a nation with a quiet economy could not maintain its primacy on the world stage. They have a lot of money to spend.

These Conservatives decided what factors were to blame for our “slippage.”

  • One factor was too much regulation of banks, investments, the stock market, and all sources of investment dollars. So therefore, DEREGULATION is necessary.
  • They decided that Democrats and others had created a meme that humans were causing climate change and putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere causing global warming and that this was not true. They hired their own scientists who did real scientific explorations but they formed their conclusions first and chose their experiments to confirm their own conclusions. This, they felt, gave them permission to deny climate change and they vowed to overturn environmental protection rules and to, in fact, get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • They decided that the scope of our current government was a huge factor in pushing commerce away from America. The government was taking on powers that were not expressly given in the original text of our Constitution. They decided that the states needed more autonomy to conduct their own business and make their own rules.
  • They chafed under what they felt was an enormous bureaucracy. They felt their taxes were too high and they resented paying for people who were not working (whether they were able to work or not). They believed the way of the world is “no work, no eat.” They believed that any American could succeed like they did if they had the proper attitude. So, although they had begun offering benefits to workers in lieu of higher salaries, these wealthy businessmen were not happy that the government offered such benefits (and more) to people who didn’t work in their factories. They wanted smaller government to lower taxes and to stop offering benefits to the undeserving (and all are undeserving).
  • Conservatives blamed unions for being greedy and making wages and benefits so high that businesses looked elsewhere for cheap labor. So in the states where Republicans have gained power they work to bust the unions, mainly with “right to work” laws which sound good, but these laws say that if you do not want to join a union then you do not have to pay dues. That seems fair, but it robs the unions of any power they have to bargain with management. It undercuts workers and takes away the only tools workers have to stop greedy or punitive employers.

And so America’s millionaires and billionaires got organized. They connected with a loose network of Conservative clubs, think tanks, and SuperPacs and they formed a web of powerful movers and shakers (emperors and empresses of business) and they set out to reverse everything that they felt stood in the way of economic growth in the 20th century. They came up with “talking points”, they signed pledges, they began to move in lockstep to recreate the days before regulation and before labor unions. A group called Muckety (still on the internet) published this charts showing the Conservative Web organizations which receive grant monies from the Koch Brothers.

 

The strategies that rich and powerful Republicans (Conservatives) (billionaires) came up with have been very successful. We know what the strategies are:

  • Drawing gerrymandered districts,
  • Making corporation people,
  • Attacking women to get the men to get their women back under their control (get rid of contraception and abortion),
  • Suppressing the vote,
  • Winning at the state and local level,
  • Declawing unions,
  • Denying climate change,
  • Deregulating business,
  • Using ALEC to write legislation the rich and powerful favor and, since you have already packed the state government the legislation will become law,
  • Setting up a network of communications including Talk Radio and the 24/7 propaganda mill of FOX News which skewed conservative all the time.

When Obama got elected the plans to stage a bloodless coup of our Democracy by the “oligarchs” had to go on hold and then Obama won a second term and by then Republicans and friends were champing at the bit. During their years “in exile” they made a lot of progress. They knew exactly what buttons to push to make their listeners want to be with the Conservatives.

  • They cast doubt on Obama’s bona fides, on his strength, and on his policies (like “Obamacare”).
  • They played up the eventual demise of “white” America
  • They told folks that illegal immigrants were stealing their jobs and their tax dollars and that they were getting benefits intended for citizens only.

They did not consider themselves neo Nazi’s or members of an alt-right movement, but they prepared the way for these groups by making them seem less extreme and by making a connection between white supremacy and fears that white people were losing control of America.

The Republicans and their organizations expected one of the “true believers” to win in 2016. They had so thoroughly damaged Hillary Clinton that, had things gone as expected, they felt they had done their homework well and they would win. I imagine that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders took the party and their conservative supporters by surprise. Donald’s message which bordered on white supremacism matched well with the “brainwashing” accomplished by conservative news and talking points.

Perhaps the fact that Trump is mentally ill made him even more attractive and he spoke like a strong man. Well he has indeed turned out to be sort of caricature of a strong man, I guess, albeit one who had a taste for murderous dictators, which seems a bit frightening to the people who love democracy. This highly unpredictable man (or all too predictable man) has filled his cabinet positions and other posts close to him with billionaires and millionaires and a few “gestapo” types, who look like they will help the conservatives achieve their ends of making their old talking points the law of the land. How do you stop people who have “more money than God”?

Can the Conservatives recreate the America they think they can reanimate? Can history repeat itself and the Industrial Age rise again but with a more compliant and cheaper labor force? I believe they will be terribly disappointed. I believe that twisted methodologies produce twisted results. I think the future is inexorable and that what we find there will be anything but an exact copy of the past.

I ran across a new article this week which shows what goals the Conservatives have for the near future.

http://billmoyers.com/story/secretive-foundations-blueprint-spreading-right-wing-ideology/#.WRWmuLXaHkQ.email

“New investigations by Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy analyze hacked internal documents, which reveal that much like the Koch network, the Bradley Foundation has launched a national strategy to help conservatives control the branches of state governments and alter state policy to lower taxes, shrink government and attack labor unions.”

“Now the foundation is focusing on five states it views as having a strong conservative infrastructure, thus making them ripe for rightward change. The foundation is working to expand conservative power in Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin by funding established networks of right-wing organizations that promote conservatism and help far-right candidates win elections. It’s a long-term strategy that “can take decades,” according to the longtime CEO of the foundation, Rick Graber, who recently stepped down from his post.”

”With $845 million in assets at the end of 2015, the Bradley Foundation rivals the several Koch family foundations in size and in grants disbursed. That year, the Bradley Foundation gave out nearly $49 million in gifts and grants, while four Koch foundations and the nonprofit Charles Koch Institute donated close to $58 million. Both families give to many of the same national conservative organizations, including the corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council and right-wing think tanks the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, as well as to several additional think tanks that the Kochs founded such as the libertarian Cato Institute and the George Mason University-based Mercatus Center. From 2011 to 2015, the Bradley Foundation has given $550,000 to the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the sister group of the brothers’ most well-known political nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity”

There is much more and well worth following the link. Perhaps references like this will help you believe that I am not making this up. So I say “good luck us” and I contend that resistance is necessary to keep our democracy “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I hate to see the world march forward without the ideals American has always represented intact, rather than with some kind of ersatz America. I think we run the risk, right this very minute, of letting our Democracy be perverted into some form of government which will curtail the freedoms of “we the people”. I never thought we would have to fight to keep America’s democracy/republic strong. I certainly never thought the fight would be American against American. Right now it looks like the wrong side is winning.

 

Government, Economics, Not Flawed: We Are

If you have read any of my stuff you may be convinced that I
am a Communist or a Socialist because I always seem to be “bad mouthing”
Capitalism. But I actually have nothing against any of these business models. I
do have a problem, however, when a way to conduct economic activity gets mixed up with a
way to govern.
If a nation’s government is not the same as a nation’s economy
then Communism and Socialism seem to be in trouble because both combine the two
spheres. Capitalism also becomes problematic in this regard as we have seen,
because it allows individuals to amass wealth which in turn seems to confer
power on them which they can then abuse to interfere in government.
There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these economic
models of course. The flaws, as usual, are in us. We are basically animals,
competitive and “red in tooth and claw”. We are still wired to be hunters and
gatherers and perhaps that conquer-all nature is the only way we survive.
But we are also no longer primitives. We are civilized
(although sometimes it doesn’t seem so). We live in societies which originally were
formed also for survival and still function that way. We have learned, but don’t
all admit, that societies call for some communism, some socialism, and some
free enterprise or capitalism. Societies function best when all members are
educated, all share certain basic amenities, and when they incorporate some
tolerance for individual differences. We also see societies that have survived
for centuries that do not require that all individuals are educated and share
the basic amenities. These societies often do not tolerate much or any deviant
behavior. But if I had to choose between the two I know which one I would
choose.
It is impossible, I think we must all agree, to have a perfect
government, a perfect economy, a perfect society because these are all human
innovations, human constructs run by humans who we all seem to understand are
imperfect. Every religion or culture I know of encompasses an acknowledgement
of our flawed nature. The seven deadly sins as currently enumerated are: pride,
greed, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth and are alive and well the world over.
Our intimate familiarity with our failings is perhaps one
reason humans have come to realize that totalitarian governments are
problematic for everyone but the leader. There is no way to place any check on
whatever flaws the leader may possess. We know that no matter how infallible
the head of state claims to be infallibility is not a trait humans possess.
Communism, rule by the people, arrived at in bottom-up
fashion, was not structured to succeed, and perhaps never could be. Leadership
is spread among too many without sufficient scaffolding to keep people from
constant power struggles and, in addition, offers no useful structures to
untangle those struggles fairly. The Communist governments we have seen seemed
to produce a suppression of rights for most members of the society that turned
life into a gray, grim existence without producing the promised worker’s
paradise of equality for all.
Capitalism (not a system of government contrary to the current
popular beliefs of some) is not able to produce a perfect society where all
prosper either. Capitalism depends on the business relationships of us – people
– imperfect people. America has almost slipped over the edge into total
Oligarchy and therefore can teach us (before it is too late) what Capitalism in
the hands of humans can do to a society when it becomes too entwined with
government.
Our wealthy citizens are destroying our Democracy, bending it
to their will. What they don’t seem to see is that they are just headed in a
direction that will take us back to somewhere human societies have already
been, the old aristocracy and serf model, with perhaps a small merchant class
able to survive. And while the wealthy may want to go there – after all things
seemed pretty hunky dory for those at the top (although they had to pay for all
the wars), things in this antique model should not look too appealing to the
rest of us. These Capitalists have brought the American people low by showing
us that their patronage is portable. They can simply remove their largesse and
apply it elsewhere.
Now we have to prove that we are not mere factory fodder. We
must not let wealthy people take away our rights and our privileges and our
civil progress. Living materialistically simpler lives would help the planet
but how we do this should be a choice Americans make together, not a series of
decisions of a wealthy few at the top who would amend our government so that it
maintains their economic advantage even if it must be at the expense of the
rest of us.
The Americans who want to keep the economic scales tipped
their way, who are turning our Democracy into a Corporatocracy (owned by
corporations we no longer work for) are not the only citizens trying to adjust
the design of our government. We also have the Evangelicals who are trying
to convince us that America is immoral and that only a Theocracy that keeps our
laws acceptable to their God can keep America from the fate of Greece and Rome –
“decline and fall”.
All governments are flawed because they are made by flawed
beings. All economies are equally prone to excess for the same reason. Our
government was created with built-in checks and balances to overcome these
excesses our natures are prone to. What we are experiencing right now is that
familiarity with how government actually works has allowed these checks and
balances to be short-circuited or muffled. This is what Republicans have been
doing. They have been playing with fine-tuning aspects of governance, doing
things like drawing skewed voting districts, suppressing non-Republican votes,
buying state governments, using the Hastert rule and the filibuster to block
legislation, stuffing the courts with Conservatives and then not allowing new
positions to be filled with Liberals, and holding the Presidency hostage until
they gain control of the entire system of checks and balances, which finally
will happen if they are able to get us to elect a Republican President.
It makes me very unhappy to see these folks disrespect our
Democracy like this and it does great harm. It teaches the rest of the world
that Democracy can be vulnerable to the same human flaws as any other form of
government. That does not just affect my mood and make me blue, it scares me,
because if Democracy cannot help us hold a middle line, cannot help us
guarantee rights and benefits to all, cannot enforce a degree of tolerance for
a range of “normal” behavior, then no government can. I had hoped that
Democracy would serve as a model for governance on our entire planet, but if
bad human behavior is allowed to twist Democracy away from its ideals then we
are left with no governmental model with which to face the future.
I ask the Republicans, the capitalists, the wealthy, and the
religious to stop messing with our Democracy. You have made your point. You can
possible take over the whole nation and have your way but only if you change
our government so much that it is no longer a Democracy at all. You get your
way in the now, but you turn the future into chaos. Please take the long view
and stop all your machinations. 
By Nancy Brisson
 

“Cowboy Capitalists” and the American Dream

Our forefathers, educated in the classics and the writings of
their contemporaries in the fields of economics, philosophy, science, farming,
and trade, created a government for our nascent America that surprised the
world. It wasn’t that it was unprecedented. It borrowed from ideologies as
antique as those of Greece and Rome. But just consider how amazing our
Democracy is since it was created in an age of monarchs, of nobles, of serfs.
Do you think those kings and queens, who claimed “divine right”
to rule, wanted anyone to spread the credo that “all men are created equal and
are endowed with certain inalienable rights” – the very rights we hold dear –
life – liberty – the pursuit of happiness. 
Our forefathers started a trend. Their modern anachronism
went, as we would say these days, “viral”. Western Europe became mad for
Democracy. They went to war for it, they demoted their kings and queens for it.
This trend, as we know, did not catch on so much on other key
continents. And so we inherited today’s situation where countries with
differing ideas about governance have to coexist. We haven’t had to respect
theocracies for some time. They existed but they kept the rest of the world
away.
As with every culture we have come to value our form of
government so highly that we often have been guilty of acting almost like
missionaries, wanting to spread our Democracy (and, still, for some, our
Christianity) everywhere. Even now I hold the belief that someday people
everywhere on our planet will enjoy Democracy in one form or another. Except,
not everyone is so gung ho to have their traditions replaced. And we have come
to understand that respect for others means letting them chose their own
government (but not letting them choose ours). As for religion, I believe that
our forefathers, many fleeing religious persecution, were quite adamant in their
belief that people should be free to worship as they please and that the only
way to insure this was to keep religion separate from government.
Today many argue that our forefathers were only thinking about
freedom to pursue different forms of Christianity and they might have hedged
their bets if they knew we might have citizens who worship in so many different
ways or do not worship at all. This is the cusp of our current dilemma. Do we
reinterpret the things our forefathers said? Do we simply revise our documents
to fit some people’s ideas of what they think our forefather’s meant?
Are we perhaps in shock that our Democracy does not seem to be
trending the way it once did? Historically, change takes time. If we can wait
we might find the ideas of liberty and equality gaining popularity once again.
They are looking a bit tarnished as our economics has sort of usurped our
governance. Capitalism can be a bit aggressive and overbearing. We have just
been letting it get out of hand a bit. If we can tamp down those rampaging
Capitalists who have been so busy buying up everything in sight (including our
government) and cornering all the world’s wealth then our freedom might shine
forth once again.
So we need more economic regulation, not less. We need more
taxes on the rich, not less. And I’m thinking that if a Progressive wins and
starts to rein in Capitalists-gone-wild – our new economic “cowboys” – then we
the people will probably have to put up with a bit of punishment before things
level out a bit.
Donald Trump, one of those “cowboy” capitalists, doesn’t seem
to mind putting American ideals aside to win against radical “Islamistic”
terrorists. 
The “all men are created equal” part of Democracy never has sat
well with Capitalists. They sort of adapt it to say that we may be created
equal but we don’t all turn out equal. Those who turn out on top of the heap,
they imply, are there because they are actually better than others (not
luckier, not born with silver spoons). The fact is that these folks interpret
being better as having more money even if they stole it by manipulating laws.
If we let these “Capitalist Cowboys” sidestep our Declaration of Independence
and our U.S. Constitution won’t that be the end of the real America Dream? That
dream is really not at base a materialistic dream at all, but one of freedom of
the mind and of the person (within reason) and of governance “of the people, by
the people, and for the people.”
We can’t exclude all Muslims without forever debasing what
America has stood for around the world and what it is still struggling to stand
for. Our previous lapses may have been grandfathered in, but this time we are
fully aware of the harm from tarring an entire group with the same brush. We
cannot even use religion as an excuse to overturn laws that respect the beliefs
of any segment of our population. 
If we do these things, and it is entirely
possible that we might (fear being very powerful) they can we ever put the best
parts of the American Dream back together again? If we want to show the world
the way a Democratic society brings out a person’s best self then we must be
our best selves. Or we can do what Donald J Trump (did you notice he started
using his middle initial) suggests, but will we still be America afterwards?
By Nancy Brisson

State’s Rights Movement – Dooming Democracy

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Whew! That
was a long debate last night, but I did not learn anything new about the
Republican take on the issues. Eventually I want to talk about some of what was
said. First, however, I want to tackle this topic of “state’s rights”. I have
read the Constitution. I know that it says that any rights not designated to
the Federal government belong to the states. I know that not many rights are
assigned to the Federal government. Mostly the Federal government is granted
military rights and rights necessary to keeping the government funded and
functioning.
But the
Constitution also describes Congress in some detail and it is made clear that
it is the job of Congress to pass laws on behalf of the people so our
forefathers obviously expected government to lay down an extended body of law.
As a result there has been an enormous collection of laws and traditions which
have collected over our 230+ years that adds essential detail to a very (and
deliberately) sparse constitutional document.
What the
Republicans want to do is scrap the body of law and tradition which has
expanded the reach of the Federal government and they want to return to a
strict adherence to the original wording in the Constitution. Republicans have
talked about this for years – Federalism as in the Federalist papers wherein
colonists (founders) argued endlessly about how much power should devolve to
the Federal government and how much to the states. This is fairly esoteric
stuff and it is possible that Republicans like to pontificate about Federalism
to impress us with their superior intelligence. Most Americans that I have met
do not sit around talking about Federalism or state’s rights. They may,
however, complain about government interference in their daily lives as in the “nanny
state,” which is where the Republicans, who seem to have all majored in Constitutional
Law, connect with their base.
I don’t mind
a continuing dialogue about state’s rights but I think we need to evaluate why
Republicans are so strident and extreme on this subject right now. Of course,
with eight years of a Democratic Presidency, Republicans are bound to be
experiencing the political equivalent of “road rage.” They have never liked
Obama and have painted him as weak in a never-ending stream of character
assassination. So there is that. There is the worry that Democrats will raise
taxes on the rich. If the Federal government gets smaller they won’t have to.
So some of this is about protecting wealth. They will never forgive Obama for
squeezing through the Affordable Care Act. Then there are the things he tried
to do with immigration and the Dream Act which he passed through executive
action. There was the red line which he walked back in Syria. There was
Benghazi and the IRS. The Republican have measured out the Obama administration
in mostly made-up scandals. The final blow to the GOP was the legalization of
same sex marriage for which they blame the Supreme Court and, of course, Obama.
The list is
long – they don’t like that Obama turned down Keystone. They don’t see how any
human energy regulations on CO2 emissions can possibly help with
climate change even if it is real. They don’t like Common Core and they blame
its adoption on, guess who, Obama. There is nothing Republicans like about the
past seven years.
It is small
wonder that they are rabid to ditch the Federal government. They have been
consolidating power in the states. They are going to find it difficult to elect
a President because – small tent, although they probably will hold on to
Congress, because – gerrymandering. If they can drown the Federal government in
that proverbial bathtub they can do an end run around the Federal government
and make their own state laws about things like education, energy, taxes,
business regulations, marriage, and marijuana.
It is tempting
to cut them loose and give them our blessings except that we are the United
States of America, not the Loosely Affiliated States of America. If
states have their own school rules, etc. we will soon look more like separate
nations than separate states. The USA will look more like the EU. This would be
a sad state of affairs and, although we might still be America, we will not be
the USA.
Remember,
some of these states have even encouraged militias in case they have to go to
war against the Federal government. This is the point at which I see the
current state’s rights movement as sedition. Didn’t we already have this war?
We all recognize that the South and the North, the East and the West still have
their differences, their special needs, and their unique points of view about
key concerns, but we lose too much power, too much tradition and history, and
too much gravitas in the world if we become divided into 50 separate states.
This is not just nostalgia talking, extreme state’s rights would put an end to
a Democratic experiment that our forefathers began and the entire world would
be poorer for not having our governing example before them as an option. By selfishly
insisting on having your way about small things, you chance removing hope that
an organized, considered, and considerate society can indeed exist and survive. 
By Nancy Brisson

Morality in America: Secular or Religious?

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America wants to be and believes that it is a moral nation, at
least as moral as flawed humans know how to make it, but we are in the midst of
a tug of war to decide if our morality will be secular or religious. It is
unclear why we are even having this argument. The Constitution and our
forefathers clearly come down on the side of religious freedom for American
citizens and they have left enough written documentation to convince most of us
that the founders of our nation felt that the best way to insure religious
freedom is to separate government and religion. This would seem to negate the
formation of a Theocracy.

However, some in present-day politics are trying to walk back
our traditional understanding of what our founders intended while claiming that
they can channel the actual intentions of those who wrote our founding
documents. They argue that America harbored only sects of Christianity in Colonial
times and that, if our forefathers had been faced with Muslims, or Buddhists,
or other global religions that have found a home in modern day America, then
they might have written about religion and government in a different way, or
they might have made America a Christian nation. But wishing it, or even
positing it as a logical conclusion, does not make it so. I would like to think
that our founders were far-sighted and wise, but think the 3/5 rule which
turned some people into objects, and think about the blatant elitism of our
forefathers, which suggest that they were products of their times, perhaps
overseers rather than seers.

Examining the differences between secular morality and what
advocates mean when they long for religious morality might help inform of us of
which way we would like to go. The right wing Conservatives, with a
preponderance of Evangelical Christians offer us some insight into religious
morality. We get an impression of an Old Testament sensibility, a return to the
rules as laid down in Leviticus. We have the Ten Commandments, of course, but
when we turn them into very literal rules for our nation they would change
America a great deal. I won’t go through them one by one.

The Commandment we are most caught up in right now is Thou
shalt not commit murder. Here is the Pro Life argument in a nutshell. How will
we ever get around the moral argument about whether or not the killing of an
unborn baby, whether it is a mere blob of cells, a possibility of life, or
whether it has taken fetal form and resembles a child is murder or whether that
Christian concept is not the business of our government. We know women have
aborted unwanted children since the beginnings of time and at great risk.
Sometimes the timing of a pregnancy is so wrong or the circumstances of the
pregnancy are so repugnant that a woman is almost obsessed with stopping the
pregnancy. Sometimes a woman knows or senses her own life will be in danger if
she gives birth to a child or even shows anyone that she is pregnant. Since
pregnancy falls within the female realm, the decision about aborting a
pregnancy should fall within the female realm and the process should be as safe
as possible and should definitely not involve rooting the fetal cells out with
a stick or a coat hanger. If the GOP truly wants to end abortion then they need
to set up humane systems to help women through to term and to find parents for
the children that are the result of unwanted pregnancies. Until these systems
are in place I don’t see how women will agree to ending legal abortion.

Besides adopting a literal interpretation of the Ten
Commandments, we have those who suggest that we need to heed things that are
often incidentally described in the Bible as the Christian traditions that
pertained at the times when the Bible was written, although quite a few
centuries passed before we had both the new and the old testaments. So we have
those who admonish women to be submissive and to allow their husbands to
control the lives of the family. I’m not sure, given what we now understand
about the way this can lead to domestic abuse of wives or children or both why
we would ever want to take power away from women ever again, or why women would
freely give up their position as equals.

Those on the religious right argue that having women once
again assume a submissive role in relation to their husband would restore the
nuclear family, end crime, end immorality and end sexual and gender
“deviation”, in other words, would put LGBT people back into the closet or put
them in danger of being punished for their “immoral” behavior. And then, they
(these new patriarchs) argue we could end all this political correctness crap
and, in fact, life would be good. Society’s rules would be simple and clear,
and right and wrong would be spelled out according to God and Jesus [or to someone’s
interpretation of acceptable Christian protocols for living a Godly life].

The Bible does not talk about evolution, so we would just bury
centuries of scientific inquiry? Science, in fact, comes up with so many
conclusions that appear to be at odds with the Bible that we can expect that
abandoning scientific pursuits will bring us all closer to the heaven. Will we
punish those who have curiosity built into their psyches? Well we will
certainly have to pass laws against such investigations of our world and decide
how we will punish those who persist. Can you see how this could all get out of
hand very fast? Do you want an America that lives out the dream of the
Puritans? Do we want to measure our government’s laws by any particular
religion? Will we have a democratic government if it is “God” (as interpreted
by man) calling the shots?
 
 

Clearly sticking with secular morality grants us the freedom
to maintain a democracy. But what rules apply to secular morality? That is what
makes it all so difficult to enjoy freedom because a citizen must frequently
judge what will offer maximum freedom to the most people, while doing the least
harm. This is an enormous task. We often get the balance wrong. Here we rely on
the dialectic to set things right. When things go too far in one direction
forces drag events back towards the center.

So take the case of campaign finance, which most of us agree
is totally out of whack with the very foundation of democratic government. Once
our Supremes agreed that corporations were people we gave our elections back to
the very elite who argued for ascendancy at our nation’s founding. We gave our
elections to the wealthy this time, not the landowners, although I’m sure they
all own land (perhaps not in America, though). President Obama’s election
proves that small donors have some power, but the right wing is trying hard to
negate that. Republicans have more milestones on their agenda to turn our
governance over to the wealthy. Now individuals can give as much as they wish.
Republicans manufactured an IRS scandal and raised such a ruckus that no one
can reevaluate the use of 501 C-4’s again. Even the ploy to pass a flat tax
needs to be examined very carefully because it is most likely a political IED.
In fact Republicans would like to simplify our government right to death.

We are trying to make sure that secular morality, that old golden
rule of ‘Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You’ is still a
guiding force in our nation. We are trying to practice a new American
Exceptionalism that relies on diplomacy and a ‘live and let live’ spirit
(whenever possible) rather than the old idea of exceptionalism that says we
must loom over everyone and threaten to beat them into submission because fear
is the only emotion people really understand.

The American experiment to respect each other and to share
power is still an exceptionally idealistic one and, in that sense, our
exceptionalism still lives and, if we were allowed to cooperate with other
world governments to help lift people around the globe and turn the planet into
a safe, stable, and healthy world the morality of that would far outshine any
Puritanical rule of lockstep religious practices and prejudices that could ever
come out of the atavistic longings of the right wing of the Republican Party in
America.
 
By Nancy Brisson

Who’s Responsible, Talk Radio or Fox News?

Why does Paul Ryan’s opinion about the national
budget still interest anyone? By the way, how many of you realize that Paul
Ryan was born into a wealthy family and has never had to struggle to build a
comfortable life.
How could an exceedingly average and rather wimpy
guy like Scott Walker end up appealing to anyone? He did not grow up wealthy
but he is willing to do the bidding of the plutocratic overlords. He’s the
worst kind of enforcer. He is somewhat quiet and workmanlike as he sets about
dismantling our Democracy. He can be counted on to carry out the orders of
those who pay big bucks to buy elections and who allow this petite bourgeois guy
to trample all over the Americans in Wisconsin. He has sedulously applied and
continues to push the Republican agenda. He busted the unions. He is planning
to implement strict voter ID laws hoping to limit voting to the “right” sorts
of people. He is gradually forcing schools to privatize by cutting public
education budgets. This is the Republican plan for all of America. It’s the
test case. Pay attention. America will be unrecognizable.
It is clear that Scott Walker gets a great deal of
pleasure exerting power over others and the more his policies hurt the better.
Both Paul Ryan and Scott Walker seem to have a smirk lurking behind the serious
and judgmental faces they present in public. Scott Walker is a calmly vicious
guy (and he also has a temper).
Leaving aside all of the other Republicans who are
salivating over being the anointed one who will finally bring the Republican
talking points to full and creepy Venus flytrap – like flower, why would we
elect Scott Walker? Why do we want to do this to America? It’s like we’re all
in that movie Fifty Shades of Grey, which I have heard turned out well for
those unusual lovers, but would not, I think, impress us as much if our
government decided to go the dominance/submissive route. Guess who would get to
be the submissives? They say it is hard to tell if life imitates literature or
literature copies life and that would certainly be the case here. However I say
that the coexistence of this book and Republican extremism could not be purely coincidental.
I read an article the other day (link below) that
gives Fox News all of the credit for turning ordinary Americans into champions
of corporations and millionaires. This author downplayed the influence of Talk
Radio. And if you take a picture of the propaganda mill at this moment, Fox
News is more effective at firing up the troops. They convince your neighbors
and mine that they, as white Americans, as true patriots (capital P), are being
shafted by people of color and immigrants and poor people who are hogging all
the taxes sent to Washington by hardworking (white) people. They are sort of
promising people that they will keep these “taker” groups down and that the
corporations and the wealthy will look out for white, Christian,
English-speaking Americans. I have known these factory workers all of my life
and the fact they give these puppets in suits the time of day proves they were
demoralized by job losses and then hypnotized by the talkers on the right.
Fox News could never be as blatant in this campaign
as Talk Radio once was but they don’t have to be. Talk Radio hosts provided the
groundwork. Even before Obama was elected and through much of at least his
first term Talk Radio was whispering hateful nonsense and ego-building crap
into the minds of all those American men and women who worked so hard for a
living. Sadly these folks have been thoroughly brain-washed and now appear to be ready
for the likes of Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, et al.

Saints preserve us! (Isn’t that what people used to
say, our Catholic neighbors at least.) I
say let’s make a plea for help to anyone who might listen to those of us who
rely on others to hold the reins of power. Didn’t the Saints always help the
powerless?
By Nancy Brisson

The Glorious Past v The Uncertain Future

 
There comes
a time when you just have no hope of reaching your nemesis and a time when
reason and belief seem inadequate and I feel like America has arrived at that
time. I’m sure it is clear to Republicans that not everyone is on board with
some of their recent policy suggestions and yet they obviously believe in their
own skewed outlook with passion and stubborn insistence. They probably have at
least one thing right and that is that we need to either trim America’s
expenses by cutting our budget or raise more money in order to grow our budget.

The option
to raise our taxes (and therefore our budget) has been taken off the table by
that pledge enforced by Grover Norquist, which, apparently, is still in effect.
The option to grow our economy, the option to update our infrastructure, in
fact options that have anything to do with government joining the fray to bring
Americans out of the recent recession; all these options are off the table.

Republicans
see our government as separate from the people. They talk about the government
doing things for the people, making people dependent on government. But in
America the government is the people. We all pay into the federal “pot”. The
problem we are seeing right now is that we do not pay equally. The wealthy feel
that they are carrying the burden of the poor (and more recently those slipping
out of the middle class) that they are giving more that the rest of us. They conveniently
forget that it was their greed, the greed of wealthy people that caused the
recession in the first place).

They have
come to believe that, since they are contributing more money to American
governance, they should have the largest say in how that money is spent. They
are unfazed by the laws that will have to be overturned, by the promises that
will have to be broken, and by the fundamental changes that having wealthy
people make the laws for America will make to our democracy. They have become
our overlords, we their serfs, at least in their conversations and their
political agenda. The poor exist to serve the wealthy until they rise out of
poverty and join that wealthy class. Where have we heard this before?
Everywhere. It used to be the model for nation’s everywhere, before the
American Revolution and the US Constitution and Parliament in the UK and the
French Revolution in Europe and so on, changed the feudal formula and deposited
us in a world where even the poorest person could work to rise, a world with
few kings and few overlords.

Recently we
have seen the people of nations around the world, perhaps inspired by what they
see on the internet, trying to form the same more democratic societies that we
seem to see our Conservatives trying to tear away from us. Once the laws were
made that allowed profit to be constantly funneled to the wealthy, shoveled to
the wealthy, thrown at the wealthy, these same privileged citizens told us that
we should send more money up that chain and that, when they had enough, it
would trickle back down to us.

With the
departure of our factories that trickle has dried up, while we still power that
conveyer belt of money headed for the rich. They say they work and we don’t so
they deserve all that money. The American people never said they wanted to stop
working. They did not want to stop working. The jobs were yanked out from under
them. Now the wealthy say “show some gumption, lift yourselves up in the
time-honored American way, join us up here, if you can. Will mere gumption
still do it in America? Gumption takes time, so you have to start when you are
young and have good energy. You have to patiently grow those pennies to dollars
and then those dollars to hundreds and so on. I am sure it can still be done. I’m
not sure it can be done on a scale that would end poverty. And I’m pretty sure
it can’t be done on any grand scale when no one with money is willing to invest
in people who have good business plans and little else.

We have
never lived on a planet that was sheltering 7 billion people before. We cannot
use a model from the 1890’s to survive on this little planet in the 21st
century. Nostalgia is killing us here. We cannot afford to ignore climate
change. We cannot afford to avoid thinking about how we will feed 7 billion people
with climates that have turned wild and unpredictable. We cannot afford this
petty argument about allowing you to hold on to your oil empire or your coal
empire while the planet is telling us in no uncertain terms that we must wean
ourselves off fossil fuels. Invest your money in something else; new energies,
space travel, food production; something that will be useful now.

Yes, America
gives freedom to each individual, but you are trying to base the amount of
freedom each American has on how many dollars that citizen has. You want us to
be grateful for what your dollars do for America, but because you will not
accept the lessons we need to learn to survive in the future, you are actually
holding America back. Maybe what we see for a while will have to look a bit
more “collective”, more like the landscape in World War II when Americans
pulled together with spirit to achieve a common goal.

We can’t let
you ruin our Democracy because of your fears of a communism that none of us
want. We can’t let you ruin our Democracy because you are worried that your
fortune will prove to be a drop in the bucket in the face of the needs of the
world’s poor. We can’t let you ruin our Democracy to hold back time or to
insist that fossil fuel energies are not bad for the planet. We can’t let you
rob people of the right to vote. We can’t let you insist that women go back to
their kitchens. We can’t let you sell the argument that colleges are factories
to produce liberals and that we therefore need to make a college education more
difficult to obtain. We can’t let you stuff state governments full of your own
constituents and then write the laws that these concocted governments will pass
into law. We can’t give in to your mean-spirited philosophies or accept your
racial superiorities.

We don’t
plan to stage any revolutions. The only tools we want to use right now are the
tools provided to us in the US Constitution which you have been ignoring or
retrofitting, or whatever that is you are doing. We are saying that it looks
like we will need to elect Democrats in 2014 and in 2016 because they seem to
still be operating under the assumption that the rules of Democracy still apply
in America, and they seem like the lesser of two evils. Of the two major
American political parties they seem to be focused on what will be instead of
what was.

We sure
could use your intelligence, skill, and, yes, your dollars, to address the
needs of the 21st century but you have retreated into a shell of
denial and, although we knock on the shell and say “who’s in there, hello,
hello, is anybody there” all we get when you peek out is the same old you,
throwing your power around in a panic to recreate some glorious past that is
unachievable.

This is the view from the cheap seats. This blog post is also available at http://brissioni.com/

By Nancy Brisson