Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Wrongful Death

Gentle reader,

I don’t know if I explained this to you, but I am the most techno-lame individual in the English language, viz., I wrote this blog two weeks ago & posted it, or so I thought. Then a friend told me that she looked to see if anything new was up & saw a title, but no essay. I’ve no idea how I messed this up, but mess it up I did. My daughter in her humanity has consented to post this for me, thus relieving me of this source of stress in my old age. She didn’t even ask for a larger portion than her sister in my will.

As I wrote above, the piece is over two weeks old. It doesn’t treat this abominable trillion dollar subsidy of our banking system which seems to have succeeded in eating itself in its edacious greed. Why should anybody be surprised at this? The rich have always favored socialism when it favored them. It’s only when tax funds flow to the less well off that they, the wealthy, condemn it as big government being wasteful by supporting people who don’t carry their own weight. The Wall Street fundamental, that the solution to any economic problem is to make the rich richer, still holds.

So here’s the essay that my blog site told me was posted, big liar that it is. I’ll be back in a little while with the first in a series on how diasporan Africans have helped to shape Western culture, in the first instance classical music.

A Wrongful Death

I am so goddamn sick of this campaign that it is entirely possible that I will die of it. It seems that it has been going on for my entire adult life, bloviation upon expatiation, relentlessly destroying any lingering faith that I might have had in the American electoral system. One of the candidates, Obama, I have held in general political concurrence; the other I have agreed with only on the need to limit the amount of money that’s thrown at election to public office, a principle that he has left in whatever graveyard my patience with this election went to. Yet, I heretofore thought John McCain to possess at least a modicum of integrity.

Can anybody actually date the beginning of this campaign? The primaries started decades ago, & what started as a reasoned, inspiring debate between two historic Democrats quickly evolved into a duel of spears which I’m proud to say, Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama have peacefully reconciled. But the conflict that followed between the parties degenerated into a painful display of Obama trying to get in front of these absurdly trivial obfuscations that McCain sends after him like a swarm of bees. It’s as if the parties conspired to pound the public sensibilities with corrosive inanity until all objective capacity decayed & we submitted utterly & became two facets of one community, the zombie community, incapable of critical thought & awaiting instructions.

At this stage, late September, 08, substance has turned to silliness, & there’s Barack haplessly defending himself on his use of a common Washington vocabulary simile about pig lips. There are life & death, maintenance of a reasonable standard of living, survival of the planet, etc issues on the table that can’t be punted to a future President & the man is ducking cream pies or, more accurately, cow pies. Of course, the Republicans are primarily to blame for this. They have developed this awful, torturer’s skill of vicious irrelevance that millions of voters bite on every time. Remember the Willie Horton ad that Bush, Sr. threw at Michael Dukakis? it convinced a voting majority that Dukakis liked black, murderous rapists so that he, Dukakis, nearly fell off the polling charts altogether. This was a late 20th century revival of a common practice of the earlier decades when Southern politicians – incidentally all Democrats as there were almost no white Southern Republicans in those days - would swing destitute white voters to their side by claiming that their opponents were “nigger lovers”.

In the 21st century when the American attention span is measured in seconds, Republican strategists apparently have concluded that the kind of profound issues that we face, which are too complex to reduce to sound bites (curious metaphor), should not be discussed at all. If the issues won’t reduce, make something up, like “Obama’s going to raise your taxes.” It’s a whopper of a lie, but easily understood & deeply cutting to struggling voters. Obama’s “McCain is just Bush lite” is ineffective because a) it needs explaining, & 2) Bush has become so irrelevant that his image doesn’t resonate anymore. (Parenthetically, there’s danger in ignoring Bush these days because he’s sneaking some pretty bad stuff through, like the extraordinary powers that he’s just given the FBI.)

& then there’s McCain’s clever debasement of Hillary’s campaign by adding Sarah Palin to his ticket. This Nobody from Nowhere qualifies to be President by being photogenic, able to read a speech with enthusiasm, as mean as an Alaska wolverine, having a family, & being to the right of the edge of the wide, flat earth. & yet she sells. H. L. Menckens’ dictum that nobody ever went broke by overestimating the bad taste of the American people applies here.

But seriously, folks, the Democracy that America advertises on it’s chest like a superhero emblem seems to diminish every year. Our national electoral system is sick in its heart. First there’s the Electoral College. I understand why we’re stuck with it; the small states would have declined the Union without it, but it seems kind of silly now. Because of this antique system & its compromise of the one-person-one-vote principle we’ve had to suffer eight tragic years of neocom madness in the White House. You know the result of the Bush reign: the most reactionary Supreme Court since Chief JusticeTaney kept Lincoln up at night; a war that makes life worse for the poor Iraqi people, at least for those who survive it, further destabilizes the most unstable region in the world, kills & wounds thousands of American youth, profoundly deepens the debt that we’ve been struggling with since our last stupid credit card war in Vietnam; the corruption of the Constitution; hell, you can finish the list. But I do want to add one more item that’s particularly germane to this ’08 election, & that’s the assault on the progressive income tax.

I digress, but this is arguably the most crucial issue of this campaign. I am no economist, but it seems to me that capitalism generates more wealth than socialism, but doesn’t distribute it well; instead of trickling down as Republicans historically have advertised in various iterations, the wealth flows to the top. When we had a manufacturing economy with strong unions there was at least a modicum of balance, a force to countervail big capital. Now that big capital has found a way to gain wealth without heavy industry & its annoying unions through the miracle of “outsourcing” (an obnoxious euphemism), there remains no natural means of ensuring that the national treasure will distribute at all. & so the statistics on the numbers of people who hold the greatest percentage of the wealth gets smaller & smaller every year, so that today one percent of the population controls twenty three & a half percent of the wealth The much maligned system of Big Government with its numerous programs, as clumsy & inefficient as it is, is absolutely fundamental to the survival of all but the wealthiest class in the U. S. This is why Obama’s proposal to increase the tax rate for those who earn more than $250,000 per annum while lowering it for the rest of us while McCain works to cut corporate taxes is central to this election. But it isn’t even being debated! Reduction of complex issues to slogans & campaign ads is not debate.

The other essential function of government that has diminished during the last three & a half decades is regulation. Deregulation & lower taxes on the corporations & the wealthy are the reasons that Republicans fight for election with such berserk, ferocious ruthlessness. Yet as working Americans clutch their increasingly shaky 401ks & their flighty mortgages to their chests as the flood waters pour over the financial sector they should remember that the greatest President of the last century, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who held that private wealth had gotten too private & had become privileged, saved & restored the financial sector with a thorough & elaborate regulatory system. They should recall that Herbert Hoover tried to lead big business to financial health through suasion, which only earned us the depression; that Republicans fought Roosevelt’s regulatory efforts tooth & nail. Roosevelt’s regulatory successes included:

1) The Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, which separated investment banks from commercial banks, thereby insulating depositors from the lustful gambles of Wall Street. We’re experiencing this massive financial crisis in great part because the investment banks wormed their way out of this stipulation.
2) Under the same act, the formation of the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation or FBDIC, now the FDIC., which insures our bank accounts. Without that one we’d be saving our money between the mattress & the box springs.
3) The creation of the Securities Exchange Commission, which forced publicly traded firms to open their books & have them independently audited. (see 1 above)
4) The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which imposed uniform national appraisal standards on the real estate market. (ditto)
5) The FHA, or Federal Housing Administration, which insured long-term loans & created standards of home construction,
6) The Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae. You know all about that one, but it’s enough to say that without these last three agencies we’d all be renters.
7) Social Security
8) The Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, putatively eliminated child labor. I write “putatively” because big capital has successfully transferred this particular abuse to developing countries.
9) The much abused National Labor Relations Board, which Republican administrations have practically beaten to death; and
10) Several others that endure, which I’ll only name because this is not an essay on the New Deal: the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), & the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

That, boys & girls, is what Republicans mean when they vilify big government. Looks pretty good right now, doesn’t it?

That system has been increasingly neutered under the several Republican administrations with the pusillanimous complicity of Democrats. As the big Wall Street investment houses have, in effect, sucked themselves dry, the cries of “the signs were evident; why didn’t somebody do something?” sounds like wolves howling in complaint that somebody has eaten all the sheep. Nobody who could do anything about it complained as the tools of correction were turned into scrap metal. Every time the rotten underpinnings have been exposed, the predacious scions of Wall Street pled to be left alone to solve these problems themselves & increased their campaign donations to candidates of both parties, so that now Wall Street contributes more to politics than any other sector. They did this under Hoover & got us a depression; they did it under Reagan & the Bushes (&, yes, Clinton) & they are doing it now. (I must add that with much of South Texas underwater, many people there are going to learn how cynical the insurance business is as the people of New Orleans learned. This, too, is because the insurance companies have fought off almost all significant efforts to regulate them, so nobody holds them to account.)

Back to the electoral system & how it is a biopsy of the sickness of our well-advertised democracy. First: the length of the campaign does not educate the voters, it makes them dumber. The sheer superficiality of candidate & pundit commentary on complicated contemporary problems accustoms people to tendentiousness so that the best slogans are rewarded & the most thorough analysis is punished. You can ask Gore & Kerry about this. Perhaps a three-month & done race like the Brits have would make the candidates stand up in a few well-broadcast venues & actually have meaningful conversations with the electarate. The media, with all their instant analysis & nitpicky parsing of every insignificant utterance, are a part of the problem & not a solution.

Second, it costs way too much money to run today. We cannot complain about lobbyist influence in Washington & tolerate the obscene amounts of cash that are spent on getting elected. True, Obama has broken the mold with his program of small contributions, but there are a lot of people running for the House & Senate this year, not to mention the state & local elections, & they all need big bank accounts. Few will succeed without large, “bundled” contributions, which leaves influence where it always was, with the wealthy. There is no representative democracy without parity of influence, & we don’t have that in America. This explains why candidates’ words have little to do with their actions once they are elected.

Finally, our two party system is inherently anti-democratic. In a society as large & complicated as ours, political pluralism is mandatory. In our two party set up, the vortex pulls the power to the safest point. This point usually is referred to as the center, but “center” of what, I ask? For some reason probably having to do with our red-baiting history, the left is cast as “fringe”, even when it speaks obvious truths on such as global warming, which was thought to be ”fringe” a few years ago. Compare this with the placement of the far right in the form of Sarah Palin in the center of the ’08 Presidential campaign.

A parliamentary system would offer truer representation, would give people like Dennis Kucinich & Ron Paul parties that would often have to be solicited to form coalition governments; would offer Ralph Nader & Ross Perot constructive roles in government. Yes, I know that parliamentary governments are messy & unstable, but the people are better voiced in parliamentary societies. What we have is two parties that are the left & right of what seems more & more to be one big consensus party. The trick is that the Republican side is so awful that those of us on the left never can afford to vote for a left party like the Greens. We certainly can’t afford to do so now.


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