U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





THE NOOSE TIGHTENS

14 10 2007

 

 

If one example epitomizes creeping fascism in America, it is the recent Florida incident in which John Kerry did nothing while police tasered and arrested a student who asked him a rambling question about why Kerry had not contested the 2004 election and why nobody had moved to impeach Bush. Did Kafka write the script for this? Andrew Meyer had a non-soundbite question. He was trying to lay out enough background so that his question made sense, and had in fact gotten to his point, when University of Florida police moved in, manhandled him to the back of the room, put him on the floor and tasered him, while Kerry droned on, making jokes about the incident( “I’m afraid he’s not able to come up here and swear me in as President.”) and everybody in the room just sat and watched. Later, Kerry claimed he was not aware that Meyer was being tasered. Hey, the guy was screaming “Don’t taser me!” I guess this kind of answered his question about why Kerry didn’t contest the election. All that’s necessary for evil to triumph, they say, is for good people to do nothing.

 

When I was in college, an incident like that would have sparked a riot, tasers or no tasers. The fact that nothing happened is a sad commentary on the state of America today, and what’s sadder is that it’s not the only symptom of repression, or of passive acceptance of repression. We’ve all heard of no-fly lists, and the increased airport security that goes with them. Flying these days is like going to a voluntary prison,where they treat you OK as long as you do what they tell you. Step out of line like Carol Gotbaum or Doris Watson, and police who are trained to confront big, burly, healthy male criminal types will manhandle you to death. What happened to treating women, no matter how agitated, like ladies?

 

While these womens’ deaths are, so far, isolated incidents, there are plenty of people who have found that the friendly skies aren’t friendly to them any more. While the exact number is a state secret, there are an estimated 700,000 people either forbidden to fly in this country or subject to intense search and questioning every time they board an airplane. What have they done? In many cases, they are individuals who have spoken out against US government policy. This is political harassment, pure and simple. In spite of widespread protest, the government is planning to make travel even more difficult—by next year you will, if they have their way, need a passport to visit Canada and a federally-approved “real ID” to enter federal courthouses, national parks, and other locations. Gotta protect them national parks from freedom-hating terrorists, yessir. Oh, by the way, you won’t be able to get social security or open a bank account without it—and you may not be able to get one, and it may cost more than you can afford.

 

Plus, you can only cross the US-Canada border if you’ve been a very good little boy or girl. In June, I recounted the plight of a psychologist who has been refused entry into the US because of articles he published in praise of psychedelics, thirty years ago, although he has no arrest record and has been visiting his family in the US without incident for decades; now comes news that two anti-war activists, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, of Code Pink, were recently refused entry into Canada because of the arrests they have undergone to protest the war. Both had entered Canada with no problem as recently as August. It seems the US FBI gave Canadian customs the National Crime Information Center list so the Canadians would know who to keep out, and it makes no difference to the Canadians whether you were arrested for attempted murder or for trying to stop a war they themselves had the good sense to avoid. According to this standard, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu would all be denied entry into Canada. And speaking of Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was briefly blackballed from speaking in Minneapolis because Jews in Minnesota interpreted his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “anti-Semitic.” Hey, Arabs are Semites too, y’know? And what the Israelis are doing to them IS a lot like apartheid! Anyway, THAT particular piece of American censorship was turned back by popular outcry.

 

American censorship. It’s what’s happening, baby. We got Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush lyrics to “The Wall” cut out, we got Bono’s speech accepting the Liberty Medal edited for him. (The company did present his full remarks in another, longer video clip that fewer people would see.) We got Verizon trying to keep NARAL from using its flash messaging service, we got Yahoo and MSN deciding that Truthout’s emails are junk no matter what the recipients think. And, speaking of keeping people from finding things out for themselves, we got marijuana arrests at another all-time high. In 2005 it was one every forty seconds, in 2006 it was one every thirty-eight seconds. That may sound like a pretty trivial increase, but those two seconds mean that 47,000 more people—another 130 people every day– were arrested for marijuana last year, mostly for simple possession. More people were arrested for marijuana than for all violent crimes put together. Hey, is this a free country or what? It will only be a free country if lots and lots of us, too many of us to haul away or throw a wall around, start exercising our rights. John Kerry and his vacuous Democratic buddies—Hillary, Obama, whoever– are not gonna do the job for us.

 

music: REM, “Welcome to the Occupation





A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

14 09 2005

I’ve been reading an extraordinary book lately, renewing and expanding my knowledge of recent history, oftentimes in ways that leave me shocked and angry—not just at the tragedy of the events themselves, but at the shallow and slanted way in which they were reported to me and the rest of the American public, if they were reported at all—for this book is not just a history, it is a history of how history is reported, and it lays to rest the myth of “the liberal media.” Even though it is nearly twenty years old, it is still fully relevant to current events, because some things—like the fundamentally conservative, not liberal, bias of the mainstream media—don’t change.

The book is Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, subtitled “The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” It examines several major news stories of the sixties, seventies and eighties in deep and well-footnoted detail: terrorism and electoral politics in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the so-called plot to kill Pope John-Paul II, and the three wars in Indo-China—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In all of these cases, I was astounded to discover the difference between reality on the ground and what I had been able to learn about these events from the mass media (even my cynical reading of the mass media) and even from such alternative news sources as were available at the time—about which I have to say, thank goddess for the internet—it has made the news much more democratic and diverse.

Chomsky and Herman point out that the so-called “liberal media”–the television networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time and Newsweek—consistently ignored obvious connections between governments and terrorist activities in El Salvador and Guatemala, while straining to create them in Nicaragua; pumped up the idea of a KGB-Bulgarian plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II when there was no credible evidence to back up the claim (and a great deal of evidence pointing to the fascist-leaning Italian secret police’s manufacture of the plot).

I had long been aware of how widespread state terrorism has been in Central America, and the “plot to kill the pope” seems like the stuff of comic opera, but somehow I had missed just how completely and intentionally devastating America’s assault on Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam had been. The United States’ objective was to destroy the fabric of civil society in those countries, and through our superior weaponry we all but succeeded—in disrupting the lives of millions of people who were not actively hostile to this country and certainly represented no threat to America. If tht’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is. Chomsky and Herman posit that the military’s aim was to demonstrate to the third world that it was not worthwhile to engage in guerilla warfare, because US airpower would more than make up for any success against our ground troops—and the overwhelming sympathy that the people of Vietnam had for the Viet Minh (“Viet Cong,” the authors point out, was in fact a derogatory term) made U.S. success on the ground an impossibility.

And so, the atrocities at My Lai were the rule, not an exception. John Kerry’s “war hero” status devolves into war criminal status—do we know how many innocent civilians he killed?

The war on Vietnam was an attempt by the Western economic system to destroy the working, communal peasant network that was in place in southeast Asia, and force the people there to adopt a consumerist way of life that would benefit the Western economic system. The same kind of eminent domain that the Supreme Court just approved, on a transnational scale.

This is not, however merely a book of history—it is a history of how the history has been told, and it is easy to connect the dots—the same cover-over is going on today. Just as there were no hard questions in the popular media about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, there are no hard questions about why there was no wreckage scattered around from the airliner that allegedly hit the Pentagon, nor a call for a good explanation of why the World Trade Center collapsed from below when it was struck from above, nor an explanation of why World Trade Center Building 7 imploded several hours later when it had not been hit by an airplane or damaged by the collapse of the main towers, let alone a good explanation for why the “Bin Laden likely to use planes to attack U.S.” briefing was ignored, why Colin Powell lied to the U.N., why the Bin Laden family was allowed to leave the country unquestioned, why no interceptor planes were scrambled when the hijacking started…the list goes on and on

I am marking this fourth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center by asserting that it wasn’t a terrorist attack—it was a sucker punch, My fellow Americans, we have been had. That pain you feel is George Bush’s fist in your gut.

Just as the media unquestioningly accepted that the rebels in El Salvador and Guatemala were communists, and that the death squads had nothing to do with the government and were not trained, equipped, and encouraged by the United States, so today the media accept that the struggle in Columbia is narcotraffickers versus government, with some uncontrollable right-wing death squads floating around, and that the trouble in Iraq is with a small minority of the population there.

And just as there were no questions about whether the United States had a right to be in Vietnam, only questions about whether the war was winnable, so there is no discussion in the mainstream media about whether the U.S. has any right to be in Iraq, only arguments about whether we can prevail against the “insurgents.” The question is too embarassing to ask, because the answer is that the United States had as much right to interfere in Vietnam—and in Iraq—as the Germans had to send their troops into Poland in 1939.

Let me say that again, more clearly: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Again: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Please tell all your friends to tell this to all their friends. It’s the thousand pound gorilla in America’s living room: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Do I make myself perfectly clear?

All those who support America’s current war of aggression in the middle east—including recent Democratic candidate Kerry and current front-runners Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden—are complicit in war crimes just as surely as any member of the 1939 German government. There is no good reason for the United States to have military forces in Iraq. None. Zip. Nada. The World Trade Center bombing was allowed to happen by the Bush junta, if it was not actively planned by them. And you’ll never read about it in Newsweek.

The book, again, is Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.” Read it and weep. Read it and get motivated. Happy anniversary.








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