Saturday, June 13, 2015

Editorial: Obamacare Assassins

Republicans are prepared to blame President Obama in case the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies for 6.4 million Americans who get their health insurance from exchanges run by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate could easily resolve the question in the King v. Burwell lawsuit if they passed a one-sentence resolution that clarified that insurance purchased on the federal health exchanges in the 34 states that chose not to set up their own exchanges was eligible for federal subsidies, as the drafters of the Affordable Care Act clearly intended.

But Republicans apparently have no intention of going for the easy and sensible fix. Sen. John Barasso (Wyo.) the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, told Politico, “Let’s be clear: if the Supreme Court rules against the administration, Congress will not pass a so-called ‘one-sentence’ fake fix.” Other senior GOP misleaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) said Republicans won’t unveil their official plans for responding to King v. Burwell until after the Supreme Court rules. But other Republicans in Congress prefer to let the subsidies lapse and do nothing.

If Congress refuses to act, state leaders could preserve the subsidies by taking over the running of their respective health exchanges. But so far, only Delaware and Pennsylvania have started efforts to establish their own exchanges if the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies.

Instead, Republican misleaders hold out hope that a Supreme Court decision in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to the collapse of the health insurance exchanges and, ultimately, all of “Obamacare.” Republican governors in Louisiana and Wisconsin have said they wouldn’t take action to restore financial assistance for Obamacare enrollees in their states.

Some Republican misleaders are betting that Americans will blame Obama and the Democrats for anything bad that happens to the health-care system.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, tweeted on June 8, “Six million people risk losing their health care subsidies, yet @POTUS continues to deny that Obamacare is bad for the American people.”

In fact, more than 10 million people have enrolled in private health insurance plans on health insurance exchanges, and 87% of them received tax credits to help them pay for the plans as of March 31, the Department of Health and Human Services reported.

The federal government runs the exchanges in 34 states, where 6.4 million people who currently receive subsidies would lose them if the Republicans prevail. Since these individuals have low or moderate incomes, most are expected to lose their health coverage. The abrupt exit of millions of customers from health insurance rolls is expected to roil the markets in those states, Jeffrey Young wrote at, because those with expensive medical conditions are most likely to retain their policies, driving up expenses for insurers and leading to rate hikes. Eight million or more people could wind up uninsured, according to the Rand Corp. and the Urban Institute.

In his speech to the Catholic Hospital Association Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 9, President Obama noted that “despite the constant doom-and-gloom predictions, the unending Chicken Little warnings that somehow making health insurance fairer and easier to buy would lead to the end of freedom, the end of the American way of life — lo and behold, it did not happen. None of this came to pass. In fact, in a lot of ways, the Affordable Care Act worked out better than some of us anticipated.”

For example, nearly one in three uninsured Americans have already been covered — more than 16 million people -– driving our uninsured rate to its lowest level ever. And the 85% who had health insurance before the reforms may not realize that they’ve got a better deal now than they did. Americans can no longer be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, such as having had cancer — or having had a baby. Women can’t be charged more just for being a woman. They get free preventive services like mammograms. And there are no more annual or lifetime caps on the care patients receive.

Medicare also has been strengthened and protected. Small business owners can get tax credits for health coverage. Health care prices have risen at the lowest rate in 50 years. Employer premiums are rising at a rate tied for the lowest on record. The average family premium is $1,800 lower today than it would have been had trends over the decade before the ACA passed continued, he noted.

“And while we were told again and again that Obamacare would be a job-killer — amazingly enough, some critics still peddle this notion — it turns out in reality, America has experienced 63 straight months of private sector job growth — a streak that started the month we passed the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “The longest streak of private sector job growth on record — that adds up to 12.6 million new jobs.

“So the critics stubbornly ignore reality. In reality, there is a self-employed single mom of three who couldn’t afford health insurance until health reform passed and she qualified for Medicaid in her state. And she was finally able to get a mammogram, which detected early-stage breast cancer and may have saved her life. That’s the reality, not the mythology.”

The uninsured rate among US adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the ACA took effect. That translates to about 3.6 million fewer uninsured adults. The uninsured rate now is the lowest since Gallup began tracking it in 2008.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the federal program to cover families making up to 133% of the federal poverty level. The Kaiser Family Foundation noted that 21 states had not expanded Medicaid to allow their working-poor residents to get coverage, though three of those states were considering some sort of expansion.

Kaiser estimates that nearly 7 million uninsured adults would be eligible for Medicaid but live in a state that has refused the expansion. Of that group, 4 million who live below the poverty line already are ineligible for subsidies in the insurance exchanges. So they’re out of luck, regardless of the Supreme Court decision. .

In Texas, for example, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would provide 1,727,000 working-poor Texans with comprehensive health insurance. Without the medical care, which the federal government would pay for, as many as 3,000 uninsured Texans could die this year, health-care experts at the Harvard Medical School and City University of New York have estimated. (The study found that as many as 17,000 people may have died of premature and avoidable deaths last year in the 24 states that rejected Medicaid expansion.

Likewise, Florida Republicans refuse to let Medicaid cover 1,212,000 working poor, so 2,200 could die due to lack of care. Georgia refuses to let Medicaid cover 599,000 and 1,100 could die. North Carolina refuses 511,000 working poor, and 1,100 could die.

All those state officials have to do is accept the federal money, but they refuse because they would rather let thousands of their poor residents get sick and die than let President Obama get credit for reforming health care.

Other states whose Republican leaders are denying medical care to their working poor, including veterans, are Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennesse, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. There is blood on the hands of these Republican misleaders.

If the Supreme Court is persuaded to strike down subsidies for health care based on what amounts to a drafting error, Americans should not turn on President Obama. They should turn on the obstructionists in Congress and demand the real simple fix: Expand Medicare to cover everybody. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2015

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Selections from the July 1-15, 2015 issue

COVER/David J. Krajicek
Birth of a prison state

Obamacare assassins destroy people’s lives


Spain makes amends, and so should we

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Support farmers, not agribusiness

State GOP leaders thwart O’care;
OT rule change could hike wages;
Walmart sees benefits from higher wages;
Senate map poses challenge for GOP;
Top 50 price-gouging hospitals;
Nebraska gov. wants to kill prisoners anyway;
Republicans attack net neutrality;
Obama readies climate change push;
GOP sens vote to block EPA clean water rule;
Liberals more popular in 2015;
G.W. Bush also makes big bucks from speeches;
Sanders strong in Wis. straw poll;
Senate leader says Obama gets no more appeals judges;
La. Repubs wish they'd neer heard of Grover Norquist ...

Faking it while the world burns

Turn left on main street

The trade enforcement failure

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Rich/poor gap; Well/sick gap

Abortion continues to split the nation

A prairie tsunami

How does corporate neoliberalism survive?

Trade promotion authority is unconstitutional

Iraq: Five points to remember

Philadelphia’s backward looking energy future

Sally Robare and outrageous voter ID laws

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Workers’ self-empowerment

and more ...

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tell President Obama not to send more troops and resources to Iraq

By Marc Jampole

The Obama Administration is floating the idea of sending troops and adding military bases to Iraq. According to the unnamed White House officials who told the New York Times about the possibility of dedicating more troops and money to piecing back together the country we destroyed, Iraqis would run the new bases and Americans would not participate in ground combat. When have we heard that before?

Administrations float ideas in the news media all the time. If these thought balloons get shot down by the public, Congress or the big money, the idea goes nowhere. If no one seems to care, or if the proposal picks up support, the Administration pursues the idea.  As usual with balloon floaters, the chatty White House officials made a great effort to distance President Obama from the idea being floated: “White House officials stressed that no proposal hasbeen presented to Mr. Obama and added they anticipated no decision in the nextfew weeks.” 

Philologists should use that sentence to exemplify the definition of “disingenuous.” It’s clear that Obama knows already and the plans are already developed in detail, even if only as a contingency.

I urge everyone to contact President Obama, your senators and Congressional representative and tell all of them not to add troops or bases to Iraq.

In fact, we should be demanding a complete and immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops, advisors, mercenaries, outsourced contractors and equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a removal of all military support to all parties at war in all Middle Eastern countries. Let’s let the parties involved in the conflict work things out.

As long as we stay involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Pakistan, we will be a magnet for forces opposed to our presence, our bullying and our cultural imperialism. None of these countries will attain stability as long as we serve as a destabilizing element.

It goes without saying that we may not like the stability that develops after we withdraw military support in the Middle East, especially if ISIS gains permanent control of some part of Syria or Iraq. But any kind of stability will be an improvement over the current situation.

In withdrawing from the many quagmires in the Middle East, I propose that we offer to pay reparations to any government or group that agrees to a cease fire. I call these payments reparations because we have been so instrumental in causing so many Middle Eastern conflicts. The reparations would come in the form of aid that could never be converted to military uses, things like schools, textbooks, hospital facilities, grain, agronomists and agricultural and manufacturing equipment. We should use our money not to destroy and kill, but to help countries advance economically and overcome sectarian differences.

Just as we are now friends with England, France, Germany, Japan and other former enemies, I don’t see why we can’t one day be friends with Iran and even ISIS, especially if we deliver a good dose of real economic and social aid. Those who shudder at the thought of an alliance with ISIS beheaders should compare the ISIS death count to that of Nazi Germany, imperial Japan and the conquest of Native Americans.

Another condition I would place on accepting American non-military aid is the recognition of Israel in the context of a two-state solution. Quite simply, to receive American aid, a country must accept the existence of both the Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state. I would apply this condition to Israel, too. If Israel wants to continue to receive U.S. support, it should begin to withdraw settlements from the occupied territory and enter serious negotiations about establishing a permanent Palestinian government. We’ve put up with their stiff-necked foot-dragging and mistreatment of the Palestinians long enough.

It’s time we admitted that while not the entire problem, U.S. military involvement creates enough complications that it makes settlement of civil and regional wars in the Middle East impossible until we leave the region.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Don’t let sensitivity to transsexuals’ cause lead to a redefinition of what it means to be a woman

By Marc Jampole

All the time, I encounter companies that run into language problems trying to describe themselves. A company that produces 95% of its revenues from metal fabrication will broaden their mission statement to encompass business lines that might produce negligible revenue. When common sense suggests the corporation just say, “we fabricate metal parts,” an attorney or board member will protest, “but that leaves out that little software company we own that hasn’t turned a profit yet”; a short mission statement thus grows to several paragraphs. The most extreme example was when a wishy-washy Westinghouse wrote some 30 years ago that its mission was to create value for shareholders, which pretty much could apply to any public company.

It seems as if some of the thought police are now stuck in the same tarry mess—trying to redefine a large group to accommodate the traits of a very small part of it. I’m talking about certain supporters of those who feel that their true sex is not the one manifested by their physical sexual characteristics.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Elinor Burkett, a journalist and former professor of women’s studies, gave several examples of language police becoming upset when someone implied that you have to be a vagina to be a woman: 
  • The wonderful actress Martha Plimpton was flamed on the Internet and by Michelle Goldberg in Nation for sending out a Tweet about a Texas benefit to raise money for abortions that was called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.” People objected that Plimpton implied that the only way to be a woman is to have a vagina, which was “exclusionary and hurtful” to transsexual women.
  • Mount Holyoke College recently cancelled a performance of the groundbreaking “Vagina Monologues” because it offered an “extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.”

Wait a minute! I’ve seen a variety of estimates on what percentage of the population is transsexual. The numbers are across the board, and the newer the study, the higher the final estimate seems to be. But I have seen no study that estimates the transsexual part of the population as more than .3% of the population, and I’ve seen other estimates that those assigned the male sex who think they are female total a miniscule .027% of the population, which computes to just one in every 3,639 assigned males who believes she is really a woman. This total, by the way, includes all the transsexuals who have had what they call “bottom surgery” and now have a vagina. The number of transsexuals without vaginas is smaller still, in fact, statistically insignificant.

It doesn’t make sense to change the definition of womanhood to accommodate such a small group of outliers. I don’t see that either the “Vagina Monologues” or cleverly stating that only vaginas can undergo an abortion shows disrespect to transsexuals. Whether one says the “Vagina Monologues” is about women or about women with vaginas is the most moot of points since it would not be such a popular play if it did not speak directly to the human experience of all of us, regardless of sexual predilection or orientation.

Transsexuals who have taken the meds and had the operations are women—and they have vaginas. Those who haven’t taken the leap are transsexuals. As transsexuals, they deserve all the rights and respect that we should give all minority groups and individuals in the United States. I support their efforts to lower society’s prejudice against transsexuals, to educate the public and to encourage those who are confronting the possibility that they are not the sex assigned to them. But an insistence on twisting basic definitions that we have accepted for millennia not only irritates the centrists whose natural conservatism sometimes impedes their ability to accept social change. It also upsets long-term feminists and other natural allies of transsexuals. There is nothing about saying that a woman has a vagina that should upset anyone or make anyone feel less of whatever sex they identify with.

The more insidious aspect of the current problem of defining “womanhood” is the idea that someone who has secondary male sexual traits is a woman because she thinks she’s a woman. It is not a false leap in logic from “she thinks she’s a woman” to “she thinks like a woman.” In fact, if we don’t make that leap, we invalidate the person assigned the wrong sex.

Defining a woman by how she thinks, however, gives considerable fire power to those who believe that women do not have the emotional or intellectual capacity for certain positions, such as president of the United States, because it admits that there are differences in how men and women think. Feminists find that they have to make the argument that those traits that distinguish males from females have nothing to do with what it takes to lead a country or corporation or conduct scientific research; those intellectual traits are shared equally by men and women. This approach invites a careful or careless trepanning of the mind into a series of thought processes, categorizing these thought processes as “shared” or “unshared,” and then analyzing each of these processes to determine if they help or hurt one’s ability to succeed as a professional. Of course, point of view will determine the results of the analysis, as some might find a greater willingness to negotiate fundamentally sound or a sign of weakness, depending on the perspective.

It quickly gets pretty messy. The complexity of the final argument is likely to confuse or distract people from the main idea, which is that women are equal to men in capabilities and should have equal opportunities and success in society and in the workplace. But with the question of male-female differences in thinking seemingly validated by the presence of one fraction of a percent of the population, the best argument against the idea that women are inferior intellectually may still remain the record of men botching up things whenever they have been in charge.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Predicting our future cultural vocabulary

By Marc Jampole

There is no way to predict the content of our cultural vocabulary in a thousand years, although I imagine that a hundred years from now, the traditional part of it—Moses, Don Quixote, Abraham Lincoln, biblical and Shakespearean aphorisms—will mostly be intact. The more recently a cultural reference has entered our cultural vocabulary, however, the more likely it will disappear. It is likely we will remain loyal to Abraham and Faust, but perhaps not to J. R. Ewing and Stephen Hawking.

It’s also safe to predict that for the foreseeable future, cultural ephemera will appear and disappear at an in ever-increasing rate. There are just so many inputs to our cultural vocabulary nowadays, including advertisements, television shows, movies, pop music, celebrity culture and political scandals, in addition to works of high culture like serious drama, classical music, literary novels and scientific advances. The mixing of cultures adds to the inputs: African, Latin, Indian, Chinese and Japanese and other cultural references seep into any western culture much more readily and easily than during medieval times. 

Beyond predicting the probable sources of change in our cultural vocabulary, we can’t say much about the future. For one thing, it’s possible that government and large organizations will exercise more social control in the future and freeze the development of our cultural vocabulary. Or perhaps somewhere today lives a woman or man destined to found a new religion and thus join Moses, Buddha, Mohhamad and Confucius as important religious figures with whom virtually every adult has familiarity. No one could have guessed in 600 CE that most people around the world would know something about Mohammad. Julius Caesar in 60 BCE was merely another scurrilous politician and the richest man in Rome, not the embodiment of empire and imperialism. 

We can identify the processes by which our cultural vocabulary will evolve, but it’s impossible to predict what its actual contents will be in the future. In a thousand years, will audiences smile knowingly on hearing the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth? Will Odysseus still serve as a symbol of the clever and Isaac as a symbol of the pious? Will people still look at “Guernica” and say, “Yes, Picasso.”

And what about Mean Joe Greene, Joe Isuzu and Mrs. Olsen? Will they still make people think of soda pop, automobiles and coffee in a thousand years? Will they have been reduced to their emotional essence and symbolize friendship, oily rascality and neighborliness? Or will they be as forgotten as Queen Blanche, Bertha of the Big Foot and the other ladies of times past whom the 16th century French poet Francois Villon compared to the snows of yesteryear?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Cannibalization turns any cultural icon into whatever a writer wants it to be

By Marc Jampole

From almost the beginning of human culture, artists in all genres and for all purposes have used pieces of cultural vocabulary in their works. But in all case, the artist shapes the cultural vocabulary to his or her own purposes. For example, Odysseus’ wiliness is heroic for Homer, treacherous for Virgil and bombastic and legalistic for Shakespeare; in James Joyce’s hands, the character of Odysseus is transformed into a self-abnegating Jew in turn-of-the-20th-century Dublin. Botticelli’s Venus is a Christian neo-Platonist symbol of divine love, whereas Titian’s Venus revels in the sensuality of the real world and Paulo Veronese’s embodies the civilizing effects of love. Select virtually any cultural icon that has been around more than a few hundred years and you will be able to find different versions of it throughout literature, art, pop culture and even history. In a sense, the artist “cannibalizes” the cultural icon by spinning the shared understanding of the icon with his or her own meaning.

Mass culture chews up images and concepts quickly—be it fictional characters like Robin Hood, Mr. Spock or Jason Bourne; historical figures such as Napoleon at Waterloo or Washington crossing the Delaware; sayings like “where’s the beef?” or “I’ll be back”; real incidents like the Spitzer prostitution scandal; fictional ones like movie plots; or new products, especially strange ones. Situation comedies, comedy sketches, TV commercials, spoof movies, newspaper headlines, news programs, comic strips, catalogue captions, advertising slogans, postmodern art and book titles are just some of the communication forms that routinely cannibalize cultural references. One week, we’ll see hundreds of references to twerking and a few weeks later, they’ll be gone, only to be replaced by hundreds of references to 1970s race car drivers, thanks to the movie “Rush.” Like twerking and “Rush,” most of this cultural phenomena is ephemeral—here today and gone tomorrow. But you can still provoke a heart swell with a reference to Moses and Lincoln, or a chuckle with an imitation of Richard Nixon.  

Cannibalization of cultural iconography occurs primarily through direct reference or through imitation, parody and, travesty. James Joyce structures Ulysses after Homer’s epic and a secondary character in the “American Pie” movies calls himself the “Sherminator,” referring to another movie in another genre. Over time, we expropriate and distort the content of a cultural icon, sometimes to the point that we cannot recognize the original, as when Robin Hood becomes an anti-tax conservative in the Russell Crowe movie remake instead of someone who takes from the rich to give to the poor; or when Martin Luther King comes to represent general service to the community in place of seeing him as representing civil rights and civil disobedience. We morph cultural icons, as when the Terminator and Joe Isuzu transform into good guys. We take them out of context and thereby change their meaning, as Andy Warhol did with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

The surest sign that an event, person, character or saying has permanently entered the public collective consciousness is that it has undergone a large number of these cultural expropriations over a period of years. It’s one thing for Johnny Carson to joke about the Mean Joe Greene soft drink commercial in 1982. It’s quite another to recycle the concept as a homage-cum-parody 30 years later to sell suds to housewives.

The longer a cultural artifact remains part of the cultural vocabulary, the more it changes from its original form and meaning, until finally it can mean anything to anyone. In a sense, frequent morphing of a cultural artifact hollows it out so it becomes an empty vessel that can be filled with any idea. Take the United States constitution, not the document itself, but its cultural meaning as a holy icon that guides our society and sets our laws. In any given year, dozens of conservative, progressive and centrist writers invoke the constitution, each to mean something completely different. Years of reinterpretation and misinterpretation by the news media, politicians, writers, filmmakers, composers and public relations professionals have slowly hollowed out the concept of the constitution, so that it can come to represent anything—and everything.

Another example is Martin Luther King. Our public celebration of King’s birthday displays a great ignorance of what he stood for. The media give us an overly generalized story and one quote about a dream. Politicians and writers mostly either refer to his legend without defining it or attempt to attach that legend into the beliefs of the speaker or writer. Even conservatives try to connect their ideas to King’s legacy. That’s the great thing about cultural artifacts that have been hollowed out: they can contain any idea one likes.

Making Dr. King’s birthday commemoration a day for volunteering distorts both Dr. King’s views and the good he did. Spending the day collecting for the poor, performing a charity show, reading to the elderly, cleaning up city parks and doing all the other things that people now typically do on MLK Day are all admirable, but this volunteering relates only in the most nebulous of ways to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers whom King enraptured and engaged 50 and 60 years ago. Those volunteers did two things and two things only: Walk for peace and justice and sit for peace and justice. Just as the news and marketing media transform King the social revolutionary into a mainstream American leader, so social action morphs into volunteering in ways that attend to social ills without addressing how to cure them. King becomes a fatherly figure who reminds us to help out others, a kind of Smokey the Bear of volunteerism.

Tomorrow will be a final edition of this special series on our shared cultural vocabulary. In it I weasel out of predicting what our cultural vocabulary will be in the future.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

There are many sources for our cultural vocabulary, but ruling elite still controls dissemination

By Marc Jampole

As we have seen, the elements of our cultural vocabulary come from many sources—works of high, low and commercial art and entertainment, news events, history as taught in elementary school, scientific discoveries, ethnic groups and other subcultures (such as urban Afro-American culture, college students or tattoo wearers) and other countries. From a bubbling cauldron of new and recycled cultural artifacts constantly emerge pieces of shared language that penetrate the consciousness of virtually all members of a society.

But while the bits of our shared cultural language can come from anywhere, the main mechanisms for sifting and shaping the cultural vocabulary have always remained firmly in the hands of ruling elites because of their control of the channels of distribution and dispersion of information and knowledge. During medieval times, for example, the church decided which of the thousands of Greek and Roman manuscripts monks would study and therefore copy and save. A political deal with a Roman emperor led to the widespread influence of Christianity on the cultural vocabulary of the West and the disappearance of the many rites and deities of Roman religious practice. Royalty of all kinds from kings to emperors to Rajas have promoted and suppressed literature and visual arts. Until well into the 18th century, the writers and artists who repeated and amplified myths and legends were either part of or supported by the ruling elite. Church and government have controlled education in most cultures.

The development of the printing press and capitalism transformed the ownership of communications vehicles, as commercial enterprises joined religions, aristocracy and government as the sieve that sorts our cultural ephemera to determine which will remain part of our vocabulary and which will disappear. Society’s wealthiest tend to own most commercial media, from newspapers to large websites, which means that the owners of the prime commercial means of transmitting cultural artifacts all come from the same social class and tend to have the same basic values and interests. In undemocratic societies, the commercial media tends to ally with the government. In a democratic society, the commercial media tends to be owned by those who have greatest access and control of the government.

It was, for example, a combination of public schools, text book publishers, movie producers, popular novelists, politically-motivated historians and politicians who promulgated the positive cultural myths surrounding slavery and the Confederacy once held throughout the United States. It was the combined efforts of all these gatekeepers of values and cultural imagery that enabled the dissemination of these false myths that predominated during the late 19th and 20th centuries; e.g., that plantation life was pleasant for slaves, that freed slaves were not prepared to act independently, and that the mediocre butcher Robert E. Lee was a great general who fought the United States only reluctantly. It has taken the Civil Rights movement and several generations of truth-telling historians, revised text books and mass entertainments such as “Roots” and “12 Years a Slave’ to begin to right the misperceptions about the Old South—to change our collective understanding of slavery and the cultural vocabulary we use to characterize it.

That the ruling elite tends to have the most to say in what cultural artifacts survive and remain part of our cultural vocabulary does not suggest any grand conspiracy theory. As C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite, G. William Domhoff in Who Rules America and others have noted, ruling elites share the same values, attend the same schools, play golf at the same clubs and serve on the same boards and associations. A conspiracy isn’t necessary for class action.

Technology plays two roles in the process of creating cultural vocabulary from the enormous and chaotic ocean of imagery and information that confronts. From the development of the printing press to the explosion of social media, new technology has always tended to speed up both the creation and the discarding of temporary pieces of cultural language. For example, the twerking fad of the late summer of 2013 lasted much less time than the hula hoop fad of the 1950s. While technology allows for a faster dispersion of information, it also fragments the mass market into literally thousands of sub-markets, each of which develops and speaks its own language, with its own jargon, each phrase of which could break out into the mainstream for a few weeks, or for centuries.

But technology isn’t just a vehicle for transmission; it is also responsible for the creation of a growing part of our cultural vocabulary: the selfie; the “nerd”; the ascension of Steve Jobs to a position equal to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in American business mythology; calling our thought processes “software”; asking someone to put something back in its original place by saying “go to default.”

Tomorrow I will discuss what I call the cannibalization of cultural artifacts as a primary means of controlling and exploiting our shared cultural vocabulary.