Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I learned the past two years about this country

Remember two years ago when we thought “change” was coming to America? Of course, Barack Obama’s idea of “change” was somewhat different from what many of us thought it should be. Obama wanted to be another Lincoln, to bring the county together in a time of crisis, to forgo partisanship. He wanted to be friends with the opposition party, and even invited a few into his cabinet. But it didn’t work out. Why not? Because in a “friendship,” you need someone willing to be friends. If anything, Obama’s biggest weakness was his failure to use his mandate for change more forcefully opposed to previous Republican policies. It should have clear from the outset that the Republicans were not going to be his “friend.” Led by Rush Limbaugh, who claimed to be “proud” of “his” country for about thirty seconds after Obama’s election, immediately afterward join the rest of the right-wing hounds baying for Obama’s blood. In Congress, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said the Republicans were going to “break” the uppity black man, and Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky talked about how they were going to handle “that boy.” Republicans claimed that they were listening to the “American People”; the problem, of course, was that the “people” they heard were whites with “issues,” like being paranoid and racist, and who called themselves the "Tea Party Movement." Their mission: Destroy Obama at any and all costs, just as they had tried to destroy Bill Clinton. This what I learned about America these past two years. Did the rest of the country recognize this reality?

Apparently not. On the morning after the disastrous mid-term elections, the History channel aired a two-hour program on Nazism in American, which I found rather appropriate for the occasion. Neo-Nazi William Pierce, author of the “The Turner Diaries”—basically the “blueprint” for an anti-government, race-cleansing “revolution” that Timothy McVeigh used—remarked that if you control the media and its message, you control who is in public office, and who sets policy. While the Tea Party movement claims a desire to avoid “violence” despite the usefulness of “Second Amendment solutions,” it shares much the same level of paranoia. There is also no doubt that most of the “mainstream” media, like CNN, not only failed to expose not just the extremism of the so-called Tea Party movement, but the true basis of its existence. We were not told of how the “movement” was bankrolled—and its anti-government, anti-healthcare reform “message” scripted—by the billionaire Koch brothers until a few days ago. We were not told that the design of the movement is basically the same as the neo-Nazis: secure the world exclusively for white people and their white children. The “mainstream” media did not go out onto the streets and report what Tea Party people were really saying in unscripted moments outside of assembly halls—the very same things they have been saying since before Obama even took office: that he was a “foreigner,” that he was an anti-white “racist,” that he was a “terrorist,” and like other “terrorists” he should “die.” He had to be stopped at any and all costs; there was no talk of working with him.

If this was really about the budget deficit and bail-outs, why were the Tea Party foot soldiers not concerned about it when it was soaring during the Bush years? Why only when a black man is president? Anti-Latino fanatic Tom Tancredo, during his failed run for the Senate on a third-party ticket, was entirely unselfconscious when he relayed the mantra of Tea Party extremists: “Obama is a bigger threat to the United States than al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.”At a Tea Party convention, he railed "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama." Tancredo blamed Obama's election on the fact that "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country,” to “uproarious” cheers—and Tea Party leaders refused to distance themselves from his comments.

Last week, George Monbiot of the UK’s The Guardian expressed the fear that Tea Party-like extremism may also be imported to Britain; he observed that “The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. These accomplishments are closely related…An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by elite interests.” Monbiot noted that the remarkable coincidence that on the day that CNBC’s Rick Santelli suggested in his “subsidize the losers” rant in February 2009—less than a month into Obama’s administration—that traders have a “tea party,” the Koch brothers, through their front group Americans for Prosperity, set-up a Facebook page that organized Tea Party rallies all over the country, with a scripted anti-Obama message that people were easily led to follow because of their inherent paranoia toward a black man “calling the shots.” Thus the “official” Tea Party movement did not begin as a “grass roots” populist movement—it began as a Wall Street revolt against financial reform and help for people conned by financial gamblers. Right-wing extremists like Dick Armey, Mark Williams and the Fox News crew saw an opportunity to exploit white racist paranoia about a black man allegedly seizing their “privileges” and “rights,” while masking the true agenda of billionaire bankrollers like the Koch brothers with anti-government harangues and conspiracy mythology.

Why didn’t the American media uncover and discuss this charade months ago, or even a year ago? Because telling the truth about the Tea Party movement would have killed it as a legitimate movement a long time ago. Keeping its “credibility” alive while at the same time refusing to debate what was the clear agenda of the Republicans from the beginning, so succinctly stated by Sen. Mitch McConnell ("The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.") was seen as a ratings “winner.” Furthermore, the media repeatedly failed to point out that the “movement” at best could be seen as an expression of radicalism among an extreme right core of white voters, who do not in fact represent the majority opinion; most Americans still support government programs like Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection entities and consumer safety agencies. The Tea Party movement would destroy these programs if they had their way, which of course plays into the greedy hands of their billionaire backers. The Tea Party movement has no program of governing beyond the destructive; either it will destroy itself as has other fringe movements of the past, or it will simply become the empty shell most of us know it is, peopled by bigots with nothing but their empty rhetoric. We observed this first hand in Sharron Angle’s failed bid to unseat Harry Reid (who now says he wants to work with the people who would not work with him before); she refused to talk to reporters because they were “unprofessional” for asking her to clarify her extremist positions. I’m not sure what she was talking about, at least concerning the national news media—which didn’t ask her about her “plans” to kill Medicare and Social Security, abolish the Energy and Education departments, among many other mindlessly destructive intentions.

Of course, as we saw last week the massive effort by tea partiers to suppress the votes of racial minorities, a black president isn’t the only “threat.” As might be expected in an atmosphere of hate they and the right-wing media concocted, Republican candidates used the anti-Latino fear factor ad nauseam; ads featuring fearsome-looking brown-skinned people abounded, such as that circulated by Angle and David Vitter. The fact is that anti-immigrant rhetoric used as a political weapon has been around for as long as this nation existed; Ben Franklin opposed the presence of German immigrants because he believed they could not “assimilate.” Today, white people of the right think that dark-skinned people cannot “assimilate” merely because they don’t look like themselves, and they don’t want to “assimilate” with non-whites anyways. The reality is that throughout its history, in order to grow economically the U.S. has relied on immigration to fill labor shortages. The airport where I work at employs hundreds of African and Eastern European immigrants; if unemployment was such a problem for the “natives,” you would perhaps think that “real Americans” would get first digs, but it is not that simple. One of the problems for blacks, who suffer relatively large disparities in unemployment rates, is that manufacturing jobs have largely moved out of urban areas, or disappeared altogether. One problem then is that they need to move to where the jobs are, and those out of work are often unable (or unwilling) to do so due to lack of resources. Another problem is that in an increasingly service-oriented workplace, employers prefer pretty white faces. Other jobs that are seasonal, like farm and forestry work, are not particularly favorable to long-term career goals, and Latino and Asian immigrants (legal or not) have often filled those jobs. Yet Americans are uncomfortable with Latinos, because Americans, particularly white, fear a change in the “character” of the country, that is to say becoming a “Latino” rather than Anglo-Aryan country. That fear is preposterous, but even if something like that did “threaten,” in their extremity white America will turn to a de facto semi-Apartheid system to keep things in “balance.” It doesn’t, of course, make sense to spend millions of dollars to import people from Africa and Asia to replace illegal Latino immigrant farm labor as occurred here in the state of Washington recently—especially when Latino immigrants tend to be more self-sufficient when it comes to travel and housing arrangements; but then again, there is little sense to this country’s current immigration policy.

Naturally, you hear many an anti-government fanatic complain about the “cost” to the public welfare system that Latino immigrants are allegedly responsible for (and not the 2.5 million illegal aliens of Asian extraction); these numbers are usually “guestimations” based on nothing more than delusion. But the “cost” of illegal immigration is only one of the myths perpetrated to inspire fear and paranoia among voters; conservative commentator Michael Medved, who apparently does not like being associated with the extremist fringe of the right, recently commented on CNN his surprise that Lou Dobbs didn’t receive more criticism for his “irresponsible” claims against illegal immigrants, based on faked statistics usually provided to him by members of hate groups. Many legitimate studies have shown that illegal immigrants, because they have fewer avenues to “cheat” on taxes, not only pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than legal residents, but actually provide a net surplus on public service funding. Amusingly, even when anti-Latino immigrant fanatics admit that most pay taxes, they find a way to get around that quandary. For example, I dug-up a post written by someone named Marti Dinerstein on a website called ”Center for Immigration Studies.” Since employers are required by law to pay taxes on each employee they hire, if an employee does not have a Social Security number, the IRS requires a tax ID number—thus an employee does have at least some taxes deducted from his or her check, regardless of legal status. But this is still very bad, says Dinerstein, because providing illegal aliens with a TIN makes it “easier for them to meld unnoticed into our society,” allows “terrorists” to receive tax benefits they are not “entitled” to, and allows the IRS to “withhold from public review data that is relevant to determining the economic contribution of illegal aliens to U.S. society.” The latter was probably a slip of the tongue from frothing at the mouth. But beyond the myths, Obama has alienated many Latinos with even more aggressive ICE operations and the “Secure Communities” program, which many cities have found they cannot “opt-out” of. Immigration reform seems as far away as ever, and the 9th Circuit Court seems poised to permit the most egregious portion of the Arizona immigration law—that which permits de facto racial profiling—to stand.

Beyond the racial (and racist) element that is backed by big money, what exactly does presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner and the Tea Party people intend to do to“right” the ship of state? Gut government programs and agencies? Repeal health care and financial reform? Keep in place tax cuts for the rich? And then what? Where will that leave the country? As past experience has shown, it takes years for employment to rebound; it does not happen overnight, it never did. Maybe fanatical Tea Partiers with absolutely no sense whatever of reality believe that destruction of the government is “good,” but again, as the media has repeatedly failed to perceive, they are a vocal minority which does not represent the true wishes of the majority. Most of their ideas, to put it bluntly, are insane. So what to do? In his book “Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire,” Niall Ferguson addresses the matter of the effect of an aging baby-boomer population has on Social Security and Medicare balances of account, and a shortage of labor to provide adequate taxation (and the rich who don’t pay taxes). In order to achieve a “generational balance” in lieu of additional immigrant labor, we must either increase federal income taxes 69 percent, or increase payroll taxes 95 percent, or cut federal purchases 100 percent, or cut Social Security and Medicare by 56 percent. It is clear what the Republicans and the Tea Party people nipping at their heals want to do. The question is if what they want to do is line with what the majority of the public wants; Republicans claim they “heard” the American people, but I don’t think they hear as well as they think. Yes, everyone wants more jobs and a lower budget deficit, but those two agendas are not necessarily compatible in this environment, thanks to prior Republican policies. But the Republican and Tea Party party will be short-lived if they think that gutting government safety-net programs in hard times is the “answer.” What are we supposed to think? That their “alternative” to government programs is “work till you die”—which may come sooner than you like if you don’t have health care insurance?

But what do Republicans care—they have their tax-payer funded pensions, tax-payer funded health care benefits to go along with their independent wealth.

Ferguson also had this to say about this country: “Consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line, inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings: if all this conjures up an image of America as a sedentary colossus—to put it bluntly, a kind of strategic couch potato—then the image is worth pondering.” Americans don’t really want to face reality if it requires work. The Democrats put together a stimulus package and especially a health care reform bill that required immense labor; the Republicans chose to sit back and whine, complain and deceive—and the media let them do it. Cut taxes and regulations, and everything will turn better by magic. What we did see—and the intensely hypocritical and blind Tea Party lemmings apparently did not—was the real un-American, anti-American element destroy the economy of this country for the sake of simple greed. In response to this, we get “discussions” from the right of the following nature: “Obama’s Plan: White Slavery” or “Comrade Obama: The Enemy Within.” If you want to discuss the issue beyond that, you receive the new presidential “salute”: the middle finger.

Not that discussions of the issues are much more intelligent in "blue" regions than in red. The Seattle Times applauded the defeat of a very modest state income tax initiative on the wealthy, while never acknowledging the inherent regressiveness of the current tax system that hits the low-income bracket far more than the upper income bracket. Perhaps this is because the Blethens are trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of its failing newspaper, and its employees are following that lead for their own sakes. I voted for 1098 and against repeal of the junk food sales tax increase because I'm not blind to the realities that face this state: Even before the current economic downturn, this state was facing a funding crisis for education and health care, not to mention infrastructure. Because of the massive income discrepancies in this state, the lower income bracket tends to be hurt to a far greater degree. The Times editorial board, of course, has no idea of what to do now, except not raise taxes. When Bill Gates Sr. had the guts to offer 1098, the Times should have applauded him; instead it attacked the measure as an assault on all tax payers, when everyone knows that the legislature wouldn't have the guts to expand the tax. Thanks to the Times and the right-wing well-off it really represents, foolish voters who were conned will pay a price even more so than they already have been.

The past two years have been both highly dispiriting and highly instructive concerning the true nature of this country. Forward thinking goes hand-in-hand with backward thinking. In 2008 we took a step forward; in 2010 we took two steps back. My fear is that unless the media decides it wants to communicate reality and truth to the public (that is to say, leaving Fox News in its sewer) we will continue to take steps backward right into that right-wing cesspool.

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