Divide and Conquer 2011

1/19/2011 – Seattle

Reading material:

1. Teacher Salaries Issue Sharpens Across Region by Kathy Boccella, December 20, 2010, The Philadelphia Enquirer
2. Republicans Incite Class Warfare—Within Middle Class y Matthew Rothschild, July 5, 2010, The Progressive
3. Washington State Education Leaders Lament Major Budget Cuts by Katherine Long, December 15, 2010, The Seattle Times
4. Christie Calls for New Jersey Pension, Education Cuts by Terrence Dopp and Esme Deprez, January 11, 2011, Bloomberg Business Week
5. Public Education in Texas Faces Massive Cuts , no byline, January 19, 2011, Associated Press

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But if allowed to run free of the social system, capitalism will attempt to corrupt and undermine democracy, which is after all not a natural state.

– John Ralston Saul

And now comes the American plutocracy’s class warfare’s final phase as the political minions of our plutocracy begin dismantling the government infrastructures and services that benefit the middle and lower classes.

The problem here is simple. As the marginal tax rates continue to plummet for the wealthiest 1%, coupled with the massive loss of tax revenue at all levels caused by the Great Recession, most state, and local governments across the country face huge deficits.  Since there’s zero political will to raise taxes, especially on our wealthiest who are gorging on record corporate profits and rising stock portfolios while the lower classes continue to face widespread unemployment and negative income growth, state and local governments have no recourse but to cut spending on everything, even once sacred cows such as education.

Let’s be clear here. The wealthiest 1% in this country has seen its income rise in record amounts, even since the Great Recession began in 2007. The wealthiest 1% own about 35% of all wealth in America, and this is the only group that has seen a considerable rise in its income since 1980. The upper 20% of of earners in America control 85% of all wealth, leaving a paltry 15% for the remaining 80% of Americans. That 80% includes most wage and salary workers in America. People earning the lower 80% have seen their incomes decrease since 1980 while their personal debt went up horribly to bridge the gap.

Here’s the thing. As the wealthiest 1% saw huge increases in income, their taxes went down! The premise for these massive tax cuts for the wealthy was to create jobs through the “trickle-down effect,” but of course since 2007 nearly 8 million jobs have been lost, so massive tax cuts for the rich, in terms of job creation, can be clearly seen as a bust policy. And now to finance these generous tax cuts even further, we have to cut social services and infrastructure across the board instead of bringing the tax rates back to their original values, which would balance the massive deficits across the board in a couple of years.

The wealthy elites, of course, don’t give a damn about public education and health, especially for the children of the working poor, so of course they want to see their taxes cut and have their well-paid political minions dismantle the education and social services infrastructure, especially squashing powerful teacher and other state employee unions, which have been a major thorn on the side of the plutocrats for several generations. When one no longer gives a damn about the public weal as we see from our wealthiest citizens, whether or not the children of the lower classes have access to decent education and health care is certainly not of any importance. In fact, the plutocrats want our children dumber and unhealthier. It makes them cheaper labor in the future. Even more profits! Whee!

Isn’t it ironic that the rich caused the Great Recession and also benefitted generously from its bailout that not only absolved the rich of any criminal charges for their massive fraud and mendacity in causing it in the real estate, banking and finance industries, but also saved their wealth from going down the toilet, and meanwhile everyone else in America suffers, and to add insult to injury to this suffering, the social services that benefit the suffering classes are being de-funded, dismantled, and eradicated just when they are needed the most?

The Tea Party loves to call itself a “populist” movement, but if you dig deep enough into who is financing it, you’ll find a lineup of the usual right-wing billionaire suspects who also finance most of the right-wing think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, et al.), and news organizations (FOX News, The Weekly Standard, National Review, et al.) that have been heavily promoting the Tea Party. Their only goal is massive tax cuts for the wealthy, no matter what the cost is to the general weal of the United States of America. The rich no longer want to participate in any kind of shared sacrifice in America, and therefore need useful idiots from the working and middle class to champion their cause, and hence the Tea Party, masked as a “populist” revolt, distances these über-rich benefactors from any public scrutiny.

How can cutting public education be seen as anything but destructive for the American general weal?

While we watch America get turned into a third world country in the next few years, by the time the middle class useful idiots who championed the cause of the plutocrats realize they’ve been royally fucked, it will be too late.

Cutting government cuts the one avenue to power that common people have. Once government is removed or debased, common people no longer have a power structure that they own and also champions their cause, and they become subjects to the people and power structures (wealthy individuals, corporations, gangsters, etc.) who fill the power void left by the shrinking and effete government. Many people feel they are powerless now. Well, if government gets cut further and “drowned in the bathtub” as most Libertarians like to jest, how powerless will we all be then?

I know this seems far-fetched to most people. But open your eyes. It’s happening right now as we speak. The facts do not lie even though the highly -paid sophists on TV news like claim otherwise. It is their job to lie and obfuscate the truth long enough for this massive dismantling of our democracy to reach its final phase, at which point the rich will rule like feudal lords of old and the rest of us are merely subjects to their every whim.

Just pay attention. It’s really happening.

E Pluribus Me, Me, ME!

1/18/2011 – Seattle

Reading material:

1. Social Animal by David Brooks, January 17, 2011, The New Yorker

1. The Rise of the New Global Elite by Chrystia Freeland, January/February, The Atlantic

I haven’t written anything substantive in so long that I can’t even type very well, and I’m a goddamn computer geek. I’m sitting in a quasi-hipster café near 2nd Avenue and Bell in Seattle, it’s an overcast and chilly day, and my mind is wandering between various and sundry thoughts as I sip a really good Americano prepared by a kid who apparently stole his fashion sense from a 1977 photograph of Punk legend Stiv Bators, but I’m guessing the kid, if queried, has no idea who that is—nor would he care.

Call it post-modern-post-whatever culture, equal parts boredom and worshipful kitsch, nihilism for ninnies, anarchy for anhedonics who don’t really give a fuck about anything enough to truly care about anything. But they love to dress like, and affect the manners of, people from the past who actually did give a fuck. It’s strange and disconcerting for a former ultra-leftwing Punk rebel like me to bear witness to this generation of feckless and effete drama queens trying too hard to pass themselves off as anti-heroes and rebels. It’s not much of a rebellion—or even shocking—when the only controversy you generate is your old man thinks you’re a goofy little fag.

It’s got to be tough to be a kid today, especially if kids aren’t jacked into the meritocratic elite culture of posh suburban enclaves, elite schools, and familial connections in the working world. If you’re a fringe kid from the poor and working classes, you’re pretty much fucked unless you’re the next Picasso or Kurt Cobain. Or you can hit a curveball like Joe Maurer. Hope in 2011 has taken an extended vacation. Or was handed a pink slip. I’m not sure which just yet.

The utterly depressing culture into which America dug itself the last decade cannot but fuel this disaffected and dispassionate attitude in kids. Perfumed metrosexual gangsters from Ivy League universities manage our economy with so much Social Darwinistic gusto that I imagine Herbert Spencer is popping a woodie in his grave. Our political culture is completely lorded by corporate corruption and abject moral depravity that would make Machiavelli vomit with disgust. We’re fighting two wars with no end in sight while having very sketchy ideas about what constitutes victory in either of them. The media is run by a few powerful moguls who pervert the national dialogue with every sort of self-serving bullshit sophistry imaginable, all with the intent of keeping people scared, stupid, and apathetic about their role in a democratic nation. Nothing defeats egalitarianism quite like feeling frightened, unworthy, powerless, and insignificant.

Our meritocratic elite have become the worst scumbags since the Nazis. These weasels with Ayn Rand fixations and eight-figure incomes were not raised to give a flying fuck about concepts like shared sacrifice, egalitarianism, and civic virtue. Since they were in diapers they’ve been told how wonderful and special they are, and they treat every aspect of life like a competition where, not only do they have to win, but they have to skull fuck everyone they vanquish. Remember the story of Pericles weeping after he defeated the Persians? Our elite would rape the dead Persians.

The gulf between rich and poor is so appalling today in America that it’s as if we’ve returned to the Gilded Age. Go visit places like Camden, North Philly, West Baltimore, or Washington, DC just a few blocks from our Capitol; what you’ll see are American citizens who are way beyond being merely skull fucked. No, they were skull fucked back when Ronald Reagan took over. Now they’re just plain fucked all over their bodies. Right-wing blowhards whine about Obama making America a European socialist country, but please, if you can, find a European city as hellish and poverty-ridden as the ones I cited above. Imagine what America will be like in a few years if our economy doesn’t fully recover. Poor kids will start reading The Grapes of Wrath to feel nostalgic about when people had it good in America. Or at least had hope for a better future.

Is it possible to dig ourselves out of this hole? What kind of future are we handing our kids today?

According to David Brooks, the dippy New York Times columnist, things are just hunky dory for our young elite. Raised by power yuppie parents in some gated rich enclave far out in the suburbs, and educated at Yale, or Duke, or Stanford, our young elite are masters of the universe and, like that girl said in the film Jerry McGuire about people in first class not only having better seats, they have better lives, that’s pretty much the truth if you’re some poor or working class kid with few very good prospects for the future; no matter how hard you work. it’s impossible, especially in America, to compete with the elite when the playing field is totally in their favor by virtue of a vast inequality of wealth, privilege, and opportunity.

Welcome to the future.

[UPDATE] The great American philosopher and linguist, Leftbanker, writes a scathing essay called Welcome to the Crisis: Year Three, which pretty much echoes my own feelings. Now that federal stimulus money is running out, most states and local governments are going to start cutting most substantive social services because they are bankrupt. Since no one wants to pay taxes, and Republicans want limited or no government, most of the country will look like Camden, New Jersey, which looks a lot like Somalia nowadays. Or Mexico.

On Government II: A Blast from the Past

This was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the massive destruction caused by the flooding of New Orleans.

9/14/2005 – Philadelphia

On Government, Part II

Two years ago I wrote a scathing screed about George W. Bush’s incompetent leadership in waging the Iraq War. It was an angry and sarcastic look at how ridiculous Bush worship had become after 9/11, and how dangerous this was to our republic.

In light of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, it is obvious that all the taunting and screaming by the Republicans about Bush’s vaunted leadership was pure fantasy. Just go review clips from their national convention in 2004, where Bush’s leadership ability and character were pretty much all they promoted. They smeared John Kerry’s Vietnam service and taunted him as indecisive (a “flip-flopper”), and even had the gall to call him a traitor. Bush, they countered, was a great leader, a pious and moral man who loved America and would never ever let America down in a crisis.

Well, as we have learned in the last few weeks—and some of us knew all along—Bush is not quite the heroic leader he was made out to be.

Let me hark back to my essay in 2003, which I wrote just before we invaded Iraq.

I began the essay with a prescient quote from John Ralston Saul about the theatrical power of national leadership, even when the leader is incompetent:

Politicians know that if they can only get up onto the public stage and stay on their feet, they will be able to give the impression that they are filling the stage by the very presence of their personality. Of course they will not be filling it and so the Heroic mythology of emptiness will stay in place, thus making their presence seem even more essential. This conundrum is to the twentieth century what the indivisibility of the Holy Trinity was to the Middle Ages or the nature of predestination to the Reformation. As always, the successful installation of an unsolvable paradox at the heart of public affairs means that those who hold power can find justification for almost any sort of action.

No other modern President has benefited from this notion as much as George W. Bush. In the 2000 election he lost the popular vote by 500,000 votes and needed the Supreme Court’s help to bypass a fair recount in Florida. As has been duly noted by several credible sources, a fair recount probably would have given the state to Al Gore, and hence Gore should have been President. Bush won through partisan chicanery and a sleazy loophole in our electoral process. This slimy manipulation certainly did not win Bush the confidence of the plurality of Americans who voted for Gore.

Therefore, Bush began his first term with the weakest mandate to govern in the modern history of the presidency. And indeed, in his first nine months in office Bush proved to be a weak and mediocre leader at best. Moreover, as the American economy began sinking into a rather nasty recession, Bush’s popularity sunk further. By late August in 2001, his chances of being more than a weak and ineffectual president were growing dim.

Then, like a twisted Greek myth, 9/11 came along and elevated this mediocre moron to a heroic stature. For the first time in his life, George W. Bush, a lousy student, inarticulate public speaker, National Guard deserter, recovering alcoholic, and failed businessman, got to look like America’s Pericles—even if he’d not actually performed any heroic deeds. He merely had to stand on that stage Saul discussed in the above quote. With a frightened, angry, and confused nation looking on, Bush stood atop the ruins at Ground Zero and turned a photo op into a national rally. George W. Bush would be our sword of justice against the “evil doers” who flew the planes into the twin towers and Pentagon. He would be our hero, our white knight, our champion, our war king. Like a swooning damsel in distress, America fell in love with its new faux hero.

It was, to say the least, the easiest and yet most brilliant work of public relations imaginable. From this singular act Bush would be given a mandate to govern that no other President had had since Pearl Harbor was attacked over sixty years ago.

And of course Bush would spend the next four years fucking up this mandate, much like he’d fucked up every other aspect of his professional life since the days when he shirked his duties as an officer in the National Guard. The only problem was, every time he fucked up the press backed away like frightened children, failing to attack him or his policies out of fear of being labeled a traitor by the right-wing punditry and blogosphere.

In my 2003 essay I pointed out how Bush and his right-wing attack dogs in the press and blogosphere used 9/11 to ambush his administration’s critics:

Every time the American people begin to question the motives of Bush and his minions in their increasingly confusing and specious linking of 9/11 and the war on terrorism to their invasion of Iraq, Bush simply pulls out photos of Ground Zero, gets teary-eyed about his faith in Jesus and the American resolve to do what is “right,”—and just in case the people still don’t fall for this unctuous grandstanding—he has his chief military, intelligence, and domestic security advisors cry wolf about another impending terrorist attack that will make 9/11 look like a fender bender in comparison. “Head for the hills, the barbarians are coming! Buy duct tape and plastics sheets to cover your windows! Hold your breath! And, for God’s sake, let me invade Iraq before Saddam fires poison gas at your kid’s school! Praise Jesus and God bless America!”

Moreover, the right-wing media attacked Bush’s critics relentlessly, calling them traitors and anti-American, as if criticizing the standing President is a treasonous act. Many members of the press simply did not question the Bush administration at all, even as it became obvious he and his advisors were rushing America into an unnecessary and highly questionable war in Iraq. The press not only became cheerleaders for the war, they also seemed to have a schoolgirl crush on Bush and rarely attacked him or his polices. Even when nearly every reason Bush used to invade Iraq was debunked, the press remained largely silent.

I attacked the press viciously in my 2003 essay:

Based upon the deluge of hagiography about our President that is promoted by the twenty massive conglomerates that control 50% of all media in America, we learn that George W. Bush is a good, moral, honest, and deeply religious man. Pay no mind that many of the journalists and media celebrities promoting this tripe—many having sold their intellectual souls in exchange for fat paychecks and celebrity status to work for these conglomerates—don’t believe a single positive word they promote about Bush. After all, one does not bite the hands that feed it and make it famous. Media conglomerate journalists and celebrities flushed their convictions down the toilet the moment they realized they were as famous as Hollywood stars and could hobnob with the jet set when not working to promote the lies and fabricated liturgy of the plutocracy.

I mean, really, who amongst us wouldn’t sell his or her soul to be invited to all the best post-Oscar parties, to hang out in the Hamptons with supermodels, pop stars, and wealthy scions of the Brahmin and corporate classes?  How many of us would sacrifice this deliciously cool wealth, access, and celebrity status to stand behind our true convictions? These days, selling out is what it is all about. Everyone wants to be rich and famous. So why not write and promote a few little fibs about our President to the drooling masses? It’s all good, dude. Today I’ll pooh-pooh over the President on my CNN talk show, and tonight I’ll be having dinner at Tommy Mottola’s house with Sting, J-Lo, Barbara Walters, Tom Hanks, Lynn Cheney, and that cute girl who was on that new reality television show.

During the dark days just after Hurricane Katrina struck, the press finally realized the depth and magnitude of Bush’s incompetent leadership, best exemplified by how weak and ineffectual his Department of Homeland Security looked in responsed to the to the crisis. While thousands were in deep peril all over the Gulf States, all of a sudden media lightweights and Bush worshipers like Anderson Cooper, Joe Scarborough, and even Tucker Carlson began screaming at the federal government to act more quickly. The criticism was loud and angry. It was a great awakening for the press.

While the crisis unfolded before our eyes, Bush seemed to handle the crisis with a detached indifference, so surrounded by cronies and sycophants incapable of telling him bad news that he had no idea how bad it had become in New Orleans. Bush’s FEMA director, Michael Brown, continually gave Bush upbeat reports that did not match what most Americans could plainly see on television news.

Meanwhile, on the ground the first responders, already overwhelmed and running short on supplies and resolve, looked to the federal government for leadership and aid during this massive crisis. The military, the only federal agency with the equipment, personnel, and leadership to handle the madness on the ground, was held in check while Bush and his advisors haggled over using them. Donald Rumsfeld was the biggest advocate against using federal troops. What a great leader, eh?

We can all stand around and point fingers and play Karl Rove’s “blame game,” and of course leadership at all levels of this crisis are at fault to a certain degree, but after we have all been pummeled by the right-wing for so long about Bush’s superior leadership skills, at the moment America demanded Bush to lead, he failed horribly and many Americans died or suffered unnecessarily.

We learned after Hurricane Katrina that our emperor, our heroic Pericles, had no clothes; the bearer of our sword of justice dropped the sword long ago. Many of us on the left knew this all along. To watch the America mainstream press awaken from its post-9/11 fugue state and become journalists again and attack Bush and his cronies for the first time since 9/11 was heartening, to say the least. Even Bush lovers like Joe Scarborough, Robert Novak, and Tucker Carlson were openly criticizing Bush and his incompetent cronies in FEMA and DHS.

This time Karl Rove and Karen Hughes cannot not spin Bush out of trouble; the facts on the ground are simply too damning for Bush and his vile and mendacious spin doctors. For once Bush has had to fire someone in his administration and accept blame or suffer even worse political fallout, which has already been bad enough for him. He has become the least popular President since polls have tracked this kind of data. He is more unpopular than Richard Nixon during Watergate or Herbert Hoover during the Depression. He is Napoleon and Hurricane Katrina is his Waterloo. Bush is finished as a national leader; he is a lame duck President with three years left to serve.

I have watched Bush and Rove smear the honor of American heroes like John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry. I have watched Bush and Rumsfeld misuse the military for a war we did not need to fight. I have watched as Bush cut taxes that mainly benefited the wealthy and further widened the gap between rich and poor in America. I watched Bush and hiscronies award huge government contracts to corporations that financed Bush’s campaigns. I have watched Rove commit treason by revealing the identity of a CIA agent to smear her husband. I have watched Bush and his Republican buddies in Congress gut federal agencies that are supposed to help the American people. I have listened to Bush and his gang badmouth government as if it were the scourge of mankind.

In the last three years since I have been blogging, I have been called a traitor, America hater, and have had my patriotism questioned—no, make that sneered at and spit on—by right-wingers, simply because I opposed Bush.

You assholes on the right hate American citizens. You hate everyone who isn’t rich, white, Christian, and living in gated communities. You have done everything in your power to debase, defame, and deconstruct our government. You hate government because government belongs to the people and is their only legitimate claim to power. If you wish to destroy the power of government, it can only mean you wish to destroy the power of the people and turn them into subjects instead of citizens. Without a government to express our legitimate role in this society, we become merely subjects to the unchecked power of wealthy individuals and corporations. Without government there is no way to block their power and they can act with impunity; they can exploit us, pollute our air and water, cheat us, steal whatever they want, and all the while we have no way to check their power.

I do not want to privatize my government. I don’t want Enron, General Dynamics, Halliburton, or Worldcom to replace my government. Do you?

What other avenue did the poor people in New Orleans have to redress their grievances for what happened to them during and after Hurricane Katrina if there had been no government—or a lesser one—in place? Without a strong central government, who would have come to their rescue?

What happened last week in the Gulf states was a clear and obvious reason why we need a big and powerful central government. Only a big, strong, and vital central government had the means to rescue these people. Their city and state governments were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage and destruction caused by the hurricane and flooding. Not only that, but to rebuild all the damage and help restart the shattered economy of the affected areas, only the federal government has the money to finance such a massive project.

So is less government the answer to all of America’s problems? Not only no, but hell no.

All these right-wing and libertarian assholes who want to destroy government or “drown it in the bathtub” are the real anti-American traitors. In a nation of we the people, with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, if you hate government then you hate the people. You hate Americans, and, by extension, you hate America.

Like me, you can hate the assholes running a government (such as right now), but to hate the institution of government is to hate yourself. To destroy government is the ultimate act of democratic suicide.

So let’s turn back to the jerk and his minions who have been handing out the anti-government hemlock since 2000.

In light of Bush’s (and the right-wing assholes running my government) failures in the Iraq War and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I would like to take this opportunity to tell neoconservatives, right-wing libertarians, conservative Republicans, and all other Bush worshipers and government haters to go take a flying leap into the shit-laden murky waters polluting New Orleans.

And while you are drowning in shit, go fuck yourselves.