Category: Politics and Government

What Right-wing Radio Reveals About the Shutdown Fiasco and the Republican Party

Posted by – October 27, 2013

Learning about views you disagree with

iTunes gives you the ability to tune in to pretty much any radio station across the country, so during the government shutdown I listened in to the right-wing echo chamber that is talk radio, trying to understand what’s going on, what’s driving the Tea Partier rage. Very few activists listen and try to grok the “other side of the aisle,” as we increasingly customize our information diet. The future of the Information Age in general and the news/current events commentary media world in particular tends to limit information instead of broadening it, as we ghettoize ourselves in front of voices we agree with, whether that’s TV and radio—plenty of folks in my hometown of Mobile, AL find themselves going from Fox News on public or office TVs to right-wing talk radio in the car to Fox News at home—or the web, which can give you only the sites that echo your worldview, which could mean you only visit certain sites or have content delivered from your self-curated, self-segregated RSS reader. It’s never been easier to retreat into intellectual ghettos, even limiting our news to only the stories that our party or faction or regional subfaction cares about. This is bad in so many ways. It shelters us from potentially important news. Worse, it disconnects us from the grievances and concerns of half or over-half of our countrymen; I would go so far as to call that dangerous.

So…it’s unusual but I listened and tried to understand what’s driving the right-wing activists push for the federal government shutdown.  I vehemently oppose so much of what these guys spout, the overheated rhetoric and the false premises, but I want to be fair here.  I honestly think much of the rage expressed by the Tea Partiers is either directly springing from legitimate grievances or legitimate anger that’s been misdirected (e.g. people who’re saying essentially “in the 80s-90s neoliberals/neocons offshored the jobs previously available to rural whites like me, everyone I know is marginalized in a post-industrial hellscape and without economic hope, but all the problems are *because Obama*“).

So it was October 14th, the Monday before the nation was due to default on the 17th, and what were the activist talk radio guys saying?  Tuning to WABC Radio NY/NJ, Sean Hannity was expressing disappointment that the Republican leadership is going “to cave” to the Obama and open the government.  None of the talk radio guys were enthusiastic supporters of the Republican leadership (Boehner, McConnell, et al) and the members of Congress that seemed radical in the ’90s “Republican Revolution” are increasingly marginalized as too soft, as “the establishment” that needs to be pushed or overthrown entirely by Republican Revolution II, though the different radio hosts each have very different approaches to the developing political ecosystem.  After Hannity on WABC is The Mark Levin Show, and Levin is very different; he’s one of the most extreme anti-federalists out there, believing that anything not among the enumerated powers in the United States Constitution is out of bounds for the U.S. government.  Given this “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution, the states should control nearly all domestic policy, regulations and services and most of the things that the federal government does at present are unconstitutional and illegitimate.  Mark Levin is a really angry guy, and though his ideology would logically put most Republicans and Republican federal policies beyond the pale as well, his wrath is mostly reserved for the Democrats, and there’s definitely a lot of running-up the partisan scoreboard on his show.  The messages given by each of these hosts is surprisingly different.

"Rage radio," political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013

“Rage radio,” political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013

There’s scant unanimity among the right-leaning hosts in general, but they were unanimous that hitting the debt ceiling that following Thursday isn’t so bad.  Sean Hannity said that there are more days before default than advertised by the “scare tactics” allegedly put forward by the administration.  Tuning to NewsRadio KLBJ Austin, Glenn Beck was saying that the worst thing that could happen if we hit the debt ceiling is a cut in runaway entitlement spending, an unambiguous positive in his mind, underpinned by the unspoken assumption we’d keep paying foreign creditors while stiffing pensioners.  Really disturbing to hear such unanimity on being outside of financial reality, up is down and defaulting on your debts somehow “fiscally conservative.”  But note the huge gap between what Hannity was saying “few extra days” before default and what Beck and Levin are saying, “default is good.”

Levin and Beck also are really different from Hannity on the future of the Republican Party too.  While Hannity is exasperated with the GOP leadership and wants to push them, I get the sense the furthest he’d go is elect Ted Cruz-types everywhere, whereas Glenn Beck wants to replace the GOP.  Beck said that the GOP is “over,” to be taken over or displaced because of its corruption and willingness “to cave” on Obamacare and the deficit, replaced like the Whig Party was replaced by the Republican Party in the 1850s.  Beck tends to take you down this rabbit hole of elaborate historical exegesis, an alternate history of the 20th century that casts Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as villainous “progressives” that ruined the United States.  Both parties are too “progressive,” the Republicans are “progressive lite,” he says, and because of this, he predicts we’re on the verge of our political system being wiped out and America being “reborn” in some sort of financial and/or ACTUAL armageddon, which maybe will include a cleaning out of the immoral; a great purging via apocalyptic violence is certainly hinted at occasionally.  Beck and Levin both emphasize the illegitimacy of our national system and the need for state, local and hyper-local leadership and organizing—and stockpiling food and ammo in your fortified bunker—but Beck actually flames the Republican leadership.  If John Boehner is mentioned at all on The Glenn Beck Program, it’s to call him “awful” or “orange and crusty.”

What I’ve Learned

So, what are the pertinent lessons to take away?

1) I wasn’t entirely correct when, in a previous blog post, I described the House GOP members behind the government shutdown as “regressed from comparably responsible businessman-types to incoherent lunatics so rage-inebriated that they’re about one notch above tantrum-ing toddlers scribbling ‘WHO IS JOHN GALT’ in their own feces on the walls of the Capitol rotunda.”   The current crop of Congress-critters don’t command much respect to be sure, the toddler-esque aspect and the “rage inebriation” certainly is present, but I’ve learned they’re not unhinged ideologues, they’re businessman-types pretending to be unhinged ideologues in order to CYA and look out for #1.  They definitely are convinced they’ll lose their jobs and possibly get pulled down into the political “dustbin of history” with a GOP collapse if they vote for a hike in the debt ceiling.  All these guys, even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, want immunity from primary challenges, so can’t leave themselves open to accusations they capitulated on the debt ceiling and long-term “deficit catastrophe.” This explains why Cantor supports the shutdown even though it has meant furloughing a broad swath of the working age population of his northern Virginia district. House Republicans are trying to stay relevant to the increasingly radical fundraisers and activists that could oust them.  The government shutdown was ultimately a craven attempt to reassure the activist base that elects and reelects Republican candidates “we’re true believers too.”  The House majority wants to cater to the activist base as the activist base increasingly slides into radical, unhinged Ayn Rand-land.  The credit rating of the United States is getting downgraded because certain Congressmen wanted political cover.

2) the Republican party is rapidly changing.  We’ve not seen a party so in flux in my lifetime.

Rhino.

Guys I didn’t think could be more conservative are being branded as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and overthrown in primaries across the U.S..  Such flux could bring about unexpected changes, but it’s doubtful that “the establishment” or more moderate elements of the GOP (like consultant Mike Murphy) is going to win out, for the same reason that John Kerry’s talk about “a cadre of hard core moderates” to fight Assad and steal the jihadists’ thunder in Syria is so ridiculous.  Radicals always are more motivated and the deck is stacked in their favor.  In terms of the establishment GOP pushing back at the Tea Party types, what little there is isn’t covered beyond what Tea Partiers would call “the liberal media.”  In talk radio land, the activist base has monopolized all the megaphones and created a hermetically-sealed echo chamber devoid of non-Tea Party Republicans.  If the only Republicans devoted to fighting back against the Tea Partiers are like Murphy, who doesn’t really engage the underpinning economic pain behind the arguments or offer much substance aside from “shooing away tomorrow’s voters to pander to yesterday’s,” the far-right has already won.

“Teapublican Party” logo

Conclusion: in the most probable scenario, the GOP is all-but-completely transformed into the “Teapublican Party” prior to the key midterm primary elections in 6-9 months and the general elections to seat the 114th Congress in 12 months.  But after the far-right is running the show unopposed, we don’t yet know which direction the party will go or which faction will dominate.

3) Rage radio is symptomatic of real anger, real grievances that spring from a legitimate place, and so I do try to be fair.  Glenn Beck is saying stuff like “don’t let them tell you America is over,” that we will be reborn, that you can still find a place to thrive.  He’s wrong in so many ways but at least he’s responding to the post-industrial agony out there.  When I tuned in last Friday night, Beck was talking about getting suicide emails, men who have lost a job, a home, a wife, a life.  Hannity is helping people find jobs on the air, in a climate where a good job is something you only get if you win a reality show.

Our political and intellectual leaders shouldn’t be dismissive of the despair and desperation driving Tea Partier rage.  Ignoring the economic marginalization of “flyover country” is going to come back to bite us big time. Already our clueless liberal class—I say this as an activist who’s part of said liberal class—is wondering aloud why the heartland is sending radicals to Congress.  Radicalism is always a byproduct of poverty, whether financial, social, or spiritual poverty, and I’d say the U.S. has all three, in spades.  Why they’re going for far-right radicalism instead of far-left radicalism isn’t clear to me, but it’s possible they end up with some far-left ideas because they hurtle so far right on the weird mobius strip that is the political spectrum that they’ve come ’round the other side.where right blurs into left.  I certainly understand why hatred of the federal government is a prominent part of the movement, as federal economic policies have put sustainable livelihoods—and a chance for a positive male role, to be a provider instead of a “loser on food stamps”—out of reach for millions of Americans.    I don’t fully grasp how that anger ends up channeled into a movement to gut food stamps and other economic assistance, but I think that this has a lot to do with how deep-seated the ethos of bootstraps-individualism and self-reliance is in our psychosocial fabric, especially in the red states, and intensely acculturated in men and the male gender roles Americans yearn to retrieve.  There’s a dilemma on how we bring a program of economic inclusion to great swaths of the country that despise the government; it might require a Republican president.  I worry that another decade without a program of economic inclusion to ratchet down the desperation could lead to a future where our pondering on the left could be “how come this Mussolini with a Texas drawl just disbanded Congress?”

To summarize:

• listening to “the opposition” will give you insights you won’t get elsewhere

• Republican Revolution II is transforming the GOP and the country. The Republican party is in revolutionary flux and we don’t yet know what it will become.  Stay tuned!

• we ignore the desperation and despair in the rust belt and heartland, and resulting crisis in healthy male gender roles, at our own peril.

 

Nick

Insightful Blogging in the Wake of the Gov’t Shutdown

Posted by – October 22, 2013

October 2013 Roundup: Acts of Bloggery in the Shutdown’s Wake

My picks for the blogosphere’s most valuable insights into the shutdown insanity:

Moral lens:

The 8 immoral ways the government shutdown is hurting the needy On Faith – the shutdown inflicted pain on people already struggling and making due on government aid amidst the post-2008 “economic realignment,” cutting or threatening to cut already weakened social programs, though this has been badly underreported. 

The Day After | Talking Philosophy – The Philosophers’ Magazine Blog –  applies the measures of philosophy to the shutdown crisis, who has the moral responsibility and perceived “moral blame?” It’s a strenuous task to be sure, but valuable.

Unexpected impacts:

Government shutdown hits comics | The Comics Beat – the government shutdown’s impacts seemed to leak into every nook and cranny of American life.  Even comic books were impacted, new books delayed, stuck at the docks waiting to be cleared through customs.

Student projects interrupted by US shutdown | Nature – because of the shutdown, Siddharth Hegde’s extremophile PhD experiment at NASA Ames, after carefully nurturing and growing his extremophiles, might have died off for want of feeding since the Lab was locked up and 98% of NASA personnel were ruled non-essential and furloughed. It’s not known whether the extremophile experiment survived the extremophiles in Congress (I put the question to Hegde) but if the cell samples died he won’t be able to re-do the experiment, as his visa is only for three months.

Cartoon:

“Shutdown” by POLITICO’s Matt Wuerker

“Shutdown” by POLITICO’s Matt Wuerker

Political assessments:

In Washington and in Lansing, tea party zealots are costing us a fortune as they waste our hard-earned tax dollars | Eclectablog – “This is what happens when you elect people who hate the government to run the government.”  Eclectablog’s Chris Savage chronicles the heavy economic price paid for the shutdown shenanigans that were advertised as helping ease the deficit but did the opposite.

Lessons Learned? | Official Artur Davis – in this interesting assessment by (deeply strange black ex-Democratic Congressman—7th district—from Alabama) Artur Davis, who—after losing the black vote in Alabama—has re-made himself as an advisor to Republicans on winning the black vote, he says “The haziness of wishful thinking, overshadowed by a deeper failure to appreciate that shutdown itself validates the obstructionist label, the impression of being too inflexible to govern, that so threatens the party nationally and is even starting to creep into red states like Georgia and Louisiana.”   and “…conservatism has been painfully slow to distance itself from the radicalism that has surged in the party…”

Historical perspective:

The Philosopher’s Stone: A REPLY TO ANTHONY TSONTAKIS – philosophy professor Robert Paul Wolff reflects on the right-wing’s fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act… are there core philosophical differences?  Wolff doubts there are deep ideological underpinnings to the opposition, noting that “the central features of the ACA entered public discourse in America as a set of conservative Republican proposals put forward by the right-wing Heritage Foundation…”

History Unfolding: How Much of a Victory? – after the shutdown ended, historian David Kaiser tried to put the House Tea Party guys in historical context, difficult given the unprecedented events involved.   “I have tentatively decided, after much thought, that perhaps the best historical analogy for the Tea Party are the Radical Republicans of the post-civil war era.   I must apologize for the analogy insofar as I admire the goals of those Republicans, namely, the full enfranchisement of freed slaves, while I feel the Tea Party is trying to undo all the good that the US government has accomplished over the last century.”

And this is just a slice of the ongoing discussion.  Will keep ya’ll posted.

Nick

My Take on the Great Gov’t Shutdown of 2013

Posted by – October 8, 2013

I’ve blogged about many historical events over the years, deeply exploring significant events for Medicaid and health care reform, for state politics, for national politics…and I think the current federal government shutdown is one of the most significant political events I’ve covered.  I think it represents a major turning point.

Fiorello LaGuardia famously said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets,”¹ sometimes remembered as “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage,” which expresses a perceived truism, an underlying assumption that while political parties may disagree ferociously on many issues, all candidates agree on their basic role, and will take out the garbage, be competent.  For nearly the entirety of U.S. history, this has been true; you could take it for granted that the government would keep up basic services just to avoid the embarrassment.  Electoral self-interest if nothing else.  In Profiles in CourageJohn F. Kennedy put it this way, “Of course, both major parties today seek to serve the national interest. They would do so in order to obtain the broadest base of support, if for no nobler reason.”²

These truisms are no longer true.  We can no longer take it for granted that “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage.”  The Republicans will now vote to stop picking up garbage and everything else (literally, Washington, DC garbage collection ground to a halt during the 1995-96 government shutdown and more of that can be expected this month) unless their demands are met.  And their demands aren’t clear this time around, whereas in ’95 the conflict was more along the lines of “Democrats want spending to be Y and Republicans want spending to be X” and the Congress failed to pass a CR to fund things until a compromise was reached, after a combined 21 days of the federal government being closed.

In this shutdown, the reason isn’t a budget conflict.  As near as I can tell, the reason is “because Obamacare.”  Which is bizarre, since Obamacare exchanges are one of the only parts of the federal government they didn’t shut down.  That’s right, we’ve closed the NIH, HHS, Homeland Security, FEMA, the CDC, the FCC, EPA, DOE, the Department of Education, military academies—in New York State alone there’s West Point and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (also known as the Midshipman’s Academy, where all classes have been canceled until further notice),

a National Park Service guard puts up a closed sign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, reading "because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed."

a National Park Service guard puts up a closed sign in front of the Lincoln Memorial, reading “because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed.”

NASA, the National Park Service, meaning every national monument and national park—from Yellowstone to Yosemite, from the Lincoln Memorial to Mt. Rushmore, and even the baby panda at the National Zoo—are on hold until further notice, and that’s a short list, plus we can’t forget that some people at the above agencies, and many more in departments like the FAA, NSA, the Secret Service, people at the NOAA and the National Weather Service, the judges and clerks and bailiffs of the entire federal judiciary, the Capitol police—and hopefully the person feeding the pandas and other animals at the National Zoo—are working as “essential employees” without pay, but have to come in nonetheless, and Congress has caused all this SNAFU over Obamacare but Obamacare itself is untouched by the shutdown.  So we have this super surreal scene of nearly the whole government shutting down Oct. 1 as the Affordable Care Act exchanges opened Oct. 1.

So, as this political cartoon by Omaha World-Herald‘s Jeff Koterba satirizes, furloughed federal employees could shop for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges with their new-found free time.

Ah yes, the “evil socialist plot” of people shopping for and buying health insurance online continues.

If I had time to draw my own political cartoon on this, it would show the “House of Reprehensibles” on one side, the capitol dome boarded up, giant “CLOSED” and “NO OBAMACARE” signs, and tumbleweeds of a ghost town in the foreground, and on the other side there’s a panel cut-out with a representation of the digital world, computer up front and everyone wrapped around for blocks to sign up beneath a green sign reading “OBAMACARE EXCHANGES – OPEN.”

The government’s shuttered in protest of Obamacare.  Obamacare is open for business.  No one seems to emphasize this insane contradiction.

As much as I have problems with the Affordable Care Act, primarily its failure to prioritize the most disabled and most vulnerable, leaving those who are in poverty because of serious disability and/or chronic illness to make due with increasingly underfunded Medicaid and Medicare systems, I don’t want it defunded or repeated and I see government shutdown as counter to everything we need.
And as much as I have problems with Barack Obama, he’s right to not cave to this nonsense.  He’s right to say “you don’t get to demand concessions for doing your job.”  He’s right to say “you’re not doing me some sort of favor by doing the most basic part of your role, some sort of favor you can exchange for concessions.”

If the President caves, the danger is we have to play chicken with national ruin every year and no medium-term or long-term programs can be sustained and projects we undertake as a great civilization, like next gen energy, new transit and internet infrastructure, lunar or Martian bases, new breakthroughs in medicine, can’t happen.  Gone will be anything outside of the typical venture capital cycle.  This is an important TED Talk about the United States’ decades-long failure to tackle longer-term, more ambitious projects.  These larger projects are what make us a great nation.  Much more attention should be paid to this, because I think it’s make-or-break for us on a civilizational level.

The gerrymandering has gotten so bad, the House districts-“base of support” so narrow, we’ve got rightist extremism unprecedented in recent decades, something I’ve tried to describe on this blog.³   Next, I want to blog about HOW and WHY an alarming number of Congressional Republicans have apparently devolved, regressing from comparably responsible businessman-types to incoherent lunatics so rage-inebriated that they’re about one notch above tantrum-ing toddlers scribbling “WHO IS JOHN GALT” in their own feces on the walls of the Capitol rotunda.

But back to my main point, I think this shutdown represents a major turning point because it’s the first time the “LaGuardia rule”—that “there’s no Democratic or Republican way to take out the garbage”—has been broken this brazenly and visibly. In the upcoming midterm elections in autumn 2014, Democrats may finally have something that they’re not too inept to communicate clearly and consistently, run on, and win on: “my opponent is for shuttering the government.”  There could be a tectonic shift ahead, a tipping point when voters become reluctant to re-elect guys who hate the federal government too much to keep basic services going.

President Obama is reclining with his hands behind his head while giving the House GOP all the rope needed to hang themselves.  Of course, key Tea Partiers don’t see the backlash coming from within their hermetically-sealed media echo chamber.

Nick

 

1. Attributed to Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City, by Murray W. Stand in Charles Garrett, The La Guardia Years, Machine and Reform Politics in New York City (1961), p. 274.

2. John F. KennedyProfiles in Courage (1956), p. 15.

3. see past posts tagged Republican Revolution II. I think many of the Tea Party’s grievances spring from a legitimate place, and do try to be fair.  Generally I’m much more sympathetic to the movement than its members of Congress.

Chaining down the money you’ve earned: the debate over Chained CPI

Posted by – April 11, 2013

The debate over Chained CPI has been heating up all over the country and all over the web.

What’s Chained CPI?
Congressman Ellison explains.

Rep. Ellison recorded this video in December. If he were recording today, he’d mention that PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA is the driving force behind Chained CPI, despite its intense unpopularity on all sides. This is a video of Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, calling Chained CPI a “Shocking Attack On Seniors.”

The AARP is organizing against this, and the Republicans are going to use this against President Obama in the 24/7 campaign season for sure (and that’s already begun).

Chained CPI is so awful because it imposes costs on those who can least afford it, doesn’t bridge yawning budget gaps, and reinforces the false right-wing “out of control entitlements” talking point. In fairness to conservatives, they’re opposing Chained CPI, and right now the only people pushing this are from a certain, grotesque strand of neoliberalism…. Barack Obama is making this draconian plan the centerpiece of his 2014 budget proposal, David Axelrod defends it with ease on TV, and founding director of the Congressional Budget Office Alice Rivlin calls it “absolutely necessary.”

The disability community has to unite on this, and fight back with the full-throated message that we’ve earned Social Security, it isn’t an entitlement! The entire “social insurance” concept is that it’s an earned benefit. With every paycheck, a worker pays into Social Security, pays pays pays pays pays, and when they retire they receive that earned benefit. The earned benefit usually amounts to around $14,000 a year, meager, well beneath the poverty line, and that is what neoliberals want chained down as an “out of control entitlement.”

“We’re not going to have the White House forever, folks. If he doesn’t do this, Paul Ryan is going to do it for us in a few years,” said a longtime Obama aide…

This kind of thinking, “give me your lunch money now, or the big bully down the hall will take it and you won’t like how he does it” from the White House is disturbing, and a bad omen (the correct answer is “no, I’d prefer the dignity of a public fight with the enemy to a silent surrender to a quisling”).

Unless we can create a groundswell of opposition to chains and chainsaw policies, the future for the elderly and disabled is indeed bleak.

The oddball lefty blog Crooks & Liars has the best, most comprehensive sources and lib commentary on Chained CPI that I’ve seen in the leftosphere so far. Hat tip to them.

Nick

A Note on Robert Bork and the End of Busing as a Desegregation tool

Posted by – April 9, 2013

It’s been a while since I blogged about racism, but this blog has a broader mission to shine a light on the concerns of unheard, marginalized groups everywhere, which is why, in the past, I’ve written about things as far-flung and diverse as an effort to fund safehouses for LGBT youth being hunted down by Islamist death squads in Iraq and the violence against raw food shops and consumers in California, where the government effectively acted as enforcers for big agribusiness, helping them shut down the competition.

As the new About page says:

This blog is a safe space, where I highlight unreported and under-reported issues effecting people with disabilities and other underrepresented groups and the U.S. as a whole.

I really want to give underreported and unreported stories some space. That is what I think the blogosphere should be, a megaphone for the people the news media ignore.

Under racism, in the past I’ve spotlighted the legacy of slavery and the Capitol building, an anti-Latino death squad who were ignored by the media even after killing a family, and more.

Recently, comments on C-SPAN’s BookTV sparked my interest, because Appellate Judge Frank Easterbrook said something very revealing. He talked about how he and then-solicitor general Robert Bork crafted the legal reasoning that now is the dominant precedent that prohibits or stifles desegregation across America. And no one noticed. Segregation and the laws around it deserve more discussion.

This is a clip I made of Judge Easterbrook’s comments, which reveal a history few know about (c-spanvideo.org allows you to make your own clips now!) During a discussion of Robert Bork’s last, posthumously published book “Saving Justice,” Frank Easterbrook reveals how he and Robert Bork’s reasoning that school segregation “by personal choice” is not a violation, though so inflammatory in the ’70s the DOJ ordered it shredded, is now the opinion affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Click here to see the clip (which, for some reason isn’t embeddable).

Even Robert Bork thought the anti-busing opinion should be shredded at the time; according to Judge Easterbrook, Bork was worried it would empower violent bigots in the ongoing Boston busing conflict.

Somehow, this opinion was unearthed from the bowels of hell and embraced by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has again and again affirmed this radical-right reasoning that school segregation doesn’t hurt anyone and is just fine as long as the state isn’t forcing it and it’s “segregation by private choice.”

The nail in the coffin for desegregation seemed to come from Bork and Easterbrook’s brief.

With my own eyes, I’ve seen the retrenchment of segregation in the South. My hometown of Mobile, Alabama was once a good example of relative-racial harmony; Mobile boasts it was the only major city in the Deep South never to suffer race riots. Leaders on both sides of this peaceful, heavily Catholic city made negotiation work instead of the conflagration everywhere else. My college, Spring Hill College (“The Jesuit College of the South”) was praised in MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for being the first university in the Deep South to integrate, in 1954. When the KKK tried to burn a cross (highly blasphemous) on campus in response, students chased them off with rocks and baseball bats, a couple of Jesuit priests in tow. We showed how possible integration could be; we showed that not everybody in the Deep South supported the Klan. (Also, people tend to see the world through the lens of their hometown values and upbringing, and this post gives you insight into mine, where I am coming from).

It’s been sad watching my hometown leave behind their powerful legacy of peaceful desegregation without discussion, following the other Southern cities. Accelerating subsequent to the 1991 Supreme Court ruling Board of Education v. Dowell, which—in a 5-3 decision—lifted integration-busing court orders (Thurgood Marshall, on the verge of retiring, wrote the dissenting opinion) busing has been jettisoned as a relic, and the busing-integrated high school I went to, John Shaw High School, was shuttered.

There’s been a retrenchment of racial segregation throughout the South—and elsewhere too (see this article about Omaha dividing into separate segregated school districts at the request of the black minority). The reasons for re-segregation are complex and difficult to talk about; it’s clear that both communities are fueling this trend. Black communities may dislike sending children on hour-long bus rides, among other things, while white communities may want to wall off their children from the kinds of things going on in the black ghettos (which may or may not be a true perception, because in MY high school, the white kids were the ones dealing drugs).

Some relevant sources:
Justices Rule Mandatory Busing May Go, Even if Races Stay Apart – New York Times 1991 (reported on the announcement of the Board of Education v. Dowell ruling)
Schools Resegregate, Study Finds – New York Times 2003
Fighting School Resegregation – Editorial – NYTimes.com 2003
and a ton more sources are available on the Google

According to a 2003 Harvard study, following the flurry of court rulings against busing, black students were less integrated at the turn of the millennium than in 1970, “a year before the Supreme Court authorized the busing that became a primary way of integrating schools.” These trends have accelerated unabated since 2000. In many of these segregated communities, a kid has a better chance of winning the lottery than meeting a person of different ethnic background than them. It looks as though our broken judiciary will allow entire states to re-segregate, decades of progress down the tubes, because we’ve made the democratic choice for that kind of society. And in a democracy we should be able to choose that; but let’s not be blind to the destructive potential of segregation: the damage to the children socially and emotionally, the distancing of racial communities, the retrenchment of a U.S. caste system. A growing body of social science research is reaching the conclusion that school desegregation should get some credit for the drop in urban crime in the ’90s and ’00s, and that the rise in crime in recent years can be partly blamed on re-segregation (Source: Slate: Resegregation has led to a spike in violent crime).
We need to be honest about the prejudice, the pre-judging we’re all capable of, and try and do what’s right. Separate but equal can never be equal, and invites a myriad of problems.

My younger brother Jamie, who’s also on a vent, said of visiting one high school, “I felt like the little white chunk no one wants at the bottom of the can o’ pork ‘n beans.”
That isn’t good, but it is the reality in the 2000s and 2010s….

Mobile has its first black mayor now, and peace and negotiation is still the order of the day for the most part, but in places like Atlanta and New Orleans the intensifying of segregation has communities on both sides simmering with racial tension. Racial violence in Atlanta isn’t yet “only of interest to historians.” Economic and social segregation in New Orleans, not to mention the strict geographic segregation—so extreme you wouldn’t believe it—has racial discord at all time highs. Hurricane Katrina (which I barely survived in Mobile) not only devastated New Orleans bow to stern, it opened up a LOT of old wounds. Surprisingly virulent racist memes have come back, big time; too often, Louisiana whites have welcomed that stuff back with open arms.

Libertarians like Ron Paul are right to point out that laws alone can’t turn hearts and minds around, and that’s an important point, but laws provide enforcement of equal opportunity against the worst injustices. Laws that have dis-empowered the most egregious offenders, especially vis a vis voting rights and equality under the law, have driven most of the progress we’ve seen.
Bork and Easterbrook’s brief provide a window into how we got to where we are. And where we are, and the legal opinions behind it, deserve re-examination.

Nick

How ACA “ObamaCare” Exchanges Work: A Nick Animation

Posted by – March 30, 2013

I made the above animated vignette to explain how the health insurance exchanges being established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), online marketplaces for “shopping” for health insurance, roughly, will work. People will begin signing up for health insurance plans on the exchanges October 1st, and those plans will go into effect Jan 1st, 2014. And any credible fact check will tell you, as this one from the Associated Press does, that the tax credits that fuel the exchanges, that subsidy that will make the now-$20,000-a-year bronze plan cost $5,000 for a family of four in one IRS estimate, will be delivered directly to your insurer. You won’t catch a glance of your tax subsidy.

The insurance companies are raising prices through the roof, not only because they’re required to cover much more in terms of minimum health care services, but because they know the government will pay and pay and pay. Thus, sticker shock will put anything but the new-legal-minimum bronze plans out of reach for the vast majority of participants. Pouring cash by the dump truck onto insurance companies is emblematic of our “only in America” health care non-system, and a primary cause of its deterioration.

The dump truck-full of unimaginable, astronomical sums of money won’t come from the sky like in my cartoon, it will come from the IRS. The IRS will be in charge of doling out the tax subsidies, and extracting the fines from those who don’t comply with the individual mandate to buy health insurance. I gave a thorough overview of the individual mandate and subsidized insurance exchanges recently: What Is ObamaCare? 2013-2014: Overview Part 1.

Nick

High-Speed Rail Vital for PWD and the Nation; Why Have the Promises Evaporated?

Posted by – March 28, 2013

High-Speed Rail (HSR) would help everyone and boost the economy but would disproportionately benefit PWD—people with disabilities—because for a significant percentage of us, it’s difficult to impossible to use the airlines. And with the TSA confusing the grit you get on your hands operating a manual wheelchair with “bomb residue” again and again, fewer PWD will bother (President Obama mentioned the TSA-free joy of rail himself). High-speed rail has become a necessity for the social and economic relations of Americans, but sadly the promises the Obama Administration has made on high-speed rail have not been fulfilled.

I want high-speed rail that goes up and down the Eastern United States at 500mph so I can go from NYC to my family in Washington DC and Norfolk.

Imagine the economic benefit HSR could bring to the United States and Canada, if we had two-hour trips from NYC to Toronto or four-hour trips to Montreal or Ottawa! Imagine the ability of West Virginians to zip in an hour to Washington DC for jobs that simply don’t exist in Appalachia! Imagine the life-blood this would be for tech start-ups, when suddenly software engineers and DIY white hat hackers can whoosh in from Quebec to Boston or NYC for in-person collaboration! Imagine people able to work in New York but live in relatively-inexpensive Cleveland. That kind of economic game-changer is necessity. That kind of hope is a necessity, and President Obama really tapped into that…

…and then did absolutely nothing.

That’s right, nearly three years after the sweeping promises about Chinese-style bullet trains, not a single yard of HSR has been put down. We didn’t get the high-speed bus system The Onion proffered as a post-austerity alternative either. 😛

The below AC 360 segment, “Keeping Them Honest,” explains where the billions in funding Congress appropriated for high-speed rail went. It all went to slow rail. As is also true of the news stories that I share on Twitter, I don’t always agree with everything in a given article I post, and in the case of this “Keeping Them Honest” segment, I don’t agree with CNN reporter Drew Griffin that allocating federal funding to make extant Amtrak routes less slow is “a boondoggle,” nor is the general thrust of the report that the entire thing is a shameful waste of taxpayer dollars representative of my point of view. I know people who use that very Vermont route, and those routes need funding too. But Drew Griffin is RIGHT that the Obama Administration and President Obama himself promised Americans high-speed rail, on camera, numerous times, and so far it’s a promise they’ve not kept; the only project the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) allotted HSR funding for that can actually be construed as high-speed rail, is the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) project to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with a one-way travel time of at least 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it’s been bogged down with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) lawsuits and red tape so severely that not a single track has been laid. He’s RIGHT to ask, “you’ve promised us bullet trains like the Europeans and Japanese have had since the 1980s; where’s the high-speed rail?” Why can’t we have nice things?

This high-profile failure to deliver public transportation technology that Americans need should trigger much more discussion. Why is the executive branch unable to deliver on its promises, even after Congress appropriated the funding necessary? We need to discuss the general direction here, because we’re headed for eight years of Democrats running the executive branch and still our trains are stuck at 1950s speeds, we have a 1950s power grid, and our existing transportation infrastructure (rail, roads, highways, bridges, airports, ports) got a D+ for 2013 from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). At least one of America’s bridges may crumble this year and lead to a mass casualty event. It feels like MALAISE.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is now evidently so chastened by ridiculous NIMBY lawsuits arguing the deleterious effects of high-speed trains on “aesthetics,” that they’ve begun to move forward with a pared down, slow-speed rail plan that they promise is only temporary (the “blended plan,” they call it). The founder and former head of CHSRA has now come out against this plan, since it doesn’t meet the Prop 1A ballot initiative’s requirements for true high-speed rail. If truly rapid transit for the masses, and all its social and economic benefits, can be thwarted long-term by some wanker micro-minority concerned about—not environmental impact, since rail reduces pollution vs. cars and buses—aesthetic impact alone, then that says something very distressing about where we are headed.

I don’t usually blog about transportation, but I want this space to showcase writing about the unreported and under-reported stories, amplify the voices of the unrepresented, and this issue hasn’t gotten a third of the coverage and discussion it warrants. Our leaders make sweeping, epic promises and too often the media doesn’t follow up in any sustained way. I do wish the private sector would lay high-speed rail and bring in the newest Japanese bullet trains, a mega corporation would definitely get more media discussion than the CHSRA, but they would likely give up after a week of the BS posed by regulatory hurdles, intractable NIMBYites, and the red tape nightmare of building across multiple state and county jurisdictions.
We have to put it out there to the people, over and over again, that we need current technology for high-speed rail, we need truly rapid transit, widely available and accessible, for many reasons, but freedom of movement for the poor and disabled populations who have the greatest difficulty accessing transportation at the top of the list.

Nick

Bribeocracy Update: the Quid Pro Quo status quo—Revolving Door

Posted by – March 3, 2013

Bribeocracy Update Winter/Q1 2013

I want this blog to be a useful source of information you’ll not get from TV or other web sites. You certainly don’t hear about Medicaid issues like “aging out” of most in-home support at age 21, and how it impacts the ventilator-dependent population, on other blogs. You won’t get in-depth coverage of Medicaid, how Medicaid is changing in the age of ObamaCare (eligibility is broadening under the “Medicaid expansion” without addressing anything else) and the policies that must change, on many other sites. But I also feel a responsibility to spotlight the disease, not just the symptoms, strike at the root causes, cover the corruption that prevents our government from listening to us, filling the gaps in our social safety net, improving services. The corrupto-sclerosis clogging the gears of the federal machine has not been this obvious, awful, and destructive to the people, in my lifetime. Corruption has made Congress and the executive branch so dysfunctional that we’re seeing symptoms of unprecedented severity, like the oddly-named “sequestration.”

Good government has disintegrated in the acid of dysfunctional, corrupt Washington. It’s gotten SO BAD that “the sequester” is taking effect, meaning we can’t even agree that laying off a generation of NIH scientists and breaking the back of American medical research is bad, that gutting Head Start and K-12 funding is bad, that yanking housing vouchers out from under 125,000 Americans, many of them people with disabilities, is bad. Americans with disabilities will need homeless shelters—oh wait, they’re gutting funding for emergency shelters too, dumping an estimated 100,000 homeless people, who will end up on the sidewalks or end up suffering a traumatic displacement to other shelters, or more likely, emergency rooms (the standard dumping ground for populations our society hates and doesn’t want to face or deal with). This will hit New York City at the worst possible moment; in January 2013, more than 50,000 people, on average, slept in our city’s homeless shelters each night, a new record, easily surpassing past NYC averages, even those during the notorious The Warriors-looking NYC of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s likely that, by putting vulnerable populations out onto the streets en masse, we’ll create 21st century horror stories I can’t even imagine right now. All this brought to you by “the sequester.”

“Sequestration,” again, is just a symptom. The root cause is the culture of corruption and dysfunction in Washington that runs deeper, and is more corrosive and paralyzing now, than it has been during any other era in my lifetime. I believe that we have to attack corruption, and, recognizing that Team Donkey and Team Elephant swim in the same corrupt pond, mercilessly expose bribery and the quid pro quo status quo to the sunlight wherever it lives. Under the tag Bribeocracy, I’ve been trying to shed light on corruption on this blog for years. Last month, I talked about the quid pro quo status quo within the executive branch, which I hope ya’ll will understand is not okay; even if you give President Obama a pass for giving ambassador posts to top campaign contributors, I hope you won’t let him off the hook for giving out cabinet positions in the same manner, to CEOs who were top donors.

Today, I’ll talk about the “revolving door,” the phenomenon of creatures of Washington rotating in and out of lobbying and powerful positions in the White House, executive branch agencies, Congress, and Congressional staffs. These are the Senators, Congressmen, and key staffers who purport to work for the public good, then exit public service but stay on Capitol Hill to cash in on the work they did under oath to serve their district. They use their contacts and knowledge to advantage monied interests.

Some high profile examples: Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district, chair of the House committee that oversees prescription drugs during GWB’s first term as president, negotiated the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill—soon after known as Medicare Part D—on crazy-skewed terms in favor of the pharmaceutical conglomerates (not only were private pharmacies and citizens banned from importing affordable drugs from Canada, ever, Medicare is banned from negotiating bulk prices or paying anything below full sticker price for prescription drugs) and then turned around hardly two months later and quit Congress in order to take the helm at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the giant trade association he had essentially let craft Medicare Part D while chairman. It’s one of the most brazen revolving door kickbacks the media has ever ignored. In Tauzin, Louisiana lost its most powerful voice in the House—seniority means how much clout and bargaining power your state and district has in the House—and the loss of voice, and betrayal, must’ve deeply stung his constituents; they might have felt like some unstoppable vixen took their man.

In my post Living in Zomerica, I mentioned that the so-called “Fiscal Cliff Bill,” passed two hours into falling off the cliff (2 a.m. EST on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2013) had egregious corporate welfare in it. Man, that thing was stuffed like a piñata with goodies for corporate campaign contributors. But beyond the eight industries receiving subsidies that I mentioned in my prior post, reports soon surfaced of a lucrative loophole for pharmaceutical company Amgen in the Fiscal Cliff Bill. The New York Times uncovered a sordid, almost unbelievably bizarre “revolving door” story that led to the kickback for Amgen. The loophole for Amgen was negotiated by a top aide for Sen. Orrin Hatch who previously worked as a health policy analyst for Amgen. The former chiefs of staff for both Sen. Max Baucus (D – Corrupt) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – Corrupt) came back to Capitol Hill as Amgen lobbyists and lobbied their recent ex-bosses; it’s thought that notoriously bribable Senator Max Baucus slid the Amgen provision into the Fiscal Cliff Bill in the dark of night at the eleventh-hour, but it’s clear that there’s no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on this revolving door problem. They’re both up to their elbows equally in this cesspool of corruption.
In this Bill Moyers interview, tiny Vermont’s only representative in the House, Peter Welch, explains why he’s fighting to get Amgen’s “sweetheart deal” repealed.

A case like Rep. Tauzin’s emerged recently. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, about two weeks after being sworn in to the 113th Congress for her tenth term, announced her resignation January 22, 2013 and took a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.National Rural Electric Cooperative Association NRECA, where the last CEO was paid around $1.7 Million for a year, one of Washington’s largest and most influential trade associations. Now, the 8th district in Missouri’s “bootheel”—the poorest in Missouri, and one of the 10 poorest in the nation—has to foot the bill for a reported $1 million election on June 4th.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was the biggest single campaign contributor to both Jo Ann over the years, and to her husband Rep. Bill Emerson, who she inherited the Congressional seat from upon his death in 1996. Both Mr. and Mrs. Emerson were lobbyists in Washington prior to serving in the House of Representatives, and seem to be entirely creatures of Washington; neither were born in or near the impoverished rural district they swore to represent. Her ties to the district are much more tenuous than her husband’s were—at least he was a Missourian—she’s from Maryland, born and raised. So even though Jo Ann Emerson was Missouri’s most senior member of Congress, so Missouri loses a lot of clout in the House upon her departure, but it’s not the same as losing a Billy Tauzin, who’s deeply connected to his district. I think that understanding a district is essential to representing it. When I met with my Rep. in Mobile, Jo Bonner (Alabama’s 1st Congressional district, covering the entirety of Alabama’s Coastal counties, that is to say, Mobile and environs) even though we’re on the opposite sides of plenty of issues, since he comes from Mobile, we immediately have a shared culture, references, points of context, that make it easy for us to work together. Having that local connection is so very important!

The founding generation (the framers of the Constitution, founding fathers and mothers, and others of the spirit of ’76) intended the House of Representatives to be a constantly improving and updating body of the most knowledgable and wise representatives of the districts, to assess the realities on the ground, the results of the American experiment, and respond when adjustments are necessary. I know that because of bribeocracy supplanting democracy, we can’t expect good government to return in 2013, but definitely we can do better than the blatant abuse of people like Tauzin and Emerson using, then losing Congressional districts, cashing in on seniority.

Details of the sordid, weird, revolving Emerson in this CNN investigative report:

Worst revelations from the report:

    Unintended consequences? Laws prohibiting members of Congress from becoming registered lobbyists for two years after leaving office have backfired, making people like Emerson even more valued hires; they can bribe and influence on Capitol Hill for two whole years without any of the regulations or limitations registered lobbyists are subject to under current law. Monied interests are gaining from the two year waiting period purportedly designed to shut the revolting door.
    Jo Ann Emerson isn’t alone in leaving the House as the 113th Congress begins, she is one of five outgoing members—four Republicans and one Democrat—to abandon their constituents in favor of “influence industry” jobs.

Never stop exposing corruption.

Nick

Easter egg: mousing over a few links reveals hidden lulz in some of the tags

Wow!! Obama appointments sold to highest bidder

Posted by – February 10, 2013

Dear reader:

We’re facing really horrible corruption in our government; it’s getting so bad, we’re nearing like end-stage Byzantine Empire type corruption, with the rot of corruption undermining every government bureaucracy, every political appointment, and the decay reinforced by a corrupt people and the government feeding it back to people in this demonic loop.

This is how bad it’s gotten: it’s become so common for presidents to reward their biggest presidential campaign “donors” with cushy ambassadorships abroad, a study, “What Price the Court of St. James’s? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America,” published by two researchers (J.W. Fedderke and D. Jett) out of Penn State’s International Relations Dept. in partnership with Economic Research South Africa (ERSA) have now pinpointed the approximate price tags attached to ambassador appointments in the current system (quid pro quo is only illegal bribery if outside the campaign contribution system, kids!)

Fedderke and Jett discovered that big donors who directly contributed $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.

“What we can observe is data on contributions and postings,” Dr. Fedderke said in an interview. “And on the basis of that, we can infer an implicit valuation on postings in monetary terms — even if they haven’t contributed that much.”

When isolating a country’s wealth over other factors, Luxembourg came in at the top of the chart, with a posting there valued at $3.1 million in direct contributions, while an appointment to Portugal was predicted to have a value of $602,686 in personal contributions. The model suggests that bundlers can get the same posts for less: Portugal was valued at about $341,160 in bundled contributions, Luxembourg at $1.8 million.

When factoring in a country’s tourist trade, however, France and Monaco top the list, with the level of personal contributions at $6.2 million and bundled contributions at $4.4 million.

The prices, authors note, vary considerably depending on which factors to emphasize. And in some cases, the actual nominees appeared to “overpay” for their positions — raising or giving more than the model would suggest was necessary — and in some cases “underpay.” That is because some donors bargain poorly for their positions, the authors suggest, while others may possess attributes (business experience, a personal connection to the president) that aid their case. But regardless of the model, Dr. Fedderke and Dr. Jett found, political ambassadors are more likely to be appointed to those countries that are wealthy, popular tourist destinations and safe.

Source: Study Puts ‘Cost’ to Landing Diplomatic Posts – NYTimes.com

This year, the race to press the president for purchased ambassadorships is more intense than ever, due to the unprecedented flood of donations from billionaires to Obama and Obama’s “independent” (LOL LOL} Super PAC during the 2012 election cycle. Vogue editor Anna Wintour, one of Obama’s biggest bundlers, was pushing to be ambassador to Britain. But she was edged out by “someone who had done even more for Mr. Obama: Matthew Barzun, a genial former technology executive who spent 20 grueling months as finance chairman of the president’s national fund-raising operation.” “The president now has six years of relationships, not two years,” said Andy Spahn, a public relations and political consultant who, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the film producer, was Mr. Obama’s top Los Angeles fund-raiser. ‘So I expect that it will be a lot more competitive this time around.’” Source: Well-Trod Path – Political Donor to Ambassador – NYTimes.com
Of course, the salient point is missed, none of these people have diplomatic experience!! DUDE! What happens when delicate negotiations with Britain are needed? what if an EU Parliament meeting at the Espace Léopold in Brussels is bombed by terrorists? what if the French government falls amid nation-wide protests and general strikes? or if Spain is gripped by riots (again)? This isn’t your father’s Western Europe. A placid tourist destination can quickly turn into a global flashpoint of popular unrest and/or ground zero in the newest financial earthquake. Placing corporate donors in charge could be very self-destructive.

Now, it’s even worse. Obama has appointed the CEO of REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) and top Democratic Party fundraiser Sally Jewell to head the Dept. of Interior, which stewards our national parks, national lands, the resources on national lands and runs the widely-despised Bureau of Indian Affairs. Media coverage of Jewell is (so far) lauding her appointment, the overwhelming majority showing positive quotes; of course, the literal merger of corporate CEO and federal agency isn’t questioned.

President Obama is now expected to nominate Penny Pritzker “Chicago hotel scion and businesswoman and Obama mega-bundler” for Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker “ranks #255 in 2012 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans” and “was reportedly in the hunt for that job back in 2008” but withdrew when predatory lending and toxic subprime mortgages perpetrated by the family zombie bank was exposed. That’s apparently A-okay for today’s cabinet! This is gross.
Source: Obama donor Pritzker for Commerce Secretary? – In the Loop – The Washington Post
The narrative I expect the media to spout is: “Gender equality WOO! Pritzker is the second female Commerce Secretary in U.S. history! Isn’t it great how wonderful the wonderful Obama Administration is, the greatest, most gender diverse administration evah!”
A cabinet of only uber rich people is not DIVERSE! it’s actually really awful, elitist, and undemocratic, and horrible!

It’s a very bad thing when your government won’t even consider candidates outside of the mega-wealthy 0.5% that bribe donate to campaigns.

Damn, dude! That’s corrupt.

Nick

Living in Zomerica

Posted by – January 16, 2013

How I’ve Changed Since Moving to New York City

or…

Living in Zomerica

I started out and made my name as an activist in Alabama, where the left is deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. I always spoke in the language of Biblical and moral imperatives, sometimes overtly, very much in the tradition of the Southern left, and I even had the chance to speak at Martin Luther King’s church in Montgomery (click for article and photo of that experience). I’m currently working on a memoir that details this part of my life, how I grew up in foggy South Alabama and became a successful activist.  It opens on my speech in Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.  So, from the beginning, I feel a gap between me and left politics nationally; I come from a vastly different place than most people involved in politics.

That gap is now a chasm. After I moved to New York City in August 2008, the economy went belly up, and I saw every aspect of the world change. New York City’s hospitals began to crumble in a serious way. Several important hospitals closed. The state rehab hospital I was stuck in until September 10th, 2009, will close in 2014 and the patients they don’t move to the new location in Harlem—probably around 2,000 people out in the cold (by my own math) because of less available space—will be screwed. Living in this facility, the fact that most of my fellow patients had no hope of ever getting out, that the system is never going to respond, that I got out due to LUCK, was very clear to me.

For a time in fall 2008, it seemed the bad actors that built an elaborate house of cards atop mortgage scams and derivatives fraud would face the consequences of their actions, and, after going through bankruptcy as their victims had to, would finally make way for a new generation of financial professionals who would re-build. Instead, the Democratic party-run Congress gave the bad actors trillions, so an awful system can continue to hurt the American people. Constituents went ballistic; naturally, calls and letters were 100-1 opposed to TARP. Initially it was voted down in the House, right-wingers from Texas had the most impassioned arguments against this shocking, bald-faced corporate welfare. Then Vice President Cheney swooped in, lobbyists and their millions came knocking, and TARP passed overwhelmingly. Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson characterized this as a “quiet coup.” That corporate influence could override the will of the people, and so quickly, indicated to me that FDR’s nightmare, private entities becoming more powerful than the state, was here.

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.
The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Simple Truths message to Congress (April 29, 1938)

I had always thought of government having enormous potential to be an instrument for all Americans, we the people, doing things together that we can’t do as individuals; after all, civil rights legislation triggered a tectonic shift in Alabama. But there I was, in a state hospital on the island in the East River named after FDR, realizing that everything had changed.  The U.S. experiment trying to have a democracy and unrestrained influence of plutocrats over elections simultaneously was over; the transformation into corporate state, by which I mean government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, was complete. The corporate class has utterly monopolized the levers of power via campaign finance; government will not be an engine of good for the foreseeable future. This was a very difficult conclusion for me to come to, I want government to be a change agent, but the conclusion became unavoidable.

The state is such a marionette, it props up banks that were already exsanguinated by malfeasance and mismanagement; instead of shuttering dead banks, the marionette pumps in billions and billions, creating zombie banks. These zombie banks are a new and disturbing sight in America, insolvent and decayed, but remaining open thanks to government largesse.  They take deposits, but no longer function as banks in the traditional sense; they don’t do loans or extend lines of credit to small businesses, but they may eat other banks and turn them into zombie banks. TARP wasn’t temporary as promised. It’s still reanimating zombie banks, and since the continued aid isn’t reviving the banks, I wonder if the purpose isn’t simply funneling wealth upwards to the puppet masters, the banks’ primary role to be conduits.

We also have zombie financial firms, zombie real estate, zombie schools, zombie hospitals. Too many of us have become zomericans.

A few months after that, I applied for affordable housing. I got a rejection letter back about 60 days later. It said that the Section 8 list had been closed since 2006, and “your application has been destroyed.” Great feeling.
In the Fiscal Cliff Bill, Goldman Sachs got subsidized housing for their building in Manhattan (triple tax exempt, no local, state or federal taxes, plus they get Liberty Bonds, only supposed to be for WTC reconstruction). Not kidding. Even in a time of supposed austerity.  This alone has really changed my thinking. For details, see Naked Capitalism | Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill

If it weren’t for a series of serendipitous and bizarre events that made it possible to move in with Alejandra (my partner), who has affordable housing through a different, local, program, I’d still be in the facility. I’ve lived here since September 10th 2009, in Lower Manhattan. I am bizarrely lucky, and know it. And I’m very grateful.

We live very close to Zuccotti, so we observed the Occupy Wall Street movement closely. Alejandra and I are part of the Occupy “disability caucus,” trying to bring disability issues to the attention of the wider movement. Just holding meetings where people with disabilities can talk openly about their predicament following the collapse of the economy has been very valuable; our concerns never see the light of day in media and political circles. And contrary to media portrayals, the old economic configuration is gone and never coming back.

Occupy Wall Street is a reaction to the economic system dying, its apparent murder via mismanagement, malfeasance and predation shoving it off the cliff. There’s no complex list of demands. It’s a protest of the crimes of the bad actors of Wall Street, the resulting collapse of the economy and the attendant suffering, and our political system’s inability to even see the problem. The Occupiers tend to be students or recent grads who bought into the American dream, got into debt pursuing advanced degrees, then realized the economy had capsized and there were no jobs with a living wage, much less jobs in their fields they expected would provide them desperately needed upward mobility and loan repayment. A lot of dreams shattered on the iceberg of the 2008 economic collapse. The concerns expressed by Occupy Wall Street are completely legitimate.

The response to Occupy by the NYPD, the FBI, the rest of our agencies was awful. It removed any doubt I had that we have a corporate state, because the security establishment (NYPD, FBI, etc.) responded to protests against the obviously harmful practices of corporations like Goldman Sachs as a direct attack on the state itself. Though it was called Occupy Wall Street, the NYPD never let the protesters get near Wall Street around the NYSE building; they cordoned off the area around it and sent a very clear and violent message whenever Occupiers tried——in non-violent marches—to get past the barricade. Several times, I saw Occupiers, by the thousands—amazingly strong numbers, cross in front of our building to get closer to Wall Street. The most violent responses from the NYPD came in these moments, that’s when the tear gas and rubber bullets came out, that’s when you have officers breaking heads and mounted police blocking streets with highly coordinated Roman-style formations. I learned a lot from this. It seemed very important to protect the people in and around the NYSE from even seeing the protests. They also—in the final weeks of the occupations in Lower Manhattan—had a new satellite-dish-looking technology that disabled cell phones, cameras, and other digital devices, so the more violent incidents couldn’t be photographed or documented in any way.

Both the NYPD and FBI have acknowledged the non-violence of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has hewed to Martin Luther King’s teachings of non-violent civil disobedience almost flawlessly. But simultaneously the FBI labeled it a terrorist group. Heavily censored FBI memos (released in response to a FOIA request, but not until the media lull between Christmas and New Year’s to reduce exposure) revealed a lot about the government response to Occupy. The JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) was deeply involved in monitoring the movement and writing memos about “the threat” to banks and other financial institutions; the memos’ tone treats the corporations like they’re the customers. Then there’s the infamous assassination memo, revealing the FBI knew an outside group in Texas planned to kill Occupy “leaders” with suppressed sniper rifles “if deemed necessary.” The memos provide a rare, disturbing look into the thinking of our security establishment, which, by the way, hasn’t lifted a finger to investigate ridiculously obvious malfeasance on Wall Street. For an excellent analysis of these memos, and links to the documents themselves, see: Naked Capitalism | Banks Deeply Involved in FBI-Coordinated Suppression of “Terrorist” Occupy Wall Street

A lot of things, especially the economy, have changed dramatically for the worse since autumn 2008. The system has decayed to a frightening degree. But it isn’t that I hate the rich. I don’t. And I don’t blame capitalism; capitalism at its best, when not corrupted beyond all recognition, encourages lower prices and better services through competition. Giant corporate welfare troughs like TARP and ObamaCare, requiring every American to buy health insurance from select companies, enshrining certain banks by name as “Too Big To Fail,” these things have nothing to do with capitalism. This is Mussolini-style corporatism. Corporatism is the problem. The segment of the corporate class that’s monopolized the Congress and executive branch with big money, the estimated .05% of Americans who max out at the legal limit for campaign contributions each year, these guys are the problem, not “the rich” writ large. As I document in a recent post, we’re now in the America of Congressman Bribo and the House of Bribasentatives. We’ve allowed a tiny, shadowy minority to monopolize the levers of power, which makes impossible the aim of our founding fathers, for, as Federalist No. 52 put it, a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” (Source) Since we have allowed this, which isn’t a “conspiracy,” but rather total spinelessness and capitulation of our craven political class in the face of a corporate class that very openly pursues its self-interest with more and more sophisticated methods, we increasingly enter FDR’s nightmare, and the attendant “acceptable standard of living” problems that he mentioned.

My thinking has changed dramatically. Back in Alabama, surrounded by GOP wins in the 94% Soviet-range, I thought electing Democrats en masse would put us on a better path, or at least help a little via incremental reforms (I was always skeptical of the powerful). Now, I realize movements are everything. Now, the Left gets most of my resentment. They have capitulated and betrayed their own to such an extent, for so long, monstrosities like ObamaCare, which, at its core is $400 billion in subsidies to the dying private health insurance industry, are embraced as “liberal.” ObamaCare is not progressive; it takes us backward. It doesn’t address any of the Medicaid issues I have fought to bring to light over the years. Instead, it is almost solely about federal cash propping up zombie health insurance, as jobs increasingly no longer provide health insurance. We’ve entered an economy based on freelancing and short-term contracts, and I’m not saying that it is necessarily bad in-and-of-itself, but it’s the reality and instead of addressing the reality, ObamaCare addresses employer health insurance plans that are increasingly a relic of the 20th century economy. The economic configuration we grew up with is GONE. ObamaCare is like inventing a better 8-track player in 2012, there is a major disconnect from reality.

Ultimately there is no power to narcissistic, self-indulgent thinking. Authentic thinking originates with an encounter with the world.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Ch. 5 of Who Is Man? (1965)

The disconnect between the liberal establishment and the realities for the rest of us has increasingly widened as the Left courts the same donors at the top of the corporate food chain, the .05%. That disconnect upsets me the most. It means they’re not encountering the world, not seeing the painful realities and unintended consequences of their policies. The hermetically-sealed bubble they live in is obvious when liberal pundits are baffled by protests. “Why are they protesting?” they ask, as debt, unemployment, and hunger reach unprecedented levels.

Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges presents overwhelming evidence of the Left’s “death.” Obama is particularly appalling. I felt some guarded optimism at first, but what faith I had that Obama would help quickly evaporated; I don’t see anything that this administration has done as great. The few times Obama admits there are serious problems under his administration of happy optimistic shiny wonderfulness, like when he did the Q&A on immigration on Univision, he acts powerless to lead, or even affect change in any of the federal agencies that answer to him. Has corporate influence neutered him that thoroughly?

Here are my own observations: I’ve never heard Obama say the words “poor” or “poor people.” There’s no connection to Martin Luther King’s legacy or his poor people’s campaign. The newspeak-esque language that’s used is always “middle class families,” or “working families,” which is not only bloodless and doesn’t acknowledge the suffering out there, but also sends the message “don’t worry corporate lobbyists, we only want to help families that work, not those pitiful lazy wretches who can’t find work.” Never is the disintegration of the family that’s happened in-tandem with economic disintegration mentioned. Though the homeless heavily dotted the streets of Washington DC in 2003 when I was there, and it must be exponentially worse post-collapse, Obama can’t find the strength to say the word “poor,” much less mention the homeless people he must pass in the presidential limousine.

The fact that the left media meekly pleads with Obama: The Nation | White House Meeting with Low-Income Americans? —Obama has not met meaningfully, not once, with poor people or anti-poverty activists (but the author still can’t say the P-word!) and Salon | Will Obama cave on Social Security? shows how far we’ve fallen.

The bubble seems so impenetrable, it’s looking like the Orwellian caste system: there’s the Inner Party: the 0.5%, the segment that controls the elections, the president, Congress, and the corporate class, then the Outer Party: the craven media, political parties, left and right organizations, universities, etc., who are recognizable by their eagerness to serve and provide cover to those within the Inner Party so they maintain the pillowy cocoon of economic safety during the present instability. Then, there’s everyone else. I’m reluctant to call us proles, since there’s still a lot of wealth in our ranks, even an upper-middle-class, but we don’t have much voice and the Outer and Inner Party aren’t very aware of our concerns.

The collapse of The Left is so complete that Mussolini-style corporatism is now the “center,” and pursued doggedly by the Obama and his administration of corporate courtiers. I now blame The Left more than the GOP, much more than the Tea Party, who are responding to the economic collapse and bailout culture same as Occupy. I wish Occupy and the Tea Party could band together and fight the bailouts that are continuing.

We need to look at HOW it got so bad. The corporate culture is suspect #1. It bombards us constantly like the TVs in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four you can never turn off. Turn that $#!T off. Too often, the messages coming through are “buy our newest product, and [subtext] buy this thing, it’s all you need to be happy! You don’t need community, church, a moral core, the Bible, etc etc etc.” The messages coming in via mass corporate culture are usually the exact opposite of the inherent value of human life, humans having inherent value and sanctity and dignity, instead, the only value lies in what you produce, your income, or how ruthless you are. Not to mention the pornification of everything; if I had a daughter, I would burn the TV. Several rabbis have pointed out, the dominant mass media culture is closer to the ancient Greek culture that glorified the body and beauty over everything else, than Jewish and Christian cultures that glorified spiritual and intellectual ability. The messages we’ve become acculturated with, have resulted in our loosening our grip on the moral imperatives we must hold fast to….

We’ve lost a lot. Movements which forced President Nixon to sign important legislation like the Clean Water Act, OSHA, etc., they’re gone now. The labor movement is mostly gone.
What do we need to do to fight back against corporate dominance, national decay, and the zombification of everything? First, we need a realistic assessment of where we are and how bad it’s gotten. Then, we have to, on the macro level, build new regional and national movements that articulate the concerns of the poor and disabled, in language that flows from the conscience and moral imperatives that can’t be denied. Only radical love can beat radical evil; I’m for radical love. Occupy Wall Street needs to come back into the streets, but much more is needed. We need the kind of movements that are so powerful, the corporate state has to respond, like Solidarity in 1980s Poland or Tahrir Square in Egypt. Movements are everything.

On the micro level, we must rebuild community. Americans have too often bought into the cult of the self, that if you just buy the new product, you don’t need others. We’ve been lulled into isolation, buying the idea that government will take care of those in need: the poor, the disabled, the elderly. Even when Medicare and Medicaid did provide for the material needs of people like me, which is less and less true today, there’s a need for social and spiritual connection. I myself really need community. We have to rebuild communities that provide those connections. Churches and synagogues need to be a part of this effort, and need to articulate the moral imperatives that give movements their power.

Here’s an example of the moral thinking movements need, from Catholic theologian Paul Tillich:

…When Augustine equates the Kingdom of God with the church and the Kingdom of Satan with the great world empires, he is partly right and partly wrong. He is right in asserting that in principle the church is the representative of the Kingdom of God; he is wrong in overlooking the fact…that the demonic powers can penetrate into the church itself, both in its doctrine and institutions. He is right to the extent in which he emphasizes the demonic element in every political structure of power

— Paul Tillich in Theology of Peace

…The technical development is irreversible and adjustment is necessary in every society, especially in a mass society. The person as a person can preserve himself only by a partial non-participation in the objectifying structures of technical society. But he can withdraw even partially only if he has a place to which to withdraw.

…It is the task of the Church, especially of its theology, to describe the place of withdrawal, mainly the “religious reservation.” It is the task of active groups within and on the boundary line of the Church to show the possibilities of attack, to participate in it wherever it is made and to be ready to lead it if necessary.

…Christian action must find a way to save the person in the industrial society.

— Paul Tillich, The Person in a Technical Society

We have to find the strength to build very new movements that articulate the reality the poor face. We can’t wait for a moribund Congress and Goldman Sachs-controlled presidency to do it. Without national renewal, we face national collapse.

Looking forward to your comments,

Nick

Recommended reading: The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

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