TEA PARTIES: BOSTON….OR WONDERLAND?

10 04 2010

When I read about the shenanigans perpetrated by the Republican Party lately, I don’t just wonder “What are they thinking?”  I wonder if they are thinking at all, or if they are merely DNA-powered robots in an extremely reactonary, defensive response to the fact that everything that has ever given them security and a sense of self is vanishing like smoke.

There’s plenty of evidence that there is no thinking involved here, most prominently the “Obama is a Marxist/Socialist!” movement, which I commented on last month.  That post, in which I decried the absurdity of calling Obama a “socialist” and pointed out some of the many ways he does the bidding of the capitalist, corporatist masters of America, prompted a reader who identified himself as “Commieblaster,” from College Road in Olive Branch, Mississippi (oh, the irony!), to comment “Obama isn’t a socialist, he’s a Marxist,” and direct me to his website, www.commieblaster.com.

Well, fair is fair.  If Mr. Commieblaster is open-minded enough to read me, I owe it to him to pay a visit to his domain, and so I did.  Oh, my.

“Eighty members of Congress are Socialists!”  he warns.  What, in his book, makes them “socialists”?  Primarily, it seems, association with an organization called “Democratic Socialists of America,” whose website opens with these words:

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

So….the tea partiers, who are reacting to what they perceive as an autocratic government, also feel threatened by the idea that “ordinary Americans” ought to be able to “participate in the many decisions that affect our lives”?   Go figure….

DSA’s site also features a number of articles complaining about Obama’s rightward course  and an interview that specifically addresses “Why Obama is Not a Socialist.”  Other criteria for being a “Socialist,” according to Mr. Commieblaster, include supporting Hamas rather than Israel (which was once described as “the most socialist country outside the Eastern Bloc” and where the government still has far more influence on the private sector than in the US), and entertaining the possibility that Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed.  So…does that make sense to you?

Shortly after hearing from Mr. Commieblaster, I ran across an article written by that ol’ devil Commie, the last Marxist left standing, Fidel Freaking Castro himself, in which Castro said flat out

BARACK Obama is a fanatical believer in the imperialist capitalist system imposed by the United States on the world. “God bless the United States,” he ends his speeches…..

The current administration’s militarist policies, its plunder of natural resources and unequal exchange with the poor countries of the Third World are in no way different from those of its predecessors, almost all of them extremely right-wing, with some exceptions, throughout the past century.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Perhaps Commieblaster would say that Castro is dissembling (the devil is, after all, “the father of lies”), but actions speak louder than words, and the evidence still stands that, with every move they have made, from bailing out banks in the financial crisis to promoting coal and nuclear energy development to subsidizing for-profit health insurance to creating a nationwide broadband system by helping out Comcast, the strategies that Obama and all those “socialists” in Congress have employed have propped up the capitalist system, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that highly centralized, private, for-profit systems are the least sensible, efficient, and economically viable means to promote the common good of the American people.

But I’m not going to talk about that right now.  I’m going to keep examining the reactionary, right-wing mindset that looks at Democratic party corporate shills and sees Marxist-Leninists.  Commieblaster is, as far as I know, just another guy on the street like me.  Let’s look at what happens when the people he supports are elected to office and actually get to act on their vision.

We don’t have to look far to do that, because our own state legislature here in Tennessee is dominated by tea-party types.  What have they been up to lately?

Exhibit A:  A committee of the Tennessee House recently sent four bills on to the whole legislature.    To quote Jeff Woods of the Nashville Scene:

Two .. measures are state constitutional amendments …to ban the individual mandate and the other to decree that the free enterprise system will live forever in Tennessee.

(The other) Two… are identical–both bills that supposedly would nullify the law’s mandate that all Americans buy insurance. There are two of these bills because their respective sponsors, Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, are running against each other in August’s primary and anxious to take sole credit for this monumental achievement.

They all passed by voice votes to loud cheers from tea partiers…..

And…two things stand out about this example.  The first is that our country’s first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, fought and won a civil war in this country  over the question of whether states have the power to nullify Federal law.  The decision was, they can’t do that.

Well, times have changed, you might argue.  OK, how about this one:  our most recent Republican administration likewise argued strongly that states did not have the power to nullify Federal law….in the words of that notorious socialist, Antonin Scalia,

The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself “substantially affect” interstate commerce. Moreover… Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce. …The relevant question is simply whether the means chosen are “reasonably adapted” to the attainment of a legitimate end under the commerce power.

In other words, the Federal Government can tell the states to sit down and shut up.

But hey, Scalia said that in the Raich vs. Ashcroft case, which was about whether the federal government had to recognize California’s medical marijuana laws, and everybody knows that anything goes when you’re trying to stamp out the evil weed…but the Bush junta also successfully swatted down Oregon’s assisted suicide  law and California’s attempts to raise mileage standards on cars. So….states can nullify federal law if Republicans want to fight the gummint, but when Democrats try to insist on states’ rights, it’s not OK.  That seems to be the underlying principle here, does it not?

Exhibit B:  Our state legislature has, by overwhelming majorities and without debate, passed a law requiring all medical facilities that perform abortions to post the following language prominently (in 40-point type) in their waiting rooms, or face serious fines if the signage is absent:

“Notice: It is against the law for anyone, regardless of the person’s relationship to you, to coerce you into having or to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened criminal offense to coerce an abortion.”

Lawmakers soundly rejected an amendment that would have included language pointing out that it is also against the law to force anyone NOT to have an abortion.  In their perception, pro-abortion pressure from Planned Parenthood and domineering husbands is much more of a threat than anti-abortion pressure from fundamentalist churches and domineering husbands. Senator Beverly Marrero, one of the only two State Senators who had the courage to vote against this bill (the other was Andy Berke), said of it

We all know this legislation is purely political, designed to increase the anti-abortion bona fides of lawmakers up for re-election this year.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Exhibit C:  My state representative’s “weekly update” informed me about HB 3280 which, to quote from the bill summary

..revises the substances that give rise to the offense described above in (1), so that it would be unlawful to operate or be in control of a motor driven vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, “drug, substance or combination thereof, affecting” the central nervous system instead of a “narcotic drug or drug producing stimulating effects on” the central nervous system.”

“Any substance that affects the central nervous system”?  What substance that we take into our bodies doesn’t affect our central nervous system?  The bill was aimed at making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of anything that might negatively affect a person’s judgement and response time, but, taken literally, makes it illegal to drive under the influence of coffee, food, or any of the many prescription drugs that have “do not operate heavy equipment” warnings on their labels.  I take one of those, metoprolol, and I can’t say that I or anyone close to me has observed it affecting my judgement or co-ordination.   Of course, this  It will  probably be used mostly to persecute people whose urine tests positive for marijuana, in spite of overwhelming evidence that marijuana metabolites in urine are not an indication that one is “under the influence of” marijuana, and despite research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Board that pretty well exonerates marijuana as a cause of hazardous driving.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t get my dander up too much about this, just yet.  Although it passed the House unanimously, so far it’s bogged down in committee in the Senate, which is taking up more important things like allowing mountaintop removal in Tennessee, in spite of the fact that the state generates far more revenue from people coming to appreciate our scenery than it does from people destroying the scenery to pull a little coal out from under it.  And that’s just one argument.

And there’s a bill that will insist that all driver’s license tests shall be conducted in English,unless the applicant’s stay in the country has been

approved and authorized by the United States department of homeland security for a specific purpose, including investing, overseeing investment, or providing needed services to companies or businesses in Tennessee, and for a specified period of authorized stay,

In other words, rich foreigners are welcome; poor ones are not.  This one, too, has yet to emerge from the committee thicket, and the state’s business interests are speaking up against it, so sense may yet prevail in this case.

We also have the spectacle of our supposedly Democratic governor worrying that more people will find out they’re eligible for Medicare and sign up for it, easing their own medical expenses but increasing the state’s.

I could tell you more, but I think I have gone on just about long enough.

Into this tea party atmosphere, more reminiscent of Wonderland than Boston, strides Howard Switzer, who is once again the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate.  I wish we had a horde of people running for state legislature positions to back him up, but alas, it ain’t happening this year.  You can find Howard’s blog at switzer4governor.blogspot.com/

Naomi Wolf, author of The Shock Doctrine, has found a new popularity among the tea partiers, and in a recent interview she said she has some faith that their questioning of authority will, in the long run, be beneficial.  I hope she’s right.  I am concerned that the tea partiers will turn out to be the 21st century version of the SA, the “brown shirts” who provided the populist muscle that brought Hitler to power and were quickly disposed of as a political force once he and his corporate conspirators consolidated their hold on Germany.  On the other hand, Hitler did not have to contend with shrinking resources and a shifting climate, both forces that are more than equal to the task of toppling a civilization.

Unless they do come to their senses, the tea partiers, who seem to have the momentum in US politics at this point, will continue to spend their energy in irrelevant, illusory, paranoid pursuits, codifying intolerance and ignorance, and squashing any dissent other than their own.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

music:  Greg Brown, Worrisome Years





ON THE WATERFRONT

10 03 2006

There has been a tremendous hue and cry lately about the prospect of the government of the small, oil-rich Arab state of Dubai collecting the profits from running six of America’s east-coast seaports. I think there is an issue here, but it’s not the one everyone’s talking about. It’s not about the Arabs. It’s about the ownership.

The sad thing is that for most people, it is about the Arabs, and that is an unfortunate and embarrassing prejudice. Arabs, and Muslims in general, have a bad rap in this country, a reputation that is not particularly connected with truth. For example, Hamas’ victory in the recent Palestinian election sparked a similar outcry. “These people are depraved! They’re electing terrorists! That’s not what we meant by democracy, dammit!” Many American Muslims have been deported or prosecuted, and numerous charities shut down, for channeling support to this so-called “terrorist organization.”

Does Hamas target Israelis with violence? Yes, they do, and I think that’s reprehensible. I am a radical fundamentalist Gandhian, at least in some respects, and I don’t think angry violence is the answer to angry violence. But that’s just a small part of what Hamas does. Their religious practice commits them to scrupulous honesty, and that is what has endeared them to the people of Palestine. Palestinians know from intimate daily experience that Hamas is not on the take—that’s why so many American Muslims were supporting them, at least until our government’s crackdown. They knew that money donated to Hamas would go to people who needed it, not to some wealthy middleman.

Similarly, Dubai Ports World has an excellent reputation for running ports, a business fraught with opportunities for fraud and bureaucracy. That is probably one of the reasons why the U.S. government didn’t forsee any problem with handing management (and profit-taking) over to them. As I said, the real problem here is foreign ownership, and the consequent foreign destination for any profit from those ports.

This is not a new or unique situation. Foreign companies, individuals, and countries have been buying up U.S. assets for years. For example, according to the IRS, cited on the website .economyincrisis.org, the following percentages of U.S. businesses are foreign owned:

Sound recording industries – 97%

Commodity contracts dealing and brokerage – 79%

Motion picture industries – 75%

Metal ore mining – 65%

video industries – 64%

Wineries and distilleries – 64%

Database, directory, and other publishers – 63%

Book publishers – 63%

Cement, concrete, lime, and gypsum product – 62%

Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment – 57%

Rubber product – 53%

Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing – 53%

Plastics and rubber products manufacturing – 52%

Plastics product – 51%

Insurance related activities – 51%

Boiler, tank, and shipping container – 50% and the list goes on….
So, why has this happened? And what does it mean?

We have Al and Bill to thank for this one, folks. I’m sorry, all you Democrats, but this one happened on your watch. Think WTO. Think GATT. Think NAFTA. Think about that vast sucking sound Ross Perot used to talk about.

When Mr. Bush was in India recently, he fantasized about increasing U.S. exports, but the sad truth is that, thanks to all those treaties us wildeyed crazies tried to stop back in the late eighties and early nineties–all those treaties that the 1992 election should have been a referendum on and wasn’t, thanks to the Democratic Party–the U.S. doesn’t has nothing to export anymore.

Well, not quite nothing. We’ve got lots of bonds and dollar bills to export, and you can bet that those trillions of dollars the rest of the world has loaned us will be paid back with American assets—what companies are left, hard assets like port facilities, and, ultimately, land—urban, rural, forest and field, we owe, we owe, so off our assets go. All those Indians running motels are just the beginning. And when our assets, corporate or material, are owned by foreigners, the profits go overseas, and we will become third world peons, peed on by the man, exploited for the benefit of rich people somewhere else—Dubai, China, it doesn’t matter, it ain’t here.

Yes, this sucks. Get used to it. This country has been running the world economy with a Ponzi scheme, selling bonds to pay the interest on the bonds we’ve already sold, and all those chickens are coming home to roost. Dubai Ports World has decided to find American buyers for P&O’s American assets, but they may have a hard time doing that, because only one of the major players in the port operation business is American these days. There is a strong likelihood that these ports will end up being operated by Dick Cheney—I mean, Halliburton.

The ironic thing to me about all this is that who really ought to be running these various ports doesn’t seem to occur to anyone…how about the port cities themselves? Duh!? Has neoliberal privatization become so much the norm that public ownership of public assets is totally off the table? Many of these port cities are struggling to provide basic services for their citizens—doesn’t it make sense to put the proceeds from port operations back into the city around the port?

Stepping back a notch, I have to wonder how much of the international trade going through these ports is really necessary, and how much is just pushing beans around for the further enrichment of the already wealthy. When I learned that the U.S. exports as many almonds to Italy as we import from Italy, I just had to shake my head. Who decided it would be OK to burn the diesel fuel to make that one happen? I bet they weren’t even thinking about the diesel fuel….

Under a Green program of local self-sufficiency, there would very likely be a lot less world trade. When you take the current paradigm to its logical conclusion, soon enough the major resources that are traded internationally will be depleted, and there will local insufficiency rather than self-sufficiency, and a lot less world trade. Which way would YOU like to have it?

music: James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore”








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