Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Picking your poison in Republican camp is no easy task

Only paranoid fantasies about a scary black man who happens to be president could inspire the elevation of such a sorry bunch of Republican presidential wannabes as we are currently witnessing. It is a bit of a surprise that Sarah Palin hasn’t yet done a cannonball dive into this sleazy pool, since she is no worse (or better) than the rest, it hardly matters what she does. Michelle Bachmann has received considerable attention in the initial phases, although it is hard to tell if the media is making fun of her (see the Newsweek cover) or she is managing to do that all by herself. I heard a sound clip of Bachmann announce in her usual shrill manner that the American people so fed-up with the Obama administration that they are “roaring.” No they’re not—it is fringe politicians like herself who are. The louder they “roar,” the more people think there is something wrong. The fact is, the only thing that is wrong in Washington D.C. are politicians like Bachmann who are all “roar” and zero substance. It was also recently revealed that Bachmann once worked for the IRS; she tried to explain this away by claiming that in order to know the “enemy,” she worked as an “undercover operative.” The Star Wars films were full of stilted dialogue, they did give us one useful line to describe this episode: “Who is the bigger fool? The fool or the fool who follows him (or her)?”

There has been a “revelation” that Bachmann is an alum of Oral Roberts University, a bastion of white-bread Christian conservatism—or rather fanaticism. It turns out she did “research” for one of her mentors, John Eidsmore, in relation to a tome on the alleged indivisibility of church and state, as allegedly intended by the Founding Fathers. Most historians and mainstream Christian theologians are not sure, which Eidsmore responds to with curious doublespeak: The secular and religious worlds represent “two kingdoms… each has different responsibilities. The church’s responsibility is to teach biblical principles of government and to drive sinners to the cross by convicting them of their sins and to teach believers the principles of godly living. The function of the state is to follow those godly principles and preserve a system of order… but one law that governs both.” Eidsmore isn’t talking about separation of church and state here, he is advocating a theocracy along the lines of Iran—and he is America’s Ayatollah. It is obvious that it is not religion that motivates such people, but worldly power. Bachmann has also praised another Oral Roberts alum, David Barton, as God’s gift to mankind. While Eidsmore can only be accused of associating with modestly white supremacists outfits like the Council of Conservative Citizens, Barton has openly flirted with the LaPorte Church of Christ, claiming that he isn’t aware that it is a neo-Nazi “church.” Barton has been accused of inventing history and using made-up quotes he applies to the Founding Fathers, who he claims were fanatical Pentecostals—speaking “in tongues” and believing the Bible is literal truth—and who conceived the Constitution as a religious rather than a secular document. The chair of the history department at Messiah College, John Fea, has described Barton as having “just enough historical knowledge, and just enough charisma, to be very dangerous.”

At least we now know why Bachmann knowledge of history has frequently been the subject of bafflement. Based upon the very un-Christian tone of her various public pronouncement and her opposition to social welfare programs and health care reform, Bachmann also seems to have the intolerant, Old Testament eye-for-an-eye worldview that completely dispenses with Jesus’ New Testament ideals that were supposed to replace it—thus calling into question whether she and people like her are actually “Christian.” So who are the Republican alternatives? Mitt Romney ironically, seems the most “normal” of the bunch in appearance and tone, but policy-wise, he is indistinguishable from the rest. It is true that he made one effort to “differentiate” himself: He has been the only candidate to make the blunder of telling us that “corporations are people.” Bachmann has at least avoided taking this very unpopulist view to “the people” she is trying to con into believing she is “for them.” While Union leaders generally speak for the majority of their membership, a few men and women in a boardroom can hardly be said to speak for the majority of low-wage laborers who make them rich.

Americans are of course rightly concerned with the direction of the country, although I’m not certain many of them are properly informed as to the reasons why. I watched with incredulity the utter hypocrisy of an “expert” on the Wall Street Journal website claim that high debt was “killing” growth. Why was it “killing” growth? Not because it prevented a business “climate” conducive for hiring, but because if debt is above the “safe” threshold of 50 percent of GDP, there isn’t enough “cushion” for increased government spending. Huh? Is he not saying that the function of government is in line with the policies of Obama and the Democrats? The only thing missing is agreeing that the wealthy should pay more taxes to help finance government-created job programs. Recall that in 2006 George Bush boasted that his massive tax cuts for the rich had led to a “robust” economy; this was an utterly lie. What he did create during these “good times” was a massive increase in national debt and lower revenue as a percent of GDP, and when the bottom inevitably fell out, the Obama administration had only limited room to maneuver, both politically and substantively.

And so we have the utterly decrepit line-up of Republican would-be presidential nominees who are so apparently deaf, dumb and blind to their party’s policy mistakes of the past that they only promise to do even worse? When a Fox News’ “moderator” at one of the Iowa “debates” asked who among the prospective Republican presidential wannabes would refuse to accept a debt reduction package that was 10 parts budget cuts to even one part revenue increases, all raised their hands like children begging for candy. All seemed to be playing to the tune of the Tea Party movement, meaning a slovenly servitude to tired right-wing taking points that were once merely propaganda lines not taken with great seriousness after elections, and still tend to have little correlation with current and future realities.

I found an interesting story, which seems to be a little off-track, but does have some relevance to this discussion. In David Grann’s book, “The Devil & Sherlock Holmes,” there is a chapter concerning a Texas man named Cameron Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson/murder of his three young children, made more emotional, and the perpetrator more culpable in the public’s eye, because the victims were little girls. But the “evidence” to justify the charge of deliberate arson with intent to kill was based on discredited forensics. CSI-type television shows proliferate the airwaves, giving the “science” a certain credibility, but it is as much subject to human misjudgment and error as old-time flatfoot crime investigation techniques. Gerald Hurst, a renowned fire investigator, examined the documents of the original arson investigation a few months before Willingham’s scheduled execution, and was shocked to find its conclusions based on amateurish analysis of what amounted to old wives’ tales about the fundamentals of fire characteristics. Hurst’s report was given to the state Board of Pardons and Parole for a petition of clemency, which was denied. The board, referred to as a “legal fiction” by one appellate judge, apparently never read the report, and in any case, the board’s “job” wasn’t to consider new evidence that might suggest innocence, but merely to insure that the trial was “regular.” Gov. Rick Perry subsequently refused to give a thirty-day stay of execution for a more legitimate examination of Hurst’s report. Willingham would go to the electric chair insisting on his claim of innocence. The year after Willingham’s execution, charges of numerous instances of forensic misconduct and errors that sent innocent people to jail forced the state to set-up a commission to investigate those claims, in which the Willingham case was among the first on the agenda. A subsequent report written by a scientist named Craig Beyler concluded that the evidence for arson in that case had “no scientific basis…ignored evidence that contradicted the theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire.” Beyler further characterized the original investigation as “denying rational reason”—rather more the reasoning of “mystics and psychics.”

This report was never given a public airing. In an addendum Grann added to the paperback edition of his book, it was noted that:

“Days before the government commission on forensic science was scheduled to hear testimony from Dr. Craig Beyler about his findings, Governor Rick Perry removed the body’s long-standing chairman and two of its members. Perry insisted that the three commissioners’ terms had expired and the changeover was ‘business as usual.’ But the chairman, Sam Bassett, who had previously been reappointed and had asked to remain, told the Houston Chronicle that he had heard from Perry’s staffers that they were ‘concerned about the investigations we were conducting.’ Another of the removed commissioners told the Associated Press that Perry’s office had informed her that the Governor was ‘going in a different direction.’”

Rick Perry, in effect, did not want the world to know that Texas’ “perfect” record for executing only guilty people was maybe not so perfect after all. Apparently Perry’s famous Christian “morality” and ethics was no match for his political cynicism—if it meant that he would have the death of an innocent man on his conscious.

This is the man who like a coward avoided the Iowa debates and straw poll so he would look “good” in comparison to these political fraudsters. Conservative columnist David Brooks recently said it was time to take Perry “seriously,” not because he thinks Perry is the best candidate (Brooks apparently prefers the guy with the more Byronic profile, Romney), but because his fringe views are more in keeping with typical Republican primary voters. Brooks doesn’t go into much detail concerning Perry’s predilections, which would if properly exposed by the Democrats and the media would make Bachmann and her wild-eyed countenance on the cover of Newsweek seem the height of sanity. At the moment, polls suggest that Perry is the strongest candidate to face-off against Obama, but for the moment this appears to be because he’s a new face, and voters really don’t know him very well.

So what is there to know about Perry, besides that he sounds like the fry of a cross pollination between George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger—which probably explains his frequent complaints about “intellectual elites,” especially in government. Myself, I had no idea who he was until he embarked on a PR stunt in 2009, threatening articles of secession from Barack Obama’s Socialist States of America. Some people saw this as a shrewd political stunt; others merely saw it as the opening salvo of the Republican fringe losing its grip on reality. After the Iowa straw poll which more or less solidified the sense that the potential Republican nominees were ossified relics of the Jurassic Age vying for the title of mind most stoned, Perry decided the time was right to jump in—right in the front lawn of right-wing extremism, South Carolina. I heard some snippets of his announced quest for the presidency, although I barely understood what he was saying most of the time. The things I did find somewhat comprehensible only suggested that his idea of “separating” himself from the other potential nominees was to prove himself even more disturbing in his irrationality. There he was, speaking of President Obama as if he was the American antichrist, absolutely antithetical to everything any 100 percent, “real” American—meaning right-wing white—believes in. OK, so we’ve heard that before, and his Southern/Neanderthal drawl reminds those who are historically astute that although most people don’t consider Perry’s state “Southern,” in fact most of its Anglo “natives” are descended from immigrants from the slaveholding South with its accompanying racial attitudes; Texas was in fact an eager participant in the Confederacy during the Civil War. His smearing of Obama’s “elitist” education seemed intent on feeding into the racism of his poor, undereducated or unemployed white listeners looking for scapegoats, as well as an attempt to obfuscate doubts about his own intellect. Everything he preceded to attack Obama on—health care reform, taxes, immigration policy, importing European-style socialism, Israel, jobs—had the taint of hypocrisy when not simply out-right lies. Any liberal or progressive will tell you that Obama has been a “disappointment” to them, and such attacks from the right are less rooted in truth than the belief that there is a core of voters who, mostly out of ignorance and prejudice, instinctively regard the federal government as a shill for minorities, and naturally that plays well before a white audience in South Carolina.

So it was no coincidence that Perry made his intentions known that he was tossing his spurs into the presidential nomination race in South Carolina, that bastion of state’s rights, rebellion and racism. Perry’s extremism naturally plays well there, and few of its white voters will find anything to complain about in his anti-intellectual and malevolent tome “Fed Up!” In what is essentially his political “manifesto,” we find Perry fossilized in a pathological, almost dictatorial addiction to “states’ rights”—which in the past has meant rigid class structures, slavery, Jim Crow, school segregation and the brutal treatment of working people; in his world, politicians do not put their boots on the people’s necks—they just help the economic elites do that. Perry’s ideological extremism seems frozen in time and place, ignoring cultural, technological and social changes that far exceeded their visions; they certainly did not foresee—or rather did not care—how large corporations would co-op government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Those words, of course, are not derived from the Founding Fathers but are the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which probably explains why Southern politicians find the concept so odious. Perry also calls health care reform the “enemy” of freedom, and insists that the only function of the federal government is defense, which of course contradicts the preamble of the Constitution. In his book, when he is not blathering about the evils of federal government, he comes off like a tin-pot dictator eager to play with his war toys.

Perry the politician has never lost an election, which only proves that a majority of people in Texas think less is more. People will say there is “more” to the man; see how Texas’ economy has outpaced the rest of the country, see how low its unemployment rate is, see how the state’s budget is balance. Outside of MSNBC and Paul Krugman, no one in the mainstream media has pointed out that these claims are mostly myth; here in the state of Washington, there is constant handwringing by major employers like Boeing concerning taxes, yet according to the Tax Foundation, the state has the 11th best “tax climate” for business in the country—higher than Texas’ 13th place. I’ve written about this before, in response to an Economist story claiming that the Texas “dream” had replaced the California “dream.” Texas in fact not only has a higher unemployment rate than high-tax New York, its projected budget deficit is over a third greater than its projected revenue—far more than some of the worst hit states. Low-tax, low-service Texas with a $1.2 trillion GDP could easily resolves its budget deficits by very modest tax increases, but this would not be an auspicious time for Perry to make such a move. The current state Republican “answer” to the budget deficit is further reducing education funding and eliminating health care funding—and this in a state where low-wage jobs prevail, and predictably has the highest percentage of people without health insurance in the country. Oh, and let’s not forget that Texas shares the dubious honor with occupying the lower rungs, along with the rest of the South, on quality of life indicators.

What else? Perry has made much of his opposition to “wild spending” by the federal government, yet his own DC lobbyists managed to extract from a Republican Congress more than a little in questionable largesse. In 2005, $1.5 billion was somehow found in a Republican energy bill to fund something called the “Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources,” earmarked for a “consortium” located in disgraced Rep. John DeLay’s district. Just the title itself sounds reeks of a complete waste of money. Texas also receives more federal money—10 percent of the total—than any other state through less unsavory means. Billions go to its 15 military installations and the Johnson Space Center, and the fact that its low public services spending—especially in health care—requires the federal government has to step in and fill the gap; in fact, Texas receives more money from the federal government than any other state—10 percent of all federal money going to the states. The reality is that besides federal dollars for this welfare state, oil and natural gas jobs and profits are for the time being keeping the state afloat. Underneath all the happy talk is a rotting public services sector ill-equipped to deal with a real economic crisis. Poverty is high, infant mortality rates are high, and the number of people without health insurance is infamously high. places Texas 45th out of 50 states in its “livability” index. A right-wing CNBC “study” claimed that the Texas was number one for business, but it came in at 29 on its own quality life rating—failing to live-up to CNBC’s claim that states with "good" business climates also have good quality of life; in fact every Southern state is proof that this claim is a myth.

Perry isn’t very sharp on history or social issues, either. After the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, Perry was asked if had anything to say about the fact that his latest stop in South Carolina was coincidently the location of the Friendship Nine lunch counter sit-ins. Perry obviously had no clue what the questioner was referring to; this should come as no surprise, as Perry—and David Barton, no less—was instrumental in formulating the Texas curriculum standards which essentially white-washes U.S. social history, shoehorns in fundamentalist religious dogma and virtually eliminates any mention of non-white Americans (it’s “multiculturalism”). Perry gave the stock answer that the country had come a long way in civil rights—except that he neglected to mention that the people he spoke for still had plenty further to go; He followed this up by reprehensibly attempting to associate the continuing plight of the minority community—for whom in “good” as well as bad times it always seemed “bad”—with the poor, beleaguered, allegedly over-taxed corporations who were sitting on $2 trillion in cash reserves. Perry lack of sensitivity for the struggles of minorities for equal rights and opportunities in this country—let’s not forget that Texas was a slave state—demonstrates conclusively that his vision extends no further than the “welfare” of the people who share his skin color and insular worldview.

Perry’s religious views, meanwhile, are no less disturbing than Bachmann’s—in fact more so. While the “mainstream” media assaulted Obama’s connection to Rev. Jeremiah Wright non-stop for weeks (while ignoring Sarah Palin’s bizarre religious affiliations), Perry’s religious beliefs and connections have been treated as typical Christian fundamentalism that deserves no further comment, despite the fact that it very much informs his view of policy. As Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer reported, Perry isn’t merely a religious fanatic, but believes that he is on a “mission from God,” thanks to the “prophecy” of some very scary people who “urged” him to run for president. Perry’s religious beliefs appear to encompass Dominionism and Christian Reconstruction, ideologies which at their core are essentially governance by religious law, such as practiced in Iran or by the Taliban. Of course, there is a limit to where such governance can be successfully applied in this country, and critics both Christian and secular have accused these ideologies of being anti-democratic and even neo-fascist. According to Wilder, two Texas pastors named Tom Schlueter and Bob Long told Perry that God had a “grand plan for Texas,” and “a chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was ‘The Prophet State,’ anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government.” Perry was apparently anointed to lead the misguided flock to the “promised land,” based, of course on sharia law, Christian-style.

People should be concerned, if Perry does take his “religion” as seriously as he claims. Schlueter, Long and their movement—called the New Apostolic Reformation—believe that Democrats are “controlled” by Jezebel and three lesser demons; believers “even claim to have seen demons at public meetings.” They might be dismissed as crackpots, except that the “Reformation movement so potent in its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government. The new prophets and apostles believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world. They believe they’re intended to lord over it all. As a first step, they’re leading an ‘army of God’ to commandeer civilian government.” According to Wilder the “commander” of this Army has been decreed to be Perry.

Now, whether Perry himself has a messianic complex or is delusional is a matter of opinion. It seems to be part of the terrain in Republican territory. Fantasy is fact, and fact is fantasy. One thing is for certain: Everything we have been told about Perry’s “accomplishments” and his “character” do not stand-up to too close scrutiny. Whereas we can at least say George Bush seemed down-to-earth, Perry seems to believe that he is on a mission from God to reduce and eventually eliminate humanist-minded government, just as the Republicans in the House have conducted symbolic votes to eliminate Medicare and strangle Social Security into a slow death spiral. God, it seems, only approves of guns, war and death. The poor can go to hell.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mississippi right in our backyard

There is a front page story in the Seattle Times about a $1.4 million “emergency” infusion of funds for law enforcement to combat allegedly “surging” Latino gang violence in South King County; this has more to do with perception rather than fact, but since the gang-inspired shooting at a car show in Kent, the locals want something “done” about “them.” There is some hand-wringing from politicians not wanting to try to “arrest” their way out of the problem, although frankly that is what the point of all of this is, for reasons I will get to later.

Gangs have existed in the U.S. since the nation first achieved independence, initially European immigrants relegated to the squalor of overcrowded slums; but because they were white, their eventual assimilation into the wider community was a matter of when, not if. That has not been the case for non-white groups, at least those that have been purposely isolated from the mainstream; even the Times was forced to expose the “dirty little secret” that even the “International District,” populated by a mainly Chinese and Southeast Asian population, has gang and crime problems (in fact the ID is in many ways even more isolated than other non-white communities, with many residents, particularly older ones, never learning English or venturing outside the district; many are also illegal immigrants, and despite the nearby immigration holding facility, ICE units never venture into it). As for Latinos, physical and cultural marginalization dating back to the annexation of formerly Mexican-held territory in the West served as an incubator for gangs. In his book, “A Rainbow of Gangs,” J.D. Vigil notes that Latinos “were located in geographically isolated areas that other settlers and developers had bypassed as less appropriate for habitation, and were further isolated by cultural, racial, and socioeconomic barriers enforced by ingrained prejudices of the Anglo-American community.” Although there is a great deal of attention paid to the connection of drug violence in Mexico and gangs, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, exacerbated by the “relocation” of cocaine distribution from Colombia—an “unforeseen” consequence of the drug wars there in the 1990s—as well as the simple fact that the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs. The demonization and dehumanization of Latinos in this country in general has had a much longer history.

For centuries in European countries, Jews were marginalized and isolated within ghettos, where their “culture” and “foreign” status was considered a threat to the prevailing national character; these “threats” were often controlled by occasional pogroms, especially during times of national stress when scapegoats were required. In this country, Latinos have usually filled that role, but unlike Jews, they have far fewer avenues in which to escape their “status.” Having little to aspire to outside their communities, “power” is exercised in a patchwork of fiefdoms where outsiders—particularly white—have no authority; police can arrest all the people they want, but as long as white America refuses to see the consequences of marginalizing and isolating these communities—not just socially but economically—nothing will change.

The irony of all of this is that although minority gangs are over-represented, their "exploits" tend to be exaggerated by the media, while white gangs are typically overlooked. There is good reason for this; minority gangs almost exclusively target their own, generally in turf wars or acts of revenge. White observers couldn't care less about these communities or the victims of violence within them, but their paranoid fear--usually unwarranted--of "spillover" into white neighborhoods is what typically heightens the call to action. On the other hand, attention to white gangs are usually relegated to skinheads (although ravers certainly could be classified as such), and only when they commit particularly egregious acts against those who are almost exclusively their victims: minorities. Ditto for anti-government and neo-Nazi militias, who should be classified as violent gangs insofar as they preach violence, but receive little or no attention from the media, law enforcement, politicians and whites generally, unless they do something to "embarrass" them--like tying an inebriated black man to a pick-up truck and dragging him until he was decapitated, or shooting-up a Jewish center.

As it happens, Kent is one of those South King County cities in distress over this matter of gang activity, and it is a perfect example of the shortsightedness of the local gentry in dealing with a problem it in no small way helped to create. I stumbled across a demographic breakdown of Kent, and discovered that there is a special name for Latinos in this so-called city full of pedestrian-unfriendly highways and arterial roads: “Other.” Whites—nearly all of them Republicans, apparently—constitute about 63 percent of the population, Asians 15 percent, blacks 13 percent, Native Americans 2 percent, Pacific Islanders 1 percent, and 6 percent are identified as “other.” There are in fact Latinos in Kent; I've seen them. There is even a Latino community center on Washington Street/68th Street/West Valley Highway. My suspicion is that these breakdowns are not accurate; but in any case, since Latinos constitute the country’s largest minority group, it is telling that Kent doesn’t even grant them the right to be identified as a legitimate demographic they need be bothered with, save by the police.

But this is just one element of the problem with Kent. I was listening to some police spokesperson talking about the gang problems in the city, which I grant may exist because I was mugged by a gangbanger on my way to work (I’ve mentioned this incident before, when the airport ID office people insisted I was lying when I said my ID cord had been torn from my neck, and how they tried to force me to pay a fine for “losing” it—even after they received it anonymously in the mail). However, like Yakima, Kent is a place where problems tend to be exacerbated rather than alleviated, because it makes little or no effort to integrate minorities into the larger community. It’s easy enough to see why; every election year, Republican campaign roadside placards crop-up like so many noxious weeds, even in largely minority neighborhoods (not that many voters in largely minority neighborhoods are fooled; Kent was split between its east and west halves along party lines in the 2008 election). Although 37 percent of the population is non-white, like in Yakima there is not a single non-white member on the city council, because its elections are “city-wide”—meaning that every candidate is elected by the entire electorate rather than by district. Although the candidates are referred to a “non-partisan,” no one is fooled by their true party affiliation.

Thus the only people who have a voice are whites, and minority concerns are uniformly ignored. In Kent, problems in minority communities are only viewed via the outside perception, not the inside reality. It is pretty shocking that a city with such a large minority presence can remain under the thumb of right-wing local politicians, especially when it can only grow and become less "content." But we’ve seen this before—in places like Mississippi, which is 41 percent non-white (37 percent black) but where the hardcore right remains firmly in control, because whites in that state vote solely for their own interests. Gov. Haley Barbour recently had the audacity to claim that he didn’t remember Jim Crow “being that bad,” and defended “Citizens Councils”—virtual political arms of the Ku Klu Klan—as just friendly get-togethers of good-natured “town leaders.”

I admit it isn’t fair to compare Kent’s town leaders with the Klan, and I’m not doing that. But I think it is fair to observe that white Kent seems desperate to maintain its antebellum ways as long as it can, to its own detriment.

Right-wing lawmakers seem to believe that the Constitution requires them to take lots of naps

A recent Gallup poll states that voters are “fed-up” with Congress, with all the bickering and apparent inability to find some common cause to lift the country out of its economic doldrums. Well guess what, “voters,” you have gotten exactly what you voted for: Right-wing extremists who call themselves the “Tea Party,” and whose idea of governance is to do as little as possible except slash and burn so that they can do even less to collect a taxpayer-supplied paycheck. As some of us may recall, the Democrats tried to do something to address the systemic corruption of “free market” politics and forced to pump-start an economy with--thanks to the Bush administration's tax-cutting, spendthrifting ways--an already difficult debt liability. And what did it get them? Deceitful propaganda attacks from the media that deliberately pumped-up the Tea Party “movement” without pointing out its policy, credibility and legitimacy flaws—creating the subsequent voter “disillusionment.”

The reality is that voters should be disillusioned with themselves, for not being able to perceive that the blunders of policies of the past decade are too great to be fixed in a mere two years. But as I pointed out in my “riot” post, the problem is that there are too many people casting their votes for candidates who promise to oppose policies that they perceive help the people they dislike (i.e. minorities), and by default end-up helping no one, except maybe the rich and very well-off—and perhaps in the end, not even them, because of the failure of the educational and infrastructure supports that keep them wealthy. Thus we should place equal blame on the voters who send such politicians to office as the politicians themselves.

Not all politicians are created equal, obviously: some take the task of governing seriously, as others do not. According to a the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “politician” is as follows:

1 : a person experienced in the art or science of government; esp: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government

2 : a person engaged in party politics as a profession b; a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons

Let’s be frank: Definition number one tends to describe Democrats. One of Barack Obama’s “weaknesses” is that he doesn’t like conflict, and did we not see how he tried in vain to engage the other side, who rather than work with him, incomprehensibly clung to the failed policies that brought us to this precarious economic point? Definition number two, of course, tends to describe Republicans and their Tea Party cohorts. During the 2009-2010 legislative term, Democratic lawmakers fought their Republican and intraparty foes in an effort to undo a decade worth of corrupt financial practices brought on by deregulation and backroom deals (like VP Dick Cheney’s “energy taskforce” that remains a “state secret”), and to finally address the dangerous inequities of the nation’s health care system; that both policies were imperfect is less the fault of those who formulated them, but of those who sought to dilute them for partisan—and ultimately for the country—self-defeating reasons. In the 2011 elections, voters could have sent a message to Republicans and their Tea Party fringe element that we do want “change” and we don’t want your blatant obstructionism that only benefitted of the wealthiest Americans; instead, many voters just saw slow-moving and unnecessary tit-for-tat, and they wanted to “change” that. With the help of often one-sided media reporting that favored empty bombast over substance, voters did not see that for Democratic lawmakers, it was like arguing with children, or with “discussing” whether to plug a hole in a sinking ship; Republicans preferred to let the ship sink just so they could blame the captain. Given all the misinformation from the right which the media eagerly disseminated for ratings, many people simply decided to vote for the “other guy” who promised to “fix” Washington by voting against health care reform and regulation, and cutting spending in a down economy; they offered nothing else, except those tiresome refrains about taxes. I repeat: Who is to blame? Voters knew who these Tea Party candidates were and what they “stood” for, and they still voted them in.

Thus voters are equally responsible for the governmental do-nothingism we have seen in the 2011-2012 legislative season. All we have seen from the Tea Party-controlled House is votes against health care reform, Medicare and threats to Social Security and the Education department. This is governing? Only if you believe that less is more, and you have contempt for what the Constitution really stand for.

Oh, but isn’t adherence to the Constitution what the Tea Party people say they stand for? Isn’t it a non-existent federal government that is described in the preamble?:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Some people might have the temerity to claim that this passage means exactly what it says. It means exactly what it says. There is nothing here that implies a “right” to secede from the Union; there is nothing here about “states’ rights”). The Constitution was meant to be the foundation of a “more perfect Union” rather than the jumble of quasi-independent states under the Articles of Confederation run by their own tin-pot dictators; this was the recipe for chaos and national suicide. Insuring tranquility, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty are concepts that require active participation, not passive observation. Human nature is such that the individual seldom has the time or inclination to care about the needs and rights of those beyond his or her immediate sphere, and it is the duty of government to insure that everyone has those rights unimpinged by the avarice of state laws, local customs and individual prejudice.

While many Republicans in Congress seem to think that their function is merely to serve corporations, the institution is in fact given specific duties and responsibilities in the Constitution; after all, the United States of America refers to a country in fact, not theory. The founding fathers were cognizant of the reality that without real authority over the states, the concept of nation was a sham. About half the article detailing Congress’ responsibilities have to do with the nation’s defense, and the rest as follows:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof;

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

There you go. The “promoting the general welfare” clause doesn’t mean the welfare of corporations or the rich—it means everyone. It is Congress’ responsibility to pass laws that maintain some semblance of balance and prevent corrupt practices that endanger the welfare of the generality. It is not specific, but is certainly meant to cover all such eventualities as well promoting education and the infrastructure of a civilized, modern society; we have seen too often in the past where certain states have not taken their own responsibilities in this regard with any seriousness. The so-called “Commerce Clause” states directly that it is Congress’ responsibility to regulate commerce within the country and without; this is not subject to debate, but many in Congress seem to want to ignore their responsibilities. Why are we paying them if they don’t want to work?

“States’ Rights” in the Constitution is rather vague; in fact it spends more time enumerating what rights states do not have. Only the Tenth Amendment bothers to touch on the subject: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The question, it seems, is not one of “interpretation” but to what extent a legislator has allegiance to a nation or a state. U.S. Senators and Representatives are, after all, elected to represent the views of their constituents as they apply to issues of national import, not state issues—that is what state government is for. If constituencies have differing views, then legislators are bound by the Constitution to make all needful laws that advance the cause of the nation as a whole, and if that requires compromise, that is their duty.

Anti-government politicians, like Texas governor Rick Perry, continuously quote from the notes of the founding fathers whose views were either in the minority or rejected outright by the Constitutional Convention. And for good reason: Certain regions of the country (the South, for example) have consistently pushed their own sacred sovereignty against national interference (but they do like to go to war against dark-skinned people). The so-called “states’ rights” being defended always seem to have something to do with such things as the practice of racial discrimination, opposition to labor rights and having the “right” to do as little as possible to promote the general welfare via education and health care. Even states without income taxes do great harm to the “general” welfare with regressive revenue streams that cause great suffering on the most vulnerable. Southern states and their representatives in Congress also demonstrate that they do not have the interests of the nation as a whole in mind when they actively rob other states of industry with the promise of virtual slave labor without rights or benefits, which they call “right to work.” Frankly, for a region that as a whole occupies the bottom-third in every quality of life index (including Texas and Florida), why should the rest of the country be forced to follow that track? Only the federal government has the power to stop them, but as we have seen, right-wing politicians from those states (and some areas of the West) have done everything in their power to dilute that power, all the while falsely using the Constitution as their “guide.”

Thanks a lot

This past week at work was “productive,” at least in relation to what is the norm. I delivered 315 carts of cargo; although it was five short of my previous high, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that I hadn’t missed a single delivery. Of course, there was no “celebration” or even thanks (except from the airline guys who appreciated the fact that I kept their staging area “clean”), although I can always fall back on personal satisfaction. By sheer coincidence, today there is an outdoor picnic—a “thank you” from the company for all the hard work done this summer. Unlike previous regimes that held this event outside the airport, this year as last it is being held in some fenced-off pavilion adjacent to the terminal. I don’t know what exactly the place is for, because it is rarely occupied. When I leaned what day it was on, my interest in attending—and the promise of free food was the only lure—dip dramatically, all the way to zero. Today is part of my “weekend,” which meant that if I chose to go, I would be in my civilian clothes, and thus subject to suspicion and harassment, if last year was any example.

Last year, I arrived at the pavilion to be “greeted” by a Port of Seattle security person, who looked at me suspiciously and minutely inspected my POS badge, before reluctantly allowing me to enter. I grabbed some food and sat down at a table. After ten minutes, I observed two POS police officers arrive; the POS security person nodded toward me and spoke, apparently to air her suspicions. Nobody else paid me any attention, so it was likely it was suspected that I was a party crasher. I started to simmer over this attention, and before I could boil over I decided to leave. Even though my ID badge had already been inspected when I entered, I was told that I had to resubmit it for examination by one of the police officers. They detained me for several minutes, apparently hoping that I would make some sort of “furtive gesture” suggesting that I was “guilty” of something. They could have asked the people who were running the program if they knew me, but they didn’t. I was eventually undetained, but not before I told myself that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be “thanked” in this way again. And people wonder why I have this “attitude.”

Of course, I can’t say this was a “new” experience for me. Some years ago when I was employed at a sports apparel company; the latest information I can find concerning its current status is that it was jettisoned from its near-bankrupt parent company in Italy after it was bought out by some Italian billionaire who decided to get into the shoe business because he was tired of “stinky feet” and wanted to develop shoes that “breathed.” The American subsidiary was bought by its own company president (probably taking on a significant debt load), forming a new company but using the original name as a continuing brand. Its estimated sales figures for last year was $3 million, which is 1/10 the peak year in 2002—although as I mentioned before, this was a greatly inflated figure based on overly rosy sales assumptions; about 100,000 pairs of shoes were returned the following year either as unsold or refused shipments. Some of these shoes sold for $150 retail; needless to say, the impact was if not immediately devastating, sent the company into a sales tailspin it has never recovered from. Last year, it was sued by an Issaquah company that claimed patent infringement on a portable soccer net; this year, it is suing a Seattle company specializing in apparel made from recycled material for delivering substandard soccer uniform kits. Not that I care much about it; I noticed that the same people in management when I was there are still there. With a dozen full-time employees left, they are running out of people to blame for their own incompetence.

But all that is off the track. Once the company in its “glory days” had enough spare change to rent a suite at Safeco Field for a Mariners’ game. The president of the company was actually a big cheese in the American men’s soccer world decades ago, and apparently thought he had enough influence to sell product (the Seattle P-I once had a “Where are they now?” piece on him). He certainly must have felt his position as a local businessman was sufficient to warrant a place among Boeing and Microsoft—companies that had permanent suites at Safeco. Anyways, I decided to show-up for (what else?) the free food. It was a typical picnic layout, except that it was first class all the way; everything was jumbo-sized. Then there was the baseball game. Being at a live game is more a social event, and I’m not very social. I was soon bored, especially after the Mariners fell behind something like 8-1 after four innings. Fortunately, I brought a book, and having observed a lobby just outside the suite equipped with comfortable sofas and a television set, I piled-up another plate of food, and settled myself in for some light reading.

It didn’t take long before I noticed that something was amiss. Someone—or someones—had joined me, somewhere on the outskirts of my peripheral vision. I looked-up and observed a man dressed in dark clothing; the words K-9 were stenciled on the back of his shirt. The other “someone” was a dog. He pretended he was paying me no mind, but I could tell he was hoping that I would be intimidated by his presence, and I would make life easy for him and go away. I figured someone in one of these other suites figured I didn’t belong. Naturally, I just became angry at all this attention and refused to budge. What was this about anyways? Did he think I was a terrorist, did he think I was about to rob one of their “high class” patrons? Since I didn’t make any “furtive” gestures or do anything “abnormal,” the K-9 guy eventually left; however, he was soon replaced by some management type. He smiled at me, in response to which I gave him a “What do you want?” look. He didn’t approach me, apparently because he didn’t want to take a chance of being accused of racial profiling. Since events had settled into a stalemate, he finally did what should have been their first move to begin with: Go inside the adjacent suite, and ask someone if I was part of their group. Behind me, I heard someone say, “Yeah, he’s with us.” When I went back inside the suite, the president rationalized their actions by telling me that it was “strange” that I would be reading a book at a baseball game. Of course, that begged the question of what was so “dangerous” about reading a book at a monotonous baseball game.

I recall once that I was sitting on a bench in a Seattle park reading a book; a cop approached me and asked me what I was doing. I remember wondering if all cops are this dim-witted. Funny how normal behavior is viewed as suspicious by some people, merely because it doesn’t conform to stereotype.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where does charity begin?

I was sitting alone in a Baskin Robbins where I’m not hassled if I hardly spend any money, fiddling with my laptop, when I was accosted by a little Asian woman. She asked me in barely decipherable English if I wanted to donate to Tsunami relief, presumably in Japan. You have got to be kidding me, I thought; wasn’t that last year? Alright, it was only this past March, but don’t the Japanese have a habit of being an insular people, taking care of their own? Still, it didn’t feel right to shoo her off without at least the pretense of consideration, and frankly I hate being made to feel like a shit in this way—especially when I’m the only charity case I know of firsthand, the kind that is always counting his pennies so he can decide what he can afford to eat over the next three days. I kind of looked at the pictures she was showing me, which I couldn’t quite make out because they were small and blurry, but presumably they depicted scenes of urban carnage. Why can’t these folks ask somebody like the Koch brothers for what for them would be pocket change? Probably because it is too hard for them to part with any of their untold billions, except to finance the Tea Party--you know, the people who want to take away your Social Security and Medicare.

Anyways, I thought I saw a way out after the solicitor showed me something that I found somewhat offensive: a list of names of people who all apparently had donated $200. I don’t know if she did this deliberately to make me feel as if I needed to “compete” with these other donors, or the list was faked for the same purpose. If I wrote out a check (which I haven’t done in years, maybe decades) for that amount I’d be cleaned out, and I’m not the kind of person who goes around begging for change; unlike what the cops and the local Republican gentry think, I always try to find an honest way to make a buck first. I told this solicitor the honest truth: I don’t have that kind money, so I’m sorry, I can’t help you (now go away, please). But she was persistent; $50 OK—$25? She just refused to go away; these people are more annoying than your typical Seattle street corner panhandler. I was starting to wear down, and she sensed it. Anything that I could give was good. Really? I reached down into my wallet and took a look at the five one-dollar bills that I had intended to use to purchase my supper of a Cheeseburger-bite, chips and milk from 7-Eleven. I didn’t know if I should be embarrassed because all I was giving her were these five measly dollars, or be disturbed because I wasn’t going to have anything to eat tonight, and this was of no concern to this person.

I gave the solicitor my five ones, and she said God bless, and I mused about whether that same God was going to do something for me now. I probably made her day anyways, because she asked a patron who just walked in for funds, and he acted as if she wasn’t there, and when asked the proprietor said “Not today.” I could understand his reluctance; I have to confess that ever since some thugs broke in one night and stole the widescreen television that was attached to the wall, business hasn’t been so good; I don’t recall exactly when this happened, except that it had to have occurred sometime after January 24, 2010 because that was the day when the employee on duty considered calling Western Washington Hospital to pick me up, after observing my reaction to watching a particular NFL quarterback throw a football that everyone could see wasn’t going anywhere except into an opposing player’s hands.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Riots in the UK expose similarities--and differences--with the U.S. idea of "community."

I had been living in Seattle for less than a year when I observed my first “riot.” I just completed an evening work shift and arrived home sometime after midnight. I decided to watch a few minutes of television before I went to bed. To my astonishment, the local channels were filled “live reports” from breathless reporters racing about downtown Seattle from one “hotspot” to the next. So what was going on? A riot was going on. Funny how I hadn’t noticed anything suspicious, seeing that my place of employment at the time was a only few blocks north of the Westlake Center. Since my apartment was a stone’s throw from downtown, I decided to take a stroll and see what all the excitement was all about.

It turned out that the “excitement” was essentially a copycat reaction to the rioting in Los Angeles following the acquittals of the police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991. What was surprising was that most of the people I saw where white kids. The initial activities were likely initiated by black youths who were genuinely angered by the verdict--or were thugs using it as an excuse for thuggery--but it soon became an “event” where kids either observed or took part in vandalism and looting; I recall someone trying to break a jewelry display window with a brick, which ended up getting stuck in the glass. It looked like some surreal artwork. I walked around, noticed that some newspaper stands had been knocked over, and some car windows broken, became bored by the pointlessness and went home; I noted that in a few places there were lines of police in an intimidating stance, but otherwise they did little to stop the goings-on.

I suppose it could be said that other than the initial outrage at a perceived injustice, there was little that could be said to justify the subsequent activities. Most of these white kids were from middle-to-upper class families, bored with their easy life, and now given the chance to do something “naughty,” they engaged in the thrill of “civil disobedience.” In the future, they might expand on their adventure, telling their kids and grandkids the thrilling story of how they took to the streets, faced down the police and defied the economic and political elite—all in the name of a holy crusade for civil rights and justice. In retrospect, it is remarkable how an incident and its aftermath that occurred in another city and state could have such an effect on a nannytown like Seattle, especially when today police shootings and beatings are fairly commonplace—which save of rare circumstances, like the John T. Williams shooting, hardly merit more than handwringing. It is as if people had become accustomed to such behavior and satisfy themselves that the victim must have done something “bad”—either at the time or in the past.

Now, the riots in the United Kingdom seem to have caught some people off-guard, since the Brits are supposed to be superior, and with that accent that can sell any American schlub a paper sack full of dog doo-doo (I saw that in a one of those old Mad Magazine paperbacks). Of course, riots don’t simply occur in a vacuum, and they need not have occurred if politicians and the police had been less insensitive to the passions they were dealing with. A black man, a father of three young children, was shot dead by police. At the first the police claimed that the victim was armed and he had shot at them first. However, in a scenario we in the states are all too familiar with, the initial story was unfortunately contradicted by facts, and the police admitted that the victim was unarmed. When the police and government seemed less than forthcoming with answers, a crowd of demonstrators was organized to demand said answers. Police confronted the demonstrators, telling them that they were “heard” and should go home. Unsatisfied, a 16-year-old girl separated from the crowd and approached the police, angrily demanding an explanation for the unjustified killing. According to witnesses, the police “set upon” her, enraging the crowd; it was from that point that events got out of control.

In reaction to the scenes of looting and burning, you might find reactions such as the following I found on the internet: “Time to break out the bayonets and introduce these feral rats to the 'feel of cold steel.'” Prime Minister David Cameron, didn’t go that far, but as typical of conservative politicians, blamed an apparently unBritish “culture” of disrespect of “boundaries” of acceptable behavior, and refusal to recognize your place in a class-riven society. Historian David Starkey worked-up a storm by declaring on a television discussion panel that “A substantial section of the chavs have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion…Black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together. This language which is wholly false, which is a Jamaican patois, that’s been intruded in England and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.” Odd how that attitude sounds so familiar—and just as hypocritical. Starkey proceeded to bring-up the sore subject of conservative politician Enoch Powell’s “River of Blood” speech in 1968, in which he gave voice to paranoid racists and cultural xenophobes in Britain with the following “prophecy”:

“For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’"

What Powell was so up in arms about was an anti-discrimination law which he feared would allow dark-skinned immigrants to demand redress for unequal treatment, and once receiving satisfaction through the courts, compete on an equal footing with “native” Brits—perhaps even with the possibility of some of these immigrants surpassing natives in the social and economic hierarchy. In his speech Powell’s provides an anecdote to “bolster” his position, about an older white woman who owns a boarding house, and who refuses to rent to “blacks” out of principle. She is clearly a racist, but Powell treats her as a “victim” of a fearsome society peopled by animals in human form: “When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies.” Powell in fact praises her racial prejudice, and steps into Ku Klux Klan territory when he goes on to say “The other dangerous delusion from which those who are wilfully or otherwise blind to realities suffer, is summed up in the word ‘integration.’ To be integrated into a population means to become for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its other members.” Powell gave this speech before a group of fellow conservatives, none of whom expressed any discomfiture at his remarks, and as many people in Britain praised as condemned his sentiments. Starkey admitted that the country hasn’t seen the “barbarians” seize control of the political and economic institutions of the country that Powell predicted—to be the occasion of “blood”— but rather it was seeing the annihilation of white Anglo culture, replaced by one “barbaric” in nature: white Brits were becoming “barbarians” themselves.

There are other opinions, of course. There is a “joke” making the rounds on the internet involving Cameron and his Parliamentary coalition partner Nick Clegg (a so-called Liberal Democrat) that goes something like this: “Cameron looked at Clegg, chuckled and said, ‘You know, I could throw a £1,000 note out of the window right now and make somebody very happy.’ Clegg shrugged his shoulders and replied, ‘I could throw ten £100 notes out of the window and make ten people very happy’ Hearing their exchange, the pilot of plane said to his co-pilot, ‘Such big-shots back there. I could throw both of them out of the window and make 28 million people very happy!’” But in the main, voices criticizing the conservative government’s policy of deep spending cuts that have had the effect of sending the economy into a shambles with unemployment in the “immigrant” neighborhoods particularly devastating, are ghosts in the wilderness. Even when voices are heard, their message is deliberately marginalized and vilified. Take for example a video that was being passed around the media circuit: Two 17-year old girls in the London suburb of Croydon were apparently standing in front of a shop, helping themselves to wine they had apparently relieved from the shop. The girls justified their actions by rather boldly asserting that “It’s the government’s fault—the conservatives—in a way it’s showing the police we can do what we want—that’s what it is all about—showing the police we can do what we want, and now we have…this is why this is happening, because of rich people, we’re just showing the rich people we can do what we want.”

It is such bold-speaking, apparently middle-class and articulate white youth that conservatives like Cameron and Starkey should be fearful of. Instead of staying in their “place” and towing the party line, they are identifying with those who perceive as insensitive government policy turning a blind-eye to suffering, expecting everyone to be quiet and not make a fuss. Cameron and Starkey would prefer that they stay with “their own” as Powell counseled, and pay no mind to the “others.” The girls’ message should have been a powerful antidote to the one being conveyed by the forces of conservatism, forcing the Brits to actually take note of the inequality of their society, and that maintaining an unjust society does have consequences. But instead of showing the poverty, despair and injustice the girls were alluding to, the video juxtaposed their comments with scenes of arson. Instead of providing a context to their views, they were made to look like young, hypocritical thugs who were merely excusing their actions in phony, juvenile-level moralizing; their concerns could be dismissed out of hand.

None of this was lost on right-wing commentators, of course. Extremist blogger Steve Gill declared that “Most of what is driving the violent riots in London is racism, pure and simple (meaning “black” racism). But some on the streets who are looting and burning are doing it for “good fun”. They are the product of a liberal, socialist culture who are showing the “rich people”, you know, BUSINESS OWNERS in neighborhoods who have invested, created a business, and HIRED people, that their property doesn’t really belong to them because they are the “evil” rich! This is where Obama’s class warfare will take us soon. So arm yourself and your family so you can protect what you own from those who will try to take it from you!”

Fortunately, there were a few more clear-thinking people who preferred to take a deeper look at the circumstances surrounding the riots. Jon Davis of The Guardian observed that “It is becoming clear there was a wide variety of motives for those who rioted a fortnight ago. Though there was a wide spread of ages involved in the disturbances, it was marked how many young people took part. Some spouted about "taxes", "government" and "the rich", as if some of the doom-laden analysis of their generation's prospects – that they will have to work harder, for longer, for less – had translated into blunt political messages.”

Is it all just “envy” of the rich and anger at the insensitivity of the political right—or is there something to the rage? We can first look at the UK economy, which like the U.S. economy experienced the “noughties”—that is the “naughty decade,” synonymous with lack of accountability by many sectors of the economy and financial firms. The U.S. should take a lesson from the UK’s response to the 2008 recession, which implemented fiscal austerity programs and tax cuts, which instead of leading to an economic rebound, merely led to economic flat-lining. Although all races in Britain are affected in some measure by the uncertain economic and financial instability of the country, helped not at all by rising inflation that far outraces wage increases, and because of stagnant growth, a sharp increase in unemployment looms on the horizon. As in the U.S., recent job creation has tended on the lower-income side.

As might be expected as well, racial minorities suffer out-of-proportion with their numbers. The Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities have nearly double the unemployment rate of whites, and even those who are employed are twice as likely as whites to have no savings—a fact rather strongly attested to by a 2009 wealth and assets survey that showed that the average white household possesses three times the assets of black Caribbean households, and 10-times that of Bangladeshi and 15-times that of African. Government austerity programs that target social safety net programs have naturally tended to adversely affect these communities more. Chancellor George Osborne, the power behind the austerity pogrom—has made some noises about “eradicating” the various economic disparities in the country, without addressing the continuing problem of discrimination; in 1968, 70 percent of those polled in Britain agreed with the views expressed by Powell in the “River of Blood” speech. Why should we think the numbers are significantly different today? The British education system has also failed its minority population; even though Cameron called the miniscule presence of black students at the major universities “disgraceful,” instead of improving opportunities for advancement, the Conservative government has only offered policies that increase the difficulty for advancement and opportunity. While Cameron and his government have expressed concern for the lack of moral “boundaries” among youth in the aftermath of the recent riots, he and his government have sent a clear message that they have no interest in addressing the suffering being experienced, once the everything returns to “normal.”

Davis noted the incongruity of the UK’s current ruling coalition that has given the Conservatives an authority not justified by any “mandate,” and that their scheme for governing for the minority had consequences. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have a majority in Parliament on their own, thus making the Liberal Democrats the “swing” block. Logic states that because they are technically to the left of Labour, they should have joined with their ideological brethren to form a parliamentary majority, but instead “made a “180 degree U-turn from a professed need for an urgent budgetary stimulus to an emergency austerity package. Deputy prime minister (and Liberal party leader) Clegg's prediction in April 2010 that riots could result if a future Conservative government sought to slash and burn swathes of the public sector without a popular mandate seemed risible at the time, but has proved tragically correct. More and more, it appears that their joining the coalition represents the single greatest betrayal of electoral trust in modern times.”

This betrayal of trust is much different than the variety one’s sees in the U.S.; in our country, even when a party receives an apparent “mandate” for “change,” the minority party is supplied with weapons—particularly the U.S. Senate—to engage in legislative obstruction for the most obnoxious of partisan reasons. In the UK, despite the fact that an apparent majority of the electorate who voted to the left of the Conservatives, it is they who been able to thrust their ideology on the nation with the aid of cynical power politics without regard to principle.

If in the UK the conservative government chooses to attack the result rather the symptom of the problem, in the U.S. there is a tendency toward a lack of empathy for the poor, based not necessarily on “culture” but prejudice. A 2001 study commissioned by the Brookings Institute examined “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?” It found that “altruism” crossing racial lines is at a premium, something we can plainly see by “philanthropists” who prefer to spend their largesse overseas when we have poverty and hunger right here in this country. The study concluded, after dismissing the likelihood that differences in economic and taxation variables between the U.S. and European have an observable impact, recognized an electoral system that inordinately favors the majority white against racial minorities (regardless of what the majority of these groups feel), and that

“Racial fragmentation in the United States and the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities among the poor clearly played a major role in limiting redistribution, and indeed, racial cleavages seem to serve as a barrier to redistribution throughout the world. This history of American redistribution makes it quite clear that hostility to welfare derives in part from the fact that welfare spending in the United States goes disproportionately to minorities. Another important difference is that Americans dislike redistribution because they tend to feel that people on welfare are lazy, whereas Europeans tend to feel that people on welfare are unfortunate. Apart from the fact that, in the United States, there is indeed a stronger connection between effort and earnings than in Europe, we do not know what explains these differences in beliefs…Our bottom line is that Americans redistribute less than Europeans for three reasons: because the majority of Americans believe that redistribution favors racial minorities, because Americans believe that they live in an open and fair society and that if someone is poor it is his or her own fault, and because the political system is geared toward preventing redistribution. In fact, the political system is likely to be endogenous to these basic American beliefs.”

So what does this mean? In the UK it appears that part of the problem the riots should have exposed stems from a regard of Asians and blacks as a “foreign” presence that exists on the peripheries of the national consciousness—until such time that they make their presence “known” and then everyone is “shocked” to discover there is a problem. But these groups being ignored or despised is not considered a reason to end social safety net programs; poverty in Britain was a fact long before immigrants from colonial past arrived on its shores. But in the U.S., the white population, from the time of its first encounters with the native population, marginalized and demonized non-Anglo peoples. Whites would make even there own suffer if it means discomfiting minorities who they stereotype as being solely at fault for their “condition.” The only way whites could be poor is if they were also “lazy” and “stupid,” just as the so-called Army IQ tests conducted during World War I classified certain Caucasian “races.” Both the U.S. and the UK have similar views on race, but in the UK the concept that the maintenance of a civil society requires something communal in nature mitigates against wholesale destruction of social and health care programs based on racial prejudice; in the U.S.—especially if we believe the rhetoric of the Tea Party “movement”—a large segment of the population is to each their own, everyone is responsible for themselves, even when the actions of one are consciously a detriment to another; laws and government are not permitted to intervene when one commits an injustice against another in the name of greed and selfishness.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Time for a counterrevolution

I came across a web pop-up that proclaimed that teabagger Rand Paul wished to tell me something that Barack Obama did not wish me to know about the federal deficit. Frankly, there was plenty that he wished that I didn’t know about him. Considering his numerous bizarre statements that reveal a curious kind of na├»vete, one suspects that his election to the U.S. Senate was based solely on the “reputation” of his father Ron Paul, and the fact that voters simply decided to send a goofball to gum-up the works further than it already was, just because they could.

Teabagger Paul was the candidate who thought that the BP oil spill was just an “accident,” and that it was “un-American” to criticize the company. Teabagger Paul was the candidate who derided the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying on MSNBC "I don't want to be associated with those people (presumably black), but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it." In another venue, teabagger Paul managed to get his tongue tied-up in knots, saying “I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders…But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison.”

Teabagger Paul isn’t quite as inflexible on his views as might seem at first blush. I have to admit that I had no idea that the capital of Kentucky is a city called Frankfart (it’s a joke, get it?), but at any rate this is where last year Rand gave a speech at a pro-gun rally with a crowd of mostly militia types from an outfit called the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters. The group’s political “manifesto” includes the following thoughts:

“The treasonous left wing socialist politicians, and their lapdogs in the press, have gotten a wedgie here recently in their underpants over the tea parties. And a little broken glass (wink, wink). I sure hope they’re out there today. If they read history, they should know and fear what came after those events over 200 years ago. This latest forced health care bill, which is really about people control, the same thing as gun control, is the modern day equivalent of the 1765 standback, its only more disastrous to our freedom living way of life, etc…

History it seems is ready to repeat itself. After a long and costly civil war that is eminent, and sure to be forced upon us, we are taking note of those who are responsible for the treason, and they will be held accountable. I advise the press to start getting it right from this moment on, and stop aiding and abetting un-American activities. Like the Tories of old, the worst shall be hung, most will be exiled, and I’m a contractor so I have a little bit of tar and feathers for those who are only partially guilty.

In closing, let me implore you to keep the torch of freedom burning bright, god bless the republic, death to the New World Order. We shall prevail.”

The only people who seem to be advocating violent overthrow, death and destruction these days are the people teabagger Paul hangs out with. Anyways, in a former life teabagger Paul was a doctor. Back in 1998, somebody quoted as saying that Medicare doesn’t work because it doesn’t have “sufficient price fluctuations.” Maybe it should be left to him to explain what he means, although I doubt he’d want us to know. Teabagger Paul has criticized private health insurers in past; does that mean he favors a tax-finance single-payer system?

“We need to get insurance of out of the way and let the consumer interact with their doctor the way they did basically before World War II.” Oh, far out. Rand, like his contemporaries Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, is proof that our education system is failing our students, particularly in even rudimentary civics teaching. The fact is that “accident” insurance was first offered in the mid 19th century, and eventually evolved into “pre-paid” health plans and then into the current insurance system. Is he saying that everyone, regardless of income status, has to haggle a price, or not receive “service” if the doctor isn’t satisfied? Teabagger Paul skirts the issue by offering another “plan”: "I believe in making every American eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA), and removing the requirement that individuals must obtain a high-deductible insurance policy before opening an HSA." Oh geez, thanks. I guess that means if you get sick, you’ll have just enough money to pay for the visit where you are told you have a serious illness; now you can go home and wait for the reaper to show-up.

Teabagger Paul: "I believe that the primary Constitutional function of the federal government is national defense, bar none." Remember when the House Republicans made everyone read a portion of the Constitution? The preamble states the following: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The fact is that the preamble means exactly what it says, and national defense has only a token presence in the Constitution, and the founding fathers didn’t envision the country being continuously entangled in foreign conflicts—particularly the “preemptive” variety.

And Sen. Rand is the current “darling” of the Tea Party Movement.

I recall when self-proclaimed “number one” progressive commentator Thom initially believed that the “vigor” of the Tea Party “movement” could be harnessed into some kind of “populist” movement that would encompass an overall philosophy of “the people” against the powerful elites and corporations who were abusing them. Some of us who were never fooled for one minute by the true nature of the Tea Party tried to dissuade Thom from this belief; these people were in fact the frontline battalion of the extreme right. Before I was booted off his website for being too uppity, I commented how he was like a particularly NFL quarterback who soldiered on despite getting continuously battered and bruised behind a porous offensive line, taking hits for the “team.” Thom thinks the teabaggers are on his “team,” but he took sack after sack from a certain John O’Hara, who claimed to represent the true nature of the Tea Party “movement.” O’Hara disabused Thom of all of his romantic notions about teabaggers—that they were playing on the same “team” with the same idea of how to win the “game.” Teabaggers are not “populists.” Teabaggers are against health care reform. Teabaggers are not against CEOs and Wall Street hooligans making millions and billions of dollars. Teabaggers are against government spending to create jobs. Teabaggers think that tax cuts are the answer for everything. Thom, I said, wasn’t going to “win” with these guys, let alone go to the Super Bowl (unless he paid for the tickets).

Some of us on the “left” saw right through the Tea Party from the very beginning. I think Thom was taken in by their anti-immigrant rhetoric, since he himself frequently scapegoated undocumented workers for the problems of “workers” in general, and to be fair he wasn’t alone in this among so-called progressives and “populists.” This scapegoating along racial lines, is, of course, more symptomatic of the right, so once we went one step beyond that it was a simple evaluation to make. Long before the BBC exposed the Tea Party “movement” as the creation and puppet of powerful right-wing political and corporate interests such as the Koch Brothers, the fact that the Tea Party chose from the very beginning to identify itself with the Republican Party rather than as a legitimate “third party,” indicated that its ideology was not a “grassroots” movement, but an attempt to give a new rhetorical “legitimacy” to extremists within party who thought they were being marginalized by the party regulars. The fact that it “emerged” almost as soon as Barack Obama took office, and proceeded to oppose his programs without offering any counter policies suggested their actions were based on reflexive assumptions based on a large extent racial stereotypes; the fact that they frequently accused Obama of being a “racist” and used racially-insensitive caricatures suggested that saw in Obama an “us” against “the others” dynamic.

To disguise the racial aspect of the anti-Obama campaign, the forces of reaction, such as the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey, set-up front groups that supplied the teabaggers with various slogans and propaganda lines. Unlike left-wing radicals, it was never exactly clear what the Tea Party was for, although they made it abundantly clear that they were against “big” government, regulation and tax increases; it is much easier to be “against” something than it is to be “for” something, because to be “for” something means that you actually have to have a plan to do something constructive to help the common people rather than grovel before corporations and the wealthy. That is why we see that the teabaggers in Congress have yet to offer a single job creation bill (or anything else, for that matter, save impotent votes on laws passed in the previous Congress). Why? Because that means real governing, and the teabagger philosophy is to govern as little as possible and let the corporations run the country. Even Reagan didn’t go that far; people forget that his tax cuts were but a fraction of the Bush cuts, and even he realized that with the country in recession his massive military building program had to be paid for, so he agreed to various backdoor avenues of revenue increases.

Thus the Tea Party movement should be seen either as the extremist wing of the Republican Party, or fringe-right fanatics that were given a catchy name and given far more press and credibility than they deserved (for ratings, of course). We know what to expect from Fox News and CNBC, but outside a few commentators on MSNBC no one has had the mettle to stand-up to a teabagger and say to hell with your racial paranoia and your insane insistence on gutting both the federal budget and taxes in a down economy where corporation and the wealthy are simply holding on to their money instead of creating jobs: What is it that you plan to do to create jobs given this reality? What is your jobs plan, and don’t give me your cheap slogans. OK, you just gave me a cheap slogan; you don’t mind expanding on that “idea,” do you? How can the American people trust you with bringing the country out of its current distresses largely due to the policies you are now advocating, simply because you want the other party to fail? You’ve just given me more cheap, meaningless slogans. Businesses are sitting on $1.93 trillion in cash reserves—why do they need more tax cuts to create jobs? In this age of increasing wealth disparity, what is your “plan” to maintain a civil society, besides jailing everyone (presumably anyone who isn’t 100 percent white American) who can’t find a job? Well, we’ll have to end this conversation because you have not given me a single sensible answer.

There is a website called Tea Party Patriots, and its “mission” statement rather succinctly reveals its lack of governing acumen: “The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” Even Thom can’t ignore that. It declares that “This is no longer about Democrats or Republicans. This is about the future of America. The current crop of politicians have ZERO credibility when it comes to promising to cut spending. Their political careers are more important than their service to their country and those they represent.” Tough talk, but because there is no actual detailed policy discussion, it is simply more empty sloganeering. The Tea Party is so lacking in substance itself that it has to borrow ideas from the so-called libertarian Cato Institute, whose theories on budget cutting includes wholesale slaughter of education, health care and infrastructure—foolish considering that the states have already been drastically cutting their own budgets in these areas, to the detriment of the long-term health of the national (of course we could also consider the possibility that this is more evidence that the Tea Party is not a “grassroots” movement, but a facade).

When the teabaggers have to think for themselves, they come-up empty: A link to their “detailed plan to reduce the deficit by 2017 without raising taxes” leads to a webpage that contains nothing more than a banner with the words “Strong America Now: No deficit, no new taxes.” That’s it??? You want to read something even more amusing? How about this:

“Tea Party Patriots, Inc. ("TPP") is a non-partisan, non-profit social welfare organization dedicated to furthering the common good and general welfare of the people of the United States.”

This statement drips with bloody irony and mendacity. Either through ignorance and deliberate deception it does “profit” one group over the other in a partisan manner—the wealthiest Americans over the considerably less well-off. “No new taxes,” of course, means no tax increases on the rich, which apparently includes extending yet again the Bush tax cuts, and not closing tax loopholes and breaks. “Free markets” naturally means a return to Bush-era corporate irresponsibility and financial bubbles, and “fiscal responsibility” and “limited government” means gutting or eliminating social safety net programs. Its claim that it is a “social welfare” organization interested in the “common good” of all people is beyond easy incomprehension; we can only deduce that by “welfare” they mean “prosperity” for the chosen few as opposed necessity for the many. The fact that they wish to gut any and all programs that aid in the opportunity and wellbeing of a major chunk of the public only draws a feeling of disgust. The fact that these teabaggers have only become interested in “fiscal responsibility” during the Obama administration—when the fiscal policies of the previous administration are almost wholly to blame to the current budget and revenue morass went “unnoticed”—indeed is more evidence that gives the lie to their claim of non-partisanship. Furthermore, the teabaggers’ insistence on a “constitutionally limited government” betrays a nostalgia to a darker time, back to the days of the antebellum South when everyone knew their “place.” Only this time, the masters are in the corporate boardrooms, the politicians are the overseers. “Poor whites” still act like poor whites, their racial animosities preventing them from analyzing the truth.

“Free markets” has always been the mantra of the right, so given the fact the Tea Party is on the extreme right, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are all for it. It matters not what we saw as the result of unfettered free-marketeering in the past decade: A net loss of 3 million manufacturing jobs during the Bush administration after three decades of stability (if not growth), while financial freebooters sought to make millions not by making things, but by gambling with money that was not theirs or did not exist, particularly in derivatives. When the bubble burst, there was no foundation to rebuild on. And this is what the Tea Party wants us to rest the future of the country on. In their desire to cut grants for higher education, the Tea Party shows us that they don’t even believe in the American People, except those who have lots of money.

The Tea Party, in effect, doesn’t have a vision for the future. Its desire to do away with the Department of Education demonstrates that it doesn’t want to invest in people; a recent story in the Seattle Times noted that there are thousands of high-paying jobs in the state going wanting because not enough “native” citizens are educated in the technical fields required; but a man from India that I know told me that his brother—a recent immigrant—was hired by Boeing for an engineering position almost as soon as he made the inquiry. Washington state has always ranked near the bottom in the country in its financial support for education, and still continues to make dramatic cuts in education spending; the University of Washington doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it actively seeks foreign students rather than native residents because of the higher tuition fees that they are required to pay.

The Tea Party would also do away with Social Security and Medicare. Think about it: The Tea Party believes that doing away with these programs with lead to more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, who will allegedly use that money to create jobs. One problem is that outside the Warren Buffetts of the world, the wealthy and people who run corporations do not have the national interest in mind, let alone the common person. Surprisingly, Donald Trump—who derided Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget cutting plan as “stupid”—recently admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he thought that the super rich who did not want to pay higher taxes were not “patriotic.” These people are not saying “We need to create more jobs because too many people in this country are suffering.” They are saying “How can we maximize profit?” Do we need to cut more jobs?” The federal government is in fact the largest employer in the country, and has been the most reliable; the smaller government that the Tea Party yearns for will only send even more people onto the street—to an even smaller social safety net, if there still is one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hard to make sense of the past week

There doesn’t seem to be much that makes sense in this world these days. Take for example events in the past week. Standard & Poor’s threatened to lower the credit rating on the national debt unless some kind of agreement was reached on raising the debt ceiling. When an "agreement" was finally achieved, S & P lowered their rating anyways. To avoid this, Congress could have simply agreed as they did hundreds of times before to raise the debt ceiling without attaching anything more than the usual pretend bluster concerning the deficit; during the Bush administration, Republicans told us that deficits don’t matter, so they were glad to do it. But because Rush Limbaugh and Fox News blowhards were telling us that Barack Obama is an anti-white “socialist” who wants to communize the country, suddenly there is this irrational fear that the debt is out-of-control because of this spendthrift maniac of a president out to steal more of “your” money to give to “his people.” It’s absurd, but many paranoid millions believe it. Not only that, but those on the left are equally critical of Obama for not demanding another stimulus package, as if there was any chance of getting one from a House full of rabid Tea Partiers who don’t understand the realities of public and international debt.

The debt issue is actually quite simple, if you think about it. If you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, you use a credit card. As long as you pay a minimum balance every month and stay below your “debt ceiling,” you still have credit you can draw on if you fall short. As long as you have a more or less steady income, you should be in no danger of being unable to make your minimum payment. Thus it is with the federal government; as long as there is an expectation of a certain amount of revenue, and can pay a minimum amount of interest on its debt, the government will remain solvent.

It is not that we shouldn’t be concerned about how high the national debt is, but it is useful to note that the extent and problem of a nation’s debt varies wildly. Japan’s public debt is 225 percent of its GDP, and its government borrowing actually exceeded its revenues last year. Yet there seems to be this assumption that the Japanese have it all in hand; The Economist noted that Japan’s head-in-the-sand approach includes a break-away political party seemingly modeled on the U.S. Tea Party movement, claiming to be reformers but who seem to believe that anti-immigrant nationalism is the “tonic” Japan needs to solve its decreasing economic output, as its native labor pool continues to age. On another extreme is the UK’s international balance of payments debt, 400 times that of its GDP. Thus the U.S.’ short-term debt picture tends to be falsely characterized by the media, politicians and the public. The country’s external debt—its international balance of payments—is over 90 percent of GDP, but this is not necessarily a measure of government debt, but of trade imbalances; whenever you buy a Japanese-made car or a Chinese-made laptop computer, you are contributing to that debt. The U.S. public debt (debt held by non-governmental entities, usually in the form of sales of Treasury bonds) is about 60 percent of GDP (according to the CIA Factbook), which is fairly manageable compared to other countries. These figures, however, do not take into account “intra-governmental” borrowings from trust surpluses (like Social Security) and Medicare funds. The federal deficit numbers usually bandied about do take into account this debt, but the public debt as a short-term concern is overblown; but for the long-term, intra-government borrowing is a significant concern if draws down the Social Security and pension trust funds too far too quickly.

So what credibility should we give Standard & Poor’s lowering of the U.S. credit rating? A BBC World News reporter went out on the streets of Times Square and asked passersby what they thought of the ramifications. One man had this to say: “This all began with Clinton, Bush didn’t do anything about it, and Obama made it worse.” This is about the kind of sense you might expect from someone who gets all his misinformation from Fox News and CNBC. But while many Americans have reached the conclusion that something really bad has happened, one needs to put this in proper perspective, and apparently some people already have: While the Stock Market plummeted on Monday, people who were selling off their stocks were apparently re-investing them—in the U.S. government, just as they did in 2008. As the LA Times reported, “The continuing global stock market panic is the gift that keeps on giving to the U.S. Treasury. Despite the U.S. credit-rating downgrade by Standard & Poor's last week, the Treasury on Wednesday saw huge demand when it sold $24 billion in new 10-year notes.” Despite all the media handwringing, this was a direct slap in the face to S & P, which many commentators on both the right and the left were already deriding as without substance or credibility. Barry Ritholtz of the Washington Post recently noted it was, after all, rating firms like S & P who contributed to the Great Recession:

“Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings — all originally served bond investors, who paid for their research. But that model changed in the 1990s to one that was funded by the syndicators and underwriter of structured financial products such as mortgage-backed securities. Essentially, bankers “purchased” the rating they desired. As a result, the performance of the rating agencies decayed, as they were no longer judged on the quality of their analytical reviews. Second, the underwriting quality of syndicators fell, as they —not a neutral third party — were, in effect, picking their own credit ratings. The real question for the financial markets is why we even require rating agencies to evaluate complex financial products any more.”

The “model” changed thanks to fanatical deregulators like the incompetent Sen. Phil Graham, who subsequently chose to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators of the 2008 financial meltdown. The greatest failing of Bill Clinton’s presidency was not the Lewinsky scandal, but caving in to the Republican Congress’ deregulation madness—in particular the repeal of Glass Steagall, which allowed banks to be run like gambling casinos with depositors’ money. George Bush and the federal regulators on his watch gleefully turned a blind eye to the consequences, while ratings firms like S & P added hydrogen to the financial airship by providing usefully improper credit reports. S & P’s latest actions should be seen not as a reaction to its past indiscretions, but as a purely political move. It criticizes the political stalemate in Washington, but it is clear what side of the political fence it leans on when it insists on major social program cuts to get back in its “good” graces. When Obama came with his statement on Monday, he only tepidly disagreed with S & P’s move; he should have forcefully brushed it aside by noting as Ritholtz did that S & P is a self-glorified stooge of the banking industry, and in effect incompetent to make a judgment one way or the other.

Meanwhile, on NPR economist James Galbraith and some Wall Street Journal editor I dismissed as a right-wing partisan hack in the Fox News mold (the WSJ, as we know, is now owned by Rupert Murdoch) argued about who was responsible for the present economic morass. A third commentator—probably correctly—intimated that there is little the government can do about the economy, since it seems impervious to any policy tinkering; tinkering only marginally helps one side or the other—meaning either the rich or everyone else, but not both. Despite the intransigence of House Republicans, they all blamed Obama alone for the debt crisis and the failure of the economy to more rapidly emerge from its doldrums. One side says that Obama has done too much, the other side says has done too little. There was a lot of talk about his supposed inability to lead; there was less talk—or rather no talk—about how Republicans do not want to be led, except by the nose by the Tea Party.

But Obama had nothing to do with the disastrous policies that led to the “Great Recession,” and he has been able to do little but nibble at the toes of those policies. Had Clinton’s tax and fiscal policies—which had gone a long way to fixing the damage done by Ronald “Deficits Don’t Matter” Reagan and George H.W. “Doo the Voodoo Too” Bush and their tax-cutting for the rich and military spendthrifting—been continued during the Bush II administration, the nation would have gone a long way toward erasing its national debt. But remember what Bush II told us? The poor rich needed a break, and with increased employment, the subsequent taxation on that income would make-up for the initial losses in revenue. Only Republicans seemed to believe this; after the controversial 2000 election, Bush told us that he “heard” the American People” and had second thoughts about the extent of the tax cuts. But Congressional Republicans demanded the whole hog, except that instead of getting it all at once, they passed part of it in 2001 and the rest in 2003.

Bush also forgot to tell us that he intended on starting a war from the very start, just like Gov. Scott Walker forgot to tell Wisconsin voters that he was going to gut public union bargaining rights. It was also Bush who pushed predatory home loans to those who did not have the means, after gutting affordable housing and rental subsidies. His SEC regulators apparently had little do except watch internet porn (and it wasn’t just men who were guilty of using government property for their illicit activities: “A Regional Office Staff Accountant received nearly 1,800 access denials for pornographic websites using her SEC laptop in only a two-week period, and had nearly 600 pornographic images saved on her laptop hard drive” according to the SEC inspector). Then Bush started his two mostly needless wars; instead of a marginalized Saddam Hussein who at least served as a bulwark against Iran, fanatical anti-American cleric and Iranian place-holder Muqtada al-Sadr waits in the wings to engage in a bloody overthrow of Iraqi “democracy.” Just last week, al-Sadr announced that any American soldiers remaining in Iraq after 2011—even those serving as trainers—would be targeted for death as infidel “occupiers.”

Bush’s continuation of Reaganesque “voodoo economics”—that is, the “trickle down” theory—only led to 3 million net manufacturing job losses, and while only increasing overall job gains by a net of 2 million in eight years—compared to 22 million during the Clinton years. But these losses were masked by a booming housing construction bubble based on very unsound credit. When the Bush administration gutted low-income housing subsidies, “in return” it made it easier for lenders to avoid accountability by luring potential low-income homeowners with low “teaser” interest rates that went-up dramatically at a certain time. Since many of these lenders were outside the commercial banking sphere, their practices were not regulated at all, and home loan borrowers who were not educated in the potential hazards involved were exploited by these lenders, who could easily foreclose to get their money back. But these lenders didn’t wait for that to happen; they sold their mortgages in bundles to banks or to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who in turn might sell them to investment firms. The expectation was, of course, that homeowners would continue to pay their monthly mortgage.

We’ve heard of derivatives; what do they have to do with this? When people buy a security like a stock or bond, they own a piece of what they are buying, thus they gain or lose according to that security’s market performance. But when someone invests in a derivative, they don’t actually own a “piece” of a company, they are placing a wager on whether the security will rise or fall in price, and it is quite likely that many of these people had a very good idea of what they were betting on. Insurance companies like AIG engaged in derivatives when they sold policies in which losses from mortgage-based investments would be covered. This “insurance”—called “credit default swaps”—led to speculation on the future yield of these mortgage-based investments in which these speculators could "influence" the course of events; the actual owners of the investments faced most of the risk, and insurance companies like AIG could face massive losses if the housing bubble burst. By the time of the financial crisis of 2008 occurred, an incredible $60 trillion in mortgages were insured—compared to just under $1 trillion when Bush first took office. All that was propping this up was rising home prices and the ability of home owners to pay their mortgages—who were often of such impoverished means that they were forced to borrow on their home equity, putting themselves in deeper into debt and one paycheck from losing their home. When the “bubble” finally burst and home prices plummeted and homeowners could no longer pay their mortgages, even “only” a 7 percent default rate was disastrous for the insurance companies, banks and investment firms who were heavily involved.

Then as now, as the stock market plummeted, investment in Treasury bonds soared, since the U.S. government was still viewed as the safest investment haven. This didn’t, of course, help the economy; despite the $700 billion infusion of cash into banks who owned toxic home mortgage securities, banks chose not to use the money to lend, but to buy Treasury bonds, thus hindering economic recovery. Given the stagnation of the economy at the moment, it seems certain that whatever economic growth occurred in 2009-2010, was largely due to the Obama stimulus program; more than seven months into the extension of tax cuts for the rich, there is almost no sign that they have done anything to stimulate the economy or job growth. It seems obvious that more—not less—government spending is required to spur job creation and consumer spending; with the rest of the world’s economy (save in China and India) in question, this country has to do something shocking—do the sensible thing and demand that Congress make job creation--not more useless tax breaks for businesses--its number one priority, which does not include job-killing budget cuts to fix a “problem” which exists mainly because the government has done too little rather than too much, to correct the country’s wealth imbalances.

"Common sense," said Obama in his Monday statement, is what we need more of in Washington. Of course, that means having a "sense" of what happened the past three years. We should have learned that unfettered deregulation of financial markets, giving money to banks and tax cuts for the wealthy have not worked to jump start the economy, while targeted stimulus funds did work. But with the Tea Party in charge, the children are running the nursery.