Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Corporate America playing politics with the economy

USA Today has a cover story that attempts to rationalize the state of the economy. Part of the blame, rather incomprehensibly, is due to consumers’ own “greed.” This is not precisely explained, although it could either mean either over-use of credit cards or meanly saving money instead of spending it. Both of these explanations are easily debunked when one considers the reason for slow decline of the middle class and the growing gap between the rich and the poor: Instead of investing their profits in new manufacturing or raising worker wages, corporations prefer to bag their unearned income in their own pockets, while access to easy credit (via credit cards) in “exchange” for lower wages was a phony prop for the economy—while enriching banks who charged exorbitant finance charges.

But in an aside the story noted that U.S. corporations are sitting on a stockpile of $1 trillion in unused profits. The question is why this money isn’t being used to invest in new industries or hiring—or rather, rehiring—people. The answer, according to USA Today, is that businesses are “worried” about the federal deficit and waiting for a “favorable” political climate. Of course, this newspaper also continues to puff-up the Tea Party movement is something other than what it is: mostly fringe-right whites who always appears when their “privileges” are “threatened,” this time by a black president.

In 1982 and 1983, the average unemployment rate under the Reagan administration was 9.7 percent; it didn’t dip below 7 percent until 1987. The Reagan recession was in part fueled a tight rein on the money supply, but also because of a spate of deregulation allowed banks to engage in the kind of irresponsible speculating that that helped to create the current financial situation. Nearly a hundred banks failed, and the Reagan administration’s refusal to consider re-regulation of the Savings and Loan industry merely worsened that sector’s troubles. Things became so bad in the S & L sector that in 1989 a re-regulation act was finally seen as necessary. Meanwhile, the 1980s saw the largest budget deficits since World War II, not in any way helped by Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which played almost no role in getting the economy out of its worst recession since the Great Depression (since eclipsed by the current recession). Reagan would quickly be forced to face reality and sign the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which along with the 1986 tax “simplification” bill, raised taxes on corporations. Taxes increases on corporations occurred under Bush I in 1990, and (using budget reconciliation) in 1993. GDP and job creation, strangely enough, increased dramatically during the Clinton administration, in spite of these tax increases.

What does this all mean? That the current economic experience is nothing new, we’ve been there before; even Reagan, the patron saint of the right-wing, was forced to bow to common sense. Corporate American cried Doomsday, but eventually the desire to make money over-road that of not making money. In business, you can’t make money unless you create products and hire people to make them. Although job growth generally lags behind economic growth, as long as two years after the start of recovery, it is plainly slower now than it should be because Corporate America has largely stood still. The question is why are corporations, with history as a guide, playing scared? The current budget deficit is ballooning, but the blame may more justly placed at the doorstep of financial institutions that gambled away investors’ money instead of investing it in the economy, and businesses that sought to maximize profit and personal wealth by lowering disposable income and far busier shedding jobs than creating them during the Bush years. Even more ominously, so-called “99ers”—those people who have been unemployed so long that they no longer qualify for unemployment benefits—are already bankrupting state social services.

Again, why does it appear that Corporate America seemingly deliberately stalling the economy? 70 percent of the economy is driven by consumer spending, yet businesses don’t seem to understand that. Low wages and cutting rather than hiring will do nothing to improve the level of consumer spending. It is as if they flunked Economics 101 in college. I read a comment by one economist who said that the economy will not get better unless we produce more and consume less. How you can have one without the other doesn’t make much sense to me. Mort Zuckerman, who made most of his billions in the real estate business, had this excuse to make:

“He (Obama) has lost the confidence of much of the business community, whose worries over taxes, the dramatically increased costs of new regulation, and a general perception that the administration is hostile toward them and may take yet harsher steps, are holding back investment and growth.”

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, opined:

“One negative revelation has been the way he (Obama) has chosen to spend his scarce resources on income transfers rather than growth promotion. Most of his "stimulus" spending was devoted to social programs, rather than public works, and nearly all of the tax cuts were devoted to income maintenance rather than to improving incentives to work or invest.”

The question a thinking person should ask is “What are they talking about?” These are typical right-wing talking points with little or no evidence to back it up. What, exactly, has Obama done differently than his predecessors (other than the health care reform bill)? What “new taxes?” Where are these“dramatic” increases in cost from new regulation--especially in relation to the cost to the economy from rampant deregualtion? What has Obama done that can be characterized as “hostile,” given that his economic advisers are all Wall Street toadies? I agree that the tax cut was too small to be noticeable, and could have used for more useful purposes. But why do the rich and powerful consider education and health care funding “social programs” that only they are privileged to possess? And what of the $51 billion in tax cuts for businesses, and the $150 billion for infrastructure and green energy?

The suggestion here is that business is “punishing” Obama for not actively doing their bidding, deliberately keeping growth stagnant in the hopes that the Republicans will make large gains in the 2010 and grovel before them. All of their claims are nothing but foul air, almost certainly intent on taking advantage of many whites' discomfort with a black man as president, and the unjustified belief in his alleged thirst for "revenge" against whites and their "privileges." They talk about a “hostile environment” without providing any proof of it. Business leader are trying to blackmail the Obama administration and con the public with fear propaganda that has no basis in reality. They say the Democrats don’t understand what it takes to create jobs. Is that right? During the Clinton years, 22 million jobs were created; subsequently, with the Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, a net of 2 million jobs were created, along with ballooning budget deficits. If anyone doesn’t know how to create jobs, it would seem to be the Republicans.

But there may be a far more contemptible reason why Corporate America, the rich and their Republican flunkies are attacking the Obama administration with lies and deception. The middle class and the poor received the bulk of the stimulus tax cuts, unlike Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Forbes magazine bizarrely called this the “populist revolt against affluence” through “wealth care.” Like a petulant child, in response to this “threat” Forbes does not advice the rich to invest in America to aid economic growth, rather it advices on how to hoard its wealth:

Don’t flaunt your wealth. Put less “impressive” food on the table at your high society blow-out parties—try carrots instead of caviar.

Disguise your shopping. Buy designer clothes at charity events—and save money, too.
Since the idea of being rich to be rich, there are many ways of protecting your wealth—and they don’t necessarily have to be entirely illegal, especially if you have a good lawyer. Trust funds for 40-year-old “children” is one idea; another method is to ship all your money overseas. If the IRS discovers this and decides that you really are trying to hide your money to evade taxes, then it might be a good idea to move to another country to avoid prosecution; however, it is not a good idea to renounce U.S. citizenship, because the IRS will charge a 40 percent “exit tax” on anything over $2 million taken out of the country. A better plan might be to convert paper into diamonds and gold, and put them in a Swiss bank. But just don’t report it to the IRS; it amazes how Forbes “suggests” the many ways that the rich can break at the very least the spirit of the law.

Forbes, surprisingly, is less blinded by other far-right rhetoric in regard to taxes; it is not Obama and congressional Democrats who the rich should worry about in regard to raising their taxes. They should be more concerned with cash-starved state governments looking for ways to cover mandated balanced budget requirements. The idea then is to have an alternate domicile in a state that doesn’t have an income tax. Elaborate and antiquated strategies to avoid taxes should be taken out of mothballs, since the rich don’t have “friends” in high enough places to conduct their extra-legal activities in the open, for the time being anyways. Or invest in “charitable remainder trusts” which I don’t what are, but if Forbes suggests it, then they must be shady.

Adam Smith is quoted saying that being rich is never so complete as being seen as being rich; that is with “opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.” So how to keep ahead of the joneses? Just because the economy’s bad doesn’t mean you have to take out your garbage like the other “riff-raff” only worth $100 million. Yachts and Lear Jets can be had at bargain basement prices; get them while their hot. If you don’t want the neighbors to know that you are not doing as badly as they are (because you are a borderline crook), you can always order your diamonds and crocodile handbags shipped in paper bags.

Life is tough for the ultra rich, “And yet beyond the gaze of tax collectors and congressional aides, life as few of us will ever know it goes on.” “If the revolution is coming, all the more reason to seize the day.”

And USA Today blames the “greed” of the poor and middle class consumer for the current economic stagnation.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beck, Mormonism and Race

It is most fascinating to note that Glenn Beck’s religion of choice is Mormonism, and considering much of that sect’s somewhat bizarre teachings, it is but a short step from extrapolating its effect on his mind. The Book of Mormon itself is almost certainly a fiction of Joseph Smith’s imagination—and a rather wild one at that. Allegedly, a group of Hebrews somehow found their way from Israel to North America sometime around 600 BC; the method Smith used to arrive at this number is probably similar to the one used by Sen. Joe McCarthy to determine the number of Communists in the State Department (although probably not as arbitrary as in the film “The Manchurian Candidate”— a Heinz 59 catsup bottle). This particularly group of Hebrews grew so big it split into factions, one—the “Lamanites”—“lost” their way, evolving into present day American Indians, while the second faction—the ‘Nephites”—created a highly advance civilization, building cities paved with gold, before being killed-off by the Lamanites around 400 AD. Given the fact that the more advanced Europeans managed to kill 90 percent of the Native American population in the U.S. by 1900, this seems hardly plausible, but so is much of Mormon theology; in any case, there is zero archeological evidence to support this version of American history.

According to Smith, a prophet and his son—Mormon and Moroni—compiled a text of the sect’s teachings on gold plates and buried them in some secret place. Then one day, for no apparent reason, Moroni chose Smith as the person who he would appear to with the gold plates in hand, which Smith was allowed to transcribe from before Moroni disappeared, taking the plates with him.

Enough of that hokum (at least Muhammad’s interpretations of strange noises as “revelations” from God at least have the advantage of requiring creative thought). The fact that Mormons have often been portrayed as a “persecuted” group masks the fact that it holds some rather uncomfortably stone-age ideas, one of which may best explain Beck’s version of civil rights. In his “updated”—or rather, the racist white—version of “I Have a Dream,” he called for the “completion” of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream that all men will be treated with equal respect, except with the Beck-inserted proviso that this be accomplished without resort to government interference; however, Beck’s treatment of Barack Obama as the first black president is something that King would find disturbingly contrary to his own “dream,” not to mention racist. Alveda King, meanwhile, sullied the memory of her uncle by appearing with Beck at the Lincoln Memorial event—and worse, agreed with Beck that King did not believe in social justice, social programs and redistribution of wealth. She plainly allowed herself to be a shill and a pawn in Beck’s self-promoting gig: in fact, King fully supported LBJ’s civil rights and anti-poverty initiatives, and in 1968 stated that:

“We will place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind. If that power refuses to acknowledge its debt to the poor, it would have failed to live up to its promise to insure "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its citizens.”

What part of that Beck doesn’t understand is a moot point, since Beck is clearly completely ignorant of King, his beliefs, and the civil rights struggle in general, as is helpmate Sarah Palin and most of the people who showed up at the rally. King and his compatriots knew full well that state authorities and the white racists they served could not be trusted to act in good faith in advancing the cause of equality before the law; only the federal government and its courts had the power to overthrow racial discrimination at its core.

Returning to Mormonism, which Beck converted to in 1999, it isn’t hard to discover what he finds so attractive about it. Until recently, it was decreed that African-Americans could not be full members of the sect. African-Americans represent about 0.5 percent of the student population at Brigham Young University, making them easy targets for prejudicial commentary. In 1954, BYU elder Mark E. Peterson made the following illuminating remarks on African-Americans:

“(Quoting Brigham Young) ‘No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood.’ It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a ‘Nation of Priesthood holders’....

“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, "First we pity, then endure, then embrace"....

“When he told Enoch not preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation.... Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God? And when He placed them there, He segregated them....The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negro we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that he placed a dark skin upon them as a curse—as a punishment and as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse. And He certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an Iron curtain there.... Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the White man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”

And since Cain killed his brother, God gave his descendents the “mark” of Cain: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed.”

Have things changed since then? I read an article back in 2008 about the African-American student experience at BYU. Many of these students are offended by continuing “folklore” among church leaders and white students that holds that African-Americans are still being “punished” with black skin. African-American students are also more likely to be expelled for violating the so-called “honor code,” such as when a black football player offends religious and social dogma by dating a white female student (one might recall that Beck compared Tiger Woods to O.J. Simpson, what can now be seen as an obvious reference to the Mormon injunction against intermarriage). Most white Mormons have had no previous contact with African-Africans at all, and even those who try to be “friendly” cannot refrain from making ignorant remarks. Worse, church leaders have made no effort to debunk the “mark of Cain” shibboleth.

So, if you want to understand Glenn Beck’s racial “philosophy,” all you need to know is that he found Mormonism closest to his heart.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Winning a "war" by ending it

It has been reported that since 2006, when Mexican president Felipe Calderon—pressed by the Bush administration—launched his own “war on drugs.” The military-style “war” was aided with guns, helicopters, airplanes and other hardware supplied by the US. The result has been 28,000 killings and no end in sight. The Obama administration now wants to change the strategy by funding “reform” of the country’s corrupt law enforcement and judiciary. Whether or not this will reduce the killings is matter of conjecture; one thing that is clear is that whatever is being done now is not only not working, but it is based on fantasy and hypocrisy.

Illicit drugs are illegal because they have been declared so. Because they are illegal, they defy regulation. Alcohol generally has the same effect of illicit drugs when used in immoderation, but it is not illegal, and its use can be regulated (in a fashion) by legal age limits and laws like DUI and “public intoxication.” Alcohol (and cigarettes) are also heavily taxed, allegedly to “discourage” their use, but also helping to fill government coffers. Many over the counter drugs can cause behavioral malfunctions or death if deliberately over-consumed. While alcoholism is a problem for some people, most people know how to moderate their use of it. After all, they can obtain it whenever they want, they don’t have to break the bank or sneak around back alleys. They don’t have to carry wads of cash or a gun. Because alcohol is freely available, there is no need to engage in violence to obtain it.

That was not, of course, the case during Prohibition, when mobsters fought for control over the booze trade, often violently. Corrupt local law enforcement was rampant, and in general the “war” against alcohol was a complete failure, given the fact that alcohol consumption actually increased during that period. It was a matter of consuming as much as you could until you got caught. Because it wasn’t readily available thousands of do-it-yourself distilleries and breweries were hidden inside an otherwise respectable home. However, some of these home-grown spirits, because their production was not regulated, had a tendency have certain side-effects—like blindness, paralysis and death. There was, however, a loophole for wine; it could be used for “religious” purposes, and small amounts could be produced in one’s home legally—like medicinal marijuana. Of course, like “medicinal” marijuana, it was one small step to other uses. In the end, criminalization of alcohol had the opposite effect intended: its use not only simply went underground, but increased—as did the amount of violence and killings from the creation of “alcohol lords.”

It is interesting to speculate if marijuana was legalized and regulated, as it is in many parts of the world, that it would lead to a decrease in the usage of harder drugs. There is little evidence that marijuana is a “gateway” drug to harder stuff; studies generally show that marijuana users do not “supplement” their drug use with cocaine, heroin or the like. Such has been the case in the Netherlands, where so-called coffee shops are allowed to sell five grams of marijuana per customer, which is enough for a couple of joints. Coffee houses are not allowed to advertise, sell harder drugs, create public nuisances or allow people under 18 inside the shop. Although there was a brief period when the number of new users increased, there has been a leveling off of usage and no apparent anti-social effects. If a regulated, cheap and readily available “high” without all the collateral damage that illegal trafficking inspires, and possible even with medicinal qualities, can lead to a decrease in cocaine, crack and heroin use, that is the kind of “victory” that the current failed “war on drugs” cannot claim to have achieved.

In his latest drug war policy initiative, Calderon has once again brought-up the issue of legalizing marijuana. But Calderon is said to be not in the least serious about legalization. Polls indicate that like in the U.S., a majority of Mexicans oppose legalization. But this may simply be the effect of government and law enforcement propaganda. People tend to lump marijuana in the same category as harder drugs. There has to be a serious discussion of alternatives to the “military” option, and why it has failed, and will continue to fail. One reason for its failure—besides the massive U.S. market, the flow of illegal weapons south, and the lucrative money-laundering business that banks turn a blind eye to—is the refusal to address societal issues. An American police trainer in Mexico noted the breakdown of economic opportunity in the country, observing that "ninety-nine per cent of the wealth is owned by five per cent of the people in Mexico; it just doesn't trickle down anywhere else." This can probably be extrapolated in other parts of Latin America, such as in Colombia where drug violence continues unabated years after Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel was “eliminated.” Because of NAFTA loopholes that favor U.S. produce, many impoverished Mexican farmers—particularly indigenous people—have lost their livelihoods, and it can be speculated that like in Colombia, they have found other means to be exploited, this time by drug lords. Instead of tackling economic inequality in the country, Calderon spends money fighting this “war.” U.S. aid could be used to help impoverished people out of the drug business, but that is politically inexpedient in the current domestic climate.

And violence breeds violence. When drug lords and their minions feel threatened, they resort to violence. Even the police cannot be trusted; recently, six Mexican police officers in the pay of drug lords were arrested for the kidnapping and murder of a mayor of a northern Mexico town near Monterrey. But the voices of alternative solutions to the failed “fight” remain largely lost in the overheated rhetoric. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, once one of George Bush’s conservative buddies, recently gave the following speech:

“I have proposed the legalization of drugs, because I think it is not the responsibility of the government, what we are asking, to withdraw the drugs from the market, and so that, as a result, our children could be free from the temptation of going and consuming drugs. That is not possible. That will never happen. All prohibition seems to evoke the contrary effect. All prohibition, what it does is to bring more interest in going for the apple, in the case of Adam and Eve, or to go for the cigarette, or the alcohol in Chicago. What you see in Holland and in other European countries that have let it go, they released the drug, and consumption has not significantly increased.”

No American politicians or law enforcement official would dare make such a statement, because the political dialogue is in the hands of fear-mongerers and paranoids—and those who wish to make use of anti-Mexico and Mexican sentiment for cynical political purposes. And people will continue to die in this never-ending “war.”

On his side

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, there seemed to be a disconnect with fantasy and reality. The fantasy was that the Green Bay Packers were a really good football team. The reality was that they were a really bad football. I heard all the stories about the Lombardi Era, but they seemed more fable than fabulous. All I knew was that my reality was a team that was mediocre-to-bad year after year, for 25 years. There was the occasional hic-cup, like the 1972 team that won its division despite having a quarterback, Scott Hunter, who couldn’t hit the side of a barn if he tried. The 1983 team behind Lynn Dickey put on wild aerial show (Dickey still holds the team single season passing yardage record), and the team played maddeningly wildly too. Five overtime games and total points scored in a Monday Night thriller against the Redskins also remain the standard. In 1989 Packer fans thought they had finally found their “Majik” man. But these were just mirages; like the Seattle Mariners baseball team since 2003, a winning season merely masked just how bad the team really was, to be quickly uncovered the following year.

Following Vince Lombardi’s final year as coach, the Packers had 21 different quarterbacks start at least one game through 1991. Some these guys were grizzled veterans who for some odd reason you thought were still good (John Hadl, Jim Zorn), guys who could have been good if they had stayed upright (Dickey), and the flash in the pan (Don Majkowski). The Packers drafted Jerry Tagge in first round in 1972, thinking that he would replicate the success he had at Nebraska, when he led the Cornhuskers to back-to-back national championships; in 12 starts, he threw 3 TD passes and 17 INTs. And what die-hard Packer fan could forget Jim Del Gaizo, Jack Concannon, Don Milan, Carlos Brown, and Alan Risher? Well, I could, and did. It was easy.

Packer general manager Ron Wolf hired Mike Holmgren to coach the team in 1992. He also wanted a party boy named Brett Favre, who was destined for a career on the bench with the Atlanta Falcons. Holmgren had scouted Favre when he was still offensive coordinator with the 49ers, and had deemed him unfit, for reasons of character, to play in the 49er “system.” Holmgren initially demurred when Wolf expressed a desire to acquire Favre. But in the end Holmgren was finally persuaded to give Favre a shot. Majkowski proved unable to grasp the West Coast offense, and his injury in the third game of the 1992 season, against the Bengals, had an air of inevitability about it. Favre entered the game, fumbled a few snaps, ran into a pulling offensive lineman, and generally looked bumbling for most the game. Fans lustily booed Favre, calling for third-stringer Ty Detmer. But despite his bumbling, Favre was clearly able to move the team down the field more effectively than Majkowski. Favre’s cannon arm proved to be the difference in the final period; the Packers scored three TDs in the 4th quarter, including a stunning 35 yard pass to Kitrick Taylor in the final seconds to win the game. The rest was “history.”

The more recent past has caused many Packer fans to view Favre as a traitor or worse; perhaps not surprisingly, on his official website Favre pointedly welcomes his "supporters" rather than his "fans." I chose to take to Favre’s view of the situation, that GM Ted Thompson and company were giving him the impression that they really didn’t want him back. As much as I am a Packer fan, I am also a Favre fan. One day back during that contentious summer of 2008, the last two letters to-the-editor posted on the Green Bay Post-Gazette website were lengthy final summations on the guilt or innocence of the accused. I wrote for Favre defense, in which I pointed out that for 25 years the “frozen tundra” was a place where few good players wanted to be, and Green Bay had been at the time little more than a wasteland of past memories and present mediocrity. Until, that is, until Favre made his entry onto the scene. Save for one season when two top receivers and the starting RB were out with injuries, the Packers never lost more than they won in 16 years, and Favre was the one constant. But times change. It was common knowledge that Favre had personal and philosophical differences with Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, but that wasn’t the real issue. Favre wasn’t Thompson “guy,” and he was hot to put his man, Aaron Rodgers, out as the starting quarterback. Thompson and McCarthy knew that Favre would not take kindly to being pressed, and it did seem as if they were trying to shove him out the door on their terms, not his. They didn’t want him back, and yet they didn’t want to be blamed for running him out of town.

In my view, after all he had done for the franchise, if he wanted to play and they didn’t want him, they should do the right thing and release him so he could play for a team that did want him; after all he had just come off one of his best years, and an overtime interception away from the Super Bowl (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). If they really thought he was washed-up, why would they be afraid if he played for Minnesota? Backed-up against the wall, Thompson traded Favre to the Jets with less than a month before the start of the regular season, expecting, rightly, that Favre would find success there problematic, having no knowledge of their offense. After having seven 300-yard passing games in 2007, he had none in 2008.

Now that Favre is playing for the Vikings, I am of two minds on this, I never liked the Vikings, but I am a Favre fan. The fact is I want to see Favre play well, and unfortunately that means that the Vikings have to win a couple of games, if for no other reason than all those Favre-haters in the media can be made to look foolish. On the other hand I have to admit that I don’t want them to win the Super Bowl, because I am a fan of the Packers, and I want Favre to remember what team he played for when he won his only championship ring.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time for the Justice Department to take down Sheriff Joe

Maricopa County (Arizona) sheriff Joe Arpaio is at it again, having passed the deadline for complying in good faith with the Justice Department requests for documentation in its on-going investigation of his office for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. He continues to refuse to turnover arrest records or allow investigators to enter prison facilities or question inmates. The Justice Department threatened to sue Arpaio, but has for the time being delayed taking this action. This isn’t the first time that Arpaio has thumbed his nose at federal officials, of course; when he and his deputies were stripped of federal immigration authority for various abuses, the next day he sent out his deputies on another immigration sweep. Arpaio’s lawyers claim that he is not “obligated” to comply with requests related to "alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office"—even insofar as they are related to racial profiling and discrimination. Frustratingly, the federal government, while it has problems with abusing its authority to politicians who may or may not be involved in graft, it literally trembles before the likes of Arpaio.

It is rather shocking that Arpaio has received overly fawning consideration by the national media, and has been allowed to get away with clichés and “small” talk in response to accusations of racial profiling, discrimination and running a prison system that on several occasions lost its accreditation for failing to maintain national standards, and lying about compliance to those standards. Insight into Arpaios warped mind may be deduced by the titillation he gets from forcing inmates to wear pink underwear, or instituting juvenile and women chain gangs. Arpaio and his pal, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, have undertaken spurious vendettas against judges and local politicians who have opposed Arpaio’s operations. An Arizona Republic editorial recently noted the increase in “criminal” investigations for upsetting the tender sensitivities of Arpaio and Thomas, which Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon called a “reign of terror.” It is noted, however, that the only person “successfully” convicted from one of these vigilante prosecutions was school superintendent Sandra Dowling, for providing her daughter a summer job. The local media has been less sanguine than the national media in regard to Arpaio. The Phoenix New-Times has been battling the sheriff and the extremist right-wing in the state for years; back in 2004, a “special prosecutor” was appointed after the paper published Arpaio’s home address, and subsequently received a spurious subpoena that demanded a list of the IP addresses of anyone who might have seen the publication on-line. In response, the New-Times published the subpoena, which led to the arrest of two editors. The naked abuse of prosecutorial power led to the firing of the special prosecutor, but nothing was done to Arpaio.

Arpaio’s jails, meanwhile, have been the scene of many “untimely” and unexplained deaths and major injuries, particularly among the mentally or physically disabled that happen to be ensnared by Arpaio’s deputies. In 2003, the death of a blind and mentally-disabled man in jail for shoplifting was determined to have occurred not because he had fallen from his bunk, but because he had been severely beaten by deputies. In 1996, a paraplegic man arrested for marijuana possession became a quadriplegic when laughing guards placed his neck in a restraint, breaking his neck. Another mentally-disabled man died after being first losing consciousness after a spit-hood was placed over his head, and then apparently filled with a lethal dose methamphetamines in a failed effort to force him back into “life”; Maricopa County prison “health care” has, not surprisingly, been the subject of many complaints of being “substandard.”

More infamously was the case in 1996 when a BYU football player named Scott Norberg, who was arrested after being found walking in a “delirious” manner and allegedly assaulting a deputy, and died soon after arriving at a Mesa jail of what a coroner called "positional asphyxia." There is a well-done YouTube mini-documentary entitled “The Murder of Scott Norberg – An Arpaio Reality TV Exclusive." It begins with a jail dispatcher calling 9-1-1 about an inmate in their holding area who is not breathing. “Really?” “Uh-yeah.” “Are they doing CPR?” “Um…you know what, I don’t really know.” Norberg’s father admits that his son, a scholar-athlete in high school, found his way into drugs and alcohol, but none of this explained what happened to him in one of Arpaio’s jails. A witness testifies that he saw a disoriented Norberg wandering around a hall, then sitting on the ground crying. He was handcuffed and dragged by one foot to a cell, “because he didn’t respond fast enough” to commands. While sitting in a cell waiting for a court appearance to be charged, Norberg was inexplicably dragged out of the cell, and surrounded by a half-dozen guards with tasers, was repeatedly stunned about the chest and fisted in the head, all the while crying out for it to stop. A video captured the event, which shows indeed what Norberg’s father called it—a “feeding frenzy of the darkest side of people.” Another witnessed observed how Norberg was placed in a restraining chair, with a towel literally tied around his head; one guard was pulling his head forward, while another was simultaneously pulling it back. A guard noted that Norberg was turning purple, and received the response “Who gives a f-ck?” A jail clerk at the time noted that guards were afterwards laughing about their handiwork. Autopsy photos show Norberg’s head and body literally covered with bruises and ugly bluish patches. His larynx had been removed and “lost” in an effort to conceal the evidence of what had happened. Arpaio has not been allowed to forget this incident; years later, he is seen angrily denying that his people had done anything “wrong,” still trying to explain away the senseless killing by saying Norberg was high on drugs, although the autopsy noted that the drugs in his system were not sufficient to have played a part in his death.

A jury in a subsequent civil case would award Norberg's family $8.25 million for wrongful death. But this is just one more of many cases of inhuman brutality in Arpaio's jails; 60 inmates are claimed by one source to have been “murdered” in Maricopa County jails since Arpaio’s tenure, most of them similarly “inexplicable”—although this is only a “guesstimation” since Arpaio has also been accused of destroying relevant documents on abuses and deaths in his jails. The county has also been forced to pay nearly $50 million for abuses in Arpaio’s jails.

And then, of course, is the matter of Arpaio’s attitude toward “Mexicans," and not just illegal aliens. The Arizona law SB1070 has been called the “Joe Arpaio Racial Profiling Protection Act,” and for good reason. The Maricopa County deputies are so busy trying to ensnare illegal aliens that anyone who fits the “profile”—that is brown skin—is under threat. So tunnel-visioned is Arpaio and his deputies that a few of his jurisdictions have threaten to sue the department for failure to provide adequate police protection. Arpaio and his deputies have been accused of failing to follow-up on arrest warrants of anyone who isn’t Latino, thus allowing a great many felons with warrants to literally roam free, unless they are caught committing another crime. Arpaio has been careful not to enunciate his racism in too understandable terms, but his association with various anti-immigrant extremist groups and neo-Nazi figures have not gone unnoticed; Arpaio himself is unashamed, telling Lou Dobbs that he was “honored” to be compared to the KKK. Back in April, J.T. Ready and a bunch of his friends dressed in Nazi storm trooper garb showed up in Phoenix to express their support for Arpaio and his latest appointee as county attorney. A similar variety of friends joined Arpaio for a recent tour of the border.

There is no doubt that the Arizona law was designed by people who wanted to codify Arpaio’s racial attitudes, and to allow him to conduct his affairs without hindrance. The fact of Arpaio’s refusal to cooperate with the Justice Department should be taken as more evidence that his department’s racist record is so indefensible that it can’t bear the light of exposure. It is time for the DOJ to stand up to this arrogant bigot and show who is the real sheriff in town.

The whims of justice

The evidence presented in the Rod Blagojevich trial could be interpreted by some as A. a lot of something or B. a lot of nothing. Thus the outcome of the first trial stunned some (particularly in the media), surprised others (who thought that all that media attention surely signified irrefutable guilt), disappointed still more (those who thought all those embarrassing f-bombs constituted “proof”), inspired cynicism (by those who saw the case as nothing but “business as usual” to begin with), and relief in a minority (that the guilty on all counts media circus and the prosecution’s braggadocio wasn’t “rewarded”). Blagojevich will likely have a tougher time in the retrial, since only one juror refused to convict on the principle charge of trying to “sell” Barack Obama’s senate seat, although juror comments will likely aid the defense and the prosecution in recognizing the weaknesses in their cases. But as the jury foreman noted, there was no “smoking gun” presented by the prosecution that constituted direct evidence that Blagojevich was something more than overly blunt, and not particularly competent, horse trader. Unlike former Republican governor George Ryan who actually had time to receive pay-outs and bribes for favors while his daughters received illegal payments from Ryan’s campaign funds, the Blagojevich prosecutors apparently thought that heading-off the actual “sale” of the senate seat was worth the risk of not presenting to a jury definitive proof that the “sale” actually occurred. The “assumption” that Blagojevich would have received something in return, however, was not sufficient in the minds of at least one juror in lieu of the fact that no “transaction” had actually occurred.

Although Blagojevich was the focus of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s “Operation Board Games" that was begun in 2003, by 2006 the investigation had only allegedly uncovered hiring irregularities in government agencies, but had as yet not uncovered illegal activity by the governor—or what was judged to be illegal—until the FBI was allowed to wiretap him. What fascinates is that Blagojevich "dared" the FBI to wiretap him, seemingly certain that his activities could not be construed as illegal, insofar as business-as-usual was concerned (and not surprisingly, a 95-page recommendation on political reforms laid out by a commission subsequent to Blagojevich’s ouster would be opposed by key Illinois legislators). Meanwhile, a dozen political and fund-raising figures were eventually caught in the probe’s web and have since pleaded guilty. The Chicago Tribune, long an enemy of Blagojevich and had called for his impeachment years before the actual event, was clearly disturbed by the outcome of a trial where Blagojevich continued to insist on his innocence on all charges rather than plead guilty like the rest; but the paper still allowed itself lascivious pleasure in noting that the conviction on one “minor” count—lying to the FBI—still sufficient to tag Blagojevich a “felon.” Furthermore, a subsequent editorial sneered that:

“The two defendants (Blagojevich and his brother and co-defendant Robert) already have seen one full-throated version of what the feds can throw at them. But long lists of witnesses in this trial, and potential witnesses in the next, don't know what awaits. Every Illinois and Washington politician or insider who didn't have to testify — and who breathed easy when this case went to the jury — now has to wonder: How will the prosecution and defense refine their approaches? Will I be called this time? Will I have to answer questions about this case — under oath?”

“…full-throated version of what the feds can throw at them.” Those are key words. The “feds” have almost unlimited resources in which target anyone they choose. While federal attorneys cringe in fright before the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and shrivel before Joe Arpaio's bluster, on other occasions they will do whatever is "necessary" when some unlucky person is their gun sights, as evident in the prosecutorial misconduct that led to the conviction of Ted Stevens. The zeal to "clean house" by Democrats, meanwhile, led to the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which has also been accused of wielding its power in an arbitrary manner, reacting to hypersensitivity to what is deemed the public mood. Democrats in Congress, who seem more "sensitive" to being seen as corrupt than Republicans, seem to be much more willing to sacrifice their own as well. Take for example the case of Sam Graves—a Republican representative from Missouri, has been called a “rubber stamp imbecile and bright red reactionary,” is “famous” in the state for his thuggish campaign tactics and for deploying “goons” to intimidate and threaten opponents even in his own party—is a case in point of this arbitrariness. The House Ethics Committee recently declined to investigate this man for “an apparent conflict of interest” in inviting Brooks Hurst, a business partner of Graves’ wife, to testify before the Small Business Committee, in an apparent effort to sway legislation that would benefit the ethanol plant that Hurst and Mrs. Graves had an investment. Graves apparently did not inform the committee that he himself had a personal financial interest in the testimony. Interestingly, Graves is the only member of the so-called “Dirty Thirty” congresspersons who is white who had been forwarded to the Ethics Committee for further investigation. The other seven have all been African-American, but unlike Graves, all are currently under "further review."

The OCE has been accused—especially by the Congressional Black Caucus—of overreach and behaving in an oversensitive fashion; the caucus has called for scaling back the powers of the OCE. It is now claimed that the OCE is targeting black lawmakers. That may explain why the Ethics Committee decided not to investigate Graves, but did decide to investigate Rep. Maxine Waters on a similar allegation, allegedly intervening with Treasury Department on behalf of a bank for which her husband was once a board member, even though the bank in fact did qualify for TARP funds. Rep. Laura Richardson is also under investigation, apparently because a few neighbors mowed her lawn. Along with Charles Rangel and four other congresspersons, the OCE and House ethics panel seem to have decided that the only people worth investigating are African-American. These are the only members of the so-called “Dirty Thirty” that Nancy Pelosi, who apparently has great influence on the Ethics Committee’s “deliberations,” has decided that there are cases against at the present time.

What hangs over all of this, and I have talked about this before, is that there is no such thing as “clean” politics. It is impossible to be elected to office without horse-trading and under-the-table deals. The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case has opened the floodgates even wider for campaign fundraising abuse, since it allows multi-billion dollar corporations to make virtually unlimited contributions to candidates who can be bought and sold and do their bidding. The right-wing organization Citizens United, which brought the case, claims that it wishes to restore “citizens control,” but this it is probably the last thing that the ruling will do. Every regulatory change or government programs that effects businesses are subject to “pressure” from said businesses, and those who “succumb” to the pressure are amply “rewarded” come time for the spoils, whether in campaign cash or later positions as lobbyists or sitting on corporation boards. All elected officials are in the pay of someone or something more powerful than they. The question then is who is to be judged more guilty than another; too many prosecutors in the pursuit of personal notoriety use entirely arbitrary variables to make that determination.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The "first lady" of hate

The other day I heard a left-wing commentator on the radio admit that she despised Michelle Malkin even more that she did Ann Coulter. While Coulter is little more than a right-wing shock-jock, Malkin is a serial hater—she really did believe all the hateful things she said. Malkin also suffers from rampant hypocrisy: she constantly rails against immigrants, yet she herself is an “anchor baby” born of parents who were Philippine citizens, in the U.S. on a work visa program. Malkin also claimed that after being called racist names at school, her mother told her that everyone is racist, and that she was “eternally grateful” for that “wise” counsel. Apparently Malkin uses this “counsel” to justify her own ugly racism. Malkin demeans other people's intelligence, referring to Barack Obama’s “ignorance” on nuclear issues; yet it was her own ignorance that was on display: like all right-wing commentators, she herself was completely unaware of Sen. Obama’s teaming with Richard Lugar on nuclear arms control issues. If anything, the nuclear issue was Obama’s principle area of expertise as senator, and certainly far beyond Malkin's superficial notions. Nor would Malkin back-away from a bald-face lie, such as repeating the claim by the Swift-Boaters that John Kerry had deliberately wounded himself while serving in Vietnam.

Malkin, married to a white man of the same right-wing stripe, first worked for the Los Angeles Daily News in the early 1990s, which until recently had a lousy minority hiring record, but apparently had room for a ragingly conservative Filipino. My introduction to Malkin was in 1996, when at the age of 26 she was hired on as an op-ed columnist by the Seattle Times without ever having had to pay her dues as a reporter. I figured that the Times’ editorial page editor at the time, Mindy Cameron, had no clue about Malkin’s fanaticism, but she was a gender politician and wanted to add more “diversity” to the editorial board. Malkin’s lack of qualifications and contempt of facts apparently played no part in her hiring, but she did add more “diversity” than was bargained for: a racial minority, a woman—and borderline insane to boot. Any claim that the Times had to intelligent editorial discussion went out the window whenever a Malkin column appeared. Bill Clinton was a favorite target, as were “liberals” in general, but her columns were generally the ramblings of a hate-filled schizophrenic. You were constantly asking yourself “What the (bleep) is she talking about?” One day she was blathering on about racism and when it did or didn’t apply, when I finally figured her out. I wrote a letter to the Times in which I observed that Malkin was one of those people, like Clarence Thomas, who was filled with self-loathing because she wasn’t white, and because of the racial attitudes inherent in American society, felt anger toward other people who were not white for “dragging her down”--into their “gutter” when she herself was just as good as any white person. Couldn't white people see that, and not her (very) brown skin?

In other words, she hated being linked to those “other” people. She was not one of “them,” and she hated “them” for “shaming” her--by applying to "them" as a "group" the very stereotypes and prejudices that a white person might use. In order to "fit-in," she out bigots the bigots. It never occurred to her that we live in a superficial society where skin color is the first order in a de facto caste system. Most minorities take another tack to this dilemma—fighting (or at least butting heads with) the racism rather than joining in it, as Malkin has. Malkin, like other right-wing minorities, is so wrapped-up in self-loathing and hate that even the fact that it is these very characteristics that are used by the otherwise wholly-white right to undermine equal opportunity for the vast majority of minorities is a complete mystery to her.

Malkin left the paper to become, at the age of 29, a nationally-syndicated columnist. Right-wing egomania and fanaticism clearly is the fastest way to a media job for a racial minority. She has since often made extreme right “commentators” like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Williams sound positively reasonable. The titles of her books are pretty much self-explanatory as to her state-of-mind:

“Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”

“Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, And Other Foreign Menaces To Our Shores”

“In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror”

“Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild”

“Unhinged” is, of course, a word that many people would use in regard to Malkin. Her hate seemingly knows no bounds; besides constantly railing against “Mexicans” as one mass of violent subhumans, in the book approving the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, she suggested that there was “justification” in similarly interning all Muslim-Americans now.

Many people snicker at Geraldo Rivera, who managed to make people forget his Willowbrook State School exposé with “exploits” like the “Al Capone’s Vault” fiasco and infamous chair-throwing incident (which put his broken nose ignominiously on the cover of one of one of the weekly news magazines), but I credit him for taking on the racism of Fox News, unafraid of shouting down Bill O’Reilly when necessary. In an article in the Boston Globe from 2007, Rivera also had some interesting thoughts in regard to Malkin. "Michelle Malkin is the most vile, hateful commentator I've ever met in my life. She actually believes that neighbors should start snitching out neighbors, and we should be deporting people. It's good she's in D.C. and I'm in New York, I'd spit on her if I saw her."

The insensitive Malkin, who can dish it out without regard to another’s feelings, apparently is too sensitive to take the heat back. She subsequently refused to reappear on the “O’Reilly Factor” because she felt that she wasn’t adequately defended by Fox News; she showed the immature nature of her mind by referring to Rivera as “Mr. Moustache” in a rambling “rebuttable” on her website. Immaturity and hate—that is what so people in this country allow themselves to be influenced by. How can one expect an information-challenged populace to “grow-up?”

A change is gonna come

For those old enough to remember a different time, the changes in technology, shopping habits and its effect on the economy have been both fascinating and disconcerting. DVD was a nifty invention, but it would have been even niftier if was around thirty years ago, back when contemporary films that I now regard as indispensible were released on those bulky Laser Discs (and the studio, not mercurial filmmakers like George Lucas, had control of release decisions). However, I was still young when CDs appeared, so what would become the digital age of entertainment media wasn’t a complete surprise. Back in the day, if you wanted home entertainment beyond offerings on television, you went to the record or video rental store, and they were everywhere; not that television back then didn’t produce quality programming—talented writers and producers were in abundance, and some even had a sharp sense of the political and social times. Today, even with a hundred channels, I have a hard time finding anything to keep me from being bored, except on Sunday during the NFL season or when the History Channel has another five-hour block devoted to the Nazis. Too much television today is like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”—strip away all the techno wizardry, it’s mostly just bullshit; worse for an information-challenged populace, even with three cable news channels the only place where you can find in-depth news-gathering is on an occasional PBS’ “Frontline” special.

Anyways, the CD format was a sales-driver, because it didn’t merely replace vinyl, but drove people to replace their existing collection with what was regarded as a superior and more durable format (I have CDs 25 years old that still play like new; given my sloppy habits, vinyl would have no chance. There could be a half dozen different retailers specializing in records with several outlets in town; you could always count on Tower Records having virtually anything you were looking for, and some things you were not looking for staring you in the face. Music—and then video—sales were big business, and these stores kept a great many people employed.
It isn’t like that today. The digital era has gone electronic. All you have to do is go on a computer and there are hundreds or even thousands of online sellers (some more reputable than others), and if its ever been released, it is out there somewhere. You don’t have to drive or walk to a store anymore. Just type in the credit card number and your on easy street. You don’t have to actually have something in your hands that you have time to mull over whether or not you actually want to waste money on it; Amazon knows that, because it doesn’t allow people to cancel an order five minutes after you hit the “confirm” button. You don’t even have to purchase whole records anymore; just listen to a brief snippet of a list of songs and download the ones you think you like. But it’s actually even worse than that for product producers and sellers: you can download virtually anything you want for free, if you look hard enough.

According to a recent report by the RIAA, in 1991 there were 9,500 retail outlets dedicated to pre-recorded entertainment media; in 2006, the number had been reduced to 2,000—most of which were small specialty shops. Virtually all the major record chains, like Tower, Wherehouse, Sam Goody and others have gone bankrupt, are on-line only, or simply disappeared. In 2000, 785 million CD albums were still being sold, and the DVD format was in its third year, and videophiles like myself were eager to stock-up on favorite films; for a few years, every Tuesday I would head to Tower Records and find as many as ten new catalogue titles on sale that I “needed” to have. But purchasing dynamics would change dramatically within just a few years. Recordable CDs , mp3s, the internet and DVRs was one factor; by 2009, CD sales had fallen by nearly 50 percent, and most of those sales were made in Wal-Mart or Best Buy which had only a limited selection. Record store chains have also went south because of high CD prices; record companies justified the continuing high prices of CDs—almost alone among electronic media that has actually risen in price as it matured instead of declining—on making-up the difference in lost sales from piracy and illegal downloading. Yet it has given sweet deals to big-box retail outlets like Wal-Mart, which sells CDs at a discount because CDs (and DVDs) are not seen as a money-makers themselves, but because they generate foot traffic in areas where profit is made.

Another factor in the decline of both stores and sales was that the fact of mostly poor and uninspiring product being put out—and less of it, as if that is supposed to help sales. According to a Business Week story, Nathan Brackett of Rolling Stone magazine stated that “The music industry's [modus operandi] is to throw things against the wall and see what sticks. If they're throwing 20 percent less stuff out there, there's less chance something will stick.” So much of music these days is mindlessly repetitive (rap, hip-hop), ragingly derivative (country) or just plain dull (rock, pop), that whether something sticks or not is almost a matter of indifference, meaningless beyond simply being background noise. The same with DVDs; once movie studios started to curtail issuing back catalogue titles, true vidoephiles who were the mostly reliable customers simply curtailed their purchases because of the quizzical quality of current films (see above Pink Floyd reference).

In other words, record and movie producers don’t really care about finding out what the public really wants, outside the teen demographic. It is true that younger audiences with different “tastes” are almost completely immune to the effects of musical creativity, adult story-telling and quality writing; we can see this on MTV and VH1, where it is virtually impossible to find music anymore, and even on the so-called American Movie Classics channel, where it is almost impossible for a younger demographic to be exposed to actual classic vintage films. Almost all contemporary “entertainment” these days is mostly self-indulgent with little lasting emotional impact. So there is simply little worthy of expending limited funds on. In an article in the New York Times last year on the closing of the Virgin Megastore, one of the last large record stores in the city, one former customer admitted that though he liked to go to the record store, “I don’t really buy stuff from it, but it’s a really cool place.”

The record store is just one example of how what appears to be technological advancement also may have a net negative effect on employment and the economy. The newspaper business has been an obvious victim, as well as bookstores; there is a Border’s Books and a Barns and Nobles in downtown Seattle, but on most days they seem virtually empty. I don’t visit them much anymore, not because some of the employees are conceited and rude, but because more likely than not they don’t have what I’m looking for anyways. I can order books or DVDs in the store, but why do I need to waste time walking to a store if I can simply go online on my own computer?

Closing these stores, naturally, means job losses. The question then is if on-line retailing is replacing those lost jobs. It is hard to pin down statistics on that subject; retail sales make-up a little over $4 trillion of the GDP, of which between 3 and 4 percent is labeled “e-commerce.” Music and films would naturally be more susceptible than big-ticket items, since people would prefer to “inspect” such items before they purchase them. But having once worked in an apparel warehouse, it is my impression that even doubling of sales only requires modest modifications in employee hiring numbers, if any at all. This is just one reason why the economy must adapt by diversifying into uncharted waters--like green energy--in order to create new employment opportunities.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Boehner has a "plan"--he just won't tell you what it is until after the election

On the “Meet The Press” on Sunday, House minority leader John Boehner twisted himself in knots while talking himself in circles trying to avoid giving moderator David Gregory a straight answer to relatively simple questions. Boehner offered the usual over-broad talking points without the slightest hint of detail. When he talked tax cuts, the crocodile tears he shed over working people was fairly maddening, because we know that he is really talking about continuing the Bush tax cuts for wealthy individuals and giant corporations. Perhaps Boehner was suffering from a brain cramp when he failed to acknowledge that Obama had already cut taxes last year for people and businesses making under $250,000—which the Republicans opposed—while the Senate Republicans just blocked tax breaks for small businesses. Gregory repeatedly pressed Boehner on how he was going to pay for the kind of tax cuts he (really) had in mind if, in fact, he wasn’t just being a gasbag about bringing down the federal deficit; Boehner just as repeatedly refused to answer the question, claiming that Gregory was just playing the Washington, D.C. “game.”

Boehner was then asked for details on what exactly was the Republican’s “plan” to strengthen the economy and bring down the deficit; Boehner again refused to offer specifics. Boehner, in fact, inadvertently implied that the Republican “plan”—if in fact they had a plan at all—was something that working people might not take kindly too, like even more massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and repealing the financial reform package that most Americans support (Sen. Patty Murray’s Republican opponent in Washington state, Dino Rossi, promises to help do just that if elected). Why else would Boehner say that the Republicans had no intention of offering a “plan” outside their standard talking points until after the mid-term elections? What are they afraid of? What is it that they don’t want the electorate to know? Haven’t the Republicans repeatedly told us that Democrats are not “listening” to the American people, and they are? Or have they only been “listening” to the half-wits in the Tea Party movement, who only repeat what Sean Hannity tells them to think and say?

To his credit, Gregory continued to press Boehner on the apparently non-existent Republican plan outside the increasingly irritating tax-cut mantra. Finally, Boehner mumbled something about using TARP money to bring down the deficit, which is not exactly feasible since it is merely phony money created by the FED, and freezing discretionary spending, which Obama supports but Boehner suddenly decided should be at 2008 instead of 2010 levels. Interestingly, the Republicans oppose a “debt commission” to find ways of bringing down the deficit, because they are afraid the commission might recommend tax increases on their upper-crust supporters.

But wait: the Republicans do have one “solid” idea up their fundaments—raising the retirement age to 70. Most of the Republicans' wealthy friends (and all former Senators and Congresspersons with their automatic government pensions) can retire comfortably any time they please, so ramifications on the average working stiff is of little concern. It is also true that the average life-expectancy of African-American males is under 70; in their smoke-filled rooms, the party of white is no doubt congratulating themselves on this sly money-saving scheme.

When it was noted that Boehner also supports examining the native-born citizen clause in the 14th Amendment, he couldn’t be pinned-down if he supports a Constitutional amendment repealing the clause; the fact is that opening this can-of-worms would create far more headaches than it solves, particularly when some of those children are born of undocumented Europeans and Asians—and we don’t want to be hypocrites about this, do we? Boehner did, however, repeat the insipid racist line that “Mexicans” were coming to the country for the purpose of having babies born here, and U.S. hospitals and public facilities were being “overwhelmed” by illegals—when in fact the opposite is true; undocumented workers tend to avoid using public supports to avoid notice, and as I’ve indicated in a previous post, credible studies (rather than bigots' “beliefs”) show that the taxes that undocumented workers pay account for a net surplus on public coffers.

But let’s get down to cold, hard reality. Republicans don’t “get it.” They didn’t “get it” on tax cuts and the deficit during the Reagan administration. They didn’t “get it” during the Bush administration. When Boehner tells us that they can’t tell us what their “plan” is until after the election, that means that they really don’t have any new ideas at all. They know that the people they claim that they are “listening” to (outside the tea-baggers) don’t want more tax cuts for the fattest cats, or more deregulation, or more “marketplace” solutions to environmental and energy issues. We’ve seen all that before, and it has been a disaster now and will be even worse in the future. Thinking voters must wrap their minds around the reality that Republicans simply cannot be trusted.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hurricane Katrina aftermath's real "dark side"

After the failure of local authorities to deal with the case, six New Orleans police officers have been charged in federal court with either murder or conspiring to cover-up the murder of two unarmed black men (one mentally-disabled) on the Danziger Bridge, and wounding four others in an incident a few days after Hurricane Katrina hit. Five other officers plead guilty to being involved in what they admit were unjustified shootings. In another incident, hate crime charges have been leveled against a white man who one witness described as devolving into a rabid animal as he sought black “looters” to shoot and kill; he shot and severely wounded at least one man, and may have been responsible for other black men found shot dead in the vicinity. According to the witness, “It was like he got the taste of blood, and he was out for more.” Again, local officials had done nothing to prosecute the man. In another incident, caught on tape, a 66-year-old black man, merely seeking information, was beaten bloody by two police officers; once more, these officers were not held to account.

These were not the only incidents of where humanity took a backseat. The right-wing media liked to portray the stranded black population in the city in barbaric terms, but it was the so-called “civilized” people who turned-out to be less human. Take the case of Dr. Anna Pou, who a New Orleans grand jury, not unexpectedly it seems, refused to indict on murder charges. Pou had been accused of euthanizing patients in her care so that she could make her escape in the days after Katrina; two nurses testified that she administered or directed them to administer lethal doses of morphine or the sedative midazolam.

Pou claimed that the patients were not likely to live out the aftermath of the storm once the power went out, and were suffering unendurable pain. But in a New York Times story last year on the case, new information reveals a much more sickening spectacle that greeted relief workers: 45 decomposing bodies were found, many of them left in a makeshift morgue in the Memorial Medical Center’s chapel—suggesting that many more people may have been euthanized against their will. Pou would claim that “informed consent” was impossible in the conditions, and justified her own actions under the premise that the sickest or more severely injured people were to be evacuated last—if at all. That is to say, save yourself, and let the rest die—with the proviso of making their deaths as “painless” as possible, if you can get away with it.

Although it is possible that Pou was not the only doctor at the hospital involved in the euthanasia, she seemed to be the most “enthusiastic.” Pou appeared to be “energetic and jumped into the center of the action” while patients were being “categorized” for fitness for immediate evacuation, with 3 being the “least” fit. Pou took personal charge of category 3 patients that were still left on the seventh floor of the hospital. After most of the hospital had been evacuated, Pou was left to her own devises on what to do with these remaining patients. The Orleans Parish coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard, would later testify that he was surprised about how many of Pou’s “patients” were not suffering from pain issues, yet they were given lethal doses of pain medication.

After the grand jury verdict, Pou took to touring the country to try to justify her actions, with some success, it seems. She was even able to help craft laws that makes it difficult to charge doctors with crimes or sue them for involvement in involuntary euthanasia during natural disasters. Most doctors everywhere declare her a “hero,” or at least don’t pass judgment. But for those who take simple human decency into account, the smell of inhumanity is as powerful as the one that greeted those workers who first discovered the grisly spectacle.

Land of the incarcerated

In a recent cover story in The Economist, the author observes that for a country that styles itself as the “Land of the Free,” the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other Western country—at a rate of one in every 100 people at any given time, and a rather shocking one in nine young African-Americans males. Although not noted in the article, the “tough on crime” trend that began around 1970 can be attributed to the first Nixon administration, when the right played to public alarm over anti-war youths rampaging in the streets, increased drug use, riots in urban ghettos and confrontations with police. Since then, crime and punishment has been politicized to the point where it is observed that:

“… crime became an emotive political issue and voters took to backing politicians who promised to stamp on it. This created a ratchet effect: lawmakers who wish to sound tough must propose laws tougher than the ones that the last chap who wanted to sound tough proposed. When the crime rate falls, tough sentences are hailed as the cause, even when demography or other factors may matter more; when the rate rises tough sentences are demanded to solve the problem. As a result, America’s incarceration rate has quadrupled since 1970.”

I disagree with the articles’ premise that white collar crime is not really all that serious and should not end in prison sentences, but there is considerable merit in the criticism of locking-up people who did not know they even committed a crime, based on arcane laws that nobody realizes are still on the books. There is also merit in the criticism of filling prisons with and incarcerating for long periods non-violent drug offenders, including small-time dealers; when are we going to admit that the cost-to-benefit ratio for the “war on drugs” is vastly skewed to cost? And how many young people have smoked pot or did some minor “accidental” property damage that are “crimes” only because they were caught doing it, not because there was a “victim” involved?

Improving economic and educational opportunities for the most vulnerable demographics, shortening the sentences and “humanizing” the prison experience for non-violent offenders seems to be something a majority of the public is aghast at. Either you’re brain is wired this way or that way. It would rather see someone like Joe Arpaio humiliate prisoners (many of them merely victims of another one of his traffic violation “sweeps”) for his own perverted pleasure, and harden them even more against his version of a “law and order” society.

I have this other idea, and it goes something like this: People in this country, mainly white, view incarceration as a convenient means to reduce the number of the people (mainly minority) who have to be reckoned with when passing out the nation’s spoils. Crazy, I know; but that is the net effect of it.

The never-ending fight

I was checking out the latest on the hate front on the Southern Poverty Law Center website when I learned about a “novel” published in 1973 entitled “The Camp of the Saints,” by a Frenchmen named Jean Raspail. It is essentially the French version of the racist xenophobe’s nightmarish vision “The Turner Diaries”—except that it is even more vile. It portrays France being “invaded” by vast armada of mostly East Indians (yeah, it’s insane), and how all the whites are wiped-out because a few still cling to such evil things as Christian charity and human rights. Raspail was moved to write this book because, he says in the book’s introduction, that he feared for the survival of the white race when it was so vastly out-numbered in the world by the blacks, browns and yellows. This novel was a “parable” about what might happen if western nations allowed the presence of dark-skinned, sexually voracious subhumanoids in any quantity. Raspail was quoted in 1982 as claiming that "the proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction in the century to come, if we hold fast to our present moral principles." The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that while the book “was widely reviled in Europe, its translation in English was greeted with excited reviews like the one in The Wall Street Journal that said the book had moments ‘of appalling power and occasionally a terrible beauty.’”

Here are some examples of the “terrible beauty” of the book, courtesy of an SPLCenter reseacher who had to foul his or her hands with it:

“[As the refugee fleet arrives on French shores, a noble old professor kills a fellow white who is depicted as having sold out his race and civilization. Afterwards, as he celebrates the killing, the professor reflects on the loss of white pride.] The old professor understood. That scorn of a people for other races, the knowledge that one's own is best, the triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of humanity's finest — none of that had ever filled these [white] youngsters' brains, or at least so little that the monstrous cancer [of compassion for other races] implanted in the Western conscience had quashed it in no time at all.”

“[At one point, a French town, faced with the threat of diseased foreigners, issues an edict requiring Arabs to get a certificate of health before using its public swimming pools.] Retaliation took many forms. ... A hundred nice French girls, teaching school in Algeria, were suddenly hauled into the hospital and spread on the stirrups to be plumbed and explored by a squad of medical student commandos, whipped up to a frenzy. Two of them died as a result... .”

“[The book repeatedly characterizes non-whites as sexual carnivores, as in this scene aboard the refugee fleet that is heading for Europe.] But in time, very slowly, the flesh [aboard the ships] began to seethe. ... Perhaps it was the heat... Most of all, the natural drive of a people who never found sex to be sin. ... [E]verywhere, a mass of hands and mouths, of phalluses and rumps. ... Young boys, passed from hand to hand. Young girls, barely ripe ... waking to the silent play of eager lips. ... Men with women, men with men, women with women, men with children... . And so, in a welter of dung and debauch — and hope as well — the Last Chance Armada pushed on toward the West.”

“[As the Third World slaughter of whites picks up speed, the book describes a scene in a pig-processing plant in which a black man slaughters his white boss after being asked to kill pigs more quickly.] "Sure 'nough boss," one red-spattered black said, "we can sure 'nough do one more at least..." The white man felt no more pain than any of the other pigs on the line. Stunned, hoisted, slaughtered. ... [Hung from a hook, the murdered boss' body] caused ... no special disgust [among the black workers]. They had seen such things before, after all. At market, in the Congo.”

“[As the novel nears its end, Lydie, depicted as a traitor to her white race, becomes a sexual plaything for the dark-skinned refugees who have now seized power.] Lydie ... died in Nice, in a whorehouse for Hindus... . At the time, each refugee quarter had its stock of white women, all free for the taking. (One of the new regime's laws, in fact. In order to "demythify" white women, as they put it.) ... [In the end, Lydie, along with other white female sex slaves, is confined by the "Hindus" to their] ‘White Female Practice and Experimentation Center.’”

“[The novel ends where it began, with the arrival of the refugee fleet in France.] [F]irst to land were the monsters, the grotesque little beggars from the streets of Calcutta. As they groveled through the wet sand like a pack of basset hounds, or a herd of clumsy seals exploring an unfamiliar shore, with their snorts and grunts of joy, they looked like an army of little green men from some remote planet. ... Yes, the country [France] would suit them fine. No question.”

I was curious about something, and sure enough, Amazon sells this book too. It received mostly “positive” reviews, although judging from the fact that it is only the 23,000th most popular book in sales, the 83 people who reviewed the book are probably the only ones who bought it. What I find fascinating about the reviews of these hate screeds is that people who are uncritical of their premise tend to be viewed as more “helpful” than those with a more critical and reasoned approach—in fact, the latter is apparently viewed as “unhelpful” simply because they refuse to take paranoid racialist fantasies at face value. Non-whites have no “secret plan” to take over the Western World just so they can rape all the white women (now you know why I am no feminist sympathizer), they just want to fit-in and live—that is, if whites not inclined to do so will accept the fact that they are actually human beings just like they are, and treat them that way. Non-whites don’t have an problem with assimilating and advancing—whites of the "rational discrimination" variety do, because of their sense of racial “privilege.”

The “popularity” of books of this nature in this country are easily translated into the racist fantasies the “natives” have in regard to “Mexicans.” I occasionally listen to the radio program “Coast-to-Coast,” not because I want to be “informed,” but because I want to be entertained. The show specializes in conspiracy theories and the paranormal, and Art Bell once admitted that 50 percent of it was “bullshit.” With George Noory at the helm, 90 percent of it is bullshit, but at least most of it is entertaining bullshit; on rare occasions, such as on environmental issues, intelligent conversation might actually take place. But once Noory detours into the political and social realms, in combination with the fantasies and conspiracy theories his guests offer as fact, right-wing extremism is very much in evidence.

Last night, Noory had on couple of guests exposing the horrible “truth” about Mexican immigrants, gangs, drugs, violence etc. etc. etc. Only when called-out by a few callers on their racism did they backtrack and say they were not suggesting that ALL Mexican immigrants were violent criminals. One thing that was clear was that the illegal immigration was only a “Mexican” problem for these paranoids. One caller noted that he lived in the North East, and all he saw were these Russian illegal immigrants who were engaged in drugs, money-laundering, car theft and prostitutions (sort of like the Italian mafia); he also noted that Russian mob influence in the country was very strong; frankly, I personally have wondered why the media or law enforcement never investigated the possible Russian mob connections of the murderer of Bill Cosby’s son. The caller also noted that he lived in neighborhood peppered with street signs in Russian, and sometimes he had a hard time figuring out where he was, One of Noory’s guests admitted that the Russian mob did have a presence in the U.S., but was a story for another time.

Perhaps that time was never on his mind to begin with, because the next caller wondered why he was only talking about Mexicans, and the guest became angry and proceeded to erupt with a string of what he termed “facts”: 85 percent of all illegal immigrants were Mexican, and there were 12 to 14 million of them. It’s almost all a Mexican problem, that’s why he doesn’t talk about other illegals. He went on to further inflate that number to 20 million, allegedly costing the country $346 billion every year. Before long, after Noory suggested (to his credit, perhaps concerned about being labeled a racist himself) that we ought to throw out all the criminals and grant the people who are here working hard a path to citizenship, the guest revealed his true motive by declaring the fear that “Mexicans” might form the greater part of a non-white majority by 2050. We needed to secure the boarder before we even think about immigration reform, he continued. But as Janet Napolitano has noted, the anti-immigration forces’ definition of what “secure borders” means is a moving target.

A friendlier caller suggested that people who opposed the Arizona law were “heartless” because they didn’t “understand” the “suffering” that (white) Arizonans were feeling. Naturally, there was no mention of the fact that the “suffering” that Arizonans were feeling is largely to due to the heartless and incompetent Republican ruling party in the state with their foolish yearly tax cutting policies, and the failure to diversify the economy, which had largely “grown” from the influx of retirees looking for fine weather, and who otherwise contributed little to the economy. Illegal immigrants in fact filled a labor void in the country until the real estate collapse hurt construction.

As far as the rest of those “facts” are concerned, at least we know from where that xenophobe Lou Dobbs got his. The latest credible studies estimate that there are 10.8 millions illegals in the country, maybe less since the economic downturn. According to a Pew Foundation study, 75 percent are from Latin America. Half of those are from Mexico (about 4.5 million) and most of the rest are from Central America, the scene of brutal right-wing murder regimes supported by the U.S. over the decades.

The only intelligent point made was that the “war on drugs” was an abject failure, and the need to begin depoliticizing the issue. Decriminalization would stop much if not all of the violence associated with the drug trade, but it was suggested—perhaps rightly—that governments and banks do not wish to end the lucrative off-the-books money-laundering trade. And while I agree that we have to stop illegal immigration, that cannot be done without a comprehensive strategy that includes stabilizing and backing policies that end economic inequities in Latin America (rather than backing right-wing regimes that hoard all a nation’s wealth), and instituting an intelligent and less onerous work visa program that makes it less likely for migrant workers to overstay in the country. The fact that the U.S. prefers to fly in thousands of immigrant workers from Asia and Africa instead of granting work visas to long-time laborers forced off the job on farms shows that it really is about being anti-Latino.

Returning to Noory’s guests and their unsubstantiated assertions, the numerous myths passed on as “facts” by even the mainstream media in regard to illegal immigration merely poisons in the public mind concerning any thought to addressing the issues that have led to the “problem.” The infamous claim by Dobbs concerning the “deadly import” of 7,000 cases of leprosy first originated with a nativist named Madeleine Cosman, who also claimed that “most” Latino men molest white girls under 12 years of age (that must be why every time I walk past a white parent with a 4-year-old daughter, they wake-up as if out of trance and speedily race away to insure that the kid is safely out of “harm’s way”). There are also studies by credible sources (like university researchers, not people enlarging their “beliefs”) who dispute the various commonly-held theories such as undocumented workers “steal” jobs that would otherwise have gone to natives, depress wages, and cost a “fortune” in social programs without contributing a dime. A University of Texas study, for example, showed that there is a net profit made in state coffers made from illegal immigrants in the state. A recent article in Newsweek also disputed the commonly-held notion that illegal immigrants are a drain on the economy and public services, and a researcher named Francine Lipman at the Chapman University law school in California (hardly a name brand but ranked as having the 17th best tax law program in the country by U.S. News and World Report) found that

“Undocumented immigrants living in the United States are subject to the same income tax laws as documented immigrants and U.S. citizens. However, because of their status most unauthorized workers pay a higher effective tax rate than similarly situated documented or U.S. citizens. Yet, these workers and their families use fewer government services than similarly situated documented immigrants or U.S. citizens. Moreover, unauthorized workers have been denied remedies by the U.S. Supreme Court under the National Labor Relations Act and may be challenged to receive protection under wage and hour, anti-discrimination and workers' compensation laws. As a result, undocumented immigrants provide a fiscal windfall and may be the most fiscally beneficial of all immigrants.”

Disputing the theory that all “Mexican” immigrants are violent criminals, The SPLCenter quoted Robert J. Sampson, chairman of Harvard's sociology department. In a 2005 article in The American Journal of Health, Sampson found that “the rate of violence among Mexican Americans was significantly lower than among non-Latino white and black Americans.” Other studies appear to demonstrate that “second- and third-generation immigrants are significantly more criminal than their parents, suggesting that U.S. culture somehow eventually produces more, not less, criminality among its citizens.” Given the fact that 50 percent of all illegal immigrants who are incarcerated are imprisoned strictly on immigration charges, this suggests that criminality and violence among first-generation Latino immigrants (legal or not) is far lower than is commonly held, yet is an image perpetuated by the media—blatantly and without any hint of context.

And yet the racist misinformation continues, and people choose to believe it, because all they have is their “belief” based solely on prejudice and stereotypes. The fight goes on, and on, and on, endlessly it would seem.

Lunacy for sale

The online retailer Amazon is a place where people can find almost anything of a mainstream variety. But it is also a retailer that will do anything for a buck, even allowing itself to be used as a purveyor of the most atrocious, slanderous screeds. Most people wouldn’t know this, because they are just looking for the latest hit movie or bestselling book by a familiar author; generally they are looking for something that they believe is a worthwhile waster of time. They are not looking for the babbling, hate-filled droolings of the lunatic right fringe. But it’s there alright, hundreds of them (maybe thousands). I assume, for some reason, that Amazon doesn’t allow just anything into its warehouse, that it actually scrutinizes this material for fitness for average or below minds. But apparently not. If they think it will sell to some dismal demographic, they will allow it to foul its shelves. Amazon, in fact, doesn’t even bother to edit book descriptions of these tomes, where people named “Ingrid” from Denmark are quoted as if they have the status of literary scholars. Reviewers of these right-wing screeds appear regularly; and they say things like “I dare you to read this and discover the truth.” A rare “negative” review merely states that this was old news to the reviewer, and although she agreed with everything the author said, she was expecting new (i.e. more outrageous) “revelations.”

And so it happened that completely by accident I came upon a book entitled “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America” by Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who are apparently a couple of fringe-right bloggers. It is a waste of time describing the book’s contents; if you’ve heard Mark Williams’ racist hysterics on CNN or Fox News, you get the general idea. There are tabs for people who wish to read like-minded tomes, and there are, as I stated before, literally hundreds or more of these pathetic mulings. Many of them are merely pamphlets, and the ones that are more “substantial” merely repeat the same right-wing conspiracy theories we have been hearing since at least the FDR administration. Obama has successfully managed a few less than radical initiatives like health care and finance reform, but otherwise has done little that can accused of being outside the status quo. Yet less than two years into Obama’s presidency, books containing nothing more than sheer racist fantasy—ideas that were already in the minds of hate fanatics (who have the absolute audacity to accuse Obama of being a racist) before Obama was even born, but this time only expanded into Twilight Zone territory.

I won’t waste time doing point-by-point analysis and counter-analysis with funny farm escapees, but I do think that the accusation that Obama is a Islamic Jihadist and anti-Semite—curious seeing that most hate-mongerers are anti-Semitic—deserves some rebuttal, since this seems to have gained some traction in “mainstream” circles, particularly since polls show that a quarter of the population thinks that Obama may be the anti-Christ. Outside his speech in Cairo, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton haven’t gone out of their way to make a noticeable dent in the status quo in Middle East. I am as strong a supporter of Israel as anyone, and I have not detected these so-called anti-Israel policies. And I’m not blind; Israel has embarrassed the U.S. more than a few times in the past year, particularly with the recent ship hijacking, and one may fairly ask what exactly is Israel’s long-term strategy as it continues to build settlements on the West Bank. Does it want peace, or does it intend to swallow-up the whole of the West Bank? I for one would like some clarity on the issue.

In any case, “people who bought this book also bought” the following, according to Amazon:

“The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran”

“Obama’s Betrayal of Israel”

“Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is subverting America without guns or bombs”

“The Manchurian President: Barack Obama's Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists”

“Obama’s Radical Transformation of America (Year One)”

“How the Obama’s Administration Has Politicized Justice”

“How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security”

“How the Obama Administration Threatens to Undermine Our Elections”

“How Barack Obama is Endangering Our National Sovereignty"

“How Obama is Transforming America Through Immigration”

“How Barack Obama is Bankrupting the U.S. Economy” (There are about a dozen or so more of these “How—fill-in the blank—Obama Threatens” pamphlets; I’m wondering when the “How Obama will drain the Oceans” and “How Obama’s Space Alien Friends will Destroy the World” will appear.)

“The Blueprint: Obama's Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency”

“Architects of Ruin: How big government liberals wrecked the global economy---and how they will do it again if no one stops them”

“The Obama Timeline: From his Birth in 1961 Through his First 100 Days in Office” (the book has a red cover with a sickle and hammer emblem)

And the list goes on and on and on. Obama has been president for less than two years, and he has done all of this? Sure has been a busy man, behind the scenes anyways. I am quite certain that no president in this country’s history has received such minute scrutiny in so short a time. And it’s all perfect nonsense. It is also fairly certain that this stuff is mother’s milk to the Tea Party movement.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Costumed clowns running the media

The Seattle Times ran yet another unenlightening story, this time borrowed from the Washington Post, on the latest shenanigans of the Tea Party movement. This time it is was about another bunch of pallid-faced “patriots” dressed-up in 1770’s garb and railing about the “dangerous times” we live in. Yawn. No one in the media ever bothers to tell these buffoons that if the times are “dangerous,” it is because of bigoted ignoramuses like themselves. Why doesn’t the media ask them why these times are any more dangerous than, say, the Bush years, when we had warrantless wiretapping and U.S. citizens were being tortured in Navy brigs? Why were those years any less dangerous, when “smart guys” were given full reign to gamble with the country’s financial institutions and the real-estate market, lining their bank accounts in the full knowledge that their greed was sending the country closer to the edge of economic ruin?

If these times are more “dangerous,” it is not because we have a “socialist” black president, it’s because we have extremists on the right who are not “patriots”—because they have no conception of nationhood and oppose the precepts of equality and justice this country was founded on. The line “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” should come with an asterisk: Only members of the founding father’s race apply. They exist in a xenophobic bubble. All they think about is guns, taxes and race. Period. They may talk about bailouts and deficits, but these are words that have no meaning unless they are used in conjunction with Democrats and “socialists,” especially a Democratic president who happens to be one of those racial interlopers.

The “mainstream” media is so craven these days. It never looks to see the rotted guts below the surface sheen. They find a bunch of costumed clowns with their simple-minded slogans and think there is a “story.” There is a “story,” except it isn’t the one that is being told. That story would include the fact that the Tea Party movement is nothing more than the same bunch of paranoid bigots who fear the loss of the “privilege” of doing whatever they damn well like, which includes, of course, expressing and acting on their prejudices; these people have come out of woodwork throughout the course of U.S. history, and usually in defense of the concept that not everyone has rights a “native” is bound to respect. They think that respecting other people’s rights and aspirations mean they have to give something up. Deep down in that dark place it really is only about themselves, not the country.

Since the media gives tea partiers as much airtime as they want, it doesn’t perceive the “silent majority” that simply wants the government to do what is necessary to put the country back on its feet, because they can’t do it themselves. It’s too “big” for them. What they don’t like is the fact that is all the name-calling and stonewalling and filibustering in Congress. They can’t understand why Obama wasted a whole year looking indecisive while trying to coddle Republicans whose only “idea” was obstruction. Name one piece of major legislation passed in Congress over the past two years with the country in economic turmoil that had more than three Republican votes. It isn’t because they didn’t have “input.” Their “input” helped craft a half-arsed health care bill, then refused to take ownership of their dirty little mitts’ handiwork. You had a Republican senator who helped craft the bill offering tax breaks for small businesses, and then backed-off from voting for it, for the unspoken reason that Republicans just don’t want to give Democrats a legislative “victory” before the mid-term elections. In other words, screw the country; Republicans are the only party in history that thinks that deliberately sabotaging the country will win them votes. And you know what? It does. Take, for example, an ad by Dino Rossi, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Washington. He claims, in a mild-mannered voice, that he is going to stop tax increases for working people and small businesses. This, of course, is yet another bit of bald-faced deception that has no basis in fact; the reality is that the tax break for small businesses that the Obama administration was pushing failed to get a single Republican vote. Nothing new here, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tea partiers would be the first people we can expect to gobble-up this rotten meat whole. Say the word “taxes” regardless of the context, they attack like sharks whose minds are wired to do nothing but attack and feed.

Republicans claim that Obama wants to turn the country into a “socialist state. The Republicans, apparently, want the country to turn into a Third World backwater, with all the power and wealth in the hands of a few “elites.” And tea partiers are right there to help them do it, because they can’t see beyond two feet in front of their faces. We are not there yet, but if you want to know what the first phase would be like with tea partiers in control of the country, you don’t have to look any further than Arizona and Nevada. I’ve already talked about Arizona, where the Jurassic Park Republicans recently “addressed” their state budget issue by raising the sales tax—and then turning around and cutting income taxes, in effect sticking it to the poor while giving the well-off yet another “gift.” Nevada, meanwhile, leads the nation in just about every negative economic indicator, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures and now unemployment. It doesn’t help that the state is dependent on sales and “entertainment” taxes to fund the public sector, and that the state’s “big shots” have opposed any taxes on their income or regulations slowing the amount of money earned in the state from leaving the state. It was even reported recently that Pennsylvania collects more in casino taxes than Nevada. But that’s the tea partier way; let’s just gamble the country away.